The Milan of Tomorrow
Mayor Ed Kolar has a vision for the City of Milan, and what a vision it is.
Kolar’s multifaceted plan aims at spurring economic growth while maintaining the city's small-town charm. “The vision for Milan is to make everybody happy,” he says, smiling to acknowledge the challenges inherent in satisfying public desires without financial repercussions on the community.
But Kolar’s idea to get Milan’s approximately 6,000 residents what they want regarding shopping choices, activities, and improvements might not be just another political pipe dream. The mayor's strategy centers on developing a sports complex just off US-23 in York Twp to drive sports tourism and bolster the city's economy, infrastructure, and tax base without raising taxes for residents.
He’s been working on the idea for a few years now. Kolar recounted initial plans, pre-dating his mayoral tenure, to bring a sports dome to the area in partnership with a group affiliated with Eastern Michigan University. Like other recreational facilities in the area, EMU's Bowen Fieldhouse was maxed out for events. The group realized the great demand for event venues, such as weekend tournaments in Southeast Michigan and neighboring states. However, the proposal was sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic as partners pursued other opportunities, leaving the land purchased for the project untouched.
Resurrecting the concept, Mayor Kolar highlighted his collaboration with Destination Ann Arbor and the potential for a large sports complex that could serve as a regional draw for tournaments and events. "Michigan needs a large sports complex that holds massive tournaments all weekends and brings in thousands of people and millions of dollars every year," Kolar explained, emphasizing the economic benefits of such a venture. “One of Destination Ann Arbor’s biggest goals is to make Washtenaw County a destination for sports tourism.”
The project, envisioned to span 180 acres with a $130 million investment, aims to host various sports activities and generate an estimated economic impact of $30 million annually through tourism-related spending in the area. Mayor Kolar cited ongoing efforts to secure financing, looking to successful models like the Cedar Point sports complex in Sandusky and a larger facility in Hoover, Alabama, for inspiration. Kolar’s initial vision is for the campus to be a mix of outdoor and indoor facilities able to host anything from baseball and soccer to pickleball and robotics.
To alleviate concerns about urban sprawl, the mayor reassures residents that the sports complex would be situated outside city limits in York Township. This strategic placement is intended to prevent disruption to the city's current size and character while still inviting visitors to patronize local businesses.
The mayor also highlighted the city's infrastructure needs, noting that the sports complex's anticipated revenue and ancillary development would fund critical upgrades to water lines, sewer systems, and streets. "What we've been trying to do for the last 20 years is get our oldest streets and water mains replaced, but nobody has figured out how. We're figuring out how to do it," he says. “Residents, for the most part, don’t want Milan to grow bigger. Saline is nice, but we don’t want to be as big as Saline. We want to keep our small-town charm, but we need funding. This idea could do it.”
Mayor Kolar's vision extends beyond immediate economic gains, as he outlined a sequential plan where business growth would precede housing development, thereby creating a sustainable cycle that supports the local school system with increased funding and utilization.
The comprehensive plan embodies a collaborative effort across Washtenaw and Monroe Counties, with support from county commissioners, state Senator Irwin, and Representative Debbie Dingell, underscoring a region-wide commitment to the initiative.
Mayor Kolar's ambitious blueprint for Milan's growth is a study of balancing economic development with community values. By leveraging strategic partnerships and focusing on sports tourism as a catalyst, Milan aims to reinvent itself as a regional powerhouse while preserving the essence of its small-town roots.
“That’s the vision,” concludes Kolar.