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Loan Is Latest SmartZone Piece To Fall Into Place
MUSKEGON — A $1 million state loan to help pay for a waterfront boardwalk is one of many pieces beginning to fall into place for Muskegon’s SmartZone project, a high-tech commerce park envisioned for the city’s lakefront.
Grand Valley State University is finalizing plans for a business research and development center, temporary office space is in the works for firms planning to locate in the SmartZone park, and the primary backers of the project recently secured purchase agreements for two parcels.
“This has just taken on a life of its own,” said Chris Kelly, a partner in the Muskegon law firm Parmenter O’Toole. “There have been a lot of different angles going on at the same time.”
“It’s a complicated project, but it really couldn’t be in any better shape,” he said.
Partners within the firm, working under the corporate structure of Lakefront Development LLC, are behind efforts to transform the 34-acre former Teledyne Continental site along Muskegon Lake, adjacent to downtown, into a mixed-use development consisting of condominiums, retail and professional office buildings, and a marina. The lakefront development is part of a broader effort by the City of Muskegon to revitalize the downtown area.
The project received a major boost in April when it received a SmartZone designation from the state, enabling the city to use tax increment financing and making developers eligible for state financial assistance to support high-tech business development.
The $1 million low-interest loan from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Core Communities Fund, approved this month, will help pay for a $2.6 million, 3,200-foot boardwalk around the development, city Business Development Specialist Matt Dugener said. The city will finance the remaining cost of the boardwalk through revenues generated from tax-increment financing.
The waterfront boardwalk is the kind of amenity within the development plan that will help to create the character and aesthetics that high-tech companies prefer when choosing to locate their operations, Dugener said.
“The amenities are a big part of the SmartZone. High-tech businesses and high-tech workers can go anywhere, and they like to go where there is a good quality of life,” Dugener said. “It’s an additional part of the SmartZone and an important part of the SmartZone. Having these amenities in your community make it attractive to business people and to investors.”
Efforts to plan and secure funding for the boardwalk parallel other initiatives that are part of the Muskegon Lakeshore SmartZone, a project that’s bringing together public and private interests and will focus on research, development and the production of technologies for new and alternative energy sources.
The city plans to begin work later this year or next spring on extending Shoreline Drive past the project site. Work also continues on plans for a temporary SmartZone office to support start-up firms until they can build their permanent quarters, as well as GVSU’s $6 million technical skills, research and development, and business incubator center.
“We’re beginning to pull the pieces together,” said David Mielke, dean of GVSU’s Seidman School of Business.
GVSU plans to begin work on the center next spring and have it open by 2003, Mielke said.
Partners within the project — including GVSU, Lakefront Development LLC, the city, the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce and Muskegon Area First — also continue to work on final agreements that define their individual roles and responsibilities in the SmartZone venture, Mielke said.
Since the SmartZone designation was announced in April, Lakefront Development LLC has signed purchase agreements with buyers for two separate parcels and continues to market several other parcels to developers, Kelly said. One of the sales was tied directly to the SmartZone designation, he said.
Additional parcels have been sold to GVSU and to Parmenter O’Toole, which plans to build a new office building for its law offices.