From alley to art haven, Kalamazoo’s Haymarket Plaza nears completion

Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The yearslong transformation of a Kalamazoo alley into an art haven is almost finished.

Contractors are putting the final touches on Haymarket Plaza, located between The Haymarket Building, Main Street East, The Monroe Building and the new Warner Building.

A photo from July 14, 2021 gives a bird’s-eye view of the construction progress on Haymarket Plaza in Kalamazoo.

The plaza will function similarly to music-centric Bates Alley, but with a focus on all of the arts, including music, theater, fine art and film.

“We really want to have a community space that’s really unlike anything in Kalamazoo. I think you would have to go to Chicago to see a community area like what we are trying to create,” said Heather Isch, spokesperson for project leader and Main Street East owner Treystar.

(A rendering provided by Treystar shows Haymarket Plaza in downtown Kalamazoo.)

INSPIRED BY ART

A photo provided by the Monroe-Brown Foundation shows Gail and Tom Kasdorf. Haymarket Plaza is dedicated to the couple.

Waves of colored concrete and landscaping lead visitors off East Michigan Avenue and North Edwards Street and into the heart of Haymarket Plaza. A snowmelt system installed underneath the walkways will allow for year-round use.

Isch said Haymarket Plaza, named for Kalamazoo’s historic Haymarket District, was inspired in part by the colorful Belt Alley in Detroit.

“We really see it as a unique and special place in Kalamazoo where people can come to gather, have a cup of coffee, engage with art,” said Isch, whose company LKF Marketing is also a Main Street East tenant.

The plaza is dedicated to two pillars in the local art community, the late Gail and Thomas Kasdorf.

“They loved the art. They spent 50 years dedicating themselves to the art in Kalamazoo, so we want to dedicate this space (to them) and really showcase the art in Kalamazoo,” Treystar media arts intern Carrie Largent said.

PROJECTION MAPPING BRINGS NEW POSSIBILITIES

Largent has been working on the plaza’s pièce de résistance: a roughly $80,000 projection mapping system that will turn a 48-by-78-foot section of the Haymarket Building into a canvas for community art by students and professionals.

A July 14, 2021 photo shows the four specialty projectors installed on the Main Street East building, which will display art on a portion of the Haymarket Building, pictured left.

“Cities like Toronto, they have it. I believe Grand Rapids has a small version of this. Other than that, you’re looking at the big cities like San Antonio, Los Angeles,” Largent said. “It’s a great asset to the community.”

Similar systems have led to crowdbuilding art worldwide, from a giant 3D animated cat that appears to be perched on the top floor of a building in Japan to a cyclops intimidating crowds in Taiwan.

“We’ve thrown out waterfalls, we’ve thrown out having fireworks shoot up … from the bottom of the building all the way to the top. We can make part of the building disappear if we wanted to,” Largent said. “I think the possibilities are endless.”

A July 14, 2021 photo shows the four specialty projectors installed on the Main Street East building in Kalamazoo.

The system can also be used for events like Christmas specials.

“It will bring the community together, but this plaza is so much more, it has so much potential and … it’ll be amazing,” Largent said.

That potential includes attracting food trucks, new restaurants and boutique businesses that are open later and “would kind of go along with the creative, artistic space that we’re trying to create,” according to Isch.

PARTNERSHIP ‘KALAMAZOO CAN BE REALLY PROUD OF’

Work on Haymarket Plaza started about two years ago when Treystar met with its building tenants, Warner Building owner Catalyst Development and architectural firms TowerPinkster and Kingscott Associates, to create a wish list for the space. Major project partners have also included the city of Kalamazoo, Downtown Kalamazoo Partnership, Monroe-Brown Foundation, LKF Marketing, the Arts Council of Kalamazoo and Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Private donors contributed more than $50,000 to the project through a Patronicity crowdfunding campaign.

(A rendering provided by Treystar gives a bird’s-eye view of Haymarket Plaza in downtown Kalamazoo.)

“There’ve been so many layers of collaboration and I think that is what Kalamazoo can be really proud of,” Isch said. “I think that is where we should celebrate, because this is a very well thought-out, very intentional space.”

Plans for the 3D projectors started taking shape about a year ago after a community member pitched the idea.

“One person had mentioned that they had seen projection mapping and it would be great to help the art community showcase their artwork even more, you know, on a grander scale,” Largent said.

A May 2021 photo provided by Treystar shows crews installing projectors on the side of the Main Street East Building inside Haymarket Plaza in downtown Kalamazoo.

In May, Czech Republic company Lumitrix came to Kalamazoo to install the four-projector system on the side of the Main Street East building.

“I was told you could put a car up there if you really want to… that’s how strong they are,” Largent said.

WHAT’S NEXT

The plaza will also feature public Wi-Fi and other amenities developers plan to soon unveil.

While the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the Haymarket Plaza project by about six months, Isch said it also built demand for the space.

“I think… there’s a pent-up desire to be outside, to be together,” Isch said. “People want to be together, but being outside has kind of made that intermediary step to getting together. And I think that you’ll see more and more desire for these outdoor public spaces.”

A July 2021 photo provided by Treystar shows Haymarket Plaza off East Michigan Avenue in downtown Kalamazoo.

Project leaders expect Haymarket Plaza to open to the public in early fall after contractors finish lighting, landscaping and installing furniture. The opening is expected to coincide with the completion of renovations to Main Street East.

Isch says they are still working out the first lineup of artists and events for the plaza.

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