Details Emerge on Lifestyle District Plan (Now called Center City District)

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017, 3:58 pm
Alice Dreger

Above: Artist’s rendering of the project as seen from Grand River Avenue, a few hundred feet east of Abbot Road.

NOTE: After this article was published, the name of this project was changed to the "Center CIty District" project.

East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows led off a celebratory press conference downtown this morning, in the former Ned’s Bookstore. The purpose was to formally announce plans for a major new redevelopment project, dubbed the “Downtown Lifestyle District.” ELi broke the news on this new project yesterday and, as noted below, we now have more details for our readers.

This is an entirely separate project from whatever might now happen with the area of the blighted vacant buildings on the west side of Abbot Road. This Downtown Lifestyle District project would replace buildings that are not blighted and involve land a few hundred feet east of Abbot Road, stretching all the way from Grand River Avenue on the south to Albert Avenue on the north.

ELi learned today just before the press conference that the project will not involve the buildings that currently house College Manor and Beggar’s Banquet, Rick’s American Café, the Landshark Bar, or the former Conrad’s Grill. Those will remain.

It will also not involve the building along Grand River Avenue that currently houses Lotsa Pizza and Urban Outfitters because, according to what one of the developers told ELi today, that building along Grand River Avenue is owned by someone who does not wish to sell. That effectively pushed this new project to the east.

The project will involve the buildings along Grand River Avenue that stretch from the former Pancheros Restaurant to the current Verizon store, and would therefore eliminate the buildings that now house Charlie Kang’s Restaurant, Sundance Jewelry, Noodles & Company, Clever Clover, and the Verizon Store. At least two of these businesses are expected to relocate nearby, namely Sundance Jewelry and Charlie Kang's. According to Brad Ballein, who owns the property, Charlie Kang's will be moving down the street, not closing.

As noted in the map below, these buildings along Grand River Avenue would be replaced by a 12-story building with retail on the first floor and rental apartments above. (See red arrow.) The image at the top of this article shows an artist’s rendering of a street-level view of this part of the project. (You can click here to see a larger, clearer version of this map.)

As noted on the map, the project would also involve City Parking Lot #1, a surface lot now located across from Harper’s Restaurant and HopCat, often used for city festivals. (See green arrow on the map.) The land of Lot #1 would be used to house a new six-story public parking garage to support the new development.

Mayor Mark Meadows told ELi this morning that because the City would still own that parking lot land, a vote of the citizenry would not be required for this project to be approved. (A vote would occur if the public land were being sold to the developer.)

The new parking garage will run along Albert Avenue, with retail fronting the street on the ground floor, as shown in the image below. The idea is to create a more open, “main street” feel on Albert Avenue, with a wide sidewalk that can be used for outdoor café-style seating.

The more eastern side of the new parking garage would be topped with six more floors, housing apartments for people ages 55 and older. (See blue arrow on the map.) The whole project is seen from above in the following image. This image gives you a view from the northwest, looking towards Albert Avenue as if you are floating above Black Cat Bistro. MSU’s campus is shown in the distance. (Click here for a larger and annotated view.)

There are several inaccurate aspects of this image, including that College Manor, in the lower right, does not have a mansard-style roof. Additionally, the HopCat building, shown across from the proposed tower on Albert Avenue, is shown several stories shorter than the HopCat building really is. In the image, 7-11 and Harper’s are shown as a park-like space with trees, but here is no plan to replace these businesses with a park.

At today’s press conference, Meadows said this project would provide “new senior living options” and “a significant element of diverse housing to the center-city mix.” He said the project will “transform” downtown and would “change Albert [Avenue] from a back street to a main street,” that is more pedestrian-friendly. Meadows said the project is one “that for the first time” will answer what people have been wanting downtown—people including, he said, long-time residents as well as MSU students.

In his remarks, Meadows had much praise for the Ballein family, with whom Meadows has a long and warm relationship. The Ballein family owns the private property on which this project will be built and is partnering with Harbor Bay Real Estate as developers of the project. Brad and Greg Ballein were in attendance but did not speak at the event.

Bob Trezise, CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), did speak at the podium, praising Meadows and the East Lansing Planning Department as well as Harbor Bay Real Estate for investing in East Lansing. The project is estimated to cost $132 million. Trezise said the project “is big, it’s tall, it changes the skyline, it’s walkable, it’s environmentally friendly, it’ll be full of energy and life for all ages of our diverse community.”

Trezise said that the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) has called this project “everything that we look for.” Questioned afterwards about this, Trezise told ELi that LEAP has been working with the developers on this project for many months, including in preparation for possible funding from MEDC.

Asked by ELi about whether LEAP had also been working to support the DRW/Convexity project on the blighted corner, Trezise said he was not really familiar with that project. He confirmed there had not been any event like today's press event held for the DRW/Convexity project, and reiterated that he was not very familiar with that project for the blighted corner.

Peter Dewan, Chair of East Lansing’s Downtown Development Authority and of the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, called the newly proposed Lifestyle District project “a game-changer.” The project is expected to use tax increment financing (TIF) as a means to support the creation of new infrastructure, including the parking garage. Dewan said he wanted to “specifically acknowledge the Ballein family” for the contributions to the community over many years.

Meadows said there would be ample opportunity for citizens to weigh in on this project, including at meetings of the Planning Commission, the Downtown Development Authority, the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, and City Council.


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