Battling blight in Muskegon Heights

Posted at 11:24 PM, May 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-04 23:25:36-04

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. - Vacant homes are falling victim to father time, creating a blight battle that's more than just an eyesore in parts of Muskegon Heights.

After years of discussion, the city is moving forward with plans to revitalize, getting fresh ideas from a group of Michigan State University students. An effort geared towards bringing the heart of downtown back to life.

Students from Michigan State University's Urban and Regional Planning Department laid out the Muskegon Heights Blight Elimination and Community Revitalization Strategy, at the Muskegon Heights city hall Monday afternoon.

City leaders say it's a breath of fresh air but some of the citizens we heard from are still skeptical.

Plan Organizer, Joel Arnold, believes blight is a problem that goes deeper than the external cosmetics of an abandoned building.

"Issues with blight they touch everything," said Arnold. "They make unsafe neighborhoods, they reduce property value, and they can fester crime. There’s issues with blight that go beyond just taking down structures and it’s really about improving quality of life for the residents of Muskegon Heights."

The strategy was passed by city officials Monday, with $1.8 million allocated by the Federal Government. Step one is to tear down more than 200 vacant homes and commercialized spaces, focusing on four-square miles; from Hovey and Summit, to Wood and Sixth St.

Muskegon Heights County Commissioner and former Mayor, Rillastine Wilkins, understands there are plans in revitalizing buildings like the Strand Theater on Broadway; Bringing in a grocery store.

"So it’s great just coming together with the citizens of Muskegon Heights, putting together a want list of what the city really needed," said Commissioner Wilkins.

Demolitions will begin within the next 18 months, and the hope is for Muskegon Heights to prosper over the next ten years using the strategy. Although, some business owners are worried this is all for nothing.

One concerned citizen said, "It’s a hypothetical wish list, they’re wishing for things that will never happen."

Understandable, after the same meeting was held more than five years ago. Organizers of the plan believe success can happen only with the vigorous support of the community.

"I think the only shortcoming would be if it isn’t aggressively supported by the community," said Arnold. "Community support is vital to this plan being carried out successfully."

Organizers say if the plan is a success, they hope to use it throughout the entire county of Muskegon.