DEVELOPING WITH HEART
THURSDAY, MAY 31, 2012
“For the first ten years we were a suburban sprawl developer,” confessed Lansing area real estate developer Pat Gillespie. He admits that although it was quality work, it lacked creativity and that is when he had a change of heart. Gillespie took an aerial photo of the State Capitol and drew a one mile radius around the Capitol and proclaimed that this is where the focus of the company’s work would occur – within that circle.
Since then the Gillespie Groups completed projects include Stadium District housing and retail development across from Downtown Lansing’s baseball stadium; Prudden Place, a housing development adjacent to the also redeveloped Motor Wheel factory site; Lansing Downtown’s riverside City Market project (the housing phase breaks ground this year); and the historic renovation of the Marshall Street Armory building. True to his word, every one of the projects is in his one-mile targeted area of focus. “Our passion is here, we’ve always been here, and we’re never leaving,” proclaimed Gillespie. When he says, we’ve always been here – he means it. He went to grade school at the Church of the Resurrection, high school at Lansing Catholic Central, and college at Michigan State University – all in his proclaimed target development area.
The Marshall Street Armory building (directly across the street from Lansing Catholic Central) is where the offices of the Gillespie Group are now located, along with a cadre of nonprofit organizations. The tenants of this unique office building are enjoying the benefits of an office environment that offers private offices and collaborative work spaces, as well as economies of scale for vital business services such as technical support, a copy center, and meeting spaces (there are seven conference rooms). The building has just received the 2012 Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation as well as a Building Award from the Michigan Historic Preservation Network.
“I bought this building at auction, after it had been de-commissioned. It had been sitting vacant for several years and was quickly deteriorating. At the time I did not know what the new purpose of the building would be,” said Gillespie. “After we got the building nobody thought that the building would lend itself to an office space, but I had this crazy idea.”
Gillespie has put history front and center in the re-design and repurposing of this cavernous building that has soaring ceilings, a gymnasium and a commercial kitchen. The gymnasium now hosts two major office spaces with vibrantly colored partition walls that provide a dramatic panoramic photo mural of the building’s former tenants, the Michigan Army National Guard 119th Field Artillery Regiment. The original gymnasium wood floors and ceilings have been preserved, and an updated 119th Artillery logo has become part of the design and color story for the building. Gillespie tells the story of how he chose the colors for the project. Frustrated with the colors being offered by the interior designer, he went to Kositchek’s, his favorite men’s clothing store in Downtown Lansing, and asked for a dozen of the hottest new neckties. The colors for The Marshall Street Armory project were selected from those ties.
“As a developer, you go into buildings looking for a heartbeat. Starting from nothing, it is hard to create that heartbeat. This building has so much passion from its previous life, it has a heartbeat and a life that needs to be kept alive,” shared Gillespie. Next month, there will be a grand opening celebration of military proportions. The Armory celebration will include the usual local dignitaries and construction partners, but also will welcome back past members of the 119th Field Artillery Regiment who called the building home during their military service. Festivities will include a military band, a howitzer cannon salute, and a military flyover.
Pat Gillespie has more plans in the works for developments within his Downtown Lansing target area, but it looks like The Marshall Street Armory project will always hold a special place in his heart.