$132 million makeover planned for downtown East Lansing

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Recently, a $132 million project was proposed to create two 12-story buildings on Grand River Avenue and Albert Avenue. The building along Grand River Avenue would contain 271 apartments and a grocery store. The building along Albert Avenue would contain a six-level parking structure, which would replace the current City Lot 1, and a six-story apartment building above the parking structure.

Construction is being done to City Lot 1.

Lauren Wallenfels

Construction is being done to City Lot 1.

Brad Ballein, owner of the Student Book Store, is working with Mark Bell of Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors to design and build this Center City District. The East Lansing City Council will make it’s decision about this proposal in April.

“East Lansing is a small little town right now. Having visited most of the Big 10 schools, like Ann Arbor or Madison, they have bigger buildings and their downtowns are much bigger. This proposal is supposed to help enhance East Lansing’s downtown and build it up,” said Ballein.

Ballein said he hopes this building will bring excitement to downtown East Lansing and attract people with it.

“I run the Student Book Store, but we’re not a destination. That’s what downtown needs, a destination. We’re trying to bring in a grocer, and I can’t tell you who it is, but we’re trying to have them be a tenant on the first floor. You need things that bring people downtown and that bring excitement. Some of that is just bringing the buildings up to date. Things have changed so much in the last 50 years. Sometimes you can’t retrofit a building though. You have to start from scratch. We want to redo all the sewers and electrical in that area, as well,” said Ballein.

Ballein and Bell see this building as a step forward for East Lansing. The goal is to provide aspects of a typical downtown that East Lansing is lacking and to make needed updates in the area.

“I think that it will enhance its existing downtown core. It will increase the success of business and commerce in the downtown core. It will allow for diversified housing, which is a goal for the city’s comprehensive plan, and it will serve as a springboard for additional economic development,” said Bell.

This is the parking lot where the proposed parking structure will go.

Lauren Wallenfels

This is the parking lot where the proposed parking structure will go.

Ballein said, “I think it will transform downtown. It will start the ball rolling in redeveloping things and making downtown more up to date. It will give people a reason to live downtown in a newer building. Just think of how the technology has changed in the last ten years. As a consumer, would you want to live in an older building or a newer building?”
Cory Quinn, owner of East Lansing Threads, is ambivalent.

“I feel both positively and negatively about it. I’m not overly excited about losing a surface parking lot, but I do feel that downtown East Lansing needs redevelopment. You’re adding parking spaces, so that’s always good, but you’re taking a surface lot and making it a parking garage. It just depends on what people’s responses to the parking garage would be,” said Quinn.
Quinn is concerned about how a three-year construction process will affect his business.
“Any time construction is done it’s going to be a burden on businesses that are around the area. If they shut down that parking garage for two years, then obviously lack of parking downtown could be an issue,” said Quinn.

Quinn said East Lansing needs some additions though, which is why he is not completely against this proposal.

“I would say downtown East Lansing needs more diversity in retail and restaurants, depending on what they fill the development with. I mean, if they’re going to do other retailers, I think competition creates more opportunity. If there’s more places for people to shop, people will come downtown more. If there are only two or three places, there is no reason for people to come downtown,” said Quinn.

Ballein said this will propel East Lansing forward.
“I won’t know until they decide, but I think a lot of them are very in favor of it. Some people have expressed concerns. Some you can fix and some you can’t. These businesses are stagnating though because those parking lots are always full. If you don’t have enough parking for your customers, your business can’t grow. We’re out of buildable land, there’s no free space other than that parking lot. So there is nowhere else to go but up,” said Ballein.