Sprinkler program spurs economic development in Michigan

Thursday, January 19, 2006

KALAMAZOO, Mich.--A city program that provides matching funds for eligible business owners who install sprinkler systems is contributing to the economic Renaissance taking place in this city, said a local business owner.
Ron Smilanich is the owner of Bimbo's Pizza, a flagship restaurant in Kalamazoo's historic downtown since his father opened it in 1959. Smilanich's building is one of 16 that received matching funds to install sprinklers systems. B.L. Haroun, a Kalamazoo sprinkler contractor, performed the installation at Smilanach's three-story brick building, which was built in 1880.
The cost for sprinkling the basement and first floor was about $40,000. The city grant from the city cut his costs "roughly in half," he said.
The brainchild of city fire marshal Marty Myers, the program combines city utility incentives, donated sprinkler heads from the Viking Corporation of Hastings, Mich., and part of a $390,000 Federal Emergency Management Administration grant.
The flight of retail businesses from downtown to malls outside the city left this area in sad shape 20 years ago. "We were always fine because we'd been here for a long time, but there was a time in the 1980s when it was not very nice downtown," Said Smilanich.
In the last seven or eight years, the outlook downtown has changed, he said. "There used to be a lot of real estate available, but I don't think you could buy a building downtown today,."
An active downtown revitalization group called Downtown Kalamazoo Incorporated and economic boosts from local philanthropists have resulted in a newly vibrant downtown and invigorated local school system.
As downtown buildings are refurbished, they must comply with codes such as the sprinkler codes. The sprinkler grants enable businesses to do this and invest more money in building improvements, Smilanich said.