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Wednesday, December 9,2009

Recovery zone

Accident Fund ramp approved for federal stimulus bonds

by Gretchen Cochran

The last major piece of one of one of the biggest development projects in Lansing’s history is closer to being in place.

The Ingham County Board of Commissioners was expected to authorize bond financing Tuesday night for the construction of a six-story, $31 million parking building as part of the new world headquarters of the Accident Fund Insurance Co. of America.


The ramp at Grand Avenue and Shiawassee Street will be part of the seven-acre campus the insurer is creating, along with the 10-story Ottawa Power Station it is restoring and a glass-fronted building it is constructing next to it. The Christman Co., which is managing the project, will own the complex and lease it to the Accident Fund.


Designing the 1,000-space parking structure to complement the nearly seven-decadeold plant was a challenge, said Paul Jacob, Christman’s project manager. The brick power station exudes stability and sturdiness so the architects, HOK of St. Louis, designed a ramp in contrast, one that would appear light and airy, and avoid taking attention from the historic plant.


A 100-foot space between the new office addition and the proposed parking ramp will preserve the view across the river to the new City Market as one drives toward the river on Ionia Street.


“We tried to create a green foundation for the whole campus,” Jacob said. To preserve a sense of openness, an 80-foot swath of grass will skirt Grand Avenue. In general, the campus plan keeps in mind that the property serves as a transitional space between denser downtown development west of the complex and the park land north and east of it.


The main entrance to the ramp will be on Grand, but a smaller entry point will be on Shiawassee, between Grand and the Shiawassee bridge. Traffic will be controlled on Shiawassee with a right-turn-in, rightturn-out-only mechanism, according to plans created by parking consultant Carl Walker, Inc.


The pre-cast concrete ramp will be grounded on three corners with stairway towers framed in glass, similar to the glass facades of the new office building. The sixstory building could feel imposing, so in addition to the towers, the ramp’s north side will have a terraced effect by making each floor progressively smaller. The tiered face also reflects the shape of the former power plant.


The parking ramp will
be wrapped in a metal mesh fabric underscoring the sense of openness.
The silvery mesh will catch glints of sunlight while at the same time
creating a sense of transparency, Jacob said.


The east side of the
ramp will be bordered by the river trail and the Grand River. It is
important to consider erosion control during the construction phase as
well as afterward, Jacob said. All runoff water will be filtered during
construction. But once the building is completed, storm water and water
from within the building will be run through a solid and oil separator
before being let into the river.


Lighting for the ramp
will probably be energy efficient fluorescent, although Jacob says he
is keeping his ear to the ground for light-emitting-diode (LED)
lighting that is sustainable.


“LED lighting is
promoted as being long lasting, but there is still a lot of variation
and a lack of history to back it up. But the technology is changing
rapidly,” he said hopefully.


No solar energy use is
planned.


But there will be one more evaluation of building plans
relating to energy, safety and life cycle during which some more
sustainable features might be added.


Christman is known for
its concern for environmentally sensitive construction. Its own
headquarters recently won double platinum Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) designation. And Jacob is LEED certified.
While the company may pursue LEED certification for the new building
now under construction, it will not go after the designation for the
ramp, he said.


But Brad Williams, CEO
of Architectural Solutions in Lansing, suggested Christman might want
to look at Santa Monica, Calif.'s, new parking garage, the first to
achieve LEED designation in 2008. It uses LED lighting of different
colored vertical strips for decoration, and top floor solar panels
produce 80 percent of its needed electricity. The overhanging solar
panels create the roof, shading cars from heat, and making a desirable parking location.


A ramp in Austin,
Texas, uses photovoltaic panels and a rainwater catching system to
filter the water and irrigate the landscaping. Another at Arizona State
University has a roof entirely covered with solar collectors.


“They are doing
something positive with all that empty space,” said Francis Wilmore,
also of Architectural Solutions. He knew of a ramp using a living green
screen, covered and shady in summer, but in the winter, when the leaves
drop, the heat could come in.


Overall, Wilmore and Williams had high praise for the work Christman has done on the project.


“They are doing nice
things with the Accident Fund project. It’s a gem of a building (the
power plant). The new addition is the first contemporary design
downtown,” Williams said.


But there are still a number of steps to be taken before financing for the parking building is assured.


As in every phase of
this project, complexity rules. The commissioners’ favorable nod for
$16.9 million in federal Recovery Zone bonds, and another already given
by the Lansing City Council for $14.8 million, will allow Christman to
pursue municipal bonds which carry low interest rates, said Bob
Trezise, President of the Lansing Economic Development Corp.


Any loan requires back up in case the recipient defaults.


The Accident Fund is providing a letter of credit, and the collateral will be the ramp plus the lease agreement with Christman.


Neither the city nor the county holds any liability in this deal, Trezise assured.


“We can’t lend them
money—we don’t have any,” laughed Susan Pigg, Ingham County Economic
Development coordinator. The Accident Fund will repay the loan for the
bonds.


Trezise predicted the
municipal bond funding could be secured by April or so. The entire
project is expected to be completed in 2011.



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