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There are fewer state workers in Lansing's downtown, but there may soon be more apartments

Autumn Weston
Posted at 5:42 PM, Oct 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-28 17:42:12-04

LANSING, Mich. — Weston's Kewpee has been in downtown Lansing for 98 years. Owner Autumn Weston says lunch hour has always been their bread and butter.

"It's that power hour of lunchtime that we just we thrive off of you know," said Weston.

However not even Weston's great-grandmother's famous olive burger recipe can make up for the fact that there's fewer workers downtown lately.

First, it was because of the pandemic. Now the state has decided that many workers won't return to their downtown offices or at least won't be there as often.

Spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Technology Management and Budget Caleb Buhs said just under half of state workers are working from home at the moment because it's working and it's what workers want.

"In state government we're competing for talented individuals and candidates for our positions, just like any other industry would," Buhs said.

When employees will return to the office will be determined over the next year and each state department will make the decision independently, Buhs said.

But an indicator of how many employees may not return can be found in a spreadsheet compiled by the state of lease cancellations since the pandemic began.

It shows that the state has canceled nine office leases in downtown Lansing totaling more than 161,000 square feet. It also lists reasons: working remote, relocation, consolidation.

"One of the cool things that we're doing and we're modeling in our department is we are combining two offices together. So they each had their own space, and we are now saying, one office a will get that space Monday and Tuesday and office B is going to get it Wednesday and Thursday," he said.

Fewer workers in the office means fewer customers for downtown businesses and less office space being used.

However, there is hope.

Across the street and a few steps down the road from Kewpee's is the Atrium Office Center owned by Lansing developer Paul Gentilozzi.

Gentilozzi has been a real estate developer in downtown Lansing for 52 years and says, with more state workers at home, they're looking to turn spaces like Atrium into parking and apartments.

"Downtown Lansing is at a pivotal stage where it can grow to be the center of our community, or with the loss of state occupancy, it can diminish," Gentilozzi said. "It’s a loss in momentum that we have to fight to get back. And the only way to do that is to get people living downtown."

Apartment buildings typically takes about a year to develop, Gentilozzi's team is working on a multi-family development that he says we'll hear more about in the coming weeks.

The Weston family hopes other developers will follow in Gentilozzi's footsteps soon so Kewpee's might see even more smiling neighbors for not just power hour lunch, but breakfast and dinner too.

"We need people that want to, you know, shop and eat and dine and enjoy their downtown because we're the Capital city," said Weston. "We're a beautiful city, we're a beautiful downtown with great neighbors."

Downtown businesses could get temporary relief from COVID relief dollars.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said he is trying to get downtown a couple million dollars in COVID relief money from the state.

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