By Chris Boggus
Entirely East Lansing
East Lansing skyline is expected to get a little larger over the next year. Well, that’s what the current building project’s agenda shows.
Planning and Zoning Administrator Darcy Schmitt is working with a multitude of properties that are under development.
“We are extremely busy,” said Schmitt. “Like, ridiculously busy.”
According to the City of East Lansing website, there are 24 projects in different stages of planning.
“Right now myself and my one employee are reviewing 10 different development plans that are in different stages of the process,” said Schmitt. “They are all over the city, I couldn’t even tell you off the top of my head.”
DTN is the land developer for three of the proposals.
“Currently there are two buildings, the Garten Haus project off of Gunson and Beach, and the 300 Grand River Ave. project, and that is the Gateway. A little outside of that we have buildings going up in Lansing Township, Holt, DeWitt and Grand Rapids,” said Colin Cronin, the vice president and co-owner of DTN Management Co.
DTN was involved with Park District Investment Group on the collective development of its third proposal: Park District.
“Unfortunately, the whole Park District is dead right now, but our part of the Park District is a three-building layout, with an eight-story office building, a seven-story apartment and parking ramp, and the third would be a four-story senior housing unit,” said Cronin.
East Lansing’s skyline would have become much larger if these buildings were erected, but the City Council had to curb the Park District plan.
“The city couldn’t sell the land there, that’s why the project died,” said Cronin.
Lori Mullins, the community and economic development administrator for East Lansing, explained how the inability to sell land has affected the plans of the Park District proposal.
“We have a majority of the people in the community that want to allow City Council to sell the property, but they have not been able to,” said Mullins.
The inability to sell the land is due to East Lansing’s current charter that requires 60 percent of voter’s approval for city property to be sold.
“If we had the simple majority, the plan would have gone through,” said Cronin.
If the law allowed for a simple majority that would have accelerated the progress of current property developments.
According to Mullins, in the past there have been multiple unsuccessful votes.
“This last vote came to 57 percent,” said Mullins. “One recently was at 59 percent.”
The frustration of missing property sales by small percentages has led to the current ballot proposal to lower the required voter percentage.
One site adjacent to MSU’s campus that is coming to a finish is the Trowbridge Center Redevelopment Project.
According to the City of East Lansing’s online economic development page, the Trowbridge Village will feature a five-story multi-use building of restaurants, retail and 76 apartments. Complementary to this multi-use building is the redeveloped plaza that will feature a new organic market called Fresh Thyme.
MSU Federal Credit Union is also going under change at its headquarters on Coolidge Road, seeking expansion of its office buildings. The credit union’s website describes the new headquarters as a three-level office building capable of holding 564 employees.
The Park District plan will remain a plan until the city is able to sell the land.
“What voters will be voting for in May is the threshold required to sell city property such as the parking lots on Evergreen,” said City Clerk Marie Wicks.
The Evergreen lots must be sold for the Park District plan to move forward.
“City owned property, besides park land, will still require that 60 percent. Unless this ballot question passes and lowers it to 50 percent, a simple majority,” said Wicks.
The May 5 ballot will only feature two city proposals, with Proposal 2 aiming to drop the required approval margin to 50 percent.
The excitement of East Lansing’s land development presents new opportunities for the city and the people alike to grow around it.
DTN’s Cronin attended a meeting with some of the biggest names involved in East Lansing’s development including Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon.
The message from the meeting was pretty clear:
“If East Lansing wants to be a bigger and better college town then it needs to be open to change. To become a more world-class college town, the biggest challenge we have is to find ways to attract talent of high-end researchers and scientists to our city,” said Cronin
Cronin said, “The city is trying to take a step in the direction of being more competitive with more economically progressive cities.”