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Clark Hill Project: From Suburbs back to City

Updated on November 14, 2012

Reverse migration to the city

The Clark Hill project, completed in 2004, again proves what can be accomplished with a variety of actors working together to achieve tangible results. Here, an obsolete mill building was remade to house a thriving modern law firm with branches around Michigan. Just as importantly, it pioneered the reversal of the conventional wisdom that held that businesses inevitably migrate out from city center to suburbs, and in fact overturned this logic. The result is a stable local employer which expanded its workforce as an outcome of this cooperation.

The History of the Building

Originally a mill facility built in 1846 on Race Street adjacent to the Grand River, this structure ranks as the oldest industrial building in the city of Lansing. Its site was no doubt influenced by its proximity to the river. It is distinguished by its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. After its usable life as a mill, it sat idle for some years. It was certainly prime real estate, as it contained some 17,000 square feet of rentable space. Still, it was considered obsolete for modern purposes. This part of Lansing is called Old Town, and is indeed one of the oldest parts of the city. In recent years, it has been a cultural renaissance zone, and is home to a thriving arts and music community. This building is also near the North Lansing Dam and is next to the River Trail, so the idea of an historic building renovation easily took root here.

The Transition

The first step was of course to coordinate the agencies necessary to this type of project. The Lansing Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) was at the center of the brainstorm from the start. Also involved was the Old Town Commercial Association. Finally, the Mayor's office played a critical role in the fruition of the idea. A $667,000 grant was obtained from the State of Michigan's Clean Michigan Initiative Waterfront Redevelopment Program to provide the financial fuel for this project. Physical improvements included a stone patio, decorative ironwork, parking expansion and seating areas, all obviously outside. Inside, a remodeling for office space was effected to attract new tenants. They were not long in coming.

Enter Clark Hill

The Clark Hill law firm was perhaps the ideal solution to this tenant question. Clark Hill, founded in Detroit in 1890, has evolved over the years to become a full-service firm and serves clients with offices in Detroit, the Lansing area and other cities around Michigan. They were comfortably situated in Okemos, a prosperous suburb to the east of Lansing, so it took something extra to entice them to move into town. This was accomplished through a joint effort involving Clark Hill and the agencies named above.

The Lesson Learned

This striking success story has lessons to teach. It certainly shows what can be accomplished with coordination of private and governmental entities working together with the right inputs of planning and monies. It also demonstrates intelligent reuse of an historic site adapted for more modern purposes. Today, the Clark Hill building anchors the further enhancement of the Old Town community and employs about sixty professionals in a variety of capacities. It is hoped that this example can inspire other projects of this kind not only in Lansing, but elsewhere as well.

Clark Hill Building from Grand River Ave. Bridge

Clark Hill Building showing Lansing River Trail and North Lansing Dam
Clark Hill Building showing Lansing River Trail and North Lansing Dam | Source


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      Paolo Cross 

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