As Center City construction begins, downtown businesses assess impact
Since demolition of buildings along Grand River Avenue began two weeks ago for the construction of the new Center City District development in downtown East Lansing, things have been different.
On top of road closures and noise, business owners in the affected area between Abbot Road and M.A.C. Avenue have had to adjust to the loss of the Albert Avenue parking lot, which provided 140 paid parking spots for businesses in the block of downtown bounded by Grand River, Albert, M.A.C. and Abbot.
According to the city’s dedicated website for construction updates and news, the project will be completed sometime in 2019.
Some businesses in the block, such as Charlie Kang’s and Noodles & Company, were forced to move elsewhere downtown to allow demolition to occur. Now that demolition is underway, businesses in the area are reacting to changes brought on by the construction.
One business, Lotsa Pizza, located on Grand River, already closed during the construction. While the location plans to reopen in two years once Center City is complete, the restaurant’s Chief Operating Officer cited parking concerns as the reason for the temporary closure. The branch had only opened this past January.
Mackerel Sky, a fine craft gallery, is located on M.A.C. near the construction. Owner Linda Dufelmeier is concerned about the loss of the Albert parking lot on her business, and says that she has seen a decline in business since the lot closed.
“They’re taking away the most lucrative parking in the downtown,” Dufelmeier said. “The construction is going to proceed for an extended period of time, by years.”
Dufelmeier is concerned that the construction may mean her shop might not be able to stay in business.
“If no one comes into the downtown for shopping, we're kind of at a loss," Dufelmeier said. "If people feel perplexed about how to get around the downtown, there’s no reason for them to keep trying.”
Cory Quinn, owner of the East Lansing Threads clothing store on Grand River, said that he has also seen a change in the amount of business in his store in recent weeks.
“Losing that back parking lot is the big thing,” Quinn said. “It’s more difficult for people to find parking. Obviously construction is concerning, people will eventually get used to it.”
The city of East Lansing hired a public relations firm, Publicom, to help businesses stay open throughout the construction. According to Lisa O’Connor, president andowner of Publicom, the firm is working through the city, not directly with businesses. O’Connor said that the firm distributed booklets to businesses with information on parking and construction, both for business owners and for customers.
Publicom also set up a website, EastLansingBuzz.org, with news and updates about the progress of the Center City project. O’Connor said that the goal of the bee-themed PR initiative is to “take the sting out of construction.”
Meanwhile, Dufelmeier has been working hard to keep customers coming to Mackerel Sky, which was established in East Lansing in 1990 according to its website.
“We’re educating people by giving them maps and everything of where parking is in the downtown,” Dufelmeier said. “We’re always very proactive and trying to make it easy for our customers. That’s the keystone of a small business, is being customer service oriented.”
Not all businesses are feeling the impact of the construction equally.
“Fortunately, it hasn’t affected us,” Emily Bolley, manager of Underground Printing on M.A.C. Ave, said. Bolley cited the abundance of street parking in the area as the reason for the diminished impact.
According to the booklets distributed by Publicom, 94% of the city’s parking spaces -- including street parking, surface lot parking and garage parking -- are still available.
The long-term impact of the Center City construction on businesses downtown remains to be seen, as construction began only two weeks ago and will continue until 2019.
Editor’s note: O’Connor is the mother of State News reporter Madison O’Connor.