Vacant spaces along Grand River seek fulfilling, capable renters
Amidst new constructions and renovations, East Lansing also contains multiple vacant retail spaces on Grand River Avenue, some of which haven’t been occupied by businesses for years.
Some of these spaces include the storefront at the base of the Element 903 apartment complex, the empty buildings that were once occupied by Cosi and Sweet Lorraine’s Fabulous Mac n’ Cheez! and the vacant spaces that were left after businesses moved to accommodate for the Center City District project that has unofficially fallen through.
Rich Foster, owner of Element 903, said that businesses have expressed interest in moving into the retail space attached to the apartment property that was initially supposed to consist of two studio apartments, but the businesses that were interested were not up to his standards.
“Recently we’ve had some inquiries, somebody wanted to put a liquor store in there but I really don’t want to do that,” Foster said. “We have really high end luxury apartments for students that have the capacity to afford it and I just didn’t think that their parents would be comfortable with a liquor store.”
Foster has also received inquiries from a doctoral candidate at MSU who is wants to install a media center for urban planning and a professor from the Broad College of Business who wants to install a coffee shop and bakery.
He met with an architect last week to discuss this particular design.
“I think that the ideal thing or reaction that I’ve gotten is an upscale coffee shop and bakery in there,” Foster said. “I think that’s ideal but it’s also going to be another labor intensive situation that would require someone’s concerted reaction.”
In the event of this plan falling through, he will put in a fitness center and leasing office in the vacant retail space himself.
Foster said that one of the reasons why businesses haven’t moved in yet is due to limited parking and installing a fitness center and offices for the tenants wouldn’t affect the parking circumstances.
“Any of those last three options are fine,” Foster said. “If none of those other options work out, once I get past this rental crunch right now, I’m going to go back to proceeding with what we had decided to do with it.”
Several businesses were moved out of storefronts on Grand River Avenue to make way for the Center City District project, a project with an uncertain future.
According to Dempsey, the city is still working with developer Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors to keep the project moving forward after Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier was told by CEO Mark Bell they were walking away.
Should the project officially fall through, the future of the now-vacant buildings would be determined by property owners Brad and Greg Ballein, who also own SBS, Beier said.
“Those properties are prime locations,” Beier said in a previous interview. “I don’t know if the Balleins are going to try and find a new development and not lease those up or if they’re going to lease those up. In the meantime, they will be vacant which is not ideal.”
Foster also believes that excess empty space around East Lansing is not ideal.
“It’s turning into a glut of retail space that doesn’t have a demand for it,” Foster said. “I think that there’s a point in time where you have to take a deep breath and consider whether or not there’s excess development being undertaken. There’s got to be a balance.”
Foster hopes to begin planning soon after leasing season ends.
“The hardest part for me is not filling the space but filling it appropriately and having the time to deal with it,” Foster said. “That’s why the space is empty and what’s going on with it. There’s nothing that’s been approved by the city to date but those are just thoughts on what to do with it. We’ll get to it, but first things first.”
The Balleins could not be reached for comment.