Lansing Developments Move Slowly Toward Completion
Both are extraordinarily complex. The casino is entangled by state and tribal lawsuits and federal government bureaucracy; the Red Cedar mixed-use project, to be built within the Red Cedar River’s flood plain, is an engineering nightmare.
Still, the developers behind both projects say the low profile should not be mistaken for inaction. Both expect significant advances in 2016.
“Our plan is to start clearing the site in 2016. We have a hard schedule,” said Chris Stralkowski, project manager for Ferguson Development, which is working with nationally prominent Continental Real Estate of Columbus, Ohio. “We have a short window because of the Indiana Bat Law that affects every project where there are old growth trees.”
Nothing is certain, according to government and development officials working on reconfiguring the city’s abandoned golf course with hotels, housing, retail shopping, a medical facility and parkland.
“It is all very, very complicated and the costs are not settled upon yet – or who is paying for what. That’s why you can’t say it’s a done deal,” said Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, which is handling project negotiations for Lansing.
He said that the developers have spent more than $1 million on the project to date and that cost estimates are almost complete. But building on the site is costlier than initially projected.
Developers want to keep their infrastructure costs in the $70 million to $80 million range. “They are now between $90 [million] and $100 million, but we believe we are going to get there,” Stralkowski said.
Because much of golf course property is subject to river flooding, developers must build on costly elevated concrete platforms called plinths. As a result, the phase of development along Michigan Avenue, which actually is four-to-six feet below the flood plain, will be constructed above the roadway.
Stralkowski said the developers have submitted permits to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to work in the flood plain and are negotiating with a half-dozen or more public bodies, among them, Lansing Township, East Lansing, Michigan State University, CATA, MDOT and the Ingham County Drain Commissioner’s office – on approvals and coordination.
The project will require additional agreements from the Lansing City Council, and the development agreement for Red Cedar Renaissance expires in May, Trezise said. He doesn’t see either as significant issues.
Ferguson and Continental said they continue to sign agreements with tenants, but have been guarded releasing information. President of Ferguson Development, Joel Ferguson, announced in August 2014 that Hyatt Corp. Planned a full service hotel at the site. Another parcel is reserved for a medical facility, which Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero has suggested will be affiliated with Sparrow Hospital. There may even be a second hotel attached to the project.
“There has been genuine progress and we are much further along than in the past year,” said Trezise, who praised the dedication and commitment to the project by Continental.
“They drive up here from Columbus every Monday night and spend the entire day Tuesday locked in a room with us, construction companies and designers. They have put an enormous amount of hard work and money into making this work.”
In downtown Lansing, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians also hopes to open its casino in 2016 or early 2017 on land it has purchased adjacent to the Convention Center, according to Tribe Chairman Aaron Payment.
Delayed by court challenges and awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Interior, work on the project has moved slowly.
Payment said the tribe revised its analysis of the Lansing market and has reduced slightly the number of slot machines planned for the facility. Initially it wanted as many as 3,000 slots machines.
Payment attributed the change to a new study of available parking and the casino’s landlocked location. It will still feature a full complement of table games like black jack, poker and roulette.
“We’ve scaled it back to the right size, with what the market will bear. Customers won’t notice and we don’t expect any change in the revenue,” Payment said. This is important to the city, which will receive 2 percent of the casino’s revenue to support the Lansing Promise scholarships, which funds college tuition for its high school graduates. Payment expects the tribe’s annual contribution to be about $3 million.
The tribe continues to work with the Department of Interior on an agreement to place in a trust the 2.7 acres at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and North Cedar Street. The approval process involves decisions by the Interior Department’s Midwest regional office and Washington, Payment said. “The biggest impediment is the tribes that are trying to protect their market share. They are putting a lot of resources into efforts to prevent us from opening. But we’re getting close.”
A casino downtown would reposition Lansing’s convention and tourism business.
“Can you imagine the convention business it is going to attract?” Trezise said. “Imagine the breakthrough in downtown hotels or what it will do for the retail and restaurant business. It will make us a destination for national conventions.”