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Wednesday, 03 June 2015 14:59

Donations allow Muskegon Community College to expand entrepreneurial program downtown

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Muskegon's Masonic Temple Muskegon's Masonic Temple PHOTO: Nick Manes

Muskegon Community College continues to grow its presence in the lakeshore city’s downtown.

Entrepreneurs Jon Rooks and Nick Sarnicola, as well as his wife Ashley, have donated the former Masonic Temple building at 396 West Clay Avenue in addition to a $200,000 permanent endowment for the college to use for its Entrepreneurial Studies program. Rooks, associate broker and owner at Muskegon-based development firm Parkland Properties of West Michigan LLC donated the 23,790-square-foot building. The Sarnicolas donated the endowment, which will fund a $10,000 annual entrepreneurship award for students. Nick Sarnicola is a founder of Troy-based multilevel weight-loss marketing firm ViSalus Inc.

The college’s entrepreneurship program has been active for four years, said program chair Dave Stradal in an announcement made this morning at the Masonic Temple building, which will be renamed the Rooks-Sarnicola Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. Classes could begin in the building as soon as next year, MCC President Dale Nesbary said.

The building is adjacent to the former Muskegon Chronicle building, which as MiBiz has previously reported, is being re-developed by MCC to house the college’s applied technology programs, such as engineering, manufacturing and welding.

According to Nesbary, the estimated investment for the Chronicle building is $13 million and very preliminary estimates for the Masonic Temple are around $2.4 million but that has not yet been approved by the college’s board. Nesbary also said the Masonic Temple building, upon completion, will have a Barnes & Noble Inc. bookstore with an onsite Starbucks.

While the building is a gift to the college, Rooks told MiBiz he believes the redevelopment is a boon for his other investments in the downtown area, which include two hotels, office space a marina, as well as housing and apartment developments.

“I feel like Muskegon is on the rise and this gift not only helps other people, I think it is going to help me, too,” Rooks said. “It makes for a larger investment by MCC and all told it will be the biggest investment in 20 years in one place in downtown Muskegon.”

Both Rooks and Sarnicola in prepared statements cited their early years as upstart entrepreneurs as top reasons for the gifts.

“I’d never heard of a community college that offered an (entrepreneurship) program like this,” Sarnicola said during his remarks. “(Entrepreneurs) learn it from a mentor or someone else who has started a business.”

Rooks, on the other hand, noted that he started his first business at 12 years old and got into real estate after college. He was an early investor in the downtown housing market, particularly in the Monroe North and west side neighborhoods.

“I believe my investments have all been ahead of the curve and I like to invest that way,” Rooks said.

The MCC board later convened for a private session to discuss a land acquisition. No further details were available concerning those discussions.

Read 1912 times Last modified on Sunday, 07 June 2015 23:25
Nick Manes

Staff writer

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