What could downtown Lansing be? What should it be?

Downtown Lansing study provides roadmap to sustained growth


Angelina Benli, a 24-year-old student in Michigan State University’s political science Ph.D. program, moved from New York City to Lansing’s Stadium District in June 2022.

 “I liked the walkability,” she explained.

 Benli chose her apartment for its proximity to the downtown center and the east side of Lansing. She said she lives near other graduate students she knows, but not as many as one might expect.

 “When I was moving here, I had other grad students advise against living downtown because of their perceptions of how dangerous it was. I think it’s been hard for Lansing to shake that reputation amongst students, because that’s how it’s talked about,” Benli said.

 “I understand where the perception comes from,” she added. “There’s a more active police presence in Lansing, but I think knowing people that live here helps break down that perception. At least for me, I know that I have a lot of good things to say about living here, and I think that factors into people’s decision to move.”

 Mayor Andy Schor said the city has been trying to attract more student renters like Benli to its downtown for the last 10 or 15 years, but it’s been a difficult sell so far.

 “We had free rides and trolleys and things, but a lot of them just didn’t come all the way to the downtown because they have things to do at MSU,” Schor said.

 If the city can continue to bolster its stock of downtown housing options for a variety of income levels, as well as leverage its available retail and commercial spaces and invoke creative placemaking initiatives in areas like the riverfront, the hope is that many more MSU students will opt to hop the border for their living and housing needs.

 Students are far from the only demographic that could be better served, however. A new comprehensive market analysis, commissioned by Downtown Lansing Inc. last year and completed this summer, furnished an action plan to help further enliven the city’s downtown neighborhoods — as well as the Stadium District, Old Town and REO Town — by adding housing units, in-demand retailers and services, and promoting greater walkability.

 After considering economic factors, demographic data, migration rates and existing housing demand, the study found that Lansing is oversaturated with traditional, detached-housing stock and has a notable undersupply of lofts and apartment-style options. The latter are more favorable to a housing demographic known as “the missing middle,” which largely comprises young, single and highly transient workers looking for options spanning the $700 to $1,000 monthly rent range.

 Cathleen Edgerly, executive director of Downtown Lansing Inc., returned to Lansing in August 2019 following a five-year run as president of Howell Main Street Inc. Her work there led to Howell’s being named one of three winners of the 2018 Great American Main Street Award — an award for which Lansing has been named one of eight finalists for in 2024.

Edgerly now has her sights set on transforming downtown Lansing as it continues to adapt and recover from the impact of the pandemic years, which saw a large exodus of daytime workers as many offices shifted to work from home or hybrid models.

 “People thought we were crazy three years ago, when we made an announcement that our goal was by 2025 to have 2,000 units. That was over a three-year period, so that definitely wasn’t too aspirational by any means,” Edgerly told the City Council’s Development and Planning Committee at its Sept. 20 meeting.

 In that span, Edgerly said over 244 units have been added to the Downtown District, “with an additional 500 units planned for the next year or two.” She said the next move is to work with city officials and developers to find a way to meet downtown’s projected annual market potential for 2025 by adding 1,143 owners and renters through new builds each year.

 “Based upon the number of new units built downtown over the last 10 years, I believe that the number is very realistic,” said Karl Dorshimer, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Development Corp. “With the recent opening of the REO Gateway and Ballpark North apartments, along with the 450 new planned apartments, we could hit that goal even sooner than five years from now.”

 Those 450 units will be realized through a trio of projects collectively known as “New Vision Lansing.” Announced in August, this $215 million, three-building proposal from the Gentilozzi family would include Tower on Grand, a 25-story glass tower that would become Lansing’s tallest building and hold 300 new units. The 10-story Capital Tower would add another 70 apartments and 48,000 square feet of pre-leased office space, while a conversion of the historic former Michigan Court of Appeals building in Washington Square would add 70 more plus 6,000 square feet of retail space.

 Those facilities were made possible by $40 million in state funding and a potential $10 million in tax breaks. The question the city needs to answer now is how it can consistently incentivize similar developments and smaller-scale projects going forward.

Schor thinks the city has been successful at addressing these issues during his tenure, which began in 2018. He cited a few recent examples of downtown housing projects like Metro Place Apartments, 301 W. Lenawee St., Capitol View Apartments, 313 N. Capitol Ave., City View Apartments, 501 S. Capitol Ave. and others in the Stadium District.

 “This isn’t new. We’ve been doing this for a few years,” Schor said. “There’s a lot coming in that’s already planned and in place, and now it’s a matter of how fast we can build it. How fast can we get the financing? How fast can we get the staff and the folks to build it? All of that is in progress."

 The comprehensive market analysis highlighted two properties for “priority” redevelopment at 122 and 425 S. Grand Ave.

 The latter, a surface level parking lot that has been city-owned since 2008, could provide over 100 residential units if current development plans with the Boji Group survive a Nov. 13 public hearing and are then approved City Council. The former is privately owned, but it could feature 200 residential units and an additional 60,000 square feet of retail space if a deal can be made. Both projects fit the bill for priority redevelopment sites as defined in the study.

The study also provided a list of in-demand businesses that the city should try to attract to fill vacancies and meet the needs of existing and potential downtown residents. A new pharmacy and apparel and home goods retailers top that wish list. Others in that mix include a breakfast restaurant, bakery, butcher, wine bar, a hardware store, laundromats, fitness clubs and yoga studios as well as specialty arts, crafts and hobbyist outlets.

 “These are things that go hand in hand with housing,” Schor said.

The analysis also highlighted the need for placemaking campaigns, particularly along the riverfront — an area Schor said he specifically campaigned on reactivating that has long had a need for increased walkability.

“I certainly would love to be like San Antonio, where you have a river trail with businesses and lot of foot traffic,” Schor said, citing recent projects near the Grand River like Rotary Park and Lansing Shuffle as steps toward that ideal.

Edgerly agreed, adding that these “essential” riverfront expansion efforts would “serve as a vital link to bridge the districts across REO Town to downtown and Old Town.”

While the study confirmed what many Lansingites have already known for a while now regarding what amenities are needed downtown, it should serve as important roadmap going forward.

“I can’t stress this enough, it’s a great way to showcase what should be, showing all that Lansing has to offer, rather than what it currently is,” Edgerly said.


Lansing, Downtown, Development, Mayor Andy Schor, Michigan State University, Angelina Benli, REO Town, Old Town, Stadium District, Housing, Business, Cathleen Edgerly, Downtown Lansing Inc., Boji Group, apartments, lofts, Karl Dorshimer, New Vision Lansing


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