Laser tag, a candy/bakery shop and a indoor water park.
Those are the ideas the students at Help Yourself Mezzo Academy came up with for the different vacant buildings around the city of Beloit.
The academy is a state and Beloit College-funded community outreach program for minority, low-income and under represented youth in the Greater Beloit Area.
Stephanie King, director of the program, and Regina Hendrix, assistant director, started talking in the spring about doing a summer program for the kids. Both are Beloiters who moved away and came back.
“Growing up here we know what it’s like when you see businesses closed,” King said. “Our idea was to send a message of happiness and to be empowered and learn a lot.”
The goal: Look at one of the vacant buildings and come up with a business model, including marketing plan, advertising and types of competition.
Students were given a box to either build on or build a model of their business. In groups of three the students came up with ideas like Sugar Sugar, a candy and bakery shop, imagined to be located at 1816 Roosevelt Drive.
Ja’Naejah Logan said her group came up with the idea because there weren’t a lot of places to get candy and baked goods in one area in the city.
“There are a lot of gas stations that have candy, but there aren’t any candy stores,” she said. “We do have one bakery, but it’s only open until noon so we would be open later.”
The design included using spray insulation that expanded for the top so the store looks like a cupcake. The students then spray painted it pink to look like frosting.
Hendrix said the students started on the project on June 17, and met four days each week designing and coming up with their business plans.
“We had the crazy idea, but they just ran with it and they did an amazing job,” Hendrix said.
Students even went on a trip to each vacant building to look at the floor plan and talk about possible businesses. Katherine Nevarez said her group came up with Pitch Black, a laser tag game store, located at 1809 Riverside Drive.
“The closest laser tag place is in Janesville,” she said. “You don’t have a lot of places around here for that.”
Liz Carpenter, Beloit Memorial High School art teacher, said each building also had to have a ramp or tunnel through it in order to set up the buildings as a mini golf course.
“They were a super creative group,” Carpenter said.
Michelle Hendrix-Nora, special education department chair for the high school, said the students had to use the exact floor plan of the building they were using.
“They had to come up with a logo, a color scheme with two to three colors and a tagline,” she said. “We taught them how to draw and basic architecture and we used the computer to make a 3D rendering of their building. They learned a lot.”