Lansing's John Bean building now a beehive of businesses

Ryan Loew | Lansing State Journal

Drive down South Cedar Street in Lansing just past the Interstate 496 interchange and even the most observant motorist might miss it.

It could be mistaken for another bleak facade amid the rusty railroad tracks and aging industrial sites. But despite its rough appearance, the John Bean Building, 1305 S. Cedar St., is actually a unique community of businesses ranging from concrete contractors to kick boxers.

And at roughly 80 years old, the building is its own museum, with its own culture and, in a sense, its own economy.

Some business owners opt for the industrial space for its low rent and other overhead costs. Others like the large amounts of raw, flexible space the building provides.

"There's some businesses that need to have a flashy image - nice, new office space and all that kind of stuff, because that's what their customers desire," said Joel Langlois, regional property manager for GRL Properties, which owns the building. "But there's other kinds of businesses that don't care if they're in the basement of their house or Bangladesh for that matter."

More than 30 businesses call the John Bean Building home. Their spaces come in all shapes and sizes, with some tenants squeezing into just 360 square feet and others renting more than 20,000 square feet. Some look like professionally decorated loft apartments. Others look more like indoor junkyards.

There are the usual suspects for an industrial site: concrete companies, machine shops, flooring companies. But there also is a collection of photographers and artists, a mixed martial arts gym, a driving school and a custom clothing company.

Some broadcast their locations. Others don't.

The building isn't the only old industrial space in the area that's been repurposed. In recent years, a handful of tech companies have bought up industrial sites to convert them into data centers.

For example, information technology company ACD.net in 2007 bought a 40,000-square-foot warehouse at 1800 N. Grand River Ave. The company renovated the building, which was built in 1959, and installed a network operations center and data center.

But developers took a different approach with the John Bean Building.

Other than some walls and doors that weren't there decades ago, the building looks much like it did decades ago during its former life as a factory.

Drab, faded paint peels from brick walls in spots. Massive air handlers rise from double-thick wood floors and a cold wind blows through the high bay - a vast single-story addition on the north side of the building with ceilings more than large enough to accommodate semitrailers.

Businesses are scattered primarily around the first and second floors of the labyrinthine building. The third floor, accessible by a long ramp stretching from the first floor, is "secure rental space" - two city blocks of boats, cars and other miscellaneous memories sitting in open 18-feet-wide by 20-feet-deep spaces, each cordoned off by exposed steel I-beams.

Spaces are rented by businesses and individuals.

DAILY 'SOAP OPERA'

All told, the building occupies just shy of 450,000 square feet. About 900 square feet of that is occupied by Logan's Design, where Lansing woodworker Cliff Logan carves tree limbs and stumps into spoons and bowls.

Logan, who once operated his workshop out of his house in Lansing, moved into John Bean in October 2007.

"There's so many different characters here that you could write a soap opera every day," Logan said. "There's charlatans. There's good guys. And we're all trying to scratch out a living."

There's also a good deal of bartering and trading between neighboring tenants, he said.

For instance, Logan, an electrician by trade, said he could trade in his ability to rewire a piece of machinery for some old pallets he could use for woodworking.

Such a trade is common at John Bean, he said.

"In the building as a whole, there's a large knowledge base," Logan said, "and say if you need something, maybe you can trade what you have to that person to get what you want, and there's no monetary exchange at all. It's just an exchange of time, skill and knowledge."

INDUSTRIAL PAST

Throughout February, maintenance worker Joe Feldpausch and his boss, building manager Richard Wolf, were busy preparing spaces for about nine new tenants. After all, the building is around 80 years old, and it needs some tidying up from time to time.

According to Dave Pfaff, historian at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, it's not clear when the building was constructed. He said it was built probably in the late 1920s for REO as a truck assembly plant.

The Nash-Kelvinator Corp. made propellers in the building from 1941 to 1945, Pfaff said. John Bean Co. used the building from 1946 to 1973 to make pumps and sprayers. It also converted vehicles to firetrucks.

Sometime after 1973, the factory was converted to rental space for businesses.

Langlois and his father bought the building in 1987. Their company, Delta Properties, was bought in 2001 by GRL Properties.

"It's an interesting old building," said Steve McKenna, director of operations for John Bean tenant Able Concrete. "I have customers who come in and say, 'Oh my father worked here,' or, 'you know, my great-grandfather worked here when it was this or that.' It's kinda home to me, I've been here so long. And the rent's right."

In 1982, when Able Concrete started renting space at John Bean, McKenna said the company was paying about $400 a month for a small office. Now, he pays about $3,500 a month for 8,000 square feet.

Feldpausch jokes that, with 24 years working at the site, it's taken him 24 years to learn his way around the behemoth building. But like a lot of people who spend their days there, Feldpausch likes showing outsiders around.

With a flashlight tucked in his back pocket and a ring of keys in hand, the 47-year-old makes his rounds, ensuring tenants' shipments get delivered, the lights stay on and the bathrooms stay clean.

"It's a lot for one guy to handle," Feldpausch said

On a recent afternoon, he walked down the high bay, past a semitruck cab, a Dumpster and a pontoon boat. No one was in sight, but the sounds of work echoed through the building.

"It's a busy place," Feldpausch said. "Everybody does their own little thing."

Contact Ryan Loew at 377-1206 or rloew@lsj.com. Article originally published March 4, 2010.


Juan's fight for his life

'It was a kids' sport. ... I never thought I would lose him.'

Ryan Loew | Lansing State Journal

Rosemary Contreras leans over the edge of the hospital bed and gently suctions saliva from her son's mouth.

"Sweetie, you can hear Mommy, right?" she whispers to Juan. "Squeeze my hand, baby, come on. Juan, come on, sweetie."

Twelve-year-old Juan Contreras doesn't respond.

He may never respond.

He's been in a coma since he was injured during a March 15 amateur boxing match in Kalamazoo.

According to Rosemary, doctors say a blow to the head caused Juan to suffer a subdural hematoma, a blood clot on the brain. There's only a small chance he will regain full brain function.

But many are pulling for him. His hospital room walls in Kalamazoo are covered with posters and cards from classmates and other young boxers. They send get-well wishes to the jokester and athlete they miss.

His family keeps vigil by his bedside.

Rosemary prays Juan will still, some day, simply wake up.

"I'll always have hope," she says. "I believe that God's going to bring him back to me."

AT THE FIGHT

The fight bell sounds the start of round three, and Juan, a member of Lansing's Crown Boxing Club, sidesteps about the ring in blue trunks and a gold jersey, trading quick jabs with another young fighter.

The match is just the second fight of his fledgling boxing career.

It is a standard three-round fight with one-minute rounds, according to Robert Every, president of Crown Boxing.

Midway through the third round Juan's opponent, a 13-year-old, lands a flurry of punches.

The referee halts the fight to examine Juan. The boy's knees buckle. The fight is called. Crown Boxing head coach Ali Easley sits Juan on a stool in the ring and wipes his face with a towel. Easley stands Juan up to leave the ring, and the boy staggers again. Easley lays his young fighter on the mat.

The crowd gasps.

"Oh, my God."

Juan is taken directly to Kalamazoo's Bronson Methodist Hospital by ambulance.

Juan's father, Jose, and his uncle, David Martinez, are ringside, but Rosemary isn't. She's in Lansing when sometime between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. she gets a phone call from Martinez.

The message is startling: Juan is hurt, get a ride to Kalamazoo.

Five minutes later, her husband calls back. Juan needs surgery.

"At first, I thought maybe he got the air knocked out of him or maybe people were making it sound worse than it was," she says.

Rosemary gets a ride from a sister-in-law to Kalamazoo, praying the entire time that it was all a mistake.

"The ironic part about it all is that he's doing the thing he loves, and the thing he loves jumps up and bites him," Every says, "and now he's fighting for his life."

Rosemary says doctors perform immediate surgery to relieve pressure on Juan's brain. A piece of skull has to be removed.

Juan remains in a coma with little brain function. A ventilator helps him breathe. He needs a feeding tube for nourishment.

"I signed him up because it was a sport, it was a kids' sport," his mother says. "I mean, I never thought I would lose him over this."

AT THE HOSPITAL

Posters and cards with messages reading "Wat up get well soon," and "You are in our thoughts and prayers," lined Juan's Kalamazoo hospital room before he was moved to Sparrow last week.

Until then, Juan's family lived at Bronson Hospital, sleeping in a room down the hall from Juan's bed in the pediatric intensive care unit.

His father slept for a few hours while Rosemary sat with her son.

She kissed Juan's right hand, which held a rosary.

"Baby ... baby, come on, open your eyes," she said.

Juan lay motionless, although he still has some reflexes. His eyes blink, and his mouth moves slightly.

"I always just sit here and wonder what he's thinking," she said, "and if he can hear us."

Juan's three sisters and twin brother kept vigil with the family as well. Juan's sister Nicole adjusted headphones so Juan could listen to Lil Wayne on his MP3 player.

It calms him, they said.

Twin brother Jose talked to Juan at his bedside, filling him in on school projects and two-hand touch football games at recess.

"I just never thought it would happen," Jose said.

Juan, a seventh-grader on the honor roll at the Mid-Michigan Leadership Academy, is a "bright, articulate, great student" said Superintendent Mark Eitrem.

"He's just an all-around great kid," he said. "It's a real tragedy for us. The whole Mid-Michigan Leadership Academy family is struggling with this."

AT THE GYM

A handful of young fighters at Crown Boxing hustle about the 6,000-square-foot gym, jumping rope and punching heavy bags.

It's been tough since Juan got injured, coach Easley says:

"It's devastating."

He says Juan "fit right in" after his father signed him up about the beginning of February.

Juan has always been interested in boxing. One of his favorite boxers is Oscar De La Hoya.

"Ever since he was little, he'd be playing around with boxing gloves or finding someone to box with him," Rosemary says.

Easley says his coach-to-boxer conversations centered less around boxing and more on down-to-earth, 12-year-old life: school, the gym, girls.

He says Juan trained daily.

Juan won his first fight in late February, held in St. Clair Shores, with a first-round knockout, Easley says.

"This kid, he wanted to fight," says Every, Crown Boxing's president. "He was at his happiest when he was in the gym. ... He found something that he was good at."

USA Boxing provides insurance for its registered fighters in sanctioned fights, Every said. The family has retained a lawyer as medical costs increase.

BY HIS SIDE

If she had to do it all over again Rosemary says she would have gone to the fight. Juan wanted her there.

Juan is up early the morning of the fight, his mother says. He makes breakfast for his sister Selena - reheated pizza - and runs around the block 10 times for a workout. The weigh-in is in the afternoon, and he's excited to get to Kalamazoo.

But Rosemary, mother true-to-form, doesn't want to see anyone hitting her son.

"It just makes me think I could have done something different," she says.

Juan will stay at Sparrow Hospital until he can be taken to a rehabilitation center or home.

He is being eased off the ventilator, Rosemary says, but will need a feeding tube until he can feed himself.

Rosemary keeps a notebook with directions from nurses on how to take care of Juan if he is released from hospital care:

"Inject medicine for blood clots every 12 hrs."

"Clean mouth every 4 hrs. to prevent infection."

"Sanitize mouth every time you suction."

"I'm going to have to take care of him like he was a baby again," Rosemary says.

"I have to do what I have to do, though. Nobody can take care of him better than I can, I guess, whether I have medical experience or not."

Contact Ryan Loew at 377-1206 or rloew@lsj.com. Article originally published April 13, 2008.


Delta tragedy traumatic for police, too

Volunteer victim advocates were on scene to assist

Ryan Loew | Lansing State Journal

DELTA TWP. - When Lt. Jeff Warder of the Eaton County sheriff's office Delta Patrol was at the scene of the apparent murder-suicide in Delta Township Monday, he said he couldn't help but think of his own two children.

They're around the same ages as the victims, he said.

"It made me want to come home and give both my kids a big hug," Warder said.

When violence happens, community members aren't the only ones affected. Police are too, said Tom Hendrickson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police.

"I think what law enforcement goes through is somewhat similar to the military, not in the sense of experiencing combat, but experiencing the trauma and aftermath of violence," Hendrickson said. "It brings an accumulated stress not only for law enforcement officers but in medical personnel, emergency personnel."

About 10 to 12 sheriff's office personnel were initially on the scene Monday, Warder said, with about half that number directly involved in the investigation.

Police said Shajimon Thomas came home Monday evening and discovered the bodies of his wife, 40-year-old Brigeethamma Shajimon, and his two sons, Alwin Shajimon Thomas, 10, and Alfred Shajimon Thomas, 5. Police have described the incident as an apparent murder-suicide.

"We're humans like anybody else," Eaton County Sheriff Mike Raines said. "And it has the same effect that it would on the general public. However, we're trained professionals.

"We have avenues available to us."

The sheriff's office utilizes an interdepartment trauma/peer support team made up of six deputies who have "extensive" training in dealing with traumatic incidents such as officer-involved shootings or other critical incidents, said Warder, who oversees the team.

Deputies can also receive counseling from a department-contracted psychologist. But as of Tuesday afternoon, no sheriff's office personnel had sought help related to Monday's incident, Warder said.

But when it comes to traumatic events such as Monday's incident, Eaton County sheriff's deputies aren't alone out there.

Supporting deputies at the scene Monday evening were volunteer victim advocates from the Eaton County Sheriff's Office Volunteers in Police Service, a local chapter of a national organization designed to assist law enforcement agencies.

"The police are so busy processing the scene at the time that they don't have the time to be able to give the comfort level to the victims or the victims' families," said Randy Carpenter, coordinator of the Eaton County group.

The victim advocates "come in and take that stress off the police," Carpenter said, by helping trauma victims contact family members, reach out to social services or simply by listening to victims' stories.

"There's a lot for (police) to do, and it's not that they wouldn't want to help," Carpenter said. "It's just that the time constraints and the crisis at hand takes a lot from them."

Contact Ryan Loew at 377-1206 or rloew@lsj.com. Article originally published June 10, 2009.