A request for proposals to purchase and redevelop Lansing City Hall may result in the ionic example of Mid-Century Modern architecture being demolished to make way for a new building.
Developer Harry Hepler of H Inc. who reviewed the RFP, said it appeared to him the only way a developer would be able to compete for the project would be to present plans to demolish, rather than rehab, the City Hall and Police Department buildings and subsume the plaza between them.
“The current City Hall is a shining example of Mid-Century Modern architecture that should be restored, not torn down,” HepIer said today. “I am confident the building could be fully restored for less than $200 per square foot, a significant savings from the costs I’ve heard thrown around to move into new facilities.”
Hepler’s company converted the old Motor Wheel factory on Saginaw Street and an old tractor factory on Pere Marquette across from the old Clara’s restaurant to apartments. He also developed the complex near the Fish Ladder in Old Town where Clark Hill law firm is located.
“The city should slow down this process, take in public input, give a more serious look at saving the building, and avoid taking on more debt than absolutely necessary given our long-term challenges with unfunded liabilities,” Hepler said.
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero has been touting a move from the current City Hall — often pointing to the former Lake Trust Building at Lenawee Street and Capitol Avenue. He’s said the 59-year-old City Hall would require as much as $60 million to bring it in line with modern needs.
Hepler said he thinks the cost of renovating the 120,000-square-foot complex would be more like $24 million.
THE RFP limits potential developers to big players. It says: “Recent experience securing financing for project(s) of similar size and complexity, specifically; satisfactory evidence of having obtained financing for project(s) with a total cost of $100 million or more in the last five (5) years, and; satisfactory evidence of the ability to obtain financing for single development and land acquisition project with a total cost of $50 million or more.”
Longtime Lansing City Councilwoman Carol Wood could only think of three or four who might qualify: Ferguson Development, Clark Construction, Christman Co. and possibly the Gilllespie Group.
Hepler criticized the provision. “As a historic rehabilitation developer, I am disappointed that the City Hall RFP is excluding so much of our local talent.”
Developers’ plans will be scored and appear to be able to earn additional points for demolishing and replacing th existing buildings.
Randy Hannan, chief of staff to Mayor Virg Bernero, said, “The RFQP does not place any limitations on the possibilities for redevelopment of the City Hall site. All options are on the table and we will see how the market responds as this process moves forward. Our intent remains to attract the best developer with the best plan for a transformational project.”
The 41-page Request for Proposals put out by the city’s Realtor, CBRE/Martin says: “Proposals will be evaluated by the Review Team against the criterion that follow.” “Proposed Development, Design and Site Plan is an urban high-rise mixed-use building that will achieve as many of the following objectives as possible: Dominant hub of the business activity in Downtown, Maximizes density on the site, Takes full advantage of the location and views, LEED Certified sustainable and environmentally friendly, Increase tax revenue, Provides and promotes convenient and safe pedestrian and bicycle access, Serves as a catalyst for further development, Attracts and retains talented people in the area, Increases visitor numbers, Creates a 24/7/365 center of activity and use.”
An architectural rendering of possible redevelopments included in the proposals appears to show the entire elimination of the current buildings and plaza, bringing a multi-story building to the sidewalks on Capitol and Michigan avenues. That supports fears the mid-century modern building could be lost.
Author Susan Bandes, a professor of art history at Michigan State University, wrote in her 2016 book “Mid-Michigan Modern” that City Hall came to fruition as part of “an ambitious” plan by former Mayor Ralph W. Crego to focus on modernizing the city. That move also included building the old civic center, fire stations, an airport terminal and a new central library.
The building was designed by Lee Black and Kenneth C. Black Architects. It is, Bandes wrote, “one of the few office buildings in Lansing in the international style characterized by an abundance of glazing, curtain wall construction, steel framing and sleek design.” She notes city leaders and the Lansing State Journal at the time favorably compared the building to the United Nations headquarters and the Lever House in New York.
Curtain wall construction is a technique in which windows, usually framed by aluminium, are hung on the frame of building.
That reduces the potential stress load on the building itself.
Dale Schrader, president of Preservation Lansing, concurred with Hepler’s concerns and raised additional ones.
“Preservation Lansing believes that across from the State Capitol is the best location for City Hall. The sale price of the existing City Hall building is only at $4.2-million and a cost estimate to build a new City Hall is not discussed in the requirements of the City RFP,” said Schrader. “A comprehensive cost study for the new City Hall versus renovation of the current City Hall building needs to take place. Lansing could save millions by renovating this classic building and the millions of savings could be invested into parks, roads or to pay down legacy costs.”
Schrader pointed out that while the request document does contain points for a developer who provides a viable option for a new city hall facility, what those requirements are or what the costs would be are not detailed. Additionally, the preservationist noted, “conceptual drawings don’t often fulfill expectations.” In an email on Monday, Hepler raised significant concerns about the entire RFP process.
“This RFP appears to be both rushed and structured to advance an agenda rather than explore all viable options to meet the City’s current and future facilities needs,” he wrote.
He noted that the RFP had a very strict timeline, with a development agreement to be inked before the end of December — just before Bernero leaves office. That would saddle an incoming mayor with the project.
“I have not seen any plans or reports on this,” said Andy Schor, a leading contender to replace Bernero. “I would need to look at all this if I win. I would hope the administration would share that after the Nov. election.”
Judi Brown Clarke is the other likely contender to replace Bernero in City Hall on Jan.
1. She said she looked “forward” for formally reviewing the RFP in her role as an at-large Councilwoman.
While the RFP does contain a timeline which could saddle the next mayoral administration with this project, there’s also a potential out. Voters have to approve a sale. In order to qualify for the ballot in November, the Bernero administration would have to ask the council to do so by 4 p.m. Aug. 15. That would be five days before all proposals are due.
Council President Patricia Spitzley said she won’t support that.
As president, she controls what gets on the agenda, although Bernero allies could try a political runaround by trying to add a ballot measure as a late item.
“There is not time to adequately review and consider this if it were brought to us,” she said. “I would not support moving this forward for the November ballot.”