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Pitch Made for Kalamazoo Event Center

Seeking to advance discussions on the plan, the organization backing a proposed Kalamazoo Event Center made its pitch to county commissioners Wednesday.

The economic development organization Southwest Michigan First is proposing the construction of a new 216,000-square-foot, $110 million event center in downtown Kalamazoo. Proposed for construction on adjacent blocks between North Westnedge Avenue and Park Street, the facility would be used for a variety of events and has been touted by proponents as a way to generate economic activity and potentially attract more college-educated and millennial residents into the surrounding area.

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. During a meeting on Wednesday, Southwest Michigan First CEO Ron Kitchens presented the project to the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners, calling for a land swap to facilitate construction and a May 2019 ballot measure on the one-percent tax. While they did not make a decision, commissioners noted some of the potential economic benefits but added that residents have some expressed some trepidation over the proposal. More from

At a long-awaited meeting Wednesday, CEO Ron Kitchens pitched a two-step proposal to the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners: Swap ownership of a lot at 411 W. Kalamazoo Ave. for an empty east-adjacent lot and begin planning to place a stadium and convention facility surcharge proposal on the May 2019 ballot.

No decisions were made yet. Commissioners acknowledged the positive economic impact but said residents have largely asked the board to reject a proposal to fund the event center and a parking garage with a 1 percent tax on restaurant food and beverages sales.

“As soon as this thing hit the newspaper I got a lot of feedback and it was not positive,” said Commissioner Michael Seals.

Plans for a tax-funded arena that were brought to the community in 2009-10 failed to garner a vote. A Southwest Michigan First task force charged with finding solutions to attract young people to the region is credited with bringing back previously-stalled plans for the event center last month.

Currently, the parcels being considered for the arena are owned by the county and Western Michigan University.

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