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Michigan Historic Preservation Network Looks to Make Dilapidation Renovation

By: Jack Crawley
Old Town Times staff writer

Thelma Joyce Osteen Comfort Station; Photo by: Jack Crawley

 

The Michigan Historic Preservation Network recently put in a bid to purchase and renovate the long-vacant Thelma Joyce Osteen Comfort Station, located at 313 E. Grand River Ave. in Old Town.

The MHPN plans to use the second floor of the two-story building as its new headquarters, while leasing out the first floor for retail. The purchase price of the building is currently set at $60,000 and will be be voted upon in the coming weeks.

MHPN Executive Director Nancy Finegood said that the Michigan Historic Tax Credit program will provide a tax credit and the organization will also receive a small facade grant from the City of Lansing. Preserving the Comfort Station would fall in line with MHPN’s stated goal of advocating for “Michigan’s historic places to contribute to our economic vitality, sense of place and connection to the past.” The Comfort Station is nearly 100 years old. It was originally “affiliated with an interurban rail system,” and has most recently been used as a meeting place for community groups.

Old Town Commercial Association Executive Director Brittney Hoszkiw said that she is excited to see the Comfort Station put to productive use. A network dedicated to preserving history moving into a historic building in Lansing’s historic district seems to be a great fit. Finegood said that they are the “perfect tenants” for the building and that MHPN has been looking into using the building since it moved to Lansing nine years ago.

The MHPN is currently headquartered in Old Town, at 107 E. Grand River Ave., just down the road from its proposed new headquarters, at 107 E. Grand River Ave.

Finegood feels that the move to the Comfort Station is advantageous to MHPN. “We’ve been wanting to purchase a building to sort of walk the walk, instead of just talk the talk about rehabbing a historic building,” she said. We’ve been around for over 30 years and we’ve never had the opportunity to actually purchase and rehab a building.”

MHPN must address health issues within the building, since the building currently contains asbestos and lead inside. Finegood said that they are in the process of reviewing the environmental analysis to determine the cost of that abatement. Other renovations are anticipated to cost the network about $400,000.

Beyond the initial rehabilitation of the historic building, Finegood said that MHPN has both short-term and long-term goals in mind. Finegood said that the network would like to use the building for teaching preservation skills and for job training workshops. “We’re going to be starting a revolving fund program where we lend grant money to small projects that would not be eligible for federal tax credits. This will be our first acquisition … and it will be a model for other projects,” Finegood said of MHPN’s long-term goals.

Many who live in or around Old Town seem eager to see the Comfort Station come back to life. “I know that it hasn’t been used for much, so I guess that if they can find a reasonably productive use for it, that’s good,” said Steve Butts, who lives near Old Town. Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing believes people are excited that an organization that does historic work will be using a historic structure.

On the other side of the coin, some oppose the sale. “There was a contingent from the ‘old’ Old Town who believed that it should always be a neighborhood center,” said Bill Castanier, a literary journalist who used to have an office in Old Town and still lives near the area. He said that he believes that this contingent will make their voices heard on the issue, but that they will not prevail because MHPN wants to use the building for a good public purpose.

Residents will have a chance to voice their opinion on the Comfort Station purchase when the Lansing City Council hosts a public hearing on the issue on Oct. 24 at Lansing City Hall, 124 W. Michigan Ave., at 7 p.m.

Please see the qualifications below that the City of Lansing required of all applicants in order to put in a bid on the building.

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