ELi's Comprehensive Guide to the Center City District Redevelopment

Tuesday, January 8, 2019, 8:10 am
Alice Dreger

Above: A rendering provided by Harbor Bay Real Estate to the City in June 2017 showing the project as if looking down on Albert Avenue from the northwest. The new parking garage with senior housing on top would replace surface Parking Lot #1.

This is a timeline of the project, with links to ELi reporting. Below this timeline you can find a description of the proposed project.

  • January 7, 2019: We report on Barrio Tacos plans to locate in Center City. Read more.
  • December 4, 2018: We explain what would happen if the developers don't build the senior housing. Read more.
  • December 3, 2018: The developers are looking for tenants for the rental apartments in the "active adult" 55+ senior housing. Read more.
  • November 14, 2018: The developers announce that Foster Coffee will be a tenant in the Albert Avenue retail space. Read more.
  • October 29, 2018: We bring an update on the development, including what we know about the Target move-in and the senior housing. Read more.
  • September 19, 2018: ELi shows that the fire prevention law isn't being followed in East Lansing, including on the Center City District project. Read more.
  • September 11, 2018: Now The Landmark isn't just looking for students, but is also seeking "young urban professionals." Read more.
  • September 10, 2018: We report that Council is expanding the free and discounted parking programs downtown, in an effort to support struggling businesses during construction. Read more.
  • September 7, 2018: We explain how things were supposed to change in terms of the Planning and Building Department after the debacles of St. Anne Lofts. Read more.
  • September 1, 2018: Center City meets the Target store lease deadline, and we hear from Target about what to expect from the store. Read more.
  • August 30, 2018: We report that the project is missing Fire Marshal reviews. Read more.
  • August 21, 2018: City Council debates what to do about businesses struggling downtown during construction. Read more.
  • August 15, 2018: Downtown business owners are "panicking" over the downturn of business from construction. Read more.
  • July 30, 2018: The City's Planning Director says the City has overbuilt downtown parking. Read more.
  • July 27, 2018: The developer starts openly advertising the Grand River Avenue building as "purpose-built student housing." Read more.
  • July 10, 2018: We report that downtown businesses are seeking financial relief from construction-related losses. Read more.
  • July 5, 2018: Road closures happen to allow for infrastructure rebuild. Read more.
  • June 13, 2018: Facing delays, lead contractor Christman Company leases land from the DDA to expand the construction space available. Read more.
  • June 12, 2018: ELi reports that lead contractor Christman Company wants the DDA's help dealing with construction traffic congestion. Read more.
  • May 15, 2018: The partners in the Center City District project reunite for a celebration at the work site. Read more.
  • April 30, 2018: We provide an update on the project, including where the Arts Festival is being moved, what's planned for Albert Avenue, what to expect when the project is done, and why Council authorized about $100,000 for a water main replacement to be paid out of the General Fund instead of out of the project fund. Read more.
  • April 19, 2018: City staff present work done on the Buzz P.R. campaign, and we talk to local businesses about how it's all going. Read more.
  • March 2018: ELi breaks the news that the Great Lake Folks Festival is cancelled for 2018 in part because of construction from the Center City District project. 
  • January 31, 2018: ELi finds that $700,000 in payments from the bond went to the developer's attorneys, financial advisor, and father's company. Read more.
  • December 18, 2017: ELi lays out the expected benefits and costs of the Center City District project. Read more.
  • December 13, 2017: The bond closes and construction is officially started. Read more.
  • December 7, 2017: The East Lansing DDA and BRA agree to the addendum to the Master Development Agreement. Read more.
  • December 5, 2017: City Council agrees to amend the Master Development Agreement to allow the developer a different way to provide the City financial guarantee of completion of the public infrastructure portion of the project. The addendum also fixes other perceived problems in the Master Development Agreement. Read more.
  • December 1, 2017: The City releases a proposed Addendum to the Master Development Agreement, confirming ELi's reporting on problems with that agreement. Read more.
  • December 1, 2017: We report that the City is looking amend the development agreement with the developer.
  • November 30, 2017: The closure of Lot 1 is causing stress for downtown businesses. The State News reports that Lotsa Pizza is closing for lack of parking. Read more.
  • November 17, 2017: ELi reports that the lease agreement with the developer is not what was expected. Read more.
  • November 15, 2017: ELi obtains correspondence between the developer and the City through the Freedom of Information Act and shows that developer Mark Bell "walked away" from the deal because he discovered he could not obtain the financial guarantees the City sought. The City decided to let him go ahead and demolish Lot 1 anyway. Read more.
  • November 6, 2017: The City closes Lot 1 and one lane of Albert Avenue, saying the developer has provided a "performance guarantee" for demolition (but not construction). Read more.
  • November 1, 2017: The City posts the signed Master Development Agreement with attachments.
  • October 31, 2017: The City announces demolition is likely to start next week, now that the developer and the mayor have finally signed the master development agreement. Read more.
  • October 26, 2017: City staff and the Mayor say the project is not dead. Read more.
  • October 24, 2017: We explain the troubles with the Center City District deal. Read more.
  • October 23, 2017: The Mayor tells the Council of Neighborhood Presidents what's going on. Read more.
  • October 21, 2017: We report developer Mark Bell of Harbor Bay claims he's "walking away" from the project. Read more.
  • October 18, 2017: City parking staff announce Lot #1 will be put back into regular use. Read more.
  • October 17, 2017: The developer has not yet produced the performance bonds required by the City. Read more.
  • October 16, 2017: Lot #1 is left open to allow for disconnections of utilities in anticipation of demolition. Read more.
  • October 11, 2017: We report that uncertainty is persisting around the project, causing stress for downtown businesses. Read more.
  • October 10, 2017: City Council votes on an amendment to the lease agreement with the developer. Read more.
  • October 6, 2017: We report that the "outside investor" set to finance construction of the public infrastructure is Mark Bell's father, Peter Paul Bell. Read more.
  • October 5, 2017: The East Lansing Brownfield Redevelopment Authority votes to provide bonds to support the project. Read more.
  • October 2, 2017: We report on signs that major parts of the deal are still up in the air, including apparently the finances. Read more.
  • September 28, 2017: East Lansing BRA passes an "intent to bond." Read more.
  • September 26, 2017: Michigan Strategic Fund approves the tax increment financing plan and a loan for the project, even though key local agreements are still not settled and the financing isn't worked out. Read more.
  • September 19, 2017: We report that the Center City District proposal is going for state-level tax incentive approvals before local level approvals are complete. Read more.
  • September 12, 2017: Charlie Kang's gets permission from City Council to sell alcohol at its new location. The business is moving because of this project. Read more.
  • August 24, 2017: A public relations firm is hired to try to help downtown businesses survive two major redevelopment projects, including this one. Read more.
  • July 25, 2017: Councilmember Susan Woods, who is running for re-election, says her failure to disclose a landlord-tenant relationship with the Balleins was "an oversight." Read more.
  • July 21, 2017: Reconstruction at the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue happens in order to move businesses out of buildings set to be demolished for the Center City project. Read more.
  • July 11, 2017: City Manager George Lahanas indicates he's satisfied by what an external consultant found in a "due diligence" review of Harbor Bay and the project.
  • July 7, 2017: The City receives a consultant's "due diligence" report on Harbor Bay and the project.
  • June 22, 2017: The East Lansing Downtown Development Authority (DDA) debate whether to change one word in the development agreement, but ultimately vote to approve it. Read more.
  • June 20, 2017: Council unanimously approves the site plan, special use permits, $58 million TIF plan, and development agreement for the project. A number of details are yet to be worked out.
  • June 14, 2017: The City releases more information about the project, including a draft development agreement, which we analyzed.
  • June 13, 2017: One week before Council is expected to vote on the project, we are still trying to find out what the site plan and public-private partnership might look like.
  • June 13, 2017: Asked about why his claims about the TIF do not match the BRA-approved TIF plan, developer Mark Bell tells ELi, "I am making no representations that should be mistaken as facts."
  • June 12, 2017: The City posts a memo dated June 6 suggesting what the development agreement might contain.
  • June 9, 2017: The City announces the public hearings that had been scheduled on the project’s site plan and $56 million tax increment financing (TIF) plan have been postponed from June 13 to June 20.
  • June 6, 2017: ELi reports what is and isn’t known at this point in this complex project.
  • May 25, 2017: East Lansing Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA) approves a revised $56 million tax increment financing (TIF) plan for the project.
  • May 22, 2017: ELi reports City has withheld key data on the project, specifically the tax assessor's estimate of taxable value and of rental income.
  • May 16, 2017: ELi talks to Target and confirms the project would bring some new grocery options to downtown.
  • May 15, 2016: ELi reports Harbor Bay's Mark Bell made false representations to East Lansing's Planning Commission with regard to business endorsements.
  • May 9, 2017: Although the developer makes no presentation, City Council holds public hearings on the project. Council splits on views of it and votes to do another round of public hearings on June 13.
  • May 8, 2017: Harbor Bay hosts a pizza event about the project and announces they are not ready for the public hearings the next night. The City Manager says the hearings will go on anyway.
  • May 4, 2017: The City Attorney tells ELi the Center City project doesn't require voter approval because it doesn't involve a land sale.
  • May 2017: The Ballein family business rehabs the building at the northeast corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue (former home of Conrad's Grill) in preparation to move Noodles & Company and Cellular and More to that location.
  • May 7, 2017: ELi obtains key financial information on the project via the Freedom of Information Act, showing additional irregular process at the local review level.
  • May 5, 2017: The developers announce they'll provide to the public the updated site plan for the May 9 public hearings on May 8, at a pizza event.
  • April 26, 2017: Planning Commission formally votes against recommending the project to City Council.
  • April 12, 2017: The developers and City announce that Target is set to be the commercial tenant in the south building.
  • April 2017: Heavily redacted reports are said by the developer to show a market for the senior housing and market-rate rental housing.
  • March 31, 2017: ELi looks at unanswered questions on the Center City project.
  • March 23, 2017: The BRA approves a $55 million TIF plan for the project.
  • March 22, 2017: The developers present a new version of the site plan to Planning Commission.
  • March 20, 2017: ELi reports on the $52 million TIF plan proposed for the project.
  • March 8, 2017: Planning Commission begins review of the proposal.
  • March 7, 2017: MSU says it won’t be part of major downtown developments.
  • March 6, 2017: ELi reports on small business owners worried about the project.
  • February 23, 2017: ELi produces a major report showing how the Park District and Center City District plans have been treated differently.
  • February 20, 2017: In an unusual move, the City holds a press conference to announce this redevelopment project. At this point, it is called the "Downtown Lifestyle District" proposal.
  • November 2016: City Council amends Ordinance 1384 to reduce the requirement for non-student-rental housing in big downtown developments from 50% of units to 25%. This means the Center City District project will need to meet the 25% requirement, not a 50% requirement.

East Lansing Info (ELi) has been steadily covering this redevelopment proposal. You can find our comprehensive, ongoing coverage by clicking here. The timeline above will be updated, so you can always check back to this page to see what’s new about this development.

The following information was written after the project was approved in June and before it collapsed in October.

The Center City District redevelopment project is planned for a downtown section of land that stretches from Grand River Avenue on the south to Albert Avenue on the north. The proposal area includes private commercial properties owned by the Ballein family business on Grand River Avenue, the alleyway behind that stretch, City Parking Lot #1 (the surface lot across from HopCat), and Albert Avenue in that area. A timeline on the project appears below.

The developers for this project are the Ballein family business working in conjunction with Harbor Bay Real Estate. The project requires a complex agreement between the City and the developers because it allows for development of private properties—to be owned and leased out by the developer—on public land. This project also requires a complex financial partnership; for more on that, go to this report.

This map shows the redevelopment area:

You can click here to see a larger, clearer version of this map.

The following photo shows the commercial properties along Grand River Avenue that will be demolished to construct the "Grand River" building of this project:

The Grand River building is designed as a 12-story, 132-foot-high building. On the ground floor will be retail space, for which the developer says Target has signed a lease, and above that will be 273 market-rate rental apartments housing upwards of 400 people. Designs have included plans for a computer room for residents and a theatre (what appears to be a large “entertainment room” for residents) along with a second-floor “amenity deck” that will include outdoor space for residents on the second level, facing MSU.

A rendering provided by the developers to the City in early June 2017 portrayed the Grand River building this way:

None of the renderings show the buildings in daylight. A black and white architect's drawing of the Grand River building looks like this:

Another building, the Albert Avenue building, will be constructed on what is now City Parking Lot #1. This building, set to face Albert Avenue, will be a 117-foot-high, 10-story building. On the first floor will be retail space operated and rented out by the developer along Albert Avenue, with mechanical and storage space behind that, on the alley-side. The second through fifth floors will be a parking garage owned and operated by the City. The sixth through tenth floors will have 92 apartments for people aged 55 and over, operated and rented out by the developer.

The senior housing for people aged 55 and up is part of this project because City Council passed an ordinance requiring developments like this have at least 25% of their residential components be for something other than the typical student rental market. The apparently-latest tax assessor’s estimate suggests that these apartments would rent for at least $1400 for the one-bedroom, $1700 for one-bedroom with den, $2,000 for two-bedroom, and $2,300 for two-bedroom with den. Permit parking would cost extra.

The following rendering, provided by the developers to the City in early June 2017, portrayed the Albert Avenue building this way, as if you were looking down on Albert Avenue:

On the first floor is the retail space. Above that is the parking garage. Above that is the "active senior" housing. Here's the developer's rendering of the outdoor deck designed for the senior housing to be perched on top of the parking garage along the west side of the senior housing building (difficult to see in the above rendering):

In the image above, the parking deck is below, the senior rental apartment building is to the left, and MSU is in the distance. To the right is a large expanse of parking garage roof. The developers have said they are interested in making that a green roof, but Council did not require it for approval.

As part of the project, the streetscape along Albert Avenue will be redesigned to have wider sidewalks for gathering spaces on the south side, and to have an “open street” design. The idea has been said to be aimed at creating a “main street” for East Lansing in this corridor. This rendering, provided by the developer to the City in early June 2017, shows a redesigned Albert Avenue with the new parking garage, retail, and senior housing above:

In the image above, the street looks like it is closed and only for pedestrians, but in fact it is still designed to be an active roadway for cars and trucks, as shown in the rendering just above this one. (See the City's collection of renderings provided by the developer here.)

City staff have indicated the parking garage will have spaces for about 620 cars, with about 312 of them reserved for a master lease with the developers for their commercial and residential tenants. Current Lot #1 has parking for about 143 cars, so this garage is expected to produce a net gain of 159 new spaces for hourly and daily parking downtown.

The City will probably own and maintain a 20-foot-wide "pedestrian link" that would go from Albert Avenue through the parking garage to the alley between the parking garage and the Grand River building. There is currently no rendering provided for this first-floor pedestrian tunnel, and this issue wasn't worked out before Council approved the project.

The following rendering, provided by the developer, shows a design for the alleyway between the parking garage and the Target store in the Grand River Avenue building, looking towards M.A.C. Avenue.

The developer has said that the deal with Target requires the project to be started by Fall 2017. Target declined to confirm this but said they plan to open the store in 2019, which would require construction be started by Fall 2017.


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