MUSKEGON — The City of Muskegon wants to buy a shuttered state prison, wrap it into an adjacent industrial park and lure a new company to the lakeshore, MiBiz has learned.
The proposed deal, which requires prior approvals from the state Legislature, would allow Muskegon to purchase the former West Shoreline Correctional Facility from the Michigan Department of Corrections, which closed the site in March.
If the deal goes through, the city would expand its existing Port City Industrial Park with the addition of the 66.5-acre site at 2500 South Sheridan Drive, said Jonathan Wilson, the economic development coordinator for Muskegon County who also works with the City of Muskegon.
Officials have identified an interested end user for the site who could take up approximately 40 to 50 acres, Wilson said. The unspecified company currently has operations elsewhere in Michigan, but not in Muskegon County, he added.
“Regardless if this end user works out or not, the city is committed to acquiring the property to expand our industrial (footprint),” Wilson told MiBiz.
According to Wilson, the city’s possible acquisition of the prison site is still months away from being finalized. If all goes as planned, the site could be ready for the company by late 2019 at the earliest.
For the deal to happen, the Department of Corrections first must label the prison as a surplus site. After the designation, the state Legislature would need to introduce a bill to dispose of the asset and sell it to the city, according to another source familiar with the plans.
According to Wilson, state Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, is expected to introduce the bill.
Speaking on background, an official in Hansen’s office said many local players are involved with the project, noting that the property conveyance bill would give ownership of the site to the local governments. The term-limited Hansen hopes to get the bill passed before the end of the year, most likely after the November election, the official said.
Holly Kramer, communications representative for the Department of Corrections, said the state is holding conversations with local leaders about the redevelopment of the site.
To declare the site as a surplus property, the department must determine “what the (site’s) needs are” before taking any action, Kramer told MiBiz.
“We are working with the Legislature and local lawmakers to explore opportunities for that property to benefit the economy,” Kramer said.
Three weeks ago, representatives from the department brought in several Muskegon officials for a walk-through of the vacant prison, “and everyone seemed very positive about the potential reuse of the site.”
“It’s pretty early still,” Kramer said. “This is a situation where (the City of Muskegon) expressed strong interest that came from a closure. It would be a big win for all parties involved.”
The state first announced the closure of the West Shoreline Correctional Facility in January, citing “a significant decline” in the statewide prison population. At the time of the announcement, the prison employed 174 people.
Closing the West Shoreline Correctional Facility will save an estimated $18.8 million in the 2019 fiscal year, according to the state.
“Closures are challenging, but this represents a step in the right direction as we focus on giving offenders the skills they need to be successful in the community so they do not return to prison,” Department of Corrections Director Heidi Washington said at the time. “We will continue our mission to protect the public and help offenders lead better lives while being wise stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
The West Shoreline Correctional Facility opened in 1987 and most recently served as a secure level 1 facility for male offenders, offering Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative programming. The facility included eight, 120-bed housing units spread over four buildings, plus other buildings for administration, health, maintenance, storage and other services.
It functioned as part of a three-facility state-run prison complex, including the Muskegon Correctional Facility and the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility.
In recent years, the state has opted to close prison facilities — including the Pugsley Correctional Facility in Kingsley in 2016 — as the prisoner population declined. This year, in addition to West Shoreline, the state announced it planned to close Ojibway Correctional Facility in Gogebic County by Dec. 1.
According to a statement from the Department of Corrections, Michigan’s prison population last year dropped below 40,000 people, down from a peak in March 2007 of 51,554. Since 2015, the prison population has declined by more than 3,000 prisoners.
For his part, Wilson praised Muskegon officials for taking quick action to repurpose the West Shoreline facility once the closure was announced.
“The fact that the city was proactive in its sense and desire to acquire the property is unique compared to other prisons that they (the Department of Corrections) have closed down around the state,” he said.