‘Hidden gem’ discovered: Muskegon Lake ripe for redevelopment

Explore Michigan

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The multimillion dollar makeover along Muskegon Lake is underway.

In the next 12 months, the city could see more than $500 million in developments break ground, according to Muskegon Economic Development Director Jake Eckholm. Add in future projects and he says that number could jump to $1.5 billion.

“(There’s) a tremendous amount of development in Muskegon. We’re finally getting recognized as a beautiful area. I mean, people that live here have always known it. But outsiders never really realized how nice Muskegon was,” said Scott Musselman, chief financial officer of Sand Products Corporation, which owns one of the project sites.

At least four projects involve redeveloping former industrial properties along Muskegon Lake: Windward Pointe at the former Sappi Fine Paper Mill site; Harbor 31 where Teledyne Continental Motors once operated; The Docks at an idled sand mining site; and Adelaide Pointe, which will activate a property on West Western Avenue that’s sat vacant since the 1970s.

“Muskegon has a special place in my heart. I personally believe it is one of the greatest places in West Michigan, the greatest. We’ve got best water, best parks, best beaches and I think it’s important that more and more people are able to experience that,” said Adelaide Pointe developer Ryan Leetsma.

“There’s only so much water frontage in the world and… Muskegon’s sort of an untapped gem. There are so many communities in West Michigan and along the lake that are mostly developed, and Muskegon is not,” said Dan Henrickson, a development partner of Harbor 31.

Redeveloping industrial sites comes with added challenges, including soil and water remediation, building demolition and mitigating contaminants like asbestos.

The changing economy and environment are adding to the difficulties. Developers with Harbor 31 and The Docks say the rising water table led to new wetlands on their properties, which means more discussions and possible permits needed from Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

The rising cost of construction is also adding to projects’ price tags.

“The lumber prices, the steel prices are going to be an issue. I don’t know how much they’re going to correct themselves, but we’re all in the same boat,” said Henrickson.

While most of the upcoming developments focus on market-rate housing, Eckholm says each buildout will also deliver public amenities to Muskegon’s current residents.

“We’ve had site plans that include public amphitheater space, publicly accessible boardwalk and dock space, fishing pier areas, stuff that our community hasn’t necessarily been able to enjoy because these sites were in various stages of needed remediation. So that’s exciting,” Eckholm said.

Eckholm says the city is trying to prevent gentrification by building more homes inland that are well under market rate for the region and by partnering with housing nonprofit organizations and other developers with lower price points.

“We’re a diverse community, both economically and ethnically speaking, and we pride ourselves on that. And so we don’t want to change the fabric of the community just because we are adding additional opportunities for people to live here,” Eckholm said. “Making sure that we’re building homes for everyone is important, making sure that we’re rehabbing existing housing stock for everyone is important, and we continue to try to be innovative and find ways to do that.”

4 PROJECTS TO WATCH

ADELAIDE POINTE

The plans would capitalize on the property’s roughly 30 acres of waterfront by adding 300 to 400 condominiums, a 270-slip marina, boat storage and sales facilities, and a restaurant and events center with views of Pigeon Hill and Lake Michigan.

Owner Ryan Leetsma presented the plans for 1204 W. Western Ave. to Muskegon city commissioners on May 10.

As part of the project, he wants to create three peninsula parks on the east and west sides of the basin and at Hartshorn Marina with bike paths and potentially gazebos, grills, fish cleaning stations and benches for the public to enjoy. Leetsma also wants to create a temporary public space on the property until the land is needed for later phases of the project.

He said the goal of the project is profitability while benefiting the public.

“This is what Bill Gates would call creative capitalism,” he told commissioners.

Leetsma, who owns a renewable energy company, aims to make Adelaide Pointe a carbon negative development through rooftop solar panels, windmills on the breakwater and a construction method called mass timber. He said it saves money and “sends a message that in revitalizing this property, we’re doing it in the right way.”

Leetsma expects to invest $1 million in property improvements this year. The developer is currently removing fencing, rubble and debris from the former industrial storage site, which also contains asbestos, lead, mold and metals.

If all goes well, the project would shift into Phase 2 next year with a 200-boat storage facility featuring an in-out dock. The next phase would include adding a marina and building a mixed-use facility featuring a ground floor boat retailer with a restaurant and event center on top. The condos would be built during the final phase of the project, which isn’t expected to start until at least 2025.


THE DOCKS

The 80-acre property once known as Pigeon Hill is the first former sand mining site owner Sand Products Corporation is redeveloping under its new subsidiary, Damfino Development.

The project calls for 145 single homes, 65 townhomes and a 30-unit condominium complex that includes a small restaurant. The Docks will cater to boaters with a 12-acre marina connected to Muskegon Lake complete with stacked stone walls and boat slips. Musselman says many future homeowners in the development can also add docks right outside their house.

Sand Products Corporation mined the land for sand from the 1930s until 1965, when it idled site operations. Since then, nature has taken over.

“You hear the waves. If you listen closely, you can hear Lake Michigan out here. There’s a lot of wildlife out here, a lot of deer. So it’s a different environment for sure, and the neighbors recognize that,” said Scott Musselman, chief financial officer for Sand Products Corporation. “That was a bit of an obstacle early on – just a lot of neighbors upset that they’ve used this property for years to walk their dogs or just enjoy, and didn’t want to see it go away.”

The developer of The Docks hopes to ease their concern by including plenty of public access in the plans, from walkways lining the basin and cutting through a greenway along Muskegon Lake to a 200-foot public beach.

Damfino Development plans to consolidate the 3 to 4 acres of wetlands that recently emerged on the site into one large wetland.

The developer hopes to obtain state permits this year for the project. If all goes well, work could start later this year with an entry road, which will run through a critical dune. Musselman says the company already obtained a special permit to lower the dune about 10 feet to make the roadway “more manageable.”

The finished entrance will pave the way for the project’s first phase, which includes developing the marina and 60 lakefront lots, followed by the condominium complex. Lot sales could start as soon as late next year.


WINDWARD POINTE

More than 100 structures that once stood on the former Sappi Fine Paper mill site are now gone, clearing the way for Windward Pointe.

“The site looks a lot better now, but it’s going to look a lot better in five years,” said Windward Pointe partner Wes Eklund, who is also owner, president and CEO of Fleet Engineers.

Eklund says it’s been about seven years since he and other Muskegon natives created the Pure Muskegon consortium to buy the 120-acre property from a metal scrapping company.

“We didn’t want to see this site turn into a junkyard,” he said.

Windward Pointe Muskegon lakeshore aerial courtesy 080316_234340

The group’s goal: finish demolition, clean up and prepare the site on Lakeshore Drive near Lincoln Street to lure developers interested in maximizing the property’s mile-long shoreline. Pure Muskegon’s wish list includes a marina, senior housing, single-family homes, commercial space, restaurants, shops and public amenities.

“They’re just not making any more lakefront property in a piece this size anymore. And it’s got all kinds of opportunity,” said Eklund.

Eklund says Pure Muskegon may develop a small piece of the property on its own to show companies what’s possible.

The Sappi Fine Paper Mill was one of the main drivers of Muskegon’s economy for nearly a century, producing high quality glossy paper until foreign competition and the growing digital economy undercut its business. The mill shut down in 2009. Melching, Inc. bought the site two years later.

In 2017, demolition teams imploded the former paper mill’s two smokestacks, which contained asbestos-lined paint.

Eklund says Pure Muskegon has been working on water remediation for the last two years. After some setbacks with wells and infiltration basins, the group plans to try a new technique of treating open water.

“There’s been a lot more hurdles than any of us ever expected to have, but we’re really quite hopeful at the point that we’re at right now. We’ve made a lot of progress and we’ve added a lot of value to the property and improved it substantially. And we’re going to continue to do that,” said Eklund.


HARBOR 31

Originally envisioned as the site for a tribal casino, this 31-acre site off Shoreline Drive and Terrace Street is now slated to become a destination for homeowners, apartment dwellers, business travelers and shoppers.

“It sits between a downtown environment that is thriving now, and one of the best lakes in Michigan – that’s what makes it unique. I mean, water frontage is hard to come by first of all, and then water frontage in a downtown environment that’s growing is rather rare,” said Harbor 31 development partner Dan Henrickson.

The team of developers behind Harbor 31 aims to maximize the property’s quarter-mile of lake frontage and existing boardwalk with a 31- house development dubbed Veridian Shores. Each two-story house will have a rooftop deck and space for a boat dock.

Henrickson says the base price of each house would likely be around $400,000, not including the lot. However, prices will depend on the housing market.

Harbor 31 would also feature a 105-bed senior living facility called Trilogy, more than a dozen townhomes, 134 market-rate apartments in a development called Boardwalk Flats, boat sales and storage facilities, and a marina with 100 boat slips.

Henrickson says Harbor 31 could potentially feature a “shopper dock” where boaters can stop and shop on the property. The plans also call for an office building and hotel for business travelers.

“We think with the new convention center, there’s going to be a need for hotel space,” Henrickson added.

Henrickson says he bought the first section of land in 2007. The former industrial site was previously home to Teledyne Continental Motors, which also built engines for aircraft and tanks during World War II. Teledyne Continental Motors closed the facility in 1991 and site cleanup began shortly thereafter.

Harbor 31 developers are focused on the Brownfield site cleanup and how to handle a wetland that emerged on the property in 2017 when lake levels rose.

“It’s a huge challenge and it’s slowing us down, but we’re working diligently with the EGLE to get this to make sense and to help with our timelines,” Henrickson said.

The $130 million project is expected to get underway next month with the construction of roadways to Veridian Shores and progress to construction on the waterfront developments this summer or fall.

If all goes well, Henrickson estimates the entire project could be complete in five to six years.


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