DDA Approves Around $150K For EL Fresco, Nixes Lease With Tenants In Bat-Infested Property

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The Albert EL Fresco in Summer 2021 and the properties at 344 Evergreen.

The East Lansing Downtown Development Authority approved a budget amendment on Thursday to allocate an additional $189,640 to its Project Development Fund for the fiscal year  — more than doubling the amount of money available in the fund for the rest of Fiscal Year 2022, which ends on June 30.

The budget amendment passed with one vote against, which came from Luke Hackney.

Most of the additional money — $147,685, to be exact — will be dedicated to work involving the Albert EL Fresco which is slated to reopen sometime in the spring. Adam Cummins, the City’s Community and Economic Development Administrator, explained that in 2021 the DDA contributed $20,000 to the effort. Cummins added that the real cost of the work he and City staff did to make the EL Fresco happen far exceeded whatever was budgeted.   

As such, he was looking to the DDA to make a more significant investment in that placemaking project and others. Cummins told the DDA that he wanted to make an investment on outdoor infrastructure to provide shade and shelter, plus additional and better outdoor furniture, barricades and the like — in essence to have stuff for placemaking downtown that is expressly designed for that purpose.

When pressed about what, specifically, he wanted to purchase or install, Cummins said he would likely want to put the design and procurement of any items out for bids via a Request for Proposals (RFP).

The seemingly short-term request from Cummins — to pay for this stuff for the EL Fresco and placemaking downtown — led Hackney, along with a handful of other DDA members to ask about longer-term planning for expenditures. Hackney asked Cummins about getting a three- or five-year plan for future placemaking expenses and projects so the DDA doesn’t get a request to fund a project this large, this late in the process. 

Fellow DDA members Jeff Smith and Ruben Levinsohn concurred with Hackney and asked about the potential longevity and utility of whatever Cummins plans to purchase or use. They said they’d like to know that whatever is being purchased can be used for multiple years and in multiple settings. Cummins deferred to needing more info via the RFP process, but said he has similar goals. Cummins said, for example, that he wants to invest in something that can provide shade in the EL Fresco and also be used for events in Valley Court park at a different time. 

Smith particularly honed in on having a five-year expenditure plan and his desire to know sooner, rather than later, what the total cost over that span might be. 

In a draft budget for the DDA for Fiscal Year 2023 (July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023), $63,845 is dedicated to the EL Fresco in the Project Development Fund.

Mayor Ron Bacon and City Manager George Lahanas, both voting members of the DDA, offered their respective pieces in favor of the expenditure, with Lahanas noting that the addition of security cameras to the downtown corridor will aid the City in deterring and tracking down anyone who steals or vandalizes placemaking infrastructure. 

But despite the issues that did crop up, the budget amendment was approved, giving Cummins and City staff a sizable budget to produce the EL Fresco and other projects.

The DDA approved reimbursement for tenants who had lived in a DDA-owned, bat-infested property.

The DDA also voted to approve a lease termination agreement with the former tenants of 344 Evergreen Ave., who were left to find alternate living accommodations starting in late October 2021 due to a bat infestation

According to the termination agreement prepared by the City Attorneys from Foster Swift, the lease period ran from July 28, 2021, through Aug. 8, 2022. But the tenants found bats in the days leading up to Halloween last year and shortly thereafter relocated to a hotel, where they stayed until the end of the fall semester on Dec. 18, 2021. 

The tenants requested termination of their lease because under the terms they “were entitled to quiet use and enjoyment of the Property, which Lessees allege was disrupted by the infestation,” the agreement reads in part. Per the agreement, the lease will be considered terminated as of Jan. 10, 2022.

Additionally, the DDA is paying back the four tenants for the costs they incurred in leaving the property and securing short-term housing. In total, the four tenants are being reimbursed about $7,400 total.

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