May 17 2017 11:48 PM
Developer says ‘agreement in principle’ reached, announcement expected as soon as a week

After years of delays and false starts, a proposed $270 million development on the city’s former Red Cedar Golf Course on Michigan Avenue could be moving swiftly to the formal approval process with the city as soon as next week, says developer Joel Ferguson.

“Expect something to be announced within a week or so,” Ferguson said Monday in a phone interview. “I would say we’ve come to an agreement in principle.”

Details of that agreement, which would include the purchase price as well as how much the city could be on the hook for infrastructure development, were not released.

An effusive, but evasive, Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Area Economic Partnership, which has been working with the developer and the city on the project, would not confirm a deal had been reached.

“I will say we are finally making great and fairly rapid progress,” he said by text message when asked if he could confirm an agreement had been reached.

When told Ferguson had confirmed a deal “in principle” had been struck, Trezise responded “Too funny.”

His response is evidence of the ongoing struggle to bring the massive project to life. It’s been hampered by negotiations over the value of the former golf course and how much and who will pay for infrastructure to allow the development to move forward in a floodplain.

In order to develop the land, the developers are seeking public funding to build elevated platforms made of concrete on which to build. Ferguson and his development team want those platforms, called plinths, built using publicly financed bonds. They’ve sought bonds from the county, which rejected them, and have been seeking the bonds from the city. Those bonds could be for as much as $35 million.

Without such infrastructure in place, Ferguson has argued the property itself has no value because it can’t sustain any development. He softened that edge Monday, saying, “Of course the property has a value.”

But what that value is Ferguson isn’t saying. A land purchase and development agreement with Ferguson and Continental Lansing LLC filed with the City Clerk’s Office on Nov. 10, 2014, however placed the value of the land at about $7.14 million. Last year in an interview with City Pulse, Trezise declined to say how much the property purchase price would ultimately be, saying only, “I have a number in mind.”

The project has not been without controversy. Leo and Chris Jerome, who had a development option on the land until 2013, sued Ferguson, Continental LLC, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, and Trezise; alleging racketing and a pay for play scheme.

In March, a federal judge ordered former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, who is representing the Jeromes, to rewrite and submit his brief against the defendants. That has been refiled, but Ferguson and others say the “writing is on the wall,” that the suit will be dismissed.

Ferguson has called the allegations of pay for play “ridiculous,” noting that he has not donated to Bernero or his campaigns in the past. Campaign finance records support this claim, while showing the Jeromes having given thousands to Bernero campaign committees as well as his 527 account.

If the project is approved, it would include retail space, boutique hotels, market-rate apartments and apartment units for students as well as public amenities, such as two amphitheaters. It would be the most substantial developments in Lansing since the redevelopment of the Ottawa Power Station in downtown that was completed in 2011.

“It will be transformative of Michigan Avenue,” said Patrick Lindemann, the Ingham County drain commissioner. He is working on developing a new drain system which will include retention ponds in the former golf course. That project will include redeveloping Ranney Park with various ponds and other water features as well as natural areas, installing of drain controls in the medians of Michigan Avenue and developing of the golf course. The goal of that project is to use nature’s cleansing power to remove tons of non-source pollution that flows into the Red Cedar River.

When completed, Lindemann’s project will restructure the entire drainage course for portions of Lansing, East Lansing, Lansing Township and US 127 and 496. The cost?

“I am telling people about $30 million,” he said. That could be higher than the actual cost, which he won’t know until he can formally create bidding requirements for the project which would spell out exactly how many feet of drain lines and other construction needs would be required. He said he will seek 30-year bonds to finance the project, which will “make it affordable” for the municipalities that will have to pay for the upgrades.

He said the process of finishing up the final designs, on which all those bidding documents would be based, is about “65 or 70 percent done.” Right now employees of the Drain Commissioner’s Office are working with various utilities to identify buried utility services throughout the proposed drain are.

“We don’t want to miss any of those,” he said. “If we do, it adds time and money to the project. So this work on the front saves taxpayers money.”

News that the development could be moving forward came as a surprise to Council members. Judi Brown Clarke, an at-large Councilwoman who chairs the development and planning committee, said she didn’t have any specifics but “there’s been a lot of talk.”

Jody Washington, the 1st Ward Councilwoman representing that area, said she has not heard anything either.

“I know I have been hearing the same thing for five years: Shovels in the ground by October,” she said Monday. “But talk is all I have seen. Well, and trees being cut down.”