Developer's Relationship to Park District Ballot Mailer in Question

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Monday, September 29, 2014, 7:06 pm
Alice Dreger

On November 4, voters in East Lansing will be asked to vote on whether to authorize the City to sell three parking lots that may be used for redevelopment of the area around Valley Court Park. (For background on the ballot question, see ELi’s report by Chris Root.) In the last two days, the issue has heated up considerably, with a citizens’ group campaigning for “no” votes and what appears to be an organization paid for by the developer campaigning for “yes” votes.

Today East Lansing residents started receiving “VOTE YES” mailers from a group calling itself East Lansing Park District Committee. The website of this Committee is a site previously used by DTN, the developer looking to obtain the City-owned parking lots for redevelopment. A search of Internet records reveals that the website was registered by Joseph Manzella, Senior Account Executive at Truscott Rossman, a public relations firm that works for DTN. Questions to DTN about the relationship between DTN and the East Lansing Park District Committee were not yet answered as we went to press on this story. The mailer indicates no relationship between the developer and the “East Lansing Park District Committee.”

Opposing the sale and using a door-to-door campaign is a group of East Lansing residents calling themselves Neighborhoods 1st. That group uses an address that is the home of Don Power, a former City Council member.

East Lansing Park District Committee’s mailer, urging a “yes” vote, says it is necessary to move the Park District redevelopment plan forward. According to an FAQ provided by the City of East Lansing, “If the vote does not pass, DTN plans to withdraw its redevelopment proposal for the city and the DDA [Downtown Development Authority] owned parcels of land.” This would mean “The City would need to determine a new strategy for the DDA owned properties and the associated debt.”

The City notes that this will not affect plans for the blighted corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue because that area is owned by another company altogether (PDIG). Although the public often confuses these two areas because they are in close proximity, they are at present separate development projects. As a consequence the parking lot sale will have no apparent effect on the chances of the blighted main corner being redeveloped.

Neighborhoods 1st opposes the ballot question on the basis that a positive vote would “authorize the sale of City-owned property (parking lots) for possible sale to a developer without knowing who the developer/buyer is, without an approved project, without a completed ‘due diligence’ process nor an analysis of a developer’s financial capability.” According to Neighborhoods 1st, “Selling the parking lots will not decrease the City’s $185,000,000 debt.” The debt incurred on the project area thus far has been incurred by the DDA, not by the City of East Lansing.

As previously reported, in a controversial move, City Manager George Lanahas has used the City publication “Dialog” as a means to urge voters to vote “yes” on the ballot question. The City Attorney has opined that the City Manager’s use of “Dialog” to sway voters does not violate Michigan campaign laws. Questions to Lahanas about whether he stands by his decision to use a taxpayer-funded publication to influence the vote have gone unanswered.



Click here to see a PDF of the East Lansing Park District Committee mailer.

Click here to see a PDF of the Neighborhoods 1st flyer.

Click here to see a PDF of the City's FAQ on the Park District.

This article was updated on September 30 to provide links to the complete copies of the East Lansing Park District Committee's mailer and the Neighorhood's 1st flyer.


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