Lansing's REO Town is a neighborhood possibly on the threshold of large changes. Not as culturally vibrant as Old Town nor as serene and settled as Cherry Hill (see the author's articles at www.examiner.com), REO Town is nonetheless poised for a dramatic turnaround after a period of neglect and near abandonment. The urban challenge concerns the successful management of this area to a more habitable environment for living, while at the same time not provoking an excess of real estate speculative mania, which has been the downfall of many larger American cities such as New York and San Francisco, among others.
Located approximately between Mount Hope Avenue and the I-496 corridor, REO Town is a multiblock zone of structures of various ages and purposes.The REO references Ransom Eli Olds, founder of the discontinued Oldsmobile division of General Motors and whose name is practically synonymous with Lansing's growth through the Twentieth Century. Indeed, the main GM Plant 1 complex is just to the west of this area, and now sports the Cadillac logo on its buildings. Washington Avenue, the main commercial corridor, features businesses that have frankly seen better days, although it has recently been resurfaced and blacktopped. Some local stalwarts are still there, such as Lansing Sanitary Supply and a Quality Dairy building. The most striking new addition is the Board of Water and Light headquarters and cogeneration plant, which stresses green and eco-friendly energy production, and was used by the mayor for his annual State of the City address in the winter of 2013. It is adjacent to the former Grand Trunk Railway station, which has been preserved and resembles a small castle, although somewhat overpowered by its larger neighbor. Nearby is the Mug & Brush barber shop, another old timer incorporated into this changing scene. Part of the residential section is a community in itself, such as the "Fabulous Acres" area around Garden Street, which does not look so fabulous today but which offers hope of a better tomorrow.
A challenge and an opportunity
Clearly, this neighborhood is in the throes of change. The challenge will be to promote orderly growth and development without tempting "real estate moguls" and other self-appointed agents of social change to descend like a shark feeding frenzy into this locale to gorge themselves at the community's expense. The opportunity concerns getting the most out of what REO Town has to offer, including proximity to downtown and a link to the Lansing River Trail. Here-if anywhere-there is a chance for responsible urban renewal while keeping the faith with the best of the past.