Locals To Run The Muskegon Mall

August 2, 2002
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MUSKEGON — Formation of a new not-for-profit corporation is an attempt to provide local control over the future of the defunct Muskegon Mall downtown.

The Muskegon Downtown Development Corp. wants to ultimately acquire the mall and sell it to a developer who will redevelop the property, which sits at the center of the resurging downtown business district.

“It’s designed to give local control to what happens to what we consider is the heart of our downtown,” said Chris McQuigan, president of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, a founding member of the new organization.

“How that piece of property looks and is used says a lot about how we feel about our community and our future,” McQuigan said. “We need to put that piece of property back into the vision for Muskegon’s future.”

Backers of the Muskegon Downtown Development Corp., which submitted a bid to acquire the mall property from the owner’s creditors, have been contacted by national developers who have expressed interest in the site, McQuigan said.

Joining the Community Foundation for Muskegon County in the endeavor is the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce and the Paul C. Johnson Foundation. The city of Muskegon also will receive representation on the corporation’s board, McQuigan said.

Representatives from all of the parties involved have been meeting informally for several months to discuss the possibility of acquiring the property so that it is redeveloped in a way that’s consistent with the revitalization efforts in downtown. The group formally incorporated last month.

Estimates peg the amount of development that has already occurred in recent years, is ongoing or is planned, at $120 million. In the middle of that activity is the Muskegon Mall, a shell of a building with parking lots chained off and inaccessible.

The mall property, McQuigan said, has “become ugly” and represents “a big hole in the middle” of downtown Muskegon.

Opened in 1976 with more than 60 tenants, the Muskegon Mall has been in decline for years. The decline accelerated last summer with the opening of the new Lakes Mall on Sternberg Road just east of U.S. 31, and the relocation of some anchor stores and retail outlets.

A marketing analysis commissioned last year by the Paul C. Johnson Foundation concluded that redeveloping the mall property for residential use is the most viable option.

In its report, The Chesapeake Group Inc. of Baltimore, Md., envisioned an urban housing development on the mall property that would create a cohesive neighborhood complementing the cultural and business activities in the surrounding downtown area. Urban living in downtown business districts is becoming increasingly popular around the nation, the firm said.

The “downtown neighborhood housing” option, featuring townhouses and other amenities such as a fitness club or corporate retreat, “would seem to have the greatest short-term impact with a significant long-term impact and could be built reasonably quickly. Market dynamics for the option appear to be better than those associated with most of the others as housing efforts in and near downtown Muskegon have generally met with success,” the consulting firm concluded.

An application the Muskegon Downtown Development Corp. filed with the city to obtain one the three tax-free Renaissance Zone designations available in Muskegon envisioned a mixture of housing, retail and office uses for the mall property. 

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