Business owners react to halt of Center City District Project in East Lansing

After more than a year of negotiations in East Lansing, the Center City District Project is off the table.

East Lansing officials say the development agreement between the city and the project’s developer called for a performance bond which would protect the city in the event the project wasn’t finished.

Although the developer agreed, he decided that it wasn’t going to work out.

So therefore, said no deal.

And that decision is not sitting well with the business owners who have already moved out to make room for construction.

“My biggest thing is just disappointment that the project isn’t happening,” says Owner of Sundance Jewelers, Bill Yonkus.

When Bill Yonkus, the owner of Sundance Jewelers in East Lansing learned developers pulled out of the Center City District Project, he was both surprised and left with questions.

“We’ve been here for over 44 years in East Lansing and we were really looking forward to seeing some progress in the development,” says Yonkus.

Yonkus, along with several other business owners along the 100-block of East Grand River were asked to move out of their original location earlier this year so that construction on the multi-million dollar project could begin.

The project included a Target store and a 12-story apartment building on East Grand River.

Plans also called for a new parking garage, new retail space, and a 5-story apartment building for seniors.

“The biggest challenge was initially finding out that you need to find a new place and then finding a suitable environment ya know for your business,” says Yonkus.

Being located on Albert Avenue, Yonkus says looking back, moving his story was an inconvenience, but things worked out in his favor as he now gets more foot traffic through the door.

Something Wayne Weigel, manager at the Grand River Barber Company agrees with.

“We knew this place was going to be a little more expensive, but we knew we’d have more room to hire more barbers and it would work out, and it did,” says Weigel.

Weigel says he hopes to see the Center City District project move forward, but he’s concerned if things stay the way they are now, there will be trouble filling the newly vacant space along Grand River.

“They have to know that those tenants will probably, at any point think they’re going to do the same thing and try to get that deal again and kick them out, and think we’re going to have to find another place again just like the other people did,” says Weigel.

We also reached out to the developer and property owner but did not hear back.

City officials say there are a couple of options moving forward.

First, the city can leave the project as it is.

Second, the developer can try to come up with another plan that isn’t as massive so that he can afford the bond.

Or have the property owner propose a different development.

East Lansing Mayor Pro Tem, Ruth Beier says she understands the challenges developers had with this bond, but the city has to protect itself from any future blight.

She isn’t, however considering this as a setback.

“I don’t think of this as a failure, I actually think of this as the city working the way it’s supposed to work. We wanted the development, it’s disappointing not to get a grocery store and the 55 and up housing and the new building but we didn’t want to put the city at financial risk no matter what. And so this system that we put in place actually worked,” says Beier.

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