MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Jeff Jacobson remembers the streets of downtown Muskegon when he first opened Unruly Brewing on Western Avenue in 2013.
“When we first moved down here, there was really nothing, especially on this side of the street. Across the street from us was just empty building,” said Jacobson.
The change in that five-year span has been dramatic.
“Century Block next door to us grew up with a bunch of businesses in there. Then they put in the Western Market down the street from us. There are all kinds of new building going in right across the street from us,” Jacobson said.
Community leaders are hoping to continue that momentum with this week’s announcement of plans for a $17 million convention center for downtown Muskegon.
Muskegon leaders began talking about a convention center for Muskegon in the late 1980’s. In 2002, a feasibility study indicated the numbers just weren’t there to support a facility.
In 2014, that study was revisited. The revised study indicated a convention center is worth the investment.
Something else was happening to support that conclusion, as signs of a building boom began to emerge downtown — a boom that continues taking shape.
“The growth in Muskegon has been tremendous, and throughout the county had really been accelerating within the past, probably five years,” said Bob Lukens, who heads up Visit Muskegon, the county’s convention and visitors’ bureau.
The 45,000-foot convention center would tie in with a renovated and rebranded Holiday Inn to the north and the LC Walker Arena to the south.
The $17 million convention center would be financed through the areas hotel/motel tax and other lodging assessments. A $6 million private investment is already underway with the renovation of the Holiday Inn, which will become a Delta by Marriot.
The city of Muskegon, which owns LC Walker Arena, will put another $1.7 million in upgrades to 1960’s vintage arena, on top of the $1.5 million they spent in improvements this year.
The 2014 study put the economic impact of the project at over $10.6 million a year.
Along with leisure shows and sporting events, Muskegon is aiming for a certain niche in the convention market. Smaller than those attracted to buildings like the DeVos Place, but big enough to help bolster the success of businesses who got in on the downtown rebuild early on.
“The more people downtown, the better for us,” said Jacobson.
Officials hope to have designs finalized by June of next year, with completion of the convention center expected in early 2021.
If you’d like a closer look at the plans, the City of Muskegon will hold an open house at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at LC Walker Arena. More information is also available on the city’s website and Facebook page.