Getting Off the Ground
After years of starts and stalls, the redevelopment of a visible and vital piece of real estate in East Lansing appears to be moving forward with an elaborate project that includes a hotel, retail and residential space, parking and a public plaza.
What has previously been referred to as the Park District Planning Area at the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue in the city will move forward with new names, according to Chicago-based real estate investment firm DRW Holdings LLC/Convexity Properties. In August, the East Lansing City Council granted site plan and special-use permit approval for the project.
The plans include three separate buildings for the site. The first building is a 13,000-square-foot, 13-story structure with retail space, 218 residential units, parking and a public plaza. The second building will include a 10-story, 194-room hotel with meeting rooms, rooftop bar and exterior terrace. The third building will be a five-story residential structure with 70 units and parking stalls. According to the website of the East Lansing City Council, the East Lansing Brownfield Redevelopment Authority plans show the redevelopment is anticipated to generate 170 new full-time jobs, and an average of 165 construction-related jobs.
East Lansing Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann described the project as having a long and convoluted history since its original developer involvement in 2001. Financing for previous developers failed, so the previous redevelopment initiatives stalled. The property was lost by the original developer in a foreclosure auction and was acquired by the current developer in 2015.
“We’ve been through two iterations so far,” Altmann said. “Every iteration of this project has gotten a little better. Where it is right now is really good. It’s a little smaller, which is OK, and the configurations of the buildings are slightly improved.”
Convexity Properties, the real estate investment arm of DRW, is heading the project. The company said it is able to differentiate itself from others by its ability to transact quickly.
“We have no outside investors and manage capital and development projects for our own account,” a DRW representative said.
Since 2009, the company has partnered with development and architecture firms on retail, residential, commercial and mixed-used constructions on over 50 properties.
“The project is exciting because of its prime location in the center of downtown East Lansing across from Michigan State University,” a DRW representative said. “We expect the residential units to appeal to a wide range of residents including professionals and undergraduate students. The hotel will attract visitors to MSU, and the retail will appeal to a variety of users due to its central location.”
MSU student Courtney Kellogg has lived in East Lansing for two years but hasn’t seen the area without construction.
“It seems like once a project is done, another one pops up,” Kellogg said. “It makes it challenging walking to class or
Altmann is aware of concerns from residents and business owners’ frustration at the interruptions construction can bring. With this development, however, it is not in the center of downtown nor is it replacing valuable land.
“I think that this new project is a little bit different from the project that’s going up downtown right now for a couple of reasons,” Altmann said in reference to the Center City District project that includes a Target store on the ground floor. “It took over a parking lot that was the most-used parking lot in all of East Lansing. There’s been disruptions to traffic and the parking, and I think people have felt that.”
Altmann has seen broad support for the development at Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road, with many residents eager to get something to replace the blighted property.
Although students such as Kellogg might not see the need for more student housing, the availability of lodging is often lacking when it comes to special events and game days.
The proposed boutique-style hotel, part of the Graduate Hotel Holdings line, is a valuable asset, according to Altmann.
“Another hotel in East Lansing is not a bad thing. For game days and for conventions and so forth, the Kellogg and the Marriott both sell out – so having another one will be good,”
While constant construction and deletion of parking spaces is often stressful and frustrating for residents and visitors, Kellogg understands the need for the growing pains.
“The main change that I have seen is that East Lansing seems to take the opportunity to use a space in order to serve a function for the community,” Kellogg said. “Even though the construction is annoying at times – and the sound of hammering wakes me up – I hope these new buildings will serve a purpose for students to come.”
Altmann is excited to see the shovels in the ground, watch the project come to fruition and transform East Lansing’s entrance.
“That corner has been a defining characteristic of East Lansing for pushing 20 years now, and not in a good way,” Altmann said. “We were able to get the old buildings torn down a couple years ago, but now we need something built there because it’s the gateway to the city. We need a presence there. I think this project is going to be a good presence there.”