A major portion — $80,000 — of the $147,685 expenditure approved in February by East Lansing’s Downtown Development Authority for the Albert EL Fresco is dedicated to paying for the design and procurement of long-term outdoor seating, shade and lighting infrastructure for the City to use. But as of the DDA’s meeting on Thursday at noon, the City is still in search of someone to design, build, and deliver such things.
A Request for Proposals (RFP) was sent out by the City on March 17. With the EL Fresco slated to open on April 27, Community and Economic Development Administrator Adam Cummins admitted to the DDA on Thursday that the City has “its back against the wall” to have such amenities in place by then.
The deadline to submit a response, per the RFP, is 1 p.m. today (Friday, March 25), though Cummins did say that would be extended if no responses were received.
“I’m a little nervous,” he said.
In order to make sure the process isn’t slowed further, the DDA voted unanimously on Thursday to allow Chair Mike Krueger to sign off on an agreement with the selected RFP respondent when the time comes. Whatever proposal gets chosen for approval will be sent to the DDA prior to Krueger signing and members will have 24 hours to raise any concerns, in which case a special meeting will be called to address them. If no concerns come up, Krueger has the approval of the DDA to sign off on whatever proposal City staff has selected from the RFP respondents.
Asked what would happen if there were ultimately no RFP respondents, Cummins said he and other City staff were working on “Plan B,” but didn’t elaborate what that would entail.
The first-ever EL Fresco in 2021 was done almost exclusively by City staff making smaller purchases — paid out of the Place Project fund — and deploying already-owned seating and shade infrastructure, then doing the work to set it up and manage it, along with help from local business owners in the area. It’s possible something similar could be achieved were there no responses to the RFP — or if none were satisfactory.
The RFP outlines four main items to be designed and built for the EL Fresco: Modular seating blocks, multi-purpose planter boxes, a “breaking bread” community table, and barricade bench seating.
Broadly, the RFP asks respondents to consider six other principles or facets when designing the above items: shade, lighting, modularity, multi-functionality, durability, and the incorporation of plants.
Cummins noted that providing shade along the Albert Avenue corridor is difficult, especially given how the taller buildings create a wind tunnel effect. Anything large, flat surface will be susceptible to blowing away without being anchored to something substantial.
He also added that the inclusion of planters and more greenspace to breakup the “hardspace” was a big desire.
Along with the $80,000 in potential placemaking infrastructure, Cummins went through a line item budget for the 2022 EL Fresco.
The most notable item in that budget beside the placemaking infrastructure is $20,138 to pay for additional police shifts. Both City Council members and other officials said that the EL Fresco had put a strain on police resources in 2021, as it drew crowds downtown very late at night when bars close. The $20,138 covers 28 shifts of two officers at a cost of $719 a shift.
Additionally, there’s a $5,395 expense for an outdoor table tennis table.
DDA members asked Cummins about the durability of this item, specifically, and about the other things being used for the EL Fresco.
Cummins explained that the durability of the table tennis table was one of the main things sought out, and in general. He had presented the DDA with an inventory of what the City had on hand for the EL Fresco from last year that also showed what had been damaged or stolen. Going ahead, there will be emphasis on investment in amenities that will be long-lasting.
“We learned lessons,” Cummins said about the first EL Fresco in 2021.