Knapp's wakes up
|By Lawrence Cosentino|
Sleek Lansing landmark will come back to lifeThe Knapp’s building, Lansing’s most spectacular but conspicuously vacant downtown landmark, will be restored to its 1930s Art Deco glory for a new life as a high-end retail, office and residential complex, city officials and developers announced Tuesday.
Knapp’s Center owners George and Louis Eyde plan retail space on the first floor, office space for the middle three floors and 19 residential rental units on the fifth floor, with 40 spaces of underground parking.
The Eydes will move their East Lansing development company into the finished building, which will also house a small business incubator run by the Lansing Economic Development Co. Those two entities will occupy about 15 percent of the building’s 190,000 square feet, Bob Johnson, director of the Lansing Planning and Neighborhood Development Department, said.
“This is one for the history books,” Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said. “I’m grateful that the Eydes had the vision and the commitment for it.”
A complex package of federal, state and local loans, grants and tax credits will finance the project, which is estimated to cost upwards of $20 million. Mark Clouse, spokesman for the Eydes, said the Eydes would put $9.2 million into the project, up front and through loan obligations. Work on the building is expected to begin in spring 2011, with doors opening in 2013.
“Next to the state Capitol and the Ottawa Power Station, the Knapp’s Center is probably the city’s most iconic, significant building,” Bernero said at Tuesday’s announcement.
The yellow and blue Streamline Moderne structure housed Lansing’s leading department store from 1937 until the store closed on an unlucky Oct. 13, 1980. It was used for office space until 2002.
Bernero said the project would return Knapp’s to its bygone status as a symbol of thriving downtown commerce.
The National Register of Historic Places lists Knapp’s as “a landmark in the progress of the modern movement in architecture in Michigan.”
Lis Knibbe, preservation expert for Ann Arbor’s Quinn Evans and head architect, sounded almost jealous.
“The coolest Art Deco building we have [in Ann Arbor] is the bus station,” Knibbe said. “We don’t have anything like the Knapp’s building.”
A bullet-sleek look, on a Queen Mary scale, is what makes Knapp’s unique. The building’s shiny skin is made of Maul Macotta, or concrete blocks faced with ceramic and metal. “Metal panel systems like the one used in Knapp’s can be seen in storefronts, gas stations and bus stations across the nation, but not in huge buildings like Knapp’s,” Knibbe said. “It’s very large for an Art Deco building.”
But Knapp’s has been idle, like a beached ocean liner, since state offices moved out in 2002.
In a phone interview Monday, an elated Bernero said the project is crucial to the city’s future “on so many levels.”
“There’s the sentimental longing to see it, the economic revitalization, and the boost to the spirit it will be for downtown,” he said. “This huge, hulking structure and beautiful Art Deco design will be preserved.”
The Knapp’s building is only a few blocks away from another crown jewel of downtown architecture, the 1939 Ottawa Power Station, now undergoing its own epic $130 million redevelopment. The same architect, Orlie Munson, designed both buildings.
Several people involved in the Knapp’s deal said the Ottawa plant’s redevelopment into the world headquarters of the Accident Fund Insurance Co. was a catalyst.
Clouse said the Ottawa project set a precedent for using public-private partnerships to save an iconic downtown structure.
“It’s being done, and done well, and demonstrated that there are no buildings that can’t be saved,” Clouse said.
As makeovers go, the Knapp’s project is less drastic than Ottawa’s leap from power station to offices, but time was a complicating factor. Although Knapp’s is structurally sound, the clock is ticking on the building because of a fatal flaw in its multicolored skin.
Used in thousands of 1950s gas stations and diners, the Maul Macotta facing was cutting edge in 1937 — perhaps too cutting edge.
Later attempts to caulk up the joints made matters worse by trapping moisture inside the walls.
Eight years ago, Knibbe did a study of the Knapp’s building for the city and state h i s t o r i c preservation offices. “Back then, [the Eydes] weren’t ready,” she said. “Now they’re clearly ready. Seeing their change of attitude was clearly key.”
“I can’t put my finger on any one thing that made the change,” Clouse said Monday. “It was a combination of factors.”
At Tuesday’s announcement, Dorshimer said he got in
As the others listened in, Johnson called Washington to ask if the project would qualify.
“After we explained the Knapp’s Center to them, they said it was an ideal candidate,” Clouse said.
financial incentives also includes $7.3 million in state and federal
historic tax credits, $4.8 million in federal “new market” tax credits,
$1.8 million in Brownfield Michigan business tax credits, and a
Renaissance Zone designation, under which state and local property
taxes are waived for 12 years, then phased back in over the remaining
Clouse said the federal and state credits can be sold to build up the capital needed to get the project underway.
Two tenants are already
Dorshimer said the
“It’s an ideal building,” he said. “It really inspires people.”
A spokesman for the project said the Eydes are talking to potential restaurant tenants.
“This space just screams ‘restaurant,’” Knibbe said at Tuesday’s announcement, gesturing toward the building’s airy northeast corner.
In contrast to the epidermal issues, Knibbe called the building’s interior “quite clean.”
“It’s a very good canvas for doing new things to,” Knibbe said.
Although layers of
To lighten and brighten
Knibbe said the project will aim for a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver certification.
“It’s going to be an
At Tuesday’s announcement, Bernero praised the finance and design team.
“This could have gone otherwise,” he said. “We could have lost the building.”
Knibbe said the state
Bernero said the Eydes’ decision to move its headquarters to the Knapp’s building was the turning point.
“When they are willing
Taking the longer view,
At Tuesday’s press
For now, most of the
“We have gone through a period of great plenty, where throwaway buildings were acceptable,” Knibbe said.
“This pre-World-War-II stuff ’s built to last.”