Photo Credit: Kalamazoo County Land Bank
Kalamazoo Fare Games
The Kalamazoo Fare Games was a community-wide competition to select a locally owned and operated restaurant to occupy a vacant food retail space in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Throughout 2016, six competitors, all local food entrepreneurs, provided food samples and business plans to community members in a “small bites” tasting event. A committee for the Fare Games guided this process, mentored the competitors on their business plans, and ultimately voted to select Pho on the Block to occupy the new restaurant space.
The project was administered and supported by the Kalamazoo County Land Bank. Formed in 2010, the Land Bank works to repurpose, renew, and reconnect abandoned properties to the community. This work is done with a strong focus on resident engagement through community visioning work to dream possible new uses for parcels. This way, the land bank reconnects the buildings to the community fabric.
The Kalamazoo County Land Bank owns the building which houses the restaurant space. The building sits on a historically significant corner in a commercial part of a once vibrant neighborhood where people would gather on the weekends to shop and connect as a community. For decades this building had remained vacant and in disrepair. Starting in 2016 the Land Bank worked to renovate the building and prepare it for a commercial tenant. The concept of the Fare Games was to bring together a group of local food entrepreneurs to compete for the opportunity to run their business in the newly renovated space. During the planning process, residents had expressed a strong desire to ensure that the restaurant would stay in place for at least three years. All competitors received business mentorship and technical assistance to ensure they had the knowledge necessary to build a successful business if they were indeed selected.
The Fare Games project addressed several community needs: jobs, blight removal, healthy food options, new businesses, and community engagement in neighborhood revitalization. When it opened Pho on the Block employed 12 people and revitalized a once-blighted historic building that had been vacant for years as unproductive space. It provided locally-sourced fresh foods and a sit-down restaurant in a neighborhood which is lacking traditional restaurants. It also gave Kalamazoo a new cuisine to enjoy and two food entrepreneurs a way to launch their business without the overwhelming capital burden that keeps many from starting a new venture. Pho on the Block was a tenant of the space for four years. The tenancy has since transferred to Ty's Joint, a Black-owned restaurant which serves southern cuisine. The Land Bank sold the property to Ty's Joint in 2021 get it back on the tax rolls.
The Kalamazoo County Land Bank recognizes that the people who live adjacent to or in the surrounding blocks of abandoned properties are the most impacted by abandonment as well as by redevelopment. The Land Bank works to collect feedback from neighbors who have direct experience with the properties. However, this work also impacts the county as a whole, so their visioning sessions are open to the public and everyone is welcome to attend.
Property Type: Commercial Structure
Project Type/ New Use: Event(s); Live/Work Space)
Project Purpose: Community engagement; Decrease commercial vacancy
Duration: Once or single day; Permeant
Initial Cost: Over $250,000
Funding Source: Individual contributions; Philanthropic; In kind services
Organization Type: Land Bank
Implementation Partners: Nonprofit – Other; Philanthropy; Private business; Academic
Community Type: Urban
Contributions by: Daniel Egusquiza
Last updated: October 2021 – Do you have additional information about this project? Please use the share your placemaking project form > to share that information.