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After 6 years, Red Cedar looks ready to roll

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With key votes scheduled for Monday, the $250 million Red Cedar project appears headed to a green light by the Lansing City Council.

The plan, which needs six votes, has four for sure, and at least two more members say they anticipate last-minute changes will win them over.

Only At-large member Peter Spadafore said he is a definite no. An eighth member, 2nd Ward Councilman Jeremy Garza, has not said publicly.

At least half of the Council last week leaned against the proposal to redevelop the old Red Cedar Golf Course on the east end of Michigan Avenue, providing more than enough votes to kill the deal. But as developers continued to address their concerns, the tide is shifting as the project and its tax incentives near a City Council vote.

"I've been very encouraged by the development team's responsiveness to my concerns, and I’ve heard they have been equally responsive to the concerns brought forward by my colleagues," said 3rd Ward Councilman Adam Hussain.

Hussain, Patricia Spitzley, Garza and Spadafore voiced concern last week over student housing and the uncertain plan for market-rate units.

But those complaints haven’t fallen on deaf ears.

Project manager Christopher Stralkowski said the Council can expect another series of changes. Among them: A promise for no studio apartments, but rather a specifically outlined mix of one- and two-bedroom units partly geared toward “multi-generational” tenants. Rentals will also not be marketed entirely toward students, he said.

He said additional tweaks should help alleviate any concerns.

Spitzley and Hussain are optimistic about the changes, they explained to City Pulse Tuesday. And with support from Council President Carol Wood and members Brian Jackson, Kathie Dunbar and Jody Washington, the deal would pass.

Garza previously voiced concerns over the concentration of student housing within the development plans. He said he needed to have his questions answered before he could support the deal. He didn’t return a call this week.

"I appreciate the changes," Spitzley added. "I think that it makes it easier to give this a fresh look for potential support. I really like the fact they've included specific language for those two-bedroom, luxury apartments. This all better be written into the development agreement on Monday. Otherwise I just won’t be able to support it.”

Washington said she wanted assurances that the Red Cedar project would be advertised and rented to those beyond the campus of nearby Michigan State University. She and other felt burned by the developers of nearby SkyVue project, which was pitched as market-rate housing then marketed primarily to students.

“I'll never approve student housing west of where this project is going,” Washington said. “I'll bite the bullet on this one, but never again."

Red Cedar’s developers, Joel Ferguson of Lansing and Frank Kass, of Columbus, Ohio, plan to transform the floodplain on the edge of MSU into a combination of market-rate and student housing, a two-brand hotel, a parking structure, a senior care facility, an amphitheater, various retail and restaurant space and a public park.

Plans call for $196 million in private investment alongside a 30-year tax abatement to cover about $54 million in public infrastructure and soil cleanup from years of various chemical treatments at the abandoned golf course. Bonds are set to be backed by the developers and repaid through about $120 million in eventual property taxes.

Both the development agreement to sell the land for $2.22 million and a tax-increment financing package will be up for a Council vote Monday. Its passage would essentially approve the project for construction.

"You'll actually see documentation and provisions that reflect those concerns," Stralkowski said. "We wanted to provide assurance that this will include opportunities for multi-generational tenants. We're also going to include a provision that essentially assures the Council that this will not turn into what occurred across the street."

Spadafore remained unconvinced. He suggested the project isn’t the “game changer” that’s needed at the eastern gateway to Lansing.

“I remain troubled by the fact that we are looking at a $100 million tax abatement to build student housing and parking along the river, effectively extending the downtown of East Lansing with little to no benefit to current Lansing residents.” Spadafore added this week. “I hope that we see something that can truly change the game.”

Meanwhile, a last-minute “letter of intent” to purchase the Red Cedar property arrived at the Mayor’s Office Friday. Michael Howard, a broker for Colliers International, put in an offer to buy the land for $3.5 million from the city, or $1.28 million more than the current proposal.

The proposal calls for a high-end restaurant among other mixed-use commercial space and four separately branded hotels. The new plan doesn’t include any space for student housing at all.

Mayor Andy Schor welcomed the interest in Lansing from another developer, but he dismissed the letter as too late in the process and not specific enough.

“We are not going to blow up six years of work for a proposal that is not even close to ready,” he said.

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