|By Andy Balaskovitz|
The local developer’s Market Place project stalled in City Council before an Ingham County Circuit Court judge intervened — how will he top that in 2011?
What did you take away from the City Council and Market Place experience this fall?
Basically, the out-crying of positive support saying, “Yes, we want to see the riverfront revitalized. Yes, we want to see progress and change.” That was a positive experience. And then just to realize that not everyone is looking for change and not everyone grasps the same desire for change that we do. That was eye opening, but also a good learning experience.
How were you impacted negatively?
Being from Lansing, our company’s mission and my mission is to help make Lansing better and to keep progressing. We’re all in, we’re totally passionate. We wear our emotions and thoughts on our sleeves so everyone knows what our direction is. Some of the personal attacks or attacks that came last minute were disappointing, but everything happens for a reason.
How has your perception of organized labor changed?
I don’t know if it has changed. It has a role. It has a purpose. If there were a New-Years-resolution-type of mentality, one of mine for 2011 would be to be on the same page and have meaningful conversation that allows us to make Lansing better together. To date, that hasn’t been possible.
As far as?
Sharing the thoughts and ideas of new projects moving forward so they can be exposed earlier and have meaningful input on an earlier basis.
2011 will also be an election year in the city of Lansing. Is there anything you hope to see change on City Council?
It’d be nice to see a City Council that was on the same page with each other and the mayor. Communities that are on the same page and going in the same direction really seem to have an upper hand as far as business investment, development and overall image and perception.
2011 could mean a Council that’s more cohesive. I’m not asking them to get along on everything, but to just have set goals and try to go in a direction to meet those goals — that would be a powerful thing for our town as a whole, not just downtown.
You have talked about a new focus on downtown and condensed urban living, compared to urban sprawl, because that’s what the market became. How do you see the market shaping out in different pockets of Lansing?
Being born and raised on the east side, that’s where a lot of our focus is — downtown and the east side. But we continue to see the market for urban housing is very strong downtown. Every residential unit we have downtown Lansing is full. Obviously that’s why we’re looking to do more there. But the pocket we’re looking at is going from downtown along the Michigan Avenue corridor to Michigan State University. I think that corridor has got a good five-to-10-year run here that could dramatically change the east side.
How about Frandor?
It’s not going to happen quickly. But that intersection there — the demographics of Frandor, the traffic count, visibility from the highway — those are incredible assets, and right now they are under utilized. It will take a lot of efforts to pull it together — drain commissioner, CATA, three jurisdictions (Lansing, East Lansing, Lansing Township) and a major university. It’s like a hub. Over the next five to seven years I really see that area as a strong possibility for some explosive growth.
Why do a lot of these projects hinge on tax incentives?
Projects everywhere are tied to some kind of tax incentive or brownfield incentive. Most of the sites in the city of Lansing are environmentally contaminated. There are costs to make the site clean for development. Those (incentives) help defer some of those costs and makes them equal with (developing) a Greenfield site in the suburbs. But for financing and environmental clean up, they’re essential. Without them, projects don’t happen.
Some will say, ‘If you want to develop on that site, you should have the money on hand to move forward.’ What’s your response?
It’s not a practical statement to say, “Just put more cash into the deal,” because there has to be a return on our investment at some point. If it’s not there, no one is going to invest here. They’ll go to areas where there is a return. The people who say that probably don’t understand business per se, because people aren’t just doing this for fun. It needs to make some sort of profit or the bank won’t let you borrow the money to do it.
How did the economy affect the market here?
I think the economy, for the most part, has delayed a lot of projects. The momentum didn’t stop, it just slowed down. I don’t think it brought Lansing to its knees like some communities.