Old Town starts to squeeze beyond its borders; is that a good thing?

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An overall map of all the main businesses and attractions in the Old Town area Photo courtesy of Google Maps

An overall map of all the main businesses and attractions in the Old Town area Photo courtesy of Google Maps

What is Old Town Lansing? The old neighborhood may be stretching beyond its original boundaries.

Those who live and work here are really trying to expand what people think of as Old Town. For example, the Golden Harvest and Ozone’s Brewhouse to the north; Scoop’s, Strings n Things and Elderly Instruments to the west; and Preuss Pets and Zoobie’s to the east are all a part of town, according to Matt Hund, Old Town Commercial Association board member.

But it’s not as simple as simply extending borders.

“It is a very complicated issue and not something we are currently looking for because it is a process that would take some time,” said Hund. “Honestly, our borders are plenty big for us right now. We’re just trying to represent them better and let people know what we actually have to offer.”

The grow-or-don;’t dilemma is one facing many redeveloping communities, and not just Old Town.

“It is a fundamental tension in many cities and neighborhoods as the question always comes if they want to maintain what they have or grow,” said  Mark Wilson, professor at Michigan State University and the Faculty Program Leader for Urban and Regional Planning. “Some residents will want to keep the atmosphere of the town the same so they oppose growth. Others will want to bring in more business and residents.”

Both options come with costs and benefits.

Old Town is a small town filled with unique, creative, and vibrant businesses for everyone, according to the Old Town Commercial Association Photo by Joshua Chung

Old Town is a small town filled with unique, creative, and vibrant businesses for everyone, according to the Old Town Commercial Association Photo by Joshua Chung

“As trending neighborhoods grow, you have to be very delicate with the surrounding communities to not gentrify or create areas that would push people out,” said Maggie Vance, a staff member at Retail Therapy in Old Town Lansing. “I can see Old Town moving in that direction, which I hope it doesn’t because of how not momentarily super stable each neighborhood is at the moment.”

Some like the small community feel, while others want to see Old Town grow.

Sarah Wood, a staff member at Bloom Coffee Roasters, says it would be fine if it happened naturally, but things do not always work that way. One of the key factors into expansion is ensuring access to quality housing and expansion, according to the Center for American Progress.

“I think if we bring in more businesses there will be more apartments, so if more houses are being built around the area the competition will start to grow as well,” said Wood. “Renting may or may not be a good thing because if more houses are built more renters will start to come towards the area because of the way things are moving. However things can always change.”

Some residents believe having both more businesses and more housing if Old Town were to expand would be a good thing. This is because of all the beautiful houses and apartments around Old Town and the businesses want to help each other out in this town, according to Vance.

Support and reaching out to others for help besides the OTCA board members will play a key factor to Old Town’s expansion. Housing is preferred if Old Town were to expand, according to Jenea Markham, manager at Curvaceous Lingerie.

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Known as the “art district” amongst many, it has used that artistic perspective and applied it to many stores that allows it to be a creative and unique area, according to Dawn Gorman. Photo by Joshua Chung

“Housing would be great, I believe there is a limited amount of housing available in the area and I do believe with more housing more young professionals will move down here if there were more housing,” said Markham. “Competition does not really play a factor, I just believe that with more people in the area the better we will all do in the future.”

“What makes this place different than the rest of Lansing is because there are no franchises in the area, which makes it so unique unlike everywhere else,” said Vance. “Every little store is so different, which is what makes it so valuable and Old Town is reflecting that. If franchises were to come here, than it would be devastating to see it loses its value of being so unique.”

Old Town has some positive features like its architecture and shopping, but so do many other neighborhoods in other cities. To be a destination it needs unique features or a concentration of activities that will cause people to drive to the area, according to Wilson.

“Old Town is most likely to grow as a Lansing area attraction, with a few larger events like its jazz festival that will draw people from further away,” said Wilson.

Old Town is already growing out its area that it’s currently in right now and slowly encompassing other buildings further out of the perimeter of Old Town. Giving businesses more of an option as far as size of the store, says Rhea Van Atta, owner of the Old Town General Store.

Regarding if there should be more houses or more businesses being placed here, businesses with lofts on top would be the most effective by maintaining a walkable community and if you have retail on the base floor that will consistently bring in more shoppers on a daily basis, according to Van Atta.

Businesses such as the Old Town General Store have gained national recognition and is a popular attraction when visiting Lansing. Photo by Joshua Chung

Businesses such as the Old Town General Store have gained national recognition and is a popular attraction when visiting Lansing. Photo by Joshua Chung

“If new buildings were being built in the area, it would be really nice to see them fit the overall theme and architecture of this area,” says Van Atta. “I do not believe in large housing and yes competition will grow if the area is larger, however if there are folks that are independent owners that is what we like to see. Franchises that could possibly come here would change the whole atmosphere, so the whole idea of Old Town being unique would no longer be relevant.”

 

It is hard to say how often businesses contact the board to move their businesses towards Old Town because the answer is plenty. Usually every time a space opens up, it is quickly engaged with an exciting new business. Board members are very fortunate in Old Town to have local business owners look at us as a place they would like to be, according to Hund.

There is nothing standing in the way of Old Town becoming a prime Midwest destination. Hund says that festivals that have occurred in the past have gained numerous amounts of visitors from all over the country.

“At festivals last year, we met visitors from Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois who came here because of our festivals,” said Hund. “International guests at Michigan State University routinely attend and we are very fortunate to continue to have great partners who make that all possible.”

David Coleman and Darryl Svochak, lawyers and frequent visitors of Old Town, discussed the business perspective and agree that Old Town should look to expand as soon as possible. Property owners would not be to fond if an area looked to expand however.

“If you are a property owner and you own the two vacant spots in Old Town, you are against expansion because that waters down the value of the only two lots left for Old Town development,” said Coleman. “Although, the expansion can be good if it can be supportive, but you will notice that if you take an inventory of the building space and the uses it has been sort of roaming out a little bit and sort of stopped where you can see it.”

Since the participation of these events, people will drift towards Old Town and everything, as a main attraction will center on Turner Street. It is possible that Old Town can expand; it is just a matter of whether you want to take down old residential structures and build new ones, according to Coleman.

Svochak, who has been a lawyer for over 40 years and alumni of Michigan State University was confused and did not know what the board and the business owners really think what is Old Town.

“I believe the oldest stores such as the Old Town Diner is what is considered Old Town,” said Svochak. “The only reason we ever came to Old Town was because of restaurants like these. Its really hard to understand what the board is thinking because they maybe thinking where certain areas of Old Town is not part of Old Town.”

Depending on location and better quality housing will be key to development along with new commercial space. More people that you have living in the area, the business aspect will begin to thrive off that and consistently succeed, according to Coleman.

Old Town has over 90 percent occupancy, so there is no better signal that would suggest expansion would make sense. There is an excitement about having a business in Old Town and there is an excitement about having those who come to Old Town and find unique, creative, different, and to some extent fun, that you would not find in other areas, according to Rick Preuss, owner of Preuss Pets and Vice President of the Old Town Commercial Association.

Preuss Pets is one of the top attractions in the Lansing area when visiting as it has been here for over 30 years, according to Rick Preuss. Photo by Joshua Chung

Preuss Pets is one of the top attractions in the Lansing area when visiting as it has been here for over 30 years, according to Rick Preuss. Photo by Joshua Chung

“One, you have to be proven over there and be pretty well financially backed over there, but you do not have to be this unique, responsive, creative entity that you find in Old Town,” said Preuss. “In Old Town you can actually see it evolve because you have the single independent entrepreneur that is personally behind the register or interacting with the customers.”

This is what makes Old Town unique because you have these creative and passionate individuals. As long as their is a demand for more categories, for that sense of independency, there will be more buildings filling up with interesting ideas, according to Preuss.

“It is a matter of what that creative idea is,” said Preuss. “How well does it land? Does it stick? If it sticks, how cool is it? How much passion do they have behind it?”

It will be very organic as people can encourage as if someone has an idea, we can encourage them. However, since it is on a personal level and it is not a franchise business that you would find, there has to be an acceptance of organic. We need to be mindful that there is not going to be any idea of 20 more placed businesses in Old Town that are going to be as successful like the one’s already here, according to Preuss.

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