Senate aspirations for Rep. Robert Dean hit a major snag in today’s Grand Rapids Press. Chris Knape shed more light on the opaque real estate deal that is Hangar 54, revealing not only that Rep. Dean has intervened on behalf of the developers, but that his chief of staff, Noah Seifullah has long-standing ties with the owner of the property, Jack Buchanan Jr.
And this wasn’t the first time for the trio of Seifullah, Dean and developer Buchanan. Other projects included a failed development of the old Imperial Screw plant, and a proposed redevelopment of the now-demolished Iroquois Middle School.
The story goes into the ins and outs of the deal, but the short hand is that owner (Buchanan) and the developer valued the property at $45 million in a land contract purchase. This in turn put them in line for a $10 million incentive payment from Lansing. But in the meantime, the contractors are left swinging in the wind waiting for the payment. And of course, no paperwork. It is the classic sweetheart development deal, with the added touch of friends helping friends.
With no documentation, the deal looked suspicious. Rep. Dean’s intervention to get the State to release the incentive payment makes him look as if he, too, is party to the deal. That would be surprising if he were, but the impression remains, all the more if the Attorney General begins an investigation. And this is deadly for Dean. At a time when the stories of corruption roll out of Detroit, the last thing he needs is appearance that he will do the bidding on behalf of his friends. To solve the crisis in Lansing will take a very stiff backbone. This is not a good sign.
The bigger picture
As the Iroquois deal suggests, this isn’t the first time that politicians and developers have eyed buildings in the community for “redevelopment.” There was the proposed sale of Indian Trails golf course as a possible home to Meijer; and the proposed sale of City Hall for a hotel project. These deals keep coming up. Invariably they blend two aspects: the fiscal conservativism of politicians looking for some fiscal out, and the itch of some developer.
Even after the failed sale of City Hall, others still look at the property. The latest has been Bing Goei, candidate for the State House 75. The answer for the City’s fiscal woes? Sell the property. Move City services to some abandoned or underused property. Given the trouble that Dean is currently in, it does make one wonder: who is blowing in Bing’s ear?