‘A Vision for Buchanan’ is becoming reality
Published 2:30 pm Wednesday, August 2, 2023
BUCHANAN — It has been two years since the publication of the City of Buchanan’s national award-winning strategic planning document “A Vision for Buchanan.”
This publication was the result of a several month-long partnership in 2021 between the City of Buchanan and Andrews University School of Architecture and Design to reimagine development opportunities in Buchanan.
“This Vision won’t sit on a shelf,” said Community Development Director Richard Murphy. “We said this on the first day we started and every day since then. This Vision is a living, breathing action plan that is being implemented in Buchanan right now and every single day. It’s the playbook for the Buchanan Comeback Story.”
Murphy noted that Buchanan is staging a dramatic comeback as new buildings on Front Street have come back to life and downtown is again filled with foot traffic.
“Investment follows vision,” Murphy emphasized. “Investment does not follow flavor of the day or flash in the plan. Instead, investment follows authentic vision that was forged by the community with strong leadership and real community engagement behind it. That’s what A Vision for Buchanan is.”
Buchanan’s historic downtown is seeing an unprecedented wave of investment. In the two years since the publication of “the Vision,” several strategic downtown properties that were once vacant or underused for decades have had new life breathed into them. The Hometown Video building at 101-103 Days Ave is undergoing a compete historic restoration and will open as a new restaurant and business accelerator with upper story residential. It’s the largest vacant building on Front Street and Murphy believes it is a significant signal that Buchanan is back for good.
“When the largest vacant building on Front Street goes, it’s a catalyst which typically causes a chain reaction of good things to happen across the street and around the corner. The giant is slain, so to speak, and that causes other projects to happen,” he said.
There are other transformational projects in the works including another full historic rehab of the beloved Ross-Sanders House at 107 Front St. The City received a proposal from the Michigan Community Gateway Foundation for this property to be their new headquarters. City officials are working with developers on another historic rehab project that would bring a boutique hotel to downtown Buchanan. Honor Credit Union just finished a historic rehab of their new headquarters at 128 Main St.
“They took an old, vacant, international style building and made it cool and while doing so pulled up an area of downtown that needed a lift,” Murphy said. “When you are in a beautiful old place, your assets are your history and your history are your assets,” Murphy said. “Our comeback story is to use what we have, these assets, and reimagine them.”
Murphy said it is not only the number of projects that is surprising, but the high quality and attention to detail that is being achieved. These are the types of catalytic projects that cause more revitalization to happen, he said. Seeing local stalwart institutions like Michigan Community Gateway Foundation and Honor Credit Union double down on downtown Buchanan is significant.
“It says that they believe in the future of Buchanan,” Murphy said.
Business is brewing
The future tenants of the old Hometown Video store at 103 Days Ave. will open a new restaurant and bar. The project which will include a winery and cidery will be run by the same owners of Buchanan’s destination brewery, River St. Joe Brewery and Flatwater Farms. “Bringing the River St. Joe brand to downtown Buchanan is huge for us. It will set the bar for our downtown experience and really help to drive downtown Buchanan as a foodie destination,” Murphy said.
The Hometown & Co. accelerator which will open in 101 Days Ave. is the brainchild of Assistant Community Development Director, Ashley Regal. The accelerator project will continue to build the Buchanan lifestyle brand.
“Buchanan has a history of makers building their own destiny. We’re not reinventing the wheel here, but building on the good stuff that’s already here,” Regal said.
Regal has an agreement in place with the developers of 101 Days to be the future home of The Hometown & Co. Mercantile and Food Market and has already landed several anchor tenants to be part of the project, including Taqueria Don Chepe and Diana’s Kitchen, which offers a variety of soul food. A more recent development is that Honor Credit Union has agreed to be a major sponsor of the accelerator and offer financial and educational support to the project.
“Having the support of Honor Credit Union has given this project a gust of wind in our sails on this project,” Regal said. “With this significant commitment from senior leadership at Honor, they are saying that they believe is us and they believe in the future of Buchanan.”
“This is a key inflection point for downtown Buchanan, to harness this innovation and the ideas of hungry entrepreneurs to hit the marketplace. They are how we grow the business development sector here in Buchanan and take our market share to the next level,” he said.
Murphy added that downtown Buchanan is also seeing a wave of placemaking projects including public art, downtown streetscape improvements, and popular festivals and events. A large mural is now proudly displayed on the side of what is now Redbud Insurance depicting hometown hero and BMX Freestyle Olympian and Silver Medalist Hannah Roberts.
A framing system is being installed on Days Avenue to hang large artworks and build upon the energy that has been brought to this corridor through increased investments and the institution of Munchie Mondays, a weekly food truck event that has drawn thousands downtown throughout the summer.
The City and Michigan Community Gateway Foundation continue to curate a high-quality summer concert series that has landed national acts. Additionally, the city is moving forward with the downtown reconstruction project slated to break ground in 2024 which will update important downtown water and sewer infrastructure and streetscape on Buchanan’s historic Front Street.
Other adaptive reuse projects have brought attention to buildings that had previously been underutilized. The buildings once owned by Clark Equipment in Buchanan’s historic downtown are now bustling with tenants. Randy and Jessica Hendrixson who own Building 324 have created a robust economic engine in the old Clark assembling facility. With more than 25 tenants, including a pickle ball racquet manufacturer, a magic trick props creator, a daycare, several offices for local professional businesses, as well as the home of the Berrien County Record and the Buchanan Chamber of Commerce.
Hendrixson shared that he has 18 tenants on a waiting list for space in his building.
“This speaks volume on the market opportunities we have in Buchanan right now,” Regal said. “We need to capitalize now and get these businesses to choose Buchanan.”
The Hendrixsons, thecity, and the Buchanan Preservationist Society also recently collaborated to add the Clark Equipment Complex to the National Register of Historic Places. This designation gives recognition and prestige to the rich history of Buchanan but also open federal historic tax credits to fund significant improvements to the properties.
Murphy also said good things are happening in other Buchanan neighborhoods as well. Buchanan’s Northside Neighborhood is located squarely between its historic downtown and public access to the St. Joseph River. The historically black neighborhood has a rich history in Buchanan and for the last two years, the City and the neighborhood have worked together to build trust and open avenues of communication about making improvements to the neighborhood that perhaps has been neglected in past decades. Representatives from the neighborhood and the city host regular meetings to address concerns over quality of life, establishing a culture of maintenance, and restoring connections to the river. As detailed in “A Vision for Buchanan,” Victory Park, the neighborhood park in the northside of Buchanan has been doubled in size through the city’s purchase of an adjacent lot. Plans for a new neighborhood pavilion have been drawn up and funded and the pavilion is ready to be constructed. Playground equipment has been selected and a grant has been submitted to Michigan DNR for funding.
A major theme of the Vision was for Buchanan to reconnect to its majestic riverfront.
“Sometimes when economics get tough in a place, we don’t always take care of these important connections that make a place great,” Murphy said. “The good news is that it can and will be fixed. Buchanan was always a river town, founded because of the river and creeks. Our opportunity is to reconnect and build this lifestyle brand that will attract new families to come to Buchanan and put in roots to the community. Buy a house, start a business, walk your kids to school, be a part of the community. That is the overarching reason why we are doing all of this.”
Buchanan has engaged Abonmarche consultants in the Master planning of the St. Joseph Riverfront in Buchanan. With the public access parcels that the City currently owns on the St. Joseph River, Murphy said the city has the opportunity to create a mini-national park type of experience on Buchanan’s front porch.
The city has formed a steering committee from local organizations, neighborhood groups and city residents. Thanks to funding from AEP, this Master Plan effort is being led by Abonmarche Consultants to reimagine river access that meets the needs of Buchanan’s residents by removing the barriers to waterfront access and complements the existing recreation culture in Buchanan.
“Buchanan is being rediscovered. We are amidst a significant revitalization. We’ve broken into new markets that are looking at transformative redevelopment projects,” Murphy said.
Through the Buchanan Community Development Department efforts, the city has been awarded over $1.5 million in grants over the last two years to transform the city, and has submitted grants to the state and feds this year with requests for more than $6 million.
“We always have multiple grant irons in the fire in Buchanan,” Murphy said.
One such project is the McCoy Creek Trail extension project. Buchanan’s McCoy’s Creek Trail has received more than $1 million in funding for Phases 1 and 2 to connect downtown Buchanan to the St. Joseph River and River St. Joe Brewery. This will increase access to alternate modes of transportation and improve upon existing recreation opportunities. Phases 3 and 4 grants applications were just submitted to the state and to Congressman Tim Walberg’s office and hope to achieve the vision of connecting Buchanan and Niles via non-motorized trail.
“Buchanan is turning the corner on being the next best place to live and do business in Southwest Michigan,” Mayor Sean Denison said. “We haven’t had as much momentum in over four decades as we’ve had in the last two years. We have the leadership. We have the team. There’s no stopping us when we are all rowing in the same direction towards Buchanan’s bright future.”