New Park District plans, demolition timetable discussed, though contention remains
A representative for the developer of the Park District project spoke to East Lansing City Council at Tuesday’s discussion-only meeting about the current timeline for demolition and the revised plans for the project, leaving council updated but still skeptical of the unfolding plans.
The city and developer Convexity Properties continue to spar over how quickly the buildings can be demolished. David Pierson, attorney for Convexity and property owner DRW, said he had been in correspondence with Community and Economic Development Administrator Lori Mullins, who provided him a letter from a Michigan Economic Development Corporation staffer that said the developer wouldn’t lose eligibility for Michigan Business Tax, or MBT, credits if they went ahead with demolition.
Convexity has previously cited this possibility in requests to extend the demolition deadline.
Pierson disagreed, insisting on waiting for a decision to be made on the matter by the Michigan Strategic Fund, or MSF, board, which requires an approved plan for the current project. Pierson said the developer has contracted with a demolition contractor and there would only be a one month difference in the demolition timeline should they go with what the letter suggested.
Pierson said city staff asked him to come give a timetable at the meeting and he provided, saying the developer expects to have a plan formally submitted for the March 22 Planning Commission meeting and be able to present a complete package to council at the April 25 meeting.
Should this all go smoothly, the MSF board will make a decision in June, and Convexity will have already began preliminary demolition steps such as the asbestos abatement, Pierson added.
Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier, who criticized Convexity’s demolition delays in the past, said she was not satisfied with the timetable discussed.
“I don’t agree with them, I think our staff is correct,” Beier said. “It wasn’t a business meeting so there was really nothing to do about it tonight, but when we move along and if we’re not making any progress, I hope that we don’t agree to postpone any longer.”
Pierson also described the current version of the updated site plan. The State News previously reported that after a reimbursement dispute, Convexity considered reducing the project solely to Building A. The 12-story structure would feature a mix of hotel and retail space, which Pierson confirmed at the meeting.
Building A, the centerpiece of the previous design, is still 12 stories and unchanged in terms of hotel and meeting space. Pierson said depending on a yet-to-be finalized agreement with an unnamed partner, 45,000 square feet of office space might also be included. Should the agreement fall through, the agreement would revert back to 177 units of mixed-market rental spaces.
MSU is still interested in using the space to house visiting faculty, and could occupy all of the building’s housing, Pierson said. If demand is smaller, another building could be re-added, containing either owner-occupied or MSU-occupied housing.
“At this point that’s still up in the air, we want to keep the project moving forward, we want to be able to include them still, but we don’t know and as they themselves say, they don’t move real fast,” Pierson said.
One major change to the apparent plans, as reported by East Lansing Info, is that a parking structure is no longer part of the project. Now, the plan calls for 190 spaces of above-ground parking, Pierson said, which is contingent on the city approving a new ordinance slashing their parking requirements for the development by 50 percent.
The parking structure was planned to be built on Evergreen Avenue properties the city owes approximately $5.6 million on, which Mayor Mark Meadows said the city would reimburse the developer for through their tax increment financing, or TIF, plan. Meadows said the city needs to restructure those properties, but developing them was never one of the city’s requirements.
“That was always up to them, I mean it was their proposal,” Meadows said. “We never required that, what we told them is we had that property available. They picked that property as the location for the parking structure.”
Pierson said Convexity will be limiting the scope of their public infrastructure improvements to street and sewer work around the building, aiming to request a much smaller brownfield plan than before. Based on what the city is willing to pay for in a TIF, Pierson said the developer is still open to constructing additional improvements.
Despite all the reductions in the project, Meadows said he still expects there to be issues between the city and Convexity involving TIF funding.
“I would absolutely think that’s going to happen, I think their idea of what they want to pay, or what they think we should pay, is significantly different than what we think,” Meadows said.
Beier said she is not surprised by the changes made to the project, but has reservations about how Convexity is going to meet the city’s housing and parking requirements. Beier said the current plan would be sufficient should the developer meet the requirements and the project still provides a tax base for the city, but she wasn’t impressed with what she heard.
“I’m not sure that we can come to agreement, I hope we can, I hope they can get MSU on board,” Beier said. “(Changes need to be made to the plan) as discussed today ... it’s basically a student apartment building now, which is not what we want to give extra height for right downtown across the street as our signature building for that part of town, so no, I’m not happy with it as it is.”