Why supporting MI Avenue businesses during rehab matters


After many years, multiple community input sessions and a half-dozen studies, the Michigan Avenue Rehabilitation Project is in full swing.  Public Service Director Andy Kilpatrick says, “This project is an opportunity to rebuild the infrastructure along the Michigan Avenue corridor in a way that balances its role as an important connection between downtown and East Lansing with the support it provides to the businesses and neighborhoods along it.” 

Utility upgrades (sewer and water mains) account for a third of costs. The balance of the $14.1M project goes toward road reconstruction and reconfiguration (down from five to four lanes, with a bike lane on the roadway or cycle tracks, which are separate from the roadway and sidewalks), sidewalk replacement, and (audible) traffic signal modernization. This will result in a significantly more pedestrian — and bike-friendly — corridor that is more accessible and welcoming to businesses, neighbors and visitors.

Historically stable, today’s Michigan Avenue has significant strengths and some challenges. The medical services district, anchored by UM Health-Sparrow, is solid. The 2000 block, the eastside’s commercial heart, and nearby blocks feature settled, interesting businesses. New apartment buildings add density and provide housing for young professionals and retirees. On the other hand, scattered along the avenue are more empty lots, empty buildings and unsightly mini used-car lots than I recall seeing in the past.

I have attended most of the Michigan Avenue community input sessions and am impressed with the research demonstrating that walkable commercial districts promote healthy living patterns. Living in a walkable community improves health because people are more likely to walk or bike to their destinations. It also fosters social interaction and connection; people on foot are likelier to stop and chat with a neighbor than if they are driving to get someplace.

Walkable communities also boost prosperity. The global urban consulting firm ARUP says, “Walkable environments are not just healthier but also wealthier: research has shown positive correlations between improved walkability, raised local retail spend, enhanced value of local services and goods and the creation of more job opportunities. A dense and walkable urban network may facilitate the spread of small local shops and street markets” and “increase the variety of goods and services, independent retailing, local employment, and start-up opportunities.”

Small business owners on Michigan Avenue know that improved walkability, upgraded structure and a more vibrant urban environment increase their shops’ long-term viability. However, their immediate concern is the 24 months of construction facing them. They need to survive two years of orange cones and redirected traffic to be part of a shopping district that will be more lucrative.

We know that a neighborhood’s health and vitality and the corridors that run through it are interdependent. As one goes, so goes the other. So, what can those of us for whom Michigan Avenue is the front door to our neighborhood do to support businesses during construction?

Increase patronage at hardest-hit stores — Individuals within walking distance can purposefully increase patronage in the stretch experiencing “hard closure” at any given time. A hard-closure segment is completely blocked to automobile traffic, though stores can still be accessed from the back or side streets. According to the city’s webpage for this project (https://www.lansingmi.gov/1091/Michigan-Avenue-Rehabilitation), hard closures will move from east to west during construction.

An individual or household can commit to weekly visits to familiar shops in a hard closure area and perhaps to less familiar businesses. We could come out of this much better acquainted with the rich assortment of shops on the avenue.

Neighborhood organization adopt-a-block efforts — Foster Your Neighborhood (an old hand at this), Allen Neighborhood Association, Eastside Neighborhood Association and other neighborhood groups should organize monthly nights out, selecting a block or two of the avenue to tour, including businesses. During the projects, folks can follow the construction intensity as it moves westward so that those businesses in the thick of the dust can receive neighborly support when needed.

People working/living on the avenue — Managers of apartment buildings and other durable institutions (Sparrow, Resurrection, MSU-CED) can publicize and promote local offerings and encourage residents/associates to support commercial neighbors. Note that the city has offered to produce fliers that feature business specials during construction.

On a recent Sunday, I wandered through the hard-closure area between Howard Street and Foster Avenue and was surprised by the number of small enterprises on this stretch. The hard closure is scheduled to end June 18. The blocks include El Oasis, People’s Kitchen, Quality Dairy, Sea House Fish & Chicken, MAC’s Bar, Tattoo Shop, Go Puff Warehouse, Lake Life Farms, Lam’s Sweepers, Morton’s Fine Catering, I.Q. Fitness and Wellness Center, Elite Health Practices, Lansing Scooters2Go, Capital Imaging, Listening Ear Crisis Center, Avis Car Rental, Muffler Man, Feldman Chevrolet, Cricket Wireless and Stop 1 Insurance Agency.

Please pick a few of these businesses and give them as much attention as possible over the next six weeks. I think you will be amazed, as I was, at how many little shops call this stretch of the avenue their business home. Let’s do what we can to ensure that it continues to be.

Michigan Avenue is evolving, as it has since Lansing’s founding in the mid-19th century when it was created to lead directly to the front steps of the Capitol. By late 2025, we can expect an improved, more attractive and accessible Michigan Avenue to serve as the welcoming road to the city’s heart. Between now and then, steadfast and generous patronage by those of us who live, work, play and worship nearby may make all the difference to our commercial neighbors.


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