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WSW: Kalamazoo Builder's Mission to Rid Neighborhoods of Blight Gets HGTV Pilot

This is a story of when the power of social media meets the desire to do good. Jeremy Cole, 32, rescues dilapated homes in Kalamazoo County. He'd post before-and-after pictures on Facebook. One day, the licensed builder shared a light-hearted video about his restoration work. Stanley Steppes, a local independent filmmaker with whom Cole attended Kalamazoo Central High School, saw it and convinced Cole to let him do a YouTube series on him. A Detroit film production company executive was "tagged," liked it, and dreamed even bigger. His firm turned it into a show for the DIY network. Now HGTV is giving "Gritty to Pretty" a trial run this fall.

Today, Jeremy Cole shares his story with Earlene McMichael on WestSouthwest, the news and public affairs show on WMUK, the NPR station based at Western Michigan University. Cole is joined by Stanley Steppes, CEO and founder of IMEEDIA in Kalamazoo, and Gary Bredow, a co-founder and executive producer of Arcadius Productions in Detroit. Arcadius is producing the HGTV pilot.

Longer version (19 mins)

Credit Earlene McMichael | WMUK
Justin Munn, a city of Kalamazoo building inspector, talks with "Gritty to Pretty" Associate Producer Stanley Steppes, left, and Host Jeremy Cole during an insulation inspection on Wednesday, July 18.

It was at age 19, as a student studying finance at Western Michigan University, that Cole purchased his first home. Since then, he said, he's bought and rehabilitated about 60 homes in the city of Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Township and Portage, and typically sells them. He maintains 16 rental properties. However, his goal is to revive vacant and neglected homes, full-time, in an effort to address the area's affordable housing shortage, he said.

Jeremy Cole's "electric" personality, integrity, knowledge of his craft, and sincere passion for turning around neighborhoods hooked show producers

Cole's mission to transform "the worst of the worst" homes to "the best on the block" was first put to film in October 2016 when Stanley Steppes began taping the YouTube series featuring Cole called "REO-Life." About six episodes were made. Steppes posted the series on Facebook, tagging a number of people on his FB Friends' List, including Arcadius' Gary Bredow. 

Bredow said he didn't watch it right away. When he couldn't sleep one night, he clicked on the link. He said he was "sucked in" by Cole's "electric" personality, integrity, knowledge of his craft, and sincere passion for turning around neighborhoods, adding that he had charisma and that intangible "it" factor.

Bredow contacted Steppes.

"How quickly can you get Jeremy into the studios, so we can put him on tape and try to do something?" Bredow recalled telling him. 

Arcadius Productions then got the DIY network interested in "Gritty to Pretty" (the new name the network gave the show), and a few episodes aired in February of this year. Ratings were good. From there, Bredow said, HGTV decided to pilot two episodes this fall. (Both DIY and HGTV share the same parent company, Scripps Networks Interactive.)

One episode will be of a renovation underway in Kalamazoo's Edison neighborhood. The other is to be a rebroadcast of one of the DIY installments. If the pilot performs well, production will continue for more episodes, according to Bredow.

Bredow said HGTV has not yet announced an air date.

Credit Earlene McMichael | WMUK
Stanley Steppes, associate producer/cameraman for "Gritty to Pretty," and Host Jeremy Cole, on Wednesday, July 18, 2018, at the Edison home being renovated for the show. In the background is Tom Riddle, of Grand Rapids, production coordinator.

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