Convexity Makes New Park District Proposal

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Monday, March 20, 2017, 1:00 am
Chris Root, Ken Sperber, and Alice Dreger

A revised Park District proposal is set to go to East Lansing’s Planning Commission this Wednesday, March 22. This past week, attorney David Pierson, representing the developer DRW/Convexity, presented the revisions to a committee of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the Oakwood Neighborhood Association (the neighborhood just north of the project), and representatives of Peoples Church.

Pierson brought a draft site plan to the three meetings but he explained that it was not yet final because some components have been changing, including in response to comments and questions raised at various meetings. City staff are also working with the developer to determine what public infrastructure improvements the Council may want to see in a tax increment financing (TIF) plan.

MSU’s administration recently made known that the university would not rent office space or do a master lease of apartments downtown in a new redevelopment at this time. That means the space that might have been used by MSU for offices or housing visiting scholars will now be used for market-rate rental apartments in the large main building, “Building A,” at the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River. Public infrastructure components are also still being worked out.

Building A in the latest configuration will be thirteen stories tall and have 26,000 square feet of retail on the first level (including an “urban grocery store”), a hotel ballroom and hotel meeting rooms on level 4, and residential apartments plus hotel guest rooms on levels 5-13. The precise number of apartments and hotel guest rooms is not yet available, but a recent staff report on the plan puts them at 121 apartments and 160 hotel guest rooms.

This site plan map shows the location of Building A (northwest corner of Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road) and Building C (southwest corner of Evergreen Avenue and Valley Court Drive):

Plans for Building A now call for two stories of screened parking (providing 222 spaces) on levels 2-3 . This parking would allow on-site self-parking for some hotel guests and building residents. This parking is being constructed above-ground because it is significantly more expensive to build parking underground. The current plan calls for about twice as much parking in Building A as in the previous version.

Pierson explained in the meetings this past week that this change to the parking plan was required because the City Council voted in January on a tax increment financing (TIF) that was smaller than what Convexity said was needed for the public improvements that Convexity would have been required to build in the approved site plan. That included building a City-owned 6-story parking garage.

The current plan for the site of Building A still calls for a public plaza at the northwest corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue. It had been removed in an interim revision but was put back, according to Pierson, due to comments from City staff and others in City Hall. The plaza as now designed is smaller than originally proposed.

A second building, “Building C,” with five stories housing 66 condominium apartments plus 66 deeded parking spots, is now proposed on Evergreen Avenue where the Evergreen Arms apartments once stood. These owner-occupied units are part of DRW/Convexity’s plan to meet the terms of East Lansing's ordinance which requires diverse housing that is not limited to market-rate apartments. This latest proposal has Building C facing Valley Court Drive and the park. 

Here is a not-quite-up-to-date rendering of Building C:

For a larger, clearer, and ELi-annotated version of this rendering, click here.

Both Building A and Building C are being proposed as having self-contained parking in the buildings to meet their residents’ needs as the plan no longer includes constructing a City-owned parking structure on the DDA-owned properties along the hill on the east side of Evergreen Avenue. DRW/Convexity and the City are still working on possible ways to include refinancing of the bonds issued by the DDA for these properties in the tax increment financing (TIF) plan.

Most of the DDA-owned Evergreen Avenue properties, on which the City originally planned to have a parking structure, is expected to be turned into surface parking lots at least for the short-term. This would include the properties on which there are currently old houses being used as student rentals. The modern brick commercial building, behind Dublin Square, would remain. At previous DDA meetings, there has been discussion of considering another development on the DDA’s Evergreen Avenue properties after projects currently under consideration are completed.

Under the current draft proposal, Evergreen Avenue between Building C and the DDA-owned properties will be turned into a pedestrian and bicycle pathway. The grade of this pathway will be changed in order to cover much larger sewer and water pipes that will be installed underground. The City is also looking into the possibility of extending Valley Court Drive across what is now Evergreen Avenue and connecting directly with Abbot Road, to help with the traffic circulation and to help relieve congestion on Abbot Road.

The DRW/Convexity plan will include less extensive underground public infrastructure than its original plan. The details of this are still being worked out in dialogue with the City. The project revision would still involve the realignment of Albert Avenue and some other infrastructure improvements for the City.

Planning Commission will be considering the new proposal on March 22 even though City staff will not yet have had time to complete their staff report on the revision and even though no new renderings have been provided by the developer. Pierson told those in attendance at the Oakwood meeting that the hope is to have approval by the Planning Commission on April 11, approval by the DDA and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority on April 13, and to send the site plan and TIF plan to City Council for action on April 25.

In order to gain approval at the April 25th City Council meeting, several items would also have to be reviewed and approved by Planning Commission and the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA) by then, including the site plan, special use permits, rezoning, the TIF plan, and the development agreement.  

Pierson has explained at many public meetings that DRW/Convexity cannot obtain the $10 million State tax credit they hope to secure unless Council, the DDA, the BRA, and the developer have come to agreement on the site plan, the TIF plan, and a development agreement.

Pierson told the Oakwood Neighborhood Association on Thursday that he’s hopeful about reaching these agreements in time to get to State-level review in June. Speaking of the City, he said, "We now each have a better idea of what the other wants, and I think we can work out the differences."

Details of the TIF plan are not yet available but are expected to call for newly-generated taxes on the redevelopment to be used to pay for the redevelopment’s public infrastructure upgrades, including terms of street realignment and sewer and water infrastructure. The expectation is that the TIF plan would call for 80% of the new taxes to be captured for TIF over a period of about eleven years. This would be a substantially smaller TIF than the one Council offered DRW/Convexity on the last iteration that included the cost of constructing the parking ramp that the City would own. The previous TIF plan called for $26 million to be captured using 100% tax capture over 30 years.



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