May 8 2013 12:00 AM

In an effort to "redefine the neighborhood," a community group forms to reshape and connect the neighborhood northwest of the Capitol

Ora B. Fuller has lived above her store, Shanora’s Wigs and General Merchandise at 829 W. Saginaw St., for the past 32 years. She’s seen the neighborhood around her survive a reputation as a drug and crime infested area — a reputation she doesn’t think was totally deserved. And now she sees it coming back. 

“I’m glad that it’s better, it’s a lot better,” Fuller said of the Genesee Neighborhood. “I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 30-some years. I like the neighborhood. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been here so long.”

One particular development in the area has Fuller excited. She was pleased to see Zero Day, a nonprofit that helps train veterans in construction trades, buy the mostly vacant Genesee School Building two blocks south of her business. Fuller is not alone. 

A group of folks in the area have begun to channel that energy — and that of another future development down the road — into a neighborhood group called the Butler Corridor Coalition. 

The coalition will have its first community forum on Saturday to discuss ways of improving the area’s sense of community, aesthetics and business opportunities. 

The conversation began earlier this year after two key developments along North Butler Boulevard, which runs north/south through the heart of the Genesee Neighborhood, took form within weeks of each other. One was the sale of the old school to Zero Day, which occurred just after the Michigan Association of Broadcasters purchased five acres of property known as the Ottawa/Butler block bounded by Ottawa, Sycamore and Ionia streets and Butler. Karole White, president of the broadcasters association, has said the group hopes to build a new headquarters at the corner of Ottawa and Sycamore and may contact developers to plan ideas for the rest of the five acres.

The Genesee School is two blocks south of Saginaw Street. The MAB property is two more south from there at the end of the .4-mile corridor. 

“Up and down the Butler Corridor became like a symbol of an area where we just looked the other way,” said Gretchen Cochran, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association. “We knew it could be better but we’ve never sat down and put our heads together. Now we have an opportunity with both the broadcasters and the veterans group to work with them all together with the neighborhood.”

The Downtown Neighborhood Association, the Genesee Street School Coalition, the Genesee Neighborhood Association and the Westside Commercial Association will all be involved with the coalition, Cochran said. Zero Day and the broadcasters association will also be partners. 

Like a lot of Lansing neighborhoods, the pavement along Butler and the cross streets is often torn up and crumbling. Some of the sidewalks are useable, while others can be hazardous. The neighborhood has some pristine turn-of-the-century homes, but it’s also spotted with blighted properties and unkempt lawns. The neighborhood has a diverse mix of racial and economic backgrounds. 

Rory Neuner, who works for the Westside Commercial Association, said the coalition has mapped out a “walk shed” — a one-third-of-a-mile radius around Butler Boulevard that will be the targeted area of discussion. The area crosses Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard west to Carey Street and goes east just past North Chestnut Street. To the north, the area touches West Oakland Road and goes south to the Hall of Justice. 

M.C. Rothhorn, a Downtown Neighborhood Organization board member who lives on Leitram Court around the corner from the Genesee School, said the purpose of the “walk shed” was to shake things up with residents in the area. 

“We’re trying to redefine the neighborhood. We are purposely not using existing borders in an effort to try to be more inclusive,” he said. “(The east) side of MLK has traditionally been separated from west side of MLK and we’re going to break that up.”

The goals of the coalition will vary and a lot will depend on what happens at the first meeting, but a few things that people for this story talked about were: walkability, small business development, community gardens, fighting blight, increasing property values and creating a better sense of community. 

“We’ll all put our heads together and figure out what we love about the corridor and what we’d like to be different,” Cochran said. 

Butler Cooridor Coalition meeting
First Presbyterian Church
510 W. Ottawa St., Lansing
10 a.m. - 2 p.m.