BCU unveils vision for downtown Battle Creek

December 2, 2008
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BATTLE CREEK — Battle Creek Unlimited economic development organization announced last week a five-pronged plan to leverage current and future investments in food science, technology and education to revitalize and grow Battle Creek’s downtown business district. BCU officials estimated the revitalization strategy could require more than $86 million in new investment and are looking into various public and private sources of funding.

The plans are a culmination of input BCU has received from a number of stakeholders and organizations in the downtown area, said Karl Dehn, BCU’s marketing director. While BCU has been working on a comprehensive plan for a year, some components of the plan have actually been under discussion for several years. It’s only in the past year that all the pieces have come together, with a lot of input from Kellogg Co., the Kellogg Foundation and many of BCU’s educational partners, Dehn said.

“Without a comprehensive strategy, there wasn’t enough to convince all the stakeholders that we should move forward on any particular component of the plan by itself,” he explained. “As a comprehensive plan led by economic development and innovation, the group agreed that this was time to move forward.”    

The Battle Creek New Vision project includes a new six-story, LEED-certified office building to be financed and constructed by local developer McCamly Office LLC and leased long-term by Kellogg Co. The developer is seeking both state and local tax incentives for the project. The estimated $22.5 million project would enable Kellogg to relocate approximately 600 employees from its Porter Street office complex to downtown Battle Creek. The 122,500-square-foot office tower would likely be operational in 2010. Dehn said the higher concentration of people downtown and their collective spending power will benefit existing businesses and potentially attract additional restaurants, retail, professional offices and residential development.   

Additionally, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation approved up to $35 million to support downtown’s redevelopment. Foundation President and CEO Sterling Speirn said the money will be invested as opportunities arise that dovetail with the foundation’s mission and vision.

“Definitely, the Kellogg company’s commitment to an office expansion will create a great infusion of people and capital investment in downtown, which is very much needed out of the gate on the project, and certainly the Kellogg Foundation’s support was very important to get in the early stages before we moved ahead on the project,” Dehn remarked.

As part of the overall strategy, stakeholders have revived the long-discussed possibility of relocating and expanding the Battle Creek Area Math and Science Center to downtown. The center is operated by Battle Creek Public Schools and is one of 33 regional centers in the Michigan Mathematics and Science Centers Network, each of which provide leadership, curriculum support, professional development and student services to local school districts. Dehn describes the Math and Science Center as “a real community signature asset in education.” He said stakeholders are evaluating whether a dynamic downtown location for the center could enhance its programming and outreach. 

Another component of the plan is to establish a research center to assist new startup companies in the food science and food safety industries with the research, development and commercialization of new technologies. As Dehn pointed out, both nationally and internationally there have been increasing incidents of food adulteration in the food supply chain. He couldn’t reveal too many details about the research center because BCU is currently pursuing funding and potential private sector involvement in it. He said BCU hopes to have more details available later this month.

“There’s an increasing need to develop technologies that will enhance our ability to detect contaminants in the food supply chain and give assurances that our food is going to be safe,” Dehn added. “We want to focus on researching, developing and commercializing that technology and creating businesses here in Battle Creek.” 

The plan also calls for infrastructure improvements to enhance the aesthetics of downtown, including a gateway entrance to downtown on M-66, pedestrian walkways, lighting enhancements, green space and more useable public spaces. In keeping with the nutrition, health and wellness theme, Battle Creek Family YMCA and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department are working together to bring a first-class fitness and recreation center to downtown.

Kellogg has a long history of funding food science and healthy living programs, as well as education, Speirn said. He said the foundation is particularly excited about the potential for building a community that actively engages scientists, young people and educators in learning and discovery around the critical issues of food supply and safety.

“By building on both our legacy and existing community assets, this project will help position Battle Creek as a world leader in food science research, and place innovation at the center of the community’s ongoing downtown revitalization efforts,” Speirn commented.

Battle Creek Mayor Mark Behnke said the strategy offers Battle Creek an “enormous opportunity” to create a vibrant downtown while at the same time capitalizing on the city’s unique concentration in food science technology.

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