What Artspace’s Feasibility Report Tells Us About Downtown East Lansing

The City of East Lansing recently received a preliminary feasibility report from Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that acts as a real estate developer and operator across the United States for properties that provide housing and affordable workspaces for creatives.

The report primarily serves to outline the future steps the City needs to take if it intends to pursue a partnership with Artspace, but it also provides key insights into the goals of some local actors to reinvent the city center and the barriers possible to achieve these goals.

The city first considered the idea of ​​bringing Artspace to East Lansing in early 2021, and a local stakeholder group, which included artists, active community members, several members of the councils and commissions of the city, Pro Tem Mayor Jessy Gregg, and community and economic development. Administrator Adam Cummins was then formed.

In September 2021, Artspace held virtual and in-person meetings to assess the feasibility of developing a property in East Lansing.

The City now has the results of this preliminary study, which highlights the desire of the City and local stakeholders to create an affordable and diverse downtown neighborhood.

The City of East Lansing wants a diverse and affordable downtown and arts space to be identified where there is still work to be done to achieve this.

According to the study, East Lansing stakeholders want to prioritize cultural diversity, affordability, and retention of recent Michigan State University graduates. Artspace acknowledged local engagement with these issues and highlighted where East Lansing falls short of these goals.

As ELi reported, East Lansing prides itself on its commitment to being an anti-racism and progressive city. But Artspace’s feasibility study notes that “It was mentioned that although East Lansing presents itself as wanting diversity in the community and loving the idea, the community and the city have done very little to really reach out and engage with populations who identify as no”. -White.”

The report also revealed that the development of many new downtown apartment complexes has led to the area becoming a neighborhood in its own right. In recent years, The Abbot, The Landmark and Newman Lofts have all been built in the immediate downtown area, with others like The Hub appearing further east on Grand River Avenue.

Alice Dreger for ELi

The Abbot (foreground) and The Landmark (right) are new apartments along Grand River Ave. mainly rented to students.

Although these projects have apparently made downtown East Lansing more residential, rental prices for units in these properties are higher and often inaccessible to the types of residents the city wants to attract – single professionals and young people. families, for example. And the City’s housing study reinforced that reality and led to greater considerations about better walkability, affordability, and denser zoning for housing.

Related Story: Listen to the latest episode of the ‘East Lansing Insider’ podcast for a discussion of the changing housing dynamics in downtown East Lansing.

The lack of early-career professionals and recent graduates at East Lansing is noticeable, according to Artspace.

According to the feasibility report: “The 2018 Master Plan reported that the city was experiencing a significant decline in population in the 25-29 and 30-34 age brackets. This indicates that the city is not retaining significant numbers of MSU graduates — they go elsewhere for housing and work — and also suggests that the city is not attracting new residents from elsewhere in those age brackets.

If Artspace came to East Lansing, it’s likely to restrict “units to households with annual incomes between 30% and 60% of the area’s median income.” Residents would be creatives, but Artspace uses a broad definition that could include many people who might not be considered typical artists.

Courtesy of Artspace

An apartment in Dearborn’s Artspace Lofts, formerly City Hall.

Where could Artspace develop and what would it look like?

In the report, Artspace recommended “exploring a downtown mixed-use artist housing development,” which would include a “development with affordable artist housing on its upper floors and a private studio/space collaborative / commercial space on the ground floor. »

“This concept was articulated by city staff and reiterated by focus group and open house participants,” according to the report.

Artspace has identified Valley Court Park, Evergreen Properties, Bailey Field, City Hall, Hannah Community Center and Division Street Garage as locations for a possible project.

These six locations, located in or near downtown, would ideally anchor an arts district in East Lansing and in turn help support local businesses – two other goals identified by local stakeholders.

Valley Court Park was suggested as the first choice because it could extend a downtown arts district to the Farmers’ Market, where artists could be vendors. Since the property is currently owned by the City, it would also be easy for Artspace to purchase for the development.

At a town council meeting in January this year, it was suggested that Artspace could offer to use the Valley Court Community Center as its future site, which the report confirms as a possibility.

The Evergreen properties, just across from Valley Court Park, have also been identified, and while the properties may be easy to buy from the Downtown Development Authority, Artspace said the possibility of a $5.5 million prize (assuming the DDA would like to cover the debt it owes on the property) was a “non-runner”.

When the DDA purchased the Evergreen properties in 2009, all held revenue-generating structures. Now all that’s left are these two tiny rental homes at 344 Evergreen Ave.

The Bailey Lot, Artspace said, was a great location near lots of shops and the Broad Art Lab, but because it’s owned by a public-private partnership, it might be difficult to buy and redevelop the property.

Although not explicitly mentioned by Artspace, the properties suggested by local stakeholders could provide the City with an opportunity to get rid of properties that seem to be costing it money.

The Charles and Division parking garages in downtown East Lansing.

In recent years, especially during the pandemic, the city has lost money in the parking system and parking enforcement, and according to the American Rescue Plan Act, the draft city plans, the Town Hall and the Hannah Community Center need renovations. If given to Artspace, the City could forgo investing in these properties, saving hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

Will Artspace come to East Lansing?

In its feasibility study, Artspace outlined next steps, which include the city carrying out an arts market study, described as involving “an online survey of area residents followed by analysis and recommendations based on their responses”.

Artspace also recommends that East Lansing strengthen its art sector by identifying its strengths, especially those underutilized already available in the city and make efforts to welcome more diversity among artists. The city, according to the report, should also identify public and private funds to help support the project.

It is unclear what action the City will take. The feasibility report is dated December 2021 and was added to the City’s website in late January 2022. ELi received a copy from a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission in early February. The city has made no official announcement and it has yet to be discussed in depth at city meetings.

It appears, however, based on the Board’s communications package, that stakeholders shared the report with interested parties, who wrote to the Board advocating for the project to move forward.

When ELi asked the City for comment, Cummins told ELi via email, “The Artspace feasibility study has been shared with Council and Boards and Commissions and posted on the City’s website. Discussions on next steps are expected to take place at Board, Commission and Council meetings this spring.

Comments are closed.