KALAMAZOO — After leaving the brewery he founded in 1985, Larry Bell originally planned to create a new space downtown to house his collection of Michigan history books, jazz artifacts and historical memorabilia of the brewing industry.
When the former 26,000 square foot Food Dance building at 401 E. Michigan Ave. became available, Bell decided it was too good to pass up, so he abandoned plans to design and build a new building.
The Larry J. Bell Library Foundation now has a physical home, which pushed Bell into high gear to finalize its operating plans for the library and museum.
“I’m two years ahead of schedule, as far as ownership is concerned. Operations and some of that thinking are not there yet,” Bell said. MiBiz. “I’ve visited museums and I still have a few to visit. I’ve traveled to try to see how people do things, find best practices and learn.
The foundation closed the $3.5 million transaction with the Kalamazoo-based company Catalyst Development Co. July 14, according to property records.
While plans are still underway, Bell envisions the space will have a research library to house the more than 40,000 books he has acquired from historian Larry Massie’s collection, along with other historical books. The jazz aficionado said “there’s a good shot” the facility will include a performance space for intimate gigs.
Bell also plans to convert a warehouse it currently owns in Kalamazoo to become a showroom for its vast collection of breweriana, or brewing industry memorabilia.
“I won’t have room for everything,” he said, noting that he continues to visit auctions to buy new pieces for the collection.
Bell sold Bell’s Brewery Inc. in December 2021 to Australian brewing conglomerate Lion Little World Beverages. Since leaving the company, he has remained active in local philanthropy, donating over $14 million to local organizations, including Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo Collegeand the Irving S. Gilmore International Piano Festival, where he established the annual Larry J. Bell Jazz Artist Award for jazz pianists.
“I hope in the future to be able to offer internships for K (College) students at the Library Foundation,” Bell said. “Certainly, with our collection of Michigan history books and other stories, there are countless senior projects that could be done or further research. The library also collects jazz stuff. With my contribution to the Gillmore for the Bell Jazz Award, we might get to a point where we’re looking at people researching jazz history and various elements.
Given the long history of local business leaders giving back to the Kalamazoo community, being a philanthropist “kind of is built into your DNA,” Bell said.
As he finalizes plans for the construction of the Larry J. Bell Library Foundation, Bell said he hears growing interest in the business, but acknowledges it may take some time to materialize as he always adapts to the transition of the management of a large company.
“Going from being a big company with a lot of support staff to not having that — now it’s all me — is a bit difficult,” Bell said.
He added, with his tongue-in-cheek wit: “I was really good at what I did. Now I have another chapter of my life to do and I’m trying to figure out how to be good at it too. And I’m not there yet.
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