This old house

By Chris Parks

Former School for the Blind property renovated and sold

When Rochelle Rizzi, CEO of Rizzi Designs, first saw the superintendent’s house on the School for the Blind property, she knew she had found a new home for her business.

And, at that point, only the home’s first floor had been renovated.

“I fell in love with it immediately,” she said.

Rizzi purchased the home from the Ingham County Land Bank, renamed it “Old Town Manor,” and last Thursday an open house was held to show off the renovated historic property.

Land Bank Chairman and Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing said that the Land Bank typically puts about $60,000 into renovating a property. The manor, however, underwent $150,000 in renovations. It is the first commercial property sold by the Land Bank, which acquired it from the Lansing Housing Commission in December 2008.

The manor was built in 1914 as part of the School for the Blind and was the superintendent’s home. But when renovation started this year, the building was “dilapidated and unused,” said Gene Townsend, owner of Townsend Builders, which restored the house.

The Land Bank, founded in 2005, acquires properties primarily through tax and mortgage foreclosure with the intent to renovate and sell them to the public.

“We’re trying to raise the standards and expectations for what a home can be,” Schertzing said.

Schertzing said the Land Bank owns around 400 parcels. Some are renovated but others are demolished, depending on the condition. To date, Schertzing said about 30 demolitions have taken place, with another 40 planned over the next six months.

The Land Bank has closed on 27 homes since 2006 and in the last two months has completed sale agreements for six homes. The Land Bank recently sought proposals for two commercial properties in the area: the site of the former Dollar bar, and the former Ramon’s Restaurant in REO Town.

Without the Land Bank’s program and its efforts to work with buyers, Rizzi said, she might still be looking for a property.

“They know us personally and care about our vision and care about us,” Rizzi said. “It’s a great way to grow a small business.”

Townsend said basic work had to be done to nearly everything in the house, including adding new windows, insulation, heating, plaster, and electric. Townsend’s goal in the renovation process was to maintain the home’s historic integrity.

“It was an understanding from the beginning that that’s where a lot of the value came from,” he said.

A lot of work had to go into the building to get it to where it is today, obviously. Townsend
said the building was “sturdy” and that it was built correctly, but as
neglected buildings tend to do, it had fallen into disrepair.

think the overriding impression was how many different things had to be
done,” Townsend said of his first encounter with the building. It took
four months to get the building in a condition to where it could be

Townsend also said work needed to be done to the aesthetics of the building and the surrounding property.

That work included taking down metal fencing, trimming trees, creating sightlines and reusing materials from the house.
Townsend created new pillars out of bricks taken from a demolished addition to the building.

“It was basically kind of a haunted house,” Townsend said of the building before work began.