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East Lansing City Council Unanimously Approves Center City District Project Development to serve as a catalyst for future economic growth

East Lansing’s City Council met on June 20 for a pivotal vote that would either pave the way for the start of the Center City District project this summer or would stop it in its tracks. The City Council voted unanimously in favor of the project. Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors, the developers on the project, report that construction is scheduled to begin this summer.

East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadow commented during the City Council meeting that this is one of the most well put together plans he has seen in his time with the city and, for that reason, voted in favor. City Council Member Susan Woods added, “This is what our community is about. We are a community of people who love what they have and want to make it better.”

The Center City District deal is contingent upon City staff being satisfied with findings of a forthcoming due diligence review of the developers’ financial situation and the project’s planned finances. City staff will have two days from receipt of the findings to raise any concerns. Otherwise, the deal will proceed.

Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors is a family owned, fourth-generation business that’s existed since 1859. When the company sees an opportunity and buys a property, they want to be a part of the community and see it be successful, so they stay. Their passion is to create something that the city and community will be proud of.  

“We are excited that the Center City District development is moving forward,” said Mark Bell, chief executive officer of Harbor Bay. “Our entire team, including the Ballein family, remains dedicated to ensuring that this transformational project comes to fruition and becomes a timeless community asset for the City of East Lansing.”

According to Bell, the East Lansing site along Albert and Grand River avenues was seemingly yearning to be developed — it had so much opportunity that Harbor Bay has been planning the Center City District project for five years. Even though the journey toward approval was challenging and rocky at times, Bell and his team continued to stay optimistic that the project would move forward and took all the feedback he received from the community to heart. 

“It’s really important for us, as developers, to listen and be flexible. People overall have been really engaged, whether they were for or against the project,” said Bell. “Frankly, it’s good for us to hear more from those who don’t like the project because perhaps they have some suggestions that we can integrate into the design. And all of a sudden, you turn someone who didn’t like the project into a believer.”

Based on public comment, Harbor Bay has significantly revised the development with the following details:

  • The Grand River building was reduced in height by 8.3 feet and the Albert building by 18 feet.
  • The upper floors of the Grand River building now ranges from 4 feet to 28 feet off the first-floor retail space to lessen the perceived height of the high-rise apartment building to onlookers.
  • The Albert building is now up to 4 feet off the first-floor retail space and 10 feet off the parking garage, which is a total of 14 feet off the city’s property line.
  • Storage was added on every floor of the senior apartments.  
  • The senior apartments were moved further west in order to gain beautiful, unobstructed views of campus, particularly on the amenity deck.

Construction is estimated for completion in under two years, with the parking garage on an accelerated timeline of approximately one year, thus minimizing disruption for residents and business owners. Over 300 prevailing wage construction jobs will be created from the project with 75-100 full-time jobs created following completion.

Once completed, the Center City District has the potential to positively impact the economic growth of East Lansing’s downtown core and the surrounding area. According to Bell, the development will see an immediate impact with the addition of more diversified housing, more retailers and more people spending money. With the influx of people coming into the city, the project will create an additional 303 hourly parking spaces to service businesses: an estimated 79.5 percent increase in revenue for the city over status quo. According to Harbor Bay, current net revenue for Parking Lot 1 is $527,000. The Center City District development will produce an additional $418,731 annually.

“The economic benefits not only from the project are tremendous, but also the long-term ripple effects of the development could have an even more dramatic effect,” said Bell. “So, if you take Target, for instance, a Fortune 50 company which is very unusual to procure — what that will have an effect on: the downtown core, businesses, residents, etc. I think it will have a profound impact.” 

Target has signed a lease to anchor the retail district in the downtown core. In addition, there will be 23,000 square feet of leasable space available for smaller retailers, resulting in a much more vibrant destination for retailers and consumers. 

Tax Increment Financing (TIF) will only be used to develop the public infrastructure and parking garage. None of the financing will go toward the Grand River building expenses. The TIF bond is a non-recourse bond to the City of East Lansing, which means the bond will be financially backed by Harbor Bay, and they will be taking on the burden of the risk. According to Bell, this will be the first TIF ever approved in East Lansing’s history where the developer is not looking to receive any money on its private improvements.

The community has been long overdue for major development. Betty Nocera, East Lansing resident, shared her approval of the project during the City Council meeting on June 20. 

“This development [the Albert building] will draw in the 55 and older crowd and provide them with the amenities and lifestyle they are looking for,” explained Nocera. “These people will spend their money in East Lansing and live in this community. Thi s building will attract baby boomers and will make this city a 21st-century city. We need to build housing and be the place to live in the region.”

The Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) is one of the pivotal regional partners that helped bring the Center City District to fruition and was present during the June 20 meeting.

“I want to congratulate everyone who has put effort into shaping this project,” said Bob Trezise, president and CEO of LEAP. “The Center City District project is a great example of innovative sustainable economic development: a future-focused endeavor to be enjoyed by generations into the future. Everyone involved in the project has worked very hard over the past months to craft an exemplarily win-win agreement. This persistence and dedication paid off.”

For more information about the Center City District project, visit elcentercity.com.

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