Former Muskegon Mall Site Sprouts New Look

May 8, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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MUSKEGON — When Bill Sidock moves into his new corner office this summer, he'll have an excellent view of pedestrians, motorcycles, and just about everything that's happening in downtown Muskegon.

That office on the second floor of the new Sidock Group building going up on the northeast corner of Third Street and Western Avenue overlooks the new epicenter of activity in downtown Muskegon.

"It's a very prominent corner, with the Frauenthal Theater and the Holiday Inn anchoring the south side, and what used to be the mall to the north," said Dan Rinsema-Sybenga, Main Street manager at Muskegon Area First.

Rinsema-Sybenga said the intersection of First Street and Western Avenue used to be considered the center of downtown Muskegon, "but with so many of the buildings being demolished, at least at this point, Third and Western is kind of the focal point."

The new Sidock building, situated in what was once a parking lot for the former Muskegon Mall, is almost surrounded by new development. Facing it on the other side of Western Avenue is the new Hines Building, a three-story, 31,500-square-foot office building that will be home to the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce when it is completed early this summer. Named for businessman and philanthropist Larry Hines, the building is being developed by Capstone Real Estate of Grand Haven and Buck Construction Co.

On Clay Avenue, just to the east of the Sidock building, Baker College of Muskegon has begun construction on its new $11 million School of Culinary Arts.

Northeast of the Sidock building, developer Gary Post is about to begin construction on Heritage Square Town Homes, a 22-unit condo development representing a $5 million investment.

There are also other buildings in the immediate downtown neighborhood that have either been renovated or are scheduled for re-development. Only five of the original Muskegon Mall buildings remain today. The rest were cleared away for new development.

Sidock was also the site engineer at the new Hot Rod Harley-Davidson dealership downtown.

The Sidock Group has offices in both Muskegon and Novi. Since 2005, the Muskegon staff has occupied a Sidock-renovated building a couple of blocks north on Terrace Street. The group expects to be moving to the new building around the first of July. The $2.3 million building has two floors, each 7,800 square feet, according to Donald Spezia, senior project architect at Sidock Group.

The company, which provides professional services in engineering, architectural design, consulting and project management, designed the building itself and is acting as its own construction manager. Construction began last fall and, when complete, will provide lease space for two business on the ground floor — either retail or restaurant, according to owner Bill Sidock.

The second floor will have eight enclosed offices, together with an open office environment with space for another 20 or so employees, according to Spezia.

"It leaves us some room for expansion," said Spezia. In April there were about 17 employees in the Sidock Group Muskegon office, plus another 50 in Novi. The original business was established in 1974 and now has clients in 17 states and seven countries.

Inside the entrance of the new building is a two-story atrium with a large skylight in the roof above and a suspended staircase. The building design is noteworthy for large, arched windows that completely encircle both floors. There will be awnings over the windows, and a large glass canopy at the entrance that extends seven feet over the sidewalk.

The exterior features a brick called “rosewood modular,” a reddish color with some light and some dark areas. A cream-color cast stone is used around the doors and windows, replicating a 19th century style. The overall exterior will resemble that of the Hines Building across the street and also that of the historic Century Club building nearby on the opposite side of Western Avenue, restored last year with Sidock Group involvement.

"That's what we were shooting for — the historic look," said Spezia.

The skylight in the roof over the atrium is translucent plastic, which will provide better insulation than glass — "but it will be bright in there," said Spezia.

Utility meters for the new building are mounted discretely on a matching wall set away from the rear of the building, enabling Sidock Group to use large, contiguous glass windows completely around the first floor of the building. The windows will make the ground floor ideal for either retail or restaurants, with plenty of action for people-watchers relaxing in a restaurant.

"There is just much more pedestrian activity at Third and Western (now), which makes it more of a focal point. An original plan in 2003 (involving re-use of the former mall) showed a round-about at First and Western, but that was changed, as there is much more need for such a traffic device at Third and Western," said Rinsema-Sybenga.

Directly across the street from the Sidock building, to the south, is the renovated Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts. Diagonally from the Sidock building, on the southwest side of the traffic rotary, is the Holiday Inn.

The 119-year-old Century Club building was completely renovated last year, with Sidock serving as the architect, and now houses Hegg's Gallery of Fine Furniture, which was the first new business on the former Muskegon Mall site and the first major new retailer to locate in downtown Muskegon in years.

On either side of the Century Club are the Daniel's Office Supply building and the old Muskegon Savings Bank, both historic structures that are planned for renovation and redevelopment.

The corner office at the new Sidock Group building will provide an incredible vantage point for Bike Time, the major motorcycle enthusiast event covering several days in late July, when most of Western Avenue will be closed to through traffic to allow motorcycle parking, street vendors and booths — and probably in excess of 50,000 pedestrians.

The Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. is the nonprofit group redeveloping the site of the old Muskegon Mall.

Muskegon Main Street serves as the marketing agent for the former Muskegon Mall property. Marketing of 34 parcels began in earnest in 2005, and 22 are now sold or committed to buyers, according to Rinsema-Sybenga. Prices for the lots work out to $6 to $8 per square foot, depending on the desirability of the parcel.

The property originally comprised 23 acres but when streets through the former mall site were restored and returned to city ownership, the total size of the available land was reduced to 16 or 17 acres. The area is a tax-free Renaissance Zone.

"It took some people with vision to step up and be first" to invest in the former mall location, "but when you think about it, it's a pretty sure bet that the area has been the historic core of the region for 150 years and will continue to be so. It was really a good time to get in and purchase a piece of real estate," said Rinsema-Sybenga.

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