Activists Go Beyond Casino Issue

June 30, 2003
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MUSKEGON — Hoping to avoid the label of a solely “anti-casino group,” a new organization seeking to boost Muskegon’s image, attitude and business prospects wants to move on to other issues once voters weigh in on casino gambling.

While Positively Muskegon is decidedly against the Sept. 9 advisory question, the organization hopes to go far beyond opposing casinos in Muskegon.

Promoting awareness of the estimated $170 million in ongoing and planned new development in and around the downtown business district and helping to resolve any lingering political and social divisiveness that in the past has hampered economic revitalization efforts in Muskegon are among the issues Positively Muskegon founder Dave Wallerup wants to tackle.

Opposing a private development group’s push for a casino merely represents the initial thrust of the organization, Wallerup said. The goal is to build from that issue, he said.

“This is not a flash-in-the-pan organization,” he said. “This particular issue has legs enough to get people to the table and talk. And if we can get them talking, then that says something good about the undercurrent in the city of Muskegon.”

City voters will decide in an advisory vote scheduled for Sept. 9 whether they support casino gambling.

The drive for a downtown casino comes from the Archimedes Group, consisting of 12 businesspersons in Muskegon. The group is paying for the advisory vote and says a casino would help to create new jobs and tax base and help to rejuvenate the downtown.

Wallerup and supporters of Positively Muskegon offered their views this month in a media briefing held in front of the new Grand Valley State University energy research center, now under construction in the Muskegon SmartZone development, a high-tech commerce and residential park along Muskegon Lake known as Edison Landing.

Wallerup touted the development of Edison Landing, the recent rehabilitation of the Amazon Building on Western Avenue, the upcoming unveiling of plans for the redevelopment of the Muskegon Mall and other projects as examples of downtown Muskegon’s economic rebirth.

“We want to let people know there are a lot of good things going on in Muskegon,” Wallerup said.

He and others believe adding a casino to the mix would “interrupt our development process.”

“There’s a lot happening in Muskegon. We just need to really get it out there and I don’t think we need a casino to launch it,” said David Barrone, a trust and estate manager who was hired by Positively Muskegon to lead the campaign against the casino question.

Positively Muskegon has $3,600 in campaign donations and anticipates it’ll need to raise about $40,000 to oppose the question.

Beyond the casino issue, Wallerup believes Positively Muskegon can help to build community consensus and address issues in a way that business organizations such as the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce and Muskegon Area First cannot. Part of the group’s efforts will focus on improving the image of Muskegon internally, then externally to the rest of the region, he said.

“It’s got to start within the town. People have to believe in themselves within Muskegon first before we have a hope of convincing other people,” Wallerup said. “It’s an attitude adjustment.”               

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