Adaptive Reuse: Battle Creek's McCamly Place
What happens when city after city makes the same expensive mistake in their quest to revitalize downtown? Here's a look at how another failed 1980s festival marketplace was converted into a new use: Battle Creek's McCamly Place.
After starting the concept with a bang in Boston (Faneuil Hall - 1976) and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor (Harborplace - 1980), James Rouse of the Rouse Company formed the Enterprise Development Corporation (EDC) to build similar projects in smaller cities. After opening festival marketplaces in Norfolk, Virginia, Toledo, Ohio and Flint, Michigan, the EDC turned its sight to a city with less than 40,000 residents.
On April 18, 1986, Rouse’s EDC celebrated the grand opening of McCamly Place, a $10 million, 40,000-square-foot, bi-level festival marketplace, in Downtown Battle Creek, Michigan with more than 6,000 in attendance including state representative Howard Wolpe, Michigan governor James Blanchard, and Kellogg Corporation CEO William LaMothe. Patterned after Flint’s Water Street Pavilion and Toledo’s Portside, McCamly Place’s opening culminated the development of a downtown “superblock” also anchored by a 16-story hotel and 9,800 seat multipurpose arena.
McCamly Place in 1990. (Willard Library Digital Collections)
Lured to town by the Kellogg Company, which had recently developed a new world headquarters next door, the EDC’s marketplace initially opened with 29 retail stores and eateries and a Piccadilly Grill as the anchor restaurant tenant. The centerpiece of the shopping center was a two-story atrium decorated with a Goddess of Grain statue on a pillar at the top of its escalators. Believing in the revitalization power of the festival marketplace concept, Mayor John J.H. Schwarz scoffed at the notion of community leaders in neighboring Kalamazoo suggesting that the project would fail.
“I want to tell a city 24 miles to the west that Battle Creek is alive and well. We are on our way. This is a laboratory for other cities this size, so they can learn from us. Success here has national implications.” - Mayor John J.H. Schwarz in 1986
As predicted by Kalamazoo’s city leaders, the festival marketplace named in honor of Sands McCamly, the founder of Battle Creek, failed to live up to the hype. Eventually, the complex was quickly downsized with much of it being converted into commercial office space. Second floor anchor Piccadilly Grill & Pub closed for good in 1996.
Inside McCamly Place after its decline. (Mapio.net)