Downtown Muskegon Ready To Go

September 28, 2004
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MUSKEGON — More than two years after acquiring the property, a downtown development group is now ready to market the former Muskegon Mall site.

The vision of the nonprofit Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. is to create a new commercial and residential district in the heart of downtown Muskegon through the redevelopment of 20 separate parcels. After razing the mall buildings, and finalizing and securing city approval of a conceptual site plan, the development group has begun to solicit development proposals for individual parcels.

“The dream is to have a downtown that has commercial and retail vitality and significant urban living space,” stated a recent letter sent out to interested parties and signed by Community Foundation for Muskegon County President Chris McGuigan and Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Larsen.

The community foundation and the chamber of commerce are partners in the Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. with the Paul C. Johnson Foundation. The development corporation hopes to attract several developers to take on commercial, residential and mixed-use developments within the 23-are site, 17 acres of which are available for redevelopment.

“There’s a lot of interest and we’re talking to a lot of people to try to generate interest,” said planning consultant Frank Bednarek of Hooker-DeJonge, who’s been working with the downtown development group.

A master plan for the property envisions development of a mixture of public, high-density residential, commercial and retail uses that could draw businesses and people to downtown. The plan calls for evenly splitting the new square footage developed between commercial and residential uses, including the creation of ground-floor commercial space with upper-floor dwellings.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for people to start a business downtown and for people to move downtown,” Bednarek said. “It’ll add a lot of value to the community, I hope.”

Helping the marketing of the parcels is the site’s status as a tax-free Renaissance Zone, which affects all property and income taxes for residents and real and personal property and single-business taxes for businesses.

In parceling off the site, the Downtown Development Corp. hopes to attract an assortment of local and regional and large and small developers.

“Regardless of their size, we wanted to make sure they could all be involved,” Larsen said. “This is definitely a community-driven project.”

Among the uses envisioned is a large parcel at Terrace Street and Clay Avenue that’s targeted for a destination use, such as a multi-screen theater, department store or large bookstore.

The immediate area around Third Street and Western Avenue, which would continue through to Terrace Street, is earmarked largely for public uses that would create a central focal and gathering point in the downtown central business district.

“That’s right at the center of all that is Muskegon,” Bednarek said.

The first step toward the mall site’s redevelopment is to rebuild streets and other public infrastructure, which includes extending Western Avenue, and extending Second Street, First Street and Jefferson Street between Clay Avenue and Morris Avenue, creating new corridors that lead to the nearby Muskegon Lake waterfront.

The Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. is pursuing financing to cover the estimated $3 million cost to restore the streets and public utilities to the site, Bednarek said. The development group is confident of securing funding and has targeted the infrastructure work to begin next spring, he added.

Downtown Muskegon Development also is working to formulate design standards to create common aesthetics throughout the site.    

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