MUSKEGON — The potential relocation of a Muskegon-based children’s museum to downtown Grand Haven would provide a much-welcomed attraction that could help boost the business district.
The West Michigan Children’s Museum hopes to decide within a month on a location in the Grand Haven area and move into a new home by Christmas. Among the sites the organization has looked at is the former Steketee’s building downtown, which the Grand Rapids-based retailer vacated more than a year ago.
An attraction like a children’s museum would mix well with the downtown district’s blend of retail stores, restaurants and the nearby waterfront, Cherie Hall Talbert, executive director of Downtown Grand Haven Inc., a marketing and promotion group.
“We’ll help them in every way that we can,” Hall Talbert said. “If this is something that wants to be there, then we’d like to see it there. It would be a great attraction for both the locals and tourists.”
The West Michigan Children’s Museum is now housed in the Muskegon Mall in downtown Muskegon. The mall’s decline in recent years — with the closure or relocation of several stores and its uncertain future — resulted in museum directors beginning to look for a new home that offers greater visibility and a central location, board President Marty Mattson said.
“We’re pretty hidden away up there and it’s not a good situation for us to be hidden in a location where there is not a lot of opportunity for people to discover us,” Mattson said. “Just think of how much better we could do if people knew we were here.”
Opened in 1987, the museum recorded 12,000 visitors in 1998. Attendance has steadily declined ever since, Mattson said.
The museum, which offers hands-on and interactive exhibits for children, has retained the Redstone Development Group of Spring Lake to help it find a new location in the Grand Haven area. Redstone has centered the search on a “handful of locations,” with downtown as the top priority, said Tony DeVecht, Redstone’s vice president of sales and marketing.
Redstone Development Group has had “several discussions” with the Association of Commerce and Industry in Grand Haven about the museum’s potential relocation, DeVecht said. A site must have 10,000 to 15,000 square feet of space, provide good exposure to foot and drive-by traffic, and have the ability to accommodate school buses on weekdays.
“It could be a wonderful addition to what we already have in the community,” ACI Executive Director Joy Gaasch said. “It just gives that other option for things to do, which is so important.”
Downtown, which has lost some key destination businesses in the last two years, would provide the museum good visibility within a busy business district — one that offers plenty of shopping and restaurants that would complement the museum’s attraction, DeVecht said. The museum, likewise, would provide the downtown with a unique attraction that could benefit the surrounding businesses, DeVecht said.
“It’s not hard for one to conclude that downtown is a perfect scenario,” he said. “It gives us things they’re lacking in the Muskegon Mall, and it gives downtown Grand Haven the boost that it so desperately needs.”
Yet any downtown Grand Haven location would represent a potential “budget buster” for the museum, which would require financial help to move, DeVecht said.