Gillespie Group has spent the last 10 years focused on revitalizing downtown Lansing, Michigan.
PAT GILLESPIE built his business delivering apartment structures to fill the suburban sprawl extending beyond Lansing, Michigan’s, borders. In the last 10 years, however, Gillespie Group has turned its focus to the urban core to help breathe new life into downtown Lansing.
“The suburban developments are easier and quicker to execute because there are no major issues or environmental challenges to deal with,” Gillespie says. “We looked at where trends were headed and knew that it was time to turn our attentions to a more urban setting, and with Lansing being our hometown, it was an easy and natural move for us.”
Originally founded in 1994 as Gillespie Development, Gillespie Group has built a portfolio of more than 1,600 residential units in additional to over 675,000 square feet of commercial/retail space and a number of distinctive for-sale condominiums.
Gillespie Group spent its first 10 years as a builder, developer and property manager of suburban apartment on greenfield sites, delivering between 50 and 100 apartments at a time. In the last 10 years, however, the group has transitioned from suburban greenfield projects to urban infill as popularity increases for city dwellers.
“We saw a growing demand for people wanting to live urban. We also saw a lot of businesses needing to recruit and retain a workforce, and they had trouble doing that in the suburbs,” Gillespie says. “The market is trending as such residentially and commercially.”
Gillespie Group has had to ramp up its operations to build urban infill projects over the last 10 years. According to Gillespie, the company had to educate itself on economic incentives available from the state of Michigan, federal grants for working with historic buildings and brownfield tax incremental financing plans.
“We didn’t have to touch any of that with the urban sprawl,” Gillespie says. “We beefed up our accounting team due to all the incentives and layering of financing. We had one. Now we have eight in accounting to maintain forward movement.”
Design tastes in the urban residential sector are much different, as well, as Gillespie Group has come to discover. Smaller units are preferred by city dwellers.
“In the last two projects we’ve built, the first units leased are the smallest one bedrooms, whereas before the 1,000-squarefoot two-bedroom was most popular,” Gillespie says. “Now, the 575-square-foot one-bedroom with a tight kitchen and an open floor plan flies off the shelf.”
These same clients are willing to sacrifice square footage for an upgrade in finishes inside and out of the units, according to Gillespie.
“They’re looking for smaller units, but nice cabinets, solid surface countertops and nice bathroom fixtures,” Gillespie says. “The amenities in hallways are nice, but we’re not seeing a demand for workout facilities or clubrooms that were once necessary in the suburban market. These residents don’t have time to hang out or swim because they’re too busy working, studying or entertaining to use those amenities. The surrounding neighborhood becomes the key amenity.”
Out of the Park
One such answer to the current demand, called The Outfield, is being developed by Gillespie Group and includes entertainment and lifestyle amenities galore. For this development, Gillespie Group has teamed up with the city of Lansing as well as the owners of Cooley Law School Stadium – home of the Lansing Lugnuts, a minor league affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays – to erect an apartment building in the outfield.
Three stories featuring 84 apartments will rise above a first floor housing a new catering venue and an outdoor grilling area. Half of the units will face the playing field, providing the ultimate urban experience for residents, according to Gillespie.
“If you live there, there will be a lot of noise, lights and fireworks, and it’s all part of the downtown lifestyle in demand,” Gillespie says. “The phone calls for people wanting to live there are unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Customers are attracted to the energy and activity here. Baseball is not something people thought about using, but if you’re going to do a public/private partnership with the city and a baseball team, getting teams together early and very often is a must.”
Gillespie Group’s portion of work for this project will cost $12 million. The scope of work for the entire job – which includes new fan seating, locker rooms and a catering area – will cost $23 million. Gillespie Group started framing the apartments in April 2015, and Gillespie says the development will be complete near Opening Day 2016.
Gillespie admits that as exciting as this project is for his team and downtown Lansing, it also is the most challenging in Gillespie Group’s history. This is because the company must work with a city, baseball team and a fully operational baseball stadium to deliver its portion of work.
“There has been a lot of communication and collaboration to make sure we can coexist and all succeed,” Gillespie says. “Speed is critical because there is a hard-and-fast baseball season schedule published months in advance, so there is no changing those or venue entertainment dates.”
Gillespie Group has some experience delivering developments in this district of Lansing. The company built The Stadium District – a 100,000-square-foot mixed-use structure with retail occupying the first floor and office space on the second – and residential on the third and fourth – all across the street from Cooley Law School Stadium.