For the first time, Council held a special joint meeting with the DDA to discuss the DDA-owned Evergreen Avenue properties (314, 328, 334, 340 and 344 Evergreen Ave.) and the draft RFQP for that area. The meeting provided an opportunity for the DDA to hear what Council would like to see in that area and vice versa. East Lansing Planning, Building and Development Director Tom Fehrenbach provided a brief overview prior to the discussion between the Council and DDA. Fehrenbach explained that the properties are located just north of the Park District buildings that are currently under construction along Grand River Avenue and the current buildings on the properties are rentals. Income from those rentals are currently offsetting the DDA's debt on the properties, which totals approximately $5.5 million. City staff has also identified approximately $3.5 million worth of infrastructure improvement needs in that area. Fehrenbach explained that the City will either need to self-fund the infrastructure improvements or partner with a new development project and utilize Tax Increment Financing (TIF) benefits. Fehrenbach also noted that Convexity Properties (the current developer of the Park District project along Grand River Avenue) has submitted a letter of intent to purchase the properties for a proposed redevelopment project that would include conversion of Building C of the Park District project to park land, 230 units of mixed-market residential, a seven- to 10-story building and an expanded TIF plan to cover infrastructure, park improvements and other eligible activities. View Fehrenbach's full presentation from last night's meeting here.
Following Fehrenbach's presentation, the Councilmembers and DDA members shared their thoughts on what they would like to see happen in that area. Multiple DDA members shared concerns about the debt and said that eliminating that debt was their top priority. There were also a number of Councilmembers that expressed they were not committed to requiring retail on the ground floor of a development project in that area. Parking in that area was also a concern raised by Councilmember Meadows and some DDA members. Mayor Beier, with agreement from Councilmember Meadows, noted she doesn't want to see student housing in that area, citing the abundance of student housing that is already currently available in the region. There was also discussion of conducting an appraisal of the properties (a suggestion raised by Councilmember Babcock) concurrently with the RFQP if it moves forward.
DDA Chair Peter Dewan thanked Council for the meeting and said "We have been at this for a long time, having conversations about the Evergreen properties and what is the right thing to do in this area of the downtown. There have been a variety of different types of proposals that have been submitted. I wasn’t part of the DDA when the City acquired these properties, but nonetheless, since my service on the DDA, we have been trying to figure out what is the right thing to do. Having this open dialogue is really, truly appreciated."
The DDA will be discussing both the RFQP and Convexity's letter of intent at its regular meeting on Thursday, Nov. 21 at noon in Conference Room A.