Muskegon Redux

January 7, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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MUSKEGON — Millions of dollars in investments are giving downtown Muskegon much more than a face lift. The historic lumber capital is coming back to life for a third time, after decades of setbacks in its second career as a manufacturing center.

The city's 21st century economic base is taking shape as a mix of retail and high-tech research, industry and education, and as a draw for a growing stream of vacationers with an affinity for the water surrounding it. The epicenter of all this economic activity is downtown, a short stroll from Muskegon Lake and its access to Lake Michigan. The total dollar value of development investments in downtown is approaching $200 million in this decade.

"It's really taken off at this point," said Dan Rinsema-Sybenga, manager of Muskegon Area First's Main Street program.

Some of the largest projects include the Amazon Building ($16 million), VidaNova at Edison Landing ($15 million), Shoreline Inn & Suites ($11 million), the Muskegon Chronicle expansion ($10 million), and Baker College Culinary Arts Institute ($11 million).

Two of the latest economic boosts were the go-ahead for the $4 million HighPoint Flats project in December and the July opening of a new Harley-Davidson dealership.

Jonathan Rooks of Parkland Properties LLC agreed last summer to purchase the old Hackley National Bank building from the Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. The bank was the last unsold building on the site of the former Muskegon Mall. Rooks re-named it HighPoint Flats and will renovate the old tower and build additions on either side of it, yielding condos, retail shops, parking and eventually a restaurant.

July saw the grand opening of Hot Rod Harley Davidson, a new dealership representing a $3.5 million investment by Ada physician Mark Campbell and his Muskegon partner, Carl Miskotten. The store opened the day before Bike Time, a new event the two helped organize and promote, which brought an estimated 50,000 visitors to downtown for the most lucrative tourist weekend in years.

Significant projects that started the new Muskegon momentum include the Robert B. Annis Water Resource Institute, a $5.5 million Grand Valley State University facility built in 2001that houses laboratories, classrooms and conference space devoted to the understanding and protection of the Great Lakes and Michigan’s fresh water reserves.

In 2003, GVSU opened MAREC, the Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center, in Edison Landing in the Muskegon Lakeshore SmartZone. The SmartZone is intended to promote and attract high-tech business development in Muskegon and the region with MAREC as its hub. MAREC is positioned to establish West Michigan as a leader in the application of alternative energy.

Dan Henrickson, owner of True North real estate development company, invested in 24 acres in Edison Landing in late 2007. Edison Landing comprises a total of 34 acres on the shore of Muskegon Lake, once-blighted land that was occupied by large factories. The project was initially an investment by attorneys from Parmenter O'Toole, which built its new $4 million office building there.

At the site of the former Muskegon Mall, at least 10 projects are underway. Leading the effort is the Downtown Muskegon Development Corp., a joint venture of the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce, the Community Foundation of Muskegon County and the Paul C. Johnson Foundation. The group purchased the property shortly after the mall closed and has marketed its efforts through the area's economic development agency, Muskegon Area First, as part of its Muskegon Main Street program. The chamber took the lead with construction of the $2.5 million Hines Building, the first new construction on the site. Across the street, architecture and engineering firm Sidock Group Inc. is developing a 16,000-square-foot building.

Hegg's Gallery of Fine Furniture and Western Avenue Properties have painstakingly restored the ornate 118-year-old Century Club building at a cost of $1.3 million. Gary Post and Russ Strong of Western Avenue Properties became the first investors in any of the former mall property in 2006 with the purchase of the Century Club, Muskegon Savings Bank and Daniels Office Supply.

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