Team Effort Jumpstarts SmartZone

November 4, 2002
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MUSKEGON — As they prepared to turn the first scoops of dirt and herald a new era for Muskegon, backers of a high-tech business park credited collaboration between the public and private sectors with bringing the project from dream to reality.

Partnerships between various business, community and public interests provided the driving force that led to last week’s ceremonial groundbreaking for a new alternative energy research and development center and business incubator, the first element of the Muskegon Lakefront SmartZone along Muskegon Lake.

“As you can see, this is nothing if not a team effort — a team that’s come together to shape the future of Muskegon’s lakeshore,” Grand Valley State University President Mark Murray said during the ceremony that was attended by about 300 people.

Grand Valley State is a key player in the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center that organizers believe will evolve into a global destination for researchers and companies developing alternative energy technologies, ultimately creating an entirely new economic sector for Muskegon.

Muskegon Mayor Steve Warmington and others envision new firms in the field of renewable and alternative energies sprouting up in the SmartZone, as well as within a new industrial park Muskegon County is developing on the former Cordova Chemical site in Dalton Township. Warmington believes the SmartZone development and research center will position Muskegon to become a leader in the development and production of “green power” technologies.

“The opportunities are endless,” Warmington said. “This is an exciting day and a colossal opportunity for our community.”

The 25,000-square-foot facility, described as the “office building of the future,” is designed as a self-sustaining center that will use fuel cells and solar photovoltaic cells to generate power, nickel hydride batteries for storing electricity, and a heat recovery system for heating and cooling.

The $8 million center — a product of Workstage LLC, a joint venture between Steelcase Inc., commercial real estate firm The Gayle Co., and Morgan Stanley Real Estate Funds — is scheduled for completion and occupancy next May. The center will include education, training and conference facilities.

The project was first conceived in 1999 by a group of businessmen that include Nick Pietrangelo of Harding Energy Inc. in Norton Shores, Stan Jasek of First Power LLC in Muskegon, and Grand Valley State Professor James Wolter, who now serves as research director for the center.

They, in turn, sold Grand Valley State administrators on the idea and connected with Lakefront Development LLC, a group consisting of the partners in the Muskegon law firm Parmenter O’Toole who at the same time were beginning to formulate plans to turn the 34-acre former Teledyne site along Muskegon Lake into an office park.

Dave Mielke, dean of Grand Valley State’s Seidman School of Business, called the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center the product of “a tremendous group of believers, conceivers and achievers.”

“What we have here shows what you can, in fact, accomplish if you do work together,” Mielke said.           

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