Labor Protest Continues at Nearby SkyVue Development

Tuesday, August 30, 2016, 7:46 am
Ian Hoopingarner

The union protest over compensation for carpenters is now going into its sixth month at the site of the SkyVue development project on the corner of Michigan Avenue in Lansing, adjacent to the Frandor Shopping Center. Not yet complete, the project is being marketed to MSU students via a storefront in downtown East Lansing.

The Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters & Millwrights (MRCC), a union representing 14,000 Michigan construction trades workers, alleges that Kent Companies, a contractor hired to pour concrete for the development project, is not paying all carpenters wages and benefits commensurate with area standards. Todd McCastle, financial secretary for the Local 1004 branch of the union, recently told the Lansing State Journal, “This kind of abuse has to stop.”

Last week, I spoke with protesters on the picket line. Carpenters from the MRCC say that not all of the skilled tradespeople working on the construction site are receiving standard wages and benefits. Kent Companies, which contracted the carpenters, has responded to the protest by claiming that they pay “competitive” wages. Kent operates using a “merit pay” system, so not all workers make the same wages for work on the same project.

In defending the wages and benefits the company pays to carpenters to the Lansing City Pulse, Kent says they pay $22 per hour of work and $15.08 per hour in associated benefits. Compensation standards for carpentry work in Ingham County are $24.79 per hour in wages and $18.03 in benefits.

Kent Companies, the concrete contractor for SkyVue, has also been active in development projects in East Lansing, including DTN’s 300 Grand apartment complex next to Biggby Coffee on Grand River Avenue. On November 11, 2015, that site made news when a crane operated by Kent Companies collapsed on top of other equipment, a fence, and a portable toilet. One worker was taken to the hospital but was not seriously physically injured. Safety equipment on the crane appeared to have been inoperational, DTN vice president Colin Cronin told the Lansing State Journal at the time.

The SkyVue project, being constructed on the site of the former Story Oldsmobile dealership (closed and sold in 2015) is a 667,000-square-foot development project that includes a nine-story building housing around 300 apartments. About 145 of the units are single-bedroom apartments aimed at attracting MSU students. The bottom floors of the development are intended to house two restaurants. Also a part of the development plan is a six-story enclosed parking ramp with space for 600 vehicles.

Above: the East Lansing storefront rental office for SkyVue

The development costs for the SkyVue project were initially estimated at $77 million but according to the Lansing State Journal are now looking to be closer to $90 million. SkyVue is being built by Wolverine Building Group out of Grand Rapids. RISE Real Estate, based in Valdosta, Georgia, is responsible for the development of the site. The Lansing State Journal reports that RISE will be getting approximately $25 million in tax increment financing (TIF) reimbursements for the project over 25 years.

The development sits opposite Michigan Avenue from the former Red Cedar Golf Course, which closed in 2007. Lansing residents voted to sell that 61-acre plot for development in two ballot initiatives in 2011 and 2012. What was once one of two public golf courses in Lansing is now slated for redevelopment as the “Red Cedar Renaissance” project. Plans include a hotel and “high-end” apartments.

The approximately $200 million Red Cedar Renaissance development is led by MSU Trustee Joel Ferguson’s Continental Development and a Columbus, Ohio-based development company. A storm drain project is to be built alongside that development in order to alleviate run-off water pollution from the Frandor Shopping Center area. According to mLive, Ingham County Drain Commissioner Patrick Lindemann has found the area drain into the Red Cedar River to be “one of the most polluted in the region.”

Both the SkyVue and Red Cedar Renaissance projects were hailed by Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and are part of ongoing plans to urbanize the Michigan Avenue corridor connecting East Lansing to Lansing. The Park District redevelopment in East Lansing just northwest of the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Grand River Avenue is seen by some as another key part of this regional reconstruction plan, along which CATA wants to construct a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

One part of the Park District area, the City of East Lansing-owned property at 303 Abbot Road, has now been fully demolished as shown below, and further development is in the planning stage in that area, as ELi’s Chris Root reported last week.


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Union protest line at the SkyVue Apartments development