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Friday, February 19,2010

Eyesore of the week

by Kyle Leppek

Building: 1001 W. Saginaw St., Lansing


Owner: Mark Spagnuolo


Taxpayer: Mark Spagunolo


Assessed: $118,800



Owner says: Could not be reached for comment
Architecture critic Amanda Harrell-Seyburn says: One of the most common errors in commercial architecture is the lack of windows on the fa'ade. Reformist Jane Jacobs argued that streets are safer when there are eyes on them — a windowless building prevents this. In addition, windows are essential to good commercial architecture because they advertise the business within and entice pedestrians. This building is a perfect example of how the addition of windows to the facade would dramatically improve the building and make it a community asset.


Directly behind the Rite Aid on the corner of Saginaw Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is the former Saginaw Micro-Plaza; it has sat vacant for years and is the first in a cluster of unoccupied buildings on the block.


The building’s windows and doors are boarded-up and the tan, stucco fa'ade is spotted white in some areas, presumably covering blemishes. The rear of the building sports minimal graffiti amid spots of decaying brick and cement. Even the unplowed snow that covers the parking lot exemplifies the building’s vacancy.


Although the owner could not be reached for comment, the DeHaven Real Estate Co. — which has worked with the property — said the interior has been completely “gutted,” including new electrical work and a new roof. The company also said it has been hard to find a buyer because of the location.


A lesson on windows and commercial buildings by Harrell-Seyburn:

Introducing and in many circumstances reintroducing windows to urban commercial buildings is an important step in the revitalization of a commercial corridor such as the one along Saginaw Street between N. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and N. Pine Street. Windowless commercial building (expect for special circumstances)  are not appropriate for an urban context. In an urban context it is imperative that commercial buildings have windows at the pedestrian level. Windows make for far more pleasant streets to walk and shop along. Windowless buildings are not welcoming. Windowless buildings do not encourage people to enter and do not make pedestrians feel safe walking past them. Ever walked past a building in city that was windowless? Didn't feel too great, right?

Windowless building can stifle the life of what could be a vibrant commercial district. Commercial businesses thrive among other commercial businesses. It is good for business to be in a commercial corridor where people can patronize more than one business in a shopping trip. A single windowless building can make it so that pedestrians do not proceed beyond the building to other businesses.

There are two main culprits behind the lack of windows in commercial buildings. First is the commercial chain store that is devoid of windows or limits windows to high above the pedestrian level to maximize wall space for display within the store. While this style of design minimizes cost to the store and maximizes the interior for practical use it does so at the cost of the architecture and urbanism of a community. Second is an all too common problem in which commercial buildings originally designed with windows have them removed or covered up compromising the architecture and negatively impacting the urbanism. Neither of these practices foster healthy commercial corridors.

DO: Maintain windows in your commercial building and advocate that adjacent businesses, whether existing or new, maintain windows at the pedestrian level to support a healthy commercial corridor.

DON'T: Cover up or remove the windows on the primary facade of an existing commercial building; it will jeopardize the success of future businesses and neighboring business. If your business requires there to be no windows at the pedestrian level, please consider an alternative solution to removing or covering up the windows on the primary facade of an existing building.


“Eyesore of the Week" is our look at some of the seedier properties in Lansing. It rotates each week with Eye Candy of the Week. If you have a suggestion, please e-mail eye@lansingcitypulse.com or call Neal McNamara at 371-5600 ex. 17.

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