Center City Partners Reunite for Celebration

Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 5:08 pm
Alice Dreger

Above: Bob Trezise (left) and Mark Bell at today’s event.

Various players in the $125 million Center City District redevelopment project gathered in East Lansing’s Ann Street Plaza today to celebrate the project as it is being erected. At the event, Michigan Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley praised the project as an “amazing, transformational change” and thanked the Bell family, the lead developers, for investing in Michigan.

The project will result in a 12-story building on Grand River Avenue with a small-format Target store on the ground floor and rental apartments above. There will also be a new publicly-owned parking garage on Albert Avenue, fronted by new retail space, with 92 “active senior” rental apartments housed in five stories to be built above the parking garage.

Below: Brian Calley at today's event.

Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) President Bob Trezise played Master of Ceremonies today, noting that his organization had championed this complex public-private partnership. Trezise thanked LEAP’s Steve Willobee for acting as project manager on this deal, and said the project was the kind that would “lead Michigan’s comeback,” adding, “We can be like Madison. We can be like Columbus…. Our vision is to be tall – to alter our skyline.”

While Trezise had many positive words for the City of East Lansing, East Lansing’s City Council recently decided at a budget work session to end East Lansing’s membership in LEAP. This will save the City $15,000 per year.

Below: Mark Bell of Harbor Bay Real Estate and Steve Willobee of LEAP

From the podium, Trezise said to lead developer Mark Bell, “Today we roll out, Mark, the red carpet for you, because not only do we want you to build this project in the most efficient and incredible way with all your partners, but, Mark, today we extend the red carpet and say please build more buildings in the State of Michigan. We love you.”

Trezise also thanked the Balleins, a local business family functioning as co-developers, “for their willingness to take the initial risk and the assembly of property” necessary for the deal. He thanked Calley for support of economic development, along with Target, East Lansing officials and managers, the construction unions, and the contractor. Trezise also thanked LEAP staff member Victoria Meadows for organizing the event.

In his remarks, Mayor Mark Meadows (the father of LEAP’s Victoria Meadows) thanked both the Bell and Ballein families, saying, “This is a family project, a family-owned project,” and one that, he said “is perfect for East Lansing.” He lauded the project as bringing to fruition something he’s wanted to see for decades – a more lively Albert Avenue.

Below, from left: Bob Trezise, Greg Ballein, and Mark Meadows.

From the podium, Meadows recognized Shanna Draheim, the only other member of City Council present for the event. Draheim told ELi at the event, “It’s just a very exciting day. I am thrilled to be here and to see this building going up and to celebrate the success of this project. I couldn’t be more thrilled with what the future of East Lansing holds.”

In his formal remarks, Meadows said about the process, “Sometimes it was a little bit acrimonious, I admit, but in the long run, we got the right project for the people of the City of East Lansing, the density we were looking for, the commitment by the Bell family” to complete the project.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staff member Matt Didier (second from left, front row, above) came from Chicago to speak at the event, noting that the EPA had invested about $4 million in grants to area local governments for brownfield (environmental clean-up) sites, including on projects like Lansing’s Stadium District, the Lansing Center, and the Lansing City Market.

According to Didier, the EPA put in $60,000 to the Center City District project to help the developers figure out whether there were environmental problems at the site. Answering questions from ELi after the formal event, Didier said, “There was very little to clean up. We got in, made sure that was the case, and then they used our money to write a plan for the long-term management of the small amount of soil contamination that was here.”

Didier saw that $60,000 investment as a good use of taxpayer funds. It led to a project that now includes a Brownfield Tax Increment Financing (TIF) deal totaling about $58 million, with a small amount set aside for the few clean-up needs found to be of concern.

Under that TIF deal, for 30 years 100% of newly-generated capture-able local taxes will be funneled back to the private developers and investors to pay for expenses on the project, including construction of the public infrastructure. That includes the new publicly-owned parking garage and rebuild of Albert Avenue, including underground infrastructure.

At the end of the formal presentation today, workers raised a ceremonial beam using the tower crane.


See our extensive reporting on the Center City District project.