The Accident Fund Project: From Power Station to Corporate Headquarters

Artist rendering of completed project

Artist rendering of completed project
Artist rendering of completed project | Source
Plant under construction
Plant under construction | Source
Original plant with stack
Original plant with stack | Source
Plant in preparation
Plant in preparation | Source
Parking ramp demolished
Parking ramp demolished | Source

A Major Conversion Project

There is a building boom going on in downtown Lansing, Michigan. Without question, the city center is taking on a bold new appearance on practically every street corner. Some of the new structures represent an urban renaissance for residential use, others for commercial purposes. Some are built with governmental needs in mind, while still more exist (or are being planned) for the private sector. Clearly, one of the largest transforming downtown is the Accident Fund project, itself long in the planning stages, but now nearing completion.

Original Use of the Site

The site was originally used by Lansing's Board of Water and Light to provide steam to the area government and private office buildings and other customers. Erected around 1937, the power plant was fed by coal, which arrived from North Lansing via railroad by way of a bridge over the Grand River, which flows through the capital city. This link has since been turned into a footbridge, now part of Lansing's scenic River Trail. After decades of service in its energy provision role, the plant was idled in the early 1990's. The historic building was reflective of the saying "form follows function." Along the base, horizontal purple and cream colored bands symbolized the several stages of the combustion cycle, most appropriate for a generating station.

The Transition to the Accident Fund Headquarters

After nearly twenty years of debate in the councils of city government, which included proposals for condominium residences and entertainment venues, agreement was reached to transform the riverbank site into the new national campus of the Accident Fund Company. Originally, this was an agency of the state government. As the name implies, it is concerned with administering and paying accident claims. The agency had a headquarters building on Capitol Avenue dating from 1987. The Fund was "privatized" during the 1990's in the administration of former governor John Engler, long an advocate of free enterprise. The lack of alternatives and the need for more space were strong factors in the decision to convert the site for office purposes.

Redevelopment of the Site

The task facing the developers was a tall order. How best to convert a structure that harks back to the days of industrialism into a clean and attractive corporate campus for the Twenty-First Century? Several features of the earlier site had to be removed, while others would be retained. A parking ramp built out over Grand Avenue needed to be dismantled, and the smokestack had to be taken down as well. These tasks were accomplished in the early stages of the project. The entire endeavor was overseen by the Christman Construction Company, with a history of building since 1894. The original exterior and interior walls of the building will be retained, but within the hollow shell, a striking transition will take place. Immediately adjacent, a brand new structure is rising, but will blend in with its older and larger neighbor and will feature a mixture of orange and glass exteriors. Still further north, a new parking ramp will extend back to the Shiawassee Street Bridge. The overall effect is one of spread but by no means sprawl.

Of Brownfields and Financing

The term "Brownfields" is a fairly recent one and is applied to toxic waste sites as well as to construction areas. The Brownfield program adds a new twist to the three "R's". The program motto is to "remediate, reuse and redevelop" sites for new purposes. Engineering oversight is applied to ensure that all criteria are met. The Environmental Protection Agency is represented through offices in Lansing and Chicago. In fact, funding for the project was obtained in part from this federal agency and the Brownfield Cleanup Revolving Loan Grant as well as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Lansing Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. The City of Lansing is also represented by its Lansing Economic Development Corporation (LEDC),of which the Redevelopment Authority is a part. Clearly, it took an intricate web of multiple governmental cooperation at the federal, state and municipal levels to bring all this together.

Conclusion

This project is probably the largest and most ambitious one undertaken within Lansing in recent times. If successful, it will leave behind in its wake some 500 new job positions in a city and region desperate for unemployment relief. And unlike some schemes which are based on sheer speculation in real estate, this plan will employ pure economic capital to its best usage. The benefits would appear to justify the costs, and it will help rejuvenate the region. Information for this article was obtained from the LEDC website as well as personal visits by the author to the construction site. Readers are now invited to study the above photographs for further insights into this large project.

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