Taking the Red Pill


The last time I tried to get to the NEO center to check out its construction I ended up at a large building with all the windows boarded up. As I walked up the driveway, littered with broken down cars, I called to a man leaving one of those cars. As I asked if I had the right building, he turned from me and quickly began walking to the only door yelling for someone; seemingly distraught that I was there. I didn’t feel truly unsafe, but I was beginning to feel uncomfortable as eight large, non-English speaking men began filing out of the building, forming a half circle around me. Another man walked up to me and responded politely to my questions about the NEO Center. This was obviously not the NEO Center. I successfully smiled a lot and let them know I was harmless used my charm and charisma to escape my perilous situation unharmed. Since that day I’ve learned the exact location of the REAL NEO Center and vowed to stop in for a tour. Today, as I rounded the corner of Grand River and Clark I could see construction workers outside the front. Although the landscaping and fresh mulch stood out on the block, it was the wall of windows that really drew my attention. The three-story building, with black metal railings, brick accents and gorgeous wood work sat poised like a regal prince amongst its new kingdom. Reaching the parking area I had the great luck of finding myself in step with one of the founding members, Paul Jaques. I requested a tour and he willingly obliged. Politely he led me up the stairs to the second floor main entrance. There Tom Stewart, another founding member, greeted me with a smile. Despite having a heaping plate of activities, such as running for city council, he still took time to pose for a few photos and make jokes. Leaving Tom, Paul and I continued our tour around the perfected three-story Center for New Enterprise Opportunity. On the main floor there are multiple common areas; conference room, printing room, exercise room and kitchen. There is also a private area for Kincaid-Henry Building Group who is moving their headquarters to this new location. There are also a set of private office areas. All but two have been rented so far. Each area rang out with its uniqueness. The floors are all original, refinished oak. Each office has a hand crafted door designed by Jay Belous; the owner of Against the Grain, an eco-friendly millworks company in Old Town, creating a distinct character to every room. Stepping out the back door (I thought Paul was showing me the parking area) we moved to the lower level. Through another key-coded door we toured the lower level of rentable work station areas and office space. The pleasant green colored walls; dark colored, open beamed, ceiling and freshly poured concrete floor provided a very comfortable work area. Back at the stairwell we waited patiently while the welders finished a section of railing and then we continued to the third floor. Of all the floors this was my favorite. The ceilings were also very high here with beamed ceilings and visible air ducts. The windows allowed an enormous amount of light into the area. The front section of the area was set up as “drop–in” space. For a small yearly fee students could use the space for studying or small business activity. Another large, open room was set up as possible rental space for the community. This floor also housed a handful of offices with many having roof-top views. Lastly, there’s the slide. Yes a slide. It’s a sleek, silver rabbit hole connecting the third level to the second level.

For a while this 1900’s building sat unused; crippled by a foreclosure status. Then something amazing happened. A small group of hard working and determined people joined together, inviting other like minded people to join them on a journey. They took a chance and decided to show what was real out there. They moved outside of the sky rises and downtown offices. They took the little red pill and plopped NEO right into the middle of the real working class. By doing so they stimulated a whole new group into action, including neighborhood cooperation, business investment and entrepreneurial collaboration. Lansing’s first incubator, located in Lansing’s north side, has been born into the real world to bring hope and inspiration to those it’s around and willing to join in on the adventure.
Press Release for NEO Center

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