No plans for empty Barnes & Noble space
Spanning half a block on Grand River Avenue, the former Barnes & Noble bookstore — one of the largest retail properties on the street — has been vacant for about 8 months without any serious contenders to fill the space.
Ever since Barnes & Noble, formerly located at 333 E. Grand River Ave., chose not to renew their lease last year, both the building’s owners and city officials have been working together to find a new tenant, Director of Planning and Community Development Tim Dempsey said, but have yet to find one.
He also said the prospect of splitting up the space for multiple tenants is a viable one, since the space is so large.
The store’s closing has left a gaping hole in downtown East Lansing’s manicured streetscape.
“Now there’s just nothing there; it’s empty,” advertising senior Kelsey Ransdell said. “It’s prime real estate; I’m surprised no one has snatched it up.”
MSU School of Planning, Design & Construction Associate Director Mark Wilson said East Lansing’s close proximity to major competitors like the Frandor Shopping Center, 300 Frandor Ave., in Lansing, and the Meridian Mall, 1982 W. Grand River Ave., in Okemos, could lessen downtown’s appeal to new businesses.
But the student population should be an incentive for incoming tenants, he said.
“As it remains, it’s an older retail space trying to fit into a modern retail environment,” Wilson said. “What this area does do is provide a concentration of students, who are likely customers. It can be a very attractive retail space.”
Wilson also said the threat of Internet book-buying might discourage any similar bookstore-type businesses from moving into that space.
“What makes sense in East Lansing (is) a product largely targeting students … that space for many years was books and music, and (that) doesn’t have a place anymore,” Wilson said. “It makes less sense to have a bricks-and-mortar facility.”
For the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, still in the midst of construction, the former Barnes & Noble bookstore was a prime opportunity to showcase land-grant artists until their own space opens in November.
“The space is enormous; there’s big draw. It’s a beautiful building right in the middle of downtown East Lansing,” said Alison Gass, curator of contemporary art for the museum. “There’s this ideal space sitting there with all this history in the community, and we really get to change it and make it different for a period of time.”
The museum has been using the space this year to hold family days where residents and their children have helped to make parts of the Broad homecoming float, as well as an ongoing exhibition with Los Angeles-based artist Fritz Haeg.
Haeg’s exhibit, which began in the former Barnes & Noble property, will move across the street once the museum opens its doors, Gass said.
The former bookstore then will be vacant again.
Until a new tenant fills the space, the museum still will consider using the space for unique art exhibits in the future, but Dempsey emphasized the necessity of finding a long-term tenant for the space.
He said the city will have to find a “permanent solution.”