March 13 2013 12:00 AM

Top-secret parties seek to revitalize the community one building at a time

Loud ‘90s dance music mingled with the laughter of children, spoken word poetry and retro arcade games in the industrial warehouse at 5646 Commerce Street, near S. Pennsylvania Avenue, picked for the site of Vacant 2 on Saturday evening.
Around 280 people took a leap of faith by purchasing tickets for this event, in which almost all the details were kept a secret beforehand. Guests received several clues via email before the big night, and were challenged to solve the mystery on their own.
When Saturday evening finally came, curious attendees were treated to a blast from the past, with a live DJ and MC to host the festivities. Head organizer Suban Nur Cooley called it a “team effort.”
“We all loved the ‘90s, so we got the idea of doing a block party,” Nur Cooley said. “It made sense with what we were doing.
The idea, Nur Cooley said, was to create a lively, family-friendly environment for a community get-together, while bringing attention to an unoccupied space, much like the first Vacant event held in February.
It was lively, all right. The Impression 5 Science Center challenged kids at the event to create marble obstacle course ramps with “Force and Motion Challenge” activities. “Basically children use all kinds of materials to try and make the marble travel as slowly as possible down the ramp,” explained David Grund, communications director for Impression 5. “It’s great seeing so many different kids working together on their courses, while practicing problem solving and critical thinking.”
The REACH studio art center also had children-friendly art activities for the young guests at Vacant 2.  “I like how I can do creative stuff here, and you can show other people your talent,” said 7-year old Kate Borgstrom after she completed a painting on the large paper wall hanging.
Vacant 2 was also a fundraiser for the South Lansing Community Development Association, an organization dedicated to improving the South Lansing area. Nur Cooley estimates that around $1,500-2,000 was collected, although the funds are still being counted.
Dan VanAcker, owner of the showcased property, attended Vacant 2 with his family. “I’m a firm believer that it takes a village to get this kind of thing to work,” he said, motioning to a group of excited partygoers. “It helps to revitalize and keep the community strong.”
VanAcker buys vacant buildings and rehabs them into usable spaces for businesses. He owns several other facilities in the Lansing area. He said that when a house or building becomes abandoned or unoccupied, it often creates a domino effect that can be hard to reverse. However, he urges people to get involved with their neighborhood to combat this cycle.
“It can be something small like mowing the yard of the foreclosed home next door to you, forming neighborhood watch programs or cleaning the leaves off an abandoned property,” he added. “If a lot of people do little things like this, it would really add up and make Lansing a better place.”
Nur Cooley promised more Vacant events in the future.
“I just wanted to thank everyone who bought tickets, not knowing what would happen,” Nur Cooley said after the party. “There will definitely be another Vacant, but it won’t be anything like Vacant 2 or the first one. The tag line still stands: expect nothing.”

For a slideshow of the event, click here.