Westwood Pumps More Into Muskegon Projects

March 25, 2002
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MUSKEGON — A commercial real estate firm’s latest additions to the downtown landscape will come in the way of a multi-story hotel overlooking Muskegon Lake and the renovation of an old factory to house several non-profit agencies.

The Westwood Group is planning a $2.5 million renovation of the 97-year-old Muskegon Boiler Works Co. site on Clay Avenue, near the intersection of Western Avenue and Shoreline Drive.

The two-story, 40,000-square-foot building has been vacant since the company ceased operations in 1998 and sits in the heart of a rapidly revitalizing business district along Western Avenue. The project will provide much-needed low-cost office space for the Muskegon United Way and seven affiliated agencies and generate savings for tenants through shared administrative and technical services, while ridding the downtown area of another run-down building by bringing it back to life.

“That’s a major eyesore down there, but it’s a great location,” Westwood Group Chairman and CEO Michael Bowen said. “When we’re done with it, it’s going to be a super-cool building.”

Westwood targets completion of the Boiler Works building renovation by spring 2003 and is seeking support for the project through state and federal historic preservation tax credits.

The Boiler Works renovation is the latest rehabilitation project planned for older facilities around downtown Muskegon, particularly along Western Avenue. Work continues on a $14 million renovation to turn the historic Amazon Building on Western Avenue into an apartment complex with retail shops and professional offices across the street from the Muskegon Lake waterfront.

Westwood also plans to begin work this month on razing the old Muskegon Hotel, located nearby on Western Avenue, and building a replica that will house retail stores, professional offices and a restaurant.

Bowen expects that neither the Muskegon Hotel nor the Boiler Works project will be very profitable. The allure to undertake both is the opportunity to restore old buildings, help further downtown’s revitalization and add unique properties to Westwood’s real estate holdings.

“Long term, it’ll be a good investment. Every property that gets done in town helps our portfolio,” Bowen said. “And it’s just fun. I really like old buildings.”

On the other side of downtown, Westwood Group plans to begin work in the fall on a $4 million, 80-room AmericInn hotel that will overlook Muskegon Lake and cater to business and leisure travelers.

Westwood is partnering with Muskegon Lodging LLC to build the four- or five-story hotel on a 10-acre site on Shoreline Drive, where it’s presently developing a new Muskegon headquarters for National City Bank.

The project is one of three new hotels Westwood is involved in. The firm is also developing a 61-room AmericInn hotel and an 83-room Fairfield Inn as part of the Lakes Crossing retail development it’s planning for a site along Harvey Street, across from the Lakes Mall in Norton Shores.

Westwood will own 25 percent of each hotel, adding another new dimension to its real estate portfolio that now consists of 800,000 square feet of retail properties.

The revitalization of Muskegon, combined with the upswing in the area’s tourism industry and finding the right partners, made the hotels good business ventures, Bowen said.

“This town is really booming, and as the town develops, you see the services and hospitality side kick in. It’s all a natural process,” Bowen said.

Muskegon County now has about 1,900 hotel rooms and the addition of those resulting from the Westwood projects are surely welcome, said Joanne Hatch of the Muskegon County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Hatch believes the market could support as many as 3,000 rooms with the current rise of the area’s tourism and hospitality trade and its economic revival.

“It tells us the whole persona of our community has changed. We’re on the go,” she said.           

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