Setting course to Windward takes all hands on deck
Another big step in Muskegon development has been announced, this time with some promise of community unity and muscle — and that could start the economic domino effect that has long escaped this potential jewel of the West Michigan lakeshore.
The Pure Muskegon investment group provided a long-awaited development plan for the former Sappi Paper site: 120 acres with one mile of direct lakefront access, offered as a site for mixed use featuring residential and commercial components. The plan triggered approval of a $1 million MDEQ brownfield grant.
Pure Muskegon is registered by North Muskegon Mayor Chris Witham, who is CEO of Motion Dynamics Corp. in Fruitport. It was founded by Wes Eklund, CEO of Fleet Engineers Inc. The investment group also was involved in the renovation and public opening of the Muskegon Country Club on adjacent property.
Announcement of the “Windward Pointe” project marks major milestones in negotiating with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Michigan Attorney General’s office and the city of Muskegon to fast-track cleanup of the century-old manufacturing site.
Further, it was the path for Doug Melching’s release from deed restrictions and use limitations. Melching’s purchase of the property in 2011, reportedly for $2.3 million, triggered wide discussion throughout the Muskegon area regarding re-use of the site, particularly in regard to business enterprises that would add sorely needed jobs to the Muskegon economy as the region exited the Great Recession.
Last year the partnership of several economic development groups was announced, including West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, forming Vision 2020 for 4,100 acres on Muskegon Lake. The group segmented the work into four focus areas: recreational use, sustainable environmental and natural resources work already underway, commerce and port activity, and future development and residential properties. A total of 15 organizations — including Muskegon County municipalities — agreed to an image and marketing campaign underpinning development and employer prospects.
Windward Pointe is a significant piece of a potential economic catalyst not so much for the size of the property in comparison to the total (although the location is especially significant) but for the tenacity of creating a coalition to assure all boats rise.
Pure Muskegon and enjoined efforts may indeed become one of the Rust Belt’s best, hard-fought stories of returning prosperity — and how to make it happen.