December 31, 2020 | By: Nick Buckley | Battle Creek Enquirer – The COVID-19 pandemic presented hurdles to many development projects in 2020, from financial challenges to construction delays and the need to reassess business models in the age of social distancing.
While progress was stunted at times in Battle Creek, it did not stop. The Milton, a 19-story apartment building envisioned as a catalyst for revitalizing downtown, opened to residents in January. It is currently at 90% occupancy for residential units and is seeking tenants for four of its five commercial spaces. That highly-anticipated redevelopment project spanned two years and cost $36 million dollars.
As this unprecedented year comes close, here are some notable developments to watch in 2021:
Hotel projects are in the works
McCamly Hotel: Following months of litigation, Battle Creek Unlimited gained ownership of the 239-room McCamly Hotel on Nov. 3.
The 15-story building connected to Kellogg Arena has been closed since November 2019 after the city announced its owners were shutting it down for six months to make renovations for rebranding as a Hilton Double Tree.
BCU, the city’s economic development organization, took the McCamly Plaza Hotel ownership to court for its failure to meet those renovation deadlines after BCU lent the project $3.5 million from its Direct Investment Fund.
Eventually, BCU and the owners reached a settlement agreement for ownership of the hotel and an undisclosed amount of money. McCamly Place, a commercial plaza connected to the hotel and Kellogg Arena and site of the former J.W. Barlycorn’s restaurant, was not included in the deal.
Now BCU is doing a complete renovation and rebranding of the McCamly Hotel property through 50 Capital Ave. Development Corp., with intentions to open in early 2022.
“We are eager to return this iconic property back to its glory with a complete refresh,” BCU President and CEO Joe Sobieralski said in November. “Having a modern, well-run and updated hotel in the heart of downtown is essential to the economic prosperity and continued revitalization of downtown Battle Creek.”
FireKeepers Hotel Tower II: FireKeepers Casino is doubling down on hotels.
A new eight-story, 203-room second tower is under construction at the property at 11177 E. Michigan Ave. It will be connected to the 243-room hotel that opened in 2012, which has been designated a Four Diamond Hotel by AAA for the five consecutive years.
Breaking ground in June 2019, “Tower II” will include a new gaming space and restaurant. It is estimated to be complete by this coming spring.
Affordable housing in the works downtown
Hamblin Opera House & Sophia Square: BCU and Hollander Development Corp. are partnering on a $20.5 million project to redevelop two downtown properties for affordable housing.
The property at 85 W. Michigan Ave., the former site of Shranks Cafeteria, will become Sophia Square, a 50-unit, seven-story midrise apartment building that will include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, as well as several two-story, three-bedroom urban townhouses.
The building at 17 W. Michigan Ave., the former Hamblin Opera House, will have its upper floors adapted into 30 one- and two-bedroom apartments and its 1948 façade restored.
The project aims to create mixed-income housing options downtown, targeting residents who make between 30% to 80% of Calhoun County’s area median income, which is just over $47,000. Proposed monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment at both Sophia Square and the Hamblin Opera House will begin at $284 and will be available to people making less than $13,500 a year, according to details of the project provided to the city.
“The importance of that is we’re not pricing everybody out of the market,” Sobieralski said in March. “We need a mix of housing options in Battle Creek, both market and non-traditional housing.”
New downtown food and drink options:
New Holland Brewery: According to a sign outside the future site of New Holland Brewery, “Gezellig times coming soon,” using the Dutch word that translates as cozy or sociable.
Brickwork and facade improvements continue at 64 W. Michigan Ave. The $5 million project initially planned for a spring 2019 opening in downtown Battle Creek. That was pushed back in part due to rising construction costs associated with the rehabilitation of the former JCPenney building, built in 1926. The pandemic created additional construction delays as New Holland Brewing adapted its business model at its existing locations in Holland and Grand Rapids.
“We’re still excited about joining the community and being active members down there,” Dave White, vice president of retail operations for New Holland Brewing said in September. “I think there is a lot of good momentum still down in Battle Creek. I’m ready to get us down there.”
Torti Taco: Torti Taco is returning to downtown in 2021.
The Mexican restaurant at Beckley Road and formerly the BC Cargo downtown pop-up shop is adding a location at 56 E. Michigan Ave.
The development was made possible through $315,000 in BCU grants used to create residential units on the second floor of the building owned by Elliot McKone LLC, with the ground floor and outdoor patio dining space occupied by Torti Taco.
“We want to make the downtown Torti Taco a destination for other people in different parts of the state that they have a reason to come to Battle Creek,” Torti Taco Owner Javier Fortoso said in July. “We’re grateful because we’ve gotten a lot of support from the community and we are also here for the community. Whenever Torti Taco can, we’ll do our part and do our best for the community.”
Umami Ramen: Umami Ramen will soon be serving its signature ramen noodle dishes from its new location at the revitalized 215 W. Michigan Ave. building.
The eatery launched at the Springfield and Battle Creek farmer’s markets before moving to a brick and mortar location at 78 Calhoun St. in 2016. Umami Ramen is moving into the more spacious downtown location with support from a $250,000 grant through the Downtown Real Estate Fund created by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Unnamed fresh food market: A community-owned, yet-to-be-named fresh food market also is being planned for downtown.
Sprout, a locally produced food delivery and pickup service located in Springfield, is partnering with developers Cody and Caitlynn Newman of Restore 269 to establish a fresh food market and deli in downtown Battle Creek. The enterprise would not only give city residents another option for fresh produce and ready-to-eat foods, but also a stake in its ownership as a cooperative.
“It still feels like this town is on the upswing and things are happening and development is occurring,” Sprout CEO Jeremy Andrews said in September. “It seems like a good time to get in, versus waiting until all the good real estate is already taken up.”
The walk-in market and deli will offer grocery pickup through an app, and have dine-in space for grab-and-go foods, comfort foods and plant-based meats, all sourced by local farmers and producers.
Health and recreation plans under way
Bronson Behavioral Health facility: Bronson Battle Creek is taking steps to expand access to inpatient behavioral health services in the region.
The hospital has announced plans to build an inpatient behavioral health facility by 2022 on a 10-acre plot with 40 acres of green space at Glenn Cross Road and M-66.
The new facility will feature 83 total beds, with a capacity for 100 beds.
Claude Evans Splash Pad: A splash pad featuring a 17-foot tall giraffe, zebra water cannons and a sprinkling palm tree will be free to use and open to the public by next summer.
Ground has broken at the Claude Evans Splash Pad at Claude Evans Park in the city’s northside Washington Heights neighborhood. The aquatic structure was made possible through community support spearheaded by the Claude Evans Splash Pad committee. That committee is operating as a nonprofit under the Battle Creek Community Foundation, which has committed $40,000 towards the project’s $143,000 price tag.
“Look at this park and see what you got,” project co-manager Kelly Dillman said at the September groundbreaking. “We want to keep it that way and we want to appreciate it.”
Watkins Road Industrial Space: BCU sold 55 acres along Watkins Road near Interstate 94 to Industrial Partners USA for the construction of a new $11 million industrial space.
The development will feature a 270,000 square-feet industrial speculative building, which will include office space, 32-foot ceilings, 16 truck docks and the potential to accommodate a future rail spur.
The space is expected to be ready for move-in by March.
“When you have someone who is willing to invest in your community well over $10 million in the middle of a pandemic, I think that’s a signal to the market that we’ve got some things going on here in Battle Creek,” Sobieralski said in July.