Dave Alexander was appointed business development manager for the City of Muskegon in July. Alexander was formerly the executive director of Downtown Muskegon Now, which recently disbanded. His new role includes acting as the Downtown Development Authority’s staff liaison, overseeing the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, and supporting commercial retail development throughout the city.
What’s the economic outlook for next year for the Muskegon region?
Employment remains strong. If there is a downturn in 2020 or 2021, or when the next downturn comes, we are in a much better position than we were in 2007 in terms of the strength of our economy, the robust nature of our employment market and the employment situation, the amount of private sector development and investment. I think that we are in a good position to move through the next one and come out pretty strong on the other side.
What are some of the key projects the DDA plans to focus on in 2020?
We just completed a $900,000 streetscape project in the heart of Third Street, which we dubbed Midtown. There’s a huge piece of property on the east side of Third Street down in that district that is the old Matson Oldsmobile property. It’s … going to be subject to some state and city assistance with the owner to come up with a pre-development document that will request developers to put proposals in, and we will have a Michigan Economic Development Corporation developer showcase sometime probably early summer to show that off.
Number two is the Hackley Administration Building. The administration building is owned and used and operated by the Muskegon Public Schools. They are into teaching students, not preserving historic structures. They do not need that much space. They will be vacating that in July. … We’re just looking for the right public/private partnership to coalesce around it.
What else do you plan to work on next year?
We need to continue to develop our downtown as it relates to the Imagine Muskegon Lake plan in 2020 and take a look at the linkages as we go west from downtown to the beach at Pere Marquette Park. I also want to really put a focus, as we have in both Downtown Muskegon Now’s former strategic plan and in the DDA’s strategic plan, to look at diversity, equity and inclusion. We are a diverse community. We need to have a downtown that represents all and reflects all.
What are your expectations for new development in the city for 2020?
Small business development will be on the retail side, and we need to find retail development that has spaces that are affordable, so that you can move from the chalets of the Western Market — the pop-up shops — into bricks and mortar and have it be affordable. … There are obviously many blocks around Western where we’re looking to incubate the next step from the Century Club Center, which is a gathering of about 10 retailers in one space in a mall situation where there’s a central checkout, to an actual brick-and-mortar location.
How could any market downturn affect that activity?
Unless there’s a major, deep recession, I see the current momentum carrying through any shallow recession or any stall in the economy. There is pent-up demand. There is pent-up interest. We are an Opportunity Zone. We are getting Opportunity Zone investors taking a look at us.
Have those looks from Opportunity Zone investors translated into projects?
We have one going on right now with the convention center. The second phase of the Lakeview Lofts … is The Leonard, and then at the end of Second Street at Morris, the construction of a Microtel hotel by Wyndham. All three of those, we hope to have under construction by the spring.
With the convention center underway, how do you envision that will transform the downtown?
We hope to have it done by the first quarter of 2021, so 2020 will be a year that we will be having Parkland Development, the owners of the new Delta by Marriott, our former Holiday Inn, getting in position to manage that. Also, they are working with the convention and visitors bureau on marketing and sales. Then the city, through its planning and economic development functions, is looking at spin-off development and the future of parking. We need to be prepared and ready this time next year to launch a successful convention center.
What policy changes would you like to see happen that would have a direct benefit for redevelopment in Muskegon?
The main one that we are working on right now … is the reinstatement of the historic tax credit. There is a proposal to give tax credits to building owners who are in a historic district, of which we have many, including in our downtown. The Hackley Administrative Building could be very much advantageously supported into the future as it gets redeveloped.
How do you feel about Muskegon’s progress and development in the last decade and where the city is headed?
We are in a long-term, historical transformation of our community that we’re seeing most visibly in the downtown, but it is throughout Muskegon County. The long-term future in our city from downtown to the beach is taking shape very nicely. In the next five, 10, 15, 20 years, hopefully we will look back to this time to see that yes, there were some tipping points back in these years that we are living through right now. We would hope that 2020 adds to that momentum in significant ways going forward.