office building proposed for Renaissance Zone
Plan would add 150,000 square feet to downtown area
If you are concerned about the glut of vacant office space in downtown
Lansing, get a load of this:
Developer Sam Eyde is asking the city to let him build a three-story,
150,000-square-foot office building in the Seven Block Renaissance Zone
southwest of the Capitol. It is a half-mile from where construction
has just begun on the 110,000-square-foot Boji office building.
Eydes one-square-block site is next to the new Hall of Justice.
It is bordered by Butler Boulevard on the east, Martin Luther King Boulevard
on the west, Kalamazoo Street on the south and Washtenaw Street on the
neighborhood residents have grown impatient with the undeveloped
plot of land at the intersection of South Butler Boulevard and Kalamazoo
Street. Paul Tagger, 422 S. Butler, fears that if the developers
plans are adopted, they might end up surrounded by empty office
building is under construction at Townsend and Allegan streets.
Residents are displeased about the Eydes plan. The citizens
think that housing should be a component, said city development
manager Emil Winnicker. If they can demonstrate to the developer
how to make money with housing, there would certainly be no hesitation
to do that.
Repeated efforts to reach Eyde for comment were unsuccessful.
Eyde bought the land from the city in 1999 for $290,000. His original
plan called for a 90,000-square-foot office building and an adjacent
30,000 square-foot commercial building.
Eyde was supposed to complete the project by 2001. But City Council
approved an extension to 2004 after Eyde said economic conditions were
no longer favorable for meeting the original deadline.
Now Eyde is seeking another extension, this time till 2006. And besides
increasing the size of the office building by 60,000 square feet, he
wants to decrease the commercial building from 30,000 square feet to
a total of 10,000 square feet, Winnicker said.
Eyde needs City Councils approval for the deadline extension but
not for changing the size of the project, Winnicker said, explaining
it still satisfies the zoning requirements for which it has already
Mayor Tony Benavides is expected to send a recommendation on the two-year
deadline extension to City Council shortly. Winnecker said he favors
the extension and wants Eyde to submit his new building proposal by
None of the changes sit well with neighbors of the lot, which has been
cleared. They have grown impatient with the undeveloped property, which
they call a blight in an otherwise revitalized residential area.
On June 16, Ben Harman, chairman of the Seven Block Citizens District
Council, sent a letter to Benavides arguing that the developer had delayed
construction even during good economic conditions. Given current
economic conditions, there is no indication that the market for office
space will improve any time in the near future, wrote Harman.
The group asked City Council to refuse any future deadline extensions
and to terminate the agreement with the developer if the December 2004
deadline is not met. The group also recommended allowing time for Eyde
to submit a new mixed-use development plan that includes housing, offices
and commercial property.
The group is empowered by state law to advise the city on development
issues concerning the Seven Block Renaissance Zone, which covers 36
acres, from Allegan Street to St. Joseph Highway, and from Martin Luther
King to Butler.
Winnicker said he believes a compromise between Eyde, the city and residents
is possible. He said planning staff members are working on a recommendation,
which Benavides will pass to City Council for approval, modification,
Winnicker said he believed that the developers request for another
delay of construction is reasonable. The time is just not right
for building, with the office market being so soft, said Winnicker.
If construction were to start, he said, it would add to the saturation
of office space downtown and would compete with the Boji project.
City Council recently approved the $50 million project, named after
the developers Ron and Louie Boji, which would provide downtown Lansing
a publicly financed 1,225-space parking ramp and the privately financed
110,000-square-foot office building.
Since the Boji project will be within walking distance, Renaissance
Zone residents are afraid they might end up surrounded by empty office
buildings. Some would prefer attractive residential housing units and
a grocery store. I would think that two big office developments
built simultaneously would compete with one another, said Ron
Whitmore, a founding member of the Renaissance Neighborhood Association.
The Citizens District Council argues that the city should amend
the original agreement and encourage Eyde to construct a mixed-use development
that would include housing and some dining and retail.
The Seven-Block district, along with 11 other Michigan Renaissance
Zones, became tax-free in 1997 in an effort to encourage economic
revitalization. Both residential and commercial businesses in these
designated zones are exempt from most state and local taxes until 2008.
Tenants must reside within a renaissance zone for 183 consecutive days
before being eligible for the abatement. The city estimates a loss of
$23,000 in the seven-block area per year.
Since the revitalization effort began in 1997, the city has acquired
60 homes in the area, built nine new homes and rehabilitated 20, spending
$2 million in addition to a $5 million-dollar state grant allotted for
the acquisition, demolition, rehabilitation, new construction, and improvements
of sidewalks and streets.
Paul Tagger, a 422 S. Butler resident, said the tax incentive has inspired
neighbors to remodel their homes and has attracted many new residents,
including himself. Added Tagger: The area has basically turned
into a family-type of neighborhood. Its a hundred times better
than it was in 1996. Tagger, who raises funds for investment companies,
remembers the neighborhood when there were abandoned houses, crackheads
and prostitutes. Now theres no problem at all. People can
walk in the dark and walk with their kids, Tagger said.
Tagger also said that a grocery store was desperately needed and criticized
the developers plan for more office space. This just wasnt
what we agreed on when the Renaissance Zone started, said Tagger.
He fears that if the developers plans are adopted, the quality
of life will decrease in the Renaissance Neighborhood. The increased
traffic, noise, and higher taxes all reasons he moved out of
his west-side apartment could threaten recent improvements. Added
Tagger, whos also a board member of the neighborhood association:
Another huge office building is just not to the residents
Whitmore, who is Taggers neighbor, says hes also skeptical
of the developers true intentions for the property. The community
activist doesnt understand why Eyde did not start the construction
as soon as possible. He may miss the opportunity to offer tenants the
benefits of no property taxes and to make the site more easily marketable.
If the tax-free zone expires in 2008, why does Eyde want to delay their
project until 2006, Whitmore asked.
Another source speculated that the delays are probably due to Eydes
desire to negotiate a deal with state government. The newly built Constitutional
Hall near the Capitol was leased from the Eyde Co. for Agriculture and
Environmental Quality offices from 2001 through 2026, for $6.4 million
a year. The state has the option to buy the building for $1 at the end
of lease. They hope that they will get the same sort of deal from
the state theyve gotten elsewhere downtown, which would be highly
lucrative, Whitmore said.
Both Eydes company and Seven Block residents have expressed interest
in exploring alternative types of development at the site, wrote Harman
in his letter to the mayor. The Citizens District Council suggests
conducting a market study to see whether types of development popular
among residents would be economically feasible. The council intends
to apply for a grant from the Capital Regional Community Foundation
to cover the costs of a survey, as soon as it hears from City Council
on the extension.
Added Whitmore: Quite frankly, residents are not willing to wait
any longer. Theres always going to be another excuse for a further
delay. But I also have some hope that the developer is going to be cooperative.
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