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Monday, 02 September 2013 22:00

MCC proposes downtown campus as part of $24M plan

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Dale Nesbary Dale Nesbary MIBIZ FILE PHOTO

A proposed new development could help solve one of the Muskegon’s nagging problems: its lack of density in the downtown area to support a thriving retail sector.

That’s why community and business leaders are excited about the possibility of Muskegon Community College moving a portion of its campus to the city’s downtown.

The plan is part of a $24 million facilities improvement proposal unanimously approved by the college’s board of trustees in early August. The measure calls for a new creative arts facility, additions to the college’s science and gymnasium/health center and another facility be built in downtown Muskegon — if voters approve.

A downtown campus would mean an immediate infusion of about 200 students into the core of the city, but it could grow to as many as 1,000 students over time, MCC President Dale Nesbary told MiBiz.

“Many community colleges around the country have placed a part of their curriculum in the core of the city,” Nesbary said. “If we are going to make an investment in our campus and in our students, why not make an investment (in downtown Muskegon) where the economic development opportunity is the greatest?”

Many mid-sized cities across the country have leveraged higher education campuses for economic development, Nesbary said, pointing to Tidewater Community College in Virginia, Grand Rapids Community College, Kalamazoo Valley Community College and Lansing Community College as examples of schools that have moved parts or all of their campuses into urban areas.

“Much of the growth in a community such as Grand Rapids has been around education,” he said. “I think the outlook for (downtown Muskegon) five to 10 years down the road is excellent.”

Those prospects and the ability of a downtown MCC campus to serve as an anchor for further development are attractive for Cathy Brubaker-Clarke, economic development director for the city of Muskegon. Another bonus: A college would also bring in younger people to the downtown.

“This is definitely an innovative and creative move by the college because young people want to be in a downtown area,” Brubaker-Clarke said.

MCC’s proposed campus would complement the new Muskegon Farmer’s Market, which is still under construction, as well as the Baker College Culinary Institute of Michigan, Brubaker-Clarke said.

“A second institution adds to the critical mass,” said Jonathan Seyferth, a business development manager with economic development group Muskegon Area First.

Seyferth told MiBiz that two sizable college campuses coupled with exciting new businesses that are slated to open in the coming months — including two breweries and a coffee shop — will have positive impacts for the city’s downtown.

Sources said the draw of the more students downtown could also help bolster the efforts of the nonprofit Muskegon Retail Incubator, which is working to attract more shopping opportunities in the downtown area. The incubator is based in the Russell Block building, where the new Drip Drop Drink coffee shop, West Michigan Symphony’s “The Block” and the as-yet-unopened Unruly Brewing Co. are located.

While no exact locations have been picked out as of yet, Nesbary said MCC has several locations in mind for a downtown campus.

The items that will go before voters in November include a $4.6 million science center, a $6 million health center, and a $5.9 million art center.

The proposed downtown campus is not a new experiment for Nesbary or the college. Last fall, a similar proposal was narrowly shot down by Muskegon County voters. Out of 71,000 ballots cast in November, the initiative fell 686 votes short of passage.

Nesbary said he believed there were too many other proposals on the ballot last fall, and that voters were primarily in a “no” mood. He is confident this time that the college’s messaging will be better, and that voters will be supportive of the measure.

“We are going to do a better job of articulating our needs, [and] there will be very few items on the ballot,” Nesbary said. “We will be able to share our message much more clearly because of the lack of clutter on the ballot.”
Nesbary added that he believes that the school has listened closely to the public and that they largely are supportive of the needs of the college to expand, as well establish a presence downtown.

The current $23.7 million millage proposal — $7 million less than the proposal last November — would result in the owner of a $100,000 property paying an extra $18.53 per year.

Since last November’s failed millage vote, Nesbary has put three different proposals before MCC’s board for consideration with varying degrees of support for the scale of the projects. A $31 million proposal was shot down by the board in late-July.

“All the (board) members indicated that they wanted to support (the proposal),” Nesbary told MiBiz. “The disagreement wasn’t that we shouldn’t go forward, but the scope of what we were doing.”

Read 2824 times Last modified on Monday, 02 September 2013 21:06

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