There's "out of the box thinking" and then there's "out of the box" thinking. A local Kalamazoo group is behind "Fare Games" a competition for restaurant space in the Washington Square neighborhood on Portage Rd.

Photo courtesy of Kalamazoo County Land Bank,. Used by permission.

It's not quite as simple as "so you want to open a restaurant?", but still, Kalamazoo’s first-ever Fare Games competition will award space at the corner of Washington Avenue and Portage Street  and a business-geared prize package to one local food-based entrepreneur.

Food-based entrepreneurs are to compete for the opportunity to start or relocate their business at the 1301 Portage Street space thanks to a three-year graduated lease for the space; pro-bono legal counsel from Warner, Norcross & Judd; interior design by SKP Design; and other goods and services designed to help launch their business.

The Kalamazoo County Land Bank and a variety of partners have spent the past three years revitalizing the historic commercial hub of Washington Square at the heart of Kalamazoo's Edison neighborhood. The one remaining vacant space is undergoing renovations and set to be awarded to the Fare Games winner in preparation for its next life as a restaurant or other food business.

“Fare Games is a way to get the community excited about the possibilities for this historic space and to support a talented food entrepreneur with incentives that make it possible to overcome some of the barriers that often prevent people from launching or growing a new business” said Fare Games committee chair Becky Fulgoni.

“For the past few years, the idea for something like Fare Games has been discussed as a means to bring a new tenant that would complement the other offerings in Washington Square. The Land Bank has raised capital, with the support of organizations like Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Michigan Municipal League, and the Jim Gilmore Jr. Foundation, to renovate the interior of the building to make it retail-ready for a great restaurant, café, or coffee shop,” said Kelly Clarke, executive director of the Kalamazoo County Land Bank and Fare Games committee member.

Michigan-based restaurateurs are invited to create a business plan that demonstrates financial capacity to build their business in the designated space, a solid understanding of how to run a restaurant or other food business, and a commitment to becoming involved in Washington Square and the broader Edison neighborhood community.

“Fare Games has the potential to highlight what's great and interesting about Washington Square and the Edison neighborhood, draw attention to the diverse, vibrant food scene in Kalamazoo, and showcase the entrepreneurs who make it possible," said Miguel Romero, a Fare Games committee member who will sit on the judging panel.

A group of mentors will help coach Fare Games applicants on how to develop a business plan. The panel includes commercial bankers, restaurateurs, Edison residents, a small business consultant, and other business experts. Applicants have until Aug 19, 2016, to develop their plans. The winner will be selected in September.