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Wednesday, September 14,2011

Solutions, not parking lot for Oliver Towers land

by Kyle Melinn

Why can't I get excited about this
pending land swap in which Davenport University gets that prime piece
of land across the street from Lansing Community College in exchange
for property a block down the river for the "boondoggle site" of the
Michigan State Police?


I know there’s a larger vision at work
and just about anything would look better than the vacant eight-story
behemoth known as Oliver Towers, but is a new Davenport campus the only
option on the table? Forget about whether it’s the best option, for
just a minute.


Are there other options? Are we just so
excited that after 10 years of burned-out high-rise we’ll take any old
office building with its accompanying parking lot in exchange for flood
plain real estate?


In short, the answer appears to be yes.
Under the recently announced land swap between Lansing Mayor Virg
Bernero and the private school, Lansing is finally rid of the albatross
known as Oliver Towers. Davenport doesn’t need to threaten to leave the
Capital city with its nearly 1,000 students.


Economic development lives in downtown
Lansing . . . but sometimes what is presented as a simple solution is
much more complicated than it appears. 


Lansing Community College apparently
wants a crack at the land, even though the Bernero administration
claims LCC officials shrugged them off last year when approached by the
land. The LCC folks bring up some good points.


Why was the property never put for bid?
If the property is purchased for what it's worth — between $2.26 to
$2.52 million — couldn’t the city use that money to patch up some of
the cuts in its budget?


What is the city of Lansing going to do with Davenport's abandoned property that is near a flood plain?


The winner of this swap is Davenport
University. They get the growth they wanted. They'll be next door to
LCC's "University Center," which looks really good to prospective
students. Its Lansing building will no longer hidden from public view
near the Grand River.


Davenport gets the property without
going through a messy public bid process. They’re relying on the city
to jump through all the hoops at the U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development to cement the deal.


But as much as I want to mark this a
"backroom deal" that should get thrown to the wolves, I can’t bring
myself to go there. In the end, this agreement will get a thorough exam
by the Lansing City Council. If there’s a hint of anything shady, I’m
sure Carol Wood and Brian Jeffries will be all over it. If it’s
significant, we’ll hear about it.


Absent that, Davenport probably deserves
the prize. Unlike LCC, it came forward with a plan. While LCC’s board,
led by Larry Meyer, sees the land in its long-term plans we don’t know
how it fits into its long-term plans.


Does that mean Oliver Towers stays there
for another five, 10 years until LCC gets around to doing something
with it? Or does that mean the apartment complex gets leveled and
turned into another . . . ugh . . . surface parking lot?


Another surface parking lot. Exactly what we don’t want to see downtown. 


If the city did put up the property for
bid, LCC would need to put together some concept of what it planned to
do with that land. But if we haven’t seen anything yet, what could they
cook up in the next few weeks?


And if LCC bought the land for market
value, the $700,000 lien to the federal government would still need to
be paid off. The money the city makes off the deal can’t be expected to
cover city expenses in the long term.


Under this deal, the lien is slated to be waived since a new home has been found for the city’s public housing folks.


Yes, the city of Lansing is getting
stuck with land in a floodplain, but this is still riverfront property.
The new Michigan State Police headquarters was designed in a way that
took the floodplain into account. It can be done.


We’ve wanted something done with the
Oliver Towers property for years. It’s been talked about, talked about
and talked about some more. The Impression 5/Museum deal was a nice
idea in 2008, but voters said "no."


Something needs to be done and if it’s
not done now, will it be another 10 years before we get another descent
offer? The mayor was within his rights to cut the deal. It’s time to
move on it. 


The clock has been ticking for 10 years. If anyone has any other better ideas, let’s see them now.



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