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Tuesday, March 9,2010

Eyesore of the week

by Brandon Kirby

Property: 1881 S. Grand River Ave., Okemos
Owner: CCPL Real Estate Group, LLC
Taxpayer: CCPL Real Estate Group, LLC
Assessed: $158,500
Owner says: Unavailable for comment


Architecture critic Amanda Harrell-Seyburn says: Conventional, stand alone, fast food structures are ill suited for adaptive reuse because the design is specialized for function. Once the national chain for which the building was designed is gone, rarely is it reused. More often, the structure is torn down so that another national chain can replace it. Fast food chains should take a page from the Detroit-based S.S. Kresge Dime Store design book. Kresge stores were individually designed in accord with the regional style of a respective community. More than 100 years later, these dime stores are still well suited for adaptive reuse, which is advantageous to the community.


This former Boston Market restaurant in Okemos still has its “We Cater” sign hanging in the doorway as if preserving the memory of what it once was. There is a thick layer of unplowed snow in its parking lot spotted, which is dotted with abandoned shopping carts. The shell of the original fast food chain’s sign remains along with the faded words still visible on the building’s front.


Jeff Ridenour of Mid-Michigan Vlahakis Commercial, the real estate agency under which the building is for lease, said the building has been on the market for six months. The price has been reduced from $20 per square foot to $15.


There were some prospective buyers, Ridenour said, but the owner wants the building to be leased not sold.


“It’ll probably be turned into a national restaurant,” Ridenour said.


A lesson on fast food restaurant design by Harrell-Seyburn:

Conventional fast food restaurants are so focused on branding their architecture is overly specialized for function and/or stylized in form to the point it is a challenge to find a business willing to reuse the building. All too frequently a fast food chain will develop a design that suits the needs of a restaurant with no consideration or regard for the regional style of the community in which it resides.


For example, a Mexican restaurant adopts an adobe style building for all of its new restaurants across the country. This results in two distinct problems: The first problem is using a style of building that is only appropriate to a particular region of the country. In the Southwest, an adobe style fast food restaurant might be more appropriate for adaptive reuse than in other regions. Adobe is not a style traditional to Michigan and when used for commercial structures appears misplaced and is thus difficult to reuse. In addition, the design becomes so strongly associated with a brand that no other business (particularly national ones) with a strong brand identity is willing to reuse the building.

The second problem is that the designs are so generic that they share no regional character with individual communities. The accumulation of these generic buildings results in a community that lacks an architecture that celebrates its unique character. The architecture no longer sets one community apart from another and the community becomes "Anywhere, USA." How can you have community pride if you are from "Anywhere"?

Whether you agree with fast food does not matter — what does is how  fast food chains can be obligated to adopt designs that are more well suited for adaptive reuse and do not negatively impact the community. One solution might be for communities to offer tax incentives to fast food chains to reuse existing buildings and in the event that a new building is required, offer a tax incentive for designs that allow for adaptive reuse should the business fail.


“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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