- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

Detroit News. February 8, 2017

Deal could erase jail mistake

At first look, the deal offered by Rock Ventures for ridding Wayne County’s of its unfinished jail albatross looks too good to pass up. Everybody gets what they want out of the proposal, and Detroiters benefit from another piece of downtown refurbished.

A deeper dive into the fine print is always necessary before declaring this the best answer.

But it appears to move the project ahead in a way that would limit future taxpayer exposure to the sort of gross mismanagement and cost overruns that marked the county’s first attempt to build a new jail.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and the county commission should approach the offer with open minds. And if the promises of the proposal prove legitimate, they should grab it.

Rock Ventures chief Dan Gilbert basically is guaranteeing to build a new justice center for the county to replace the unfinished jail on Gratiot, as well as the dilapidated Frank Murphy courthouse and facility, and do it for the same money it would cost the county to complete the work.

Or likely less. The cost of completing the jail is pegged at $250 million - the county has already spent $150 million on the mess - and another $50 million is needed to upgrade the Murphy building.

Those are projected costs. Rarely has Wayne County completed a project without significant cost overruns.

Gilbert’s offer shields the county from those unexpected costs. Rock would assume all expenses above $300 million, should they occur.

It also gives Wayne County a new courthouse instead of a remodeled one, a new 60-bed juvenile detention center and a 1,632-bed adult jail. Another 400 beds can be added for $40 million.

And the bonus: The Gratiot site will get new development worth up to $1 billion that will add jobs and tax revenue.

The new criminal justice complex will be built on Warren, just outside the downtown footprint.

It’s an inspired solution, and a much more productive use of the Gratiot site, which sits at the eastern entrance of downtown. That neighborhood has considerable development potential that would be dampened by the presence of jails and courts.

Gilbert and Pistons’ owner Tom Gores covet the Gratiot property for a soccer stadium. The pair are competing for a Major League Soccer franchise, and having a downtown stadium site in hand will enhance their bid.

The deal reflects a breaking away from the old reality of downtown Detroit, when so many of the buildings were tied to government functions.

Today, investors look at downtown and see the opportunity for entertainment, offices and residences.

The decision to build the jail was made by former county Executive Bob Ficano before downtown Detroit became such a hot commodity. That call would never be made today.

Compounding the poor choice was the mismanagement of the project and the waste of $150 million in taxpayer money.

Gilbert’s proposal gives the county a chance to revisit a serious mistake and make it right.

If it lives up to its promise, Wayne County should jump on it.

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Lansing State Journal. February 8, 2017

End of hotel deal a new opportunity for city

A major opportunity has been presented to the City of Lansing with the end of the Radisson Hotel non-compete agreement.

Nothing against the Radisson, which has served the city well over the past decades, but the buzz generated by no fewer than three “significant prospects” for a second hotel could lead to important progress for the city, which effectively has been locked into one downtown hotel since 1985.

Radisson deal ends, creates buzz over 2nd hotel

To make this happen, the Lansing City Council, economic development groups and other stakeholders must get on the same page. Open communication and swift resolution to outstanding problems should be priorities.

Public infighting and drawn-out disagreements will only deter potential developers. Stakeholders must work together to move forward, putting the long-term future of Lansing ahead of special interests.

Another downtown hotel would mean greater event potential, more visitors to downtown businesses and an increased buzz that other cities already enjoy. Lansing can and should be a destination city, like Detroit and Grand Rapids.

From Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership: The historic hotel deal has kept Lansing unique among capital cities in the U.S. - and developers have taken notice. Having just one hotel in a downtown area like this is obviously a market that is underserved.

From Eric Dimoff, marketing director of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce: “Now is the time to capitalize on Lansing’s momentum. As businesses continue to invest and transform the corridor, the possibility of additional downtown hotel accommodations is welcome news for the City of Lansing.”

From Jack Schripsema, CEO of the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitor’s Bureau: Occupancy in hotels in the region has exceeded 1 million occupied rooms, according to a 2016 lodging analysis.

Conventions, conferences, sporting events and concerts have people vying to find hotels that are convenient to downtown Lansing, the Lansing Center and Michigan State University.

The need already exists. And as development continues along the Michigan Avenue corridor, it’s safe to project the need will only grow.

The Radisson still has a role to play downtown - it is connected to the Lansing Center and a block away from the Capitol. A second hotel would only add capacity, helping to ensure the business community continues to thrive.

And when those in the city are thriving, the region benefits.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). February 8, 2017

Snyder’s budget plan looks good for schools

Some bright spots in the governor’s state budget proposal may put some color back into public school classrooms.

In a week when teachers are going to work dressed in black mourning clothes to protest the unprecedented appointment and confirmation of Betsy DeVos to lead the federal Department of Education, Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal contains good news for schools.

The proposal is only that, however. Lawmakers, particularly members of Snyder’s own Republican Party, have already suggested they may have different priorities than the governor’s office. Leading their list is turning rebounding state revenues, on the way up following the recession, into cuts in state income tax rates.

While we all would prefer to pay fewer taxes, slashing revenues and diving into the state’s rainy day fund is a formula for disaster the next time the state and national economies hiccup.

For schools, Snyder proposes three spending initiatives that teachers, students and families should welcome.

He proposes to increase money spent to help at-risk students get the help they need from the current $379 million to a total of $529 million. All school districts and charter schools would be eligible for an additional $778 per pupil to help children from low-income families. Students from disadvantaged households face extra challenges in the classroom and this would give them a hand up.

Second, he proposes to increase per-pupil spending for all students by $128 million, providing an additional $50 to $100 per student on top of the about $7,511 districts get this year.

Third, he proposes to give school districts more money - $50 per student - to educate high school students because it costs more to educate a high school student than it does to educate an elementary-age pupil. High schools need specialized and advanced tools and resources that elementary schools do not, such as science and technology labs, math and science teachers, counselors and more.

That high schools consume more resources and money should be obvious. What isn’t obvious is why it has taken someone in Lansing this long to recognize it. The $50 additional per student is largely window dressing, though. On average nationwide, it costs 12 percent to 15 percent more to send a high-schooler to class than his younger siblings.

Still, it is a good idea. We hope it survives the Legislature.

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Petoskey News-Review. February 9, 2017

Don’t let sticker shock derail parking discussion

When it comes to one long-envisioned amenity for downtown Petoskey, we don’t think it’s time yet to shift the discussion into park.

In recent months, a consulting firm drew up concepts for a parking structure at the corner of Michigan and Petoskey streets. That location, known as the Darling Lot, currently provides ground-level parking, and the notion of adding structure to it has periodically entered city and downtown leaders’ conversations over the past several decades.

Cost has posed one obstacle for building on the Darling site. A decade or so ago, downtown officials had some hope for covering the expense - through a tax-capture program involving the Petoskey Pointe hotel/condominium complex that was to be built about a block away. But developers’ financial difficulties stalled the Petoskey Pointe venture before its foundation could be installed in the city block-sized hole that had been dug for it, and before associated property-tax revenues could materialize and be channeled toward parking construction.

This winter’s report from the Walker Parking firm didn’t make the hurdle of cost appear any easier to clear for the Darling project, although it did point to a less-expensive possibility for parking expansion a couple of blocks to the northeast.

In recent years, downtown officials sought to find out whether a public-private partnership might be a workable approach for the Darling structure, with taxable private spaces built along with public parking as a means of generating project revenue. Walker’s concept for this - with four tiers of parking topped by a platform that could support residential spaces - was projected to carry a price tag of $9.2 million when allowing for contingencies, but the estimate didn’t include building the housing units themselves. This approach would provide a net gain of 148 parking spaces compared to what the Darling Lot currently offers.

Walker also offered a concept for a parking-only structure on the Darling site, which would provide a net gain of 153 spaces and involve an estimated cost around $6.5 million.

With no clear plans in sight for developing the former Petoskey Pointe site at U.S. 31 - and no other major projects on the horizon in downtown that could provide an infusion of tax revenue - the Darling project doesn’t look immediately attainable. With the fund balance in the downtown parking budget hovering in the $600,000 range in recent years - and the resistance some city officials and community members have expressed toward raising parking-system fees - building the needed revenue base would likely be a challenge. And while locals sometimes advocate for putting the former Petoskey Pointe site’s hole to use for public parking, that block’s private ownership status likely wouldn’t allow for such a venture without an outside developer’s participation.

Yet parking challenges persist downtown. Space availability is often tight during the busy summer season. Additional upper-floor residential spaces have long been touted as a way to add vitality to the business district, but parking limitations pose an issue for such projects. We’d encourage further conversations among local officials about parking expansion options and longer-term strategies for achieving them.

Along with the Darling structure concepts, the recent Walker report examined a couple of approaches for creating structured parking along Lake Street across from the Emmet County Building. Working with concepts which it developed on Emmet County’s behalf in the mid-1990s, the consulting firm provided updated cost projections for these, which would involve adding one elevated level of parking to existing lots and take advantage of that area’s sloped terrain for construction.

One concept for the structure, involving one-way traffic flow and angled spaces, would cost a projected $3.8 million. With 226 spaces, this would provide a net gain of 121 from the 105 ground-level spaces currently there. Another concept, with two-way traffic flow and perpendicular space design, would include 218 spaces (for a net gain of 113) and involve a projected cost of $3.96 million. Both reflect contingency allowances as well as up-front expenses such as engineering and soil analysis.

With their more modest cost estimates, the Lake/Division parking options would be sensible to include as part of future parking exploration. With Emmet County using some of the current spaces near that corner for its own vehicles - and county employees and office visitors contributing to parking demand at that end of downtown - we’d see it as worthwhile for county officials to participate in the conversation along with their city and downtown counterparts, and for funding partnership options to be considered.

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