A prime two-story location in downtown Lansing that has sat vacant for four years will be renovated into a mixed-use retail space this summer. Last month, Paul Rathbun, executive vice president at Lansing-based insurance company the Rathbun Agency, purchased the former home of Rum Runners, 601 E. Michigan Ave. His goal is to transform the second story of the 110-year old building into a loft apartment and allowing an aspiring local entrepreneur to rebuild the first floor into … something.
“There are so many people living downtown now that just about any business servicing that crowd should do very well,” Rathbun said. “I’m thinking a convenience store or a small grocery would be huge. There’s a built-in (customer base) looking for something to fill that niche. But there are so many other ideas that I’m sure would do well, too. It’s a great spot for a creative person with good business sense.”
Rathbun, 55, plans to move into the apartment himself and rent out the lower level. Both floors are about 2,100 square feet and almost completely gutted at the moment, but there’s tape on the floor of the soon-to-be living space marking out what different areas will become. You can see where the kitchen and bathroom will go; a folding table and chairs stand in for the grand dining room in the works.
“I love living downtown,” Rathbun said. “I don’t want to have a lawn to cut, and I don’t need a place to accumulate stuff. I’d rather spend my money doing things and going places. The advantage of (urban) apartments is that you’re so close to so many things to do. If you want to take off for a couple weeks, you don’t need to worry about things that a homeowner does.”
Rathbun has been testing out the urban living waters at a nearby luxury loft. He currently rents, but he had a desire to own his own space. He envisions eventually creating a rooftop patio on top his new building, carrying over his favorite feature from his current living situation.
“I’m the only one in my building with a patio, and I’m going to miss it,” Rathbun said. “The view here overlooks (Cooley Law School Stadium), so it will be like having a free balcony seat at all kinds of concerts and fireworks events. It’ll be a great place to host parties.”
Any festivities on the premises will likely pale in comparison to those held in the building’s heyday. Rum Runners opened in the building in 1996 as a tiki-themed piano bar and, for more than a decade, served as a destination draw for birthday and bachelorette parties. The first floor was a separate nightclub that opened in 2003, but both levels suffered stiff competition when a glut of bars flooded the downtown area in the late ‘00s and early ‘10s. Rum Runners closed in 2013, shortly after a rebranding effort to shift the business into more of a performance venue concept. Rathbun inherited a Class C liquor license with the sale, but sold it last week to an undisclosed party.
“I didn’t want to bring another bar downtown — I think there are enough already,” Rathbun said. “And I don’t want to see (the downstairs) become a pot shop, either. I want to see something that’s good for downtown Lansing. I’ve been a part of this community for a long time, and I want to see it continue to thrive.”
Rathbun’s father, Gene Rathbun, joined Rathbun Insurance in 1966, 10 years after his brothers, Jack and Jim Rathbun, founded the agency. After majoring in insurance/business administration at Ferris State University and spending time working at a national insurance company, Paul Rathbun came aboard in 1983. In 1990, he became a partner.
City records show Rathbun bought the Rum Runners building for $318,999, nearly $200,000 less than it went for when it was last sold in 2006. The block is undergoing a resurgence based around craft beer and spirit manufacturing; American Fifth Spirits next door recently celebrated its second anniversary, and Lansing Brewing Co. down the street has become a massive draw.
“It’s harder to find places downtown, which is why I bought it,” Rathbun said. “I like industrial spaces, and the architect has come up with some really good designs. I really think (this space) could become a gem for downtown.”
Rathbun said anyone interested in opening a business on the building’s first floor should contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The business owner will be responsible for build out, but Rathbun said the space is in excellent condition, and the exposed brick and open floor plan make for an attractive dose of urban chic.
“I don’t want to run the business, but I’ll provide guidance for (whomever) decides to do something,” Rathbun said. “I wish I had the time. It’s a great location and a great space.”
Green with EnVie
After a couple of private friends-and-family events last week, downtown Lansing’s newest eatery opened to the public on Monday. EnVie is a French-themed bistro featuring a menu with lunch and dinner items, as well as a full bar with an eclectic cocktail list and extensive wine menu.
“We’re going to go for familiar favorites, but we also want to create new things no one has ever seen before,” said co-owner James Cheskaty, who also serves as executive chef. “It’s a lot more French than we were originally planning.”
In addition to the French dishes — which include duck à l’orange, ratatouille and cassoulet — diners can also choose between burgers, salads and cheese plates. There’s even a breakfast item for late risers: the duck Benedict features sliced duck breast and a poached egg served on a croissant and topped with Hollandaise sauce and Michigan cherry coulis.
210 S. Washington Square, Lansing
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday
(517) 318-6135, envie517.com