Park Place Redevelopment Proposal Is Full of Surprises

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Monday, January 7, 2019, 7:24 am
Alice Dreger

The City of East Lansing has now released to ELi the Park Place site plan application as it was submitted by the developers on December 17. We've analyzed it and can report that, as the proposal now moves forward, the deal as it is developing contains a number of surprises:

  • The building that would replace Dublin Square is now designed at 15 stories and 176 feet in height. That’s 36 feet taller than Center City District’s and Park District’s tallest buildings will be.
  • The developers are seeking to construct private property on several pieces of public land.
  • The developers are looking to build an underground basin for storm-water treatment for the development in Valley Court Park, a public park.
  • Current City law says this project has to dedicate at least 25% of its housing units to something other than market-rate rental apartments, but the proposal calls for only 17% of the 490 new housing units to be something else, namely 82 owner-occupied condos.

City staff tell ELi that the developer is already making changes to the proposal, and we don’t know what aspects of the project are being revised.

But, given that it is set to be considered by Planning Commission on January 23, we bring you today what the initial application shows and doesn’t show, and answer readers’ submitted questions.

Where would the project be?

This image from the application shows in red the location of the project.

It would subsume the current Dublin Square property, public Parking Lot 4 just to the south of the Dublin Square property, the DDA’s properties along Evergreen Avenue, another privately-owned property at 404 Evergreen Avenue, and a piece of public land currently holding wooden steps that go down from the City Hall West Parking Lot toward Valley Court Park.

(For a larger version of this map, click here.)

The plan also calls for the project to use public Parking Lot 15 (the City Hall West lot, next to the AT&T building) as a cut-through point for privately-owned parking for the development. And, as noted above, it proposes to use public park land to build a storm-water treatment basin for the private development.

The image below is taken from the application and annotated by ELi. The text in red shows the location of buildings already approved for construction under the DRW/Convexity Park District plan. The text in black explains the relative height of the proposed Park Place buildings.

The proposal calls for the private development to build almost all the way to Evergreen Avenue and to turn that section of Evergreen Avenue into a greenway, marked in green on the image above, so that apartments in the private development along Evergreen Avenue will be built along a public greenway. (This greenway would apparently remain public land.)

What would the buildings look like?

There would be two major new buildings, one on the northwest corner of Abbot Road and Albert Avenue, called Park Place East, and the other just west of there, along Albert Avenue and Evergreen Avenue, called Park Pace West.

The following photograph shows the current view looking northeast from the back steps of Peoples Church. To the left you can see one of the DDA-owned rental houses (it is white) and to the right, the brick 3-story rental property owned by the DDA.

The following rendering shows what the project would look like from approximately the same location, although from higher in the air, with the DDA-owned buildings replaced. Albert Avenue is again in the foreground. The green space to the left represents the portion of Evergreen Avenue that would be turned into a greenway. Note the buliding comes just about all the way to the greenway.

Park Place West would include a 12-plex movie theatre with an entrance across from the back steps of Peoples Church and from The Graduate Hotel. (That hotel is set to be built in a separate, already-approved project, called the Park District.)

Wrapped around and above the movie theatre would be a 12-story “tower,” with two levels of automated, privately-operated pay parking, 275 rental units, and 26 for-sale condo units.

Here’s what Park Place West is shown looking like, in 2-dimensions, from the west, that is, if you were looking, for example, from the location of the East Lansing Farmers’ Market.

A number of the rental and condo units in Park Place West would face west, as shown above. Others would face the big building of Park Place East, across an alley. Still others would face only an interior “courtyard,” essentially an air shaft, as shown below. (Oddly, the drawing seems to show condos with balconies over this interior space.)

In the proposal, Park Place East, along Abbot Road, is called “a 14-story tower” in the plans, but in fact has occupied space on 15 levels above ground, plus 3 levels for robotic, privately-owned pay parking below ground. The 15th floor includes a fitness room for residents. The drawings show that building topping out at 176 feet in height. (See p. A-15 here.)

Park Place East, which would replace the current Dublin Square property, would have retail and office space, restaurant space, 133 rental apartment units and 56 for-sale condos. It is shown below, with Albert Avenue to the left and Abbot Road to the right. To the extreme left is a grey block, drawn to indicate the 10-story future Graduate Hotel, being built as part of a separate, already-approved project.

In the foreground and to the left is a public plaza that would be built on what is now Parking Lot 4. The deal with the DDA envisions City Council giving air rights to the developer to that public land under a 49-year lease. The lease would allow the developer to build the columns for the 13 stories projecting out over the public plaza.

Below, roughly the same location is shown from the same vantage as it exists today:

All of the buildings shown here would be demolished for the project. Here is the plaza rendered from Albert Avenue at ground level:

How would traffic and parking work?

Both buildings are designed to have interior automated parking. Drivers would park their cars in a “bay” and then a machine would take the car and park it. When a driver wants to retrieve a car, she or he asks the automated system to retrieve it, and then picks it up in a bay as instructed.

This kind of design saves space because machines can park cars very close to each other and two-deep. The kind of parking being proposed has not been built previously in the metropolitan Lansing area, but the developers see it as an attractive feature of the design.

The parking for this development would be privately-owned and available to some extent for public parking. According to the Purchase and Sale agreement with the DDA, the pricing would keep the City’s lots elsewhere competitive.

Park Place West, which would have twelve movie theatres and 301 apartments, is set to have interior parking for 268 spaces. The design shows cars coming and going to this building in two locations. One is off Abbot Road, through City-owned parking lot 15, which is the “West City Hall” lot.

Traffic would also come and go to Park Place West from Evergreen Avenue, where Valley Court Drive meets it. In the image below, we’ve added orange arrows to show where the cars come and go for Park Place West.

Park Place East would have underground parking for 185 vehicles, accessed off Abbot Road, as shown by the purple arrow in the image above.

There is no provision for preventing cut-through traffic from using the historic Oakwood residential neighborhood, immediately to the north of the project. The traffic along Abbot Road would add to increased traffic due to happen from the Park District and Center City projects, being built on either side of Abbot Road between Albert Avenue and Grand River Avenue.

What public land would be involved?

The project as envisioned includes use of the following pieces of public land:

  • The DDA properties along Evergreen Avenue. These would be sold to the developer for $5.58 million, solving the public debt on those properties and replacing relatively short buildings (max. three-stories) with a 12-story building.
  • Public Parking Lot 4, along Albert Avenue. This would be used at street level for a public plaza, and above that would be used by the developer to build a restaurant (expected to be a new “Dublin Square”), private office space and apartments. How much the developer would pay the CIty for this remains to be seen.
  • Public Parking Lot 8, north of Peoples Church lot, would be used to straighten Albert Avenue. This would remain public land, as a street, but would eliminate most or all of the parking lot.
  • Evergreen Avenue from Albert Avenue to Valley Court Drive. This would become a greenway, as noted above, allowing the developer to build apartments that would closely front a greenway rather than a busy road.
  • Oakwood Lot 36, across from City Hall, extending from public Parking Lot 15 all the way to Evergreen Avenue. The plans clearly call for the developer to use part of this public property for private development, namely to create entrances/exits for the private development of Park Place West, yet nowhere in the application is this discussed.

Below is an image of the existing west side of Oakwood Lot 36, where public steps go from Evergreen Avenue near Valley Court Park up to the parking lot across from City Hall. In the plans, this land is used for a parking ramp for Park Place West.

Below you see the section of Evergreen Avenue that would turn into a greenway. The 3-story building on the left (404 Evergreen Avenue) is just south of the steps shown above.

So, the first building to the left is 404 Evergreen Avenue, which would have to be sold by the current owner (Hagan Realty) to the developers. Just south of that building (to the right), you can see some more of the rental houses owned by the DDA. These would be all replaced by the Park Place West building that would come almost all the way to the right-of-way line of Evergreen Avenue, with apartments on the front and the 12-plex movie theatre inside.

To the right in the above image, on the right (west) side of Evergreen Avenue, is 341 Evergreen Avenue, now an empty lot but set to be redeveloped under the DRW/Convexity Park District project as a 5-story, income-restricted rental apartment building, for people with low or moderate incomes.

What’s the storm-water treatment area about?

A project of this size needs a way to deal with storm water, because the development would cover so much land with impervious materials. The developer is proposing to build a storm-water treatment basin on public park land, in Valley Court Park, as shown below.

Department of Public Works Director Scott House tells ELi, “The plan proposes a below ground pond. This would require approval to place on City park property.”

An anonymous ELi reader wrote in the question, “Why is the city essentially donating land to [developer Paul] Vlahakis for a retention pond? All other developers have to put these on their own property.”

We don’t yet know whether the City would charge for this, and whether Council would approve it.

Notably, the DDA gave the developers permission to include the DDA's properties in this site plan proposal, and City Council voted a day after the developers' submission to let the developer include City-owned Lot 4 in the proposal. But there’s been no permission given to include City-owned Oakwood Lot 36 or Valley Court Park for private development.

Are there no plans to save the Dublin Square building?

A reader asked, “Does this mean the plan does nothing to maintain the historic, WPA-built old post office” that now houses the Dublin Square restaurant?

You can read the history of this building, built under the Works Progress Association in 1933, here

As we’ve previously reported, the Historic District Commission wants to see consideration of having that building saved, or moved and saved elsewhere. But City staff have been clear they do not see it as worth saving, and the developers have indicated it is likely to simply be demolished.

The developers are considering reusing some of the interior features of the pub in a new restaurant. The interior "Irish" features are not historic or original; they were purchased around 2006 by Vlahakis' company to make the restaurant look like an authentic old pub. 

The developers have said they might save the original cornerstone and original post boxes of the WPA-built post office for placement somewhere in the new project.

What would the shadows be like from this project?

Another reader asked, “Is there going to be a seasonal shadow study conducted (literally, an assessment of the natural lighting conditions that this project will be subject to, and those that it will create) for its own tenants, as well as for neighboring/nearby properties?”

We put this question to Planning Director Tim Dempsey, but have not yet heard back.

What’s missing from the application?

There is not yet a traffic report on this project – and traffic is going to be a big point of concern, given the very large developments already happening or set to happen within a few feet of this project, at Center City and Park District.

The application as submitted also did not include clear textual statements about height, nor does it include material about the downtown development design guidelines, as required. It also does not include the usual parking plan required by City code.

City staff is responsible for informing the developer of any components of the application that are missing or deficient so the developer can provide additional material “as promptly as practical,” according to the Purchase and Sale Agreement signed by the DDA.

What’s next?

The developer is responsible for submitting a Brownfield Tax Increment Financing plan (TIF) to the City by January 15, according to the Purchase and Sale Agreement made with the DDA. Such a plan would be used to divert new property taxes from the project to pay for aspects of the redevelopment. We have no details on that yet.

Transportation Commission will consider the project and its traffic study at some point and make recommendations. They are sure to consider this project in the context of a small, busy downtown area already having to absorb Park District and Center City, as shown in a map annotated by ELi below.

Planning Commission is set to take up the site plan on January 23. Planning Commission is advisory to Council – meaning City Council can override its recommendations for most aspects of a plan.

Tomorrow City Council is voting to send to Planning Commission a new draft ordinance allowing building up to 160 feet on the Park Place East property.

A 6-2 majority of Planning Commission previously sent Council a message that they did not want to see such a tall building as now proposed at the Park Place West location, with many Commissioners noting that the City’s recently-passed comprehensive plan envisioned nothing so tall here, near the park and on the southern edge of the residential Oakwood neighborhood.

So far, the DDA has elected to pursue this plan instead of seeking other proposals for the land it owns on Evergreen Avenue. So far, only Aaron Stephens on City Council has indicated he would rather see the properties included in a Request for Proposals from all interested developers. Mayor Mark Meadows and City staff have said this proposal, from Vlahakis and Royal Apartments, will go through all the normal review processes, some of which include opportunities for public comment.


Update, January 10: Vlahakis sent some updates and clarifications on the plan, including updated drawings.

Disclosure: This reporter owns a house in the Oakwood neighborhood and her husband serves on the Historic District Commission. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info