Several planned East Lansing businesses encounter delays


Plans and promises were made. Final dates have come and gone. But finished results have yet to be seen.

The plans for three local developments have been progressing much slower than originally anticipated.

Residents were expecting to see a Sweet Lorraine’s Fabulous Mac N’ Cheez in early December. The fine dining experience the Black Cat Bistro plans to give the city has yet to be provided.

Plans for the Park District, which would make use of the five and a half acres of vacant land on Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue, have been up in the air for nearly two years since the failed City Center II project was canceled.

Although DTN was chosen as the developer and hosted a series of public meetings, the company’s first move was to delay its deadline another few months.

Progress, although much more sluggish than originally intended, has been made on these developments, and East Lansing residents can still expect to see them join the abundance of new businesses in the area — eventually.

Mac N’ Cheez, please

Many community members were disappointed when the cozy Wanderer’s Teahouse and Cafe shut its doors for the last time in May.

Four months after the cafe closed, it was announced that the space would be replaced by a new sit-down restaurant, bringing with it 14 specialty macaroni and cheese recipes.

Sweet Lorraine’s Fabulous Mac N’ Cheez was scheduled to open on Dec. 1. More than a month has gone by since the planned opening, but a Wanderer’s sign and the carcass of the old cafe still greets those who walk past the building.

Sweet Lorraine’s might be running behind schedule, but it’s not out of the lineup of new East Lansing businesses, owner Gary Sussman said.

“Not everything fit the first time around,” Sussman said. “We want to get it right.”

Sussman said the business had to work through engineering issues with the building, which has been re-designed multiple times since first proposed.

Loren Perry of Perry Investment Group, LLC, the company that owns the building, said the design calls for all-new equipment and relocating the restrooms to make room for a larger kitchen.

“Once things get started, the process should go pretty quick,” Perry said.

Sussman said he expects Sweet Lorraine’s to be open near late March or early April.

Black Cat jinxed?

Progress has been slower for Black Cat Bistro , a restaurant that is slated to be a fine-dining establishment.

Black Cat Bistro was originally proposed in May of 2012, but it has yet to make its debut. The business ran into construction issues and went back and forth with the city on design changes, said Michael Brown, the lawyer representing the restaurant.

Bistro owners Arnulfo Ramirez and Thomas Alimonos hit several snags in their business plan when city officials questioned several aspects of the proposal, including its proposed hours of business and the number of indoor and outdoor seats.

On Nov. 13, 2013, Black Cat’s most recent proposed changes in seating configuration were approved.

“As far as I know, they have all their permits and are moving forward,” East Lansing Planning and Zoning Administrator Darcy Schmitt said.

Brown said the owners told him they were hoping to see Black Cat Bistro open by late February or early March.

“It’ll be a nice, upscale dining experience,” Brown said. “It’s going to be unique, with high-quality food and reasonable prices.”

Park District progress

Visible progress on the undeveloped area near Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue has been a long time coming.

The Park District project encompasses the city and Downtown Development Authority-owned property that was part of the failed City Center II project.

Colin Cronin of DTN Management said they hope to have an initial development package ready for city council by February, after which council will go through a 60-90 day process to determine whether the project is a financial possibility.

They hope to have acquired some of the city-owned land by August.

“After that point, if the city sells the property to us, we could break ground pretty quickly,” Cronin said.

If all goes as planned, Cronin said they hope to break ground by the end of the year or spring of 2015.

East Lansing Community and Economic Development Administrator Lori Mullins said Park District plans currently are looking at a hotel, additional retail and office space, residential locations and space for parking. Mullins added that there will be a better idea by the end of February.

“A project this size doesn’t happen quickly,” Cronin said. “We knew a two-to-three-year process would be realistic when we started.”

HopCat hops to it

Not every new business in East Lansing has had to face a delay in opening. Garry Boyd, the “ringleader” of HopCat’s parent company BarFly Ventures, said they hit a number of snags during production — all it took was a big enough window of time to open as scheduled.

HopCat originally was proposed in November 2012. The bar expected to open its doors to the public in mid-August of 2013, and they delivered with the plan.

Boyd said it was their announcement of a grand opening day event that helped keep the company to its tight schedule.

“We couldn’t push the opening back,” he said. “I couldn’t fathom that.”

Plenty happened during production that could have made that nightmare a reality.

Heavy rainfall, liquor license delays, painting, late equipment and the project manager not being constantly available due to personal commitments were among reasons that could have brought progress to a halt.

However, Boyd said the hard work of everyone involved kept them on track.

“Everything’s been great so far,” he said. “The excitement level has been wonderful.”

While they’re waiting for some of the other businesses that didn’t stick as tightly to their schedules, East Lansing residents have other new developments to watch for in the future: Trowbridge Plaza and the Foster & Harmon law offices have both been approved for redevelopment, according to Mullins.

Community Development Specialist Heather Pope said in an email that a teahouse also would be opening in the former Michigan Flyer space on Albert Avenue.

“Right now, there’s a lot of interest in different development opportunities,” Mullins said.

State News reporter Geoff Preston contributed to this report.

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