The Abbot Reaches the Top, and the Feeling Is High

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Thursday, February 20, 2020, 7:45 am
Alice Dreger

Above: The crane lifts the ceremonial beam (photo by Raymond Holt), and the rendering of the project with The Graduate hotel in the background.

On a bitingly cold but brilliantly sunny winter afternoon, The Abbot officially reached its peak. Yesterday’s celebration had everyone in attendance in a happy mood.

While the construction of the building itself has been pretty fast, the redevelopment of this property was a long time coming.

For many years, East Lansing lived with miserable blight at the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue due to a stalled and then failed development deal that the City of East Lansing and the Downtown Development Authority had struck with local developer Scott Chappelle.

Above: The location in the days of the blight (photo by Alice Dreger, 2016)

Chappelle used to talk at City meetings about how some day he would occupy the top floor of the building he intended to construct at this spot. He used to say he’d watch games in Spartan Stadium from up on the 12th floor.

He wasn’t wrong: you can see inside Spartan Stadium clearly from that spot. But the developers DRW Convexity, out of Chicago, have set aside the space as a common area for all residents of their new building to enjoy on football Saturdays, as well as on ordinary days.

And the view is something: to the south, Michigan State University; to the east, downtown East Lansing all the way to Meridian Mall; to the north, the Oakwood and Bailey neighborhoods; and to the west, the split of Michigan and Grand River Avenues, with the vista stretching to the BWL smokestacks and beyond.

The view looking west toward Lansing, showing where Michigan and Grand River Avenues split (photo by Raymond Holt)

Up on the top floor, asked for a comment about the building, East Lansing Planning Commission Chair and architect Dan Bollman offered this: “Wow.”

DRW’s David Nelson had a bit more to say: “I think this is going to be the most amazing location in East Lansing. Our building is really refined, great for people who want to be working in the city …. The location, you can’t beat it.”

David Nelson (left) speaking at the ceremony (photo by Raymond Holt)

Nelson said he thinks The Abbot will attract a more mature breed than some of the other big high-rises new to East Lansing.

“It’s not set up for a pure party. Up on this deck, looking at the game, there’s going to be great socializing here.” But, he said, this building would draw grown-ups to live downtown.

According to Nelson, the apartments in the Abbot are about 85 percent leased, which puts his team ahead of where they hoped to be at this point.

The building is set to be finished June 25, with The Graduate Hotel, under construction next door, likely to open in late fall.

Council Member Mark Meadows and Planning Commissioner Chris Wolf admire the view (photo by Raymond Holt)

Nelson had many people to thank at the topping-off, including the workers of Walsh construction, the Convexity design team, and people in the City of East Lansing who made the project happen. He also thanked his zoning attorney David Pierson of Lansing, who in turn praised Rob Garza of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) for providing key research that allowed DRW Convexity to obtain a $10 million state tax credit for the project, a booster originally obtained by Chappelle.

Steve Colone, senior superintendent for Walsh construction, told me he really enjoyed working in East Lansing on this project. Colone graduated from MSU in 1996, and while we were on the upper deck, he pointed out the dorm where he spent his sophomore year – Campbell Hall.

The view of campus from The Abbot, with the MSU Union in the foreground (photo by Raymond Holt)

“I spent a lot of good years here, and it’s great to be back in East Lansing for work,” he said. “I still come up for games, but I love being here every day for this [construction]. East Lansing has changed a ton since ’96, but my favorite restaurants are all still here.”

He rattled off the names of Crunchy’s, Peanut Barrel, Georgio’s Pizza, Beggar’s Banquet, and Lou & Harry’s.

Downtown Development Authority Chair Peter Dewan and Vice Chair Jim Croom also came for the celebration.

DDA Chair Peter Dewan signing the ceremonial beam (photo by Raymond Holt)

“This is just a beautiful structure, I’m so impressed,” said Croom.

Croom so enjoyed the views, he said he was thinking of going back to school and living in this building.

Council members Mark Meadows and Jessy Gregg were also in attendance. Meadows was mayor for much of the trials and tribulations of the project — including through the period where Chappelle was threatening to kill the whole deal. (DRW Convexity apparently incentivized him to stop bothering them, although they won’t say for how much.)

Part of the ceremony called for people to sign the “topping off beam” before it was lifted. Asked what she was planning to write on the beam, Gregg said, laughing, “For a good time, call Mark Meadows.”

Council Member Jessy Gregg signing the beam (photo by Raymond Holt)

I asked David Nelson, after what he’d been through on this project, would he ever want to develop in East Lansing again?

“Absolutely, yes,” he replied, without hesitation. “Let’s get another one going over there with the DDA properties. I would be very excited to do that.”

Nelson was referring to the Evergreen Avenue properties just north of The Abbot, bought by the DDA in 2009 to support Chappelle’s “Center City II” fantasy. The DDA now owes about $5.4 million on the properties and they are estimated to be worth a few million less.

The Request for Proposals went out on those properties late last year, and developers are required to submit their pitches by the close of business on Monday.

Nelson’s remarks made clear his company feels confident they now know how to play ball in East Lansing.

Walsh construction staff getting ready to hoist the beam (photo by Raymond Holt)

I asked the DRW Convexity leaders if they intentionally gave their building the same name as the bank building built there in 1926.

Yes, answered Convexity’s Chris Oakley, although he says Nelson wanted to name it “The Grand Abbot.” Oakley says he thought that sounded like a fat monk.

So they decided in the end just to call it “The Abbot.”

The beam signed by all those people yesterday will go into the building. Residents are expected to start moving in around the middle of this summer.

Up goes the beam (photo by Raymond Holt)

You can find a (long) log of our reporting on the Park District redevelopment at this link. You can also read about the history of the controversy over the construction of the 1926 Abbot in our special report on the findings of local historian Kevin S. Forsyth, a graduate of East Lansing High School. The report contains a series of photos documenting the construction and life of that building. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info