Developers, church collaborating for a breakthrough at busy corner

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Ryan Cole

The old Citizens Bank building located at the corner of Grand River and Abbot has stood vacant for years on one of East Lansing’s busiest corners.

A major building project in East Lansing may be being propelled forward thanks to its developers’ growing relationship with a local church.

In a saga that has gone on for years, the City of East Lansing appears to be closer than ever to the demolition of the abandoned buildings on Grand River Avenue west of Abbot Road, along with the development of construction plans for these properties and two other properties in the area.

The buildings currently on the Grand River site, a former Citizens Bank and a Thai Hut restaurant, are expected to be demolished in the near future, while plans for construction of a new building were developed. Chicago-based Convexity Properties has brought the plans through the planning commission and will go to the City Council in January.

In addition, the site of the former Evergreen Arms apartments, one block northwest of the Grand River site, also will see new construction as part of the project. This site is proposed to have apartments and a parking structure, forcing the closure of Evergreen Street and the rerouting of traffic west to Valley Court.

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Map of the two planned developments near Grand River and Abbot. The blue line is the new Albert St. extension, while the red represents the planned closure of Evergreen Avenue.

Perhaps no force is as important as The Peoples Church in the advancement of this project, on a site that has seen failed proposal after failed proposal for years. The church, at 200 W. Grand River Ave., just west of the project site, has fostered a close relationship with the project developer throughout the process.

The relationship with the church has been “very important,” said Chris Oakley, director of design for Convexity, on its relationship with the church. “We’ve met with them on a number of occasions and we’ve shared everything that we’ve proposed with them, and we’ll continue to work with them for sure.”

The relationship with the church was made sure to keep all involved parties satisfied. Throughout the proposal process, the church has told the developer that its three most important issues regarding the project: accessibility, parking and the integrity of the memorial garden to its east.

“We are a growing downtown church, which is a bit unique,” said The Rev. Andrew Pomerville, senior pastor at The Peoples Church. “Currently on a Sunday morning, for obviously our largest time, we park all up and down all the streets around us. People illegally park wherever they can find room. During the week our parking lot is full every day.”

The parking deck would be a major help to the church.

“I think we have to adjust the parking to accommodate The Peoples Church and their demands,” said Mark Meadows, mayor of East Lansing.

The church also has been in contact with the developer regarding the new building in the 100 block. The proposal currently includes a 12-story building, making it the tallest such building in the downtown area. The building would likely cast a shadow on the church’s sacred memorial garden, and the developer has been aware of that potential issue.

“We’re the only outdoor memorial garden where cremains are interred in downtown,” said Pomerville. “We have a number of families who have scattered ashes from their family members or they have specific plaques in the ground right there. It’s a very quiet place, and the idea of it becoming a pass-through with a lot of traffic is a challenge for us. Sound is a concern, and I do think the developer addressed the idea of not having any balconies or anything overhanging on top of the memorial garden.”

Leaders of the church, which has seen a number of failed proposals come through the city government, argue that the current developers and past developers are as different as night and day.

“This developer in particular has been very honest,” said Pomerville. “They seem to be authentic. They’ve been willing to hear our concerns and not necessarily give us platitudes to try to keep us appeased, but giving us what their requirements might be in order to make it a profitable business or development, and then still listening and trying to incorporate our needs as well.”

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