MUSKEGON — After staring at a vacant parking lot and sand for more than a year, Muskegon residents will see positive movement as ground is broken for construction on Western Avenue at the site of the former Muskegon Mall.
“There’s been a lot of work over those last two years that has gone into the site to get to this point,” said Cathy Brubaker-Clarke, Muskegon director of community and economic development.
Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Larsen said she is excited about the groundbreaking, which will take place at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the site and include Congressman Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, who serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Larsen believes the event will make the project real to Muskegon residents.
“It doesn’t really get real in your mind until you see the dirt turn,” she said.
Milbocker and Sons Inc. was awarded the contract to complete the roadwork at the Aug. 23 city commission meeting. Construction of underground infrastructure is planned to begin in September and be complete by spring, when the concrete work will be finished.
The road project will start with Western Avenue and the second phase will include First and Second streets. The Western Avenue portion of the project is being paid for with $1 million in Community Development Block Grants, $700,000 in an urban land assembly loan from the state — which will be paid back without interest — and about $600,000 from the city. The second phase will be paid for with $2.3 million in funds from the Federal Transportation bill, Brubaker-Clarke said. In addition to the funding, the site also has status as both a brownfield redevelopment project and Renaissance Zone.
“This will be basically a shot in the arm for the whole community,” she said. “Now they know we’re on our way.”
Arn Boezaart, vice president for grant programs at the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, said the project has brought together many different groups and organizations, including the city, county and federal governments, Downtown Muskegon Development Corp. and Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s taken an extraordinary effort on the part of a lot of people,” he said. “We have just all really leaned in on this to make this thing happen.”
Boezaart said the groundbreaking will show that the city really is about to be reconstructed.
“It marks a real evidence of rebirth of downtown Muskegon and it becoming a completely different community in the future,” he said.
With the road construction contracts awarded, purchasers and developers waiting for infrastructure can sign contracts and begin renovations and construction on their parcels, Boezaart said.
“It just creates a whole different atmosphere in terms of marketing and selling those properties,” he said.
The purchasers have one year from the date they sign a contract to start construction, said Frank Bednarek, consultant to Downtown Muskegon Development Corp.
Of the 33 site condo units, Bednarek said eight have sales agreements, pending the road contracts.
“It looks very good; we’re very encouraged,” he said.
Bednarek said once construction on the road begins, more people will come forward to sign contracts.
“We’re working with many interested parties on the remaining lots,” he said. “We’ll see many of these projects beginning next spring.”