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Wednesday, September 22,2010

'The Tube'

Potential Marketplace development could bring upgrades to the pedway that crosses the Grand River

by Andy Balaskovitz
Standing on the Michigan Avenue bridge looking north with an architectural designer offers a unique perspective of much of the recent downtown activity: the Ottawa Power Station, City Market, River Trail, the Lansing Center and yes, of course, that tubular crosswalk over the Grand River.

That crosswalk, or pedway impedes the view from Michigan Avenue of developer Pat Gillespie’s $23 million Marketplace project, which could bring five new structures north and east of the City Market — two residential and three mixed-use. It does the same to the view from Grand Avenue looking north toward the Ottawa Power Station, which is being transformed into the headquarters of the Accident Fund Insurance Co. of America.


Francis Wilmore, an architectural designer at ASL Design Studio in Lansing, surveys the pedway from the bridge, considering possible improvements to “The Tube,” as it’s referred to in some circles. Wilmore said it serves an important function by providing an enclosed pathway during winters, so he sticks to the aesthetic value an upgrade could bring.


“There has been a lot of good development in the last few years, but stylistically, it is anything goes,” he said, adding that Lansing seems to be copying other cities or styles with no real connection. “Obviously, it is beneficial to learn what other people know, but Lansing needs to evolve so that it can be a trendsetter.”


He said any upgrades to the pedway should consider Lansing’s industrial past, which he credits the Ottawa Power Station redevelopment as doing well.


Pedway changes are a “placeholder” in Gillespie’s plan, Bob Tresize, CEO of the Lansing Economic Development Corp., said. Its funding — estimated at $5 million, to be paid for by state and local taxes — hinges on a Lansing City Council decision that could approve a Brownfield redevelopment plan for the old City Market property. If the brownfield plan — which includes about $4 million in tax incentives — does not get approved, upgrades likely won’t be made, he said.


As it stands, though, the sight of the pedway makes Tresize cringe. “It is a hindrance to economic development,” he said.


Others in the area just want to see the thing torn down. A Facebook group called “Lansing must Trash the Tube” is 33 members strong and is meant to raise awareness about the pedway’s so-called ugliness.


Here is how the group sees it: “Viewed from any direction the aluminum Tube linking the Radisson Hotel and the Lansing Center interrupts the natural splendor of the Grand River … and distorts the continuity among recent developments while deterring visitors to our City.”


However, a survey of the pedway done on a Friday afternoon shows that it’s not only useful but also fairly busy. Between 12:20 p.m. and 1:20 p.m., 44 different people traversed the pedway to run to their cars from the Lansing Center, exercise or just to cross the river.


Don Dombrausky was patrolling the pedway for Moore’s Security Service, which he has done “off and on” since 2001. When asked if he had any opinions or suggestions about potential improvements, he said with a smile, “I can’t say that I do. Maybe they will put graffiti on the side,” referencing the recent Deluxe Inn event.


Maggie Sayles and Chong-Anna Canfora were returning from the City Market for lunch. Canfora said they “usually always” use it to get across the river. I told them there is the possibility for some upgrades to the pedway.


“You know it does look like a gerbil trail,” Sayles said. “It could use some lights or something aesthetically pleasing.”


Scott Kief, president and CEO of Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority, which operates the Lansing Center, said improvements to the outside would be warmly welcomed — just remember its functionality.


“Obviously the pedway is one of those unique enhancements to the Lansing Center. Linking the hotel, parking garage and Lansing Center without going outside is definitely an advantage to us,” he said, adding that he has been “included in conversations” with the developers.


“We welcome any additions to the exterior,” he said. “It’s functional, but it could certainly be more attractive. The main goal is that it stays functional, though.”


Also being considered is a $500,000 skating rink. Tresize insists these are just “placeholder” suggestions to help secure the Brownfield plan and that no plans are set in stone for actual improvements.


Tresize said the main goal right now is designating the site as a brownfield area so developers can capture state and federal funds to clean up the current site. Time is of the essence, Tresize said, because the state is willing to give a Michigan Business Tax credit if the brownfield plan is passed, but that expires on Dec. 31.


“This is the main objective to get approved by early November. It is absolutely critical that it gets passed by then,” he said.


“This is a viable financing option for if and when we all do decide what to do about the pedway.”


If it doesn’t come out of funds freed by the brownfield plan, Tresize said any other improvements would have to come from the city’s general fund. “That’s not an option,” he said.

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