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New Lansing Mayor Andy Schor is tackling the Logan Square Shopping Center with the threat of seizure if the owner does not bring it up to code.
“We have cited him and cited him, and my understanding is previously it was always, ‘I’ll fix it,’” Schor said, referring to John Meram of Meram Properties of Southfield, which owns Logan Square, at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Holmes Road in south Lansing “And then he never did. And I said, ‘Let’s take action,’ and we are.”
Schor said he has directed City Attorney Jim Smiertka to take legal action. He said the owner will be required to bring the 30-acre property to code or face seizure by the city, an action allowed by state nuisance laws. The move could herald a protracted legal battle before a final resolution.
“We need to solve that problem,” Schor added. “It’s just a big pavement jungle with nothing.”
The white strip mall with blue metal roofing sits in a sea of crumbling asphalt studded with nonworking overhead lights. An estimated 75 percent of the available retail space is empty. The company also owns a boarded-up car wash on MLK with crumbling asphalt leading up to it. And behind that is a cinder block building, formerly a video arcade, boarded up tight with decaying plywood.
The declining center, which opened in 1962, once was home to Kroger, Rite Aid, Big Lots, All-of-Us Express Children’s Theater and state of Michigan offices. The mall today supports a beauty facility, a discount grocery store, a laundromat and mechanics shop. An outer building hosts a Subway, a tailor and a barber shop on the Holmes side, while a medical marijuana dispensary is on MLK.
Like much of the city’s retail sector, Logan Square took a deep hit in the Great Recession and has struggled to recover. Economic officials and leaders have found it challenging to market the area to investors because of negative perceptions of safety and a lower average income in the area.
City of Lansing property records show Logan Square and surrounding properties owned by Meram Properties are valued at just under $1.75 million. The four properties combined have racked up 30 code violations since 2013, those records show.
The city has taken a nuisance action once before when it sued the owners of the former Life of Riley mobile home park in 2016.
In legal filings and public statements at the time, city officials said the property owners, Whalen Holdings LLC, had not addressed issues during that time.
Third Ward Councilman Adam Hussain, who represents the area where Logan Square is, hailed the mayor’s action.
In meetings with property owners, Hussain said discussions focused on “the lack of management,” and “parking lot lights being out.”
“We talked about a number of disruptive businesses, some that have been evicted since, because, to be honest with you, I elevated quite a bit of those so this isn’t going to continue,” Hussain said.
He referred to an illegal gambling operation the Michigan Attorney General’s Office shut down last October. Five women were charged in the case.
Citing concern of interfering with ongoing law enforcement action, Hussain would not identify other business issues in the center.
Hussain said to “elevate” the issues, he brought the city’s top enforcement officials to the table with the property owner during meetings last summer. That included the City Attorney’s Office, Lansing Police, code enforcement and more.
“It got to the point we had around the table about 20 city decision makers,” said Hussain, who chaired the City Council Committee on Public Safety.
Bob Trezise, CEO of Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), was in that meeting too. “This property owner wants to sell this property,” Trezise said Monday. “He’s very motivated to get it out of his portfolio because it is not performing well.”
City officials, including Trezise, offered to assist the property owner in selling the 30 acres of commercial property last summer. The owner decided to move ahead with a private, unassisted sale.
“We are just waiting,” said Trezise. “We are willing to help out however we can.”
The property would likely qualify for brownfield and other incentives for redevelopment, Trezise said. He said the current layout of the retail space simply is not the way retail operates today.
“All those buildings will need to be demolished,” he said.
A new developer will require deep pockets, Trezise said. Under the incentives, developers have to pay the costs up front, and is then repaid through a tax capture program with the city.
He called the location a “key” for economic development.
For his part, Trezise said the property is prime for redevelopment.
“The city did an amazing job with the Master Plan in reimagining that corner,” said Trezise. “With that plan, the current buildings would be demolished and new, multi-story mixed-use building would be built instead. Those buildings would be built along the street front and place the parking in the back. It could dramatically change that whole area.”