Downtown Muskegon’s 321 Go! utilizes pitch competition to incentivize new downtown retail

Since the closing and demolition of the Muskegon Mall over 15 years ago, the downtown business community along the Muskegon lakeshore has focused on the slow and steady revitalization of new businesses and retail in the formerly titled Third Street Business District, now referred to more simply as Midtown.

Executive Director David Alexander of the downtown business improvement district, Downtown Muskegon Now, says bringing in new retailers is the last piece of the live-work-play puzzle that has picked up speed along the lakeshore over the past few years thanks to larger collaborative initiatives between the city, its chamber of commerce, and other local economic developers and community organizations.

“We want to build a diverse downtown that is dynamic; one that has a live, work, play environment for all kinds of talent looking for a staying place, and retail is really just the last of those segments that we need to start rebuilding,” says Alexander, who recently announced the launch of a new pitch competition called 321 Go!, developed in partnership by Downtown Muskegon Now, the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce, and Grand Valley State University’s Muskegon Innovation Hub.

“The GVSU Muskegon Innovation Hub has very much wanted and is wanting to get involved with new business development, and to encourage its entrepreneurial class and be a strong partner to Downtown Muskegon and revitalization on the downtown waterfront and nobody has been a bigger support of downtown redevelopment in Muskegon than the Muskegon Chamber,” says Alexander, who worked with partner organizations to model the business competition off of a similar one in Sacramento, California that they came across while brainstorming ideas to kick-start more downtown retail.

“We thought, hey, we can do that here, and we’ll see if we can get the interest from people and find the right tenant to embrace the space,” he says.

With a flexible application deadline set for March 17, 321 Go! partners will select five finalists to go on to the April 13 pitch event, where each will have the opportunity to present a case for their business or business plan to a small panel of judges with the chance to win a basket of business services valued at $15,000 and six months of free rent in a Midtown retail space.

After receiving six months of free rent on the retail space at 1144 Third Street as part of the prize winnings, the winning retailer will need to negotiate a one-year lease with building owner Brad Martell, a Grand Rapids entrepreneur and property developer who began redeveloping the former Oldsmobile dealership showroom and office for new retail space shortly after purchasing the property in 2016.

The competition winner must also be able to open for business by June 2017 and continue to operate in that space for at least 18 months thereafter to receive all the benefits of the massive prize package, which includes legal, accounting, marketing, architectural and design services as well as a commitment from Downtown Muskegon Now, GVSU’s Muskegon Innovation Hub and the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce to promote and mentor the winning business/business owner.

“There is a host of business support services the winner will be able to access through our sponsors and the Muskegon Innovation Hub,” says Kevin Ricco, executive director of GVSU’s Muskegon Innovation Hub.

Alexander says any and all retailers, both for and non-profit, as well on-site service operations are encouraged and welcome to apply to be a 321 Go! finalist with the exception of restaurants/restauranteurs, who are only disqualified because the space at 1144 Third Street doesn’t have the commercial kitchen required for food service operations.

For more information on 321 Go! or two submit an application for your business or start-up idea, visit downtownmuskegon.org/321go/.

Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Downtown Muskegon Now
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