MSUFCU Going Ahead with Downtown Project, But City Pauses Housing Study

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Courtesy of MSUFCU

A prior rendering of the MSUFCU project, looking northwest, with The Abbot (now under construction) at left. Dublin Square is seen to the right of the planned building. The submitted design looks different, with only 7 floors (not 8).

The coronavirus and the associated economic uncertainty isn’t derailing the plan by Michigan State University Federal Credit Union to construct a new office building in East Lansing’s downtown. But the state of emergency has caused the City’s Planning Department staff to decide to hit “pause” on the long-awaited housing study.

Responding to questions from ELi, the credit union’s President and CEO April Clobes said yesterday, “We are still in design phase for the project. We believe we are on track to submit our site plan to the City of East Lansing on May 27, for the June 24 meeting” of Planning Commission.

The formal proposal is expected to be for an 8-story office tower with a ground-floor branch for the credit union (replacing the branch next to Peanut Barrel). This would be built at the northwest corner of Abbot Road and Albert Avenue, just south of the Dublin Square restaurant, on what is now City Parking Lot #4.

In March, voters overwhelmingly approved selling this publicly-owned land to the credit union for this use. Now the project has to undergo all the necessary design, review, and approval stages to come to fruition.

Clobes says that Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s orders have delayed environmental testing on the site. “We hope to resume that once allowed,” she says.

Whitmer’s halting of all private commercial construction has been controversial, and she is under pressure to follow the approach of governors who have allowed construction projects to continue with disease-transmission precautions in place.

During the Stay-at-Home order, Whitmer’s office has been allowing “essential” public works projects to go on. The City of East Lansing is consequently engaged in a number of projects, including in the area of Lot 4.

But Whitmer’s office has decided that schools construction is not essential, leaving an open question around whether East Lansing’s newest elementary schools, Whitehills and Pinecrest, will be finished in time for the new school year. The new Donley and Glencairn schools also still do not have the final finishing in place, and that work can’t continue until Whitmer gives a go-ahead.

Meanwhile, East Lansing Planning Director Tom Fehrenbach tells ELi, “Due to the pandemic, the Housing Study is on hold until further notice.”

East Lansing had contracted with an external consultant to obtain data about the housing stock and housing needs in the area as a way to inform planning.

Why pause the study? Fehrenbach gives these reasons:

“MSU requested that students return to their permanent residences. Summer classes have gone to online-only. We are not yet certain that classes will resume in-person in August. With these and other uncertainties brought on by the pandemic, there may be significant changes in our rental market, with unknown effects.”

He says, “Once we have more clarity about a new normal, we can suggest any changes to the scope of this study that may be necessary to provide insights for future planning efforts.” 

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