Park District demolition deadline extended, Convexity to redesign plans
East Lansing City Council voted to once again extend the deadline to demolish the blighted Park District buildings, this time until the end of April.
However, this extension came in light of a new revelation: DRW Holdings and developer Convexity Properties will be completely redesigning the Park District project, attorney David Pierson told council during the meeting.
“In light of the Brownfield plan and the development agreement and the plans approved to date, DRW decided that the only realistic alternative is to redesign the project, start over again,” Pierson said.
Redesigning the project will take a significant architectural and engineering effort, Pierson said, and would force Convexity to submit a new site plan to the Planning Commission. After finding the project unworkable after changes to the Brownfield reimbursement plan, Convexity decided to step back and rethink the design when the development agreement did not solve the financial dispute, Pierson said.
“The Brownfield plan that the council approved required about $25 million in public improvements, which the city would pay back over 30 years without interest, and the effective cost of that interest over that 30-year time is somewhere … between 16 and about $34 million dollars, which would be additional cost to the project,” Pierson said.
While Pierson said there are no current plans as to what changes the project will undergo, he did provide a tentative timetable for re-submission. Pierson said Convexity can realistically submit to the Planning Commission at their Mar. 8 meeting, then cruising through Downtown Development Authority, DDA, and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, BRA, meetings later that month with the goal of putting a site plan, Brownfield plan and development agreement before council on their April 25 meeting.
In spite of the new setback, Councilmember Erik Altmann and Mayor Mark Meadows were optimistic about the direction of the project and happy to approve the extension, though both added the stipulation of “one more time."
“I think this is a step in the right direction, and I’m reasonably happy to do this one more time,” Altmann said.
Ultimately the vote passed 4-1, with Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier being the sole dissenter. Expressing frustration with Convexity, Beier said she did not want to grant the developer another extension and end up in the same position in April: with an unworkable project, another extension request and certain buildings still standing.
“We didn’t cause them to go back to the drawing board, we’ve been telling them from day one what we were willing to do and they continued to propose a project that they said they couldn’t afford, I can’t explain that,” Beier said.
Beier said she was willing to vote yes on the extension if Convexity took down the smaller buildings associated with the project as a sign of good faith. However, Pierson said all of the buildings have to be intact to qualify for a $10 million Michigan Business Tax credit, which Beier disputed.
“I think that they can knock it down, the small buildings, I think they know they can and they just don’t want to and so I don’t have a lot of faith,” Beier said. “I’m not going to do two more (extensions), when I say one more I mean one more.”
With the project once again facing an uncertain future, Pierson said the developer is asking architects and planners what they can do differently to make the project more feasible.
“We’re going to redesign and come back and see if we are (on the same page),” Pierson said. “I think Councilmember Altmann said it well when he said, ‘We all have a better understanding of what we can all do.’”