$132 million 'Center City District' would drastically change downtown E.L.
A $132 million development project that would see two 12-story structures raised on Grand River and Albert avenues was formally proposed the morning of Feb. 22 and informally presented to the Planning Commission later that night.
The "Center City District" project is being developed by Richmond, Ill. developer Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors on properties owned by Brad and Greg Ballein, who also own Student Book Store and other properties in East Lansing. Brad Ballein also sits on the city’s Downtown Development Authority and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.
The proposed project includes two 12-story buildings constructed on portions of Grand River Avenue and the parking lot at 230 Albert Avenue. The Grand River Avenue building would feature floor-level retail and 11 stories of housing. The Albert building would feature a six-story parking garage topped with six stories of senior housing, Harbor Bay CEO Mark Bell said. The Albert Avenue side will also feature first-floor retail.
Bell said the development team, composed of Harbor Bay, the Ballein family and a number of consultants according to East Lansing's website, is also working to potentially attract a dry good/grocery store to fill a 22,000-24,000 square foot space on the Grand River side. The development team could not comment on which businesses might move into the new development.
“There have been significant interest from a couple of different national tenants that we believe fit that model,” Bell said.
The project is estimated to cost $132 million, and the city will avoid incurring debt by reimbursing a portion of the developer's costs through tax increment financing, or TIF, Director of Planning, Building and Development Tim Dempsey said.
The development on Grand River will demolish the stretch of buildings including and between the vacant former Pancheros building and the Verizon Wireless Premium Retailer. The businesses occupying these buildings, illustrated on the map below, will have to relocate should the plans be approved.
“We are working on relocating them,” Greg Ballein said. "We think we have a good plan in place, but we’re not sure yet. We’re trying to work it all out for everybody so nobody loses a home."
Bell said the Balleins have been in consistent communication regarding the development with their tenants for months. The Balleins could not comment on where and when any of their tenants would be relocating or whether a tenant would relocate to the former Conrad's Grill building, another property owned by the Balleins.
Sundance Jewelers announced on its website that the store will relocate to the former site of the Blue Midnight Hookah Lounge at 330 Albert Avenue, but no announcements have been made regarding the other affected businesses.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations with the tenants, they knew this was coming,” Brad Ballein said. “The tenants want to make their own announcements, and so for me to say, I'm stealing their thunder."
The pay lot located at 230 Albert Avenue across from HopCat will be the site of the largest development, a six-story, 715-space parking garage topped with a six-story apartment complex containing 55 and over housing. Bell said the senior housing was added to meet a city ordinance known as the "25 percent rule," which requires at least a quarter of the units in new housing developments to be owner-occupied or reserved for senior citizens.
Bell said Albert Avenue would be "completely transformed" under the development, featuring 20,000 square feet of retail and widened sidewalks, according to a memo.
The city has attempted to use the lot for development in the past, with former City Center II developer DTN Management withdrawing from the beleaguered project after residents voted not to allow the sale of the lot. The new development will avoid a similar vote, as the city will be maintaining ownership of the lot and leasing the land to the development team long-term, Bell said.
Bell came before the Planning Commission at the Feb. 22 meeting to give an overview of the new project. Planning and Zoning Administrator Tim Johnson wrote in a memo to the Commission that, given the size of the project, he and Commission Chair Laura Goddeeris thought it would be beneficial for the commission to be briefed on it before the project's public hearing on March 8.
Goddeeris said the early presentation was a little out of the ordinary for the commission.
"Normally we would wait, we wouldn't actually get to see the plans until the ... public hearing," Goddeeris said. "I appreciate with a project of this scope that staff wanted to find a way to give us a chance to start to understand what this project includes ... it's certainly going to be something exciting to review."
Bell detailed the plans to the commission while the Ballein brothers, for whom he had nothing but praise, watched from the audience.
“The Ballein family, as many I think are aware, have been a multiple decade-long business leader in the community and the Balleins deserve a ton of credit to being visionaries of the subject development, and together the family and Harbor Bay have been dreaming about this development, truthfully, for many years and it is now hopefully coming to fruition,” Bell said.
The construction will not impact any buildings on Albert Avenue, and does not include the former site of Conrad’s Grill, Dempsey said. Dempsey said the city still has no plans on file for the former Conrad’s and Campus Corner site.