Reprinted from Battle Creek Enquirer- Part of the USA Today Network
Years after the closure and ultimate demolition of Wilson Academy, a Chicago-based startup’s idea could put the vacant property back to use.
Fresh Coast Capital’s plan is to plant more than two acres at the site of the former school with rows of hybrid poplar trees. Part of the property is owned by the city of Battle Creek, which entered in a management agreement with the company after the City Commission unanimously approved it Dec. 15.
The rest is owned by Battle Creek Public Schools. Fresh Coast Capital has spoken with district officials, who will present the project to the Board of Education this month for a potential vote.
“We have a large land mass in our geographic area,” Battle Creek Planning Manager Christine Zuzga said last month. “We’re going to be faced with challenges in trying to reuse other types of property. There’s a lot of investments in demolitions of blighted properties, but then we want to be able to find a reuse of those.”
Five years after the trees are planted, half of them will be harvested and used for biofuel, according to a city staff memo. The rest will be cut down to sell about 10 years later, when they reach up to 60 feet in height. Both are ways Fresh Coast Capital makes a return on its investment.
Then, the trees can be regrown and kept as a permanent green space, or the property can be used in another way.
But it’s more than a farm, with the trees growing in a park-like setting and without a fenced-in area so it can be enjoyed by the community. It’s also a project that provides health benefits and environmental perks, said April Mendez, Fresh Coast Capital’s co-founder and director of community partnerships.