The move, in fact, is only a distance of four city blocks from the Terrace Plaza office building to the old Hume Building, at Third Street and Morris Avenue.
Both buildings are on Morris Avenue, but the chamber’s new location is closer to the hubs of downtown activity: A block from the Frauenthal Center; a street-width from the downtown hotel that is the center of conventions and most service club meetings; and two blocks from the L.C. Walker Arena.
The site also is only half a block from Shoreline Drive, the artery serving Muskegon’s emerging waterfront business sector.
And that location is exactly the reason that Chamber President Cindy Morat-Larsen cites for moving away of the hushed and fairly remote second floor of one of the community’s prime professional buildings – an area with almost none of the walk-in traffic that chambers of commerce typically seek.
She explained that the chamber needs more visibility, and must be more accessible to visitors, to the general public and to its own member companies.
Chamber officials hope the new visibility will bolster membership, which has climbed over the past year to 1,150, an increase of more than 100.
Moreover, Morat-Larsen explained that with greater visibility the chamber also is helping to support downtown development – a growing major issue now that anchor stores are preparing to move from Muskegon’s downtown mall to a new 600,000-square-foot enclosed mall in the southern suburbs. Moreover, the downtown Steketee’s anchor was holding its final close-out sales last week.
“The downtown is the heart of the community and we need to be in the center of activity,” Morat-Larsen said. “As an organization, we are committed to downtown development.”
Morat-Larsen said the chamber never considered any location other than downtown, which is where most visitors to the community wind up at one time or another.
The one exception to that rule will be this August’s tall ships gathering, which is to be a few blocks to the west at Heritage Landing. And considering the crowds that are expected – literally hundreds of thousands of visitors – it’s fair to assume the chamber itself will attract plenty of attention.
So will Muskegon Area First, the community’s economic development agency, the Small Business Development Center and SCORE, a group of volunteer retired business executives, all of which will move with the chamber to the new site this month.
All told, 11 permanent workers are involved in the move.
The one promotional community agency that won’t be at the Hume Building is the Muskegon County Convention and Visitors Bureau, a closely cooperating but financially separate entity.
And, appropriately, the bureau’s offices are located in the old railway depot on Western Avenue at Shoreline Drive, only a block from Heritage Landing’s concert shell, which draws large crowds all summer and which will be the tall ships’ focal point.
One of the chamber’s neighbors in the Hume Building will be its corporate owner, Westwood, a retail and office development firm.
The chamber came to be in the Terrace Plaza when its predecessor agency, the Muskegon Economic Growth Alliance, ceased to exist. At the time, MEGA’s community development and community promotional programs were split between a newly reorganized chamber and Muskegon Area First.
The chamber signed a five-year lease with Westwood. The deal provides the chamber and its affiliates with more space and their own boardroom. Furnishing the offices will be the Knoll Group, an office furniture manufacturer with operations in Muskegon County.
Morat-Larsen said the chamber has been searching for new office space for several months and only considered downtown sites.