MUSKEGON, Mich. — Community leaders in Muskegon broke ground on a convention center 17 months ago, and construction has now passed the half-way point. The project likely wouldn't have happened if not for a revised feasibility study done after several new breweries, restaurants, and retail shops opened in the city's downtown.
Once completed, the convention center will offer views of Muskegon Lake’s waterfront, include over 10,000 square feet of breakout and banquet space, and connect to the city’s largest downtown hotel and the Mercy Health Arena.
Community leaders in Muskegon first started talking about the possibility of a convention center in the late 1980s. In 2002, a feasibility study determined there wasn’t sufficient need for a convention center.
A review of that 2002 study and additional research in 2014 resulted in a new conclusion. The 2014 study determined there was a need for additional meeting space in the downtown, citing the significant development along Western Avenue that occurred between 2002 and 2014.
“It’s a landmark job, it’s going to continue the momentum that’s been going on here,” said Dan Korte, V.P. Clark Construction.
Korte says workers have made up half of the ten-weeks lost due to several site challenges, and most significantly several weeks work at the site stopped because of the governor's COVID-19 stay-at-home order.
It took a unique public/private partnership between the County of Muskegon, City of Muskegon, and Parkland Properties to build the $17 million convention center.
Total investment in the convention/exposition campus is estimated to exceed $34 million, according to Parkland Properties owner John Rooks. That figure includes $9 million Rooks spent renovating the Delta by Marriott.
The City of Muskegon completed $1.7 million in renovation to modernize the the Mercy Health Arena, and completed an additional $1.5 million investment in roofing and HVAC improvements.
The 2014 study indicated Muskegon needed additional meeting space to host larger meetings, conventions, exhibits and consumer shows. According to the study, the facility would enhance the growing downtown, provide new opportunities, spur economic growth, and be successful as long as it wasn’t too large and was attached to an upscale hotel.
"And if the convention center were construction next to a large hotel it would have a $10.6 million dollar impact, every year," Rooks said.
With construction expected to finish in spring 2021, Parkland Properties is ramping up efforts to fill the center.
The convention center portion of the project is funded with county accommodations taxes and a voluntary increase of the room tax on both of the hotels Parkland Properties owns in Muskegon, the Delta by Marriott and Shoreline Inn. Together the two hotels offer 340 rooms.
"It will be a great gathering place for our community," said Director of Visit Muskegon Bob Lukens. "I think it will really make a statement.”
Tourism leaders like Lukens expect the convention center’s opening will boost the number of visitors to Muskegon County each year, and especially be noticeable during the shoulder season.
And if that boost is seen year-round, Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson believes it will trigger additional private investment in the downtown.
“When it turns out that summer is great and then winter is great at the same time then that's when we’ll be able to see people justify making some pretty significant investments," Peterson said. "You look at redevelopment opportunities and a lot of them will become much more viable when the downtown is even more year round than it is today."
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