Greater Lansing’s 2013 makeovers

By Mickey Hirten

Some stalled projects finally starting; housing is hot; retail is not

It’s not hard these days to sense the changes taking place in greater Lansing.

There are big projects like the Knapps building in downtown Lansing. Smaller projects like the Gillespie Midtown housing project at the former Silver Dollar Saloon site on Michigan Avenue.

And, of course, there are the plans and developments that languish.

Here is a quick look at what happening and what isn’t.

General Motors: The biggest opportunity and perhaps the most difficult to predict is the fate of the automaker’s wasteland sites on the west side Lansing/Lansing Township border.

GM offloaded — some might say laundered — this property to the Racer Trust as part of its restructuring and officials with the trust don’t expect anything to hap pen there until 2016 or 2017. There is also abandoned GM property for sale on Canal Road in Delta Township.

Better GM news is the start of construction on a new $44.5 million, 400,000-square-foot logistics center at the Grand River Assembly plant. This pairs nicely with GM’s continuing investment in its Grand River and Delta assembly plants.

Knapps Centre: Renovation of this 190,000-square-foot Art Deco icon should be done in March. The Eyde Co. will move its corporate offices there and is seeking other tenants to fill the seven floors of office and retail space. There is housing on the upper levels of the building. There may even be a new restaurant.

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum: It’s been just over a year since the grand opening and the museum certainly makes East Lansing a cultural destination in the contemporary art world. Whether it has engaged the community is an open question.

The region’s artistic epicenter hasn’t yet spawned many, if any, spin-off business, though Roy Saper has a big new banner sign on his nearby gallery.

Lansing Kewadin Casino: It’s still long odds on this happening, but the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians is working through the process. Attempts by the state to halt the tribe’s bid to acquire land between the Lansing Center and the ball park were dashed last week by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. It wasn’t really a game changer. Essentially, the court told Michigan it couldn’t sue to stop the project until the tribe actually files with the federal government to have the proposed casino property taken in trust.

Market Place: After a series of delays and a threat from the Lansing Economic Area Partnership to sue unless construction started, the Gillespie Group has begun building its $8.5 million, 80-unit residential project adjacent to the Grand River.

Construction of what the company calls “one or two bedroom urban style apartments” should end in the fall of 2014 with the units helping address the housing shortage in downtown Lansing. Gillespie Group CEO Pat Gillespie said last week that the city needs at least 1,000 new housing units if it hopes to attract new retailers to complement mixed-use developments.

Red Cedar Renaissance: This is the name for what local developer Joel Ferguson and his new partner, Fred Kass of the Ohio-based Continental Real Estate Cos., hope to build on Lansing’s abandoned Red Cedar Golf Course. Ferguson originally partnered with the automobile-dealing Jerome family — apparently a very bad match. Ferguson said last week they had not talked in a year.

Now that he’s aligned with a nationally recognized developer, Ferguson is pushing to fast track the $120 million to $140 million project and wants to begin construction in the spring. Not likely. The project is encumbered by drainage and flood plain environmental issues, community input sessions (charrettes), design challenges and — since it’s in Lansing — politics.

The City Council must approve Ferguson and Kass as developers, and then there’s the selling price for the land. This will be a big issue as the development team tries to downplay the value of the land, much of it in a floodplain, while stressing the long-term rewards to the city from its investment.

City Center II: The tortured City Center II project in East Lansing has finally advanced with the city choosing Lansing Township-based DTN Management Co. to develop the 2.8 acres nestled between Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road.

DTN is proposing a 10-story hotel, a parking garage, retail space, housing and even an outdoor farmers market. The cost of the project is estimated at $105 million.

Douglas J headquarters/spa: This $10 million project planned for what is referred to as “downtown Okemos” calls for a spa at the site of the former Travelers Club restaurant at the corner of Okemos Road and Hamilton Avenue, a new Douglas J headquarters where the current spa is and assorted housing units. At one point, the company hoped to finish the spa by Christmas.

The problem is the power lines along Okemos Road. Some need to be buried; others need to be raised. And this is very costly. Demolition of the Travelers Club and the former White Bros. Music store won’t begin until the power lines and other issues are resolved.