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Wednesday, December 23,2009

Fortress

A look at the new state police HQ

by Neal McNamara

 

Joel Ferguson strolled through the fifth floor of what is about to be the new Michigan State Police headquarters when the developer told the following story:

During the planning stage, internal administrative debate broke out over where the MSP colonel’s office should be located in this 148,000-square foot modern-day fortress. Front of the building or back of the building?


Someone suggested, "If someone were to attack the MSP headquarters from the front, it would be better if the colonel’s office . . . .


This is when Ferguson piped in.


"Let me tell you about the last time a police headquarters building was attacked," Ferguson said.


The room went silent.


"The year was 1984 and Sarah Connor was holding down the station against the Terminator . . ."


Ferguson roared with laughter remembering the conversation. The truth is that after nine years, countless starts and stops and a blizzard of public criticism, the building former Gov. John Engler first approached Gary Granger and Ferguson about in September 2000 is a reality.


By next month 500 state police officials will call this building home as the structure’s creators continue to bat away negative comments as being as fictional as the old Arnold Schwarzenegger flick.


The Michigan State Administrative Board tied the final bow on the deal last week. It let state officials cut, at most, a $52 million check for the structure on Kalamazoo Street and Grand Avenue and everything inside — equipment, furniture, etc.


The state will borrow money off of its bond cap,
which some believe could double the state’s final cost when it’s all
said and done. For the entire year of 2010, the MSP will occupy the
building for free. Ferguson and Granger cut the deal with the state
after Rep. Rick Jones questioned the sense of paying anything for a new
building when 100 state troopers were being laid off.


Granger
and Ferguson agreed not to charge the state for the first year if the
$3 million saved went toward hiring back 55 troopers. The expense came
on top of the estimated $3.8 million the two developers say they paid
in city and state taxes or will pay before the state officially owns
the building in 2011. In that amount, they included sales and property
taxes as well as payroll taxes and various permits going back to 2007.


All of these taxes were paid without either getting a dime from anybody for the project.


"People
were making the claim that this project was a drain on the city
coffers, but we added to it," Granger said. "People said it appeared as
if this project was costing the state money all of these years when
it’s the opposite. We were adding to the tax base."


The
MSP’s top brass are headquartered in an old facility off Harrison Road
across the street from Michigan State University for next to nothing in
rent until they move in January. But the annual maintenance to keep up
the old jalopy can’t be underestimated, Granger said.


By 2021, the state will have made its money back from the purchase of this new LEEDcertified building from the money saved not having to fix the Harrison Road structure, which may be bulldozed for MSU event parking.


"We
have raised the bar for the troopers," Ferguson said. "They will fight
crime better because they are in a state-of-the-art building."


For
the last several years, the criticism over the building has been
intense. It’s been claimed that the project was a sweetheart deal for
two politically connected developers. It was built in a flood plain. It
wasn’t consolidating anything since the MSP still needed two separate
other facilities to house its other functions. The troopers didn’t want
to make the move. Putting the MSP headquarters in a downtown area is
risky.


But Granger
said it was former Gov. John Engler who approached the developers about
the project, not the other way around. Engler liked what the two had
done with the Anderson House Office Building on Capitol Avenue and he
wanted all of the state departments headquartered in downtown Lansing.
After the Supreme Court building, the Department of Environmental
Quality and a new state museum, a new State Police structure was the
next on the list.


The
two make no apologies for feverishly plowing forward with the "triangle
project" (named after the triangle-shaped land in question). They
simply believed the project was in the best interests of everybody
involved, and, Ferguson conceded, his ego wouldn’t let him walk away.


Originally,
the 500,000-square-foot project was slated to include the Department of
Military and Veterans Affairs and to cross into a flood plain. Those
plans were scrapped in 2002. The building is not in the floodplain, Granger insisted.


As
for the "consolidation" argument, the developers point out that for the
first time the MSP colonel will be in the same building as the
emergency response unit.


MSP
officials have privately grumbled about their new digs, but Ferguson is
convinced their frustration stems from having to buy downtown parking
like other state employees. Their current free parking lot across the
street from the Breslin Center and a couple of blocks away from Spartan
Stadium will be gone.


And as for the "risky" argument, Ferguson returns to his Terminator movie reference.


The
MSP building has blast-proof walls and windows, among other structural
reinforcements. Unlike most other downtown buildings, it’s set back
from the road. Its mailroom is essentially disconnected from the rest
of the building in the case of another anthrax scare. This is all on
top of the pass card accesses, closed circuit TV monitoring, alarm systems, a back-up generator and other safety equipment.


Nearly
50 security, administrative and construction experts had a hand in
mapping everything out. Every inch of floor space has been gone over,
in some cases, multiple times. And, in the end, the building was
constructed on time and on budget with no change orders, Granger
boasted.


"There is
nothing dirty about this," Granger said. "This has been highly vetted,
and that’s what has been so frustrating about this. So much of the
negative comments have gotten so much traction. It’s taken away from
the quality of the project."



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