Downtown skyline growing
New bars, shops bring first wave of renovation to the streets of East Lansing
MSU’s downtown has changed quite a bit in the past several years with the addition of HopCat and other family-style bars and restaurants. New sit-down restaurants attract older patrons and add diversity to the downtown area, some students and locals say.
As East Lansing’s skyline sprouts and the number of core downtown businesses increase, city officials and residents agree the new developments are changing the way people view the city.
In the past year, new restaurants such as HopCat, Peppino’s and Firehouse Subs have diversified business offerings downtown, and developments such as St. Anne Lofts and The Residences added more student-friendly housing to the area. In addition, the East Lansing City Council recently entered into a predevelopment agreement with DTN Management Co. to begin plans to redevelop the city’s Park District.
East Lansing Planning, Building and Development Director Tim Dempsey said these recent developments will have a positive impact on the city for a number of reasons.
“One, we’re adding more people in our core downtown, so that’s a benefit to our businesses,” Dempsey said. “Two, we’re developing projects in an area that’s very walkable, close to public transportation, close to shopping and campus. There’s a lot of nearby amenities.”
Dempsey said city residents could see even more change downtown in the future — a new high-class restaurant, Black Cat Bistro, is set to open this fall. Other potential changes, including the proposed redevelopment of the property at 500 Albert Ave. and 122 Division St. and a plan from El Azteco Restaurant, 225 Ann St., to make its patio available year round, are being considered by the East Lansing Planning Commission and the East Lansing City Council.
The potential for future bars in the city could see challenges, however. The Planning Commission started discussion Wednesday on a proposal from city staff that would cap the number of patrons at establishments serving alcohol past midnight. But commission members deferred consideration of the proposal until a later date.
Right now, bars downtown seem to be flourishing from the added business, which general manager Nolan Ruffing said was especially true for The Riv.
“Anytime someone is walking towards East Lansing, it’s good for East Lansing and the surrounding businesses,” Ruffing said. “Especially with the people moving this direction down (Albert Avenue), it’s been good for us.”
Garry Boyd, ringleader of HopCat East Lansing’s parent company Barfly Ventures, said their establishment aimed to add to city business and was happy their goals for HopCat East Lansing came to fruition.
“The East Lansing store is definitely busier than the Grand Rapids store,” Boyd said. “We hope to have a long relationship with the city and add to the vibrancy downtown.”
English senior Molly Miller said she admired HopCat’s architecture and was happy to have more business variation.
“I like the addition of HopCat and the other new businesses in East Lansing because our downtown was kind of falling apart,” Miller said. “It was starting to feel like we (the students) had nowhere to go. Now that they’ve revamped it, we have new places to go.”
Ruffing said the added city developments in East Lansing were something the area definitely lacked.
“The only buildings that stood over eight stories in this city were parking garages,” Ruffing said. “So it’s good to have some nice buildings around here to create a skyline, because there never was much of a skyline in East Lansing.”
MSU alumnus Reece Hammer said compared to when he was a freshman at MSU six years ago, the city has improved, but more work still needs to be done.
“East Lansing still needs a little paint job,” Hammer said. “The back of the buildings and bars on Grand River (Avenue) need some work, and Abbot (Road) needs the most work, right where all of those abandoned buildings are.”
Konrad Hittner, chair of the Bailey Neighborhood Association, said his association had several different opinions of the abandoned area on Abbot Road, but hopes something comes of it soon.
“If DTN will or has secured control of the Park District project, we hope it comes to pass,” Hittner said. “If something useful comes of those buildings, it would be a public service.”
Dempsey said the Park District project is the biggest project the city is working toward right now and has the potential to impact the entire city.
“The redevelopment of these old properties along Abbot (Road) and Evergreen Avenue have the potential to be a very significant change for that area of downtown,” Dempsey said. “It will be mixed-us … which will get more people living in the downtown.”