Muskegon Energizing Main Street

March 11, 2003
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MUSKEGON — The timing wasn't right five years ago.

Today, with downtown Muskegon on the way up, Jane Clingman-Scott sees a far better opportunity for an initiative that aims to help re-energize a portion of the business district.

At a time when the mood is upbeat and the business investment is returning, creation of a Main Street program represents one more facet of downtown Muskegon's rebirth, said Clingman-Scott, executive director of the Neighborhood Investment Corp. in Muskegon. The Main Street initiative can build on and help to further the momentum that's been building in downtown the past few years, she said.

"There is a synergy that's created by all of the different development initiatives," said Clingman-Scott, citing the two most notable examples that will reshape downtown Muskegon: the future redevelopment of the Muskegon Mall property in the heart of downtown and development of the Edison Landing high-tech business park on the former Teledyne property along Muskegon Lake.

"It is part of a whole synergistic whirlwind that is happening in downtown," she said.

The not-for-profit community development organization, in a partnership with the Muskegon Arts and Entertainment District, is forming a Main Street program in downtown Muskegon modeled after the national initiative in place in 1,650 communities nationwide. There are seven Main Street programs in Michigan, including Holland, a downtown business district that has received national accolades over the years.

The 20-year-old national Main Street program, an offshoot of the Main Street National Trust for Historic Preservation (www.mainstreet.org), offers a clearinghouse of best practices for downtown revitalization, development and management. The program emphasizes improving the physical appearance of a commercial district, an organizational structure that helps to build consensus and cooperation, marketing and promotion, and strengthening a downtown's economic base.

In Holland, the Main Street program formed in 1984 by the city's Downtown Development Authority was a key component in the business district's revitalization efforts since the late 1980s, leading to far more than $100 million in private-public investment that continues today with a new wave of developments.

As the city and businesses laid the groundwork for downtown Holland's future, the Main Street program's goals and emphases helped to spur debate and provide a forum back then and today for airing varying perspectives and reaching a consensus on issues affecting the business district, Holland DDA/Main Street Coordinator Patti Seiter said.

"It's given us a framework which sort of started us on our way," Seiter said.

Creation of a Muskegon Main Street initiative is in its early stages, with the recent formation of an advisory board that this month will work to identify and outline broad-based goals and objectives, said David Sperry, Main Street manager for Neighborhood Investment Corp.

The Muskegon Main Street district will cover a 10-block area of downtown, from Seventh Street to Third Street, and Western Avenue to Merrill Avenue. The area consists of 40 retail, commercial, office and public-sector properties, as well as 38 businesses and 29 commercial buildings, Sperry said.

The primary thrust of the effort is to restore the Main Street area to a thriving commercial and residential neighborhood.

"Our goal is to have every storefront active and people working and making money down there," Clingman-Scott said.

Crucial to the initiative is the active involvement and participation of residents, businesses and the city. Neighborhood Investment Corp. will approach the Muskegon City Commission this week seeking an endorsement of the program.

From 12 to 15 volunteers are needed to serve on each of the program's four committees that drive Main Street's programming.

"Win, lose or draw, it's the ownership of the people who have invested in that neighborhood that is the prized value," Clingman-Scott said. "That's the underpinning in it."

Formation of the downtown Muskegon Main Street program represents the combination of efforts the last two years by the Neighborhood Investment Corp., which has pushed to revitalize the Nelson Street neighborhood, and Muskegon Arts and Entertainment, which has worked to improve the Western Avenue corridor.

With each coming to a crossroads in their own initiative, leaders of both organizations decided to team up for a broader effort, Clingman-Scott said.

The $50,000 in funding secured to support formation of the Main Street program comes from $20,000 each from the Neighborhood Investment Corp. and Arts and Entertainment District, as well as a $10,000 gift from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. The same funding level is already in place for 2004, Clingman-Scott said.

Neighborhood Investment Corp. was first approached five years ago by the Lansing-based Local Initiative Support Corp., a not-for-profit community development group, about forming a Main Street program in downtown Muskegon. The environment at the time, with the business district not yet on the upswing, was not conducive to such a program and so the corporation passed on it, Clingman-Scott said.

Today, with a new outlook in downtown, financial incentives available to spur new development and improved private-public sector ties, the timing is right for such an initiative, she said.

"It would have just been spinning our wheels. We just did not feel comfortable we could get that much excitement and confidence in it" five years ago, Clingman-Scott said. "Now the rubber has hit the road and it is getting traction. It's an exciting time to be around here."  

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