Walking along Grand River Ave. in downtown East Lansing, there’s so much construction going on, it’s hard to keep up with what all of it is for.
Alice Dreger is the publisher and founder of East Lansing Info, or ELi, a citizen-reported news organization for the people of East Lansing.
“I get stopped by strangers all the time and asked, ‘do you know what's going on here? Where's the Target going? Where's the hotel going?’” Dreger says, laughing.
ELi has been covering the developments in East Lansing since the beginning. Dreger explains there are two distinct developments, starting with the Park District property on the corner of Grand River and Abbot.
“The Park District is the corner where the big bank building came down and that's where there's supposed to be potentially a hotel, probably retail space, probably rental apartments, and somewhere in there some kind of parking system.”
The Park District isn’t just that corner where the bank building came down. It’s bigger.
“ It's also another property right near there between there and People's Church, so it involves that property where those smaller buildings came down, and it also involves a property north of there, which is where the old Evergreen Arms brick apartment buildings used to be, and that’s an empty lot now.”
Then there’s the Center City Project, with a totally different developer. The project involves the center part of the city, including the large surface parking lot along Albert Ave. You know this area if you’ve ever attended The East Lansing Folk Festival or Art Festival. Dreger explains what this project will entail.
“On the back of that project, so on Albert Avenue, would be a new city-owned parking garage. On the front of that parking garage on Albert Avenue would be retail space owned by the developers, above that would be five stories of rental senior housing, also owned by the developers. And then on Grand River would be a 12 story building with a Target retail store on the ground floor. And above that, hundreds of rental apartments.”
When the Center City project was proposed to City Council, the idea was that it would be no cost and no major risk to the city. Dreger says that's changed over the last few months.
“The reason is the developer can’t come up with the financial guarantees the city insisted on, so now the risk profile is looking different.”
The project is also causing parking issues with the closure of that large parking lot for construction. The restaurant Lotsa Pizza has decided to close, at least until construction is over.
“The city is pointing out, they say 94% of downtown parking is still available. But, psychologically, what we know is that people prefer surface parking lots over parking garages. So when you take away sort of the home parking lot for downtown, it creates the sense that downtown is closed.”
The city is trying to alleviate the parking frustration, but Dreger says that’s another financial concern.
“City Council decided to vote through a parking voucher program to help the downtown business that are stressed now, and they’re spending $70,000 on that parking voucher program. That’s not in our budget. That was not built into this project. It’s actually developing debt for the city of East Lansing in ways that were not discussed at the outset.”
Center City is still in the early stages, and the developer is still working with the city to agree on the financial guarantees. Plans for the Park District property are still unknown, as we await developer’s latest proposal.
Click here to read ELi's coverage of these developments.