A plaza in name only

Lansing, Michigan is perhaps best known for being the state capitol and neighbor to Michigan State University – my alma mater. It is also home to the Frandor Shopping Center, the second oldest suburban shopping center in the state. As an undergrad student, I often found myself imagining redevelopment scenarios for this site.

Frandor – facing south (Lormax Stern Development Company)

Frandor’s 450,000 sq. feet of retail floor space surround a massive 1,000-car surface parking lot. Whenever I shopped at Frandor, I felt like it was missing something important. Few major improvements have been made to the site over the nearly fifty years from its construction in 1954 and my first visit.

While the site typically felt busy and seemed to have few vacancies, it also felt strangely isolated. The three state highways bordering the site fed shoppers in automobiles but also served as trenches separating it from the rest of the city.

I still believe that Frandor offers a unique opportunity for urban infill. And I’m not alone.

The 2012 Design Lansing Comprehensive Plan (PDF) classified the Frandor area as a “Community Mixed Use Center” in its Future Land Use Map. The plan defines typical densities and building heights for the district as follows:

Building heights of 4-6 stories (25-60 dwelling units per acre) transitioning to 2-3 stories (6 -20 dwelling units per acre) and a more residential emphasis on neighborhood edges. (Page 195, Design Lansing Comprehensive Plan)

Two years ago the Lansing State Journal reported on a development called “SkyVue” which proposed to add 359 new residential units to the southeast of Frandor on the site of a former Oldsmobile dealership. The 9-story building  will bring roughly a thousand new residents within walking distance of the shopping center. I wonder how the tastes and preferences of these new customers will affect the retail offerings inside Frandor. The Google Streetview image below shows the development underway.

In spite of this progress, Frandor remains a plaza in name only. Its central courtyard could be an attractive public space. Instead it is used as a parking lot. Given the site’s location within the region and the age of the existing development, it is only a matter of time before all new buildings take shape. In future posts I will explore some desirable urban development futures for the area.