- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Developer Pat Gillespie, 45, thought as a child growing up that downtown Lansing’s riverfront was pretty much “non-existent.”

This east-sider, who attended Resurrection School, Lansing Catholic Central and Michigan State University, had few reasons to go visit that part of the Grand River because there weren’t many attractions or special events.

Now Gillespie invests millions in residential and commercial projects tied to the riverfront’s future, and considers activities like zip-lining in his push to convince longtime residents, potential ones and visitors that this area finally has some swagger.

“The river is key,” Gillespie told the Lansing State Journal ( https://on.lsj.com/1IK8uyu ). “We always had our backs turned to it for many years, and now we can see how dynamic it can be.”

Behind those words is his company’s work on an $11 million project to build 84 residential units within walking distance of the river. The Outfield is expected to be finished next year and will overlook Cooley Law School Stadium, home of the Lansing Lugnuts. It will complement Gillespie’s $8.5 million Marketplace complex of 80 one- and two-bedroom apartments that’s open and next to Lansing City Market.

Consider Gillespie’s plans a response to a changing Lansing real estate market that demands more out of the riverfront and anticipates it will be a catalyst for the region’s future. The Lansing River Trail, with over 20 miles of walkways, is becoming a major draw that includes a $1.8 million south-side extension added last year.

Investment in the trail makes it easier for Gillespie’s company to sell downtown real estate. Business also gets a boost from continued interest in riverfront events like the Board of Water & Light’s Chili Cook-off (established in 1995), Common Ground Music Festival (2000) and Grand American Fish Rodeo (2014).

“This whole riverfront, people being here, it just adds more energy,” Gillespie said. “Everyone wants to be where there’s something going on.”

Regional cooperation is the key for unlocking the riverfront’s full potential and empowering residents of nearby communities so they are convinced they also will benefit from the area’s rebirth, said Nancy Krupiarz, executive director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance.

The group will work with Ingham County and grassroots organizations like the Friends of the Lansing River Trail starting this month to educate the public about upcoming projects and initiatives tied to a six-year, O.5-mill levy county voters passed in November. Part of the money it raises will support new trails tied to the River Trail.

Krupiarz said at least six public meetings are planned this year to discuss “building the River Trail out” and its relationship with Ingham County’s four parks. There will also be opportunities for the public to share ideas online.

“We’re excited to get started on this and make the area as robust of a connected trail system as it can possibly be,” Krupiarz said. “If there are a lot of places to stop along the way, it gives people all the more reason to see what the area has to offer.”

The county millage is expected to generate $3.5 million per year. Renewal of the city of Lansing’s five-year, 1-mill parks millage is up for an Aug. 4 vote.

Krupiarz believes Lansing has an opportunity create an innovative riverfront destination like Providence, R.I., known for its eclectic mix of retail and entertainment options along three rivers.

WaterFire, a free public art installation in Providence, lights up to 80 floating bonfires on the waterways at different times of the year and has served as a symbol of the city’s renaissance since 1994. Organizers said it has generated a million visitors a year and is considered one of the top tourist attractions in their state.

“It just makes sense and seems obvious to make the river your front porch,” Krupiarz said.

Mayor Virg Bernero doesn’t see why Lansing can’t become “one of the great Midwestern capital cities” that can compete with the likes of Indianapolis, Louisville and Nashville. The path toward that goal, however, takes cooperation, innovation and plenty of patience.

Developers with million-dollar dreams certainly help, but community involvement in groups like the Friends of the Lansing River Trail nonprofit organization are just as important, Bernero said.

“The process of leveraging the river with other positive developments in the city has begun, and I think we’ve taken the opportunity and ran with it,” Bernero said. “As soon as you put something by the river, you notice that people are there.”

Bernero said the Lansing River Trail group is a prime example of “citizen initiative” and grass roots leadership needed so everyone in Greater Lansing can feel part of the region’s evolution and transformation.

The Michigan Institute for Contemporary Art is doing its part. This month it held its second annual Grand American Fish Rodeo to celebrate Michigan’s rivers, lakes and aquatic life. The event uses the banks of the Grand River, primarily at Adado Riverfront Park.

During the event, Grand Ledge resident Thea Oatman, 35, painted her depiction of apartments overlooking the Lansing River Trail and water. She’s encouraged by the city’s efforts to take advantage of its natural beauty and moved back to the area two years ago from Salt Lake City.

“People really need to value this in order to keep it from becoming awful,” Oatman said of the river. “People need to be here and enjoy it.”

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com


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