Saturday, October 24, 2020

With no plans presented, City Council hears more public support and criticism of Center City District

May 10, 2017

East Lansing residents, active in city matters of various importance and scale, showed up again at Tuesday night's East Lansing City Council meeting, this time to question the city over the proposed $132 million Center City District development.

Criticisms of the project from residents ranged from calling the building a “monstrosity” to belittling certain components of the project and its current and future financing as an “ugly joke.”

Center City developers announced Monday evening, in a surprising move, they would not present before council, verbally withdrawing their site and brownfield plans from consideration during the planned public hearing.

They stuck to that notion Tuesday evening. 

Mark Bell, CEO of Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors and Brad Ballein, co-owner of Ballein Management, the chief developers of the project, were in attendance for the nearly four and a half-hour meeting but did not rise to speak until the end. Instead, the two soaked in most of the public comment that dominated the meeting.

Council proceeded with the scheduled public hearing, which drew ire from some in attendance who asked council how they could provide feedback on a development that is still in the works.

Mayor Mark Meadows disagreed with those notions, saying feedback on the project as a whole would be relevant even while a vote was going to be deferred to a later date.

But even as residents spoke their mind, it was local businessmen and business interests who seemed to drive the conversation.  

Here's what came out of council last night.

Center City deferred, public hearings rescheduled 

While the site and brownfield plans were still technically on the table for council’s consideration, council deferred action on the development after the developers came to them Monday morning to tell them they would not present. 

Council voted unanimously to defer action on the project and set a business meeting and public hearing on June 13 to discuss the project. The business meeting and public hearing will replace a discussion-only meeting planned for that day.

Bell said the developers plan to hold future meetings with the public before bringing final plans forward. 

Local businessmen give support, criticism

With Center City expected to take up to two years to complete, residents and others questioned whether Center City would effectively be a death warrant for surrounding businesses. 

Businessmen from those areas came out to speak to that notion Tuesday night.

Doug Cron of Cron Management, one of East Lansing’s prominent rental companies, criticized the height and volume of Center City, questioning if council realized just how big the proposed development would be.

Furthermore, he criticized what Center City would bring to the area as well as the two-year construction. 

“A two-year shutdown from Abbot to M.A.C. is going to be devastating to this downtown, in my opinion,” Cron said. 

George Brookover, who represented East Lansing Grand River, LLC, was heavily critical of the parking element of the Albert Avenue building, questioning how it would affect city finances. East Lansing Grand River, LLC owns the building containing Lotsa Stone Fired Pizza and Urban Outfitters.

“Apparently, although we don’t know the details, 'cause we don’t know the security and we don't know how the permit system is going to work and we don’t know what the pricing is going to be and we don’t know what the effect is going to be on the city financial situation," Brookover said.  "Apparently you’re giving the developer access to almost all of the extra parking places?” 

Scott Weaver, President and Co-owner of Douglas J. Aveda Institute, praised the development. Weaver said it would benefit enrollment and keep his graduates in the city. 

“Students that do want to stay with my organization want to move to Royal Oak, they want to move in to Ann Arbor, they want a place where they can live, work, play and shop,” Weaver said. “Not that East Lansing doesn't have a lot of those things, don’t get me wrong, but I do think (the development is) a huge asset to the community.” 

Pat Riley, owner of Harper’s Restaurant & Brewpub, spoke candidly and critically of those who cast doubt on the shadowing Center City is likely to bring.

“I’m not opposed to shadows, it’s the result of building a building and it doesn't matter how tall it is, every single one of them throws a shadow,” Riley said. “If you want progress, progress requires construction which requires development.”

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