Albert Avenue Closed for Center City District Demolition

Tuesday, November 7, 2017, 7:10 am
Chris Root and Alice Dreger

Mid-afternoon on Monday, the eastbound lane of Albert Avenue from Abbot Road almost to M.A.C. was closed to traffic, presumably for the beginning of work on the Center City District project. Tim Dempsey, head of the City’s Planning and Development Department, tells ELi the developer now has the “performance guarantees” in place to go ahead with demolition.

Activity on the Center City District is commencing one week after the City announced that East Lansing officials and the lead developer, Mark Bell, had finally signed the Master Development Agreement for this project, four months after Council technically approved it. Bell signed on behalf of the limited liability corporation (LLC) created for this project, HB BM East Lansing LLC.

The Albert Avenue part of the project—subsuming what is now surface parking Lot 1—is designed to have three parts, including a publicly-owned parking ramp. The other two parts would be privately-owned by the developer or whomever the developer sells them to, and include retail space on the street level and 92 senior rental apartments above the parking ramp. The project also calls for an urban Target store on Grand River Avenue (across the back alley from Lot 1), with 273 market-rate rental apartments above.

Dempsey told ELi late Saturday night, “We will be closing Lot 1 and doing pre-demolition activity [this] week, including shut-offs [of all the utilities]. Once we have confirmation of the shut-offs from the respective utilities, building demolition can commence.” The City will issue the required demolition permits once the utility shut-offs have been completed.

As ELi has reported, a requirement that the developer must meet before starting demolition is providing the City with either a performance bond or an irrevocable letter of credit for financing of the demolition phase of the project. Dempsey told ELi on Saturday, “The City is in possession of the demolition guarantee in the form of an irrevocable letter of credit.” So, this requirement has apparently been met to the satisfaction of the City Planning Department.

Mayor Mark Meadows and Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier tell ELi they are comfortable allowing demolition to begin even though the developer does not yet have performance guarantees for the construction phases of the project. The Master Development Agreement calls for the demolition guarantee to promise payment for a “site restoration” of Lot 1 to graded and covered in gravel—not paved and usable as a parking lot, as it is now.

Says Beier, “I am OK with the demolition bond only allowing us to restore Lot 1 to granular fill to grade. This is a very small risk. If everything falls apart after they have demolished Lot 1, we can use their money to get as close to finished as possible. That lot was in need of repair anyway.”

Beier adds, “The big risk starts after they start building. We won’t allow them to start that until we have the other guarantee (that gives us the money to finish the parking ramp) in place.”

As anticipated in the City’s press release last week, Lot 1 on Albert Avenue is closed as of yesterday. The expectation is that this parking lot will remain closed until the planned parking ramp is completed.

During the construction of the project, when the City will not receive any parking income from this lot, the Master Development Agreement calls for the contractors and sub-contractors eventually to pay a total of $350,000 in parking fees.

On Saturday, Dempsey estimated that the beginning of demolition would “likely be towards the end of the week 11/13 or week of 11/20.”

Signs on Abbot Road show that eastbound Albert Avenue traffic should take a detour using Grand River Avenue. Also, a no-left-turn sign is posted at Grove Street, at the intersection between the 7-11 and Hop Cat. The Albert Avenue westbound lane remains open, and drivers on Grove Street need to be careful to turn right rather than turning left into the single lane of on-coming traffic.

So far, the sidewalks along Grand River Avenue have not been closed as anticipated for demolition of the privately-owned buildings there.