Muskegon, MI (November 2018) –
The Lakeshore Museum Center.
The Board of Directors of the Lakeshore Museum Center set some big goals at their Board Retreat in October. In reviewing the nine “rooftops” the Museum manages, there was discussion about the dynamic changes happening in Downtown Muskegon. More people are rediscovering the Lakeshore Museum Center, previously known as the Muskegon County Museum, through the many unique and experiential programs offered at its multiple downtown sites, such as the Secrets of Bees exhibit at the “Main” museum and the Obituary Tours at the Hackley and Hume Historic Site. Survey responses from the community via focus groups, online surveys, and post-event surveys resounding show the desire to have the Museum expand its offerings downtown and to include more hands-on science and history components.
The Board directed the staff to complete feasibility studies in early 2019 needed for an expansion of the current building at 430 W. Clay Avenue, originally the Women’s YWCA. Studies would include 1) funding options for the expansion, 2) architectural possibilities of blending the historical building with a new addition, and 3) needs and designs for exhibit and program spaces to better serve the community, growing tourism demands, and more school groups. Programs like the Big Lesson and Furs to Fire are at capacity, so expanded space would allow more schools to be served.
As a result of the renewed focus on “rooftops”, the Board supported the long-term need to consolidate both the Archive and Collection building “rooftops” that house more than 50,000 artifacts. Depending on space available in the expansion, both building’s collections may be folded into the expansion or they may be moved to one new facility. More research will be done on both possibilities.
The Board also decided to close its Whitehall “rooftop”, Michigan’s Heritage Park, in 2019 and bring the best parts of the Park’s living history programming to the future downtown expansion. Recognizing the significant investment and support of the Hilt Family Foundation, the Board discussed with the Trustees of the Hilt Foundation this difficult decision and the Trustees of the Foundation accepted the decision of the Museum Board. The George Hilt exhibit, donor recognition wall, and donor benches will all be incorporated into the Downtown expansion. While the Park gets positive reviews from all visitors, there just aren’t enough visitors to the north-county location to justify keeping it operating.
The Park was the vision of George Hilt (Quality Farm and Fleet) and John McGarry (previous Museum Director) as a way to bring the Hilt’s Landing property in Whitehall to life through a living history outdoor museum. The Park just finished its fourth season of operations and attendance continues to decline. Feedback from non-visitors questioned about why they have not yet visited included: “there are too many competing interests in both downtown Muskegon and Whitehall/Montague, it is too far out and difficult to find, poor weather on day they considered going.”
Michigan’s Heritage Park was constructed on 19 acres of the larger Hilt’s Landing property owned by Whitehall Township, originally owned by George Hilt. The 19 acres are leased by Lakeshore Museum Center to operate the outdoor museum. The Museum will continue to lease the property at least another year to process all the program inventory and prep it for storage and use in the future facility downtown.
The Lakeshore Museum Center Board recognizes that with the dynamic redevelopment of Downtown Muskegon, the fiscally responsible thing to do is redirect funding to where the community wants it. The organization is excited about the future of the Museum’s expansion into a hands-on science and history museum that will provide more opportunities for County residents, schools, and tourists to enjoy.
About Lakeshore Museum Center
Our mission is to inspire curiosity, wonder, and imagination through the preservation and interpretation of the natural and cultural history of Muskegon County through exhibits, education, and programs. The Lakeshore Museum Center offers a wide variety of educational and community programs to support this mission.
For more information, please visit www.lakeshoremuseum.org.