No More "What if?" on Michigan Ave.

Four years ago, we asked "What if?" with regard to the Lansing area's most important thoroughfare. With the Capitol Building on one end and Michigan State University on the other, Michigan Avenue has long held the potential to redefine the region.
"The Michigan Avenue corridor is the main street for the Lansing region," says Community and Economic Development Administrator for the City of East Lansing, Lori Mullins. "It connects some of our biggest tourist destinations, it’s a hub of employment, and it’s seen as a great connector of our cultural resources as well."
With the Michigan Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority work underway for a few years, we may still be doing some imagining, but we're now entering the planning phase. And with an avenue that runs through three municipalities and impacts a wide range of organizations, partnerships have been the name of the game. Involved in the redevelopment of the corridor have been the City of Lansing, City of East Lansing, Lansing Township, CATA, MSU, and the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, just to name a few.
Here, we'll look at a few of the many players involved in the effort to develop Michigan Avenue, what they've accomplished, and what's yet to come.
A Key Connector
Becoming pedestrian friendly is a major goal of the Michigan Avenue development efforts. With less than 3.5 miles between the Harrison Roadhouse and the Capitol, it's almost surprising more foot- and bike traffic doesn't utilize the corridor.
Almost. Because if you began walking west on Michigan Avenue from MSU's campus, it's easy to see, from the street level, at what point the walkability factor breaks down: the Red Cedar Golf Course property, less than a mile into the jaunt. That's where the bustle of developments stop, and the US 127 overpass cuts through, and the corridor becomes especially car-oriented.
"It is an area that has great potential for redevelopment," says Mullins. "There is potential to create a new node of activity there. I think by strengthening that node it will attract more walkers and bikers."
It's therefore no surprise that developing this key node has been discussed at length. With two votes in 2011 and 2012 voters authorized the sale of up to 50 acres of the city of Lansing-owned property. Local developers Joel Ferguson and Chris Jerome have proposed a multi-use development for the key property, including housing, dining, retail, recreation and entertainment.
Walkability and Outreach
Land use planning is an activity often guided by professionals, but powered by public participation. When the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, along with partners Mid-MEAC, Michigan Energy Options, Michigan State University's Land Policy Institute and the Greater Lansing Housing Coalition received a $3 million Sustainable Community Regional Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last year, some of the funds will directly impact the future of Michigan Avenue.
"This brings people to the table who doesn't usually have voice," Mid-MEAC director Julie Powers told Capital Gains in 2011. "We need to have the perspective of those who use public transportation to plan for its future."
The grant was intended to be distributed over three years, funding nine regionalism projects, including a housing study, a transportation plan, an online citizen portal for zoning issues and a Michigan Avenue-wide energy audit.
Cultural Enrichment
Developing Michigan Avenue is about more than sidewalks and land use policy. It's also about people. Bringing a pulse back to the heart of the Lansing region is a job for humanities, not just the urban planners. Fortunately, the world-class university bookending the corridor was willing to take up the cultural cause.
The Ave is an MSU pilot project that brought a collection of stories and placards along Michigan Avenue. Each installation includes telephone numbers to call and QR codes that passersby can use to see and hear cultural stories about Lansing. The placards were made by students after spending a semester seeking out local stories and finding a new way to tell them. 
Private Investment
Another informal partner in the effort to redevelop Michigan Avenue that has been on the move is the private sector. From the new, $1.4 million mixed used project on the corner of Michigan and Marshall Street in Lansing to the new four-story, 23,200 square foot development underway at the Koehler’s Printing and Graphics location in East Lansing, growth along the Michigan Corridor already happening.
"Those smaller infill projects are excellent," says Mullins. "I think there will be a wide variety of projects, and, depending on which node [along Michigan Avenue] there might be larger ones."

Only time, planning and a lot of continued cooperation will tell. The Lansing region's most prominent thoroughfare won't be transformed overnight, that's for sure – nor should it. With the potential impact upon municipalities and partners throughout the greater Lansing area, careful, collaborative development is the name of the game. The many entities involved in the Michigan Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority are hard at work on several projects, including developing design standards, housing and transportation.
That includes, says Mullins, members of the public, many of whom have expressed a great interest in being a part of the development effort.
"It seems like everybody who is participating has some connection to the corridor," she says, "some reason why they already care about it. I think you’d find most people in the region actually have a connection to it."
Much like the notion that it takes a village to raise a child, the region is coming together to prove that it takes an entire community to develop a corridor, at least one as important as the growing, connecting, and already improving Michigan Avenue.
Natalie Burg is the development news editor for Capital Gains.
Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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