Feb. 11 2009 12:00 AM

Some see the Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau’s move from Old Town to the downtown Stadium District as cannibalism; Stadium District developer Pat Gillespie just wants to conduct business.

Local developer Pat Gillespie says he isn’t trying to steal a business from Old Town to benefit his Stadium District development.

"My goal is to conduct as much business as possible in Lansing," he said in an interview.

Gillespie was referring to the burgeoning brouhaha over the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureaus plan to move from its Turner Street office in Old Town, where it leases space from Michigan State University trustee and developer, Joel Ferguson, to a streetlevel storefront in Gillespies Stadium District along Michigan Avenue.

He says the bureau approached him about the move, mainly because they wanted to be across from the stadium and take advantage of the foot traffic in the area.

It was also alleged that Gillespie had said that he wouldn’t be able to break ground on the Market Place project — which would tear down the Lansing City Market and replace it with riverfront condominiums — without first filling the Stadium District.

“I dont see any correlation between the two projects,” he said.

But the dissent is growing, not because the CVB is moving into a Gillespie project, but because some see it as a precedent to allow businesses to shuffle around the city into new developments downtown.

At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood said the matter was largely a "policy issue," saying that “lateral moves,” as she sees the bureaus cross-town relocation, concern her. Also an issue, she says, is the loss of money from the general fund.

Some are concerned that the CVB’s move would result in lost tax revenue for the city, but this is not necessarily true.

The Stadium District is subject to a Brownfield TIF, an incentive that siphons yearly property tax increases to repay Gillespie for environmental cleanup, which was done prior to the building’s construction. However, the CVB neither pays property tax at its Turner Street address, nor would it once it moves to the Stadium District, simply because it leases, not owns, its office space. The CVB does pay personal property tax — a tax on office equipment and other big ticket items — about $5,283 in 2008, according to city records. But personal property taxes were not a part of the Stadium District development agreement, and thus will still be paid to the city, not siphoned by the TIF.

City Assessor Maria Irish said the bureaus move would not likely have an impact on the citys bottom line. Irish said that Ferguson’s real estate taxes would not decline because of one tenant leaving — that would only happen, Irish said, if the tenant vacating the site was an anchor, like the recent departure of Steve and Barry’s from the Lansing Mall.

Taxes aside, some are troubled about the precedent the move is setting.

“What does it mean when we approve developments?” Wood asked.

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of The Rossman Group, is upset by what she calls the “unintended consequences” of the move. Rossman-Mckinney has been hired by Ferguson as his spokeswoman.

“We (Old Town) are still in what I would consider the fragile stage,” she said Friday, adding that in this case she was speaking as an Old Town property owner (her companys office is located along Washington Avenue) and not as a Ferguson spokeswoman.

“Im a Pat Gillespie fan; I love what he is doing, and Im a fan of what he is doing downtown,” she added, stressing that she is not opposed to Gillespies work but to the precedent that could be set by the move.

“I sit on the Economic Development Corp. Board, and I am seriously opposed to cannibalizing one area of downtown for another," she said.

The potential downside in leaving Old Town was a concern for Ingham County Commissioner Deb DeLeon, a member of the CVB board, when the move was first brought up for approval, she said. For that reason, she asked that the bureau be active in seeking out new tenants for its old space, seeking to minimize any negative impact on the neighborhood. But, she doesnt expect the space to be vacant for long.

"Because it is such a prime location, I cant help but think that someone would want to move there," she said in an interview Monday.

With the promise to work to find a replacement tenant for the space in place as a "safeguard," DeLeon said she was able to support the proposed move because of the potential to save marketing dollars via increased foot traffic and other upsides for the organization.

"The move from Old Town is only going to be physical," she said.

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