The Lakes Mall
MUSKEGON —Muskegon's new Lakes Mall is considerably smaller than RiverTown Crossing mall, but in the much smaller shoreline community, it's a gigantic success.
In fact, it's more of a success in the sense that Muskegon has never had a regional mall and for decades was considered an underserved retail market.
The mall's anchors are Sears and J.C. Penney — both moving from other sites in Muskegon — plus Younkers, which is new to town.
The mall houses 48 smaller stores and there's a chance that Hudson's may move in after assessing how the mall does.
The new mall itself — not to mention several new restaurants in its environs last year — is expected to intercept well in excess of $125 million which residents of Grand Haven, Muskegon and points north previously spent in Holland or Grand Rapids.
Two restaurants relocated from other sites in Muskegon, while a third is a new extension of an existing business. But the Olive Garden is new and — along with Italian food —offers customers a 2-hour wait in line on weekend nights.
The mall's August opening generated announcements of other new neighboring developments that already are transforming the nearest intersection — Harvey Street at Sternberg Road — into a major retailing center.
The Westwood Group has construction well underway on the Lakes Crossing mall, directly across Harvey from the Lakes Mall. By all accounts, a Kohl's will anchor Lakes Crossing.
Meijer Inc. has secured property at the northeast corner of the Harvey-Sternberg intersection for a new store. Those developments all lie immediately east of the U.S. 31-Sternberg Road interchange.
Meanwhile, two blocks to the west of the same interchange, businesses now are opening in another new retail center, yet to be named.
All told, the county expects developers to spend $250 million to fill in the many surrounding acres of vacant land in Fruitport Township and Norton Shores (Harvey Street is the boundary between the municipalities).
Rumors had abounded for years about some kind of mall development at the site. First, however, it required infrastructure, namely the construction of the Sternberg interchange. Once the interchange was complete in 1993, the City of Norton Shores had to extend water and sewer service to the area.
Doing so was a politically difficult, because the half-developed suburban city was hard-put to finance utilities an area which consisted of blueberry farms and a few rural homes.
County government, however, helped provide "cover" for the step by investing in land and infrastructure nearly a mile to the north for Great Lakes Downs.
After that, Norton Shores and Fruitport Township gradually worked out the details to complete loops of both services.
The opening of the Lakes Mall seems to have meant death for Muskegon's downtown mall. But the old mall seems moribund anyway.
It had suffered a shortage of parking spaces from the minute it opened in the early '70s. Moreover, it was a difficult-to-manage cobbled-together mix of public and private properties.
The main concourse of the old mall still is a public right-of-way; an extension of Western Avenue which dead ends at the entrance of the now vacant Sears store.