Sept. 29 2010 12:00 AM

Local developers unveil a $30 million vision for a longtime blighted property near downtown and REO Town

At the corner of Main Street and Washington Avenue, young people steadily passed by the former site of the blighted Deluxe Inn motel Tuesday morning. Demolition crews were finishing up flattening the two acres.

This piece of bare land makes developers’ eyes light up because of its close proximity to downtown, I-496 and the Grand River. It’s no wonder it has taken only two months to go from an eyesore to a graffiti-covered canvas painted by local artists, to Lansing Fire Department training grounds to bare land with a “Redevelop Ready” poster out front.

“The Land Bank had the feeling that the Deluxe Inn was kind of cursed. It just had bad vibes,” said Eric Schertzing, who chairs the Ingham County Land Bank, which took over the property through foreclosure.

“It seems like forever we were getting ready for the graffiti, but it just happened,” said Schertzing, who is also the Ingham County treasurer.

Clearing the site of the building made it easier for developers to create a vision for the property — and the quicker, the better. “Until you get the site cleared, it is hard to think of as a blank slate,” he said.

This “vision,” as Schertzing puts it, is but one route to this site’s future. And he emphasizes it is just that at this point: a vision, a plan without a dollar behind it. It is meant to jumpstart the process of developing the newly vacant site.

The vision results from the efforts of the Land Bank, Kincaid Henry Building Group, Studio Intrigue Architects and SME, a Lansing-based environmental engineering firm. The $30 million idea consists of a seven-story and a four-story building that form an L-shape along Washington Avenue and the Grand River. It envisions a “mixed-use” development with permanent condos and rental apartments as well as commercial and retail space at the lower levels.

The rendering (above) does not show it, but there is a design for a 20-foot deck that extends beyond the riverbank that is about 30 feet above the water level.

There would be roughly 153,000 square feet set aside for residential use (rentals, condominiums, town homes and storage) with another 32,000 square feet for office and retail use. About 480 parking spaces would fit on ground level and below ground. The housing would be divided between 132 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, nine or 10 condos and a couple of two-story town homes with decks and patios on the river.

Ryan Kincaid, CEO of Kincaid Henry in East Lansing, said he sat down with the rest of the partners around Jan. 1 and was able to craft this vision within a couple of weeks. “It’s a great spot,” he said, noting its central location to downtown and schools and the easy access to I-496. “It also promotes REO Town. It’s a perfect position.”

It’s rare for people in the greater Lansing area to live near water, he added.

As for the design, Ken Jones from Studio Intrigue in Lansing wanted the structures to look iconic yet artful, keeping with the spirit of REO Town. He pointed to the left side of the rendering (above) that features two multi-story banners, one of the Lansing skyline and the other of basketball great Magic Johnson, a Lansing native. Such alternating art would be see-through from inside so as not to obscure the view, Jones said. And they would absolutely not be advertising, he said.

“It’s got to be iconic for the area while playing up the art and graffiti,” he said. That cultural “grittiness” is becoming emblematic of REO Town, he added.

While many redevelopment sites can impede the design of a structure, Jones said this site only made his job easier.

“Mixed uses are usually dictated by what’s around. This is by the river with views of downtown and parks,” he said. “You don’t get that opportunity too often.”

There would also be “some level” of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified designs, he added. It’s a little early to tell what exactly, but we would likely see green roofs, a rain/gray water collection system to run appliances on and a “thermally efficient envelope.”

While these plans are preliminary, Schertzing said they are also only the first to come forward. However, the likelihood that there will be a flood of different proposals isn’t great. There are only “dozens” of developers in the area, not “hundreds,” he said.

“If someone wants to come up with something else, have at it,” he said. “Anyone with the money can come my way.”

plans come through, Schertzing said the demand for rental units and
retail space will drive the speed of the project, as well as the scale.

“Ultimately, the marketplace makes the difference," he said. "That will drive whether it's five stories or 10 stories."

Kincaid sets forth a "Collaborate, Create, Succeed" plan for each of the developments he
is involved with. Right now he says the Deluxe Inn-site group is in the
“collaborate” phase when ideas and drawings are tossed around. Securing
financing comes during the “create” phase and can be troublesome if
you’re not organized with partners after the first phase, he said.

“You need the right users and the right team, but it’s definitely tough in this market," he said. "A big plus is the opportunity for (brownfield) incentives," he added, referring to tax incentives for developing blighted or contaminated property. “That would definitely sweeten the pot.”

crews didn’t find anything “unusual” during the two-week long, $200,000
flattening, SME community development manager Steve Willobee said. Once
the soil is flat, crews will lay down grass seed. Willobee said ideally
they could break ground before the grass grows.

and Willobee were unconcerned about the controversy that surrounded
Lansing City Council’s approval last week of renaming the portion of
Main Street along the north side of the property after civil rights
activist Malcolm X. Schertzing believes the property will have a South Washington address, anyway.

“It doesn’t matter much. An address is an address,” Willobee said.

next phase of the project will be a sort of feasibility study to
determine the number of students in the area and potential rental

said it’s also possible to collaborate with nearby Cooley Gardens,
potentially linking the two properties under the South Washington Avenue

The Land
Bank acquired the mortgage-foreclosed property about a year ago for
$400,000. In August, it partnered with Accelerate Lansing to host
national artists to paint graffiti on the walls of the Deluxe before it
was used for Fire Department training and eventually torn down.

The only noticeable feature on the site is a lone pine tree that Schertzing kept after he received
an e-mail from a woman in REO Town requesting it be saved. She wanted
REO Town to have an official holiday tree, Schertzing said.

“I call it the ‘lone pine parcel,’” he said.

“Apparently we will be singing Christmas carols around the tree.”