KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Neighborhood associations and downtown Kalamazoo businesses say they expect to benefit from a new plan to build an arena and event center downtown.

When putting the proposal together, organizers talked to all sorts of stakeholders — designers, businesses, the Kalamazoo Wings, Western Michigan University and neighborhood associations.

“It is very rare that you will find businessmen who … think past what their development is and that’s what they did,” said Mattie Jordan-Woods, the executive director of the Northside Association for Community Development.

There has been talk of a downtown events center for 17 years, but she said it was proactive conversations and collaboration that led to this week’s announcement of a solid proposal with money behind it.

Part of that plan includes a $6 million donation to NACD expected to come through by June.

“That $6 million is a splash. They don’t need to do anything more. If they just stick with their word, they’ve done more than anyone,” Jordan-Woods said.

While the precise way the money will be used has yet to be determined, she said it will help the association implement its 2018 neighborhood plan that addresses housing, workforce development, green space and the arts, plus creates a Northside business district.

“Most people think, ‘Oh, you can’t make any money in our community unless you gentrify everybody out and just bring rich people in.’ No, you can make money. You just have to provide the services that people are looking for because people will come everywhere to it,” Jordan-Woods said.

The arena and events center will also require a minimum of 20% of its concessions vendors to be minority-owned from the Northside neighborhood. The proposal also includes a job training program through Greenleaf Trust.

“It was really about ‘Give us that chance so that our community can be self-sufficient, so that they can work,'” Jordan-Woods said, “and give that opportunity with the construction jobs, training, what happens after it’s built. Who will be able to work in there? Will they have what we call living wages?”

While commending the gift and DEI work, Kalamazoo County Commissioner Tami Rey, whose district includes the Northside, said more talks are needed to solidify the details of the community benefits agreement.

“I feel like we just need to have more discussions and conversations around what they’re offering us will be implemented from a community standpoint,” Rey said. “…Like what do those training programs look like? Where would they be held? Who can take advantage of those programs? Just those things. There’s a lot more work likely to happen between and now and when the event center is complete.”

But with a plan in place, Jordan-Woods said the process has been established through a true community effort.

“They didn’t see us as an across-the-tracks community, but part of the entire county. They put their money where their mouth is,” Jordan-Woods said. “Then they said, ‘We will do even better. We will put our expertise so we can train people in your community and they can train people.'”

She praised it as a “long-term sustainability effect.”


Downtown Kalamazoo businesses are hopeful that the proposed arena will boost their sales.

“I’m super excited. It’s only like a block away from here,” Daniel Salas, co-owner of breakfast and lunch spot La Familia Café, said.

Right now, his restaurant is popular with locals and commuters. An arena could bring in new customers.

“Everybody that is going to be working construction, everybody that is going to be hosting events there or teams that are coming in,” Salas listed. “It’s just going to be a benefit for us being so close and the rest of downtown.”

  • A rendering of the downtown Kalamazoo arena.
  • A rendering of the downtown Kalamazoo arena.
  • A map shows where a proposed events center and arena could be built in downtown Kalamazoo.

Down the street at restaurant Junglebird, assistant general manager Corey Cook, who grew up in Kalamazoo, said it has always needed a downtown event space.

“In my early 20s, it would be awesome to have a pro team or travel team that could come through and we can see more events, even soccer, football, basketball, live entertainment,” Cook said.

Even with the plan in the very early stages, La Familia is already planning to stay open longer and apply for a liquor license. Salas explained that hours for downtown businesses like his are limited because of the in-and-out crowds, but that won’t be the case when 230-plus events per year at the arena are bringing in more customers.

“With these events and plans that the downtown event center is going to have, I think that other people are going to be more open to stay open later,” he said.

Another downtown cafe owner who closes up shop at 3 p.m. said she would consider extending hours only after construction starts.

“We all need a little help down here. Not everybody wants to come downtown. So with more attractions, this is just going to be better for drawing people from the suburbs of Kalamazoo’s surrounding areas to come downtown and frequent some of the businesses that we have down here,” Salas said.