Corridors serve as the front door to neighborhoods.
They feature businesses, hospitals, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, fitness studios, churches, doctors’ offices, repair shops, and nonprofits. They often serve as the cultural and economic heart of the neighborhood. Think 2000 block of East Michigan Avenue or Cesar Chavez Avenue in Old Town. As described by the Urban Institute, they are “the epicenter of local entrepreneurship, employment, and wealth creation, and they provide intangible benefits through services, amenities, cultural identity, and social capital.”
The vitality of a neighborhood and its corridors are inter-dependent. That is why it makes sense for businesses to figure out creative ways to engage the people living in the neighborhoods that they abut. Years ago, The Avenue owner Colleen Kelley told me that she was putting in a seating and gathering space behind her establishment because it faced the neighborhood, whose consistent support she appreciated! Conversely, we residents who enjoy easy walking and transit access to employment, services and gathering spots would do well to spend our dollars in ways that keep the small businesses in our commercial districts thriving. In agreement is Rebecca Douglas, who lives in REO Town’s Riverpoint Neighborhood. She notes that several neighbors own businesses or work on Washington Avenue. “I love living in the neighborhood because I really feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself, a community of folks from all walks of life, in a walkable business district with wonderful shops and restaurants.”
Corridors are getting significant attention these days. In Lansing, there are now four corridor improvement authorities: East Michigan, West Saginaw Street, South Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and North Grand River. (I sit on the Michigan Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority.) These state-authorized authorities are intended to help communities plan for and fund corridor improvements. Much like downtown development authorities, they receive funding from tax increment financing, corporate or private donations and grants. The overall goals are to help support economic development and stop deterioration.
For instance, Michigan Avenue’s is laying the groundwork for façade improvements on several businesses on the north side of the 2000 block, across from Strange Matter. A few years ago, the authority helped drive the development of the art and lighting project “Under the Bridge” under the U.S .127 overpass. Beautification projects, tree planting, sidewalk improvements and other amenities are in the Michigan Avenue plan, available on the City of Lansing website. (Search for Corridor Improvement Authorities.)
The city’s website also features information about the other corridor improvement initiatives, their board members (a combination of property and business owners and residents), and each district’s plan.
According to Aurelius Christian of Lansing Economic Development Corp., the West Saginaw authority is focusing on communications, branding and identifying assets and opportunities. Authority Chair Tiffany Dowling notes that there is good momentum and growing business activity on West Saginaw. She pointed to the new mixed-use development of the former Park Furniture building in the 900 block. “This project will make a huge difference, and will help define what this corridor can be.”
Price Dobernick, who chairs the South MLK authority, explained that his group is working to increase the number of art-covered CATA shelters. Important, it is also focusing on Logan Square, having invested funds into the city-initiated study that will inform the plan for future investment there. Finally, Price notes that they are looking to “work with the county and city to remove blighted buildings” along the South MLK corridor.
The North Grand River authority is just forming, building up its board and beginning development of its plan.
I’ve been thinking lately about the re-do of Michigan Avenue planned for next year. The patronage of neighbors within walking distance of avenue businesses will be that much more important during a time of red cones and redirected traffic of the sort that discourages visitors from afar. The re-do will ultimately benefit all sectors of the neighborhood by increasing walkability, making biking safer, improving transit options and slowing traffic. Andy Kilpatrick, Lansing’s public service director, notes that “the new configuration from the center of the right of way will be vehicle lanes (two heading west, one heading east, plus a center turn lane), parking, parkway/buffer strip (for signs, light poles, trees/landscaping, etc.), bicycle track, sidewalk, and building.” These changes will enhance what we have always loved about the “spine of the east side”: a distinctive quality of place, easy access to goods and services, and a good time!
The Michigan Avenue authority has just launched a website, dotheavenue.com, to promote businesses and happenings. Over the coming year, the website will also keep you posted on construction progress and offer fun suggestions for ways to amp up support for our institutional neighbors during this tricky time.
So, give some thought to how you, your neighbors and perhaps place-based organizations you belong to might better support the Michigan Avenue corridor and others that run through your neighborhood. On the east side, some groups are already brainstorming about adopting a business or a block each month during next year’s construction. As Margaret Tassaro, an eastside resident and activist living north of Michigan Avenue, points out, “This is a great time to strengthen the relationship between those of us that live here and the people who operate businesses in our neighborhood. When patrons from outside the east side might be reluctant to face construction blockages and parking challenges, nearby residents, in whose long-term interest it is that businesses survive, can make a point of supporting our commercial neighbors.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here