Center City District project approved unanimously by City Council
Two weeks after finalizing the developmental future of the city’s blighted Park District area, East Lansing City Council unanimously approved a $125 million downtown re-shaping development which will add two multi-level mixed use buildings.
Council approved the site plan, brownfield plan and development agreement individually during the course of a four-hour special meeting. This paves the way for the Center City District project, proposed by East Lansing's Ballein family partnered with developer Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors, to become a reality.
Plans call for a 12-story building along Grand River Avenue with 273 rental units anchored by a first floor Target which will include a produce component. Along Albert Avenue, on story of retail and a four-floor parking garage will be built where Lot 1 currently resides. The garage will add 620 spaces of parking, 302 of which will be for public use.
Furthermore, five stories of senior housing will be added on top of the garage, encompassing 92 units.
However, the project will hinge on a due diligence report. That memo will delve into the developer's background and financial standing to ensure they have the capabilities to build such a project.
If the city is unsatisfied with the findings over the course of a two-day review, the city can walk away from the deal.
The project’s infrastructure improvements to the city will be partially financed by the issuance of approximately $25 million in non-recourse bonds. Any shortfalls on the bonds will have to be paid by the developer.
Further, the brownfield plan calls for 100 percent of the project’s property taxes over a 30-year period to be reimbursed to the developer.
Councilmembers were steadfast in their support of the project after facing months of criticisms and support from community members of varying demographics. They faced further criticism and support Tuesday night.
Councilmembers praised staff and the developers for their patience, openness and persistence in crafting the project. Councilmember Erik Altmann had iterated earlier in the day the city’s dedication to protecting the city’s interests, highlighting the back and forth between staff and the developers.
“We’ve all spent a lot time looking at the materials and we’ve had suggestions for changes,” Altmann said. “So there’s been some back and forth with the developers and that means some of the documents haven't quite settled down yet, but I think that this reflects the fact we’re trying to get the best possible deal we can for the city.”
Though the ultimate vote was unanimous on all three plans, councilmembers had not been united from the outset of the project when it was announced in February. Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier was still weighing her decision as of Tuesday afternoon.
“I am definitely going back and forth, I go back and forth within an hour,” Beier said prior to the meeting Tuesday. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
When it came time to vote on the site plans, Beier entered into in a five-minute monologue outlining her eventual decision. She said she was originally against the project but made a conscious decision to work to improve the project daily.
Further, she said she pushed the developers for more revenue and the need for due diligence and changing the outlook of the buildings.
“At this point, after after weighing everything and I also appreciate all of the input, I will be supporting this project,” Beier said.