Local developer Jonathan Rooks has donated the former Masonic Temple in downtown Muskegon to Muskegon Community College as the new home for its Entrepreneurial Studies program and related business-generating activities.
The announcement was made Wednesday morning, June 3, at a special meeting of the MCC Board of Trustees held in the former Masonic Temple building at 396 W. Clay Ave.
Rooks took his contribution to MCC a step further by contacting his friend, Nick Sarnicola, a West Michigan native and highly successful entrepreneur, and encouraging him to significantly support the College’s Entrepreneurial Studies Program.
Nick and his wife, Ashley, generously responded through their NextGEn Foundation with a $200,000 permanent endowment to the Foundation for Muskegon Community College. The fund will support an annual $10,000 cash award – the Rooks Sarnicola Entrepreneurial Award – for the best business idea generated by an MCC entrepreneurial program graduate.
Currently, MCC offers an Entrepreneurial Associate in Applied Science degree and specialized entrepreneurial degrees in several areas. These include: Alternative Fuel Vehicle, Automotive Repair, Bookkeeping Services, Computer Networking, Family Child Care, Graphic Design Display Advertising, Music Performance, Personal Computer Maintenance, Political Campaigning, Visual Art, Web Game Development, and Website Development.
The Masonic Temple will now be known as the Rooks Sarnciola Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. Built in 1948, the 23,790 sq. ft. structure is located adjacent to MCC’s new Downtown Center and across from historic Hackley Park. The facility includes paved parking lots and was recently appraised at $350,000. Following renovations, the building is set to re-open in Fall 2017.
“We are gratified that Jon Rooks and Nick Sarnicola chose Muskegon Community College as the recipient of their generous gifts,” said MCC President Dale K. Nesbary. “The building and scholarship fund will serve the dual purpose of catalyzing our regional economy and providing much-needed entrepreneurial training for our residents.”
“Jon and Nick are making history at MCC with these incredibly generous gifts,” explained Tina Dee, Director for the Foundation for Muskegon Community College. “The total value of $550,000 is larger than any other single past contribution and will have an enduring and positive impact on our students and the greater community we serve. Their legacies will continue with the other great names in MCC history: Vanderlaan, Frauenthal, Stevenson, Thompson, and Meijer.”
“I am very passionate about two things – entrepreneurship and Muskegon,” said Rooks, the owner of Parkland Properties of Michigan. “This gift promotes both.”
A Grand Rapids native, Rooks attended Calvin College and the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. After graduating, Rooks became a real estate developer and has developed award-winning condominium projects, marinas, office buildings, retail projects, apartments, hotels, and subdivisions in nine West Michigan communities.
Since 2009, Rooks has focused his time and invested his resources into seven business turn-around projects in downtown Muskegon including the Shoreline Inn, the Lakehouse Waterfront Grill, the Holiday Inn at Muskegon, Third Street Grill, Terrace Point Marina, the Firehouse Professional Building across the street from the City Hall and repurposing the 23,790 square foot Masonic Temple. Collectively, these projects employ over 300 workers and bring more than 60,000 visitors a year into Muskegon for overnight stays.
“I want my real estate projects to have an everyday impact on the local community and contribute to the vitality and resurgence of this great city,” added Rooks. “I am very excited to see what opportunities these projects create for Muskegon, and look forward to helping this community continue to grow and prosper.”
“We have several projects underway that will continue to help transform downtown. Two of these projects are designed to bring over 350 new downtown, market-rate housing residents. We have recently begun the first stage at Terrace Point Landing – a condominium community consisting of 70 home sites in a waterfront development on Muskegon Lake, with a common pool, forest courts and beach. Parkland Properties is also renovating the former Comerica Building into High Point Flats, a historic adaptive re-use of the 1916, nine story, banking tower, which will consist of 72 apartments.”
Besides investing in businesses, Rooks is also supporting local innovation.
“I am extremely passionate about growing young minds and keeping them in our community so I have partnered with MCC to gift a new Entrepreneur School building,” he said. “I feel blessed to be able to gift the Masonic Temple to the Muskegon Community College and I can’t think of a better way to repurpose this historic building. It is my hope that through the Entrepreneur School and the scholarships, students will begin to appreciate the opportunities in Muskegon and invest their future in creating a better, stronger and more vibrant city.”
Sarnicola echoes his friend’s sentiments.
“We would love to see the next successful business owners of Muskegon come right out of the Rooks Sarnicola Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and make a big difference locally one day,” he explained. “I was never exposed to entrepreneurial thinking at home growing up but found the path to success my freshmen year of college via the direct selling industry.”
At 25, he started his own direct selling company based out of Troy, MI, called Visalus. The high quality supplement company sells its products via independent promoters who help change people’s lives with a 90-day supported weight loss and fitness challenge. Over 10 years, his company has expanded into 13 countries, supports three million customers, and has reached more than a billion dollars in sales.
Nick and his wife, Ashley, want others to be able to write their own success stories so they created the NextGEn Foundation which they seeded with $1 million and a mission to foster entrepreneurship through mentorship, scholarships, and seed capital to young entrepreneurs.
“I always wanted to be financially successful but didn’t know the path to take,” said Sarnicola, who admittedly became frustrated that financial success wasn’t taught in school.
“I vowed that if I became ‘rich one day’ as an entrepreneur, I would create platforms for other young people who wanted great success but didn’t know where to start. I’m happy beyond measure to know after selling in 13 countries, we get to give back locally by supporting the new MCC Entrepreneurial Institute with an annual $10,000 seed capital scholarship.”
The NextGEn Foundation provides grants to other programs that specialize in educating and training the youth in business, including Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) South Florida, which specializes in business plan development at the high school level, and the nonprofit Remembrance Ranch which works with troubled youth.
“We would love to see the next successful business owners of Muskegon come right out of the Rooks Sarnicola Institute for Entrepreneurship Studies,” concluded Sarnciola. “Bravo to MCC for supporting and growing entrepreneurial success stories right here in West Michigan. This says a lot about MCC’s innovative thinking.”