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Creative leadership was already at the table when the Edison Neighborhood Association went looking

Sometimes the best person for the job is already sitting at the table.

That appears to be the case for the Edison Neighborhood Association in Kalamazoo, whose board of directors had hired a recruiting firm last year to find a dedicated, passionate, knowledgeable leader to replace its retiring executive director.

Members of the association’s board were talking about new and exciting things that could happen with the vision of a new administrator.

“I started to talk about what I really wanted to see happen,” says board member Stephen Dupuie, “and then the board members one by one kept tapping me on the shoulder and saying, ‘I think that you should do it. We really like your ideas.’”

Stephen Dupuie, artistic director of the Dormouse Theatre Troupe, has a new seat at the Edison Neighborhood Association. He has been named Executive Director.

“I said ’No’ three or four times,” Dupuie says, “because I was really worried about my capacity, my actual physical capacity, to do it.”

His fellow directors weren’t so worried, however. And Dupuie ran out of ways to say, “No.”

“He’s going to be awesome,” Tammy Taylor says of Dupuie’s potential to lead the association’s efforts to help improve the quality of life for residents of Kalamazoo’s most populous neighborhood.

Taylor retired from the executive director post on Dec. 31, 2021, after 21 years in that role.

“He’s very, very innovative,” Taylor says of Dupuie. “And he’s going to change things and make things wonderful. He really is. I couldn’t have wished for a better person to take my place.”

Dupuie, 44, is artistic director of the Dormouse Theatre Group and owner of the 1030 Portage St. theater that bears the group’s name. He and members of the sketch comedy troupe renovated the former church there in the Washington Square area of the Edison Neighborhood. The 200-seat theater now serves as a live entertainment venue featuring local performers and musicians. It opened last summer.

“I knew I had a vision for the neighborhood,” Dupuie says. “I wasn’t going anywhere. I live here. My business is here and all this stuff. And I have been volunteering for the last five-plus years. So clearly, I had some vested interests in the neighborhood.”

Dupuie, 44, is a native of Brown City, a small farming town in Michigan’s thumb area. He relocated to Kalamazoo at age 24, by way of Grand Rapids. The move occurred as he chased opportunities to work in restaurant management and the service industry.

He says he loves the diversity of the Edison Neighborhood, which lays claim to having the widest mix of people in Kalamazoo in terms of ethnicity and economics. Located just south and east of downtown Kalamazoo, it is also one of the city’s oldest and most dense neighborhoods in terms of housing and commercial uses.

Tammy Taylor, who ended a 21-year stint as executive director of the Edison Neighborhood Association, says Stephen Dupuie is a great fit for that post. She is shown at a retirement party held late last year.

“Edison Neighborhood is bigger than my hometown, like five times bigger,” Dupuie says with a laugh. Of Brown City, he says, “There are more cows there than people.”

A resident of busy Portage Street, Dupuie says he wants to give back to the community. “The biggest thing is building community,” he says. He hopes to help do that with a few new initiatives. They include:

Grow Edison – An initiative to increase urban farming among neighborhood residents. It involves educating people on how to grow their own food.

“It is such an economically diverse neighborhood,” Dupuie says, “and food insecurity is a real issue.”

He hopes the educational project can teach people where to plant healthy food in their yards and how to grow things from seed. The concept involves bringing people together and putting them through a class. “And at the end of that class, provide them with resources such as garden boxes and things they would actually need to implement things,’ he says.

The growing season may end with a harvest dinner and instructions on how to can foods and preserve them. The association is considering putting a garden behind its offices at 816 Washington Ave., he says, along with a compost pile area to allow residents to drop off materials and pick them up.

“When I think about food, I think it’s a universal thing and it’s a really great way to build community,” Dupuie says.

Resident Outreach – With nearly 10,000 residents and 2.7 square miles in area (second only in size to the Milwood Neighborhood’s 4.8 square miles), Dupuie says it can sometimes be very difficult to reach neighborhood residents. So he proposes to brand districts within the neighborhood and acknowledge their distinct characteristics.

“It’s about figuring out the different pockets of the neighborhood and celebrating those unique features and unique needs of each pocket,” he says.

For example, Dupuie says the southeast section of the neighborhood, which has been home to many industrial businesses over the years – including the 8-year-old Jericho Town cluster of businesses -- might be considered the neighborhood’s Factory District. The Washington Square area along Portage Street, along with the Kalamazoo Farmers Market could be considered the neighborhood’s Market District, he says. The very residential and historic area that includes Lay Boulevard, Lane Boulevards, and other parallel streets could be considered the neighborhood’s Boulevard District. “You don’t really have boulevards like that anywhere else,” he says.

He says the area of Alcott Street in the southwest portion of the neighborhood, which includes locations of the Family Health Center, Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services, and Housing Resources Inc., could be considered the Service District. Other areas could also be branded, such as the northeast section that includes Mayors Riverfront Park.

But he says, “Nothing has been decided yet,” and moving ahead with the idea includes developing district leaders and district champions within the different pockets “bringing those people into the neighborhood association and really getting a better collective voice from everybody.” He hopes it will be a great way to brand the neighborhood and celebrate unique things in each pocket.

The commercial corridor – The redevelopment of Portage Street from downtown Kalamazoo into the Washington Square area is an ongoing economic development initiative, he says, and “There’s a lot of work already done in that corridor.”

Along with the City of Kalamazoo and entrepreneurs, the neighborhood association will continue to be involved. Dupuie says, “We have a building of our own that we’re renovating (the Barber Shop Building at 812 Washington Ave.) and just looking at how we can stimulate economic growth along the corridor.”

He says the Edison Board has approved work on the three initiatives but focus committees and lots of other planning needs to be done before anything happens.

What should Edison Neighborhood residents already be excited about?

“There’s a lot of potential,” Dupuie says. “The neighborhood is definitely experiencing a renaissance. And residents really have the opportunity to have a say in what that renaissance looks like.”

What should be their focus?

“Coming in and getting involved,” he says. “We have a blank slate, a clean slate. I really want people to come and get involved in this new and exciting process that we have ahead of us.”

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