March 18 2013 12:00 AM

The city moves forward with selling Comfort Station


Tuesday, Sept. 27 — The city is moving forward with a proposal to sell the historic Thelma Joyce Osteen Comfort Station in Old Town for $60,000 to the Michigan Historic Preservation Network.

A proposed development agreement was placed on file in the City Clerk’s Office on Friday and the Lansing City Council scheduled a public hearing for Oct. 24 at Monday’s meeting. The resolution to do so was brought forth as a late item.

MHPN, which City Pulse reported was interested in buying the building in April but was reconsidering during state-level tax incentive uncertainty, plans to spend more than $500,000 to renovate the old train station at 313 E. Grand River Ave. It will use the second floor as its new headquarters and the first floor for leasing retail space. MHPN’s current offices are across the Grand River to the west in Old Town.

While the Lansing Economic Development Corp. would help with a $7,500 “faade grant” and about $13,000 worth of environmental assessments, the proposal would not use any city redevelopment tax incentives, like an OPRA or Brownfield. However, it is seeking state-level historic preservation tax credits.

The two-story, 17-foot-wide, 2,424-square-foot historic train station that sits on .03 acres in the heart of Old Town is nearly 100 years old and has sat vacant for almost 10. MHPN was one of two proposals to come in after the city sought interested buyers in July 2010. Ken Szymusiak of the LEDC said in a Development and Planning Committee Monday that Lansing-based Vesta Builders Industries was the other interested entity.

Even though MHPN, which specializes in protecting historic properties and buildings in Michigan, is a non-profit entity, At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries said MHPN is forming a for-profit entity — 313 E. Grand River LLC — to purchase the property which will place the structure back on the tax rolls if approved.

MHPN’s proposal would not include an expansion of Pablo’s Panaderia restaurant, which is directly west of Comfort Station. According to an executive summary of the proposal: “Per the request of the LEDC, MHPN spent a considerable amount of time working with the owner of Pablo’s Panaderia on a possible expansion opportunity in the first floor of the Comfort Station. Unfortunately, the unusual floor plans of both buildings prevented this expansion from occurring as any scenario would have significantly detracted from the future economic viability of the two properties. MHPN is now working to locate a retail or commercial tenant that would occupy the first floor.”

The city appraised the property for $130,000 in December 2008, but says it is now worth $74,500, based on a formula for declining property values from the City Assessor’s Office.

The Council voted unanimously Monday to schedule a public hearing for Oct. 24 on the project. The executive summary by the city says the project would need to be approved by Nov. 15 in order to receive state historic preservation tax credits.

In other news, Executive Assistant to the Mayor Randy Hannan announced Monday that the city and DeWitt Township have reached two “Act 425 tax sharing agreements,” which Hannan said will make it easier for the municipalities to generate new development near the airport. The agreements would need City Council and DeWitt Township Board of Trustees support.

Hannan called the agreements “historic” and said they could set the stage for an “aerotropolis” — only the second in the state along with Metro Detroit. “It would put our international airport in an even stronger position as a regional transportation hub,” he said.

In scheduled business, the Council unanimously adopted two ordinances Monday. The first establishes a fee waiver for certain nonprofits seeking “service organization” status within the city. The $100 fee, which is new this fiscal year under the 2012 budget, may be waived for organizations that have less than $2,500 in assets.

The second ordinance eliminates the city’s Traffic Code ordinance and replaces it with the Michigan Uniform Traffic Code. The state’s traffic code was distributed in 2003 and is meant for local municipalities to have uniform regulations for the use of roads by automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians.

In other business, the Council unanimously approved seven resolutions at Monday’s meeting:

  • The snow and ice removal assessment for the first season under the city’s new ordinance that requires Lansing residents to clear snow and ice from their sidewalks. If they don’t and the city Public Service Department has to do it, the property owner will be charged. 4th Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko, who chairs the Council’s Public Service Committee, said four properties were removed from the assessment roll: two were due to “administrative error” and in the other two cases, the property owner who was billed did not own the property at the time of the snow and ice clearing. Yorko said the ordinance will be taken up in committee in the near future, with possible amendments including more communication between Public Service and residents;

  • Two resolutions granting nonprofit status to the Michigan Environmental Council and the American Shakespeare Collective;

  • A special land use request for establishing a church at 2001 W. Saginaw St. on the west side. The site was formerly a credit union; and

  • Three tributes recognizing Pastor Aaron Milton and First Lady Virgie Milton, the 100th anniversary of the Group 1360 of the Polish National Alliance and the Salvation Army’s new Beginnings Child Care Center.