Yesterday, residents and community leaders raised questions about the proposed construction of a new arena in downtown Kalamazoo during informational sessions Monday at Kalamazoo Valley Community College's downtown campus.
As the Gazette reported, some included:
"Could drivers navigate the one-way streets or find a place to park if an arena brought thousands of people to downtown Kalamazoo?"It is a discussion that many of us have had as we debate the impact. What it really comes down to is, will economic force of this arena benefit the community enough to warrant its proposed construction, and taxation on the county's residents?
"Would the local arts community suffer from the competition?"
"Would the new facility's attendance suffer if Western Michigan University students were unwilling to leave campus to attend events?"
For one, I am skeptical of the perceived benefits this area will bring. It has been reported that it would be able to support up to 8,000 participants, a number strangely in between small venue and large venue events. K-Wings games and Broncos events, which only average about 3,000 in attendance, would not be able to fill all the seats planned.
I know the Van Andel Arena has done marvels for Grand Rapids in terms of downtown development, but in creating this arena we will essentially be competing against it and others of similar size. If you are a major host trying to fill a venue, would you rather pick smaller Kalamazoo which hosts 8,000, or Grand Rapids with its 12,000 spaces? Could the arena bring in enough events to fill that medium range?
Maybe in a heighted economy, yes, but let's face it: the music and convention industries aren't exactly hitting a crescendo right now. It would be difficult to bring in events with our market alone, not even considering competing against larger arenas in Grand Rapids, Lansing, Chicago and Detroit.
We have 36% of Kalamazoo residents in poverty, and we are considering taxing our citizens for an arena in downtown that may or may not stimulate the economy. Maybe there are a few aces up the sleeves of Kalamazoo planners Bill Johnson & co. I haven't considered, but I just don't see the benefits of this arena in improving the city.
Would we give those jobs to the residents who are at the highest risk? Probably not, I'm guessing WMU, KVCC and K College students would gobble up a significant portion. And that's not a bad thing. But if we really want to improve our community, and reduce poverty, we need to consider our priorities.
I would love to see an arena in the Kalamazoo someday in the future. However, taxing the community for an arena, which seemingly will underwhelm the local economy, just doesn't appear to be worth the trouble right now.