ELi's Comprehensive Guide to the Center City District Redevelopment

Wednesday, June 21, 2017, 8:00 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: A rendering provided by Harbor Bay Real Estate to the City in June 2017 showing the project as if looking down on Albert Avenue from the northwest. The new parking garage with senior housing on top would replace surface Parking Lot #1.

The Center City District redevelopment project is planned for a downtown section of land that stretches from Grand River Avenue on the south to Albert Avenue on the north. The proposal area includes private commercial properties owned by the Ballein family business on Grand River Avenue, the alleyway behind that stretch, City Parking Lot #1 (the surface lot across from HopCat), and Albert Avenue in that area. A timeline on the project appears below.

The developers for this project are the Ballein family business working in conjunction with Harbor Bay Real Estate. The project requires a complex agreement between the City and the developers because it allows for development of private properties—to be owned and leased out by the developer—on public land. This project also requires a complex financial partnership; for more on that, go to this report.

This map shows the redevelopment area:

You can click here to see a larger, clearer version of this map.

The following photo shows the commercial properties along Grand River Avenue that will be demolished to construct the "Grand River" building of this project:

The Grand River building is designed as a 12-story, 132-foot-high building. On the ground floor will be retail space, for which the developer says Target has signed a lease, and above that will be 273 market-rate rental apartments housing upwards of 400 people. Designs have included plans for a computer room for residents and a theatre (what appears to be a large “entertainment room” for residents) along with a second-floor “amenity deck” that will include outdoor space for residents on the second level, facing MSU.

A rendering provided by the developers to the City in early June 2017 portrayed the Grand River building this way:

None of the renderings show the buildings in daylight. A black and white architect's drawing of the Grand River building looks like this:

Another building, the Albert Avenue building, will be constructed on what is now City Parking Lot #1. This building, set to face Albert Avenue, will be a 117-foot-high, 10-story building. On the first floor will be retail space operated and rented out by the developer along Albert Avenue, with mechanical and storage space behind that, on the alley-side. The second through fifth floors will be a parking garage owned and operated by the City. The sixth through tenth floors will have 92 apartments for people aged 55 and over, operated and rented out by the developer.

The senior housing for people aged 55 and up is part of this project because City Council passed an ordinance requiring developments like this have at least 25% of their residential components be for something other than the typical student rental market. The apparently-latest tax assessor’s estimate suggests that these apartments would rent for at least $1400 for the one-bedroom, $1700 for one-bedroom with den, $2,000 for two-bedroom, and $2,300 for two-bedroom with den. Permit parking would cost extra.

The following rendering, provided by the developers to the City in early June 2017, portrayed the Albert Avenue building this way, as if you were looking down on Albert Avenue:

On the first floor is the retail space. Above that is the parking garage. Above that is the "active senior" housing. Here's the developer's rendering of the outdoor deck designed for the senior housing to be perched on top of the parking garage along the west side of the senior housing building (difficult to see in the above rendering):

In the image above, the parking deck is below, the senior rental apartment building is to the left, and MSU is in the distance. To the right is a large expanse of parking garage roof. The developers have said they are interested in making that a green roof, but Council did not require it for approval.

As part of the project, the streetscape along Albert Avenue will be redesigned to have wider sidewalks for gathering spaces on the south side, and to have an “open street” design. The idea has been said to be aimed at creating a “main street” for East Lansing in this corridor. This rendering, provided by the developer to the City in early June 2017, shows a redesigned Albert Avenue with the new parking garage, retail, and senior housing above:

In the image above, the street looks like it is closed and only for pedestrians, but in fact it is still designed to be an active roadway for cars and trucks, as shown in the rendering just above this one. (See the City's collection of renderings provided by the developer here.)

City staff have indicated the parking garage will have spaces for about 620 cars, with about 312 of them reserved for a master lease with the developers for their commercial and residential tenants. Current Lot #1 has parking for about 143 cars, so this garage is expected to produce a net gain of 159 new spaces for hourly and daily parking downtown.

The City will probably own and maintain a 20-foot-wide "pedestrian link" that would go from Albert Avenue through the parking garage to the alley between the parking garage and the Grand River building. There is currently no rendering provided for this first-floor pedestrian tunnel, and this issue wasn't worked out before Council approved the project.

The following rendering, provided by the developer, shows a design for the alleyway between the parking garage and the Target store in the Grand River Avenue building, looking towards M.A.C. Avenue.

The developer has said that the deal with Target requires the project to be started by Fall 2017. Target declined to confirm this but said they plan to open the store in 2019, which would require construction be started by Fall 2017.

This is a timeline of the project, with links to ELi reporting.

  • July 11, 2017: City Manager George Lahanas indicates he's satisfied by what an external consultant found in a "due diligence" review of Harbor Bay and the project.
  • July 7, 2017: The City receives a consultant's "due diligence" report on Harbor Bay and the project.
  • June 22, 2017: The East Lansing Downtown Development Authority (DDA) debate whether to change one word in the development agreement, but ultimately vote to approve it. Read more.
  • June 20, 2017: Council unanimously approves the site plan, special use permits, $58 million TIF plan, and development agreement for the project. A number of details are yet to be worked out.
  • June 14, 2017: The City releases more information about the project, including a draft development agreement, which we analyzed.
  • June 13, 2017: One week before Council is expected to vote on the project, we are still trying to find out what the site plan and public-private partnership might look like.
  • June 13, 2017: Asked about why his claims about the TIF do no match the BRA-approved TIF plan, developer Mark Bell tells ELi, "I am making no representations that should be mistaken as facts."
  • June 12, 2017: The City posts a memo dated June 6 suggesting what the development agreement might contain.
  • June 9, 2017: The City announces the public hearings that had been scheduled on the project’s site plan and $56 million tax increment financing (TIF) plan have been postponed from June 13 to June 20.
  • June 6, 2017: ELi reports what is and isn’t known at this point in this complex project.
  • May 25, 2017: East Lansing Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA) approves a revised $56 million tax increment financing (TIF) plan for the project.
  • May 22, 2017: ELi reports City has withheld key data on the project, specifically the tax assessor's estimate of taxable value and of rental income.
  • May 16, 2017: ELi talks to Target and confirms the project would bring some new grocery options to downtown.
  • May 15, 2016: ELi reports Harbor Bay's Mark Bell made false representations to East Lansing's Planning Commission with regard to business endorsements.
  • May 9, 2017: Although the developer makes no presentation, City Council holds public hearings on the project. Council splits on views of it and votes to do another round of public hearings on June 13.
  • May 8, 2017: Harbor Bay hosts a pizza event about the project and announces they are not ready for the public hearings the next night. The City Manager says the hearings will go on anyway.
  • May 4, 2017: The City Attorney tells ELi the Center City project doesn't require voter approval because it doesn't involve a land sale.
  • May 2017: The Ballein family business rehabs the building at the northeast corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue (former home of Conrad's Grill) in preparation to move Noodles & Company and Cellular and More to that location.
  • May 7, 2017: ELi obtains key financial information on the project via the Freedom of Information Act, showing additional irregular process at the local review level.
  • May 5, 2017: The developers announce they'll provide to the public the updated site plan for the May 9 public hearings on May 8, at a pizza event.
  • April 26, 2017: Planning Commission formally votes against recommending the project to City Council.
  • April 12, 2017: The developers and City announce that Target is set to be the commercial tenant in the south building.
  • April 2017: Heavily redacted reports are said by the developer to show a market for the senior housing and market-rate rental housing.
  • March 31, 2017: ELi looks at unanswered questions on the Center City project.
  • March 23, 2017: The BRA approves a $55 million TIF plan for the project.
  • March 22, 2017: The developers present a new version of the site plan to Planning Commission.
  • March 20, 2017: ELi reports on the $52 million TIF plan proposed for the project.
  • March 8, 2017: Planning Commission begins review of the proposal.
  • March 7, 2017: MSU says it won’t be part of major downtown developments.
  • March 6, 2017: ELi reports on small business owners worried about the project.
  • February 23, 2017: ELi produces a major report showing how the Park District and Center City District plans have been treated differently.
  • February 20, 2017: In an unusual move, the City holds a press conference to announce this redevelopment project. At this point, it is called the "Downtown Lifestyle District" proposal.
  • November 2016: City Council amends Ordinance 1384 to reduce the requirement for non-student-rental housing in big downtown developments from 50% of units to 25%. This means the Center City District project will need to meet the 25% requirement, not a 50% requirement.

East Lansing Info (ELi) has been steadily covering this redevelopment proposal. You can find our comprehensive, ongoing coverage by clicking here. The timeline above will be updated, so you can always check back to this page to see what’s new about this development.

 

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