Amazon Revitalizes Downtown

May 17, 2002
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MUSKEGON — The firm behind the $14 million renovation of the Amazon building has commitments for all of the commercial space available in the former industrial site.

Gough & Gough Inc. is working out final lease arrangements with three companies to occupy 4,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor of the old industrial building, which has been undergoing major renovation for more than a year.

Steve Nicksic, director of marketing and brokerage for the Valparaiso, Ind.-based Gough & Gough, expects the first commercial tenants to begin moving in as early as this July.

“Everything’s moving in a pretty good direction,” Nicksic said.

Gough & Gough is transforming the old, five-story brick building near the end of Western Avenue, and across Shoreline Drive from the Muskegon Lake waterfront, into an apartment complex, with 126 units on the upper four floors, and retail and professional office space on the first floor.

Two of the firms signing pre-leases, which Nicksic describes as professional service companies, already are located in downtown Muskegon and the other is presently based elsewhere in the Muskegon area.

Gough & Gough, which specializes in rehabilitating rundown, urban buildings, has received heavy interest for both the commercial and residential space in the Amazon building ever since it agreed to take on the project two years ago, according to Nicksic. Residential units are “leasing like crazy,” he said.

Driving the interest is the unique character of the building, combined with its proximity to the waterfront and its prime location in an area of downtown that is on the upswing. Commercial tenants also are lured by the financial benefits of locating in what’s been designated a tax-free Renaissance Zone.

“That’s just an attractive thing for a business — and it’s not a bad view down there,” Nicksic said. “It’s going to be a nice shoreline there.”

Financial backing for the project came from a variety of sources.

The developers obtained $9 million in housing tax credits and $2.7 million in historical tax credits from the state, as well as other smaller grants and loans. They include a $300,000 Federal Home Loan Bank grant, $450,518 the city secured from the Clean Michigan Initiative, and a $475,000 low-interest loan from the Muskegon Community Foundation.

Demand for both commercial and residential space in the building has exceeded Gough & Gough’s expectations, easing past apprehensions that existed when the firm agreed to take on the project, Nicksic said.

“We just didn’t know if we’d have the better mousetrap to attract anyone, and it seems like now we’re attracting darn near everyone,” he said. “We’ve have been leasing like crazy over there right now.”

Redevelopment of the Amazon building is seen as a major component in the ongoing revitalization of downtown Muskegon.

The Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce estimates that more than $100 million in new investment has poured into downtown in recent years through projects that are either completed, ongoing or planned for the near future.

The Amazon redevelopment will provide a new base of residents living in downtown that will only add to the business district’s growing vitality, said Pat Strum.

Strum chairs Muskegon Arts and Entertainment Inc., a group of downtown business representatives working to build and promote the arts and entertainment.

The hope is that the Amazon project, as well as others planned in the Western Avenue corridor and other areas of downtown, will serve as a catalyst for new businesses to serve the growing residential bases, such as delis, dry cleaners, coffee shops and bakeries, said Strum, who is marketing director at the commercial real estate firm The Westwood Group.

“With people down here, the businesses will definitely benefit,” Strum said.           

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