Historic military ship museum conflicted with host city

July 14, 2023

Historic military ship museum conflicted with host city

Story and photos by Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

MUSKEGON — The organization that operates the USS LST 393 military museum (read more here), along with the ship’s owners is in conflict with the City of Muskegon. For 75 years, the West Michigan Dock & Market Corp. (also known as the Mart Dock), located on the shores of Muskegon Lake, has been home to the former U.S. Navy vessel. It was purchased by Sand Products Corporation (which also owns Mart Dock) in 1948 and operated as the Highway 16, which ferried new vehicles from Detroit auto factories via Muskegon across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee.

After ending its service as a ferry in 1973, the ship sat dormant until 2000 when a group approached the Mart Dock owners and proposed a museum ship. Those efforts evolved into the USS LST 393 Preservation Association a non-profit corporation, which now operates the museum and maintains the ship. 

But, the association is concerned about the ship’s long-term survival continuing to sit in water.  

USS LST 393 Executive Director Jim Flood, along with board members and volunteers, met with members of the media Tuesday, July 11 to discuss the fate of the ship and what members of his organize say are false promises made by the City of Muskegon. 

“The ship will soon by 81 years old,” Flood said. “Historic ships around the world are sinking due to age and neglect. The hull is not in good shape. It has been inspected by professional ship surveyors. The recommendation is to put the ship on land so it can last for many generations to come.”

Flood said state funds were secured a few years ago to help develop a park east of the Mart Dock, known as the 3rd Street Wharf Project. The $2.8 million in Michigan Enhancement Grant funds, were supposed to develop a park and allow for a site, on land, to place the LST 393, Flood said. West Michigan Dock & Market Corp. owns the 6 to 7 acres parcel, located just west of the Shoreline Inn & Conference Center. 

Flood said the area at contention is a small piece of land between the hotel and the 3rd Street Wharf property. 

“It includes an access road, small parking and a peninsula out into Muskegon Lake,” Flood said. “This land was donated to the City of Muskegon by a private party to be used for public access. The intention of the gift was the land always be used for the public and public access. The city then (without going through the proper channels…) sold this small but valuable piece of property to the owners of the Shoreline Hotel.”

Flood said Mart Dock officials filed a lawsuit, on behalf of the public, to have the small piece of land put back into the public domain. At contention is developer Jon Rooks’ plans to build a dry boat storage facility alongside the existing Terrace Point Marina. 

“The city threatened that the lawsuit would have an adverse effect on the 3rd Street Wharf and LST relocation project. Now we have a third party involved (Shoreline Hotel) with their own agenda that has nothing to do with moving the LST and developing the 3rd Street Wharf project into a public park.” 

Mart Dock President Max McKee said the facility will be 50-feet high and hold 300 boats. He said he is concerned about the safety of the public, which will have access to the area while heavy equipment is being used to move boats.

Muskegon City Manager Jonathan Seyferth said Muskegon was awarded the $2.8 million in state grants in 2021 and 2022. 

“These dollars are intended for a wharf and park pProject in the city along Muskegon Lake,” Seyferth said in a statement. “The City Commission intends to fund a waterfront development project which increases public access to Muskegon Lake and serves to strengthen our community’s redevelopment. 

“These funds were requested as part of a larger development concept in which the City of Muskegon would deed the campground portion and first row of parking at Fisherman’s Landing to Mart Dock. In exchange the city would receive the Third Street Wharf site in order to create a new lakefront park at that location while maintaining the pre-existing boat launch and fishing area at Fisherman’s Landing. Moving of the Mart Dock owned LST on to the Third Street Wharf site for the ship’s preservation and other park amenity-based project details were discussed.”

Fisherman’s Landing and Campground sits on 18.6 acres along the waterfront, located about half mile east of the Mart Dock.

“After numerous unsuccessful attempts at reaching an agreement that served the public interest, it was determined that the city should also explore alternative community wharf projects around Muskegon Lake within the city limits,” Seyferth said. “Any alternative project would remain consistent in use with the initial intent of the grant. 

“On two separate occasions, City of Muskegon staff offered to use the State Enhancement Grant to purchase the Third Street Wharf property outright from Mart Dock and independent of any other property exchanges. As part of that offer, the city also proposed to move the LST to the Third Street Wharf site and potentially become responsible for its stewardship. These offers were declined.”

Seyferth said city staff is discussing possible options for the grant. 

“Any final decisions will be made by the Muskegon City Commission at a future date,” he said. 

In reference to the property now owned by Shoreline Hotel, Seyferth said, “That is a separate matter on an adjacent piece of property. SPX did not donate land to the City for a park to house the LST, and easement restrictions placed on that property by SPX in the 1980s would not have allowed the LST to be moved to that site.”

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