BATTLE CREEK — A grant for real estate projects is bringing needed development and activity to downtown Battle Creek.
Four projects so far have been awarded grants through Battle Creek Unlimited’s downtown Real Estate Improvement Fund, and about five others are in the works. The fund aims to remove hurdles for companies that want to invest in the city’s downtown area.
“We’re not the only project that (the fund) is helping tremendously,” said Sarah Versical, owner and director of project development and management at developer LKV Ventures LLC, which received a $240,508 grant from Battle Creek Unlimited, the economic development organization that administers the funds.
LKV Ventures is using the money in its renovation of a building at 70 E. Michigan Ave. to make way for commercial tenants downstairs and apartments on the upper floors.
Versical and husband Jeff Norrod saw a need for more apartments in downtown Battle Creek and created their business to purchase the historic building and renovate it. The couple bought the building in May. She considers their project, as well as the others that have received grants from Battle Creek Unlimited, as opportunities to increase the vibrancy of the city’s downtown.
“Our block right now is quieter than most others,” Versical said. “Between us and a coffee shop that’s going to be moving down our way, between the two of us, we will help bring a little life to that area.”
The grants were made possible by a $2 million donation to Battle Creek Unlimited from the Battle Creek-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The foundation asked Battle Creek Unlimited to establish and administer funds to increase vibrancy and job growth, eliminate blight and deterioration and contribute to historic preservation downtown.
Companies can receive a maximum of $250,000, depending on the scope of the project. Joe Sobieralski, president and CEO at Battle Creek Unlimited, estimates the fund will be exhausted in the next six months.
“We’re hopeful, depending on the outcome of the projects, that we could have some additional funds or ask for additional funds,” he said.
Sobieralski estimates that by the time the fund is depleted, developers will have invested nearly $20 million in downtown Battle Creek and improved about 124,000 square feet of space.
“At the 30,000-foot-level, we’re looking to leverage outside or private capital to really get some buildings that are dated, blighted or have underutilized space up to snuff so we can support additional commerce in our downtown area,” he said.
‘‘Keep Battle Creek Alive’
Companies that are reaping the benefits of that effort include JPG Resources LLC, a Battle Creek-based food and beverage consulting group that’s moving its offices to space at 62 E. Michigan Ave. after receiving a $208,618 grant from the Real Estate Improvement Fund.
The move will bring about 25 more workers to downtown Battle Creek. JPG is converting the building into lab space, offices and sensory evaluation areas for taste testing.
The company also is building a long-term space for Cafe Rica, a restaurant and coffee shop located on the facility’s ground floor.
JPG’s leaders say the downtown building will give the company the ability to attract more people and keep workers in Battle Creek.
“Having this real estate gives us that professional swagger a company of our stature really needs to command the sort of presence that we do in the industry,” said Eric Stief, the head of strategic partnerships at JPG.
The company plans to use half of the grant funding to install fire suppression in the building, which can prove cost-prohibitive for many firms looking to restore a historic downtown building. The grant has helped “save” buildings in downtown Battle Creek, said Beth Smith, the executive assistant at JPG who served as project manager on the renovation project.
“In order to attract people and keep downtown thriving, this grant has been a great enticement for people to say, ‘This is a way to keep Battle Creek alive,’” Smith said.
Sobieralski said three of the four projects that have been announced are within vacant buildings. The projects that were given grants, as well as other projects underway in downtown Battle Creek, have sparked an increase in activity in the area, he said.
One prominent project involves the former Heritage Tower, a 19-story building that MDH Development LLC is remodeling into 85 apartments and plans to rename as The Milton.
In 2020, Handmap Brewing LLC also expects to open at 15 Carlyle St. The company, which Battle Creek Unlimited lured to town with a $200,000 incentive, will operate on the ground floor of the building that Restore 269 LLC has been redeveloping into a technology office and co-working space on the upper floors.
As well, New Holland Brewing Co. LLC received a $200,000 incentive for its plans to invest more than $1 million to renovate a building at 64 W. Michigan Ave. and open a satellite taproom. Sobieralski anticipates construction on New Holland to begin in early 2020.
‘Back to life’
All of the downtown development stems from Battle Creek Unlimited’s “meaningful and effective strategy of attracting investment,” Sobieralski said.
“It all started when we put our stake in the group and said we’re going to get Heritage Tower done, and put out an incentive to attract a brewery,” he said. “I would couple that with the incentives that we’re offering being meaningful, and the fact that the economy is doing pretty darn good.”
Versical at LKV Ventures said the Real Estate Improvement Fund’s effects on the downtown will be great, especially with the mix of projects the fund has allowed.
“The liveliness is definitely increasing (downtown) and there’s more buzz about all of the exciting things that are happening down here,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of people that are putting in a lot of work to help bring the downtown back to life.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated from its original version.