When Andrew Haan was skateboarding down the Kalamazoo Mall as a high-schooler and working at his family’s store, Warren’s Sporting Goods on North Burdick, or at the former Piranha Alley store next to Gazelle Sports, he didn’t know that downtown Kalamazoo was where he was destined to be.
“I’ve just always loved it,” he says. “Looking back, I should have known earlier. I even lived for a couple of years in the Skyrise (apartment building downtown) when I was 21. It’s kind of always been in my blood.”
Now the 42-year-old Kalamazoo native and Loy Norrix High School graduate is president of Downtown Kalamazoo Partnership (formerly Downtown Kalamazoo Inc.), the rebranded and redefined nonprofit organization that works to enhance the economic health of downtown. Since Haan came on board two years ago, the organization has created the Downtown Economic Growth Authority and a new 422-acre tax increment financing district to help the financially strapped organization raise $66 million in state and local taxes during the next 30 years to reinvest in downtown. DKP has also established citizen coalitions to advise the organization on its four-pronged plan for growth, focusing on infrastructure improvements, programming and events, attracting new business and forging new links with the diverse populations of downtown.
“We’re so eager to bring more voices into the organization. We have 76 new people that have joined, and, with those on our boards, we have over 100 people directly informing the work of the organization,” he says. “It’s a lot to juggle and manage, but we’re looking forward to deepening our networks and tapping into people that maybe felt like they weren’t included in the growth of downtown in the past.”
How did you get where you are today?
I did my undergrad in public history and got a master’s at Eastern Michigan University in historic preservation and urban planning. When I was finishing at Eastern, an opportunity arose in Muskegon to lead its downtown development organization. It was a one-person show and volunteer-driven, with a very modest budget. It was a transitioning downtown with all this open space and a smattering of historic buildings effectively on the shores of Muskegon Lake. I did that for about three years and learned a lot.
Then (Michigan) Gov. (Rick) Snyder was looking to create an office for Southwest Michigan, and his office knew that I was from the area and I was offered the position. We found out we were pregnant with our first child the same day. I was like, “I guess we’re supposed to move back home to Kalamazoo.” I spent four years as the associate director of Michigan’s Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives, focusing on urban policy, economic development, talent development, transportation and other urban issues facing the cities in the region and helping them learn how to tap into state resources.
I was on the board at what was then Downtown Kalamazoo Inc., and there was a decision to go a different direction with the organization. I had an opportunity to interview for the president’s position and to come in and set a different course for the organization.
What is it about downtown development you find so appealing?
In college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and it didn’t actually click for me until my first semester at Eastern Michigan. I loved old buildings and was really intrigued by some of the big adaptive reuse projects I’d seen with historic buildings. I took a course in downtown revitalization and was like, “Bingo, that’s it!” Historic preservation is a part of a bigger toolkit to grow a place and build community around spaces where people come together and where business is transacted.
There is a lot of residential development downtown. Is that where you see downtown going in the future?
It’s part of the future. The best downtowns have a healthy mix of residential, commercial, office, retail and institutional uses. I think we’ve got all those, but it’s really important that we not put all of our efforts into one of those categories, because the others can suffer.
I do see some interesting changes in the retail industry, where it’s becoming more and more about experience. Small retailers can’t compete with Amazon on price, but they can compete on experience and it presents an opportunity for well-programmed downtowns. I also see that as more people move downtown, companies will want to come downtown to where their workforce is.
What are you most excited about?
2018 was a really big year for us. The Downtown Development Authority, which had sustained and funded about 90 percent of the work done downtown over the last 30 years, was no longer financially viable. There were several reasons, including the loss of a major employer in downtown that owned a huge percentage of the tax base (Pfizer Inc.). As our resources started to dwindle, our ability to have an impact dwindled too. We knew we had to stabilize and rebuild our financial foundation.
We spent the year working with partners, including downtown businesses, residents, Kalamazoo County, WMU and KVCC, the library and transit authority, to figure out how to continue to fund the work that we do. We put a plan in place for the next 30 years, which is a very broad roadmap. We got an additional $11 million from the State of Michigan to go into infrastructure downtown on top of a projected $55 million that would be captured locally through taxes. So it’s great. But it’s important to remember that’s $66 million over 30 years. It grows, it grows exponentially, but it starts very small. Having reset that foundation is a big accomplishment, and we couldn’t have done it without the support of the city.
With the new revenues, new resources and new programming, we looked towards a new brand and a new location for our organization. We had a nice space, but it was isolated and not something that sent a message of, “Hey, come engage with us” and “Here we are. Help us grow downtown.” We moved to this ground-floor space (at 162 E. Michigan Ave.) where there’s 20,000 vehicles going by a day and it’s a very busy pedestrian area. It’s been really fun to see more people come in and say, “Hey, what do you guys do?’”
What do you like about what you do?
The variety and the ability to be creative. We have a couple square miles here and all this opportunity to knit it together and program it and maintain it and do fun stuff like public art projects and transportation projects. It’s something different every single day.
— Interviewed by Marie Lee