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Not much action yet on downtown buildings

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Not much action yet on downtown buildings


Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Every new report of restoring some of downtown Flint's finest buildings raises hopes and expectations of this becoming a "college town," living up to its widely vaunted potential.

That above all would mean drawing a critical mass of new people, the essential ingredient needed to make Flint's own version of the "cool city" concept a reality.

This skeptical observation does not dismiss the possibilities, but is a cry of frustration over slow progress. There have been notable improvements in infrastructure, but a human enlivening of the central city remains lacking.

Even as S. Saginaw Street's look improves - the arches are a gracious new touch - it remains hard to imagine at the moment that students and the kinds of businesses that cater to them would some day fill those still oh-so-lifeless streets.

At last report, we learned of renovation work in the 352 Building, once headquarters of the old Genesee Bank, now owned by a company formed by Alfred and Diana Kloss. This couple's work and dedication to redeveloping downtown has been nothing short of heroic. But it remains to be seen whether 352's marble floors, plaster decorations, six-panel wooden doors and other nearly irreplaceable features will draw the strong business tenants the Klosses seek. There are talks, but no major breakthroughs.

Meanwhile, Uptown Developments continues to promise many old-building renovations with upper stories converted to lofts. This group of private investors, including the Klosses, is seeking tenants and understandably wants to attract a few stable ones before forging ahead too aggressively with building work.

So we watch, wait and hope, and presumably the University of Michigan-Flint is doing the same before it plunges rapidly into student housing while it swelters, along with all the state's higher education institutions, under crisis financial pressures. UM-Flint dare not make such a change of its campus without the highest assurances that as it moves forward, the rest of the community will be fully in sync, especially downtown.

Although we are not at an impasse and work is progressing, neither are the pieces coming together at a pace that could excite.

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