Downtown Development Director Has Strong Local Roots
If you spend much time on Battle Creek's Michigan Avenue, you'll probably see John Hart talking to business owners, make a pitch for people to come downtown. Battle Creek's Downtown Development Director has a lot of optimism and a lot of history with Battle Creek.
Hart, who helped the City of Hastings fill their downtown's main drag, says his family comes from Battle Creek. "My mom is a St. Phil graduate and my dad is a Battle Creek Central Graduate, " says Hart. "My grandparents owned the roller skating rink that was on Goguac Lake, one of last pieces of the entertainment district there." The roller rink once stood where the Waterfront Restaurant was more recently, and where a new development is in the works. "My grandfather came to Battle Creek as a performer in the 1920's. He was a contortionist and vaudeville performer. He was known as William H. Tozer the Boy Wonder." Tozer did all kinds of skating tricks, and managed and performed and eventually bought the roller rink in the 1930's. John Hart says his parents met at the roller rink and became semi-professional roller skaters. After Tozer died in 1943, Hart says his grandmother ran the rink for several years, and finally took it down. "The proposed development on the north end of Goguac Lake has a special place in my heart", says Hart. "I'd love to see that end of Goguac Lake come back, and come back in a way that a lot of people could enjoy, both on a retail and a service level and at a recreational level."
John says he parents were also active in the downtown Battle Creek Civic Theater and were part of the folks that renovated the Strand Theater in the late 60's and early 70's.
John remembers running up and down the walking mall and buying his first fish at a store down there. He says he saw the building of the McCamly Plaza and also remember seeing a lot of the old buildings coming down. He says all of that played a big part in choosing a career in city planning.
Hart is working to build critical mass in Battle Creek. That means people, events, and businesses downtown. There are lots of empty storefronts on Michigan Avenue, which is just one of 19 commercial districts in Battle Creek. Does he get discouraged?
"I don't get discouraged,", says Hart, "but I understand how other people can. What you see--perception becomes reality sometimes. But what we know, and I know as a practitioner is that some of this work takes ten years,five years, three years---it gets exhausting to some folks who aren't in that arena. Bear with us, folks.. We're out there, we're working hard. We've got new city government the last four or five years. We've got new mindsets. We're moving forward. You're gonna see some great change in 2019. Stay tuned, as they say, but also be positive."