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Old big-box site redevelops as storage and a return to greenspace

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Like the Talking Heads song, we’ll be able to sing, “Once there were parking lots, now it’s a peaceful oasis.”

The brawny construction workers from Eagle Excavation are busy busting up the blacktop and bulldozing earth in front of an old eyesore, the abandoned big box at Holmes Road and Washington Avenue.

A brownfield deal the city struck last year in south Lansing is bearing fruit: An Extra Space Storage facility is to open in September in the old Electronic Data Systems call center, which worked out of the long unused building before it left after five years in 2013.

The excavators are shrinking the large, ugly parking lot in front of the building and putting in earthen landscaping to be covered with plants and a small neighborhood park.

“I’m incredibly excited with all that’s happening at that EDS site,” said Lansing Councilman Adam Hussain. “The developer is adding greenspace. That was a major win.”

The property and building improvements to that site come with $4.2 million in capital investment, of which about $800,000 will be eligible for brownfield reimbursement. And while a storage facility might sound like a modest use of the space, getting any businesses into the blighted Logan Square area is a real challenge for Lansing.

A city inspection report labeling the building “functionally obsolete” and approving the site for brownfield reimbursement noted the building was too short for modern big-box retail and the need for office space away from downtown was low. The building has housed everything from a roller skating rink to Ingham County social service offices to a Montgomery Ward retail outlet. Hussain said “investment begets more investment” and pointed to the long-abandoned Spartan Tire building just to the north on Washington that’s being retrofitted to provide larger space for Bull’s Eye Axe Throwing, the recreational facility that asks players to channel their medieval warring spirit and toss axes at a wooden target.

Brian McGrain, Lansing’s director of economic development and planning, agreed that once the dust settles on the parking lot reduction, the nicer landscape could help boost nearby “out-lot development,” including a strip with a Hungry Howie’s pizza and an Andres’ tailor shop as well as two or three vacant units, including a shuttered marijuana dispensary.

“We required a number of site improvements. We’re going to be seeing enhanced landscape on the road — a lot of trees,” he said. “It is what it is. It was an outdated department store/old office building, a lot of concrete, a lot of bad concrete. We’re really excited we’re getting rid of some of the eyesorishness, if you will.”

Across MLK, more businesses are vacant than operating, from old fast-food restaurants to banks and dry cleaners and acres of big box in the 1962 vintage Logan Square shopping center. Before the malls opened, the outdoor shopping center was a thriving shopping mecca leading people to the south side, then the new part of Lansing.

But Logan Square has faced decades of decline and now clings to a Dollar Tree and the small Great Giant Supermarket, which had been a Save-A-Lot a few years ago.

Mayor Andy Schor threatened to seize the six acres of blighted property after taking office in January 2018. “We need to solve that problem. It’s just a big pavement jungle with nothing.” The city envisioned mixed-use development, maintaining some commercial property, but with residences on higher floors.

But by the end of the year, Southfield-based Meram Properties instead sold it to San Diego investors Logan Capital for $3 million.

Since then, little has changed about the mostly empty site, but city leaders have changed their tune with the new owners.

“Logan Square is owned by a private entity who recently purchased it and is working on reactivating the space within the mall area (the area on Holmes is still very active),” Schor texted when reached for comment. The small strip on Holmes does include a Subway, a Chinese restaurant and a recently opened Central Pharmacy.

“We have had several public meetings and several parties have spent significant time on ideas for Logan Square. There are many possibilities with this property and we will work with the owners and all interested parties to try to reactivate this space.”

Hussain said he still dreamed of an innovative use for that corner, but he was willing to wait it out.

“That configuration does not work with 21st Century retail. You’ve got a sea of asphalt. I would love to see it demolished,” he said. But “we can’t force a developer to do anything.”

For now, the nicest property on the strip might be a second Extra Space Storage outfit a stone’s throw south on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, recently retrofitted into an old Ford dealership, where the stalks of fountain grass wave with the wind.

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