A six-story mixed-use development that’s expected to create 61 new jobs in downtown Muskegon, The Leonard, is slated to break ground this spring after landing a $1.5 million low-interest loan from the state this week, developer Corey Leonard said Thursday.
The Michigan Strategic Fund voted on Tuesday, Dec. 17, to award Sweetwater Development Partners LLC the $1.5 million loan through the Michigan Community Revitalization Program. Sweetwater Development Partners, which is owned by Leonard, is developing The Leonard, an $8.9 million project at 292 W. Western Ave. in downtown Muskegon.
The state loan “means the development is possible, that the building is going to get built,” Leonard said.
“The loan gets the project off the ground; these loans make it feasible for developers and business people like me to be able to take a risk and do something like this,” Leonard continued.
Located across the street from 18th Amendment and Rootdown Yoga, The Leonard development will be a 51,565-square-foot building with residential, office and retail space. The first floor will be retail, the next two floors will be office space, the top three floors will be apartments, and there will be underground parking. The developer expects to break ground on the development in March or April, and the project is expected to be completed by spring of 2021.
There will be 12 two-bedroom apartments and six one-bedroom apartments that will be market rate rentals, Leonard said. Monthly leases for the apartments will vary between $1,100 and $1,800, depending on the size and location—apartments with views of Muskegon Lake, for example, would price higher, Leonard explained.
As of now, more than 100 people have contacted Leonard about renting one of the 18 apartments through the development’s website.
Leonard’s business, BigSigns.com, will relocate from its current space in Grand Haven to the third floor of the incoming development. The developer expects to make an announcement shortly regarding the tenants who will be moving into the building.
“I have a law office and an insurance group looking to move in there,” Leonard said. “Restaurants and shops, and even a bank, are knocking on my door. We are going to pick tenants who will make a positive impact on the downtown.”
A Muskegon native and Reeths-Puffer graduate who now lives in North Muskegon, Leonard previously owned an ad agency, Leonard and Associates, that was based in downtown Muskegon. In the early 1990s, he renovated a building at 605 W. Western Ave., which he went on to sell to its current owner, Radiology Muskegon.
“I was told to tear that building down, but I decided to keep it,” he said. “I got some federal tax credits and renovated that building. This was about 25 years ago, and I knew Muskegon was coming back.”
Leonard launched his current business, BigSigns.com, in the basement of his home on Lakeshore Drive—a year after which he moved the company to the Zephyr Building in Grand Haven.
“Now, I’m coming home; I want to be a part of helping develop downtown Muskegon,” Leonard said of moving his business back to Muskegon.
It was his company and its continued growth that inspired Leonard to look at developing a building in Muskegon.
“The number one goal for me was to find a place for my company to go,” said Leonard, whose company currently employs about 15 people and is planning to expand further. “We’re excited to be in downtown Muskegon. Getting more people to live and work downtown is only going to help the retail and restaurants down there. Hopefully, we’ll attract more of those businesses to make downtown Muskegon a walkable entertainment and shopping district.”
Noting that he’s “not a professional developer,” Leonard called this upcoming development a “passion project.”
“This isn’t what I do for a living,” he said. “I’m not looking to do 15 projects all over. Depending on how this goes, I may do one or two more, but it’s not really my goal.”
Local legislators praised the state for its decision to financially back Leonard.
State Rep. Terry Sabo (D-Muskegon) noted the development is expected to create approximately 61 new jobs.
“Downtown Muskegon is the fastest growing community in the state of Michigan and will continue that growth with this development,” Sabo said in a press release. “It gave me great satisfaction to address the Michigan Strategic Board in support of this project and about Muskegon’s tremendous growth over the last few years.”
State Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo) said in a press release that the state money will “further strengthen downtown Muskegon’s revitalization and comeback.”
“This is a terrific opportunity to bring some much-needed development, traffic and economic activity to the area,” Bumstead said.
The state senator emphasized the role of the Michigan Community Revitalization Program in helping to make The Leonard development a reality, saying that it “is designed to increase investments in areas that have historically been overlooked and this project does exactly that.”