Kelly Clarke ducks around the corner of the newly restored fire-engine-red barn at the Riverview Launch, a multi-use community space at 1523 Riverview Drive, where Riverside Greenhouse was located for 95 years before it went out of business.
“Hey, these are new,” says Clarke, executive director of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank, pointing down at a row of yellow and orange marigolds lining the path to the barn door. “We have a plan and we’re organized, but a lot of the work isn’t being done by contractors, it’s being done by volunteers, who are excited and find creative ways to donate their time and goods, just like this.”
Community involvement and collaboration have been the driving forces behind the Riverview Launch. When the former greenhouse property went into foreclosure in 2012, the Kalamazoo County Land Bank bought the six-acre parcel, and it has become a joint revitalization project of the Land Bank, the Kalamazoo County office of Michigan State University Extension, the Open Roads bicycle-repair program (aimed at teaching skills and providing bikes to disadvantaged youth), the Kalamazoo County Parks & Recreation Department and the Kalamazoo Nature Center.
“The greenhouse was boarded and blighted, and the area around the greenhouse was filled with rubble and debris,” Clarke says. “The barn was deteriorated and in very poor shape.”
As an authority of the county, the Land Bank has a mission of taking care of unwanted, blighted and foreclosed properties. The Land Bank offers community-garden, rental-property, blight-elimination and other programs to help Kalamazoo County residents use foreclosed and blighted properties. Clarke says the Riverview Launch area presented a new way to revitalize a blighted area.
“We thought it was important to give some thought to this property, since it’s on the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail and on the Kalamazoo River, and it connects to downtown, Spring Valley Park, Markin Glen Park and the Kalamazoo Nature Center.”
The Land Bank partnered with OCBA landscape architects and land planners, Byce & Associates designers, the Kalamazoo Nature Center and Inform Architecture, as well as other community organizations and businesses, to host design and site-planning workshops, an open house and other open forums. By tapping into the creative ideas of the public, the Land Bank was able to plan innovative and creative ways to use the space.
Work there began about a year ago. Weeds and brush have been cleared from the riverbank to make way for a possible kayak and canoe launch; the barn has been restored for use for community functions, as an interpretive center or as a possible livery; demonstration, rain and community gardens have been planted; and new paths have been laid. The Riverview Launch site also hosted a “Movie in the Park” in August and an Improv Effects workshop in September.
Clarke credits more than 300 community volunteers with much of the transformation. Home Depot donated materials and employee time to build the deck of the barn, students at the Kazoo School worked in the gardens, and individual volunteers helped paint the barn, landscape the grounds and raise funds.
“The outdoor area is intended to be a civic space,” Clarke says. “We want people to stop here on their bike rides or walks, rest and enjoy the natural beauty.”
An important part of developing the space, Clarke says, is to have anchors that will act as stewards of the land and facilitate civic engagement. Those anchors, which will reside in the former greenhouse buildings once they are renovated, include an MSU Extension satellite office, Open Roads’ first full-time site and the Land Bank office, which will move there in 2015.
As the coalition of volunteers and organizations continues to build and grow, the community is responding by welcoming the development, Clarke says.
“People are very excited to see the changes that are happening and looking forward to utilizing the space,” she says. “We at the Land Bank have enjoyed creating and developing the space, and we look forward to continued enhancements and full programming, including in the indoor spaces.”