KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A parcel of land in downtown Kalamazoo is now under the county’s ownership after five years under the ownership of Western Michigan University.

On Friday, the university’s board of trustees unanimously voted to move forward with the sale of the former Whitley Funeral Home site.

The Western Michigan University Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 3, 2022.
The Western Michigan University Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 3, 2022.

Before selling it to Kalamazoo County, WMU ended up owning the property in 2017, but not by purchasing it.

“Instead, this really stemmed from another pretty complicated donation to the university that occurred about a decade prior,” explained Jan Van Der Kley, who serves as treasurer for the WMU board of trustees. “At that point, a benefactor provided multiple parcels to WMU that were not contiguous.”

The university, city, county and downtown partners then decided to readdress the parcels.

“As a result of that, we ended up with this property, which was contiguous. We did not have to buy it,” Van Derk Kley explained. “There was no debt associated with it, so WMU has a clear title to it.”

The one-block site — bordered by North Park Street, Cooley Street, West Kalamazoo Avenue and Eleanor Street — also sits two blocks away from the future Kalamazoo County Downtown Justice Center. Currently, it serves as a staging area for the justice center’s ongoing construction.

The one-block site is bordered by North Park Street, Cooley Street, West Kalamazoo Avenue and Eleanor Street.
The one-block site is bordered by North Park Street, Cooley Street, West Kalamazoo Avenue and Eleanor Street.

But soon, the property will play another role. Kalamazoo County leaders expressed interest in buying the property for parking at the future justice center.

“Our current parking lot is only sufficient for our administration building staff. We need approximately 700 spaces in additional parking to accommodate the Kalamazoo County Downtown Justice Center staff,” said a Kalamazoo County spokesperson. “Even with the additional lot, parking spaces will be limited. We anticipate using a nearby ramp to accommodate overflow.”

Appraisals from both parties valued the property at $1.15 million. The university has yet to figure out how they’re going to spend that money.

“What we would do is provide them at the discretion of the university to redeploy — whether to benefit financial aid, other purposes that would appear — and be deemed as being the most impactful to the university,” Van Der Kley said. “Because there is no debt, they’re fully deployable.”

The county is still in the second phase of an environmental assessment, which simply means they can still pull out of the agreement. Nov. 18 is the latest they can do that, unless both the county and WMU agree to extend that deadline.

Construction on both the justice center and the parking lot within the new property is set to be finished by summer 2023.