February 29, 2012
By Dave Alexander
Even before approaching Muskegon County commissioners on details of moving the S.S. Milwaukee Clipper to the county's Heritage Landing, ship supporters lined up broad support.
The S.S. Milwaukee Clipper Preservation Inc., a nonprofit group that has restored and created a museum with the historic Great Lakes passenger ferry, presented commissioners this week with a number of letters supporting the move to Heritage Landing on the downtown Muskegon Lake shoreline.
County commissioners seem prepared to direct county staff to seriously explore moving the 361-foot long, 50-foot tall Clipper from the Grand Trunk dock in the Lakeside Business District to the county's festival grounds. After negotiations with the Clipper board of directors, county staff expect to make a recommendation for or against the move to the county board.
The Clipper support is coming from downtown businesses, Heritage Landing festival organizers, tourism promoters, other local historic ship attractions and state historic preservationists.
The Clipper must eventually move from its existing dock owned by Andrie Inc. because the Muskegon-based marine transportation company will need its Muskegon Lake dock space. The current Lakeside location is not visible or accessible, ship supporters have said.
The move to Heritage Landing will put the Clipper in the center of such attractions as the Muskegon Heritage Museum, the LST 393, the historic Hackley-Hume homes and the Lakeshore Museum Center, supporters pointed out.
"The addition of the Milwaukee Clipper will make downtown Muskegon one of the premier heritage tourism destinations on the Great Lakes, drawing more and more visitors to our city and county," wrote Jon Rooks, owner of the nearby Shoreline Inn and Suites, Terrace Point Marina and Lake House Grille.
Festival organizers who use Heritage Landing to produce the community's summer-time events find the addition of a year-round attraction like the Clipper not only good for the community but for the festival events.
"Our festival and others will benefit through the use of complimentary storage space aboard the ship, the availability of on-board facilities for VIP seating and special events using the ballroom and other (ship) facilities," wrote Kevin Newton, secretary of Alive on the Lakeshore, which produces the Unity Christian music festivals at Heritage Landing.
The Clipper relocation would elevate the ship's visibility and increase the number of visitors that would help the entire Muskegon County tourism industry, tourism promoters said.
"We believe this move will attract new visitors to Muskegon County and offer new choices to visitors already here, thus generating additional room nights and accommodation taxes for Muskegon County," wrote Camille Jourden-Mark, president of the county's Accommodation Tax Advisory Committee.
Jourden-Mark is general manager of Michigan's Adventure Amusement Park, the Lakeshore's leading tourism attraction.
County commissioners also received letters supporting the Clipper relocation from USS Silversides Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum Chairman Mark Fazakerley, Muskegon County Lodging Association President Lisa Grossenbacher and Kevin Meyer, president of Meridian Entertainment Group, which is planning a new 10-day summer festival on Heritage Landing.
For Nan Taylor, field representative for the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, the relocation of the Clipper is all about saving history.
"As one of only 36 National Historic Landmarks in Michigan, and the oldest U.S. passenger steamship on the Great Lakes, the Clipper is an irreplaceable piece of U.S. history," Taylor wrote the county board.