MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WOOD) — In a city embattled by poverty and crime, there’s a newfound effort for a revival.
Muskegon Heights’ newly elected mayor delivered her first State of the City address Monday night.
“I’m very excited about where the city is right now. I mean, I tell people all the time, ‘We are like a canvas that has been cleaned and we’re ready for paint,'” Kim Sims told 24 Hour News 8.
Sims maintained throughout her mayoral campaign that her No. 1 priority was to reconnect a city that had become disconnected, including increasing citizen engagement with police and city leaders and revamping neighborhood associations. Monday’s address demonstrated she intends to make good on her pre-election promise.
“I would want the one main takeaway to be that Muskegon Heights is a viable community ready for redevelopment,” Sims said. “We’re on the verge of some very good things, but it’s going to take us collectively working together, cooperatively, to get that done.”
Karen Cheathem, who sat in on the mayor’s address, has lived in Muskegon Heights her entire life. She has watched business boom and then the city slowly decline. Blight has crippled the area in recent years, which many attribute to the loss of industrial jobs.
“Houses have just been destroyed because of poverty,” Cheathem said.
Recent statistics showcase Muskegon Heights’ struggles: 16 murders the last two years — the same number as in the city of Grand Rapids, which is 17 times bigger. Nearly half the population lives in poverty. Shuttered storefronts line the downtown district.
But Sims told 24 Hour News 8 that fixing those issues can be helped, in part, by a changing perception of the city. She said Muskegon Heights is about a lot more than murder headlines.
“We need to begin to tell our own story and not allow media to tell our story for us. Because what you may see are those crime demographics, right, that you think are very real — but those of us that live here and play here — we don’t see those quite the same way as you do,” Sims said.
“It’s not the entire picture. It’s just one pixel of that picture,” she continued.
And while she did acknowledge that gun violence is a problem and that there’s work to been done, part of Sims’ speech was designed to focus on positives. She mentioned that city officials balanced the budget years ago to avoid emergency management. She said avoiding receivership is something that isn’t celebrated as much as it should be.
The newfound optimism appears to reach beyond just city leaders. Several citizens 24 Hour News 8 spoke with, including Cheathem, were happy about what they heard.
“She has some good ideas and I think if we are able to interact with her — as she said the door is always open — so that’s going to give people the opportunity to interact with her and see what’s really going on,” Cheathem said.