What’s Happening with That Thing in East Lansing?

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Photos for ELi by Gary Caldwell

Things are far from back to normal in East Lansing, but ELi readers are understandably curious about the status of various hot-button issues in this city. Here’s an update on several big and developing stories from your dedicated independent local nonprofit news source.

Converting Newman Lofts from senior housing? Unlikely anytime soon.

ELi broke the story that the developers for the public-private development known as Center City District asked City leaders about converting the dedicated age-55+ rental housing to open market rental – a move that would allow students to move in. In follow-up, all five members of City Council told ELi they were opposed to the idea.

Now ELi has obtained the original April 1 communication from Harbor Bay Real Estate’s Mark Bell to Mayor Ruth Beier asking to open talks about the project. Bell’s letter including a letter from his financial advisor, Timothy S. Bradley, insisting that in the face of the pandemic, “I must clearly and regrettably convey to you that an immediate effort and steps must be taken to reassure all parties of the long-term viability of your developments… [E]verything must be on the table for reconsideration with all your public and private partners.”

Gary Caldwell for ELi

Newman Lofts was constructed on public land, but is privately owned. Right now, renting is restricted to people aged 55 and up.

But it does not appear that City leaders are interested in reopening that deal.

Meanwhile, the new Center City parking garage on Albert – open just about a year – already needs some repairs. City staff tell ELi, “Expansion joints were installed throughout the garage, but some are leaking.” The cost will be borne by the contractors under warrantee.

Citizen oversight of the police: expect action within the month.

The state police have not yet released results of their investigation into the actions of ELPD Officer Andrew Stephenson in a December 28, 2019 arrest that resulted in a complaint that he used excessive force.

A special analysis by ELi in March showed that Stephenson was actually the subject of a number of complaints preceding that event and the highly-publicized arrest and injury of Uwimana “Tito” Gasito at East Lansing’s downtown 7-Eleven in February.

Gary Caldwell for ELi

At this point, East Lansing has seen over a year of talks about creating a Citizen Oversight Panel for complaints made against ELPD – a discussion that preceded by months the blow-up over the 7-Eleven incident and Stephenson’s record.

At City Council’s meeting last week (April 30), Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens used his period for “Council member comments” to say he considers this a “really important” issue, one he doesn’t want to leave behind in the midst of the pandemic.

Now, ELi has learned, East Lansing’s Council is finally set to take up a resolution to form a committee that is expected to make recommendations about how that Oversight Panel would work. The Council is expected to set a May 26 public hearing on the matter. A draft resolution is expected to appear on the Council’s May 12 agenda, when the public hearing date will be formally set.

[UPDATE: The State Police investigator has issued his findings.]

The cranes will be moving again soon.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s latest orders allow commercial construction to resume on Thursday, May 7. At that point, you can expect to see the cranes starting to move again at the Park District project where DRW Convexity is building The Abbot and The Graduate hotel on Grand River Ave. just west of Abbot Road.

The crane has been stalled over DRW Convexity’s “The Abbot.” Photo for ELi by Gary Caldwell.

A couple of weeks ago, the developers formally notified the City of East Lansing and the Downtown Development Authority that the stay-at-home orders created unavoidable delays that will push back the due dates for that project as written into the Development Agreement between the developers, City, and DDA.

Convexity told ELi previously that if construction was delayed only a few weeks, The Abbot would still be open for residency this summer, so it appears that building will stay largely on track. As we reported, the ground floor will hold a Walgreen’s pharmacy.

The hotel has been expected to open several months later, although this pandemic has caused a massive shake-up in the hotel industry, and we still don’t know if MSU will return to on-campus activities in the fall. Still, expect construction on both buildings to resume this week.

Construction of the East Lansing Public School district’s new elementary schools can also be expected to resume this week. No word yet on whether the delays in those projects will cost the district overtime pay for construction workers.

ELi reported last week that the ELPS district is now facing millions in cuts as the State of Michigan is likely to slash per-pupil funding in the coming years, a response to the economic crash from the pandemic. Voter-approved funding for the elementary schools construction cannot be put to other uses, so the construction will go on.

Emergency relief for East Lansing businesses coming.

This week, businesses in the DDA district will have an opportunity to apply for $2,500 grants from the DDA for emergency financial relief. As ELi reported, the DDA settled last week on criteria for applications for the one hundred grants coming out of the DDA’ Project Development Fund.

Photo for ELi by Gary Caldwell.

East Lansing’s City Council is likely to divert additional funds for City-wide business relief opportunities through targeted use of money made available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Council will hold public hearings on that issue at its meetings on May 12 and May 26.

Lots of information for potential applicants is now available here.

ELi will be bringing much more East Lansing news this week.

Our reporters and editors are working now on a number of stories we know our readers will be interested in. If you are able to support this work – perhaps with part or all of your stimulus check – now is the time. Our “Stimulate ELi’s Reporting” fundraising campaign runs through tomorrow, #GivingTuesdayNow, and we are just over halfway to our goal.

Of every dollar you donate to this nonprofit local news service, about 85 cents goes to pay people in this community to work to bring meaningful nonpartisan news. Help us out right now with a credit card donation or a direct transfer from your MSUFCU account to ours. See all your donation method options here.

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