Muskegon Needs To Think Bigger

October 2, 2002
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It’s good to see the Muskegon City Commission recommend that the MEDC approve creation of three new Renaissance Zones.

One designation immediately increases the attractiveness of the Ott-Story Chemical site: nearly 200 acres of prime inland industrial property already fully served by infrastructure. The other two zones should help inner-city projects. One concerns plans to transform the vacant Shaw-Walker furniture factory into an apartment and retail complex similar to what the American Seating plant in Grand Rapids is undergoing.

The other zone would help the Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. create an “urban village” in the empty downtown Muskegon Mall. Whatever an urban village may be, it can hardly fail to improve upon the present mall: a roofed-over downtown street lined by empty stores surrounded by weedy, vacant parking lots.

What the city did not do, unfortunately, was to recommend expansion of another Renaissance Zone to include West Michigan Market and Dock Corp., the single largest parcel of Muskegon Lake waterfront.

The city turned down the Mart Dock’s request for Renaissance Zone status because, in the words of one commissioner, the Mart Dock is not a site that needs incentives.

Now, that is thinking small — real small.

No, the Mart Dock doesn’t need incentives — not if the city is content for it to continue looking like a set for “On The Waterfront.”

The firm operates a profitable port and storage operation in its collection of aging warehouses. If visitors in Muskegon’s two lakefront hotels find the scene somewhat grubby, that’s no skin off the Mart Dock’s teeth. The owners, Detroit’s McKee family, will continue making money, and Muskegon’s best piece of downtown property will continue to look like a cluster of old warehouses.

It’s doubtful that the Mart Dock ever could look like Fisherman’s Wharf or Carmel By The Sea. But look what South Haven and Grand Haven have done with their very modest waterfronts … and what Grand Rapids has achieved with a mere riverfront. Something of the sort on Mart Dock property — especially considering that it is so busy so often — could be a major shot in the arm for the proposed urban village. It also would help reorient Muskegon to embrace its finest geographic asset: sparkling, cerulean Muskegon Lake.

The McKee family and the City of Muskegon have a very long and often stormy relationship.

Moreover, the McKees certainly didn’t help their case in recently coming to a possible parting of the ways with the USS Silversides board. The Mart Dock had sought to attract the submarine exhibit to buttress its case to be a terminal for renewed cross-lake ferry service. Not long before the Renaissance Zone question came up, the Silversides board was an eager McKee ally.

Now the Mart Dock and the Silversides — which is becoming a major tourist attraction — are at loggerheads in the media, and plans for a downtown Naval museum linked to a ferry terminal are on hold.

We hope the two make peace.

The more important thing would be for Muskegon’s government to do an about face and try to make the McKee family feel loved, needed and recognized in West Michigan. Why?

It’s simple.

Muskegon needs the McKees a lot more than the McKees need Muskegon.

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