Local leaders meet to discuss solutions for gun violence, crowds at Kalamazoo's Campus Pointe Mall

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

Parking is different on Friday and Saturday nights at Campus Pointe Mall on Kalamazoo’s Westside.

Cars fill the big lot of the shopping plaza located on Howard Street just west of the Western Michigan University campus. Others crowd its driving lanes.

Some people are there for food and drink at Que Buenos Mexican Grill, Insomnia Cookies, The Den Party Store, or YBar & Bistro. But as evening turns to night, dozens of others are there simply to hang out in the parking lot — to see and be seen as they sit, socialize, drink, and party.

Among the key businesses at Campus Pointe Mall are The Den Party Store, Que Bueno Mexican Grill, and YBar & Bistro.Amid the commotion they cause there and inside any of the businesses, a steady number of police calls have resulted, and they are taxing the resources of Kalamazoo Public Safety and the businesses.

“Once those crowds get large, it’s almost impossible for us to control without a lot of time and a lot of resources,” says KDPS Chief David Boysen.

There has been drinking, fights, music blaring from cars, young women twerk-dancing on top of cars, and the underlying threat of gun violence. Last weekend a social media post showed several men (supposedly the entourage/security for a visiting popular rapper) showing off a cache of guns in an interior room of one of the businesses.

A man walks casually along a row of Campus Pointe Mall businesses on Monday, May 8, 2023. The are has been plagued in recent months with gun violence and weekend visitors who loiter in their cars.“I don’t know if they’re supposed to be security (personnel) or what,” Boysen said, showing a projected image of the men. “But you don’t see too many security guys carrying rifles with (ammunition) drum magazines."

He also showed video clips of crowds, fights, and a shoot-out to business people, city officials, and others at a Monday, May 8, 2023, town hall meeting at nearby Western Michigan University's Trimpe Hall. The meeting was intended to be a step toward finding a way and determining a strategy to stop the nuisance parking/partying. It was organized by the Southwest Michigan First Chamber of Commerce.

A meeting of business people, city officials, and others on Monday, May 8, 2023, was intended to brainstorm ideas to curb large parking lot gatherings that police have struggled with at Campus Pointe Mall.Those in attendance included: Dale London, property manager at Campus Pointe Mall; Antonio Mitchell, community planning and economic development director for City of Kalamazoo; Jim Reitsema, Kalamazoo City Manager; Lisa Garcia, assistant vice president for community partnerships at WMU; Laura Lam, chief operating officer for the City of Kalamazoo; Luchara Wallace, director of the Lewis Walker Institute at WMU and associate dean of the WMU College of Education; Charles Todd, associate vice president for local management at WMU; Justin Gleason, owner of Otter’s Oasis; Kevin Waterson, owner of two business properties at the mall; Scott Brooks, fire marshal for the City of Kalamazoo; Jeff Williams, chief assistant at the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor’s Office; Tony Proudfoot, vice president of communications at WMU; Daniel Vandoren, representing Que Buenos Mexican Grill; Wendy Fields, president of the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch of the NAACP; John Newby, owner of the Y Bar & Bistro; Victor Green, assistant chief of KDPS; and Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson.

Among the key businesses at Campus Pointe Mall are The Den Party Store, Que Bueno Mexican Grill, and YBar & Bistro.Since November, two young men have died in separate incidents that involved exchanges of gunfire at the Campus Pointe Mall. And KDPS officers said a fight that occurred last weekend at the YBar ended on the east side of town with a shooting of one of the people involved. Boysen said more shootings are going to occur unless a solution is found.

Participants aired several ideas. Among the ideas voiced:
  • Limiting the entrances to the lot to make it less likely to be overrun by cars.
  • Recommending that the property owner install gates to limit access to the lot and make sure there are not too many cars.
  • Requiring motorists to pay to come into the lot after a certain time of day (with their parking fee being expunged if they are validated by a business).
  • Trying to use the city’s mobile nuisance party ordinance to cite people involved and confiscate their vehicles.
  • Redesigning part of the parking area to include green space and eliminate some parking slots. Business people said there are more parking spaces than are needed for patrons of the businesses established there. Y Bar & Bistro, whose social events often attract a lively crowd, has a maximum interior capacity of 256 people.
  • Towing away cars of people who are loitering. But officers said it would take additional police involvement to safeguard a tow truck operator trying to work in a hostile situation.
“What we’ve been doing is we’ve tried to discourage it,” Boysen said. “We’ve tried to have two officers out in that parking lot throughout the entire night to prevent things from happening. That still hasn’t been effective.”

A Mapquest view of Campus Pointe Mall and its large parking lot.Boysen said it does not stop unwanted traffic from coming in and out, it’s not safe for the officers because it’s two officers policing dozens of people. And the work they are trying to do – in what is privately-owned property -- is work that should be done by a private security team.

Although college students populate hundreds of apartments there on the western fringe of the WMU campus, authorities said the nuisance traffic is primarily people in their late 20s and early 30s from outside the area, including other cities, police say. “They come to the parking lot of the YBar,” Boysen says.

YBar Owner John Newby said he struggles with the problem, but said, “This was there before I got there. YBar used to be on the back side of it (the mall). That’s why we moved out of there 10 to 15 years ago because they had the same problem back then. But now it’s gotten bigger because if you allow that to happen every week, it’s going to keep going on unless we take the first initial step. That’s the important part.”

City Attorney Clyde Robinson said loitering is not a crime per se. “You have to show evil intent or bad intent. That’s the problem. Public Safety can’t do much on private property and towing is not necessarily an answer either.”

KDPS Chief David Boysen says dangerous incidents and another homicide is likely to occur if businesses and the city do not come up with a way to stop large unruly weekend gatherings in the parking lots of Campus Pointe Mall.He said signs can be erected that say no parking is allowed unless you’re a patron of a business. That would mean visitors who are not patronizing a business would technically be trespassing.

Authorities said they plan to consider what was said at Monday’s meeting and possibly approach Campus Pointe Mall owner Allied Capital Corp. with suggestions.

“We need a safe place for business owners, their employees, and people who are patronizing those businesses,” Boysen said. “What can we do? Because right now, it is not a safe environment for anyone including the people who work in that plaza.”

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Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.