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Plans that would boot Waterfront Bar & Grill from the Lansing City Market and transform the riverside space into a new placemaker for the city have largely stalled while litigation continues.
Mayor Andy Schor announced plans in July to retain ownership of the struggling, city-managed market but first sought suggestions for how to lease and reactivate the space. Crowds gathered at a community forum, where residents floated dozens of ideas for how the market could return to its former glory along the Grand River.
But more than two months later, nobody has submitted a single proposal for how to reshape the market. Any suggestions — regardless — would need to wait until after one of the last remaining tenants has left the building. And court records suggest that case won’t return to a courtroom until at least next February.
The momentum for change at the market, at least for now, appears to have reached a temporary standstill.
“We’ve had people who have raised different ideas but we have not seen any response” to the city’s Request For Information, Schor said. “We’ll see what we have in terms of information from people and follow up with them for specific proposals for anyone who has given us any information. We’re still open to ideas.”
Earlier this year, Schor sought to sell the parkland after City Council slashed the market’s subsidy and removed its permanent site designation. He reversed course weeks later, but the space will need to be reconceptualized if it is to survive into another year, Schor said. And it’s not likely to return as the familiar farmers market of the past.
An announcement from the Gillespie Group this summer outlined plans for an urban market grocery store owned and operated by Meijer Inc. at the downtown corner of Michigan Avenue and Larch Street. Schor said any sort of food market that would aim to return to that nearby market space would likely face an insurmountable amount of competition from Meijer.
But “if someone brought us a proposal and they thought they could finance it and they thought it could be sustainable,” Schor said he’d be willing to look at it. “I’m not shutting anything down, but I do think it would be very difficult to sustain” a farmers market.
Meanwhile, the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority, which operates the City Market facility, has been fighting a lawsuit levied by Waterfront Bar & Grill. In September, Ingham Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk refused to halt ongoing plans to kick the restaurant to the curb, opening the door for eviction proceedings to continue against the business despite the litigation.
Attorneys suggested the case could return to a courtroom sometime in October, but for now, the case isn’t slated to make the docket until a status conference in February and a non-juried civil trial in April. Schor, however, said he plans to move much more quickly and would be surprised if the case took that long to sort out.
Judges are typically required to set schedules that can often change as various motions are filed in any given case.
“We’re not going to commit to anything until that litigation is complete and until the market is actually closed,” Schor said. “We’ll assess any options we might have that would make the most sense for our city. I’m not going to commit to anyone until we know the exact future, and I think we’ll prevail in the courtroom on this case.”
Those options — at least as of this month — are few and far between. City officials didn’t set many parameters for the future of the space, and nobody has yet put their ideas to paper. Pricing estimates also weren’t offered to curious, would-be developers. But Schor said the ambiguity was intentional. He’s open to any and all ideas.
Pricing would have only precluded some developers from proposing a viable plan for the future, Schor suggested.
“We told them how much Waterfront was paying and asked for a proposal,” Schor added. “We want people to give us an idea of what they’re thinking. I don’t want to price it out and have people ask for all these incentives to bring the costs down. I want to figure out what someone can use this for and go into conversations from there.”
And at least one incentive will likely be off the table for any future developments. House Bill 4207 — introduced by legislators including Schor while he was still Lansing’s state representative and passed into law last year — limits a share of community revitalization grant funding that could otherwise be used to jumpstart the revival of a grocery market within that space.
The law specifically states that no wouldbe grocers can utilize a 5-percent portion of those grant funds if they’re located within one mile of another USDA market. The new urban Meijer store, to be called Capital City Market, certainly qualifies under that criteria and is less than a mile down the road. And Gillespie already voiced plans to pursue that grant cash.
“That doesn’t preclude anything from taking shape at the City Market,” Schor emphasized, noting Gillespie’s plans had no bearing on the mayor’s decision to pull up stakes at the Lansing City Market. “It just means that 5-percent set-aside wouldn’t be available for them. They can still apply for the remaining 95 percent.”
Schor also said he’d like to have a plan in place by next summer but emphasized the timeline is far from stable. Laura Eisele, attorney for Waterfront Bar & Grill, didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
Visit lansingcitypulse.com for continued coverage as plans continue to take shape at the Lansing City Market.