Muskegon Needed Cool Cities Cash

April 26, 2004
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  • With respect toits cool cities initiative, the Granholm administration seems to have fumbled the ball and then walked off just leaving it on the field.

We refer to the fact that on June 1, the new high-speed, cross-lake ferry starts debarking travelers in Muskegon's Lakeside District.

We have no complaint at all about funding for new downtown facades in Grand Rapids.

But Muskegon's Lakeside will present travelers a jarring first impression, especially in contrast with Milwaukee's waterfront. The new terminal, for instance, will give tourists an excellent view of stored aggregate.

This isn't to criticize Muskegon's Lakeside. It's a fine old community, rich in history and noted for its community spirit. But if ever there were a place to spend some cool cities bucks, Lakeside springs to mind.

Muskegon offers visitors many genuine charms, but its long, long shoreline hides them in a street system that bewilders newcomers. From the terminal, tourists will proceed past an upscale marina to a three-block business district more or less frozen in the '50s —  with some structures possibly dating back 80 years.

The district has a boat sales outlet and a second-run theater that a Grand Rapids investor is completely refurbishing. It also has assorted retailers such as a glass blower, a grocery, a body shop, a BP station and towing service. Basically, it is a local shopping district that hasn't had time to change course and adapt itself to tourism

City Hall tells Lakeside business leaders that it has no money to improve the district.

So Lakesiders, who are excited about the start of ferry service, are doing what they can to prepare.

But a confusing choice faces debarking drivers who don't know Muskegon: a left turn right out of Lakeside or a right turn through it. On convoluted routes through residential districts, either gets a knowledgeable motorist to downtown, to the Heritage Landing concert stage or to Business 31. One also can visit two other marinas, the USS Silversides exhibit and some excellent dining and genuinely superb sightseeing.

But if you don't know the area or have a native guide, good luck.

Muskegon City Hall itself also fumbled the ball two years ago when it denied a Renaissance Zone designation to the Detroit owners of the biggest piece of downtown Muskegon Lake frontage — the Mart Dock— which lies at the foot of a revitalizing downtown. The Mart was the old terminal for the Milwaukee Clipper and would have been ideal for the new ferry — being less than three blocks from major traffic arteries.

But the business and the city couldn't get past a two-generation history of backbiting and petty slights and antipathy.

It's a pity.

It's also a pity the governor, who sees such importance in tourism, couldn't exercise the leadership necessary to pull the parties together. The ferry terminal, after all, will be the first new Michigan point of entry for tourism in three decades.

But — first impressions being paramount — we think it may discourage tourists' impulse for a second visit.

**State Sen. WayneKuipers, R-Holland, professes to be mightily honked that Gov. JenniferGranholm torpedoed the Legislature's second attempt to create a Michigan manufacturing czar — a post analogous to the new federal Undersecretary of Commerce for Manufacturing.

Kuipers says it's evidence that the governor is operating by a double standard, in that earlier she certainly lifted her voice in favor of creating the federal position.

But let's look at this a bit more dispassionately. The federal manufacturing undersecretary is kind of an ombudsman who can block many anti-manufacturing tax and regulatory initiatives before they ever even surface in Congress.

Obviously, the Michigan GOP wants an official in Lansing who would run the same kind of interference for manufacturers and small businesses. Small businesses, after all, employ the most workers in Michigan and also have the greatest difficulty with heavy-handed state officials.

But the governor is not following a double standard. She's perfectly consistent. She doesn't want somebody in her Democratic administration who would march to a GOP drum.

And, to put the shoe on the other foot, Kuipers was perfectly consistent earlier this year in voting (unsuccessfully) to erase the Michigan Economic Development Corp., once a GOP critter but now a member in good standing of a Democratic administration.

It's safe to say all of Lansing is concerned about jobs, but the question is which side is the more enlightened about it. For now, having the MEDC still makes sense, but so would a czar who could kill stupid ideas — like the Granholm proposal to levy a 50 percent penalty on late tax payments by small businesses.

But rather than confront the issue squarely, Kuipers is bleating that the Granholm veto "smacks of presidential politics."

Lighten up, Wayne. Everything does this year.    

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