Strategic Work: Establish Downtown as a thriving urban neighborhood for residents and businesses

For decades, downtowns throughout the United States were considered business districts, not neighborhoods. Which means they were cultivated with business and tourism in mind. This is not unique to Lansing, of course. But our own downtown was crafted and cultivated over time to serve one audience: State of Michigan daytime workers. This has led to a host of small businesses who were able to thrive downtown until 5:00, a fact we all know and at times bemoan. Now, two things are true. The first is that cultural behaviors have shifted. More and more people from all generations are seeking the density and vibrancy that comes with living in the urban core. Conveniences within walking distance. Events and people. No lawn to maintain or snow to shovel.

And of course, Downtown Lansing’s primary consumer — state employees — are not coming back in the same way. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity, of course. (Isn’t that always the case?) As the downtown community connector and solution creator responsible for promoting the culture and sustainability of our city, it is our job to ensure that our downtown thrives. That the businesses who choose to become part of our community find opportunity, support, and prosperity. To that end, DLI has made increasing residential capacity in our downtown a key strategy in reshaping our downtown. Our goal is to see thousands of new residential opportunities open doors in the next 2-5 years. Not gonna lie — this is an ambitious goal. It’s going to take enrollment and support from every sector. But we are optimistic! We know in our hearts this is the right thing to do. Here’s why: Three types of folks interact with a downtown. “To,” “Through” and “There.”

· To: those who come to the downtown for a purpose. State employees fall into this market, as do all of the ancillary industries who help make state government function.

· Through: those who stop by a location on the way to another destination. Think out-of-town team who comes to town to be crushed by the Spartans on the football field.

· There: These are the folks who choose a downtown as their home. These are the people who need daily services—from a place to grab coffee to a place to refill a prescription to a place to buy some socks. They support your business and the downtown as a whole. It’s who our business recruitment and support efforts, our amenities, parks, and future plans should be centered around.

When we make space for more “Theres,” we in turn build more market for the businesses who choose to locate in downtown. And strengthening those business increases the tourism draw for the folks coming “to” or passing “through.” Thus, residential density becomes the foundation for all other activities. And let’s face it—we’ve turned the corner on what it means to work from home. Companies everywhere are grappling with their need for space, how to attract employees who would prefer to be remote. Talent everywhere is rethinking their need for a commute. Ok, so that’s what and why. Now to the how. In order to build residential capacity logically, and plan for the future of our downtown, with purposeful development practices and business recruitment efforts, DLI is embarking on a Comprehensive Target Market Analysis (CMA). that encompasses both a residential analysis of downtown, and a commercial analysis of the downtown. Both shall identify key consumer groups in the downtown Lansing district.

The goal is to gather solid data regarding:

· What is the unmet demand for living in a downtown environment?

· What types of people want to live in the urban core?

· What kinds of residences and spaces do they need to thrive?

· What businesses do our residents want

· What businesses will succeed here

· Who are our key consumers today and who shall we plan for in the future?

Thanks to funding and support from the MEDC, we’ll be able to gather quantifiable data to answer those questions. We will share the results of this study publicly, so that it becomes a tool that all stakeholders — city and state officials, developers, entrepreneurs, investors — can use to ensure their efforts align with need. This analysis will allow us to reach our goals in a way that is well thought out, equitable, healthy, and sustainable.

DLI is currently seeking proposals from qualified partners to conduct the CMA. You may view the call for proposals and complete RFQ at on our website at We welcome input! Please contact us with questions or ideas. And as always, thank you for your commitment to Downtown Lansing—the heart of our region