East Lansing initiative seeks to bring community back to residents

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“Daytime. Nighttime. Anytime. Place.”  has brought residents back to East Lansing’s COVID-stricken businesses and brought community back to residents.

Project donor Lisa Biering said, “In the pandemic we’ve lost so much and connection to my community has been one of the hardest hits for me, so I enthusiastically support any project that will bring us back together safely. The project, I feel, is to really convert the spaces that we have in downtown East Lansing into spaces where we can still congregate, can be a community, and still practice the right safety protocols.”

Biering is one of many patrons who donated to the project, which was supported by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The city selected locations in the downtown area that it believed could be repurposed to stimulate the local economy in a safe way.

“The efforts that they’re making are all excellent,” said Peanut Barrel owner Joe Bell. “The city is trying. There’s a lot of municipalities, I think, that are not really putting forth the amount of effort that the City of East Lansing is putting out.”

Donors and business owners have been surprised about the benefit the project has had in its first few weeks, including the debut of the underground market on Feb. 14.

“I haven’t seen it yet, but I am going to go down this Sunday. We, as a group of restaurateurs, are trying to put together a program where we can sponsor a table there,” said Bell. “I’ve seen pictures of what was going on, and I saw examples of the products that were being sold, and I think it was very well received.”

Biering said, “It was safe, and everyone was wearing a mask. They even had socially distanced pods where people could congregate and sit and talk, and I would love to see more of that in the city.”

With the $50,000 crowdfunding goal met donors, such as Biering, hoped their donations would continue to improve the downtown area that has struggled to recuperate since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am a huge advocate for having a vibrant downtown area, and I think East Lansing has made many strides. The timing of COVID-19 has really impacted our downtown in a lot of ways,” said Biering. “This project is bringing people to our downtown and reinfusing that energy to make it this vibrant, walkable city that I think is a big goal for East Lansing.”

Adam Cummins, community and economic development administrator for the City of East Lansing, said “the pandemic shed some light on some opportunities to improve what we are doing as far as economic development and downtown activities are concerned. What we are doing now is pretty much a trial-and-error experience where we are going to do a lot of things that we have not done before.”

The project joins a list of many initiatives the city has produced to bring residents and visitors downtown. 

“The city has through the years created festivals and other assorted outdoor community events where common areas in the city are used,” said Bell. “The new stuff is cool, don’t get me wrong, but they’ve been at it for a long time trying to create events for people to come downtown, and we appreciate it.” 

Cummins said, “through this process and participation from community members, we will be able to identify what could stick for the future. We want to have consistent activities downtown. We don’t just want to have the ‘one-time’ events that draw a significant crowd of people.”

City officials hope that donations from donors both within East Lansing and outside of the city will be able to restore a once vibrant downtown and bring the community back to residents.  

“I live outside of the area, but I still want to support the city,” said Biering, now a resident of Bath, Michigan. “I see there’s just so much potential and so much opportunity. I love East Lansing. I always have and I will continue to support it.”

Cummins said, “the permanent residents are here, and they are more than willing to come down and engage in the local economy. It’s just we have to offer the activities, restaurants and retail that they are looking to engage in. We’re hoping that it transitions into a downtown that offers things for everyone and that it doesn’t go back to the way it was pre-COVID.”

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