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Making A Mark In Muskegon Heights
In its initial efforts, the city is even giving away land. Next month, it will attempt to lure entrepreneurs to the downtown area with the offer of a city-owned property in the city center at
“Someone can really come in here and make a splash,” said Shannon McMaster, executive director of the Muskegon Heights Downtown Development Authority. “If you’re looking to make a name for yourself, this is a great opportunity for you.”
A decade ago, a generation of developers became community heroes for their pioneering efforts in
“A big pile of money in
As McMaster is quick to point out, it’s impossible not to notice the vacancies in the downtown area. There are literally blocks of storefronts vacant along
“It’s easy to look at downtown and say, ‘Goodness, they have a lot of vacancies,’” McMaster said. “What I see is opportunity.”
In the past year, Muskegon Heights has taken aim at its urban core as an economic development catalyst — a strategy that has seen great success in Grand Rapids, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Holland and other communities throughout West Michigan.
A recent study by Washington, D.C.-based downtown revitalization consulting group HyettPalma as part of the state’s Cool Cities Blueprints for
McMaster compared the downtown vision to the Eastown neighborhood in
The Muskegon Heights Downtown Blueprint 2007 lays out a plan with hopes of not only a vibrant downtown, but a regional destination. Among other assets,
The Downtown Development Authority, newly revitalized with new board members and a new executive director, will be the driving force behind many of these efforts. Streetscape, infrastructure and public safety improvements will likely be authority funded. The DDA also owns more than a half-dozen buildings in the downtown area, including all the structures in the city’s yet-untouched 12-acre Renaissance Zone.
Currently, the DDA is focusing on
Built by the same company responsible for what is today
“One of the great things about
Obviously, there are some major challenges ahead for the authority. Far and away the largest concern of Muskegon-area consumers surveyed by HyettPalma was public safety.
“It’s a safe community. But there is an image problem, and perception is reality,” McMaster said. “When you see people standing on the sidewalk, do you see people enjoying the weather or people looking for trouble? It’s really what you bring into it. … The real problem is the perception of poverty. Whether it’s here or in
A top priority for the downtown area is an increased police presence, but this is a problem that can only be solved by increased investment, McMaster said.
“Historically, the downtown existed to serve employers and employees,” he explained. “There were a number of major factories within two blocks of here, and that employment base is virtually all gone today.”
Thomas Smith, a DDA board member and owner of Urban Apparel & Accessories in
“There is some momentum,” he said. “If we get any shot in the arm with the economy, I think
While the real estate opportunities are evident, HyettPalma suggested some clear opportunities from a market standpoint, as well.
Although shopping is the most common reason for visiting the downtown area, these consumers are still statistically more likely to shop in
A corresponding survey of the office market suggested that the downtown area could absorb an additional 10,000 to 12,000 square feet of office use.
Cindy Larsen, president of the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce, sees in
“It will take some time, but as they start to develop downtown, the image problems will dissipate,” said Larsen. “If you look at what downtown