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Proposed Kalamazoo Arena Gets Mixed Reaction From Business Owners

A proposed Kalamazoo arena in the city’s downtown is drawing a mixed reaction from owners of nearby businesses, with some favoring the concept and others expressing skepticism. 

Southwest Michigan First is looking to build support for a new events center in the city. The proposed 216,000-square-foot arena is expected to cost $110 million, and is envisioned for a site near the corner of West Kalamazoo and South Westnedge avenues.

The funding proposal would have to gain voter approval, as it calls for the 30-year bond issued to fund the arena’s construction to be backed by a one-percent food and beverage excise tax. The Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners will ultimately have to decide whether to place that proposal on the May 2019 voter ballot, but already the arena is drawing mixed reactions from downtown Kalamazoo’s business community. As found in a recent story, some business owners are concerned about issues such as the funding proposal, while others believe that a new and active arena could bring an influx of revenue into the city’s downtown:

“I can’t believe there’s a lot of restaurants out there or bar owners that would be excited about having their bills padded in any way by the tax,” said Larry Bell, president and founder of Bell’s Brewery, noting he did not know specific details about the proposal.

Having to collect a tax and doing the associated paperwork is a concern too, he said.

Mark Nieuwenhuis, owner and executive chef at Kelvin and Co. BBQ, located about four blocks from the proposed arena site, said an arena could be a really good revenue generator for small businesses like his.

“I think it would be great for businesses and personally as well to have a venue right downtown, centrally located,” Nieuwenhuis said. “It’s kind of what a downtown area needs.”

Southwest Michigan First is expected to present details on the proposed arena at a Kalamazoo County commissioners meeting on August 8. There are questions arising about whether the proposal has enough support from residents outside of the city of Kalamazoo to move forward, but it still remains to be seen if commissioners will ultimately opt to send the funding proposal to the ballot.

This is not the first time a new Kalamazoo arena has been discussed. A similar concept stalled in 2011, when there was not enough support to place a proposed one-percent food and beverage sales tax at bars and restaurants in Kalamazoo County on the ballot. However, proponents of the current proposal hope that better economic conditions will lead to more support this time around.

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