MUSKEGON — One of the key components to the re-development of Muskegon’s lakefront is in place, with the opening and formal dedication of Grand Valley State University’s Lake Michigan Center.
Representing GVSU’s first campus in Muskegon, the $5.5 million facility not only anchors the university’s Great Lakes research initiative but sets the tone for what’s to come in the years ahead along the Muskegon waterfront, adjacent to downtown.
“Something’s happening here,” Chris McGuigan, president of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, said during a June 21 dedication ceremony for the Lake Michigan Center.
“Truly, this is an event in Muskegon’s life that will change all that follows,” McGuigan said.
The foundation was a major benefactor to the Lake Michigan Center, providing gifts in excess of $2 million. A $1 million state grant and private contributions covered the rest of the cost to develop the facility, which will house GVSU’s Annis Water Resource Institute, classrooms, laboratories, and provide a home base for the university’s research vessel, the W.G. Jackson.
The center “was a project that inspired giving,” said Charles Johnson, who chaired a public campaign that represents one of the largest fund-raising efforts that Muskegon has ever seen.
“People saw the light and money flowed,” Arend Lubbers, GVSU’s former president who retired June 30, said of the private-public partnership that was forged to finance the center’s development.
Lubbers, presiding over his last ceremonial dedication of a GVSU facility as university president, called the location ideal for the Lake Michigan Center, which he sees as “the next step in making Michigan the leader in freshwater research and education.”
“There is no better location for such an enterprise than a visible campus in a lakefront city. Muskegon and Muskegon Lake were ideal for us, and the people of Muskegon stepped up to the financial plate and hit a home run,” Lubbers said.
The success of the public fund-raising also is further evidence of the area’s ability to unite for a common cause, McGuigan said.
“The community responded in the way that we expected and proved that we can produce a result much better than if we went our separate ways,” she said.
Sitting adjacent to the city’s Heritage Landing park along Muskegon Lake, the Lake Michigan Center will see plenty of activity in the surrounding area in the years ahead, as redevelopment of the lakefront and the downtown area occurs on several fronts.
Among the planned projects is the $70 million to $80 million Lakefront Development being undertaken by the Muskegon law firm of Parmenter O’Toole, whose partners envision turning a 34-acre tract of land into a complex of condominiums, retail and professional office buildings, and a marina along Muskegon Lake.
Across Shoreline Drive, at the western end of Western Avenue, the Amazon Building is undergoing a massive $14 million renovation to turn the old, five-story brick building into an apartment complex with retail shops and professional offices. Across Western Avenue from the Amazon Building, The Westwood Group plans to raze the century-old former Muskegon Hotel building and construct a historically accurate replica.
Business and community leaders who supported efforts to build the Lake Michigan Center said it would serve as a catalyst for further redevelopment.
“This will be part of the whole reinvigoration of the whole community and the Muskegon County area. We’re right in the beginning stages of the rebirth of the community,” said state Sen. Leon Stille, who led efforts in Lansing to secure a $1 million state grant to help GVSU finance the project.