E.L. City Council discusses City Center II financing, online crime mapping

The East Lansing City Council gave approval to the city’s finance director to analyze and examine financing options for a portion of the controversial City Center II development project during its Tuesday night work session, extending the debate regarding the project’s future.

East Lansing Finance Director Mary Haskell now has the authority to determine the method the city will use to refinance four parcels of property related to the project and can authorize the final financing of the parcels without approval from city council, Haskell said.

The $97 million redevelopment project includes plans for a hotel, office and retail space and a movie theater in the area near Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue.

The city owes more than $5.4 million in principal on bond anticipation notes, or BAN’s — notes lasting three years that were purchased for the parcels of property in anticipation of the start of the project.

The payment is due April 1.

The four parcels of property — which are located on Evergreen Avenue — would be set aside for parking related to the project and now must be refinanced because the project has been delayed.

Haskell said she will examine interest rates and other cost options when looking at whether to use short-term refinancing for the project or a long-term commitment to the project.

Refinancing of the BAN’s in the short-term would extend the notes for another three years.

Similar to last week’s work session, Councilmember Don Power expressed serious concern with the actual need for the property.

“We now have a virtual parking structure that was purchased before we knew the project would make it,” he said during the meeting. “That’s not the way to do business.”

Power also criticized various elements of the project, including the proposed theater.

“I will never allow my city to default,” he said during the meeting. “At a time of declining revenues, … we must commit to the following: No more development at any cost.”

Other council members supported refunding the notes for the short term, citing financial flexibility.

“The option of refunding the BAN’s gives the city maximum flexibility,” Mayor Pro Tem Nathan Triplett said during the meeting. “It’s not a euphemism for wishful thinking, … it’s caution.”

East Lansing resident Alice Dreger read a prepared statement during the meeting on behalf of fellow resident Eliot Singer, who has denounced the project in the past.

Singer’s statement referred to the City Center II project as a “boondoggle” that has been riddled with poor decision-making by city government officials.

Prior to council’s debate regarding City Center II, East Lansing police Chief Juli Liebler made a special presentation to council members, demonstrating a crime-tracking website the city currently is looking to implement for its police force.

The website, crimemapping.com, is used by the city of Lansing’s police department, as well as more than 500 police departments across the country, to track the frequency and location of crimes in specific towns using mapping technology and an online database, Liebler said.

The website would cost the city about $1,200 per month, Liebler said.

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