Creativity pays in Old Town

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By Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Old Town Lansing Times staff reporter

When Terry Terry came to Old Town for the first time in the 1980s, the town was not as vibrant as it is today — not even close.

It was a ghost town, Terry’s assistant Linda Burnham said.

“In the early 1980s, this area was probably less than one percent occupied,” Burnham said.

It was then when Terry decided to bring MessageMakers, his creative company, to Old Town Lansing.

“Terry came to Old Town and bought a building here,” Burnham said. “There was a small group of artists that lived together and they band together and the real estate was reasonable and they started a series of festivals and that started to bring people in.”

MessageMakers is a creative agency at 1217 Turner St. that offers communication and marketing services to local and international markets.

And Old Town attracts many of these agencies.

From art galleries to art festivals, Old Town Lansing has become a hub for creative people to come together. Currently, a half-dozen creative agencies call Old Town home.

Gravity Works Information Architect and Business Development Strategist Lauren Colton said the atmosphere in Old Town Lansing is very suitable for creative people.

“It definitely has a great vibe,” Colton said. “It can be difficult to find good developers in Michigan because a lot of people want to go to Chicago.”

But Old Town Lansing is different.

“At Old Town, people can take a break and have a walk on River Trail,” Colton said. “It’s a very thriving kind of environment.”

However, it is not unusual to see artists in a place like Old Town Lansing, Arts Council of Greater Lansing Executive Director Debbie Mikula said.

“Artists usually go to places where they can actually make a difference,” Mikula said.

Mikula said the atmosphere in Old Town Lansing attracts people to settle down in the aforementioned community.

“Five years ago it was not as vibrant as it is right now,” Mikula said. “One festival started up the gathering place for a lot of the creative type.”

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Karen Stefl, partner and executive director of Such Video, said when the agency first established in Old Town Lansing things where different — Stefl said they took a risk.

In 1999, when the the company moved from Okemos to Old Town, there were not many companies in Old Town, however, the proximity to Downtown Lansing was an asset to the community, Stefl said.

“In 1998, Such Video was looking for different pieces of real estate,” Stefl said. “The offices in Okemos didn’t have the diverse appeal we wanted.”

For Stefl, Old Town Lansing is the community for creative people.

Old Town is diverse people that offers services to a diverse clientele,” Stefl said. “(Many of the agencies are) competitors to one another but we are neighbors and we behave as such.”

It was Terry who gave Old Town Lansing its name, Burnham said.

“The name Old Town came because Terry was being interviewed and he called the area Old Town,” Burnham said. “The area … was called North Lansing and it has its roots in a working class neighborhood. This is the area where many of the small automotive parts were manufactured.”

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