Development Defines 2001 For Lakeshore

June 12, 2002
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Development in the face of a dour economy marked 2001 along the Lakeshore. Many projects were completed or at least put on the books this year, meaning developers and the business community must be looking toward 2002 with optimism. Here are the stories that made news along Lake Michigan in 2001.

January

In what would be a sign of things to come, the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce and several affiliated agencies packed their bags and moved from the Terrace Plaza office building to the old Hume Building at Third Street and Morris Avenue. While the move was physically only four blocks, the perception of the chamber setting up shop just a half block from the city’s emerging waterfront business sector did wonders for its image — not to mention walk-in traffic.

Renewal remained a hot topic in Grand Haven, too, when developer Steve Loftis purchased the old Grand Theatre and unveiled plans to turn the 73-year-old structure into an entertainment venue, not just a theater.

In Holland, plans for Windmill Island got (another) extension and the ongoing debate regarding the Holland Civic Center was turned over to GMB Architects for preliminary design work. In another sign of longevity, albeit a positive one, heating systems manufacturer Hart & Cooley marked its 100th anniversary.

On the manufacturing side, Donnelly Corp. started the year off with a bang when it received a top award for its videocamera/mirror system at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Muskegon’s Hackley Health System and Spectrum Health, in Grand Rapids, strengthened their affiliation when the Federal Trade Commission did not take action against their deal, which Hackley initiated two years ago.

The year began rosy and bright for Haworth Inc., too, when the office furniture manufacturer revealed it broke the $2 billion mark in sales, topping the previous year’s mark by $500 million.

Also on a growth spurt was the Tulip City Airport, which embarked on a $1.18 million runway reconstruction project.

February

Consumers Energy announced the J.H. Campbell Generating Complex in West Olive was in line for a $300 million upgrade that will exceed federal Clean Air Act regulations scheduled to take effect in 2004.

Also in a building mode was Macatawa Bank, which announced plans for facilities in Grandville and Holland, bringing to 15 the total number of branch offices.

While the banking industry grew, however, the office furniture industry foresaw a softening economy. Steelcase announced layoffs, but Herman Miller and Haworth believed they could hold the line and not eliminate jobs.

February closed with some good news on the lakeshore when Grand Valley State University and Michigan Dock and Market Corp. reached an agreement regarding a waterfront museum and development plans for a site on Muskegon’s waterfront cargo ship mooring basin.

March

Muskegon’s Lakes Mall was considered not only a retail boon for the area, but a development one as well. Several strip malls and retail outlets pushed plans to ride on the mall’s coattails, generating even more economic stimulus for the formerly depressed area. By August, when the mall opened, a full-blown retail sector had sprung up.

Another development group disappeared from the landscape, but only because its job was complete. Holland’s Riverview Development Limited Partnership sold the last of several downtown properties after generating an estimated $110 million in the city’s central business district.

In Grand Haven, more development was on tap when North Ottawa Hospital announced a $4.9 million renovation plan. The caregiver redesigned its floor plan for better access and to provide more medical services for the community.

Not to be outdone, a group of developers in Muskegon, Lakefront Development LLC, made plans to put a project that could reach $80 million on 34 acres of Muskegon Lake shoreline. The partners of Parmenter O’Toole are the driving force behind the project, which is to include condominiums, retail, office buildings and a marina.

April

The banking competition heated up as Chemical Financial Corp. acquired branches that Old Kent and Fifth Third had to jettison as the result of their merger. The Midland-based bank used the transaction to gain an immediate lakeshore foothold.

On another financial front, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation gave a $7.5 million gift toward Hope College’s campaign for a new sports arena on campus. The donation covers half the total cost of the project.

Calling it “one more piece in the puzzle,” the city of Grand Haven picked up a $250,000 loan from the state to redevelop a blighted industrial neighborhood on the north end of town into a residential and commercial district. The entire project is expected to total $30 million.

On a smaller scale, Mercy General Health Partners in Muskegon broke ground on a $2.9 million expansion of its Special Delivery Birth Center. The result will be up to 14 private birthing suites.

Teamwork is credited for helping Muskegon land one of the state’s 11 SmartZones, which are designed to spur high-tech business investment and growth. GVSU, Muskegon County and the city worked on the application, which also offers a prime waterfront location.

While the SmartZones looked to the future, the present was pretty bright too when Gough and Gough Inc., of Indianapolis, and Trinity Village Non-Profit Housing Corp., of Muskegon, began work on a $14 million restoration of the Amazon Building. The five-story brick building will be transformed into an apartment complex with retail shops and professional offices, across the street from the city’s Muskegon Lake waterfront.

May

One month after announcing an expansion to its birthing center, Mercy General Health Partners followed up with an $8.9 million expansion of its emergency medicine facility. The expansion will feature a Level 2 trauma center.

The Grand Haven Board of Light and Power saw a need for telecom service in the community and believed it just might be the best provider of that service. The BLP considered a plan to offer high-speed Internet access, telephone service and perhaps even cable television, and would continue mulling the idea until the end of the year.

Lake Michigan Carferry Inc. floated a plan to add a Muskegon-to-Milwaukee ferry run in 2003. The four- to five-hour crossing would offer entertainment and a little more upscale atmosphere than its Ludington-to-Manitowoc service.

June

One of West Michigan’s favorite attractions, Muskegon’s Michigan’s Adventure, became the newest property of Ohio-based Cedar Fair LLC, the owners of Cedar Point. It will be at least a year before upgrades are made, but then they will come annually.

The economic news on the Lakeshore turned bleak again, however, when Trendway Corp. announced it would trim 10 percent of its workforce, or 57 employees, and Grand Haven’s GHSP Inc. said it would close its Beechtree Street plant, affecting about 120 workers.

July

Tight controls over costs and spending enabled Herman Miller to post a slight earnings gain for the fiscal year, despite the downturn that hit the industry hard during the last six months and led to lower fourth-quarter sales and net income.

Five more Lakeshore firms saw positive signs in July when the Association for Commerce and Industry gave them its annual Business Recognition Awards. Fredricks Design Inc. of Grand Haven, Grand Harbor Resort in Spring Lake, Automotive Advantage in Ferrysburg, Anderson Technologies in Grand Haven Township and Oak Crest Manors in Spring Lake earned the accolades.

The Small Business Development Center branched out to the Lakeshore when the agency worked out a deal with the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce to set up office hours for business counselors. Small business owners no longer have to travel to Grand Rapids, Grand Haven or Allendale for help.

A group of Grand Haven business leaders banded together to form Heart of Grand Haven LLC, which is patterning itself after a similar group that operated in Holland in the 1990s. Their goal is to recruit investors who are willing to put up a collective $3 million to buy downtown buildings as they come up for sale, renovate them, and then lease or sell the properties to parties who share their vision.

SPX Corp. announced it would move its headquarters from Muskegon to Charlotte, N.C., by Sept. 1. The impact was more one of perception, however, as the $5 billion multi-industry corporation with 28,000 employees in 34 countries employs only 50 people locally.

That’s only half as many people as Donnelly said it was letting go locally as part of a major corporate restructuring during down times. Another 125 jobs were lost in Europe.

Even fiscally sound Gentex Corp. had trouble boosting earnings, despite an increase in sales for the second quarter. But the Zeeland automotive supplier continued to pump money into research and development, which saw a 25 percent increase in spending.

Macatawa Bank, on the other hand, saw its quarterly earnings grow 45 percent in the quarter on net income of $1.2 million.

Donnelly also maintained its sales volume for the quarter, but earnings fell by 26 percent.

Good news on the financial horizon greeted backers of Muskegon’s SmartZone when the state ponied up a $1 million loan for a boardwalk in the high-tech commerce park envisioned for the city’s lakefront. Plans also were in the works for a business research and development center and temporary office space for firms wishing to move there.

August

With a $3 million restoration complete, the Spring Lake Holiday Inn aggressively pursued a thriving corporate clientele that was lost when the hotel went downhill in the 1990s. The yearlong project focused on several amenities for business travelers.

North Ottawa Community Hospital made a play to regain market share, too, as it brought additional medical specialties to town with the opening of a new $11 million health facility. The Harbor Dunes Health Center will house offices for a local group of family physicians and specialists, specialty practices that want to open a local practice, and diagnostic projects that will relocate from the adjacent hospital.

Hackley Health’s decision to get out of the health-plan business led to a deal that gave Grand Rapids-based Priority Health the first chance to directly enroll customers of Physicians Health Plan when their plans expire. The change came because PHP was unable to expand its risk pool in the Muskegon area.

Clarion Technologies Inc. took a big hit, losing $14.4 million in the company’s second quarter. The Holland-based plastics-injection firm posted losses totaling $20.1 million for the first half of the year.

September

Herman Miller went for the gold medal in branding with a deal as official furniture supplier for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The Aeron chair, complete with the Winter Olympics logo, will be used by TV announcers throughout the Games.

Donnelly finally offered some good news when it opened a plant that once housed a former joint venture to produce electrochromic cells for automotive mirrors. The $12 million overhaul also added 100 jobs.

Continuum LLC planned to open a temporary medical center in Holland Township offering primary care, pediatrics, occupational health and a pharmacy to the employees of its five founding companies. Continuum, an employer-backed consortium that buys health care direct on behalf of its members, made plans to begin building a permanent center by the end of the year that will include employer wellness and fitness facilities.

Spurred in part by the opening of a new regional mall just up the road, the ACI planned to survey retailers to gauge local business conditions and gain additional insight into how best to market the area. Officials hoped to have the survey include 200 member retailers and have the results compiled by the end of the year.

Terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., rocked the business community. One of the first sectors to respond was the office furniture industry. Steelcase, Herman Miller and Haworth formed response teams to process and handle emergency orders from affected clients, and then bundled special product packages of seating, desks and storage units that could be shipped to New York and Washington.

October

The West Michigan Lakeshore Association of Realtors did what it does best — it found a new home. The new headquarters will be in Grand Haven Township and feature a classroom for professional improvement, among other amenities. Occupancy is targeted for March 2002.

The goal is the same, but a new name strengthened the economic development team in Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg. “The Chamber” is restructured internally to become an organization that’s more nimble and responsive to its members.

One of The Chamber’s first acts was to find a way to put existing telecommunications services and systems to better use and identify any existing void in those services for businesses. The results of that study found that the services are there, but businesses are not making optimum use of them.

In a move designed to reach out to the growing Hispanic population and business community, the SBDC began offering bilingual counseling services at its new part-time office in Holland. In the Grand Haven area, The Chamber began working with a Spanish instructor to teach Spanish to local firefighters and police officers. The initiative then is to be spread to hospitals and the business community.

Grand Haven got more good economic news when the MEDC offered a loan of more than $750,000 to prepare land on the north end of town for redevelopment.

Macatawa Bank created economic news of its own with a 43 percent hike in quarterly earnings and a plan to build a $7 million to $8 million headquarters facility on land between Holland and Grand Haven. Occupancy is targeted for late 2002.

A partnership between Panda Energy International Inc. and energy provider Alliant Energy Corp. put the new $400 million power plant in Tallmadge Township on track for a 2004 start. Panda and Alliant will split the cost to build and equip the 1,000-megawatt plant.

Muskegon’s SmartZone began paying dividends as a pair of firms took up residence in its business incubator at the old Hume Building, called the Lakeshore Launch Pad.

November

Chicago investors, already familiar with the area’s vast potential, proposed the Saugatuck Lodge, a $30 million hotel and condominium project. The Douglas-based project also will feature cottages and villas that can be rented when owners are not using them.

Clarion Technologies struggled to refinance debt in the face of mounting losses. The Holland-based plastics molding company reported losing $24.6 million so far this year.

Huntington Bank made a commitment to downtown Muskegon with plans for a $4.5 million regional headquarters it’s hoping to occupy by late 2002. The new location is on Shoreline Drive across from the Terrace Plaza office building.

December

Macatawa Bank made a bold move to increase market share by acquiring Grand Bank in downtown Grand Rapids. The partnership, as it’s called, allows Grand Bank to maintain its own identity but gives Macatawa further inroads into the Grand Rapids market.

The Chamber decided that lodging dollars are slipping away from Grand Haven, so it started active pursuit of a developer willing to place a hotel in downtown. Grand Haven has 556 rooms available for lodging. By contrast, Holland has 1,193 and Muskegon County has 1,850.

Muskegon will add to that total when Shoreline Inn & Suites opens an $11 million structure on Muskegon Lake. The 140-room motel is set to open on May 1.

Herman Miller ended the year on a high note with word of a 10-year, $93 million contract with the U.S. Social Security Administration to provide office furniture and workspace management services for 800 Social Security offices nationwide.

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