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East Campus development faces new threat at time of promise

by Cheryl Roland

April 29, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of WMU's East Campus.
WMU's East Campus
KALAMAZOO--A boutique hotel, a conference center, offices, apartments, restaurants and retail outlets, or a condominium development--those are just some of the possible future uses for Western Michigan University's East Campus that have emerged after WMU officials challenged private developers to find a way to breathe life back into the site.

But just as developers from around the nation have fired their best shots in coming up with plans to revitalize the historic hilltop campus overlooking downtown Kalamazoo, budget and political debates in Lansing are emerging as the site's newest threats.

University officials are evaluating proposals that could restore East Campus and bring new economic vitality to Kalamazoo after attracting the attention of private development firms from around the nation who responded to this year's Request for Proposal. While several viable proposals are being evaluated, Michigan tax credits that make redevelopment possible are being considered for elimination as part of Gov. Rick Snyder's budget proposal.

Historic preservation and brownfield redevelopment tax credits are available to private organizations developing the site, but both could be severely curtailed or even dropped.

In January, WMU issued a call for proposals from private developers and heard from dozens of firms interested in knowing more. A dozen firms ultimately took a detailed tour of the site and the majority submitted proposals.

"We are considering some very exciting proposals that will lead to real economic gain for our community, " says Bob Miller, WMU associate vice president for community outreach who is one of those reviewing the proposals. "These are proposals that could preserve the architectural integrity of East Campus, but nearly every concept is based on the availability of tax credits to make the work economically feasible for the developers. Without the credits, the potential for redevelopment virtually disappears."