The ghosts of Knapp’s past may be finally put to rest with the announcement of plans to develop the former department store intoÂ a major mixed-used facility with retail, office and housing.
With Petula Clark’s “Downtown” playing in the background and a video extolling the past glories of Knapp’s, Mayor Virg Bernero and the Eyde Corporation representatives detailed how the Knapp’s building would be restored using a variety of private, state, local and federal financing packages totaling $20 million for the converstion. No timetable was announced for the start of the project.
The Knapp’s building was built it 1937 and operated as a department store until 1980 when it was turned into an office center, mostly Â for state offices. At one time, downtown Lansing bustled with four major department stores: Sears, J.C. Penney’s, Arbaugh’s and Knapp’s. All except the Knapp’s building have been converted to other uses.
The new building will be called Knapp’s Centre and, on the ground floor, the Lansing Economic Development Corporation will lease 10,000 square feet for use as a business incubator. The plans also call for a restaurant on the first floor.Â The top floor will be developed as 19 housing units which, initially, will be rented.
One of the major impediments to the development of the building has been the requirement to maintain its historical integrity which include glass blocks instead of windows on floors two -four making those floors unsuitable for housing. Office space now would be slotted for those floors and the offices would face inward to an atrium.
Bernero said the Knapp’s building along with the Ottawa Power Station (soon to be the Accident Fund headquarters) and the State Capitol are iconic structures in downtown Lansing.
The redevelopment of the Ottawa Power Station may have served as a tipping point for moving the Knapp’s project forward, one city official said.
That and the family’s desire to leave a legacy in the city were probably the twoÂ most important aspects in making the project viable.
The building has 190,000 square feet with about 100,000 usable space. City officials and the Eydes began meeting about the redevelopment in December of last year. The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the finest examples of Streamline Art Moderne architecture in the country.
When complete the restored structure will attract more than 200 workers and residents downtown and likely lead to redevelopment and more upscale uses for nearby structures. So what’s next for downtown redevelopment? One local consultant quipped, “Lansing can only go up now,” and he meant it literally.