Downtown Lansing Revitalization Fostered by Historic Preservation
The amazing transformation of our downtown riverfront, including the historic renovation of the Ottawa Power Station into the new national headquarters of the Accident Fund Insurance Company of America, a vibrant new Lansing City Market, dozens of new businesses on Washington Square, marquee events like Silver Bells in the City, Taste of Downtown, Frost Fest and Trick-or-Treat on the Square—all add up to an exciting time in the heart of our capital city.
How has our downtown come so far, so fast? For starters, in 2008 the Lansing Principal Shopping District (now known as Downtown Lansing Inc.) was accepted into the Michigan Main Street program, creating a new opportunity for innovative programming based on the National Main Street Four-Point Approach model (design, economic restructuring, promotions and organization) for downtown revitalization through the National Trust of Historic Preservation.
Historic preservation spurs economic development and downtown revitalization through the retention and reuse of historic structures and districts. So whenever it’s economically possible, preservation is always a top priority. It’s the fundamental underlining strategy of the City of Lansing’s economic development and downtown revitalization efforts over the past few years led by Mayor Virg Bernero; this economic development is based on historic preservation.
Each physical change you’ve seen in Downtown Lansing over the last few years may seem sudden and exciting, but actually represents the culmination of the accelerated economic development and downtown revitalization strategies of the City of Lansing through the Lansing Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) and DLI. Behind every new business, residence, downtown district, façade renovation, special event, beautification project and streetscape improvement lies an intricate story of public-private partnerships, Lansing City Council meetings, public forums and consensus building.
This goes to show that people have rediscovered the value, craftsmanship and history found in historic downtown districts and traditional neighborhood commercial districts bypassed or neglected by the big box utopia of 20th century commercial development. Historic preservation efforts in Downtown Lansing and traditional neighborhood commercial districts in the city, like Old Town and REO Town, have resulted in economic and collective investments, fostering an urban renaissance and revived community pride throughout the city not seen in decades.
The LEDC offers façade improvement grants and has worked with DLI to create a sign incentive grant program to assist building owners and business owners in their street-front preservation efforts.
From 2006-2011 the LEDC awarded 13 façade grants in the downtown area to renovate 21 façades and eight sign grants since the sign grant program began in 2010. Out of the 21 renovated façades, 10 downtown property owners converted upper floors of their commercial buildings into lofts, apartments and/or condos. From those projects, 90 new housing units were created in the downtown area, mainly on the 100 to 400 south blocks of Washington Square.
The fact that historic preservation spurs downtown revitalization and economic development is irrefutable. Historic preservation projects like the Ottawa Power Station, former Mutual Building (home of the Christman Company) and the Hollister Building in the downtown area have continued to create jobs and financial investments in Downtown Lansing—despite the stagnant economy. Together the historic preservation projects of the Ottawa Power Station, former Mutual Building and the Hollister building account for $191,725 million in private investment, the retention of 932 jobs and the creation of over 500 new jobs, according to the LEDC website.
As more people come in and continue to work on historic buildings and storefronts, it has a positive impact on the public perception of Downtown Lansing and generates interest in it. Historic preservation promotes interest and investment in Downtown Lansing, resulting in the development of restaurants, art galleries, specialty goods shops, living spaces and civic places. Between September of 2009 through today, over 35 new businesses have opened in Downtown Lansing’s National Registered Historic District.
Historic preservation is a critical component in any downtown revitalization and economic development effort and is evident in the City of Lansing’s economic development and downtown revitalizations strategies through the LEDC and DLI. While the two actively support historic preservation, the recent near elimination of the State of Michigan historic tax credit program by the Snyder Administration will make any future historic preservation projects significantly more difficult.
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Mindy Biladeau, MPA is the executive director of Downtown Lansing Inc. Within the last three years she has organized a successful Downtown Revitalization Program using the Four-Point Main Street Approach that is bringing new life through businesses and people back into the heart of the Capital City/Downtown Lansing.