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Wednesday, March 19,2014

Council is open to ballpark plan

Lansing City Council president going to “fight the fight” in support of new ballpark plans; other members seeking more financial information and answers for eliminating green space in ballpark

by Andy Balaskovitz
Lansing City Council President A’Lynne Boles is ready to “fight the fight” alongside the Bernero administration to sell the Council on a roughly $22 million, public/private redevelopment plan for Cooley Law School Stadium.

Speaking after a press conference last week in which she stood by Mayor Virg Bernero, Lansing Lugnuts owner Tom Dickson and developer Pat Gillespie, among others, Boles said, “We are on the cusp of something very, very exciting.

“If we can make sense out of it, it will be a wonderful accomplishment,” she said, referring to the financing package of incentives and issuing public bonds to pay for upgraded stadium infrastructure. She believes it’s part of the city’s creating a “seamless tapestry” of residential and commercial use downtown. “It should be a feel-good moment. I’m excited to be at the helm (of the Council) to shepherd this through.”

Boles said there is still “sausage to be made,” which, in addition to the financing, includes communicating with her seven colleagues on the Council to get a deal through by a May 1 deadline. In that time, the Council will also start reviewing Bernero’s budget proposal, which will be presented on Monday.

Last week, Gillespie and Dickson announced a roughly $11 million apartment building within the ballpark. The city also would bond for about $10 million to pay for various stadium upgrades, including a new field, new roof, lights and clubhouse improvements. The team would pay for a new $1 million, high-definition scoreboard. The private portion — through new tax revenue and a new lease agreement with the team — is expected to offset annual bond payments by about $200,000, according to the Lansing Economic Area Partnership.

It’s too early for an accurate straw poll on how the Council might come down on the project. Approving roughly $10 million in bonds to pay for stadium upgrades will require six votes of the Council. The body must also approve a development agreement and likely brownfield tax incentives.

But Council members Jody Washington, Carol Wood and Jessica Yorko each shared concerns over the loss of family-oriented green space within the park that would be eliminated under the design.

“It not only bothers me, it bothers a large number of my constituents,” Yorko said Monday. She also hopes it’s not an “either you’re in or you’re out” scenario over the green space, a family-friendly lawn-seating option. Yorko said she was made to feel that way when she voted against the casino across the street because it wouldn’t be a smoke-free facility.

“If I were to vote now, I might not be onboard,” she said.

Dickson said last week the possibility of maintaining green space can be revisited.

Councilwoman Tina Houghton could not be reached for comment. Derrick Quinney said Monday he did not know enough about the plan to comment. Council members Judi Brown Clarke and Kathie Dunbar, while also expressing a lack of information at this point, indicated early support for the concept.

Washington wants to know the city’s existing bonds it’s paying off on other projects and whether market studies show the need for more downtown apartments.

“I’m neither excited nor not excited. I need more information,” she said. “I’m not interested in how cool folks think it’s going to be.”

Wood raised concerns about whether the city’s Tax Increment Financing Authority, which needed a $1 million General Fund subsidy this fiscal year to balance a deficit, would benefit from the development. So far the plan is to have the new taxes generated go toward reimbursing the developers for the cost of cleaning a contaminated site.

“There’s nice words out there, but it all comes down to the rubber meeting the road in the details,” Wood said.

Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, said two bills passed by the state Legislature are waiting to be signed by Gov. Rick Snyder that refinances the TIFA “so the General Fund won’t have to” next fiscal year.

While it would take several years for the property to contribute new property taxes to the TIFA, the “property currently pays zero into it now,” Trezise said. “It’s financially impossible to be a risk to the TIFA. The only risk is not doing the project.”

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