Major New Development Proposed, Likely to Change Downtown Business Landscape

Tuesday, February 21, 2017, 1:47 pm
Alice Dreger

Please note: Updated information is available, superseding the information that was provided here. Please see the updated article. Click here.


Even as plans for redevelopment of East Lansing’s blighted downtown corner remain uncertain, a different set of developers are proposing a major new redevelopment just across Abbot Road.

Calling the new project the “Downtown Lifestyle District,” the developers are proposing a set of twelve-story structures that would stretch all the way from Grand River Avenue on the south to Albert Avenue on the north. This would subsume the existing City Parking Lot #1 (the gated pay-lot across from HopCat) as well as the block of businesses that until recently held Conrad’s Grill and that still includes the Landshark Bar and Charlie Kang’s restaurant, as well as the newly-opened Lotsa Pizza.

The developers are Mark Bell of Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors and Brad Ballein. Ballein owns some of the real estate as well as the S.B.S. bookstore farther east on Grand River Avenue (not in the project area). In a memo to the City Planning Department, Bell and Ballein specify that the project is designed to include the 100-200 block of East Grand River Avenue as well as the 200 block of Albert Avenue, along with City Parking Lot #1. (It isn’t yet clear whether this new project area includes the building that houses Beggar’s Banquet.)

Bell and Ballein call this a “magnificent” and “transformational development opportunity” that will bring "endless benefits for generations to come." They say it will accomplish “(1) redefining mixed-use, (2) providing for a pedestrian-focused, hub of interaction, (3) providing housing diversity, (4) providing a downtown grocer anchor, and (5) becoming a timeless centerpiece of commerce for the greater community.”

The project would include a twelve-story building along Grand River Avenue, with “a large national retail tenant on the first floor.” This is rumored to possibly be a Target store, including a Target grocery, but that has not been confirmed. Above this retail space would be rental apartments. The second floor of the tower, between the retail store and the apartments, would “contain an amenity courtyard.” What that consists of is not yet clear.

This first tower, facing MSU’s campus, would be called the “Grand River Apartments.” According to the developers, the apartments here would be “specifically designed to attract a diverse tenant demographic by providing a wide variety of units ranging from highly efficient studio apartments to large two bedroom units. The Grand River Apartments will introduce full[y] furnished micro units to the market, which will provide for affordable living via innovative, urban design techniques.”

Meanwhile, a companion twelve-story structure would rise immediately north, facing Albert Avenue, essentially across Albert Avenue from Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub. The first six stories would be used for a new parking garage, “consisting of dedicated parking for the retail and residential [components of the project], as well as public parking for East Lansing.” Above this parking garage would be six stories of apartments, dubbed “Albert Apartments” (further explained below).

The parking garage would be fronted along Albert Avenue with “small-scale retail at street level,” to avoid having pedestrians facing a parking garage. The design calls for the upper levels of the garage “facing Albert Avenue [to be] screened from view.”

Floors 7-12 above the parking garage would consist “of age-restricted (55 years+) apartments along Albert Avenue,” called “Albert Apartments.” The developers say that “Balconies on the residential floors are arranged to create negative space along the building’s façade, breaking it into smaller compositional elements” so that it doesn’t look so large. This tower and the other will also have stepped-back elements to try to avoid having the sense of very large buildings looming over the streetscapes.

ELi reported recently the closing of two businesses at the northeast corner of Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road, namely Conrad’s Grill and Spartan Corner. (Spartan Corner was relocated into Ballein’s S.B.S. bookstore’s mezzanine.) At the time, Ballein declined to answer questions from ELi about whether this was related to a planned redevelopment.

This project would require a public-private partnership, including a public vote if the project plan involves selling Parking Lot 1 to the developer. (The developers may seek a way around this by having the parking garage be publicly-owned, as Lot 1 now is.)

At the least, this project will require going through the usual review and approval processes involving the Transportation Commission, Planning Commission, and City Council. Which existing downtown businesses will be closed or moved for this project, and which might move in, remains to be seen. Concerns have repeatedly been raised at the Downtown Development Authority about traffic flow in this area.

The project is set to officially come before Planning Commission at a public hearing on March 8. ELi will bring additional information as it becomes available.


Please note: Updated information is available, superseding the information that was provided here. Please see the updated article. Click here.


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