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Election 2012: Red Cedar's Future Prosperity Hinges on Public Vote

WKAR File Photo

On Election Day, Lansing voters will decide on the sale of 48 acres of land at the site of the former Red Cedar Golf Course.  A yes vote would move the property a step closer to commercial and environmental redevelopment.  Supporters say the site at the nexus of two cities and a major university is a key gateway in the region that must be improved.

Lansing voters gave a thumbs up to the first phase of the Red Cedar plan last year by approving the sale of an initial 12 acres.  Now, part two involves approving an additional 48 acres. 

Developers Joel Ferguson and Chris Jerome are planning a mixed-use development that would include retail stores, market rate and student housing and a recreational space whose amenities have yet to be decided.  Massachusetts-based Carpenter and Company is also interested as a potential partner.  It proposes building two hotels and additional retail stores.

At the heart of the project is environmental restoration.  Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann is planning an elaborate drainage system that would filter the debris flowing into the Red Cedar after a storm.  Much of the effluent comes from the nearby Frandor shopping center. 

Lindemann says a series of retention ponds will be built in natural depressions on site.  That will create a network of small shallow wetlands only about four feet deep that can be easily cleaned of pollution.  Lindemann says this is key to achieving a low impact design.

“The ponds that we’re talking about and the pathway to these ponds are all going to meander around this 49 acres, with pathways and different interactions and bridges, and that kind of stuff,” says Lindemann.  “Building this drain this way really saves us huge amounts of up front money so that gives us a lot of potential for long-term maintenance costs and savings to the public.  And then you wind up with this beautiful, interactive environment.”

Even if voters approve the sale, the Lansing City Council must also sign off on the project.  Pending that action, construction may start as early as next spring.

MELISSA BENMARK:  And Kevin joins me now in the studio to talk some more about the Red Cedar project.  Hello, Kevin.

KEVIN LAVERY:  Hi, Melissa.

MELISSA BENMARK:  What do Lansing residents who live close to this property say about the plan?

KEVIN LAVERY:  The people I’ve talked with are generally very excited about the plan.  They feel this is just the sort of economic and even cultural shot in the arm this property has needed ever since it was closed.  It’s obviously in a very prime location, bordering the Michigan Avenue corridor and the Red Cedar River and its trail system.  Still, there’s this sense that the area is a little isolated from the community.  I spoke with Jennie Grau about this.  She lives in Lansing’s  Place Neighborhood nearby.

“This is somewhat of a no man’s land in the sense that this section of land involving a significant highway has been less successfully with other aspects of city life,” says Grau.  “But I think it’s exciting to see that a project of this scale has the potential to bring partners to the table to create something that could be an economic engine as well as a quality of life improvement for the entire community, with the driving force being an environmental cleanup.”

MELISSA BENMARK:  So it sounds like there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the site to be restored.  Is anyone raising any red flags at this point?

KEVIN LAVERY:  Not really.  I think the main concern that echoes through this issue is the notion of preserving green space.  People want to see a very prominent park-like atmosphere alongside commercial development. 

The other thing is that this is truly a regional plan.  I talked with Nancy Mahlow.  She’s the president of the Eastside Neighborhood Organization.  Lansing’s eastside takes up about a quarter of the city.  She’s very adamant about the fact that the Red Cedar plan is not simply an eastside issue.  It’s something that belongs to the whole city, and she wants people who don’t live near it to see what’s out there.

“And I hope everybody thinks about it,” Mahlow says.  “One of the key things is to go over and walk the area and see what is there.  Right now...it’s terrible.  It looks terrible and it obviously needs something done to it.  So, my suggestion is, go over and walk before you take your vote.”

MELISSA BENMARK:  WKAR’s Kevin Lavery is following the public vote on the Red Cedar Golf Course project.  Thanks, Kevin.

KEVIN LAVERY:  Thank you Melissa.

Kevin Lavery is a general assignment reporter and occasional local host for Morning Edition and All Things considered.
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