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Tiger Room business accelerator funded with $2.1M grant

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The Tiger Room has been mostly empty for the better part of two decades, but with the help of an economic development grant, the 118-year-old, five-story building is on its way to being reborn. 

Battle Creek Unlimited in partnership with St. Philip Church and the Diocese of Kalamazoo has been awarded a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration for the Southwest Accelerator Kitchen. They money will help renovate the property at 30 W. Van Buren St. 

The grant, in combination with the $2 million already raised for the project, will be used to transform the historic building into an accelerator kitchen where small food businesses can test their products and grow in Battle Creek. The renovation also will create space in the building for food, nutrition and health education programs.

“We’ve been hoping and hoping that we would receive a matching grant like this, and it’s just beyond exciting that with everything else going on that there’s a strong belief in economic development, and clearly that for Battle Creek,” St. Philip Project Manager Connie Duncan said. 

The Diocese of Kalamazoo had owned the building since the 1960s and it was formerly used by St. Philip for school dances, youth group activities and batting practice for the softball and baseball teams. 

Prior to being owned by the church, it was used by American-Marsh, an electrical pump manufacturer.

About five years ago, Rev. John Fleckenstein of St. Philip Roman Catholic Church had the idea to turn the 20,000-square foot facility into a kitchen that would serve the community. The church partnered with Battle Creek Unlimited Vice President Shabaka Gibson and other community stakeholders to make it happen. 

“This investment will support many food-related small businesses that are looking for a place to grown,” Gibson said in a press release. “Battle Creek has a rich history of food-related companies and food innovation. The existing talent and assets in this area makes food a strategic growth industry for Battle Creek.” 

The initial investment for the project from the Diocese of Kalamazoo was made possible through a restricted gift. Other project funders include the Kellogg Co. Twenty-Five Year Employees’ Fund, the Battle Creek Community Foundation, the Binda Foundation, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development Foundation, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and individual donors.

“We are very excited and grateful to see this tremendous opportunity coming to fruition,” Fleckenstein said. “Because of the hard work of so many, an old, empty, yet historic building has new life breathed into it.” 

Kellogg Co. is supporting the project with a $500,000 gift and also will provide expertise and support to those who participate in the accelerator kitchen.

The project is an example of the ambitious and visionary food entrepreneurship that Kellogg was built on, Steve Cahillane, Kellogg Co. chairman and CEO, said in a press release. 

“Nowhere is it more prevalent than right here in our hometown, where we are an active part of the local food ecosystem,” he said. “We look forward to sharing our time, talent and resources, which will enhance our ongoing commitment to the community,” 

The company will also offer small-scale manufacturing support through the pilot plant in the W.K. Kellogg Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Battle Creek. 

“The partnerships with Kellogg and their willingness to come forward as a food partner in this I think just strengthens what Battle Creek is all about as far as people coming together,” Duncan said. 

Now that the project is fully funded, St. Philip and Battle Creek Unlimited will move forward to complete designs for the architectural work and send out bids for construction. 

Work on the building must be approved by the State Historic Preservation Office, and Duncan said that the project will not take away from the historic character of the structure. 

“We’ve made sure that because this is a historic building, nothing that we do to that takes anything away,” she said. 

Duncan said that work will begin as soon as possible. For the most part, the ground level of the building, which will house the accelerator kitchen, has already been cleared out and the upper floors of the building were already empty. 

“Once the funds are received and everything is ready to go, it’s probably going to be a year and a half project,” she said. “It’s been a long haul, but it’s happening and we’re all excited. … When we have the funds in hand, we’re not going to waste much time. We want to get the project moving.”

Contact Elena Durnbaugh at (269) 243-5938 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @ElenaDurnbaugh. 

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