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Muskegon’s Watermark 920 provides more than just a venue

Owners make sure they give back to the community in which they grew up.

July 26, 2013
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Muskegon's Watermark920 provides more than just a venue
Watermark 920 is popular with weddings and meetings, but its concert business is opening up the venue to a whole new clientele. Courtesy Watermark Center

Watermark 920 opened as an events space within the Watermark Center in Muskegon in August 2011 and has quickly become a go-to spot for weddings and other special events, as well as a popular concert venue.

“We broke ground feeling that the community needed another place for events and fundraisers, and the response that we have had has been overwhelming,” said Sarah Rooks, president of the Watermark Center. “We are booking weddings from as far away as California.”

It is also a popular wedding reception location for Grand Rapids and other West Michigan couples who are looking for a backdrop that has elements of both an urban and lakeshore environment.

Rooks said that since opening, the venue has been bustling.

“We are booked solid through 2013, 2014 is starting to fill up, and dates in 2015 are starting to go, too,” she said.

She credits the flexibility of the space as part of its popularity.

“Our space is an absolute blank canvas,” Rooks said. “It is wide open, and the colors are very neutral, the floors are concrete. When a bride comes in, she can create the look that she wants and it doesn’t look like her friends’ or their friends’ (venues).”

In addition to the indoor space, which can accommodate up to 360 guests, there also is a patio that can accommodate up to 150 people.

“We had a wedding that came in and they wanted a beer garden, so we turned the whole porch into a beer garden, complete with lights strung across it and different kinds of beer. We put out plants and trees.”

Watermark 920 also is becoming a popular concert venue, thanks to its connection with Watermark Live, an event planning and production company that operates out of the Watermark Center and is run by Rooks’ brother, Luke Sass, who serves as creative director.

“We used Watermark Live as a marketing tool to promote 920 and we created this as a marketing campaign that had a revenue stream to it because we could sell tickets to the events.”

Watermark Live hosts its Inside the Mitten series and Truth in Jazz series in the Watermark 920 space, both of which attract crowds that range vastly in age.

The model has been very successful in terms of introducing new people to the space, she said.

“With our customers and clients, a lot of them are in the time of their life where they are having weddings or friends are getting married, and we seem to be top-of-mind,” Rooks said.

Rooks and her siblings are fourth generation Muskegonites who are committed to seeing Muskegon thrive, so partnerships, collaborations and giving back are integral to their business model and how they view success for their businesses.

Several Muskegon food and drink establishments have partnered with Watermark 920 and Watermark Live. Watermark 920 offers guests five catering companies to choose from for their events, and both Drip Drop Drink and Fatty Lumpkins Sandwich Shack regularly set up pop-up service at Watermark Live events.

Additionally, event producer Envision 360 Events also is housed in the Watermark Center and has partnered with Watermark 920 to help clients throw the perfect event. The two companies are working on an offsite wedding show to be held at The Lakes Mall in Muskegon in September.

“I firmly believe in getting out there and supporting the community,” Rooks said.

She noted that Watermark Live and Watermark 920 are regular contributors to charities around Muskegon, with no-kill animal shelter The Noah Project being a frequent charity partner.

Since opening two years ago, Watermark 920 has shown that it is more than just a nice place to host a party, Rooks said — it’s aim is to be a community partner.

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