LANSING TOWNSHIP – After an extended waiting period, construction finally began this fall on the final portion of the Eastwood Towne Center development project.
The Vista luxury apartments and Hyatt Place Hotel will be part of “The Heights at Eastwood,” a development site that also includes office and retail space. Construction began on the first part of the project – a parking ramp, two new restaurants and an addition to the NCG movie theater – two years ago and finished earlier this year.
According to Lansing Township Planning Director Steve Hayward, construction of the hotel and apartments has been plagued by problems from the beginning. Disagreements between parties, several of which are no longer involved in the project, and concerns from government officials have pushed the intended completion date of September 2012 back more than two years.
But with the project underway and running smoothly, Hayward is looking toward a strong outcome that “could potentially change the lifestyle habits” of a large group of Lansing residents.
Live, work, play
Hayward says the project has been in the planning stages for several years.
“The plan was always to develop this area into a community rather than a shopping center, but we needed the center to take foot and succeed before we could move forward,” Hayward said. “We began discussions about possibly putting in an apartment complex, and that turned into plans for an entire community: apartments, businesses, restaurants, hotels and more.”
“Soon we were creating blueprints, finding investors, filing the paperwork – it had taken a life of its own,” he said.
DTN Management is the main investor. Vice President Raji Uppal saw this as a prime opportunity to create a “live, work, play” environment, something he said could really boost the economic growth of Lansing.
“East Lansing is the perfect example of a ‘city within a city,’” Uppal said. “The Vista at The Heights will resemble this on a smaller scale; it will be a place where people can walk to everywhere they need to go on a daily basis.”
Live, work, play communities, also known as “built communities” or lifestyle centers, are becoming popular across the country, according to Zachary Neal, an assistant professor of sociology at Michigan State University. He says Eastwood was a natural choice for a development of this type for many reasons, including the amount of available land, the success of the shopping center and the suburban location.
Lansing is not the only Michigan region pushing for live, work, play communities. The Downtown Detroit Partnership is responsible for creating various lifestyle centers throughout Detroit, including the David Broderick Tower, which combines 30 apartment floors, three floors of office space and three unique restaurants in one building, and the upcoming renovation of the David Whitney Building, which will combine similar elements.
In the case of Eastwood, however, the development is less about rebuilding the city and more about building a community of younger, business-oriented individuals. Neal says one of the goals will be finding a young affluent audience who is looking for and can afford luxury apartments. “It’s going to take some time to figure out who is going to rent these apartments and what the ideal audience is,” Neal said.
Officials weigh in
Hayward says the City of Lansing has been giving the Downtown Development Authority and Lansing Township officials trouble from the beginning. “It’s been one thing after another,” Hayward said. “The politics and lack of support from Lansing leaders have led us to postpone construction time and time again.”
The biggest critic has been Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. He says better communication between him and Lansing Township officials is needed, but he also says he does not agree with how the township has carried out this project.
“What Lansing Township does affects Lansing, and what Lansing does affects Lansing Township. The way they are running business is that they’re putting their interests above everyone else’s, and that lack of cooperation among cities is a concern for the region as a whole,” Bernero said.
One thing Bernero has argued from the beginning is that a development project as large as Eastwood belongs in Downtown Lansing, which he believes is the region’s “core.” The mayor has spent most of his tenure trying to re-create Downtown Lansing, and he’s afraid he will not be able to compete with the thriving Eastwood complex. “A big center such as Eastwood is drawing too much attention away from the core of the region, and that’s simply unacceptable. Now it’s a battle of attracting buyers and investors to our cities, and that will only create more disturbance within the region,” Bernero said.
Hayward disagrees. “It is my job to attract business and residents to Lansing Township, and The Heights will do just that,” Hayward said. “This is a project we are excited about, one we see has full potential, and we cannot be dissuaded by someone who would rather watch the wave than ride it.”
East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett says he can understand Bernero’s frustration, but developers made the right choice by choosing Eastwood. From an investor’s viewpoint, he says, investing in a downtown area like Lansing or East Lansing is far more costly than a suburban area such as Eastwood because of higher land value, higher rehab costs and less room for change.
“It will never be an equal playing field between urban reinvestment and suburban development,” Triplett said.
Meanwhile, Kathy Rodgers, Lansing Township supervisor, has been highly supportive of the project. She says that lifestyle centers are the most popular type of development in the U.S. at the moment, and one will fit in perfectly at Eastwood Towne Center.
“We are a little behind with the project, but it’s understandable with all the agreements that had to be made and all the parties that were involved. There are just a lot of issues that needed to be taken care of, but thankfully they have been and construction is going great. We’re happy to have this ambitious project in Lansing Township and we look forward to working closely with Matt [Brinkley] and Steve [Hayward] to make sure it’s a success,” Rodgers said.
Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, says the focus should be on regional impact rather than city versus city competition. He says the Eastwood project is just one of the numerous development projects taking place in the Greater Lansing area that will “help the region emerge as an economic powerhouse.”
In Lansing alone in 2013, Davenport University opened a brand new $12 million downtown campus, Emergent BioSolutions Inc. opened a $108 million laboratory facility, Elmet North America Inc. opened a new sales and assembly facility and the GM assembly plant created hundreds of new jobs.
“The fact that Mayor Bernero is visibly upset over the Eastwood development is silly, considering the number of projects taking place in the area and specifically in downtown Lansing,” Trezise said. “One city prospering isn’t a win for the city – it’s a win for the region.”
Matt Brinkley, Lansing Township planner, says the main goal with this project is to attract a younger business crowd to the area and create a home for them in Lansing Township where they can feel comfortable. “We would love to see a tenant mix that reflects a shift from the current destination retail of the existing mall toward something much more diverse,” Brinkley said.
Eastwood businesses are excited for the development. Chuck Senatore, co-founder of Tony Sacco’s Coal Oven Pizza (located in Eastwood, with locations nationwide), plans to lease a space in the mixed-use parking ramp to build a performance arts center, something Mayor Bernero was hoping to have built downtown. Senatore says several other restaurant owners have already leased space in the mixed-use ramp.
Joseph Goodsir leased the space next to Tony Sacco’s and opened Capital Prime steakhouse in September. He says Eastwood is the perfect location for the chic, contemporary steak and seafood restaurant and is excited to “see business boom once the apartment complex starts filling up.”
“To me, the idea of a live, work, play community is brilliant, and I am excited to be a part of it,” Goodsir said.
The Heights is on track to open November 2014.