New Plans Revealed for Vacant Corner Downtown

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Friday, June 15, 2018, 7:22 am
Alice Dreger

Above: Architect’s rendering of the two proposed buildings along Grand River Avenue at Evergreen Avenue (one block west of Abbot Road). To the left is a proposed 10-story hotel, to the right, a proposed 12-story mixed-use building.

New plans have now been submitted for the vacant properties along Grand River Avenue on a key corner in East Lansing’s downtown. This is the project area most recently known as the Park District.

If this proposal manages to come to fruition where at least a half-dozen previous proposals over the last decade have not, East Lansing will see three new major structures, including a 12-story mixed-use building at the Grand River Avenue/Abbot Road corner and, just west of that, a new 10-story hotel. North of there would be a new five-story residential structure with “affordable, moderate-income” apartments.

The rendering below, looking at the project area from the southwest (as if seen from above MSU’s campus), shows the three new proposed buildings, with Grand River Avenue in the foreground.

Towards the middle-right is Building A, the 12-story tan-colored structure, set on the corner of Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road. To the left of that is Building D, the 10-story hotel. Building C, the 5-story moderate-income housing along Evergreen Avenue, is partly visible in the upper-left. In the lower-left is Peoples Church.

The drawing below shows the locations of these three buildings. While the last proposal for this area called for a single, very large building along Grand River Avenue that would have encompassed the land of both Buildings A and D plus the street in between (Evergreen Avenue), this plan keeps the street in between and separates the hotel from the mixed-use building.

According to the developers, “Building D, the Graduate Hotel, will have first floor retail and hotel uses, second floor meeting rooms and ballroom, and 194 guestrooms on eight floors, with a rooftop restaurant/bar. The hotel will be served by valet parking, using the City’s parking system,” as is increasingly common with hotels in cities and as is similar to how East Lansing’s downtown Marriott Hotel deals with parking.

The last plan for this area called for a public plaza on the corner of Albert Avenue and Grand River Avenue. This plan instead calls for public plaza space along Evergreen Avenue and Albert Avenue, producing what City planners have wanted in terms of a “second Main Street” along Albert Avenue. The Center City District project, now under construction, also seeks to make Albert Avenue a “second Main Street” for East Lansing in an attempt to deepen the commercial zone of the downtown.

According to DRW/Convexity, in this new proposal, the Grand River Avenue buildings are set back 22 feet from the Grand River Avenue curb. Abbot Road would be widened by five feet to accommodate a southbound bike lane where there is currently none. The hotel will be accessed primarily from Evergreen Avenue.

The developers say that “Evergreen [Avenue] and the associated plaza area will be enhanced with hard and soft scape, lighting, and site furnishings to create an active and vibrant pedestrian environment. The west side of the Grand River hotel building is set back from the Peoples Church and its Memorial Garden above the first floor. The first floor brick façade on the west side walls off the garden in the way that the developer understands the church would prefer.”

The rendering below shows the planned view if standing on Albert Avenue looking south down Evergreen Avenue, towards Grand River Avenue. The hotel (Building D) would be to the right, the 12-story mixed use building (A) to the left.

Building A on the main corner would have retail space on the street level and, just above that, parking for 89 cars and 184 bikes (with the parking not visible from the street). Above that would be 10 floors of 213 market-rate rental apartments. This is similar in terms of components to the last plan. This building Is shaped in a kind of horseshoe from the second floor up, as seen from this image rendered as if you were looking down from the southeast, above MSU’s Union.

Building C, shown off in the distance, would be built farther north on Evergreen Avenue (upper left) on land also owned by the developers. According to the developers, “The lower rise Evergreen residential building, Building C, provides a transition to the park and residential areas to the west and north.”

The plan for Building C includes “71 units of affordable, moderate-income”—meaning limited to people earning 80% of the area median income or less. There would be parking on the first floor for 26 cars and 45 bicycles. Above that would be four floors of apartments.

The point of Building C is to satisfy a controversial East Lansing law called Ordinance 1384, which specifies that large developments of this type have at least 25% of their housing units be for older adults, affordable housing, owner-occupied condominiums, or something else different from the typical apartments rented by students.

ELi reported what happened with the last deal – that it was effectively killed by a prior owner/developer claiming he still had rights to tax credits the current owners/developers were seeking. Although that last project had received full approval at the local level, including from East Lansing’s City Council, the state-level agency in charge of those credits, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), was not willing to move ahead without that prior owner’s consent.

It’s not clear from the materials obtained so far how the current owners/developers, DRW/Convexity, are planning to get around that problem. But the fact that they’ve submitted new plans to the City of East Lansing suggest they have found or expect a solution.

According to David Pierson, attorney for the developers, “The timing of the [new] application is driven by the need to meet a schedule to keep the Graduate Hotel in the development [deal] and allow a January 2019 start for construction. We would hope to have a decision from City Council by September to allow that to happen.”

The developers tell ELi, “Target construction start for the Grand River buildings is the first quarter of 2019, with completion [in] the second to third quarter of 2020. Building C would be built as a second phase, after completion of Buildings A and D and public infrastructure.”

The rendering below shows the proposed area along Grand River Avenue at street level.

The last proposal called for the Park District area to be redeveloped in a public-private partnership and aimed to include a series of older rental houses on Evergreen Avenue owned by East Lansing’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

But this new proposal shows redevelopment of only the privately-owned properties along with 303 Abbot Road, a now-vacant site owned by the DDA. As ELi has reported, the DDA is facing about $7 million in debt on the Evergreen Avenue properties, and it’s unclear from this plan how that debt is going to be managed.

There are apparently limited infrastructure improvements still planned for this area under the new plan: “The plan includes public infrastructure work from Abbot Road to the western boundary of Building D, including realigning and rebuilding Albert Avenue and replacing aged sewer and water systems that serve the larger surrounding area, sidewalks, street lighting, and landscaping.” This is a smaller area of infrastructure improvements than in the last plan.

But how will that be paid for? With a tax increment financing (TIF) deal? That isn’t yet apparent.

What the developers say is this: “The new Park District project is intended to introduce new development on now vacant parcels, replacing recently demolished longstanding eyesores. The size, height, design, and architectural treatment of the proposed Building A at Abbot and Grand River and the Graduate Hotel at Evergreen and Grand River are intended to reinforce and enhance a vibrant, walkable, urban downtown and city core.”

The project will have to be reviewed by the Planning Commission and DDA, and ultimately approved by City Council.

If you want to see a complete, higher resolution set of the images reproduced above, click here.

Below is a map of the area annotated by ELi. To see a larger version of this map, click here.


Correction: This story originally reported the hotel building as being 9 stories tall. It is designed to be 10 stories, including the rooftop restaurant/bar. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info