Oct. 5 2011 12:00 AM

The Lansing Housing Commission anticipates a “major expenditure of funds” with Oliver Towers proposal; LCC would have a parking problem; oh, and Bernero calls LCC’s position on wanting Oliver Towers “infantile.”

The Lansing Housing Commission anticipates “numerous
details” that need to be worked out before the Oliver Towers proposal
is approved, part of which “entails a major expenditure of funds” for
moving its administrative offices.

In a Sept. 7 letter to the Housing Commission Board from
Executive Director Patricia Baines-Lake, she explains that negotiations
will need to cover “concerns of LHC’s Board, the site’s location in a
floodplain and a floodway, timing of the move and start of
construction, resolution of the Fair Market Value differential … .” 

Also: “Ultimately, LHC may absorb some incidental costs
of moving the Central Administrative Offices, transfer/installation of
communication lines, equipment, some furnishing costs, office build-out
costs and some capital improvements to replacement structure. The exact
Financial Considerations are difficult to determine until each of these
components is priced out.” 

While Baines-Lake wrote that the proposal accomplishes
the goals of moving the Housing Commission’s offices to a place that
offers easy access to customers and remains downtown, she added: “LHC
has no specific policy regarding this action. However, this proposal
entails a major expenditure of funds and it clearly defines how the
organization manages into the foreseeable future.”

Housing Commission Board President Tony Baltimore said
potential costs are unknown at this point, but that he is “very much in
favor” of the proposal because it will get rid of the “blight” that is
Oliver Towers and the move to Davenport’s campus would allow easier
access for the Housing Commission’s customers.

The Housing Commission is one of four entities that need
to approve a proposal to trade a 3.01-acre block downtown with
Davenport University’s 2.73-acre downtown Lansing campus. The Housing
Commission is the only occupant in the Oliver Towers building, which
sits on the three-acre, city-owned block. The Lansing City Council,
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Davenport’s Board
of Trustees also need to approve the deal.

Davenport’s board won’t discuss the proposal until its
Oct. 12 meeting, Davenport President Richard J. Pappas said in an
e-mail. A spokesman from HUD said in an e-mail that the proposal is
“still being evaluated.” The City Council aims to vote on it Oct. 24.

Baines-Lake said the Housing Commission board unanimously
authorized her on Sept. 7 to negotiate the deal, subject to the board’s
final approval.

But if you happened to read the Sept. 25 edition of the
Lansing State Journal, a front-page story might have led you to believe
the Housing Commission has already agreed to the deal.

The first three paragraphs of the LSJ story read: "Lansing’s housing commission has signed onto an expansion proposal ... .

"The commission’s unanimous vote this month ... is
crucial support for the project’s advocates because a deal can’t move
forward without it.

"With Davenport also on board, the
project now is contingent on approval from the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development and Lansing City Council."

Fifteen paragraphs later, the LSJ clarified: "The
commission’s resolution allows Executive Director Patricia Baines-Lake
to work with HUD.

"It could take 30 to 60 days for the department to finish
its review, she said. The commission will have to vote again on the
final details of sale."

Baines-Lake and Baltimore made it clear in interviews
with City Pulse that the Housing Commission approved a resolution to
enter into negotiations — it didn’t approve the proposal.

"They (the Housing Commission Board) have voted to allow
me to negotiate and make a request. I don’t call that voting on this
transaction," Baines-Lake said.

LCC’s parking dilemma

On top of what the four entities consider before
approving the trade, Lansing Community College is contemplating the
further challenge to parking if the deal goes through. If the proposed
land swap is approved, LCC would lose 200 parking spaces the college
leases from the city in Lot 2, which is part of the property being

The surface lot, which LCC says it leases for $174,000 a
year, is at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Shiawassee street. Oliver
Towers is next door on Capitol.

Ellen E. Jones, LCC’s director of public affairs, said in
an e-mail that LCC owns 1,716 parking spaces and leases another 392 —
totaling 2,108 spaces. This does not include another 300 in the
city-owned North Capitol ramp, which LCC doesn’t lease but reimburses
the city when LCC students pay with Star Cards to park there, Jones
said. The LCC Board of Trustees also approved an agreement Sept. 19 to
lease 300 more spaces in the Accident Fund parking ramp for faculty and
staff, for which LCC will pay Accident Fund Holdings Inc. $1.2 million
over five years.

Still, Jones wrote, LCC’s analyses show the college needs
at least 3,200 spaces to accommodate the 4,000 students and 1,600
employees on its downtown campus “at any given time.” It has about

“We characterize the situation as limited and
challenging, with a shortage of parking spots available to students and
staff,” Jones wrote. And as for the proposed deal: “Davenport’s
students and employees would create additional demand in an area
already beset by parking shortages.” Davenport envisions serving 2,000
students, up from 800 at its current Lansing campus.

But Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero said parking issues are no reason to hold up downtown development.

“Cities don’t base critical development decisions
strictly around parking,” Bernero said in an interview Monday night.
“There isn’t a viable city in the country that says no to a $10 million
building (to save) 200 parking spaces.”

Davenport has proposed building a $10 million,
three-story, 60,000-square-foot building at the corner of Capitol
Avenue and Shiawassee Street should the agreement go through.  That building would go where the city’s Lot 2 sits now.

Bernero said “parking can always be built” to meet LCC’s
needs and that cities are “constantly changing parking” to meet the
needs of new development: “You don’t halt development to save parking.” 

'Almost shocking and infantile'

Bernero added that the city would continue to work with LCC on its parking. “We are very attentive to LCC’s needs,” he said.

However, he said LCC’s position after the Davenport
announcement that it, too, is interested in the property, is prompted
by LCC Vice President Lisa Webb Sharpe. Bernero said he’s had meetings
with LCC President Brett Knight, who Bernero said expressed support for
the land swap with Davenport. 

“Only recently with the arrival of Lisa Webb Sharpe …
suddenly we’re getting mixed signals. Our posture with LCC is pretty
clear and cooperative. We respect greatly what they (LCC) do. We also
respect the role Davenport plays and can play,” Bernero said. 

“It’s strange — odd — the way this has developed. It’s
one of the most befuddling things I’ve seen in my political career.
This approach appeared out of nowhere — this misguided paranoia on the
part of folks at LCC. Now we hear about the proposal as if it’s hostile
(for LCC).”

“It’s unexpected, almost shocking. And infantile, I might
add. It’s a zero-sum game,” Bernero said. “This (proposal) can create
unified areas of educational institutions and promote stability. We see
(LCC) as a pillar downtown.”

Webb Sharpe’s response? “I won’t dignify his characterization with a response.” 

When asked if the Davenport proposal
would have a lasting impact on the city’s and LCC’s relationship, Webb
Sharpe said she hoped not. “People throw up diversions so that you
don’t focus on what’s real.”

As for the perception that Davenport’s growth is bad for
LCC, Webb Sharpe said: “The mayor can create a win-win for everybody.
There are other parcels within the downtown area (Davenport could
expand upon). We’re interested in this parcel because it’s contiguous
with our downtown campus. It’s a natural and strategic parcel for us.
We think Davenport should be able to stay here and grow.”