Developer has ‘ambitious’ plans for former industrial property on Muskegon Lake

MUSKEGON, MI — More than 30 acres of a former industrial site on Muskegon Lake will be transformed into businesses, homes and a marina in plans from a local developer.

Ryan Leestma of Leestma Management LLC says he currently has two waterfront parcels on West Western Avenue under contract, and he expects to close the deal in early 2021. Concepts being considered for the site include plans for a marina, mixed-use residential space, a restaurant and single-family homes.

“I’ve been in Muskegon for a long time, but I had no idea that that was there,” Leestma said of the property. “It’s kind of an area that’s overlooked. I got out there (and) it’s like 270-degree views of the entire lake. This natural marina basin–it’s just begging to be developed.”

Related: New owners of former power plant property on Muskegon Lake look to expand shipping

The parcels at 1204 and 1148 W. Western Ave. were previously home to Westran Austin Trailer Division and Michigan Steel, which was demolished in 2014.

The 14.6-acre parcel at 1204 W. Western Ave. is listed by Capstone Real Estate for $3 million. Leestma said he is buying the adjacent parcel directly from the current owner, Vaughn Markey. It, along with 1195 W. Western Ave., were previously listed for $3.2 million.

Dave Bossenbroek, an attorney who is representing Leestma, said the parcels have been for sale for several years, and have garnered interest from others looking to revamp the property.

“It’s going to take some work to develop,” Bossenbroek said. “But I think it’s ripe for development because it’s very close to downtown.”

The city has been eyeing the key parcels as Muskegon Lake transitions from an industrial hub into a mix of uses through various development efforts. This renaissance for the city’s waterfront is being aided by a $3.1 million effort environmental clean-up of the lake.

“The whole use is changing, and it’s just going to take a matter of time before those old industrial spots get developed,” Bossenbroek said.

Related: Muskegon Lake poised to leave EPA ‘Areas of Concern,’ a Great Lakes environmental milestone

Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson said city officials have had “significant involvement” with Leestma on this project, which aligns with their vision for the area.

“It’s a good example of former industrial property being converted over to be more conducive to getting people to the lakeshore, and more conducive to respecting the waterfront,” Peterson said.

Michigan Steel Inc. demolition

Demolition of Michigan Steel Inc. on West Western Ave. in Muskegon on Monday, March 24, 2014. (Madelyn Hastings | file)

Leestma’s first phase of development will include expanding Waterfront Storage LLC, a boat storage business, to “stabilize” the property. From there, he hopes to have a marina built within the next three years, a response to market demand in the area.

“With coronavirus and everything, it’s like the number of people that have got decided to go out onto the lake has just exploded,” he said.

Related: Work begins on first $600K condo at Hartshorn Village on Muskegon Lake

Leestma also plans to build multi-use apartments, commercial space, a restaurant and fill out the property with single-family homes. He expects the project to take roughly 10 years to complete.

“What they’re proposing is very similar to what our intention had been for that site all along,” Peterson said. The city manager hopes the project demonstrates the value in redeveloping property along Muskegon Lake.

Other recent developments on the Muskegon Lake waterfront including Windward Pointe, The Docks, Hartshorn Village, Terrace Point Landing and the B.C. Cobb Power Plant.

Muskegon Lake aerial

Significant development projects are underway on Muskegon Lake as the area evolves from its industrial past into new uses. Photo by Marge Beaver/Photography Plus.

Leestma has several investments and real estate assets throughout West Michigan, including office space in Norton Shores. He said he wants to do what he can to invest into Muskegon.

“It’s incredibly important to me that Muskegon gets the credit that it deserves, and I’m going to make sure that it does,” Leestma said.

Related: 5 key properties at center of Muskegon Lake’s transition

The project is still in its early days, with property sales still pending. But Leestma says he is committed to seeing through what he called “fairly ambitious” plans for the site.

“My plan is more to stabilize it on day one so that it’s making good money,” he said. “And then slowly work on the plan to invest at the right times, provide the market what it wants at the right times.

“And if things go bad, it’s okay because I’m making money on it, but eventually it will be developed. I mean, I’m only 41 years old, so I’ve got plenty of time on my side.”

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