Is This Muskegons Sunrise

April 26, 2002
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The new century already looked like a turning point for Muskegon. But now a truly fresh era seems to be dawning for this shoreline community.

Muskegon, a term encompassing the county building and a core of seven municipalities, sagged economically for decades because political leaders usually were at war among themselves, often finding unity only in grim antipathy toward business and industry.

For years, the community's ethic seemed confined to envy and the consequent determination not to let somebody else make a buck. Muskegon also had a serious NIH problem: the notion that a new idea is no good if it is Not Invented Here.

Suddenly, all those attitudes seem to have vanished like mist, and good riddance.

The first highly visible sign of the community's new maturity appeared three years ago when Muskegon City Hall lent statesmanlike support to the establishment of the Lakes Mall in the suburbs.

Everybody in town knew the Lakes Mall would transform Muskegon's own downtown mall into a virtual echo chamber. Yet Muskegon City Hall did not — repeat, did not — play the old community game of trying to find some outside agency to torpedo somebody else's success. More recently, the community's public and private interests seemed to pull as one team not only for the Lakes Mall, but also for last year's surprisingly successful campaign to win smart-park designation for a brownfield on the City of Muskegon waterfront.

One unfamiliar but welcome new aspect of Muskegon's refreshing attitude is that a good many Grand Rapids businessmen who work in Muskegon have lost their condescension about Muskegon. In fact, at chamber meetings, Grand Rapidians get quite prickly to those who speak disparagingly of Muskegon's old reputation. Such people also exhibit respect and ready support for what is occurring in the shoreline city.

Perhaps such signs of developmental teamwork and energy are what motivated the McKee family of Detroit last week to proffer one of the biggest pieces of property on Muskegon Lake — a 52-acre parcel — for development as a convention center.

The offer marks the welcome end of a very, very long cold war between Muskegon and the Detroit family. This isn't the place to go into details, beyond noting that a generation ago, some the town's political log-rollers subjected the McKees to grossly unfair public vilification.

But apparently, and happily, the McKees are willing to work with Muskegon leaders and Muskegon leaders seem equally interested in working with them.

Such a development, two blocks from Muskegon's downtown hotel and less than half a mile from another large hotel now under construction on the shore, makes all kinds of sense.

It makes even more sense considering that the McKee family has offered a site, and a substantial grant, to assist the construction of naval history exhibit. The exhibit site is in the center of the McKees' large deep-water mooring basin that adjoins the property in question.

The basin also happens to be the site from which cross-lake ferry service operated for 40 years, terminating in the early '70s with the retirement of the Milwaukee Clipper. (The Clipper now is back in Muskegon Lake undergoing slow restoration by a dedicated crew of volunteers.) The McKees have indicated an interest is having their property serve the community again as a terminal for cross-lake ferry connections with Milwaukee.

Rapprochement between old adversaries concerning such an important piece of Muskegon's downtown is incredibly exciting. If it turns out to make economic sense, it's safe to bet that it will happen. Oh, incidentally, lots of parking already is in place.  

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