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Proposed downtown Kalamazoo arena to be 100% privately funded

Kalamazoo County Commissioners received proposal for a privately-funded downtown event center arena, located on North Westnedge Avenue and Park Street. (Tower Pinkster/WWMT)
Kalamazoo County Commissioners received proposal for a privately-funded downtown event center arena, located on North Westnedge Avenue and Park Street. (Tower Pinkster/WWMT)
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A discussion around a downtown Kalamazoo event center that spanned over a decade could finally become a reality.

A privately funded, estimated $300 million event center was proposed to the Kalamazoo County Commissioners Tuesday. A motion to finalize the purchase agreement passed 9 to 0.

“Now that we have land assembly complete, we are off to the races," Jonas Peterson, Southwest Michigan First President, said.

The proposed event center is expected to support over 200 events per year, create nearly 700 jobs, see almost 55,000 attendees annually, and infuse nearly $54 million into the local economy on an annual basis, according to the proposal given to the Committee of the Whole on Tuesday.

“A project like a downtown event center would generate a massive economic impact," Peterson said. “We believe that a privately funded event center will be a game-changer for our entire region.”

The arena could host Western Michigan University Athletics, including basketball and hockey, the Kalamazoo Wings, and concert events, according to the proposal. Up to 8,000 seats could be available for the concert setting, and around 6,000 seats are expected for basketball and hockey games.

“We learned there is a high level of unmet demand for local events," Peterson said.

“...We are fortunate to have WMU Athletics included in the discussion,” Dan Bartholomae, Western Michigan University athletic director, added. “They are on a path to creating an innovative partnership that would be a tremendous asset for our community and aligns with WMU Athletics' vision of comprehensive excellence. The current vision will address facility deficiencies which inhibit our student athletes’ experience, hinder our ability to recruit and compete at the highest level, and will provide amenities that fans expect, students deserve, and that our community can enjoy."

The proposed project will be funded by anonymous investors, not using any taxpayers' dollars, according to presentation.

“The investment in an event center will be transformational for the downtown and community,” Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema said. “I especially appreciate the diversity, equity, and inclusion components of the community benefits, and what it means for Kalamazoo’s Northside neighborhood.”

The proposed site for the event center is between North Westnedge Avenue and Park Street across from the new Kalamazoo County courthouse currently under construction.

“Our plan is to overbuild for parking, because we are expecting more development to happen because of the event center," Peterson said.

In the early conception of the event center's design, the site will be broken up into sections that include a practice ice rink, parking deck, event hall, and more.

“People will not just drive in, go to the event and leave," Jane Ghosh, President and CEO Discover Kalamazoo said. "With the distributed parking model, they will stay, they will shop, they will discover our amazing restaurants.”

"The proposed privately-funded arena is exciting news for Kalamazoo! It will create hundreds of jobs, strengthen Kalamazoo's economy, and serve as a wonderful source of entertainment for both residents and visitors to enjoy," West Michigan Congressman Bill Huizenga said.

Kalamazoo leaders said the developer is focused on supporting diversity with this project by creating job and internship opportunities.

"We’re very pleased with all the work that has gone into this proposal. We are excited to see this project come together and watch our community reap the benefits," Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners Chair, John Taylor, said.

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“I am impressed with the event center planners’ expressed commitment to create a vibrant, engaging, inclusive development that serves the entire community and contributes to the energy and connectedness of our downtown, neighborhoods, city, and the region," Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson said. "I look forward to continuing fruitful community conversations. Great cities have great downtowns."

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