Center City District Hearings Postponed

Friday, June 9, 2017, 6:02 pm
Alice Dreger

Above: One of the developer's latest renderings of the project, looking down on Albert Avenue at the structure that would replace City lot #1.

With no explanation provided, late this afternoon the City announced that East Lansing’s City Council has postponed the public hearings for the Center City District redevelopment proposal that had been scheduled for next Tuesday, June 13.

According to City Clerk Marie Wicks, “I have confirmed there will be no meeting on Tuesday and that the public hearings have been postponed to the 20th.”

ELi has tried to obtain an explanation, but so far our inquires to the developer, City Council members, and the City Manager have gone unanswered.

City Council originally held public hearings on this project’s site plan and tax increment financing (TIF) plan on May 9. But the day before that, the lead developer, Mark Bell of Harbor Bay Real Estate, announced at an event at Lotsa Pizza that the developers weren’t ready. City Manager George Lahanas said the hearings would go on anyway, which they did, absent any presentation by the developers.

On May 9 at City Council, some members of the public expressed frustration that they were being asked to comment on a project for which there was no written updated site plan or staff report.

ELi ascertained that week that the $55 million TIF plan that had been presented for public hearing on May 9 had been based on the developer’s estimates of ultimate value, not the City tax assessor’s, something we had not previously seen. A revised $56 million TIF plan, passed unanimously by East Lansing’s Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA) on May 25, did use the assessor’s estimate.

On May 9, in apparent response to public frustration over lack of clarity on the project, Council decided to schedule a new set of public hearings for June 13. But as we reported on Tuesday of this week, one week before those scheduled hearings, there were still many unanswered questions about the project.

On Wednesday of this week, the City released new renderings of the project and the developer showed the new renderings at a public event at Harper’s Brewpub, but as of this date, there is still no new narrative explanation of the revised site plan from the developer or City staff, so we have few details on it.

City Planning Director Tim Dempsey had told ELi he expected a draft development agreement on this complex public-private partnership would be available on Wednesday of this week, but as of now (Friday evening), none has been released.

We also do not have any written details on the BRA bond planned for the project or for the lease which would give the developer rights to develop and rent private properties on public land for 49 years. The latest information we have suggests the developer will pay the City $150,000 a year for the rights to public land and will obtain $2.4 million in rents from private development on public land. But again, we do not have clarity in writing. What we know has been obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and may now be out of date.

In short, there’s still a lot we don’t know, including why these hearings were postponed. ELi will keep you updated as we learn more.

Meanwhile, the developer’s public relations firm has announced another public event to answer questions about the project. That will be this Monday, June 12, from 4-6 p.m. at the Hannah Community Center. Members of the public are invited to drop by to “Learn more about the Center City District project and the economic benefits it will bring to the city of East Lansing” as well as to “Ask Questions, give comments and get a full understanding of the project.”

Update, 8 p.m.: In response to questions about why the meeting has been postponed, Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier wrote back to say, "We are not quite finished with the development agreement."

Mayor Mark Meadows wrote back to say, "it's pretty simple. We wanted to give the public at least a week to look at the Development Agreement and the exhibits and it took longer to get everything done than I thought it would. We should have everything up on Granicus by Tuesday. We should have final copies by Monday p.m. Hopefully!" Asked, "Will there be a new narrative for the new site plan from staff (staff report) or the developer so we can know what is planned? Will there be a draft of the lease? Info on the BRA bond and how that will work? Revenue projections?" Meadows answered, "I am guessing all of the above."


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