May 10 2018 10:03 AM

Developer still buying, believing in Lansing

Standing to the side of the BWL Depot meeting room Saturday, Patrick Gillespie talked quietly to his daughter. He stood beside two large displays. He was the featured speaker at First Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington’s monthly get-together with constituents.

His message? The revitalization “energy” of downtown Lansing and the Stadium District specifically is infectious and potentially “reaching critical mass.”

“There’s all kinds of infill that’s happening,” he said of Michigan Avenue. “Each one of those makes it spread quicker. People are realizing it is getting better and they want to hold onto their property. That’s a good problem to have. It’s better than a fire sale.”

Gillespie grew up in Lansing, on the east side, and has made it his business to invest in the city. He said he came to the realization that the projects he was working on in other parts of the state could easily become Lansing projects. And that’s when he made a move on developing the four-story Stadium District.

That filled in a gaping hole left by earlier moves by the city. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the City Council and the Mayor’s Office were much more conservative, and the block that now plays home to the baseball stadium and to the Stadium District was referred to by then Mayor Terry McKane as “sin city.”

Where the parking and lawn of the stadium are today stood two gay bars, Trammpp’s Disco and Joe Covello’s. There was also a Velvet Touch adult bookstore there.

The area Gillespie developed played home to an old apartment building with an adult bookstore and an antique store as tenants. There was also public parking there.

McKane cajoled the city into purchasing those properties before he retired, causing the early retirement scandal that helped sweep David Hollister into office on a progressive reform platform. But by then, the buildings were gone. Instead, there were empty lots.

Hollister saw that space and knew a baseball stadium would be a key to reinvigorating downtown. That opened in 1996.

Gillespie opened up the Stadium District just over a decade later.

And now? He’s snapped up a series of properties surrounding the stadium. His Outfield Project is a national trend, he said. The Lansing Brewing Co. has become so popular, parking is becoming an issue. And his Marketplace Apartments, built on the riverfront on the former Lansing City Market property, is going gangbusters, he said. The second phase of the multi-colored project just opened, and includes MP Social, a riverview eatery designed to draw customers from the apartments as well as the River Trail.

“We deliberately did not include lots of parking for that,” he said. “We want to entice people off the River Trail.”

He said he’s also considering turning the former Corner Bar, located at Shiawassee and Cedar streets into a breakfast place.

“Would any of you go there?” he asked the attendees, most of whom eagerly said yes.

And he recently inked a deal to purchase a property that runs from Larch Street east to Pere Marquette Street. It’s a former slaughterhouse, he explained, showing attendees how the cattle were brought to the property for slaughter, then moved to the building on Larch for butchering.

“It’s a great building, and I can see a rooftop bar there, overlooking the stadium,” he said.

While the Corner Bar and the slaughterhouse are dreams at the moment, he has been clearing the way for the redevelopment of the 600 block of East Michigan, That development will be a multi-use building featuring retail on the first floor with apartments above. The star tenant at this location is likely to be a grocery store. But mum’s the word on which one.

“We’re in talks with a lot of them,” Gillespie told the group on Saturday. “We might have gotten a few to take the hook. We’ll see.”

But one thing is pretty evident, he said: Don’t expect a downtown gas station. He said those “don’t make money on gas,” rather “it’s selling cigarettes, candy, coffee” where they “make it up.” But the gas stations he’s been in contact with aren’t biting.

It is also extremely expensive, he said, to build a new gas station because of environmental regulations.

“They seem to work nicely with grocery stores,” he said. “We’ve made some of those calls. They don’t seem to be interested at all. They don’t think they can do the volume. We’re getting shut down. Right now our nearest gas station is Speedway” at Michigan and Clemens Avenue.

For Gillespie, the momentum is shifting and the energy is building for a new Lansing vision. But Michael Ruddock, a one-time candidate for the City Council, raised the concern about gentrification. Gillespie was quiet in response, but Washington said she did not think there was an issue.

“We have never had gentrification in the city of Lansing,” said Washington, who chairs the council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Housing.

Her colleague, At-Large Councilman Peter Spadafore, disagreed with her.

“I think we have to mindful of that,” he said. “We have to make sure that the rising river is lifting everyone up, not just a few.”

Don’t expect Gillespie’s next phases of development to be crayon-colored like his recent developments, he said.

“I think those crayons are dull,” he said. “I am putting them away.”