BATTLE CREEK – Walking through the building at 311 W. Michigan Ave. On Friday, Tonesha and Marcelle Heath could see the potential.
With a little love and attention, they said, community gatherings, farmers’ markets, educational programs, birthday parties and wedding receptions could be possible in the space of nearly 6 000 square feet of Washington Heights neighborhood in Battle Creek.
It is a space that could bring people together, build and strengthen community. Tonesha Heath’s father and former owner of the building, Anthony Elmore, had wanted to see the building brought back to life before his death in 2020.
In his honor, the married couple is doing just that, converting the space into The Link Community Event Center.
The couple officially opened the renovations on August 5.
“I feel like it’s important because there’s a lack of venues in the Washington Heights area, this side of downtown,” Tonesha Heath said Friday. “There’s just a lack of opportunities for any type of event or entertainment and opportunities for kids.
“We feel like it was God’s plan for us,” she continued. “This building, it was designed for us to give back to the community.”
The building previously housed Elmore’s clothing store, Stream 1, but became a storage site in later years as he focused on his legal work with the Anthony L. Elmore law firm.
The Washington Heights Entrepreneurial Fund is helping make the renovations possible with a $300,000 grant. The $2 million program, funded by the WK Kellogg Foundation, was created in 2021 by Battle Creek Unlimited and New Level Sports Ministries; it prioritizes low-to-middle-income Black, Hispanic and Burmese people who have traditionally had limited access to capital.
“A local economy needs the participation of all members of the community,” Battle Creek Unlimited President and CEO Joe Sobieralski previously said. “Members of the community (Black, Indigenous, of color) have always been excluded from opportunities, which is why we actually created the parameters to try to address some of these inequalities that have occurred over the decades. ”
The Heaths plan to complete the renovations, which include plumbing, electrical and HVAC upgrades, in phases. Phase 1 will focus on the front of the building, with plans to have the approximately 1,000 square foot space available to host public and private events of around 50 people by the end of the year.
Phase 2 work is expected to begin next year and when completed will allow the building to accommodate 250 to 300 people. The Heaths also plan to host food trucks, farmers’ markets and other outdoor festivities with the space offered by the 1.4-acre property.
The Battle Creek natives, and parents of three, simply want to cultivate a safe space for everyone in the community to enjoy.
“We understand the importance of family, we understand the importance of experience and opportunity and a safe place to bring your family to enjoy as a family,” Tonesha Heath said. “We just want to create this safe environment here in our neighborhood.”
While offering a tour of the property on Friday, the Heaths received a surprise visit from Battle Creek Vice Mayor Carla Reynolds.
“(Tonesha and Marcelle are) from the community,” Reynolds said moments after exchanging hugs and congratulating the couple. “They’re part of this community and then building in the town where they live, giving back and having something to offer the community, this event center, it’s going to be a blessing.”
Marcelle Heath hopes The Link will help spur development and further strengthen the community, in Washington Heights and throughout Battle Creek as a whole.
“We want to make sure it’s done right, (that) it’s done at a level where our community receives it so others can relate to it or the idea or the concept of running a business” , did he declare.
Taking a last look around the space on Friday, Tonesha Heath smiled.
“It’s his legacy,” she said of her father. “We owe all of this first to God, then to him.”
Contact reporter Greyson Steele at [email protected] or 269-501-5661. Follow him on Twitter: G_SteeleBC