By Josh Holderbaum
Kalamazoo’s downtown could get a big boost from an event center, two project advocates told Kalamazoo citizens Thursday.
The Kalamazoo County Democratic Party sponsored a public discussion on the possible event center downtown and Arcadia Commons West during their monthly meeting Nov. 19 at Theo & Stacy’s Restaurant on Westnedge Avenue.
The discussion, “Arcadia Commons West and Event Center – A Vision for a Regional Partnership and Economic Development,” featured presentations by Ken Miller, chairman of the WMU Board of Trustees, and Marilyn Schlack, Kalamazoo Valley Community College president.
“I would not be a proponent of the event center without Arcadia Commons West,” Miller said. “I also would not favor Arcadia Commons West without the anchor of the event center.”
The potential event center would be located on nine acres of property bordered by Westnedge Avenue, Park Street, West Michigan Avenue and Kalamazoo Avenue.
It would also face Arcadia Commons East, a section of downtown renovated beginning in 1990 that includes the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, KVCC’s Anna Whitten Hall, Arcadia Condominiums, the Radisson Hotel and the Arcadia Creek Festival Place.
“This city is blessed to have nine acres of property in its heart, even if it is nine blighted acres,” Miller said. “Blight starts at the core of a community and spreads out to other parts of the city, just like a tree. Strength and support starts at the core. Grand Rapids focused on their core, and their urban and suburban areas have flourished.”
Funds for the center would come from the Michigan Legislature’s Public Act 180 of 1991, allowing business taxes to be used to help fund stadiums and event centers, Miller said.
If voters approve the tax next year, restaurants in the city will get an additional 10 percent sales tax.
“People say to me, ‘You gotta be crazy – these are the worst economic times, and you want to add a new tax?’” Miller said. “It’ll cost you $15 per year. And that’s only if you go out to eat. If you don’t go out to eat, you won’t have to pay the tax.”
The event center would be owned by Kalamazoo County and governed by the county’s Sports Authority, which has jurisdiction over event centers.
The almost 8,000-seat arena wouldn’t require any additional parking, Miller said.
“Within a five-minute walk around the area, there are 2,000 parking spaces,” Miller said.
“In a 10-minute walk there are 4,000 spaces. I’ve heard this comment before: that’s 4,000. What about the 8,000 it holds? Well, some people go with friends.”
Along with the Kalamazoo K-Wings, WMU is a tenant for the arena, which would take pressure off Lawson Ice Arena and Waldo Stadium, Miller said.
“Lawson [Ice] Arena is deteriorating,” Miller said. “It requires multi-million dollar renovations, renovations that WMU cannot afford. Also, an auxiliary unit runs Lawson, which is then rented back to the athletes. So we’re paying rent on our own building. And with all the teams playing in Waldo, we have two-a-day practices. We’d be giving our athletes the opportunity to move into a state-of-the-art arena.”
The arena has faced much of the same opposition Arcadia Commons East received, Schlack said.
“I got a lot of complaints when we started planning Arcadia Commons East,”
Schlack said. “People said, ‘Who’s going to want to go to this campus, to this museum?’ Well, I’m proud to say that the Kalamazoo Valley Museum has 100,000 visitors a year.”
The arena’s central location in the city would be a big boost, Schlack said.
“Without a city’s urban core being strong and solid, communities don’t hold up well,” Schlack said. “Over 40 percent of property in the City of Kalamazoo is outside public domain. We’re tax free. So it’s up to us to help the City of Kalamazoo thrive. The only way to do this is through a private-public partnership.”
Because the donors of the land to the city intended for it to become an arena, it’s almost inevitable the arena will be created, State Rep. Robert Jones, D-Kalamazoo also in attendance, said.
“This money, Public Act 180, can only be used for this,” Jones said. “I got opposition from the Lansing Senate, from the Rock Financial [Showplace, an event center in Novi, Mich.,] and some from the restaurant association, but I was able, with a lot of work, to get it passed.”
The vote on the tax increase will make sure the community supports the idea, Jones said.
“This is an economic development opportunity for the community because everyone in the community will have to approve it,” Jones said. “Unless the community itself stands up, it doesn’t happen.”