Downtown growth, a new era for Muskegon Heights, student advocacy & more: What 2019 meant for Muskegon

A view of downtown Muskegon from the seventh floor of the Delta Hotels by Marriott, just before it opened this past spring. Photo by Anna Gustafson

From a whirlwind of restaurant openings and continued downtown growth to the first-ever Muskegon County Latino Festival, students being at the front lines of community advocacy, changing landscapes in Midtown and Lakeside, and much more, a lot has happened in Muskegon in 2019.

Here’s a look back at 2019 through the lens of our most-read stories.

1. Monte Scott, a 12-year-old student from Muskegon Heights, made national headlines after spending his day off from school filling potholes in his home city. His work garnered him praise from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and inspired conversation around addressing infrastructure issues in Muskegon Heights.

2. Not long after the world’s largest kayak manufacturer, Hemisphere Design Works, opened its headquarters in downtown Muskegon, the company announced in October it was shuttering its Muskegon facilities and laying off employees. Originally known as KL Outdoor, a Muskegon company founded by Kenneth Harris, Hemisphere Design Works went from being a major economic engine to a company that devolved into chaos after KL Outdoor was sold to a private equity firm, New Water Capital, in 2016, former employees told the Muskegon Times.

3. Muskegon County faces an eviction rate four times higher than the national average, but a new court initiative is tackling this problem, preventing homelessness, and keeping tenants in their houses.

4. Food, food, food. There were big changes in Muskegon’s culinary landscape this year. Our fourth most-read story of the year comes from last January, when we profiled nine restaurants, cafes and other food-related businesses that opened this year.

Nipote’s Italian Kitchen owners Shawn and Jeff Church during their soft opening. Photo by Anna Gustafson

5. And, speaking of food, the following number of stories all revolve around new culinary businesses that celebrated their debut this year, including our fifth most-read story about Nipote’s Italian Kitchen opening in downtown Muskegon this past July.

6. The Only Cannoli’s brick-and-mortar shop debuted in Lakeside in April, and the business will soon move to a larger location on Third Street in Midtown.

7. At Lott & Big Weezy’s in Muskegon Heights, there’s an emphasis on soul food—and second chances.

8. Pigeon Hill Brewing Company (which just commemorated its fifth anniversary this year) celebrated the opening of its $2 million, 15,000-square-foot production facility at 895 Fourth Street.

9. Rake Beer Project debuted in early September, when the community welcomed Muskegon’s third brewery with open arms.

Aldea Coffee in downtown Muskegon. Photo by Anna Gustafson

10. For the past decade, Aldea Coffee has sold its goods at the Muskegon Farmers Market. Following the opening of their first cafe in Grand Haven and their roastery in Muskegon Heights, Aldea brought a new cafe to downtown Muskegon in October. (The coffee company is also planning on opening a cafe in Muskegon Heights and significantly expanding their roasting operations.)

11. Amidst contentious debate and fiery exchanges, two people being escorted from the room by police, and a crowd that packed a Muskegon County Board of Commissioners meeting in October, a divided legislative body ultimately decided it would not vote on a resolution barring Muskegon from becoming a “sanctuary county.”

12. Community leaders celebrated the groundbreaking of the new $19.5 million Muskegon Convention Center in the heart of the city’s downtown. Backers have high hopes the center will bring larger meetings and conventions to Muskegon and further fuel economic growth in the area.

Teyondra Burch’s surprise is captured as she wins the $5,000 prize at the 5×5 Night in Muskegon Heights.

13. Muskegon Heights held its first-ever 5×5 Night—Start Garden’s business competition that aims to support entrepreneurs—and, for local leaders, the competition was the beginning of a new era. Muskegon Heights was, finally, being shone in the light its residents have long known is here: a light that illuminated the city’s entrepreneurs who are dedicating their lives to not only running their own companies, but to empowering the community.

14. The Muskegon County Board of Commissioners voted 6-2 to evict Planned Parenthood from its space inside the Public Health department in April, elating individuals who condemned the national organization for providing abortions—although the clinic in Muskegon did not—and devastating residents who say the group’s departure translates to about 1,500 people being left without affordable healthcare services.

15. After sitting empty for seven and a half years, the pool at Muskegon Heights Academy reopened. Its reemergence, local leaders said, was about saving lives, equity, addressing the racism and discrimination that have led to black children drowning at a far higher rate than their white peers across the United States, the community’s commitment to its school district, and more.

16. High school students in Community enCompass’s Youth Empowerment Project challenged community leaders to take a look at government policies, boardrooms, classrooms, and workplaces and address racism and racial equity, poverty, incarceration, students falling through the cracks in schools, and much more.

Isabella Guillen, left, and Ramon Gasca outside their Isabella’s Foods truck. Photo by Anna Gustafson

17. Isabella’s is drawing crowds from throughout the region to its food truck in Lakeside, where it serves up Salvadoran and Mexican specialties—from pupusas and tacos to tortas, burritos and more.

18. For 80 years, the West Michigan Symphony has had a front row seat to Muskegon’s history—and, in recent years, the acclaimed arts organization has helped the city’s downtown rebuild while continuing to grow its own audiences.

19. The first project from the Muskegon City Public Art Initiative, the “Mastodons on the Loose” sculpture outside the Lakeshore Museum Center—and the smaller mastodons throughout the downtown—is, local leaders said, a draw for residents and tourists alike, expands the city’s already existing public art landscape, encourages individuals to explore downtown Muskegon with the mini-mastodons, and connects our history to our present—and future.

Curtis Stovall on the front porch of the Lemonade Stand of Muskegon. Photo by Pat ApPaul

20. After Curtis Stovall was killed, his goods friends at The Lemonade Stand remembered a man whose life was rooted in love, laughter, cooking, and alleviating his friends’ sorrows.

Tacitus Bailey-Yabani at the Abeshi Fyah Truck’s soft opening.

21. The Abeshi Fyah food truck celebrated its grand opening in May, and it has gone on to become a staple in the city’s culinary world.

22. Thousands of people attended the inaugural Muskegon County Latino Festival in downtown Muskegon’s Hackley Park.

Dancers at the inaugural Muskegon County Latino Festival wow the audience. Photo by Pat ApPaul

23. Following a $6 million transformation, the Delta Hotels by Marriott opened in the former Holiday Inn in downtown Muskegon.

24. The L.C. Walker Arena will become the Mercy Health Arena on Jan. 1, after the Muskegon City Commission voted 4-1 in favor of the name change in December.

A Nelson Elementary student participates in the ninja obstacle course.

25. In a world of stress and standardized tests, the “Learn Through Play” program in the Muskegon Public Schools is bringing joy into the classroom.

26. Once, Carl Carter sold paintings to keep food on his family’s table. Now, the Muskegon Heights artist is a nationally acclaimed painter.

27. Burl & Sprig, a cocktail bar in downtown Muskegon, celebrated its opening in the historic Noble Building.

Mayor Stephen Gawron at BoomTown Market’s inaugural Muskegon Muskrat Day. Photo by Pat ApPaul

28. BoomTown Market made its debut as a downtown grocery store in July, and the space has also aimed to be something of a community center. (It even hosted the city’s first-ever Muskegon Muskrat Day, a phenomenally bizarre melange of taxidermied muskrats, top hats and steampunk.)

29. Pound Buddies, a nonprofit that cares for about 1,500 animals every year, is looking for a new home—and to do so, it’s turning to the public for support with its capital campaign.

Aoife Scott performs at the Michigan Irish Music Festival. Photo by Anna Gustafson

30. Musicians lauded the Michigan Irish Music Festival as the annual event, which draws tens of thousands of people to downtown Muskegon every summer, turned 20 years old.

31. A major streetscaping project in Midtown aims to make a growing Third Street more pedestrian friendly and boost investment in the historic area.

32. Muskegon’s first medical marijuana business, Park Place Provisionary, opened in June. Currently a medical marijuana dispensary, it’s slated to soon begin offering recreational marijuana.

33. Lakeshore Drive is undergoing a $6.1 million construction project that is transforming Lakeside’s commercial district.

34. In her new role working for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Poppy Sias-Hernandez is advocating for Muskegon, championing equity and social justice throughout West Michigan, and more.

35. As the Heritage Museum in downtown Muskegon grows, it is emphasizing making the region’s history accessible to everyone.

Students scream with joy at the end of the West Michigan Symphony’s Link Up concert at the Frauenthal Center. Photo by Anna Gustafson

36. The West Michigan Symphony’s “Link Up” program is changing the way students see music.

37. As the Monet Garden nears its 20th anniversary, the downtown garden is hoping to raise $5,000 for the community space.

38. The 11th annual “Dancing with the Local Stars” raised $135,101 last year—all of which goes to area food pantries and programs. With this latest funding, the Women’s Division Chamber of Commerce surpassed its goal of raising $1 million since the event’s inception; the dance competition has generated a total of $1,058,000.

Team Boys are Back in Town perform at Dancing with the Local Stars. Photo by Anna Gustafson

39. At Muskegon Area First, Darryl Todd is at the forefront of bringing people and businesses to Muskegon.

40. Following last year’s epic lame duck session, state Rep. Terry Sabo reflected on the state of Michigan politics.

2 thoughts on “Downtown growth, a new era for Muskegon Heights, student advocacy & more: What 2019 meant for Muskegon

  • January 1, 2020 at 9:26 pm

    And of course our Muskegon poet laureate fullback Ben Evans speaks out to straighten out City and county commissioners. Maybe my favorite development in Muskegon and I like the coverage of Muskegontimes and their writing

  • January 5, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    So now African-American people drown at a higher rate because of racism? I didn’t know lakes, seas, and oceans were racist too. You learn something every day. SMH


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