The idea of putting a Regional Event Center in Kalamazoo may have gotten another nudge toward reality, as Southwest Michigan First has hired Lee Chatfield as their new CEO.  Chatfield, the former Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, helped pass the Regional Event Center Financing Act, which Governor Whitmer signed into law just before Chatfield left office after being term-limited.

The new law opened the door for facilities to be funded, not by property tax increases, but by a 4% lodging tax to provide a funding stream.   Any such lodging tax would have to be approved by local County and City Commissions.

The idea is to build a $110 million event center between North Westnedge and Park Street, south of Kalamazoo Avenue.  It would be used to host conferences, sporting events, and concerts.  But it’s just an idea.  There’s no formal plan so far, and nobody has voted on anything.  The four-block area, known as  Arcadia Commons West, has been mostly empty for decades.

The 32-year-old Chatfield takes over for the recently departed SW Michigan First CEO Ron Kitchens, who recently left the state for another job.   Southwest Michigan First is an organization of privately funded economic development advisors who act as the catalyst for economic growth across the seven counties of Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, and Van Buren in Southwest Michigan.

“We are proud to welcome Lee Chatfield to our team as CEO and are excited to work with him to do even more to improve our region and assist companies in creating Michigan jobs,” said Southwest Michigan First Chairman Aaron Zeigler. “Southwest Michigan First has had incredible leadership and success over the years, but we are eager to see Lee grow our company and expand our impact and footprint even more. We believe he has the right vision and works ethic to partner with our team to take us to new heights. We couldn’t be more excited.”

During his time as Speaker, Chatfield led the charge on several economic development initiatives that led to multiple developments across the state such as the MIthrive program created to support transformational redevelopment projects, as well as paving a path for a new arena in Kalamazoo with support for the Regional Event Center Financing Act. He also partnered closely with the administration to accomplish several major reforms including lowering the cost of car insurance, criminal justice changes including expungement, and making available increased funding and assistance for mental health services and education.

Before his election to the state Legislature in 2014, Chatfield served as an athletic director, teacher, and coach at Northern Michigan Christian Academy in Burt Lake. He and his wife, Stephanie, have four sons and one daughter.

Lee Chatfield-SW Michigan First
Lee Chatfield-SW Michigan First

“I am looking forward to partnering with an amazing organization that's focused on creating more opportunities and good-paying jobs in our state and this region in particular,” said Chatfield. “There’s so much more we can do to grow and assist people in these challenging times. I’m ready to get to work with a very talented team that’s already serving on the frontlines and impacting people’s lives daily. I can’t wait to be in this community with my family and serve alongside this incredible team.”

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