As Demolition Proceeds, Surprises Revealed

Wednesday, October 25, 2017, 9:13 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Demolition starts today on the remainder of the old commercial buildings along Grand River Avenue in the Park District. These are the buildings that run from Evergreen Avenue just west of Abbot Road to the Memorial Garden of Peoples Church. What's going on with the demolition and what is to come? We asked the developers' representatives to tell us.

Demolition reveals surprises:

Demolition on the “big bank building” at 100 West Grand River is complete, but people passing by might notice the contractors have not yet finished filling in the hole. That’s because excavation revealed something unexpected: vaults under the sidewalk (shown above).

“The vaults were a surprise,” David Pierson tells ELi. Pierson is an attorney for the owners/developers of the Park District properties.

“They were not visible from the inside of the building and were discovered during demolition,” he explains. “They are outside the property line in the right-of-way on Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue. The demolition did not remove any of the support for the sidewalks; they are just open and visible for the first time.”

The original “big bank building” at the site, at the northwest corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue, was built in 1926. At that time, it was not uncommon to create additional basement storage by digging spaces under sidewalks and even roads.

Says Pierson, “We are working with the City and MDOT to determine what will be done with the vaults between now and when the property is developed, and when the sidewalks can be reopened.” The City of East Lansing owns Abbot Road, and MDOT (the Michigan Department of Transportation) owns Grand River Avenue.

I asked Pierson why it took a long time for the contractors to remove the bank safe revealed during demolition:

He said it was just a particularly tough nut to crack. A “pencil breaker” attachment was put on the excavator to demolish the vault.

Says Pierson, “It is used in cases that require demolition of thick concrete, such as the [bank] vault.” The contractor, Mackenzie, “knew the vault was in the bank at the time the bid was prepared and allotted time” to deal with it.

Where has all the material from the building gone now?

“The steel as well as copper, brass, and wire were sorted and sent to Friedland industries to be recycled,” Pierson says. “Friedland will prepare the steel based on orders they receive from the mills….Concrete slabs, walls, and brick were also salvaged. They will be crushed into different types of aggregate to be used on future projects.”

According to Pierson, “It is safe to say that for a demolition project of this size with the makeup of construction material used, between 75 and 80 percent of the demolition material will be recycled.”

Demolition of the other commercial buildings (shown below) is starting slightly ahead of the expected schedule. It had been anticipated that it would begin this coming Monday.

What's coming, if anything?

Is there a plan yet for what is to come from DRW/Convexity, the owners and developers of the properties?

Chris Oakley, Director of Design for Convexity, says not yet. DRW/Convexity has struggled to get a project going for these properties, which were purchased following foreclosure action against companies owned by Scott Chappelle. (See a complete timeline from ELi.) As we’ve reported, DRW/Convexity has found working with the City of East Lansing something of a challenge.

Says Oakley, “We have honored our agreement to demolish the dilapidated buildings on West Grand River and Evergreen Avenue. We remain hopeful that we can redevelop these properties in a way that meets our shared goals.”

After ELi’s special analysis yesterday on what’s causing trouble with the Center City District project across Abbot Road, farther east down Grand River Avenue, Oakley sent the following statement:

“The recent proposed projects [for Park District and Center City] would have represented significant private investment in public infrastructure improvements and other public benefits, such as city parking lots and structures, roads, sewers and debt relief. About 25% of the combined costs for these projects were for such [public] improvements which is, in our experience, unprecedented.”

Oakley explains that the way the developers are reimbursed for doing all this public work—using tax-increment-financing (TIF), creates challenges for developers: “Reimbursement over 20- and 30-year periods effectively places all of the risk with the developer.”

He says that Ordinance 1384, which we explained in yesterday’s article, “adds to that concern. It is impractical and requires the developer to subsidize specific housing types the city wants located downtown.”

His statement concludes, “The success of future projects is dependent on all parties coming together to share in the risk. Allowing more TIF-eligible expenses to be reimbursed to developers; improving the planning and zoning approval process to make it more consistent, less cumbersome, time consuming and expensive; and revising the occupancy ordinance to reduce the restrictions on housing types in the downtown area could encourage commercially viable developments that will create significant community benefit.”

UPDATE: By 4 p.m. today, the rest of the major demolition was already complete. The following photo was taken from the Peoples Church Memorial Garden this afternoon, looking east toward Abbot Road. (Grand River Avenue and MSU are to the right in the photo.)

Read ELi’s comprehensive coverage of the Park District redevelopment.

Read ELi’s comprehensive coverage of the Center City District redevelopment.