Michigan State University Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU) held a groundbreaking ceremony this Tuesday, July 13, for the construction of its newest office building, to be built at 311 Abbot Rd., just south of Dublin Square. MSUFCU’s representatives say this project represents the credit union acting on its long-time desire to have a large presence in the downtown core of East Lansing.
The project is set to start soon and is expected to be completed in spring of 2023. Site work commencement is planned for July 26, with steel placement occurring in the fall. In spring 2022, exterior glazing and metal panel work will begin, and in summer of 2022, interior and furnishing work will occur.
Publicly-owned buildings along Evergreen Avenue owned by East Lansing’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) will be demolished to provide space for the credit union’s construction trucks, and there will be lane closures along Abbot Rd. and Albert Ave. during the construction.
The groundbreaking ceremony on Tuesday shifted from the building site to Beggar’s Banquet due to stormy weather, and it included a who’s-who of the credit union and the City of East Lansing. Members of MSUFCU’s executive team, board of directors and other employees attended, and East Lansing City government officials attended, including several people on or running for City Council.
The start of the project comes after legal wrangling between MSUFCU and local businessman Paul Vlahakis, who owns Dublin Square.
Vlahakis has claimed MSUFCU officials treated him poorly in the process to get the development approved, and he had threatened to sue. When, in April, ELi asked MSUFCU for comment on Vlahakis’ denouncement of the credit union as an “800-pound gorilla,” MSUFCU President and CEO April Clobes revealed that Vlahakis had tried to get the credit union to agree to a joint development deal and that the credit union had declined.
At the ceremony, in her remarks, Clobes recalled a member who previously lived in East Lansing emailing her that, in their eyes, the project amounts to “800 pounds of awesome.”
“So, I’m going to go with this is an 800-pound-of-awesome moment, and that we are going to be wildly successful here in East Lansing,” she said.
Clobes told those assembled that she likes to dream a lot, and said that an MSUFCU building downtown was one of these dreams.
“We have a headquarters campus in the northern edge of East Lansing, and prior to that building, we wanted to be in the core of East Lansing,” Clobes said. “It just wasn’t possible fifteen years ago. It is possible today.”
Clobes thanked City Manager George Lahanas for his help in bringing the development to fruition. She said this building will bring space for office workers and student interns, offer a current branch with technology integration, and be a space for public events and celebration. There will also be space available for new ideas and services, she said.
MSUFCU Board Chair Angela Brown noted that this building will combine the current downtown East Lansing branch (replacing the one near Peanut Barrel) and the former downtown financial education center, and there will be a community room, for people affiliated with the University and residents of the City, available at the discretion of the credit union. According to Brown’s remarks, the credit union employs 900 employees and has 22 branches.
Another of MSUFCU’s current branch projects is the reconstruction of its drive-thru branch located at the intersection of Coolidge and West roads on the site of the company’s headquarters, approved by East Lansing’s City Council on Tuesday.
Kathy Buck, senior project manager for Neumann & Smith Architecture, the project’s designers, said she was grateful to East Lansing voters for approving the sale of Lot 4 to house the building.
At Tuesday’s event, Buck said the project will promote job growth and it “will introduce office space, which is currently lacking in the downtown core, and establish a workforce that will help to support other local businesses.” (There is vacant office space in the downtown, but this space will obviously be more modern than what currently exists at places like University Place, where the Marriott is also located.)
Peter Dewan, outgoing Chair of the DDA, told those present at the groundbreaking that “MSUFCU’s project is clearly helping the City of East Lansing achieve its dreams for an attractive, vibrant, successful downtown.”
Dewan recalled that the credit union was founded in 1937 by several MSU community members in a single drawer with $3000 in assets, and he said that now MSUFCU is the largest university-based credit union in the world, with about 300,000 members and $5.6 billion in assets.
Clobes used the final part of her speech to provide an update on the status of the credit union amid the pandemic. She said membership has been growing at about seven percent a year and despite the pandemic, membership grew five percent in the last year.
As of July 2021, Clobes said, the credit union is actually a $6.3 billion institution, adding one billion dollars during the pandemic. MSUFCU opened its charitable Desk Drawer Foundation in 2019, and Clobes said during its first year about $446,000 was donated to 70 organizations, with members also donating.
“We could not be successful without the community also helping the credit union be successful,” Clobes said. “It takes everyone for community to be successful and we are all partners in the success of this community, so thank you very much.”