The 10 Biggest Battle Creek News Stories Of 2019
As we wind down 2019 and get ready to welcome a new year and a new decade on Wednesday, January 1st, 2020, here is a recap some of the biggest stories in the news for Battle Creek area from this past year.
10 - ECONO LODGE ANNOUNCES 90 DAY CLOSURE, SUBSEQUENT FIRE (November/December)
In November, a 90 day closing agreement between the Econo Lodge hotel and the city prevented a court hearing in Battle Creek’s lawsuit against the motel. The city says it’s a nuisance. Over a 13 month period ending in February of this year, police responded to 475 complaints at the motel. They include reports of building and code violations, drug sales, prostitution, assaults, and domestic violence.
In December, the embattled hotel caught fire just before it was set to officially close. There's no official word on what will happen with the building now, but it was heavily damaged in the fire which could mean that it will be torn down.
The main portion of the former Shrank’s Cafeteria at 85 West Michigan Avenue in downtown Battle Creek was razed in April. The “R.F. Hoffmaster” building was home to a favorite downtown meeting place and lunch spot since 1932, when it was opened by Roy Shrank. The building was built by Rillie F. Hoffmaster in 1899, and became part of what was known as the “Hoffmaster Block”. The Hoffmaster family worked in the dry goods and mercantile business. Hoffmaster built a three story structure next door, to the east, later known as the Jury-Rowe store.
Roy Shrank’s daughter, Rita DeVore, eventually took over the cafeteria and ran Shrank’s until 2007, when she and her husband, Steve, relinquished control of the business to Becky and Stephen Schnorr. But the Schnorrs returned the business to the DeVores in June 2010. Costs to get the old building up to city code were too high, and signaled the end of an era.
McCamly Plaza Hotel in downtown Battle Creek is closed for several months, as the current owners are working to complete renovations. The closure was announced in mid-November and happened in early December.
Neil Freeman, Chairman & CEO, Aries Capital, LLC, the current owner of the property, confirmed that the hotel had to close for work needed to get the hotel ready for an intended sale to the Hilton Doubletree brand. The closure is expected to last for at least six months; at least until Spring 2020.
7 - HERITAGE TOWER REOPENS AS 'THE MILTON' (December)
In mid-December, Michigan Ave. between Capital Ave. and McCamly St. was reopened, for the first time since November 1, 2018; the closing was necessary as the long-vacant Heritage Tower was overhauled into The Milton, which is designed as a mixed-use residential and retail structure.
Officials with The Milton say that around 30 apartments have been finished, and they expect the building will be open around the New Year, with tenants starting to move in. However, the work on Battle Creek’s tallest building is not yet complete, and construction is expected to continue into the spring.
Work began to overhaul the historic tower in May 2017, after the building sat empty since 2008. The initial opening goal for the project, which cost over $30 million, was spring of 2019; however, various issues including a brief strike by contracted workers contributed to the delay.
6 - SEARS CLOSES AT LAKEVIEW SQUARE MALL (January)
Lakeview Square Mall lost its last 'anchor' store in January of 2019. The closure happened just two months after it was announced in November 2018 that it was among 40 other stores being closed by Sears Holdings. Battle Creek's Sears was the only location in Michigan affected by that announcement. At the time, the closures left fewer than 500 locations remaining.
It's been a rough few years for the former shopping hot spot in Battle Creek. When Lakeview Square Mall opened in Battle Creek on May 15, 1983, it had 81 stores, and Sears was among its first anchor stores, alongside J.C. Penney and Hudsons.
Later in the year, another round of closings was announced and the next closest Sears location, the store at Crossroads Mall in Portage, also announced that it would be closing its doors for good. The Portage store closed in the fall.
On November 30th, 35-year-old Battle Creek Police Officer Jeff Johnson was shot multiple times while attempting to make an arrest. A bullet-proof vest, quick and conscientious response from his fellow officers to rush him to the hospital, as well as an applied tourniquet, saved Johnson's life that night. He was very fortunate, as a delay in response or any variety of other circumstances could have led to a much different outcome.
The suspect, 30 year old Andre Yarborough was later arrested on a long list of felony charges, including the shooting involving Officer Johnson.
Johnson is facing a long recovery and several fundraising efforts have been held and are ongoing to help Johnson and his family. CLICK HERE if you wish to donate to help Johnson and his family.
An 11-year-old Battle Creek boy was killed in May after he was struck by a law enforcement vehicle. The Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office says that their deputies had been responding to reports of a burglary in progress in the City of Springfield. As they were on the way, a deputy collided with Norman Hood Jr., who was driving a compact two wheel motorbike on Michigan Ave. near Lenon St. next to Leila Arboretum. The boy was taken to the hospital in Kalamazoo, but was pronounced dead.
Sheriff Matt Saxton was notified by Michigan State Police investigators in September that they completed their investigation. The Jackson County prosecutor’s office, asked to review the case due to Calhoun County's conflict of interest, will not be seeking charges. They determined that proof of criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt was not found from the evidence.
Authorities say the deputy, who was on paid administrative leave since the May 28th incident, was driving westbound on West Michigan without lights and siren when Hood, also riding a mini-bike westbound on West Michigan, attempted to turn left. The turn went in front of the police cruiser. The family maintains that Norman did not veer in front of the cruiser, as described by the prosecutor, and are suing the county related to the child's death.
3- EEE VIRUS CASES & DEATHS AFFECT OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES (September/October)
The first human case of the deadly mosquito-borne illness Eastern Equine Encephalitis was confirmed in Calhoun County in September, which was among many in Michigan throughout the fall, including several deaths. Additionally, cases of EEE in animalsin Calhoun County were confirmed at Binder Park Zoo. In October, the first death from the virus in Calhoun County was confirmed.
Students and faculty from schools in Battle Creek, along with much of West Michigan will remember the fall of 2019 and the effects that the scare of the EEE virus had on school activities. Most of the 2019 high school football season, as well as other fall outdoor sports and activities, were moved to earlier game start times to avoid having people out at around sunset when mosquitos are most active. Aerial spraying to combat EEE also became a controversial subject during the fall months.
2- HISTORIC DEEP FREEZE (January/February)
In late January, forecasts started indicated that a historic stretch of bitter cold was headed to Michigan, including Battle Creek. But as it all played out, some of the coldest weather in decades along with hefty winter storms left what many will remember as the 'Deep Freeze of 2019'.
High temperature forecasts didn't even make it above 0 for daytime highs and record low temperatures between -10 to -15 degrees came with wind chills approaching and -30 to -35.
Here are some of the long standing records that were broken during the deep freeze, which closed some local schools for over a week and some universities in Michigan to close for multiple days, which is extremely rare.
January 30th, 2019
Old Record: -13 (1951)
New Record: -18 (2019)
January 31st, 2019
Old Record: -10 (1899)
New Record: -18 (2019)
Battle Creek was only six degrees away from tying the coldest temperature ever recorded in the city at -24 which was set on February 12th, 1899. Kalamazoo also broke a record that had stood for 120 years. On January 31st, the temperature reached -18 breaking a record of -15 that had also been set in 1899.
1- PRESIDENT TRUMP COMES TO BATTLE CREEK (December)
In early December, the city of Battle Creek learned that the President of the United States was going to hold a 'Merry Christmas Rally' at Kellogg Arena. The news came out of nowhere, and the city started planning right away. It was first visit by a sitting President in several years. Shortly later, the event was amped up even more as it was announced that Vice President Mike Pence would also be coming to the city to join Trump for the rally, which was held Wednesday, December 18th. Media outlets from all over the state and the country covered the event.
And Battle Creek was in the national spotlight even more than it might have been otherwise, as the event coincided with a vote by the House of Representatives in Washington to impeach Donald Trump. The news came down not long after Trump took the stage at the arena.
Several thousand waited outside in the cold for much of the day before packing the arena in the evening. The rally which lasted from 7:00 pm until around 10:15 pm. Vice President Pence spoke briefly before President Trump, who spoke for just over two hours.
Did we miss anything, or is there a story that you think should have ranked higher? Let us know in the Facebook comments under this article.