Exec: Events center needed to revive downtown Kzoo

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The pieces of the puzzle may be falling into place for an event center in downtown Kalamazoo.

Supporters, Kalamazoo County and Western Michigan University would have to all work together to make it a reality.

Ron Kitchens, chief executive officer for Southwest Michigan First, says Kalamazoo is the largest community in the Midwest without a modern event center, and it’s keeping young people away from the city. 

“We’ll have 35,000 fewer people 10 years from now working than we have today if we don’t do something about it,” he told 24 Hour News 8.

The plan to build the event center has a lot of moving pieces. It would be located in the northwest corner of downtown Kalamazoo on land owned by the county and WMU. 

Kitchens says everyone supports the idea, but the county must first agree to move its planned courthouse over to make room for the event center. 

 “If they don’t say that, nothing happens. Can’t be done,” said Kitchens.

Kalamazoo County voters would then have to approve a 1 percent restaurant food and beverage tax to pay for the center.

“If you get a $10 hamburger, that’s a dime,” explained Kitchens.

Bob Miller, the university’s associate vice president for community outreach, said WMU has no current plans for the land and is “neutral” about the proposed event center.  He said it’s too early to know what the university would do if voters approved the event center.

Kitchens compares it to the success of Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids.

“Downtown Grand Rapids was chugging along, but with Van Andel’s growth, it has super accelerated,” he said. “And I don’t know that we’ll see super accelerated, we’ll just see really great growth, and I’m perfectly OK with that.”

Kitchens said he is looking at May 2019 for a vote on the tax. 

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