Most people may see a high-rise eyesore when looking at downtown Lansing’s vacant Oliver Towers, but the Eyde family saw something more: potential and rebirth.
“I think what we saw was something that could have been, or should have been, and will be an asset to the city that had been sitting [around] majorly unused,” said Mark Clouse, chief financial officer and general counsel for the Eyde Company, of the eight-story building at 310 N. Seymour Ave. “And we thought that there needed to be a reuse of that building.” The family-run Eyde Company (Eyde) plans to invest $8 million to rehabilitate the former senior-citizen housing complex — damaged and left largely abandoned since 2000 due to a fire — into a hip, modern host of micro-style apartments with first-floor retail space, adding a contemporary, European-style option for downtown residents.
“This project will transform a blighted, burned out building in the heart of our downtown into a new residential development,” outgoing Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said in a prepared statement. “With its proximity to the campus of Lansing Community College and the state Capitol, Oliver Towers will be an asset that brings people downtown to live, work and play.”
It’s not the first time the Eyde family has looked to restore a downtown landmark. The former Knapp’s department store building was renovated into the Knapp’s Centre, which now houses the Eyde Company’s headquarters and fellow tenants. The Eyde family also has plans for the former Lansing State Journal building. “[Knapp’s] was obviously a building where many people thought the wrecking ball should have been the next step … we thought that wasn’t the right step to take. Where it takes more time and energy and, certainly, the cooperation of many people and many divisions of the government — sometimes it’s much better off to reuse and restore rather than tear down,” Clouse said.
So when it came to Oliver Towers, “We saw that building as an opportunity,” Clouse said. “It certainly isn’t old enough to be historic, but it is old enough to have some history in the city, and we also think there is a shortage of Class A, residential spaces downtown. We also think there is a need for smaller units for young professionals who can afford to live there, want to live there and [want to] be active in downtown Lansing.”
Many of the project’s 103 studio and one-bedroom units will fit within existing unit footprints 400-500 square feet, notably smaller than the 1,200-1,500 square feet that similar classes of apartments have been sized to in recent years. But they will be fitted out in first-class style, with full kitchens and in-apartment laundry units. Exact rent ranges are pending.
Clouse said, “We believe that the city of Lansing — as well as other, larger downtown areas — are moving toward smaller units. Nick [Eyde, a company principal], who worked directly on this project in the beginning, reached out to people that he met while he was in Europe. So, we had an architectural firm from Italy look at this and help us design small units that obviously they’ve used and have lived in for much longer than we have. And it helped us design the units in such a way to be efficient, comfortable and still very elegant and, for lack of a better word, cool.”
Karl Dorshimer, director of business development for the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), said such micro-style units may be new to Lansing but are “popular in downtown areas [elsewhere] because you spend a lot of your time in the downtown doing other things, being outside and going to public spaces and parks and restaurants, visiting friends and others … They’re comfortable, but they’re cozy.”
While millennials are a key demographic, the apartments are expected to have broader appeal.
“It’s a wide range of people,” Dorshimer said. “When you look at the demographics, there’s a lot of households in the area that really have one or two people in them, and so the potential market is very broad. It’s not just for young folks. I think a lot of folks would be interested in it, especially empty-nesters, single folks, people new to the area coming in for a particular reason and students.”
The hope is such a housing complex could help evolve the nature of downtown into more of an around-the-clock community. In turn, that could help boost current merchants and bring in new ones.
“It will help existing businesses and it will help a lot,” Dorshimer said. “These folks, they won’t spend that much time in their apartments … they’ll be spending a lot of time — a lot more than the traditional apartment or suburban house — they’re going to be out and about. They want to be downtown. They like the amenities that are downtown. The market will respond.”
“So, ultimately, you get enough people living downtown, you’ll have a lot more business offerings,” Dorshimer said. “Everybody’s been [asking], ‘Why can’t we get a grocery store downtown?’ We just don’t have the demand, and there’s a lot of competition, but the more people that live downtown, the more demand there will be.” Clouse said projects can’t work without teamwork.
“A project like this doesn’t happen solely because of the developer,” Clouse said, noting the assistance of Lansing, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and civic agencies that are helping Eyde fund brownfield-related costs like asbestos removal and the cleanup of mold and water damage, via various financial incentives.
Eyde hopes to have Oliver Towers ready for renters by the end of 2018 or early 2019. “To do it the right way sometimes takes a little longer than what we really want, but we have to recognize we want a good product when we’re done,” Clouse said.
In the meantime, as plans for Oliver Towers comes together, the Eyde family will look for more diamonds in the rough around the city’s center.