New bill could raise lodging tax in Kalamazoo, fund new downtown event center

Downtown Kalamazoo at sunrise.

The Michigan House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 4816 that could make a $110 million dollar multi-purpose event center in the heart of downtown Kalamazoo a reality. The bill, which still must make its way through Michigan Senate, would provide a large part of the funding for the arena by raising the lodging tax in Kalamazoo.

Constructing an event center of this magnitude in Kalamazoo has been a project in the making for more than 20 years. Dr. Elson Floyd, the sixth president of WMU, was outspoken in his desire to keep college graduates in the community by investing in an arena that could bring modern entertainment and large-scale events to Kalamazoo. Floyd tried his best to put the gears into motion during his tenure but met a standstill shortly after the Michigan Economy collapsed in the early 2000’s.

Ron Kitchens, the CEO of Southwest Michigan First and staunch supporter of Bill 4816, believes a modern event center in Kalamazoo is well overdue. Kitchens said the arena would be well adept to host a variety of events including basketball and hockey games, concerts, and community functions like conferences and graduation ceremonies. Best of all, Kitchens explained, it won’t cost local residents a dime.

“We’ve come up with a solution that doesn’t involve traditional public funding. It is paid for by visitors with a hotel/motel tax, which is exactly how Grand Rapids paid for their event center… That will pay for about 50-60% of the final cost and then we will raise, from philanthropy in the private sector, the remaining balance. It really is a gift to the community,” said Kitchens.

Figures from 2018 indicated Kalamazoo county could raise an additional $2.3 million dollars a year if accommodation taxes are raised by 4%, which Bill 4816 would permit.

Kalamazoo is one of the largest communities in the midwest without a modern event center or arena despite its job and population growth this decade. Kitchens believes the event center could support between 500-600 permanent jobs around the city and at least 600 temporary high-wage construction jobs. The proposed event center would have a capacity of around 7,500-8,000 people and be located between North Westnedge Avenue and Park Street downtown.

“This is an important measure to help Kalamazoo County - and other locations in Michigan - continue to build on the state's economic momentum. Conventions, concerts and other special events are a key part of tourism and bringing people to downtown areas, said Rep Brandt Iden (R-Portage) in a statement.

The bill is expected to face the Michigan Senate within the next few weeks.


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