Aug. 30 2018 09:48 AM

City fields two ideas for Cooley Haze House



The Cooley Haze House has a taker. Two, actually.

Two proposals were submitted last week to repurpose the historic city-owned property on Malcolm X Street next to Cooley Gardens, Voters last year authorized the sale, but nobody showed an interest when city officials first sought proposals.

A local real estate agent proposes turning the former home, which last served as the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, into a retail store for salvaged building materials. An artist from Jackson would like to turn the property into her next residence.

Officials will still need to review plans, but those involved are confident “something good” is sure to take shape.

“It’s going to cost anybody a significant amount of money to bring this place up to speed,” explained Lansing Park Board member Rick Kibbey. “It really has got to be a labor of love for somebody. The economics are just not going to work out on the front end. It might amortize over 20 years, but it has be a labor of love.”

The Colonial Revival house sits between Cooley Gardens and the new Central Substation that the Lansing Board of Water & Light is building on the southwest corner of Washington Avenue and Malcolm X Street along I-496. The city has maintained the home for decades and last year took necessary steps to repurpose the property.

Eugene Cooley, son of 19th century Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas M. Cooley, built the three-story home for his son, Frank, at the turn of the 20th century. The home sat among rows of palatial estates on Main Street in a neighborhood that was home to the city’s wealthiest and most elite addresses.

The building was also home to Dr. Harry Haze and Michigan Gov. G. Mennen Williams and headquarters for the Michigan Baptist Convention before the city acquired the property in 1978. It housed the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame until last year, when it moved into the Meridian Mall.

A restriction outlined in a June request for proposals calls for any would-be owners to maintain the historic facade on the home, but the city has allowed for developers to let their imaginations run wild for interior renovations.

Realtor Joe Vitale, the former president of Preservation Lansing, outlined plans to develop the property into a “architectural and building material salvage retail store and educational learning area.” His intent: Preserve the historic exterior of the home while opening up a shop to sell off salvaged materials from recent demolitions.

“Grant money is available to help people learn how to reglaze windows, restore plaster, restore wood work,” Vitale wrote, noting each room will focus on different materials. “We will have the skills and the space available to help homeowners in Lansing and historic preservationists learn skill sets they can take into the community.”

Vitale, who offered $20,000, wants to ensure the home finds its place on the National Historic Registry. He further charted plans to have renovation handled by licensed contractors, creating a business opportunity and ensuring the Cooley Haze House avoids demolition and remains a placemaker within the local neighborhood.

“Cooley Haze is a building that I would consider to be kind of endangered at this point,” Vitale added. “The goal is to save the property and create a business and resource that doesn’t currently exist in Lansing.”

A graduate from Michigan State University, Vitale has also worked for Coldwell Banker Hubbell Briarwood for the last 18 years. He also owns 27 properties in the Greater Lansing area and serves on the city’s Demolition Board.

Kathy Kraft , an artist from Jackson, offered $10,000 for the property with goals to turn it into her “dream home.” The land could be worth more, but between the cost of repairs and the realistic selling price of her existing place, it was the best price she could afford to offer at the time, she said.

“I’m doing this to save that house,” Krafft said. “I’d also like to live there. That’s my only motivation. I just love old houses. I always have and I always will. If I’m awarded this home, I’ll do my best to keep it and restore it. Every home should be lived in and every home should be loved. I know how much effort went into building it.”

Kraft’s proposal is specifically contingent on the ongoing sale of her current home. She said she has been interested in carpentry from an early age and estimated the renovation project could take up to 10 months. Her plan is to preserve as much of the original structure as possible by following the original vision of the architect.