Local businesses see positives, negatives in Park District plans
While those who walk by the blighted Park District buildings downtown might lament their continued existence, for some area business owners the run-down structures are a constant malignant presence.
The block of buildings at 100 W Grand River Avenue has stood decrepit for more than a decade as East Lansing continues its quest to see them destroyed and replaced. While the city and developer plan, local businesses watch the process with hopes it will improve the community.
The West Corridor
E.J. Jonna, one of the owners and founders of Jonna's 2 Go East Lansing , has operated his business right across the street from the blight for nearly four years and eagerly supports the Park District development project.
“(My building) was an urban blight building when I took it over,” Jonna said. “It had the old 7-Eleven overhang that was rusting out and turning colors. We put some money in here, we made this corner look very presentable, so I would like to see the rest of the area look presentable.”
Jonna spoke at the Jan. 10 East Lansing City Council meeting to voice his approval for the project and said it will not only help him but other area businesses as well.
“This is East Lansing, we don’t want to be Ann Arbor’s little brother, we want to be a world-class city, and this is not in an urban area where you have urban plight like those two buildings,” Jonna said. “If we really want to make this a first class city, we've got to have more hotel rooms, we've got to have more things for people to do. I think if they really want to include that in the downtown area, then this project is a must.”
Others on the Michigan Avenue side of Grand River Avenue agree with Jonna’s sentiments. Rev. Andrew Pomerville, senior pastor at The People’s Church, said his church and businesses like Jonna’s, Crunchy’s and others feel like a blocked-off corridor from the rest of downtown.
“It has been a challenge for us,” Pomerville said. “There are people who certainly drive past the blight and they make it over to us, but it definitely is a hinderance for people to see us as a vibrant part of the East Lansing community at times.”
Pomerville said the church has been in communication with the city and different developers throughout the past decade, and at all times has been excited to be a good neighbor and see the project become a benefit to the community.
“I think all of the congregation is looking forward to something other than what has been there the last decade, any type of improvement to the blighted buildings would be a benefit not just to our church congregation but certainly to all of this side of town,” Pomerville said.
In addition to removing the blight, Jonna said the new developments might bring more permanent residents to the area, helping East Lansing businesses survive the lethal summer and holiday “downtimes” when students leave the city. Jonna said the proposed parking garage could also help facilitate events such as game days.
“I think it’s an all-win situation, I don’t think anybody could be negative, you know?” Jonna said.
However, the project may have some unintended negatives for others. Matt Hagan, an agent with Hagan Realty, spoke at the aforementioned meeting about how the completed project would create shadowing at one of his properties. For long hours of the day depending on the season, Hagan's building will be in shadow something he called a "negative."
“My lot and building is going to be in a shadow for an extended period of time depending on the time of year, and certainly I see that as a negative for my property and the people living in the building,” Hagan said. “This is the third version of this particular project that has been proposed, and the second developer had worked with me on that situation, and this particular developer has not approached me. I guess certainly I’m open to discussions, but at this point they haven’t approached me.”
Hagan owns the building at 404 Evergreen Ave, directly north of the proposed parking structure, he said. Hagan said the shadowing will decrease his property value and make it harder to rent out the space.
Above: The photo on the left is a current Google Earth image, on the right is a diagram of the projected shadowing caused by the project at 9 a.m. on a March 21 spring equinox. The diagram is included in a current Park District site plan. The large grey structure on the middle left in the diagram is the planned parking structure, and the small house above it is 404 Evergreen Ave.
“People who are living there now can go out in their front yard and be in the sun and have a view of Valley Court, and they take that into account when they’re renting the place,” Hagan said. “They’re outside and they’re in a constant shadow as opposed to being able to be out in the sun when they’re enjoying game day or relaxing out with their computer, whatever they’re doing, it’s going to be a negative, that’s not something that's going to be a desirable situation for them and they may not be willing to pay as much.”
East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas said he’s heard Hagan’s issue and believes council should consider the impact on surrounding properties as part of the overall development process.
“There (are) many times in a downtown when you’re building something that’s tall, maybe a little bit taller than what you’re joining, and you don’t not build it because perhaps there will be some time that they’re in shadows,” Lahanas said. “I think that you have a right to use your property and they have a right to use their property, so I think those things have to be balanced.”
Hagan said an additional snafu the project might raise is the development’s impact on traffic.
“Traffic is going to be just a nightmare when you add that many people to that corner, which is already tough to travel to at certain times of day when people are going to and from classes, adding that much more density to that area with that much more traffic, it’s going to be tough,” Hagan said.
What real impact the project has is yet to be seen, as all hinges upon the city and developer Convexity Properties reaching a development agreement. The vote on said agreement has been pushed back while Convexity considers potential changes to the project, which if implemented could set the project a few steps back. Convexity is also scheduled to request an extension to the Jan. 31 deadline to demolish the buildings while planning continues.
“I think whatever the city has to do to get this job done, they must do it,” Jonna said. “They've got to put their working hats on and get it done.”
Dublin Square, another neighboring business, could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.