I've been known to be a touch hard on my adopted hometown of Lansing. There's a lot of potential here, and it's come a long way in the near decade since I moved here. Last year I wrote a love(?) letter to my adopted hometown with some constructive criticism/suggestions on ways to make downtown better. The list included the street design and the growing collection of unnecessary sub shops littering downtown's busiest street.
The street design piece is really coming along. As part of our Convert Capitol Avenue project a few weeks ago I got to get to know and love the city traffic engineer. This dude is amazing. I cannot possibly say enough positive things about his forward thinking view on street design and how downtown can be more vibrant. I am confident that with a bus rapid transit system possibly in Lansing's future the city streets will be reviewed and changed/narrowed. I'm confident that Lansing's streets will be safer and more pedestrian focused as we move forward.
In the last decade Michigan has been battered by the recession harder than many states. I know the result is a "take any business you can get" economic development strategy in some cases. In the last few months three local downtown Lansing restaurants/bars have closed. On one premiere corner across from the renovated Knapps Building a former bookstore has sat vacant for years. I noticed activity in the former bookstore and eagerly awaited the news of what would fill that space.
While we're not getting another sub shop, the future tenant isn't much better. We're getting a Domino's...formerly Domino's Pizza although the name change is really superfluous. Technically it's a "pizza theatre" but that's a fancy way of saying another pizza shop. If you're not familiar with downtown Lansing there is another pizza shop, Cottage Inn, kitty-corner from the new Domino's location. I'm psyched to have two pizza places across the street from one another (that sarcasm is coming through, right?)
You might ask, "Would you rather have a vacant building than a tax paying tenant in that space?" If I'm being honest the answer is yes. The recession is over, friends. It's time to stop taking the best we think can get and be strategic about economic development. My husband and I sat downtown on the patio at Henry's on the Square (conversely a great local addition to downtown) last week across from where the new Domino's will go and discussed what we, downtown Lansing residents, need downtown.
A pharmacy. There was a local pharmacy when I first moved here, and it closed a few years ago. I'm not generally a huge chain person, but I'd take a Walgreen's or CVS as an anchor tenant to attract other development. We need a bookstore. The last local bookstore didn't work, so what about a Barnes & Noble or a Schuler's? I worked closely in economic development in my first job working with a city. I have worked with communities my entire career. I know economic development isn't easy. It takes courting and charm and tenacity. It takes patience. It takes saying no to the wrong opportunity even when you don't have something to come in behind it just yet. It isn't easy, but lots of other communities do it. You keep your eye on the prize and refuse to give in when the next sub shop knocks on your door.
We've doubled down on downtown Lansing because we think it's worth it. We could easily move to where development has already taken off, we have transit and there's little left to do in the community other than enjoy its vibrant downtown. We want to be part of making a place great, and I'm fortunate to get to do that personally and professionally. It's not my intention to be critical of downtown, but a Domino's? That can't be left without comment. We can do better. We should expect better next to a historically renovated downtown building with a fabulous fashion incubator and store. We should stop taking what we think is the best we can get and expect more.