MUSKEGON — What once was a symbol of Muskegon’s economic deterioration has become an icon for the town’s rebirth, as the historic Amazon building begins to take on new life through a $14 million renovation project.
The old five-story brick building near the end of Western Avenue is being transformed into an apartment complex with retail shops and professional offices, across the street from the city’s Muskegon Lake waterfront.
“It is a big, beautiful building. It’s going to be outstanding when we get all of the renovation done,” said Gary Saterbak, director of project development for Gough and Gough Inc., a Valparaiso, Ind.-based firm that specializes in working with municipalities to rehabilitate rundown, urban buildings.
Gough and Gough acquired the Amazon building from its previous owner, Mark Pack Inc., at the urging of Trinity Village Non-Profit Housing Corp., a Muskegon-based non-profit organization that develops low- and moderate-income housing.
Trinity Village wanted to redevelop the Amazon building but the project was far too large to take on alone. The organization approached Gough and Gough, which eventually agreed to forge a partnership with Trinity Village.
“We just kept working on it until it materialized,” said Mike Feehan, Trinity Village’s fund development director. “That’s our mission. We take something that was rubble and turn it into something that’s beautiful and viable.”
The Amazon building dates back to the 1890s, when it was a knitting mill for the former Amazon Knitting Co., and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site has been “highly underutilized” for decades, Saterbak said.
That’s all changing with the renovation work that began in January and just recently began to include the outside facade of the building. When the renovation work is finished later this year, the Amazon building will consist of 118 apartments and have 98,000 square feet of space available for retail use and professional offices on the ground floor.
The project represents another facet of a wave of economic development and redevelopment in and around Muskegon’s downtown and waterfront areas.
The City of Muskegon has long wanted to see the Amazon building redeveloped and has seen many proposals come and go over the years, said Cathy Brubaker-Clark, the city’s director of community and economic development. For whatever reasons, none of the plans for the Amazon building ever went forward — until now, Brubaker-Clarke said.
“These were the right people and the right project,” she said of Gough and Gough.
Anchoring the block where Western Avenue meets Shoreline Drive, the Amazon building is a major property in the overall redevelopment of the downtown area that will produce new housing within the business district, Brubaker-Clarke said.
“It will make a major difference in our downtown,” she said.
Financial backing for the project comes from a myriad of sources, including the use of tax credits, an option often used in rehabilitating old buildings.
The developers obtained $9 million in housing tax credits and $2.7 million in historical tax credits from the state, as well as other smaller grants and loans. They include a $300,000 Federal Home Loan Bank grant, $450,518 which the city secured from the Clean Michigan Initiative, and a $475,000 low-interest loan from the Muskegon Community Foundation.
Arranging the financing package was one of the more difficult aspects of the project, Saterbak said.
“It’s been a good fit for the type of projects that we put together, but it’s been a challenge all the way down the road,” he said. “It’s been a huge effort to really get it to this point.”