Muskegon Mall Now Is In Limbo

December 8, 2003
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MUSKEGON — The downtown development group that owns the former Muskegon Mall property hopes to lure back a developer who’s been working on the project — or find another firm to take it over — once the fate of older buildings surrounding the site is determined.

Charter Development LLC has backed away from the redevelopment of the mall property, preferring not to get caught in the middle of local disagreements over the use of the five buildings adjoining the main mall structure that is now undergoing demolition.

City leaders and the nonprofit Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. this week were to begin talking about the buildings’ fate. If they can resolve the question, Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. backers hope to convince Charter Development executives to return to the project.

“Charter is absolutely right. This isn’t their issue, it’s our issue,” said Chris McGuigan, president of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County that’s one of three nonprofit organizations that comprise the downtown development group.

“I hope this can be put back on track quickly,” McGuigan said. “We have an opportunity sitting in our laps to become the city this community envisions for itself. We certainly hope the city commission assists on that opportunity.”

Joining the foundation in the development group are the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce and the Paul C. Johnson Foundation.

After Charter Development concluded the five buildings wouldn’t fit with redevelopment plans, Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. last month applied for a city demolition permit. The City Commission, after hearing from residents who want to preserve the buildings, subsequently enacted a 60-day moratorium on demolition to weigh whether the buildings had historic significance and deserve preservation in some way.

The city commission’s intent was to slow down the process so commissioners had time to thoroughly deliberate the issue, Mayor Steve Warmington said. Contributing to the decision was that the city commission as a whole has not been given a full presentation on the direction Charter Development was headed with redevelopment plans for the 23-acre mall site, Warmington said.

“We haven’t had an opportunity to review this. We don’t want to rush into demolishing some buildings,” he said. “We just want to make sure the process is thought through properly.”

The mayor said he was disappointed Charter Development backed away from the project and hopes the firm will return once the city and the Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. resolve the matter of the five buildings.

“I think they’re still there,” Warmington said.

If not, the Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. is prepared to begin contacting other developers who last year submitted redevelopment proposals for the mall property, which is located in the heart of the downtown business district.

“We still believe in the concept of a new downtown and still believe we have a lot of momentum going forward that will carry this project,” McGuigan said.

The group acquired the mall site last year and subsequently chose the Southfield-based Charter Development to work on the project. Citing an option in the buy-sell agreement with the group, Charter Development on Nov. 26 opted to withdraw from the project.

The Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. would seek to have any new developer build on the ideas Charter Development formulated to turn the mall site into a neighborhood consisting primarily of residential and retail uses that complement the surrounding downtown area, plus re-open streets leading to Muskegon Lake.

“We would be looking for someone who could start where Charter left off,” McGuigan said. “We love their site plan and we love their concept.”

As far as the old buildings, the Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. prefers to see them removed, if needed, to accommodate the site’s redevelopment.

“We have no desire to do anything with those buildings except what is necessary to create the downtown we want to create,” McGuigan said. “We want to make sure that parcel is attractive to development and a development which can create a livable downtown that we’re looking for.”    

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