April 12 2017 12:20 AM

BWL final Central Substation design nothing like what was pitched

A view of the final plan for what used to be Scott Park, at Capitol Avenue and Malcolm X St. The brick walls give it an industrial looking befitting the entry to REO Town.
Courtesy Photo

The towering steel eyesore planned for the corner of Malcolm X St. and Washington Avenue at the entryway to REO Town has a final masking design.

The new design for the Lansing Central Substation was unveiled March 30 in a joint meeting between the Lansing Board of Water & Light Board of Commissioners and the Lansing City Council. It is barely recognizable compared to conceptual drawings the public utility used to sell the project to the public, City Council and other city boards.

The 50-foot high steel towers that will loom over the project will now be partially shielded by a wall that is 12 feet to 19 feet tall. Designers originally pitched the walls to be as high as 40 feet on the south side of the property — the former Scott Park and Center — along the Grand River. Instead, the wall along the river will be 12-foot-high with iron fencing on top.

The walls themselves will be an industrial brick style, harkening to the roots of REO Town. That area used to play home to REO Motors, which is long gone. In its stead is the BWL gas power generation plant. The look of the new design, architects said, would create the illusion of an industrial building — making the towers look like part of a more complex factory building.

Ryan Wert, executive director of REO Town Commercial Association, said the factory look was deliberate.

“[The design] felt very much like it could be a historic building in our neighborhood,” he said.

In addition to the industrial wall design, the area will feature seating along Washington and signage at Capitol Avenue and Malcolm X. It will also feature an architectural placemaking image at Malcolm X and Washington: a stylized image of the Eckert Power Plant’s iconic three smoke stacks, Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod. On the southeastern corner, along the river and Washington, a plaza will be built. It will be about 3,000 square feet, architect Ken Jones said during the meeting.

Gone also from the original design concepts are a covered walk way along the river with historical markers detailing the history of Scott Park and REO Town. Instead, a walkway will be constructed, along the river, minus the cover, with strategically located peek holes to view the interior substation.

Ryan Smith, president of Cherry Hill Neighborhood Association which is located across 496 from the location, was a vocal critic of the project from the beginning, but he said he “it looks about as good as it’s going to get.”

The wall heights, he said, were something on which he disagreed with some others during public design meetings.

“I was hoping to mask as much of the substation as possible,” he said. “But many from REO Town argued for the lesser walls because they would not be so imposing.”

He said he had a “hard time” imagining himself sitting in the plaza listening to live music — as designers said they hoped would happen — but he was optimistic that it could spark a music revival.

“My fingers are crossed,” he said. “It will be good for the Cherry Hill Neighborhood if they do have music events there that become very popular.”

He said he was frustrated by the public process BWL used to garner input for the project, specifically because BWL declined to discuss the budget for the project.

“It was very difficult to come up with a concept without a budget,” he said.

The original plan featured walls as high as 40 feet in an attempt to hide the power station grid. But the public feedback was the walls felt imposing.
Courtesy Photo

Dick Peffley, BWL’s general manager, told the joint BWL and Council meeting in March the project would come in on budget.

“It’ll be tight, but we can build it for what we told the public,” Peffley said.

That price tag is $27.9 million, he said. Of that, $20.7 million is for the substation itself, while another $4 million will be used to build the walls and other amenities. So where’s the remaining $3.2 million? It’s a buffer in the estimating process. It’s common practice for building projects s they go through the planning stages to build in buffers to account for unforeseen issues like increased material costs due to increased gasoline costs.