Ask ELi: What’s Happening at Abbot and Grand River?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017, 10:13 am
Alice Dreger

ELi runs a regular feature called Ask ELi to Investigate. Readers send in questions and, if we think other readers have the same questions, we bring you the answers.

Today’s question from a reader: "What is happening at the corner of Abbot [Road] and Grand River [Avenue], across from the blighted bank?"

The reader is talking about the former location of Conrad’s Grill, Spartan Corner, and a tanning salon. The awnings and awning structures have been removed, and the building is undergoing other work as well, as shown in the photo above, taken this morning.

The answer: The Ballein family business owns that building and they are doing renovations to the property. From what they’ve told us in the past, they are moving in businesses from their properties farther east on Grand River Avenue because of their plans for the Center City District redevelopment.

When Conrad’s closed in January at that location, ELi asked the Balleins about the reason, because we had heard Noodles & Company was moving into Conrad’s space due to a redevelopment. At that time, the Balleins declined to explain the reason. The Balleins told ELi at the February press conference announcing the Center City District project that Noodles & Company and Cellular and More (the Verizon dealer downtown) will be moving into the corner building.

The Center City District redevelopment would incorporate the Balleins’ properties from the former Panchero’s restaurant (just east of the Urban Outfitter’s building) to the current Cellular and More store, as shown here:

Charlie Kang’s is another retail tenant in the building that would be demolished. The Balleins have previously told us that Charlie Kang’s will be moved to another location. It isn’t clear what is happening with Clever Clover. (We’ve asked both the Balleins and the store owner and they’ve declined to say.)

What’s the redevelopment plan? The Balleins have partnered with Harbor Bay Real Estate on the Center City District redevelopment proposal, which calls for building a 12-story market-rate rental apartment building in the space that now stretches from the former Panchero’s to the current Cellular and More store. On the ground floor would be an “urban” Target store with a small grocery. This is the last rendering provided of that building:

The project also calls for the City to rent the parking lot land behind those buildings to Harbor Bay for 49 years. Harbor Bay would build a new parking garage to be owned by the City. Harbor Bay would also build and (during the lease) own new retail space along the front of the parking garage along Albert Avenue, and would also build and (during the lease) own a new apartment rental building for people aged 55+ above the parking garage.

We’ve done extensive coverage, linked below, on this project, as it is significant in size and cost, involves the construction of private properties on public land, and requires the City to engage in a complex financing scheme including a tax increment financing plan to date set at $55 million.

Council will be holding public hearings on the project and the tax plan on Tuesday, June 13. City Council members have been working behind closed doors on trying to come to a deal with Harbor Bay and the Ballein business. If one is reached, they will be presenting it to the public, possibly as late as June 13 when Council could vote on it.

Last night at a meeting of the Council of Neighborhood Presidents, Mayor Mark Meadows said about this project, “We don’t have a deal. We are waiting to get information from them but also from staff regarding their [latest] proposals for it. That’s as much as I can say….I think we’re a little closer but I’m still not sure. We have until the thirteenth [of June] to work something out.”

So, what’s happening with the blighted buildings to the west of Abbot Road? That’s a different site altogether. Just in case anyone in town doesn’t know what those buildings look like, here you go:

These vacant properties along Grand River Avenue are owned by DRW, a developer out of Chicago. Council and DRW/Convexity reached a deal on the site plan and tax increment financing (TIF) plan for DRW/Convexity’s Park District redevelopment proposal in April. City Council now plans to vote on the last part of the deal—the Development Agreement—at the June 6 meeting.

If Council comes to an agreement with DRW/Convexity on the development agreement, the redevelopment still isn’t a sure thing. DRW has to then go to the Michigan Strategic Fund Board to try to obtain a $10 million tax credit previously associated with this land. DRW has said if they can’t get that credit, they won’t be able to build the project.

DRW can’t go to the Strategic Fund Board until East Lansing and DRW sign a Development Agreement. The company expects to go to the Strategic Fund Board in July. (The Board only meets once a month and requires advance application.)

The company’s representatives have said they can’t demolish the blighted buildings on Grand River Avenue before the tax credits are secured, or they would jeopardize the credits because of how the credit system works. (To put it plainly, the credits require the blight.) DRW has started preparing for demolition of the buildings by arranging utility disconnects.

The company hopes the credits come through and they can knock down the blighted buildings in the second half of summer. If that happens, the lots will then sit empty until spring, when building could start.

If the DRW/Convexity project gets built, it will involve a 13-story building at the northwest corner of Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road, with market-rate rental apartments, retail space on the first floor, and a 150-room The Graduate hotel. On the second and third floor will be parking invisible from the street that will be for the use of hotel guests and residents. (The rendering below shows Peoples Church's Memorial Garden at the lower left and the former Conrad's Grill building at the middle right.)

North of that location, the City would raze four older rental houses and build surface parking, and the developer would build an owner-occupied condo apartment building, with parking on the first two floors, near Valley Court Park. This would be built on land the devleoper owns, namely the land of the former Evergreen Arms apartment buildings.

Want to know more? If you want to check out our in-depth investigative reporting on the Center City District proposal from Harbor Bay and the Ballein business, click here. If you want to check out our in-depth investigative reporting on the Park District proposal from DRW/Convexity, click here. If you’d like to read our fact-check of the LSJ’s editorial on development in East Lansing, click here.

Have a question you want to Ask ELi to Investigate? Contact us!


Note: When this article was originally published, City Council had the DRW/Convexity development agreement on the agenda for tonight (May 23). After publication, the City announced that Council would instead take it up on June 6, 2017. The article was amended to reflect this change.