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Wednesday, August 24,2011

Bridging Lansing and MSU

Will the Red Cedar Golf Course proposal be the catalyst that finally brings the Michigan State University community into the city?

by Andy Balaskovitz

It’s no secret Lansing has struggled to
attract Michigan State University students into Lansing, both for
leisure and employment. It’s also no secret that the city’s trying to
change that.


Whether it’s the Entertainment Express
trolley or programs targeted at employing students in Lansing, the city
knows an important source of economic activity — 40,000-some people
strong — awaits just east of U.S. 127.


The proposal to develop part of the old
Red Cedar Golf Course is the latest tool the city is using to bring
those students west. On Monday, the City Council voted 6-2 to place the
proposal on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot. It asks permission to
sell 12.68 acres along Michigan Avenue of the former 61-acre golf course
for “redevelopment purposes.” 


Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Development Corp., told the City Council last week that “real estate speculation moving west of the Frandor
area has not taken place at all. This needs to change in order to drive
business so two areas (East Lansing and downtown Lansing) can begin to
link up in the middle.”


Trezise also said that through various
“market study groups,” MSU students “have some feelings of not feeling
safe coming into the city. They said it had something to do with
Michigan Avenue.”


Dan Myers, a Michigan State University
student, told the Council Monday that he used to live in the apartments
immediately to the east of Red Cedar Park. Myers supports asking voter
permission to improve the park and encouraged environmentally friendly
construction on the nearly 13-acre parcel, if it sells.


“I understand it’s a really pretty park
the way it is. Also, the way (storm water) drains right into the river,
that’s a huge problem we have,” Myers said. “Make sure the development
we put there is eco-friendly and low impact on the rest of the area.”


Trezise said Monday that this particular
area is “underdeveloped as a college town” when it comes to housing and
said “development firms have strongly indicated this is an untapped
resource.” 


If voters approve the sale of the
property, which has been appraised at $5 million, the Lansing Economic
Development Corp. will launch a “national, if not global in scale”
public Request for Proposals from interested developers. If the city
finds an interesting deal, the City Council would give final approval
before the land is actually sold.


As for the other 48.32 acres, Ingham
County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann plans to repurpose the land to
act as a buffer and natural filter for storm water runoff to pass
through before it reaches the nearby Red Cedar River. While filtration
will happen below ground, a multi-use recreation area will occupy the
surface.


The resolution passed by Council Monday
says that “any net proceeds from the sale of the (12.68 acres) would be
exclusively dedicated to capital improvements within the remainder of
the Park.” Since May, the Council has been unanimous in supporting
Lindemann’s plans to clean up the Red Cedar River, which must come into
compliance with the 1972 Clean Water Act.


The Lansing Economic Area Partnership and
the MSU Land Policy Institute issued a “Greater Lansing Next” plan in
November 2009. Ray De Winkle, senior vice president of LEAP, told
Council Aug. 15 that utilizing city-owned parks means creating places
were people want to go: “That, today, is not a park you’re going to go
to,” De Winkle said. “It’s not maintained and it’s fenced off.”


De Winkle said the Greater Lansing Next
plan identified Michigan Avenue as a “gateway and corridor” between MSU
and downtown Lansing: “This (project) creates an opportunity to become a
positive catalyst.”


The administration intended for the
ballot proposal to be on the Aug. 2 primary ballot, but it died in
committee on a 4-3 vote the night before the deadline to approve ballot
language. It needed five votes for full Council consideration. Council
members Derrick Quinney, Brian Jeffries and Carol Wood voted against it
then. 1st Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt was absent for the vote. 


Wood voted Monday to support putting the
question on the Nov. 8 ballot, but was quick to point out she won’t be
voting for it Nov. 8.


“I have faith in the public and faith in
citizens who have passed parks millages,” she said. “When I personally
cast my vote, I will not be supporting (the proposal) in the ballot
box.”


Hewitt, whose Council term expires Dec.
31, voted Monday against the project that’s in his ward “for a number of
reasons.” Hewitt said because there’s no plan on what’s going to happen
and because there’s no proof any development is needed. Citing a
“surplus” in commercial and retail space along Michigan Avenue he said
he would not support the project. 


At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries was
the second no vote because he said selling park property is a “slippery
slope.” Between the Red Cedar proposal and the idea to ask voters
permission to sell of the former Waverly Golf Course and Michigan Avenue
Park, that’s 133 acres of city parkland the administration is asking to
sell, Jeffries said: “If we’re going down this slope, it’s a very
slippery slope.”


Jeffries also wondered aloud that if
“this is such a great area” to develop, “why haven’t we had great
development happening all around us? We don’t need to sell park property
to do that.”


Quinney switched his vote to yes from
last time, when he opposed it because he said he didn’t have enough
information about the proposed sale. He and Wood were joined in the
majority by A’Lynne Robinson, Tina Houghton, Jessica Yorko and Kathie
Dunbar.


Mayor Virg Bernero, who appeared briefly
at Monday’s City Council meeting to tout the Red Cedar proposal, said
approving the ballot language is a matter of being proactive.


“It’s an opportunity to spark new private
investment, strengthen our tax base, reinvent the Red Cedar property
and an opportunity to protect our environment,” Bernero said. “It’s an
opportunity for new jobs or we can bury our heads in the sand and hope
for the best.”

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