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Tuesday, 17 January 2012 10:01

Q&A: Cathy Brubaker-Clarke

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Q&A: Cathy Brubaker-Clarke PHOTO: Adam Bird
Plans to update downtown Muskegon with mixed-use land development slowed to a crawl during the recession, but the pace is picking up, said Cathy Brubaker-Clarke, the city’s director of community and economic development. Brubaker-Clarke talked with MiBiz about recent strides and plans to keep Muskegon’s momentum going forward.

Is the recession over?

Well, things seem much better than a year ago. Some of our bread-and-butter companies are expanding. ADAC Automotive is doing a huge expansion that will bring 135 new jobs. And Lake Welding got a commercial tax abatement to expand near downtown.

Retail died downtown when the Lakes Mall opened in Fruitport Township and drew stores away from Muskegon Mall, which eventually closed and was demolished. What’s happening to restore retail downtown?

We’ve got a lot going on downtown now with small retail. I would estimate that occupancy is up at least 25 percent, although we need to fill in vacant retail. Several existing buildings that were part of Muskegon Mall have been rehabbed, and there’s some new construction.

In late 2011, the Muskegon Chronicle announced it was reorganizing, placing its building up for sale and planning to move into the Sidock Building. What will these changes mean for downtown?

I think the Muskegon Chronicle building will be appealing for institutional or educational use. Muskegon Community College has expressed interest in having a presence downtown. Other educational institutions might be interested, too.

Have there been any takers for Muskegon 25, the program that offered free land in the Seaway Industrial Park to companies which create new jobs?

There has been interest in that program, and it’s disappointing nothing will come through in time for anyone to receive full Renaissance Zone tax-exempt status. A dynamic of this recession is that businesses are reusing existing buildings because it’s less expensive. Muskegon 25 offered vacant land. Right now, there is little new construction going on.

We didn’t have much winter weather in December. Is the plan to open an ice skating rink downtown still a go?

(Our) goal is to have it open in January for a month on a vacant lot adjacent to Highpoint Flats. In winter, it’s always a struggle to get people out of their houses to come downtown. The rink will be something fun and free for families.

Muskegon Summer Celebration is no more. How much will the absence of that festival hurt tourism?

Even without Summer Celebration, Muskegon has an amazing number of summer and fall events that attract diverse audiences. I don’t think anybody’s going to forget about Muskegon.

What are Muskegon’s best strategies for economic development?

Smaller businesses, whether industrial or retail, are where it’s at. Helping our existing companies grow is very important.

Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Kym Reinstadler. Photo by Adam Bird

Read 2339 times Last modified on Monday, 13 August 2012 12:57
Brian Edwards

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