The Master Plan

By Andy Balaskovitz

If City Council approves putting a new Red Cedar Golf Course proposal on November ballots, what will we get out of it? Nobody really knows.

The Lansing City Council is planning to vote in less than two weeks on placing a November ballot proposal before voters that asks them to sell the remaining 48.32 acres of the former Red Cedar Golf Course.

At this point, details about that proposal are scarce. A once clear idea for repurposing the shuttered 61-acre golf course — 12.5 acres for development along Michigan Avenue and 48.5 acres of publicly owned parkland and storm water management — is no longer so apparent.

After voters approved by 70 percent to 30 percent in November authorizing the sale of 12.5 acres for redevelopment, five proposals to develop the strip along East Michigan surfaced — and they varied.

But Monday, the Bernero administration said it wants voters to approve authorizing the sale of the rest. That was after the committee reviewing the five proposals recommended considering the plan submitted by local developer Joel Ferguson and Chris Jerome that calls for developing the entire golf course — not just the 12.5 acres along the road — as well as two former car dealerships on Michigan Avenue. The administration is recommending the City Council approve ballot language that places the question of selling off the rest of Red Cedar to voters in November. The Council plans to vote on it at its Aug. 27 meeting.

That raises significant questions: How much of the 61 acres would actually be privately owned? Will voters be asked to approve the authorization of a land sale that would lead to a privately owned and maintained park? And what will happen to Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann’s plan to filter storm water, reducing pollution of the Red Cedar River?

Moreover, it negates a big selling point of last year’s referendum, which is that the proceeds from selling the 12.5 acres are to be used to maintain a 48-plus acre park on the remaining land. The Council will have to decide if it’s breaking faith with the voters by asking permission to sell the rest. If so, the Council could argue that the public will still get a park — albeit a privately owned one. But how much of a park is a big question: The proposal does not say. In essence, it will put the spotlight again on the biggest concern opponents had last year: Selling parkland — and selling it without specifics on what will happen to it.

“I am intrigued by the notion of an expanded development on the Red Cedar property,” Mayor Virg Bernero said in accepting the review committee’s proposal. The committee’s members are Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership; Lindemann; Karl Dorshimer, also of LEAP; Lansing Parks Board President Rick Kibbey; Lansing Parks and Recreation Director Brett Kaschinske; Lansing Planning and Neighborhood Development Director Bob Johnson; mayoral Chief of Staff Randy Hannan; and Ken Szymusiak, also of LEAP.

However, it’s uncertain how much of Jerome’s and Ferguson’s plan will come to fruition because the resolution before Council doesn’t specify much, nor did the review team’s decision detail a final outcome. That will likely be drawn up in a development agreement to be voted on by the Council should the new ballot proposal reach, and be approved by, voters.

What is known is Ferguson and Jerome want to own all 61 acres for a development that includes bars, restaurants, an amphitheater, student and professional housing and mixed-use buildings along Michigan Avenue, their renderings show. Perhaps more important, however, is the several acres of green space on the south portion of the old golf course that abuts the river. The developer team says it would rather own and maintain the south end of Red Cedar Golf Course — and make it available for public use — than leave it in the city’s hands due to fears that it wouldn’t be maintained properly. Who wants to own land next to a derelict golf course, they ask.

“It doesn’t work on 12 acres,” Ferguson, a Michigan State University trustee, said of his plan in an interview Tuesday. Moreover, Ferguson is confident that voters will approve the additional acreage, as they did last week in authorizing the city to sell off 120 acres of the former Waverly Golf Course and Michigan Avenue Park without any specific redevelopment plan.

Ferguson’s main point about acquiring the rest of the acreage is the guarantee that it would be maintained well — even though the language approved in November and the latest proposal say “any net proceeds from the sale of the Parcel, or any portion of the Parcel, will be used to improve recreational facilities within Red Cedar Park,” as well as defray costs of the storm water management project and go into maintaining the rest of the city’s parks system.

“The city doesn’t have any money to maintain its parks and public spaces anymore,” he said. “If you’re going to do an investment, why wouldn’t you want to have everything?”

While the developers’ renderings cover the entire 61 acres and a pair of car dealerships at 3165 E. Michigan Ave. and 1415 Michigan Ave. in East Lansing, the Bernero administration is saying final designs are far from certain. That includes whether to sell the entire 61 acres to Jerome and Ferguson.

“It is very likely that the property required for development will be significantly less than the full 48 acres,” mayoral Chief of Staff Randy Hannan said in an email Tuesday when asked about the appraised value of the remaining 48.32 acres. In other words, the administration is waiting to see how much land the developers will need, if the voters approve the latest ballot proposal, before getting an appraised value of the property.

Ferguson, a Sexton High School graduate, is prominent in development circles around Lansing. Notably, he’s one of the developers of the Michigan State Police headquarters at Grand Avenue and Kalamazoo Street downtown. That project faced a barrage of criticism in its evolution: that it was a sweetheart deal for two politically connected developers; that it was built on a flood plan; that it was costing the state money at a time when it was laying off state troopers; and that MSP personnel were against the move in the first place. Ferguson and his partner on the project, Gary Granger, denied all of the accusations by the time the building opened in late 2009. Ferguson is also the developer of Capital Commons, a large downtown residential complex, and co-owner of the Capitol Commons Center on Pine Street, which leases space for state employees. Ferguson told City Pulse last year that his 2010 city property tax bill was $1.5 million.

Jerome is the son of Leo Jerome, who is listed as the resident agent of the limited liability company, CKJ Properties, that owns the former Sawyer Pontiac car dealership immediately to the east of the golf course on Michigan Avenue. The glass-paneled, former Story Olds dealership on Michigan — across the street from the golf course to the north — is owned by Kay Investment Co. County records show Kay Investment and CKJ Properties share the same mailing address at 1919 S. Creyts Road.

Ferguson said he is friends with the Jerome family and added that because Chris and Leo Jerome own the car dealerships, the partnership has “better resources, better vision” than others who submitted the proposals.

Jerome said going for the full “Master Plan” version of his and Ferguson’s proposal (they also prepared a scaled-down proposal solely for the original 12.5 acres up for sale) will still allow for the public to use several acres of green space that will likely be financed with private money.

“The real story is about taking incredible green space and returning it to public use,” Jerome said Tuesday. He said the question of who will technically own the park portion of the development is “to be determined. The vision is for a public park.” Moreover, the city wouldn’t have the resources to install and maintain features — like sports fields and community buildings — like the private sector could, Jerome said.

What’s it mean for Lindemann?

If Jerome and Ferguson acquire the entirety of Red Cedar, then where does that leave Lindemann’s plan to build a large-scale, low-impact storm water management system?

First of all, Lindemann said, his needs are flexible based on the final decision of voters and city officials. “I can work around virtually any kind of design,” said Lindemann — who notably was one of the eight members of the review committee that chose the Ferguson-Jerome plan.

“Whatever I don’t put on the golf course will have to go someplace else,” he said, referring to areas around Frandor that could make up the difference, such as the Michigan Avenue median. “What the city does with this property is up to the city. I’m not commenting whether it’s good, bad or indifferent.”

Lindemann also stressed the fact that the city has not settled on a final design or even developers. Depending on the outcome of the Council vote or the November vote, Hannan said, it may force the administration to revisit all five of the proposals or perhaps put a call out for more.

“Whatever proposal is chosen is going to be the subject of a lot of review by me,” Lindemann said.