LST Museum future in limbo as City of Muskegon and Mark Dock can't find common ground
Owners say ship may be forced to find new home unless city agrees to original agreement
The Landing Ship Tank (LST) 393 is part of the very fabric of the Lakeshore and has called Downtown Muskegon home for decades.
Officials say that could all change soon, as the boat is docked on Muskegon Lake and is taking on water.
“Historic ships are sinking around the world," said LST Captain and Museum Executive Director Jim Flood.
He says, in order to keep that from happening there are two options:
“You could put in on dry-dock which would cost millions of dollars, and you would have to repeat it periodically, or put it on land,” Flood said.
“That way you can save it for generations to come.”
The ship is owned by next door neighbor, the West Michigan Dock & Market, better known as the Mart Dock.
LST officials say, the City of Muskegon and the Mart Dock had agreed on a land swap deal (with some minor details to sort out first) that would have moved the WW2 era vessel a couple blocks north, and onto dry land.
However, the Mark Dock says, negotiations stalled last fall, and according to LST officials, City Hall withdrew a promised $2.8 million in grant money that would have funded the land swap deal and the ship's relocation.
Not true, says Muskegon Mayor Ken Johnson.
In an email to WGVU, Johnson said, “the $2.8 million was never committed to the Mart Dock, and further, the city offered to purchase the land from the Mart Dock and move the boat there.”
However, selling the land was never part of the original land swap agreement, and something that Mark Dock President Max McKee says, the company is not willing to do.
Nor, he says, should they have to.
"If the City is requiring us to sell them property not used by the LST then, yes, we'll have to look for a new home for the ship," McKee told WGVU.
Meanwhile, the Mart Dock says it would be happy to sell the city the land that the LST would move to, just not the entire property.
"We own the LST, we own the berth and parking lot. We open it all up to the public while we subsidize the boat being in the water at our berth," McKee said.
"We don't profit a dime," McKee said.
Last fall, the Mart Dock filed a lawsuit against the City of Muskegon for selling public land adjacent to the proposed LST relocation spot to local developer Jon Rooks for $2 dollars.
Rooks plans to use that property to build a large boat launch behind the Shoreline Inn Hotel, which he owns.
Back in January, a judge refused to toss the lawsuit by the Mart Dock out, as Muskegon County Circuit Judge Kenneth Hoopes ruled that the deal had "elements of bad faith.”
Meanwhile, the city denies that the lawsuit is in any way related to the land swap agreement, or disagreement at this point.
Both McKee and Flood however, are not so sure.
"Who would have thought a private company is suing a city in order to regain public access the city illegally gave away. Yet that city attempts to leverage that same private company to sell their property unwillingly," McKee said.
"I'm not convinced the commissioners are fully behind this...but the mayor clearly is leading the charge. We're not going to take a seat."