Walk Leaders: Renae Hesselink and Terry McAllister
Text by: Renae Hesselink
Photographs by: Renae Hesselink
As was the case in many American cities, an effort was made in 1976 to renew Muskegon’s urban centre by constructing a mall over a 23-acre site—eight city blocks. To create parking for the mall, our first major historical building, the Occidental Hotel, was razed. By 2001, the mall had closed, and retail was abandoning the former epicentre of our community. By 2003, downtown retail had vanished and the mall was demolished. It took until 2006 to rebuild the roads to reconnect the city. Muskegon boasts a world-class art museum; a performing-arts centre that is home to the West Michigan Symphony; Pere Marquette Park, a 27-acre public park with 2.5 miles of white sandy beach, located on Lake Michigan; and a location on the shores of the 4,150-acre fresh-water Muskegon Lake, which is also a deep-water port.
Even with all of these gems, development has been very slow. Since its beginnings in the lumber industry, Muskegon has had its economic ups and downs. The industrial revolution brought many businesses here, and several of them grew to become Fortune 500 companies. But the 1960s and 1970s brought consolidation, and many of those businesses were sold to larger international companies; all have closed or relocated since then. Recovery from this collapse of the city’s industrial roots has been slow, and a re-creation of those plentiful high-paying jobs is not likely.
Over $30 million has been invested in new buildings since 2008, including two LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings—the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, and Baker College’s new Culinary Institute of Michigan. There is a historic district and, fortunately, several of the commercial historic buildings have been saved. Retail activity is returning to downtown; when our walk took place, ground was just about to be broken for our new Muskegon Farmers’ Market, which will anchor the east end of the business district. There is hope!