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Wednesday, September 12,2012

Hotel Red Cedar

Hotels interested in Capital Gateway project, Parks Board chairman more optimistic of Red Cedar Golf Course plans

by Sam Inglot

Major hotel chains are already interested in staking their claim to the Capital Gateway project, say the developers hoping to transform dozens of acres at the former Red Cedar Golf Course.

“We’ve received letters of interest from four or five major hotel groups representing a number of hotel franchise companies,” said Chris Jerome, who is partnering with Lansing developer Joel Ferguson on a potentially major redevelopment of the 61-acre golf course and nearby properties. Their project is called the Capital Gateway, and on Nov. 6, voters will decide whether to authorize the city to sell up to 48 more acres of the park for redevelopment. Last year, voters approved the sale of about 12.5 acres along Michigan Avenue. Jerome’s and Ferguson’s vision is for the entire park as well as two former car dealerships owned by the Jerome family, one across Michigan Avenue to the north and one adjacent to the park to the east.

Jerome is not ready to publicly disclose specifics about the interested hotel groups — that likely won’t happen before voters approve the sale. However, if the “project can move forward with the voters, there is no doubt there will be at least one, more likely two” hotels, he said.

Ferguson said on City Pulse’s TV show last month a “major firm” of “high end” hotels that has “their main hotels at Harvard” flew in representatives to meet with him and Jerome. “They really want to be here.” He added that across the street from the golf course at the old car dealership is the possibility of “another hotel that might not be as high end.”

The nearest hotels from the site are the Kellogg Center at Michigan State University; a Quality Inn University on Saginaw Street north of Frandor in Lansing Township; and a Howard Johnson near Trowbridge Plaza on Trowbridge Road in East Lansing. 

Project renderings show at least one hotel that could go on the Story Oldsmobile property on the north side of Michigan Avenue, a more than three-acre parcel owned by the Jerome family.

Jerome, with relentless positivity, stresses community collaboration, environmental stewardship and the importance of maintaining public green space when talking about the $100 million project. At least one skeptic — Rick Kibbey, chairman of the city’s Parks Board — is starting to come around to the expanded project. 

The Parks Board sets policies on the operation and maintenance of Lansing’s 100-plus parks. Kibbey also was on the review team that looked at proposals put forth by developers interested in the original 12.5 acres of Red Cedar property. Of the five proposals, the Jerome/Ferguson project was selected for further consideration — and the only one that envisioned using more than 12.5 acres. Only one other proposal, by Lansing Township-based DTN Management, called for a hotel as part of the project.

Jerome then pleaded his case to the Lansing City Council that if he and Ferguson could have more land to work with, they could expand and better the development. Entertainment venues, apartments, hotels, restaurants and green space are all part of the larger plan. The City Council voted 7-1 last month to put on the ballot the approval of the sale of up to 48 more acres of the Red Cedar parkland. Third Ward Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson was the lone no-vote.

In an Aug. 29 interview on the City Pulse radio show, Kibbey said he supported the sale of the original 12.5 acres of Red Cedar parkland approved by voters last year. However, he thought the sale of up to 48 additional acres of land, which basically amounts to the entire park, and the added “flexibility” requested by the developers, deserved a lot more questions and critique.

“I’m very disinclined to sell parkland,” he said on the show. “Even stronger than my disinclination to sell parks is my disinclination to sell river frontage.”

After Kibbey attended a meeting between Jerome and the Eastside Neighborhood Association last week, he said some of his concerns were eased. The developers have no interest in owning the property along the river, which was a major priority for him. 

“The original move to expand beyond 12 acres came up and that is when my skepticism went up,” Kibbey said in an interview Monday. “Now that they seem to be less interested in acquiring all the land ... my skepticism has softened a little. I’m encouraged.”

Along with backing off the riverfront, Kibbey said Jerome expressed interest in maintaining parkland surrounding the development, even if it was publicly owned. 

Jerome said maintaining the parkland around the development is worth discussion and makes sense from a business standpoint.

“If it’s something the city is interested in, we’re committed to doing whatever it takes. ... No sane investor would want to put over $100 million into a project that bordered a potentially dangerous place, a place where there is no maintenance,” Jerome said. “Everything has to work together, and that’s why this project is so exciting. A beautifully maintained park is in the best interest of everyone, both public and private sector.”

Kibbey still has some concerns about the sizeable parking lot on the west side of the development, which stretches along Clippert Street from Kalamazoo Street to Michigan Avenue. He hoped the developers would look into a “permeable” lot with drains, which would allow for water to percolate through the ground for easier storm water management and lowered environmental impact. 

Jerome said right now everything in the plan is “conceptual” and they’re in the early stages of going to the public for input. He said the idea of an environmentally low impact parking lot “makes a lot of common sense” and is one of the good ideas that could come from the community.

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