Muskegons MayorElect Keeps Doors Options Open

May 17, 2002
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MUSKEGON — The $121 million in new investment in downtown Muskegon is “just the beginning” for the business district, the city’s mayor-elect says.

Steve Warmington, the owner of Marine Tap & Grill who was elected in November, sees much more new development downtown on the way. As mayor, he wants to help further the revitalization by dispelling the city’s reputation of “being difficult” to do business with.

Warmington, 51, takes office Jan. 1 with a new City Commission majority that he says is “dedicated to being professional and leaders” and will work with the business community to generate new investment in Muskegon, he said.

“I believe we will create an atmosphere of quality and friendly service,” Warmington said during a Nov. 30 address to the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Early Bird Breakfast. “We need to work with people, not against them, to achieve our goals. We should strike a fair and balanced solution to the issues.”

“My vision for the city of Muskegon is to work with people who have an interest and a vision and are willing to invest not only in our community, but be a part of our community. We are a community that has a downtown going through a transition that provides to us great rebirth. Our doors are open; so are our options,” he said.

Warmington will take office at a time when Muskegon, particularly downtown, is on the upswing after several years of economic hardship.

Among the projects either undertaken, ongoing or planned for the downtown area are the $50 million SmartZone high-tech business park, the $12 million extension of Shoreline Drive to the site of the SmartZone project, $1.2 million in improvements to Heritage Landing, the $11 million Shoreline Inn and Suites hotel along Muskegon Lake that opens in May, and the $16 million renovation of the Amazon building on Western Avenue.

Upcoming is a new $4.5 million regional headquarters for National City Bank downtown, a $3 million trail system, the $4 million Muskegon Hotel project on Western Avenue, and the $4.7 million Great Lakes Naval Memorial Museum.

“The city and downtown are alive,” Warmington said. “I believe those projects are just the beginning of our downtown rebirth.”

Warmington also wants to see additional developments that would make Muskegon more of a year-round destination, including studying the possibility of developing a convention center. The Muskegon shoreline should develop with a complementing mix of residential, commercial and recreational uses that maintain public access, he said.

While looking to the potential, Warmington noted the single largest challenge facing downtown — the Muskegon Mall, which has lost a majority of its retailers in recent years and is nearly vacant. Warmington referred to it as the “Perlman Mall,” after owner Steve Perlman, a Chicago businessman.

“It’s no longer the Muskegon Mall, it’s the ‘Perlman Mall,’” Warmington said.

Despite the mall and its continued decline, Muskegon is in a new era of business development, said speakers who offered their views during a panel discussion held prior to Warmington’s address.

Mike Bowen, chairman and CEO of the Westwood Group, sees another $100 million investment on the horizon for downtown. The Westwood Group alone is planning three “significant” projects for downtown in addition to the Muskegon Hotel and National City headquarters.

“It’s a great market,” Bowen said of downtown.

That view is indicative of the strides downtown has made in recent years. Yet despite the progress, some still view downtown Muskegon as a deteriorating business district, led by the Muskegon Mall’s decline.

Combating that image comes down to attitude and focusing on the future, not the past, speakers said.

“We have to look at the positives and quit looking at the negatives,” said John Payne, who’s developing the 11-story Shoreline Inn & Suites with his wife, Susan, on Muskegon’s Lake frontage.

“We’ve got a great location. Just start focusing on the positive stuff and go forward. Don’t defeat yourself before you get started,” Payne said.           

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