June 15 2016 12:22 AM

Location sets Outfield apartments apart from other downtown housing

If you've driven past the Outfield project looming over the Cooley Law School Stadium ball field and wondered what it's like inside, I can tell you. It's pitch perfect. Forgive the pun.

Virtually leased out even before it officially opens on Thursday, the Outfield is just what planners envision for cities like Lansing to entice Millennials to their downtowns.

The inaugural mix of tenants skews young, said developer Pat Gillespie, but not exclusively so. The mix includes professionals, a doctor, college students and what one younger tenant calls grandparents.

There is a definite grad school-housing vibe to the Outfield, starting with the first-floor lounge with its panoramic view of the field, a bar, pool and shuffleboard tables, couches and, of course, big-screen TVs. It's a big party room called Club 420 — the distance to home plate — with open ceilings, industrial lighting, wood strip walls and lots of glass. A Starbucks coffee dispenser flanks the entryway.

The apartments on the second, third and fourth floors range from small studios to two-bedroom, two-bathroom units, most of them with balconies. These aren't meant for families. The accommodations are more cozy than commodious and the room labels reflect the target renters. The living room is labeled “Chill.” The kitchen is “Eat.” The bathroom is “Refresh.” The bedroom, “Sleep.” A shade too cute, but it seems to work.

The “Urban Studio” is 548 square feet and leases at $875 to $1,025 per month, based on a 12-month lease. The more costly studio comes with a Murphy bed built into a wall unit with drawers, closets and shelves. Empty, it seems like plenty of space for … for a studio, that is.

On the fourth floor, the apartments have a loft-like quality with vaulted ceilings and open glass fronts. Single bedroom apartments start at $925; two bedroom, two baths . . . er, make that refresh rooms, start at $1,250. Pets are welcome for a nonrefundable $350 fee. And it's $25 a month for cats, $40 for dogs with a 35-pound weight limit. Every unit has a washer-dryer. Smoking is banned. All very nice. But what really makes the Outfield special is location, especially for the apartments fronting the ballpark. It's where you discover that you have more friends than you realized. Who knew baseball was so popular?

With most apartments you get housing and some amenities. At the Outfield you get entertainment. The balconies were packed Saturday night for the Taste of Country Concert, which organizers say drew 11,000 fans. Though people on the balconies couldn't see the bands who played from a covered stage facing the seats, the music was plenty loud. But they could see the show on large video screens. And even better, it was all free. Although the Outfield has been open for just a few weeks, the balconies are already filled with tables, chairs, flowerpots and coolers. On one balcony, liquor bottles line the windowsill frat style.

Call this the party side of the building. Apartments on the north side of the Outfield overlook the parking lot, the new Lansing Brewing Co. and off to the left the Grand River. Still, it's downtown living with parking ($25 a month). These units are cheaper than on the ball field side, perhaps a bit saner.

For tenants who have been living in the Outfield for just a few weeks, the ballgames, the fireworks and the concert are still new and exciting. But will it get old? The Lugnuts season started on April 6 and stretches through Sept. 6. The games are loud — cheers, over-amped music and announcements. Lights are on well after the game ends. And fireworks are fun, but every week? After Saturday's concert, workers were dismantling the stage until 5 in the morning.

The Lansing Outfield project is likely to be replicated in other minor league markets.

“I had a call last month from the Great Lake Loons. They said do you know that you're the talk of minor league baseball?” Gillespie said. He added that the project has been written about by Yahoo Sports, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post and Miami Herald.

He would like to duplicate the Outfield at other minor league ballparks and expects visits from baseball officials now that the complex is open.

“We've learned some things about parking and landscaping from this project,” Gillespie said. “I should have put another floor on the building. I was just too chicken.”

For the Gillespie Group, which built the Midtown on Michigan Avenue, Marketplace on the Grand River and the Stadium District across from the stadium, the Outfield was unusually complicated. The land is owned by the City of Lansing, the stadium is leased to the Lugnuts, and Gillespie in a condominium-like arrangement owns the second, third and fourth floors with some office and common space on the ground level.

Oddly, despite the location, there is no direct access from the Outfield to the plaza between the building and the field.

This is Lugnuts territory, where it holds special events on the promenade and in the View, a 2,000-square-foot special events venue.