In conjunction with the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), Mayor Virg Bernero announced plans today to renovate REO Town properties at 1101 and 1103 South Washington Ave. Once complete, the properties will be home to Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale along with Wheel House Studio—a ceramic art facility.
“Small projects add up,” Bernero said, “but this really is how it happens: incrementally,” citing the co-addition of small businesses and larger projects, like the Lansing Board of Water and Light Cogeneration Plant, as “the future of REO Town.”
Hailing the project as a prime example of positive urban renewal, Bernero stressed the importance of tax incentive programs like the Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act (OPRA) in revitalizing Lansing’s small business sector—that both redevelopments applied for.
While investors include Dart Bank and REO Life, developers are still seeking incentives like OPRA to turn over buildings that Bernero calls “upside down,” referring to the high cost in renovating REO Town’s historical architecture.
“I hear too often from the left and the right, that they’re against corporate giveaways. Well I’m against the giveaways too. You can call this a giveaway, but you want these places to stay empty?” Bernero said. “These are good people who believe in the city, who have the ingenuity and have put in the sweat equity, but they don’t have boat loads of cash.”
Bernero said the programs span the interests of both Democrats and Republicans alike.
“These tools we’re using, these are old tools that were put in place by a bipartisan perspective for urban renewal,” said Bernero. “We have investors and entrepreneurs who believe in the city and we’re here to work with them.”
While city government provides incentives for emerging small businesses, head of the Allen Neighborhood Center Joan Nelson, is one of the people who ensure learning spaces will exist for entrepreneurs when they come to REO Town.
“The Allen Street Market houses two incubator kitchens designed to offer affordable rent and support, for entry level food and beverage entrepreneurs,” said Nelson.
One of those kitchens provided a space for the president of Sleepwalker Spirits and Ale, Jeremy Sprague, to cut his teeth.
While the alehouse will be “petite” in size, Sprague said he hopes to seat 50 patrons in his new space, serving pizza, sandwiches and potentially Sunday brunches in the former dental school. Lansing’s Fusion Shows will also occupy the space above Sprague’s brewery.
Next door, local artist and teacher Dan Nunez will house his pottery studio and instructional space.
While at the podium, Bernero asked his audience to look around, to take in the historical importance of REO Town, a once world-class car manufacturing power-house. He surmised that with the help of retaining talent like that of Nunez and Sprague, REO Town will rise to the world stage again.
“Sleepwalker Ale is something unique, its different, and it will be in REO Town,” said Bernero. “I’m sure Jeremy has dreams of being everywhere, but for a while it’ll be REO Town’s gem.”