MUSKEGON, MI – Renovations to Muskegon’s downtown arena will make restrooms there available for public use during festivals and other downtown events, reducing the need for portable toilets.
The public bathroom accessibility is part of a $750,000 project to continue improvements at the Mercy Health Arena, 470 W. Western Avenue.
The latest improvements also will include an outdoor storage building with rooftop deck, handicap accessibility to the bathrooms and an arena exit, and utility improvements.
The rooftop deck that will be even with an existing arena exit could be used as an outdoor smoking area during arena events or as a gathering spot or stage during community events, according to plans recently approved by the Muskegon City Commission.
Improvements are expected to be completed by Aug. 1. They will be paid with Americans with Disabilities Act funding, American Rescue Plan Act revenues and the city’s water, sewer and street funds, according to Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson.
Plans include a “refresh” of little-known Thayer Avenue, a short alley that connects the arena to Fifth Street. The alley runs between the arena annex and the neighboring Port City CIO Hall, 490 W. Western Avenue, and Noble Building, 500 W. Western, that houses Top Shelf Pizza.
“We’ve talked over and over again about when do we get public restrooms downtown, and how do we afford to do that,” Peterson told commissioners at their Feb. 7 work session.
Instead of spending “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for new downtown restrooms, the plan is to spend about $37,000 to construct an outside entrance to arena restrooms off the new rooftop deck. Access to the arena from the bathrooms would be locked when the arena isn’t in use.
A narrow walkway will allow restroom access from Western Avenue. That walkway will have a gradual rise leading to the deck off of which will be the restroom entrance and a little-used exit from the arena.
The walkway is between the CIO hall and Carlisle’s, a new arena restaurant under construction with an entrance on Western Avenue.
Having restrooms available to the public will be especially convenient during such events as Rebel Road/Muskegon Bike Time, the Lakeshore Art Festival and WeDiscover Fest.
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“Instead of having 15 porta-johns set out on Western Avenue, we can just have a sign that directs people down this alleyway,” Peterson said.
The women’s restroom will have 16 toilets and the men’s will have six toilets and 10 urinals, Peterson told MLive.
Access to the public bathrooms also could be via Fifth Street and the Thayer alley and up a set of stairs that will be built off the rooftop deck.
The arena exit to Thayer currently isn’t used because the stairs there are steep and often icy during hockey season, Peterson said.
Most of the project costs, about $389,000, involve construction of the new arena storage building where the Thayer Avenue exit stairs are currently.
The building is needed to replace a storage building located across Shoreline Drive from the arena that was destroyed in a 2015 windstorm. Since then, many of the stored items, including tables and chairs that are now rented, were sold, but the city has continued to use shipping containers at that location to store soccer and football flooring for the arena, Peterson said.
Related: Work on new restaurant at Muskegon’s arena finally begins
Moving that heavy flooring across Shoreline Drive on a forklift in snowy conditions is an “accident waiting to happen,” he said.
Mercy Health Arena is home to Muskegon Lumberjacks hockey, Muskegon Risers soccer and West Michigan Ironmen football teams.
The storage building’s roof will be turned into the deck area where people ccould congregate, a stage could be set up for workout events in conjunction with the arena annex training facility or DJs could set up during alley parties, according to information provided to the city commission.
Sewer and water lines will be replaced in the Thayer alley, which will receive new asphalt to replace badly deteriorating concrete, Peterson said.
With upgrades, the alley could become a popular hangout spot, Peterson told MLive. It had been used as an outside tiki bar by Burl & Sprig distillery when it had been located next to Top Shelf, he said. The city had trucked sand in for that outside area to cover up the crumbling concrete and make the area more usable, he said.
Burl & Sprig has since moved to a new location at Western and Second Street and has continued to sponsor an outdoor sandy spot across from that location.
Pigeon Hill Brewing Co. also had been in the same building with Top Shelf and Burl & Sprig. It has since moved into its new production facility and Brewers Lounge at Shoreline Drive and Fourth Street, and is the process of developing a new tasting room on Western near Fourth.
The entire length of Western, from Pine Street to Seventh Street, as well as some portions of side streets, comprise a “social district,” where patrons can purchase adult beverages from participating establishments and enjoy them outside on the sidewalks and open spaces.
The arena is next door to the new Van Dyk Mortgage Convention Center, which also is expected to generate additional downtown foot traffic.
Nearly $2 million in “fan experience” improvements at the arena were completed in 2018. Those include new executive suites, party decks and a “Kids Zone.”
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