Muskegon's Downtown Turns A Corner

January 2, 2007
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MUSKEGON — A historic building in a downtown overlooking a lake is a familiar sight for Stacie Hegg, and she said it is a fitting place to expand her upscale furniture store.

Hegg’s Gallery of Fine Furniture, based in Hart, will be the new tenant in the Century Club building, one of the three historic buildings salvaged from the former mall site in downtown Muskegon by Western Avenue Properties and developers Gary Post and Russ Strong.

With renovation underway and a summer 2007 opening, Hegg’s may be the first business in the new development to open.

“I have always been in love with the Century Club — that definitely had my interest,” Hegg said.

Once the roads and streetlights started showing up, Hegg said she was ready to commit.

“You see those getting accomplished, you just know good things are really going to be happening down there,” she said.

While she may be the first business on the site, Hegg said that does not intimidate her.

“I’m used to being the only kid on the block, so that’s not scary to me,” she said.

In Hart, Hegg oversaw the purchase and renovation of two historic buildings that propelled her husband’s family’s 2,500-square-foot store into a 30,000-square-foot showroom with a 10,000-square-foot warehouse. Hegg’s was originally started as a department store in 1946 by her husband Scott’s grandfather, Charles Hegg, and was taken over by Scott’s father, William Hegg, in 1970, when it changed focus to a promotional furniture store. In January 1998, Hegg took over the store along with her mother and sister, and they changed the entire line of furniture, adding design services and middle- to higher-end merchandise.

Hegg said in the past few years she has noticed more customers coming from the Muskegon area, which prompted her to look in the city for a satellite location.

“Basically, it was just kind of a demand thing,” she said.

The Hart store’s selection will remain extensive, with about 85 lines of furniture as well as accessories, but Hegg said the Muskegon location will be more selective.

“In Muskegon it’s going to be more the cream of the crop. It’s going to be really exclusive product,” she said. “We’re going to really strive to have things that you just don’t find anywhere else.”

Hegg plans to manage both locations in the beginning, but she plans to hire management help in Muskegon after the initial transition.

Hegg said she hopes the retail store will be an architectural showpiece, with its tall ceilings and exposed bricks.

“People will come to see this whether they’re in the market for furniture or not, just because the building is going to be so spectacular,” she said. “It’s going to be just an incredible atmosphere.”

If plans run according to schedule, Hegg said the store should be open in time for Muskegon’s Summer Celebration.

Post said he is pleased with the new tenant and what it will bring to the area.

“The Century Club was just a really good fit for them,” he said. “It’s a great thing for Muskegon.”

Post is also making the way ready for another development, which he is doing on his own: Heritage Square Townhomes. The project consists of 16 townhouses with two- and three-story options that are suitable to a home-office environment. Several of the units will have access to the office off the street, making it easy for people such as real estate agents or attorneys to practice out of their homes.

If all goes according to plan, ground should be broken on the project in 2007.

Post said he is also looking at tenants for the other historic properties, with a restaurant and entertainment venue in mind for the Muskegon Savings building — “something, again, that people are going to want to come downtown for.”

The third building, the former Daniel’s Office Supply, is planned for mixed-use. As the building that has had the most deterioration, Post said they are trying hard to restore it to its original form.

Post said he is excited to see all the development that is taking place.

Muskegon has turned a corner,” he said. “There are really some good things happening downtown.”

In addition to the new businesses and development, Baker College of Muskegon Center for Culinary Arts and Sidock Group are relocating to the new buildings on the former mall site.

Sidock Group, an architectural and engineering firm headquartered in Novi, was founded in Muskegon in 1974 with locations in Norton Shores and, more recently, in downtown Muskegon. President Bill Sidock said when the company moved downtown, it gave them a large presence in Muskegon, which has worked well.

The new building, a $2.1 million investment, will be 16,000 square feet with the Sidock Group occupying 8,000 square feet on the second floor. The first floor will be leased to a restaurant or retail tenant. Sidock said groundbreaking is planned for April 2, with plans to be in the building on Dec. 2.

“I think it’s a great redevelopment,” he said of the site. “I think the timing is right; other things are beginning to happen.”

Rick Amidon, president of BakerCollege, agreed that the downtown site is an exciting place to be.

“The whole renaissance of the downtown area will be bringing more and more people to the city, to the downtown,” he said.

Amidon said the location is a good fit for the younger students who make up the majority of Baker’s culinary program.

“Younger students want to be where there are people and activities,” he said. “To be a part of that dynamic is going to be exciting for them.”

The more than $4 million investment will give the culinary center its own space and free up more space on the main campus, Amidon said.

“It is probably the most autonomous program we have on campus,” he said. “It runs itself right now pretty independently as a business unit.”

The new location will also be in a more prominent place, allowing more people to experience the school’s restaurant, which is still unnamed. The entire facility, including classrooms, the restaurant and a retail area will be 15,000 square feet and is planned to open in 2008.

Amidon said with the expansion he expects a 10 percent increase in students, from the 250 currently in the program.

“It’s an exciting time in our growth,” he said. “It’s just a natural fit for us for this particular program.”    

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