Developers See Muskegon As Land Of Opportunity

    MUSKEGON — While the retail corridor emerging around the Lakes Mall is the definitive retail “hotbed” around town, Bill Bussey sees plenty of opportunity all around Muskegon.

    Bussey, a vice president and broker with the Grand Rapids commercial real estate firm Grubb & Ellis/Paramount, is working on a number of retail developments in the Muskegon area, a market that research data shows is “under-retailed,” even with the Lakes Mall that opened a year ago, he said.

    The mall opened new retail development opportunities beyond the surrounding corridor around Sternberg Road, east of U.S. 31. The mall’s early success provides proof to national and regional retailers that Muskegon is a viable and thriving retail market, Bussey said.

    “Now it’s a lot easier to sell,” he said. “The Muskegon area is a great area to do business and it’s been ignored by a lot of people, but the residents still need good shopping areas.”

    Among the projects in which Bussey is involved is the Holton Road Plaza at Holton Road and Getty Avenue, a 17,000-square-foot strip mall with six storefronts, five of which are already leased. Construction on the plaza is scheduled for completion in October.

    Recent projects include The Small Shops at Muskegon Crossing, a strip mall at Sherman Boulevard and Henry Street with six storefronts, built three years ago and completely leased. Bussey subsequently developed the adjacent The Plaza at Muskegon Crossing, a strip mall with eight storefronts that was recently filled.

    The changing retail atmosphere in the Muskegon area “is just kind of fun to see it all materialize,” said Mike Bowen, chairman and CEO of The Westwood Group, a Muskegon commercial real estate firm that owns and manages several retail properties in the market.

    Bowen says he no longer has to do a “big sales job” on potential out-of-town retail clients to get them to even consider locating a store in Muskegon.

    “It’s totally different,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

    Bowen recalls a marketing study on the Muskegon market that was conducted in the mid-1990s that estimated $100 million in retail spending was leaving the community annually as residents went elsewhere to shop.

    Today, with Muskegon as a shopping destination for about one-quarter of the broader Kent-Ottawa-Muskegon county region — which has a collective population of 1.1 million — much of that spending is staying, generating plenty of market demand for both new developments and redevelopment of existing retail spaces, he said.

    “There’s opportunity not only for new projects; there’s a lot of opportunity in a lot of the historical retail corners that are slowly revitalizing themselves,” Bowen said.

    Among the projects Westwood Group has planned is the 300,000-square-foot Lakes Crossing shopping plaza across the street from the Lakes Mall. The project, which is 75 percent pre-leased, will include 27 storefronts, two hotels and two restaurants.

    Grubb & Ellis’s Bussey plans to continue pushing new retail developments in the Muskegon area to help fill what he sees as a market void. Muskegon, he said, “is an easy place to do business” right now.

    “In reality, Muskegon is still ‘under-stored’ in many retail categories, especially restaurants, and should see continued expansion in a number of retail categories and locations,” Bussey said. “Muskegon continues to have a strong retail market that should see expansion in the foreseeable future.”

    Other retail hot spots in the community are Apple Avenue east of U.S. 31, and the Henry Street corridor, particularly in the area of Henry and Sherman — a stretch Bussey calls “the very center of the trade area and accessible by the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time” where new retailers and restaurants have enjoyed strong sales volumes.

    “It is also the most underserved area in terms of retailers and restaurants,” Bussey said. 

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