A 30-acre shopping plaza — Logan Square — in southwest Lansing is once again catching the eyes of city officials as it struggles with vacant storefronts, illicit businesses and code violations.
Brian McGrain, director of economic planning and development for the city of Lansing, late last month took a veritable army of code compliance officers, fire marshals and others through the facility. Councilman Adam Hussain has also been fighting behind the scenes to bring down the full weight of the city on the shopping plaza after a shooting there this summer.
“There’s a lot going on there,” McGrain said. “Some of it good, some of it we want to support. Other things, you know, need improvement.”
The shopping plaza at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Holmes Road opened in south Lansing in 1962. After several years of recent management issues, Mayor Andy Schor had targeted the site for improvements in early 2018. But rather than fix the issues, Southfield-based Meram Properties sold Logan Square for $2.85 million in 2018.
At the time, Schor ordered his administration to crack down on the shopping center with plans to bring a nuisance property lawsuit against the owner and eventually seize the land.
“We have cited him and cited him, and my understanding is that previously it was always, ‘I’ll fix it,’” Schor explained. “And then he never did. And I said, ‘Let’s take action,’ and we are.”
After the property was sold to California investors Kevin and Mike Zhang, city officials decided to give the new owners time to get their legs under them and revitalize the area. New lighting has been installed in the parking lot. Some storefronts have been spruced up with fresh paint.
Efforts to reach the new owners for comment were unsuccessful.
New tenants have also arrived. But not all of those tenants have been good for the area.
“I have done everything possible to bring these guys to the table with our economic development team, but there’s limitations in terms of what I can do as a legislator,” Hussain said. “We need this administration to take this seriously. Period.”
In a walk around the facility last month, Hussain pointed out his concerns. In the back of the building are several disabled vehicles with flat tires and hanging exhaust systems that have apparently had catalytic converters removed from them. Hussain also pointed out concerning locations where illegal nightclubs — often called Blind Pigs — had been operating off the radar.
In June, Lansing Police Department officers responded to Logan Square after shots were fired. A large crowd was dispersed at the time. When Hussain was down there, he said he noticed a large crowd of people “partying” inside one of the storefronts and gathering behind the facility.
McGrain alluded to ongoing police investigations throughout Logan Square, but he declined to discuss specifics. Last month, a clothing retail storefront — Head Over Heels Boutique — was shuttered as part of a multi-state heroin and other illicit drugs bust. McGrain said his team has lingering concerns about some of the businesses operating in the mall, calling them “sketch.”
Despite the possibility of continued criminal activity, McGrain said there are also businesses within Logan Square that are making a difference. He said Lansing Wholesale, a distributor located in the mall, was an example of an economic success story for Lansing. The company started on Cedar Street, but it grew so quickly that it had to lease space at Logan Square. It has continued to grow such that it is now seeking a new operations location, McGrain explained.
The parking lot has also seen the advent of a combined Amazon Prime parking zone — where the international online retailer parks delivery vans — and a driving education program.
“It puts eyes on the area at all times,” said McGrain. “That’s a good thing.”
Hussain said that is part of the irony with Logan Square. Along with the bad apples, there are, he said, really committed business owners in the area working hard to improve the south side.
“But this property owner, and, frankly, the city of Lansing, is allowing for other less aboveboard operators to come in there to run disreputable businesses, and that’s an absolute detriment to the folks and their businesses,” Hussain added.
For his part, McGrain said he is already deploying parking enforcement teams to the area to ticket people parking in the fire lanes — an all-too-common occurrence throughout the facility.
He has also made clear to management that all new businesses moving in need to make sure that the storefronts they are taking over have upgraded fire suppression and electrical systems. McGrain is also expecting new businesses to come to the city for the proper permits to do the work and allow city officials to inspect the premises. He has also demanded a list of all the occupied storefronts and the businesses involved to be filed with the city’s fire department to facilitate effective responses in the event of a fire or other disaster at the shopping plaza.
McGrain said there are also a few new businesses on the horizon at Logan Square — including a billiard hall and an eatery. The city also has plans to hire a full-time staffer to focus on local economic improvement through the newly established MLK Corridor Improvement Authority.
Both McGrain and Hussain have high hopes for progress.
Corridor improvement plans focus on redevelopment and business opportunities from the railroad tracks on the north, just past the old drop forge facility south to Edgewood Boulevard. Logan Square represents a key economic cornerstone within that strip, but there are also blocks of retail space along the entire miles-long corridor in need of support.
“In putting some paint on the building and slapping a couple of lights up — I’m sorry, the folks in South Lansing deserve much better than that,” said Hussain.
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