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Wednesday, June 4,2014

Outfield project

Cooley Law School Stadium proposal expected to pass next week

by BECKY McKENDRY
This story was corrected on June 4 to clarify that public bond money would not be used for the apartment development.

As a Council vote draws closer, victory looks imminent for the Outfield, a proposed $23.5 million mixed-use project for the city-owned Cooley Law School Stadium, home to the Lansing Lugnuts baseball team.

Under the proposed development project, the 18-year-old stadium would receive repairs and upgrades alongside the construction of about 80 new single and two-bedroom apartments just north of the stadium’s outfield. The city would pay for $10.5 million of the improvements through bonds, which includes upgrades to the field, locker rooms and more. The remainder of the funds would come from developer Pat Gillespie, Take Me Out to the Ball Game LLC — which owns the Lugnuts team — a brownfield tax incentive and a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. No public bond money would be used for the private development of the apartments.

The proposal would also keep the Lugnuts playing in the city until at least 2034 — replacing the current six-year lease with a 20-year lease.

To proceed with the project, Council will vote Monday on separate portions, including a brownfield tax incentive, rezoning of the northern area of the ballpark for a parking lot, and finally, the stadium’s lease and service agreement. The rezoning passes with five votes, the rest of the measures pass with six. During a public hearing earlier this week, Councilwoman Carol Wood was the only member who voiced reservations about the project. She raised concerns that Council had not seen a copy of the stadium’s appraisal and that it was unclear where revenue from the stadium’s proposed billboard would be allocated.

Randy Hannan, Mayor Virg Bernero’s chief of staff, said that although he hasn’t been counting votes, the mayor’s office expects the measure to pass.

“We’re on track to get it done,” he said. “We’re very confident we’ll have an awesome new stadium here in the future.”

Council Vice President Judi Brown Clarke, along with Council members Derrick Quinney, Kathie Dunbar and Jody Washington confirmed they will vote yes on the project. Council President A’Lynne Boles and Councilwomen Carol Wood, Tina Houghton and Jessica Yorko could not be reached for comment.

Washington, whose ward houses the stadium, said she believes the project will be approved and that the only possible no vote would come from Wood. She also said that although she had reservations in the beginning, “My biggest thing is making sure the ballpark is up to where it needs to be,” she said. “I’m very excited to support this.”

Washington also said that once she realized public money would not be used to fund the private apartment development, she felt much better about supporting the project.

Brown Clarke said that the Outfield will bring the growth of downtown Lansing to a new level.

“It’s attractive, affordable housing for young professionals that have discretionary dollars,” she said. “There are a lot of things developing in that area and a lot of activity. This just makes the area even more attractive.”

Developer Pat Gillespie has said that he estimates the outfield’s apartments will house about 100 residents, and that he expects about 75 of those people will be young professionals moving to the apartments from outside of Lansing, bringing in new income tax revenue for the city.

Brown Clarke said she also expects the apartments to bring young, outside talent to Lansing — something the city definitely needs.

“These will be high-end, urban-style apartments,” she said. “There’s not a whole lot of opportunity for that type of housing here, and with Jackson National Life and Sparrow Hospital, we’ve got a growing need for it.”

Brown Clarke went even further.

“This could even build our school district, with young parents moving to town,” she said. “Once it’s repaired, the stadium could be used for even more events, like concerts and art and culture type events. This is a really good deal for the city.”

Hannan echoed that statement, saying that the project will serve as a “confidence booster” to entrepreneurs who are considering investing in the city.

“These kinds of projects are synergistic,” he said. “They’re pieces of a puzzle that all benefit each other and create a very vibrant downtown.”

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