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Hats off to a unique Muskegon brownfield project

Street view of former McDonald's building that remains at Muskegon Avenue brownfield site

When the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) awards a brownfield site assessment grant, project sites tend to fall into one of two categories: the site is known to be contaminated because someone did a little investigation way back when, or it's suspected to be contaminated because it used to be a gas station, a foundry, or a hat cleaner. Wait, what? A hat cleaner? Yes, that is a thing.

And despite 27 years of grants and loans for environmental investigations, as far as we know, our site assessment grant project at 122 Muskegon Avenue in downtown Muskegon is the first of our hundreds of brownfield redevelopment grants for a former hat cleaner. Hat cleaners were similar to dry cleaners. The hat cleaner – a skilled tradesman – could steam clean the hat or use dry cleaning chemicals. The hat would be blocked and stored on a form to maintain its shape. A few commercial hat cleaners still exist, but online instructions for do-it-yourselfers far outnumber professional hat cleaners.

The property at 122 Muskegon Avenue was not just a former hat cleaner. It was also used as a dry cleaner, tire vulcanizing company, battery shop, auto repair and paint shop, gas station, and a McDonald's.

With help from an EGLE Brownfield Redevelopment Site Assessment Grant, the city of Muskegon's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) will use the grant to evaluate environmental contamination at the blighted commercial site before it's redeveloped. A DDA environmental assessment has already shown that the historical uses contaminated soil with chlorinated solvents, but the extent of the contamination is unknown. The site has been vacant since 2016. An investigation funded with a $50,000 Brownfield Redevelopment Site Assessment Grant is underway. The investigation will define the site's environmental condition and help EGLE and the DDA estimate cleanup needs and costs. After the site assessment is complete, the DDA will share the results with the current owner, 122 LLC, to help safely redevelop and revitalize the site. The developer will build a four-story commercial and residential building.

Hats off to the Muskegon DDA!

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