What the future holds for downtown Okemos

Annie Burba, Editor-In-Chief

Annie Rollins (11) was an incoming freshman when she was told she was going to lose both her job and her home in two months.
The owner of Ace Hardware, Jim Raynak, had sold his property, which included Ace Hardware and her house, to a developer seeking to renovate the downtown Okemos area. With the little time they had, Rollins’ family frantically searched for a new house, finding one a mere two weeks before their deadline.
“[Raynak] owned most of that whole corner … the bakery that was behind it, a barn, my house and the old warehouse, and he sold all of it,” Rollins said. “I was obviously bummed because not only did I have to move, I also didn’t have a job anymore, so I had no income, and I had to move on my birthday. We had two months to move out … and we moved like two weeks before we had to get out.”
Ace Hardware was not the only business to vacate the downtown area: Bottoms Up Dancewear, The Traveller’s Club and Wright Brothers’ Music have also followed suit. Chris Buck, an economic planning developer for the township, said this is not a coincidence.
“The [Village of Okemos project] is the complete demolition and redevelopment of two full blocks: the northwestern and southwestern corners of Hamilton Road and Okemos Road,” Buck said. “It’s a series of seven buildings that are going to eventually have 205 luxury residential housing units and about 50,000 square feet of commercial use, which is basically a mix of businesses, restaurants, coffee shops and maybe some office space as well. A big part of that 50,000 square feet, somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000, is going to be the new Douglas J Salon.”
True North Development, the company taking this challenge on, is not the first to attempt a renovation of the Okemos downtown. All other attempts to do so have abandoned their various revitalization attempts. Still, residents and city officials alike hope they will be the last.
“Previous development projects really focused on a quarter or one half of one of these blocks, and the problem is at this site … the government has identified a lot of environmental contamination in the soil there,” Buck said.
True North Development, however, has a different approach to their project. As seasoned Okemos developers, they have several successful projects under their belt already, including MSU student housing units NOCA Lofts and The Rocks and the Okemos apartment complex Elevation. They plan to succeed by transforming the entire two blocks and working with government officials to fix the environmental issues.
If it is successful, the renovation will reportedly cost $110 million and create 100 new jobs, according to the Lansing State Journal.
“I’m curious to see what will become of the area, but it’s sad to see a part of Okemos go,” Rollins said.
While it’s bittersweet for the town to see some classic Okemos landmarks demolished, the future of Okemos’ downtown is bright and set to be filled with shopping, restaurants, and several new homes by 2021.