The convention center, located on Fourth Avenue between Western Avenue and Shoreline Drive, is scheduled to open in early 2021. Rendering courtesy Progressive AE
Plans for the future downtown Muskegon convention center campus show a total investment of at least $26 million.
The main piece of the project is a new $17-million, 45,000-square-foot convention center on the Fourth Street block between Western Avenue and Shoreline Drive, slated to open early 2021.
The facility will sit between the updated L.C. Walker Arena, at 470 W. Western Ave., and the 201-room hotel at 939 Third St., currently under a $6-milion renovation to rebrand from Holiday Inn to Delta by Marriott.
The convention center is expected to level out Muskegon’s drastic tourism differences between the seasons, according to Robert Lukens, community development director of the Muskegon County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Doug Pollock, the hotel’s general manager, said occupancy rates can drop from around 80 percent in the summer to as low as 35 percent in the winter.
Pollock said more business meetings during the winter and spring months — the vacation offseason — should help increase those lower rates.
“The convention center for sure will allow us to expand that season and bring more visitors to Muskegon and help fill our hotels,” Lukens said.
Pollock added the increased number of visitors each week will benefit more than just the hotels.
“Restaurants, bars and shopping — they'll all profit from having people in town for three or four days,” he said.
While the county does host meetings now, Lukens said the limited space has kept some large groups from booking in the area.
With continued marketing of Muskegon to meeting planners, particularly government groups and associations, he said he expects the center to bring increased meetings, seminars, small trade shows and smaller conventions.
The convention center will include 20,000 square feet of open meeting space, divisible into five rooms, as well as a pre-function space overlooking Muskegon Lake and a breakout and banquet space on the lower level.
The construction will include a connection between the center and the hotel, meant to allow the hotel’s 10,000-square-foot meeting space, restaurant, breakout spaces and other amenities to complement the convention center’s.
Progressive AE of Grand Rapids was chosen as the architecture and engineering firm for the project, which is in the design phase.
The hotel is undergoing a renovation of every room and bathroom, the Third Street Grille restaurant, all public areas and the 10,000-square-foot meeting space, according to Jon Rooks, owner of Parkland Properties, the real estate company that owns the hotel.
The overhaul will include a new air conditioning system, new furniture, carpet, sliding bathroom and shower doors, backlit bathroom mirrors, light fixtures and more.
Rooks said part of the deal with the convention center project was to upgrade the hotel.
Pollock said the brand change moves the quality level from mid- to upscale to more of a fully upscale experience.
While the current brand is more family-oriented, he said the new brand has more appeal to the business community as well as families.
Rooks said Chicago-based Avenir Creative has helped ensure the interior design renovations line up with Marriott’s brand requirements. Grand Rapids-based Ghafari Associates is the architect, and Grand Rapids-based Visser Brothers is the contractor.
Pollock said the hotel renovations should be finished by May, with a brand switch shortly afterward.
L.C. Walker Arena recently underwent more than $1.7 million in renovations funded by the city to make it more adaptable for a variety of events, according to Frank Peterson, Muskegon city manager.
New features include an open pavilion standing area, six private seating suites, a semi-private seating area, a second party deck, the Rad Dads' Tacos & Tequila Bar and other additional upgraded food options.
Still in the plan is $1.5 million worth of roofing and HVAC improvements for the 1960s-era arena.
In 2019, Peterson said he hopes the arena also will add a frozen yogurt shop, a sports bar and remodeled bathrooms.
While the plan is to have entrances to the arena and convention center via W. Western Avenue, Lukens said having a connection between the two will depend on how expensive it would be to deal with the buildings’ grade differences.
The convention centerpiece is being funded through a $20-million city bond, which will be paid over a 25-month installment period.
The bond will be paid with an existing 5 percent Muskegon county accommodation tax, as well as a new 4 percent self-assessment tax collected from hotels located within the city of Muskegon.
Lukens said community leaders first started talking about a convention center in the 1980s.
A couple of feasibility studies have been done over the years, with one in 2014 showing the convention center could have an annual economic impact of $10.6 million.
With over $500 million in development projects underway in Muskegon and a continued influx of new downtown businesses and residents, Lukens said it’s the perfect time for the new campus.
Rooks, who also owns the nearby Shoreline Inn, at 750 Terrace Point Road, and has invested heavily in the area, said this is the natural next step for downtown Muskegon’s comeback after the once-popular mall’s demolition nearly two decades ago left a wide-open space and inactive downtown.
“We like to be involved in what we think are impact investments, and when we invest in things, we try to invest ahead of the curve,” Rooks said.
“We like to be part of the process in exciting times and exciting places, and Muskegon is one of those places.”