Public bathrooms in downtown Muskegon Arena part of $750,000 upgrades

MUSKEGON, MI — Renovations to the downtown Muskegon arena will make restrooms accessible to the public during festivals and other downtown events, reducing the need for portable restrooms.

Public restroom accessibility is part of a $750,000 project to continue improvements at Mercy Health Arena, 470 W. Western Avenue.

Latest upgrades will also include an outdoor storage building with a rooftop terrace, disabled accessibility to bathrooms and an exit from the arena, and improvements to utilities.

The rooftop terrace which will be on the same level as an existing arena exit could be used as an outdoor smoking area during arena events or as a gathering place or stage during community events, according to recently approved plans by the Muskegon City Commission.

The improvements are expected to be completed by August 1. They will be paid for with funding from the Americans with Disabilities Act, revenue from the American Rescue Plan Act and city funds for water, sewer and streets, according to Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson.

Plans include a “refresh” of the little-known Thayer Avenue, a small alley that connects the arena to Fifth Street. The driveway stretches between the Arena Annex and the nearby Port City CIO Hall, 490 W. Western Avenue, and Noble Building, 500 W. Western, which houses Top Shelf Pizza.

“We’ve talked over and over again about when we’ll have public restrooms downtown and how can we afford to do that,” Peterson told commissioners during their Feb. 7 working session.

Instead of spending “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on new restrooms downtown, the plan is to spend about $37,000 to build an exterior entrance to the arena restrooms on the new rooftop terrace. Access to the arena from the washrooms would be locked when the arena is not in use.

A narrow walkway will allow access to the washrooms from Western Avenue. This walkway will have a gradual rise leading to the bridge from which will be the entrance to the restrooms and a little-used exit from the arena.

The walkway is between the CIO room and Carlisle’s, a new arena restaurant under construction with an entrance on Western Avenue.

Having washrooms available to the public will be especially handy during events such as Rebel Road/Muskegon Bike Time, the Lakeshore Art Festival and WeDiscover Fest.

Related: The festival lineup in Muskegon this summer includes the return of some favorites

“Instead of having 15 porta johns on Western Avenue, we can just have one sign that directs people to that alley,” Peterson said.

The women’s restrooms will have 16 toilets and the men’s restrooms will have six toilets and 10 urinals, Peterson told MLive.

Access to the public washrooms could also be via Fifth Street and Thayer Alley and up a flight of stairs which will be built onto the roof terrace.

The arena exit to Thayer is currently not in use because the stairs there are steep and often icy during hockey season, Peterson said.

Most of the project costs, approximately $389,000, involve construction of the new arena storage building where the Thayer Avenue exit stairs are currently located.

The building is needed to replace a storage building across Shoreline Drive from the arena that was destroyed in a windstorm in 2015. Since then many stored items including tables and chairs that are now rented were sold, but the city continued to use shipping containers there to store football and soccer floors for the arena, Peterson said.

Related: Work on Muskegon’s new arena restaurant finally begins

Moving that heavy flooring on Shoreline Drive on a forklift in snowy conditions is an “imminent accident,” he said.

Mercy Health Arena is home to the Muskegon Lumberjacks hockey, Muskegon Risers football, and West Michigan Ironmen football teams.

The roof of the storage building will be transformed into a deck area where people could congregate, a stage could be set up for practice events in conjunction with the arena annex practice center where DJs could settle at parties in the aisles, according to information provided to the municipal commission.

Sewer and water lines will be replaced in Thayer Driveway, which will receive new asphalt to replace the badly deteriorating concrete, Peterson said.

With improvements, the alley could become a popular hangout, Peterson told MLive. It had been used as an outdoor tiki bar by Burl & Sprig Distillery when it was located next to Top Shelf, he said. The city had trucked in sand for this outdoor area to cover 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. had also been in the same building with Top Shelf and Burl & Sprig. It has since moved into its new Brewers production facility and lounge at Shoreline Drive and Fourth Street, and is in 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 portions of side streets, includes a “social district”, where patrons can purchase adult beverages at participating establishments and enjoy them outside on the sidewalks and open spaces.

The arena is adjacent to the new Van Dyk Mortgage Convention Center, which is also expected to generate additional foot traffic downtown.

Nearly $2 million in arena “fan experience” upgrades were completed in 2018. These include new executive suites, party decks, and a “kids zone.”

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