Chamber Makes Statement

December 27, 2005
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MUSKEGON — The Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce wants to start walking the walk, straight into the role of downtown investor.

After expressing the importance of investing in downtown Muskegon to its members, the chamber is beginning a capital campaign Feb. 9 to raise at least $250,000 toward building a new chamber office. Though the site is not yet decided, the building committee is considering the former downtown mall site and Edison Landing.

Bob Scolnik, MuskegonCounty commissioner and former chamber president, will be co-chairing the campaign with Bob McCarthy, Muskegon Commerce Bank president and CEO. Scolnik said he wrote a letter to the chamber board suggesting the move from leasing to owning as a step to support downtown development.

"Who better to put the first shovel in the ground than the chamber of commerce?" Scolnik asked.

Scolnik said he has received $42,000 in pledges just from word of mouth, and hopes to have at least $100,000 pledged by the time the official campaign begins. Scolnik said he would also like to have three building designs to show the chamber members at that time. Members will be invited to vote on the design they feel is best.

The chamber, which is part of the Downtown Muskegon Development Corp., owns a 25 percent share of the former mall site. Part of that investment may be used to purchase a lot, Scolnik said.

The new building is planned to be about 5,000 square feet as compared to the 3,300 square feet at the current location in the HumeBuilding,

900 Third St
.

Muskegon Area First, which currently shares space with the chamber, also is included in the discussions and plans to move with the chamber.

"I think it's a great step," Scolnik said. "We've going to have a lot more room."

The decision to buy instead of continuing to lease was simple, Scolnik said.

"You've just got a stabilizing force," he said of owning a building. "Monthly occupancy cost will be higher than we're paying right now, but it shouldn't be too much higher."

With a plan to pay off the building in less than 10 years, Scolnik said it would eventually save the chamber money and give it an asset — while making a statement to the community.

Rich Robinson, chairman of the building committee, said the chamber is negotiating a new lease at the HumeBuilding until a decision can be made about a new site and building. The chamber's current lease expires in February.

Robinson said there have been many ideas, including partnering with other developers, but they are still in the planning stages and no decisions have been made.

Having the chamber take part in the development of downtown is an important step, Robinson said.

"The chamber represents the business community," he said. "We're hoping that this is the beginning of what Muskegon will be over the next 50 to 100 years."

Scolnik said the proposed timeline is to raise funds in 2006 and begin construction in 2007.

"We're going to try to use as much local professionals, contractors and supplies as we can," Scolnik said. "Members, of course."    

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