Jan. 15 2014 12:00 AM

City Council to take up exciting new development project on South Side for coffee shop/artist’s loft/makerspace/business incubator

A small band of entrepreneurs has set forth on an ambitious mission: Transforming the Lansing region and indeed the entire state by starting a new business on the city’s South Side.

The trio — Topher Martin, Chaz Forencia and Delilah Horowitz — are planning to repurpose a bank-foreclosed hardware store on South Cedar Street and convert it into a coffee shop/artist’s loft/ makerspace/business incubator called “makedodrink.”

“What we’re really looking to do with makedodrink is leverage existing assets and create a sense of place for people in the creative class to come together to share best practices,” said Martin, a 28-year-old conflict-resolution consultant from Okemos who once spent three months in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y. “We feel that this project can be transformative for Lansing and provide these people here with a rallying point to help spur a true Midwestern Renaissance.”

Indeed, city officials are set to pledge $2.2 million in tax breaks — including $750,000 in school tax abate ments — to help offset the cost of façade improvements, hardwood floors, two Pabst Blue Ribbon neon signs, three top-of-the-line espresso machines, five MacBook Pros, 56 feet of faux-industrial ductwork, two corkscrew slides, a fire pole and what Martin describes as a “super rad” iRobot Roomba 770.

The Lansing City Council next month will also consider issuing $4.7 million in public bonds to create new bicycle lanes leading to the area, providing easy access to makedodrink for the tens of thousands of neighborhood residents who make daily use of the South Side’s expansive network of bike lanes.

The entire project is expected to only cause a temporary disruption to other local businesses, while creating three to five jobs that will pay about $9 an hour.

Critics contend that it´s poor public policy to dole out public tax dollars to subsidize profits for private businesses when schools, public safety and city services continue to be cut due to a lack of revenue.

Local resident Alberta Johnson, 64, said she has mixed feelings about the project.

“My grandkids’ school is crumbling and is full of mold, and I can’t walk to QD without stumbling across drug dealers, so it seems like the city could be asking these folks to pay their fair share so we can improve some of these things,” said Johnson, who receives no tax breaks on her modest two-story house on Fenton Street. “On the other hand, I understand that my concerns are secondary to the needs of the creative class, and I am kind of interested in learning how to become a maker.”

Those who oppose tax incentives for makedodrink will undoubtedly be labeled as obstructionists who want to take Lansing back to the 1950s. Rightfully so, said Forencia, 26, a graphic designer who recently moved to Lansing from West Bloomfield Township.

“There’s plenty of existing businesses and citizens who pay taxes for city services and schools,” Forencia said. “But unlike many of them, we will actually be helping the community in very tangible ways. After all, more than anything, Lansing residents need a walkable, bikeable place where they can learn to be makers and doers while enjoying totally dope Kopi Luwak lattes.

“As you can see, we’re filling a real need for these people,” Forencia said. “We’re quite progressive.”

Economic development officials and the makedodrink team will hold an invite-only community forum next week to go over the plan, where they will present beautifully drawn renderings of the site and #lovelansing bumper stickers.

Horowitz, a self-described social media guru, said she’s looking forward to the meeting and has already launched “Lansing needs makedodrink” accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Pinterest, Instagram and Google Plus.

“We are fully prepared to work with the community to provide multiple synergies between myriad stakeholders through numerous platforms,” she said, “as long as these people maintain a positive, supportive and hassle-free vibe.”