New Redevelopment Proposal Moving Quickly Through Review

Tuesday, July 31, 2018, 7:28 am
By: 
Jessy Gregg

Above: Rendering of Building A (at the main corner) with the hotel (Building D) in the foreground as seen from the southwest.

Chicago-based developer DRW/Convexity is now publicly presenting the latest incarnation of the development planned for the area known as the Park District, in the quadrant northwest of the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue. The proposal for redevelopment of three vacant parcels is expected to move quickly through the next stages of review, coming to City Council for a possible decision on August 14.

The plans came before both the Planning Commission and the Downtown Development Authority last week.

At Planning Commission, attorney David Pierson, speaking on behalf of DRW/Convexity, clarified that the target market for the apartments on the main corner parcel would not be students, but rather “everybody else.” He showed new renderings with substantial changes to "Building A," the 12-story building planned for the corner lot – revisions made in response to Planning Commission concerns about the “massing” of the structure.

Planning Commission Vice Chair Kathy Boyle, filling in for absent Chair Dan Bollman, asked Pierson to confirm that he was saying it is the developers’ intention to market the apartments in the 12-story building to non-students.

Pierson answered, “Yes, it’s a matter of how the market is going to go.”

He listed off multiple student-centered developments planned for the East Lansing area, including the recently-approved Red Cedar Renaissance project, which is just over the Lansing border on Michigan Avenue. He estimated the total number of new “beds” coming soon to the student rental market in or near East Lansing’s downtown to be in excess of 2,100.

Pierson explained why the DRW/Convexity project’s “Building A” might be able to attract non-students – namely the location and view. That building is set to rise to 12 stories and contain 218 apartments, with retail on the first floor.

Below: A rendering of the project as if you were looking from above the MSU Union.

“[It’s] right there looking at campus – it’s a marvelous opportunity,” Pierson told the Planning Commission. “It’s a place where we think people would want to live – people who are not students.”

The Landmark on Grand River, now being constructed as part of the separate Center City District project, had been billed as offering the same potential for diversifying downtown through “market-rate” rental apartments, because of its location and views.

But ELi reported on Friday that The Landmark is now being advertised by its developers – a partnership of Harbor Bay Real Estate and Ballein Management – as being “purpose-built student housing.” The Landmark will have furnished rooms and study hall space, like a dorm.

In discussion of DRW/Convexity’s plan on Wednesday night, Boyle asked Pierson if the floor plan of the Building A units would be changed if the expectation was to rent them to non-students. Pierson explained that the apartments had already been designed with non-students in mind.

He likened the “Building A” apartment components to those of new Lansing redevelopments which contain “micro-units” marketed to recent graduates and state employees.

“[Young renters] don’t want anything more than a minimal kitchen, and they generally meet their friends elsewhere, so they don’t want a [big] living room,” he told Planning Commission. Young working renters now often value a downtown location and devalue extra space.

Below: Building A as seen from Sharp Park, looking southwest across the intersection of Albert Avenue and Abbot Road. (The fence and trees are not shown in the rendering of the park, per a request from a City Council Member, according to PIerson.) The proposed hotel is seen to the right.

Building A is designed to contain a mix of 105 efficiency units, 18 one-bedroom units, 45 two-bedroom units, and 50 three-bedroom units. Pierson sees some of the larger units being occupied by families. He said he had more confidence this time around that these residential units would be marketable to non-students.

Pierson spoke of the growing number of professionally-managed downtown apartment buildings targeted to students that are owned by “national housing companies [which] are frankly more adept at managing them. They’re going to be higher-end and you’re not going to see the problems that you see out on Chandler [Road, in the Northern Tier].”

The architectural changes for “Building A” on the corner now include a rooftop amenity deck, oriented with a campus view, for residents of the building. The new design also angles the building’s front corner, widening the sidewalk there into a larger plaza space.

On the northeast corner of Evergreen Avenue and Grand River Avenue, Building A is now designed to project out slightly starting at the third floor, as shown above. The color and massing has also been changed to break up the façade along Evergreen Avenue and Abbot Road and to create visual interest. The image below shows a rendering of what Evergreen Avenue would look like, between the hotel (left) and Building A (right).

At last week's meeting, Planning Commissioner Jack Cahill complimented some of the architectural changes, especially the large bank of windows planned for jutting section of Building A, but said he still felt like the buildings resembled “warehouses with windows.”

Across Evergreen Avenue, in Building D, would be a hotel in The Graduate chain, with 194 guest rooms, meeting space, a ballroom, and a rooftop restaurant and bar. DRW/Convexity has said that if the project doesn’t start soon, The Graduate will pull out of the planned investment in East Lansing, as it has been trying to get this project going for three years.

Below: A rendering of Evergreen Avenue looking south towards Grand River Avenue, with the hotel on the right. The large wrap-around wall of glass on the second floor is for the hotel's ballroom.

Comments at the DDA meeting were generally favorable to the design changes, and the DDA has been enthusiastic about the hotel. But DDA member Lynsey Little Clayton expressed concern that Building C is still a relatively undeveloped concept. Specifically, she decried lack of outdoor living amenities like balconies there.

Building C (shown below) would occupy the vacant space half a block north on Evergreen Avenue, along Valley Court Drive. It is currently designed to be five stories high, with 72 apartments and interior parking for 26 cars. It will house moderate-income apartments for occupants who earn 80% or less of the area median household income.

That component is required for DRW/Convexity to meet the City’s Ordinance 1384 requirement that, in a large new downtown redevelopment, at least 25% of the housing units specifically be senior housing (age 55+), owner-occupied condominiums, or income-restricted units.

In response to Clayton’s remarks, Pierson explained that Building C’s design was a “placeholder.” He said that until more details were available about what might happen with the DDA-owned Evergreen Avenue properties, the design would not be finalized, because the City still has to figure out what it wants from that area.

DRW/Convexity does not want to start construction on Building C until two years after the Grand River Avenue buildings receive their Certificates of Occupancy. Mayor Mark Meadows commented in the DDA meeting that City Council was unlikely to approve such a long wait, and that it would more likely allow a one-year delay.

Development plans for the DDA-owned buildings might not be clear for some time, however; the DDA just approved a plan to continue leasing out the apartments in the existing buildings for the 2019-2020 school-year rental season.

Yesterday, ELi published a separate report on the parking plans for this redevelopment; click here to read that

So far, there is no word on what, if any, tax increment financing (TIF) scheme the project might employ. ELi has previously reported on the peculiar challenges of TIF for this long-blighted area in a special analysis called “The Pickle in the Park District.”

Below: The latest design as seen from above Sharp Park, looking southwest with Abbot Road and Building A in the foreground and the hotel in the background.

Next up for the DRW/Convexity project is review by East Lansing’s Transportation Commission on August 6, followed by a likely vote at Planning Commission on August 8, and a special meeting of the DDA for a vote on recommendation on August 9. City Council could make a decision on the project as soon as its August 14 meeting.

Citizens wishing to weigh in can speak at public meetings or send in written comments by email by clicking on the following hotlinks: