MI Ave — From Seedy To Trendy
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Replace the word Lansing with the word Ypsilanti and see what you get.
From the August 28th edition of the Lansing State Journal:
More than two decades have passed, but Pat Gillespie still remembers the uneasy feeling of traveling into the heart of downtown Lansing.
The East Lansing man would look out the passenger window of his mother’s Chevrolet station wagon and catch a glimpse of Velvet Fingers and other adult businesses that lined Michigan Avenue.
“It wasn’t a place where you ventured too far out of your car, especially at night,” Gillespie said. “It just wasn’t a safe place.”
But drive through today, and an apparent transformation is under way. It’s the result of more than 10 years of planning and development of a new vision by builders and government officials. From a baseball park to a recent $3.2 million streetscape project by the city, the corridor reflects more of a welcome mat than a sin strip.
A Virginia-based expert, who helped Lansing with revitalization of the Washington Corridor, said if he were handing out grades, he would give the progress at Michigan Avenue an “A.”
“Downtowns are successful when they become a neighborhood,” said Doyle Hyett, chairman of HyettPalma, a consulting firm that has helped cities in all 50 states with revitalization efforts. “Not just places of commerce, but well-rounded places that people want to go to for a variety of things.
“That’s what Lansing is trying to do now.”
Jim Heyden, a former Lansing police officer for 33 years, remembers when Michigan Avenue was “seedy.”
He also recalls listening to complaints from some business owners about the prostitutes and drugs in the area.
“I often thought to myself: ‘That area will always be doomed,’ ” said Heyden, who retired from the department in 1994. “I guess I was wrong, but I am glad.”
The problems that plagued that area of the city seemed to disappear overnight when then-Mayor David Hollister got the city to build the $13 million Oldsmobile Park in 1996.
Omar’s, a topless bar, is the only adult business still on Michigan Avenue.
The ballpark is considered by many the catalyst for change along Michigan Avenue.
Gillespie, who has overseen projects around the state, has done his part in the ongoing transformation of Michigan Avenue.
He is in the middle of a $12 million project that will bring restaurants, apartments and condominiums to a new development across the street from Oldsmobile Park.
“This is a place where I can bring my kids and not feel like I have to keep a hold on them every second,” said Gillespie, 36, a father of three young children. “That wasn’t the case when I was their age.”
When Hollister took office, he targeted the Michigan Avenue corridor as one of the areas to improve.
“The approach to the Capitol from Michigan Avenue was simply an embarrassment,” said Hollister, who was mayor from 1993 to 2003.
“Now, it’s a place for young people to go. You see kids with their baseball gloves and dads going to baseball games. The change there is like night and day.”
Bill Haggerty lives in East Lansing, but remembers the conditions of Michigan Avenue in the 1960s through the late 1980s.
He said walking to Clara’s, a restaurant on Michigan Avenue, during the lunch hour caused him to put his head on “swivel” while walking past those hanging outside of the adult bookstores.
“You wanted to make sure you had a way out,” said Haggerty, 64. “And when it started to get dark, you wanted to be someplace else. That isn’t the case there any more, thankfully.”
But not everybody is completely enamored with the new Michigan Avenue.
Fred Perrelli, owner of Perrelli’s Barber & Style Shop, a downtown fixture for nearly 50 years, said he longs for the days of the ’60s and ’70s when his business was bustling.
“Downtown was the place to be. Now, people have all sorts of options on where to go outside of downtown,” Perrelli said.
“I know there were problems on Michigan Avenue in the past, but there are bad apples wherever you go. I would take the downtown of the past back in a second.”
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