By Kristen Alberti
Listen Up, Lansing
LANSING-There’s no denying that East Lansing’s downtown scene can keep students occupied, but doing the same thing night after night can turn dull. However, an increase in boredom has still not increased the amount of students giving Downtown Lansing a try.
With being just 5 miles up Michigan Avenue from East Lansing, Lansing should seem like the next best thing. However, Michigan State University Professor Bonnie Knutson, an expert in changing consumer lifestyle and buying trends; strategic brand marketing; and marketing research, has found otherwise.
When Knutson had a client opening a Mexican restaurant in the Eastwood Towne Center, located west of U.S. Highway 127 and just north of Lake Lansing Road, she tried to help her client attract more students to the area.
Knutson said she measured the distance from the Eastwood Mexican restaurant and from some of East Lansing’s Mexican restaurants to campus, and that even though the Eastwood location was actually closer, students still chose to travel further to East Lansing because they feel more at ease there.
“It’s really a comfort zone issue,” Knutson said. “East Lansing is MSU, and Lansing is a foreign place where the Capitol is. Students know how to get around East Lansing.”
With campus roads leading right up to Grand River Avenue, college students seem to have everything they could ever want or need in the vicinity. This poses a problem for Lansing businesses, because not only are they farther away, but they give a more professional vibe and do not advertise to local students as much as they could.
“I just feel like I never hear about anything going on there,” MSU sophomore Kasie Lashley said. “I would consider going to Lansing if there were things to do. Maybe if the city had a club all my friends wanted to go to, or a really cheap place to eat and hang out.”
Feelings about Lansing don’t really change for some students who attend Lansing Community College.
LCC sophomore Megan Jones said, “I would definitely consider hanging out in Lansing more, it’s just that I like to come back to East Lansing after school because all my friends live there.”
MSU junior Andrew Ciechanowski said that along with a lack of transportation, he doesn’t go to Lansing often for another big reason.
“I normally hang out at houses of friends, at bars or sporting events in East Lansing,” said Ciechanowski.
For Ciechanowski, bars in East Lansing are close, easy to commute to, and filled with all of his friends, unlike bars in Lansing.
Furthermore, if transportation wasn’t a big enough issue, parking is a problem in itself in Downtown Lansing.
With parking garages that cost more than the meters around the Spotted Dog Cafe, located on South Washington Square, the restaurant’s owner Cher Kiesel isn’t surprised that students don’t want to travel to Lansing to get the exact same things they could get in East Lansing for a smaller price.
“Who wants to come to all the way down here to worry about parking or ride an hour on the bus?” said Kiesel. “When I first opened this place, I went to the city myself and asked them, ‘What can I do about my staff? They don’t want to spend two hours of pay a day to park here.’”
Even local Lansing employees agree that businesses are suffering from their lack of college student clientele.
Leah Garton, an MSU graduate and Tavern and Tap employee, a bar located on the corner of Michigan Avenue and South Washington Square pointed out that not only do local college kids not go downtown to sit and have a nice meal, but they also don’t make an effort to hit up Lansing’s bar scene either.
“East Lansing students definitely don’t come to Lansing for the bar scene because it’s more business professional,” Garton said. “I think East Lansing students would like it, though, because when I was a student sometimes I didn’t like the bars there because they were dirty. There are fun things to do here, but students don’t ever come this far down.”
Proximity is key for college students because if they don’t have their cars on campus, they must rely on other means of transportation to get places. According to Knutson, Lansing’s location is simply working against itself in this situation.
Although this is so, it is widely recognized among students and employees that more advertisements and student-friendly events could bring a new crowd that Lansing has never seen before.
“Lansing has a good shot at getting a younger, professional, post-college crowd because of its night life, more residential areas, and Cooley Law School,” said Knutson.
Even though this may take time, small steps could bring downtown Lansing to not only be the state Capitol, but also a dwelling for a younger audience.
“I think that Lansing would need to have more of a younger scene for me to go there more often,” said Jones. “It’s nice to be in the same age group as the people in EL and Lansing seems to be a lot more business oriented.”
However, since Lansing has a more governmental side to offer, students are willing to explore that aspect of the city.
“Personally, I think Lansing has the history that would entice me to visit,” said Ciechanowski. “I would consider hanging out in Lansing because I have an interest in strong government matters and historical landscapes.”
According to downtownlansing.org, Downtown Lansing Incorporated’s Business Development team is continuing to create things to recruit new business for the city, including a downtown social hour, a downtown business huddle, and an annual business owner survey.