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City Wants to Turn Underground Storm Sewer Into Waterfront Development

January 15, 1987

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) _ The city that gave America the downtown pedestrian mall unveiled a $38 million plan Thursday to turn a subterranean storm sewer into a babbling brook lined with lush gardens, shops and townhouses.

The Arcadia Creek Project, which could take a decade to complete and change the face of this southwestern Michigan city, is aimed at turning a stagnant section of downtown into an urban showplace.

″It could be the major catalyst for downtown revitalization,″ said James Visser, executive director of the Kalamazoo Downtown Development Authority.

Backers equated the project with the city’s decision in the 1950s to turn a downtown avenue into a pedestrian mall, an idea adopted by scores of cities.

″We feel the Arcadia Creek Project is very comparable to the mall in terms of significance to the community,″ Visser said. ″We see this as the next- generation step.″

Visser and various civic leaders unveiled final design and engineering plans at a news conference. They said the next step would be to secure the $38 million needed to complete the project, which has been promoted heavily with a local ″free the creek″ campaign.

Visser said construction could begin in 1988 if financing is nailed down this year.

The project initially was planned as a relatively modest flood-control project aimed at opening an underground, concrete-lined creek coursing beneath buildings and streets in the largely decaying northern section of downtown.

It has grown into what is billed as the master development plan of the future for the city of 85,000 people.

The project would require ripping up streets, buying up acres of property and razing from 12 to 15 downtown buildings in the creek’s path, replacing them with fountains, parks, five acres of gardens and landscaped walkways.

Space would be created for shops, two museums, townhouses and other upscale surroundings aimed at luring visitors downtown.

″We’re on a roll now. We’re in critical mass. This is a tangible economic development,″ said Charles Mangee, president of Downtown Tomorrow Inc., a non-profit group orchestrating financing for the plan.

Mangee, a vice president at the Upjohn Co., the region’s biggest employer, said the giant pharmaceutical firm would build a downtown visitor’s center and science museum as part of the project and end the public tours at the Upjohn plant on the outskirts of town.

He said the 100,000 people who annually take the tours hopefully would be diverted downtown.

The creek-raising, gardens, walkways, visitor’s center and other components would be completed by 1991, with offices and townhouses to be added by 1997.

Backers claim the project would generate 1,000 new jobs and $48 million in private investment. A key to luring private development, Mangee said, is a $100 million loan fund financed through the nationwide sale of taxable bonds.

Visser and Mangee said about 75 percent of the financing would be sought from state and federal grants, leaving about $9.5 million for the city to raise.

He did not rule out some sort of local tax increases, but only as a last resort.

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