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'It's the right thing to do' Business group drops opposition to Chávez renaming

The Old Town Commercial Association has reversed its position and will no longer oppose the renaming of Grand River Avenue in north Lansing to César Chávez Avenue.

“As an organization, we’re going to drop our opposition to the name change and do what we can to embrace it,” Vanessa Shafer, the organization’s director, said in an interview Monday. “We want to continue to be that place where Lansing residents feel they’re welcome.”

It doesn’t mean the fight over the proposed renaming is over, but businesses and residents who oppose the proposed renaming will no longer get any cover from the OTCA, a small but tight-knit organization that has worked for years to turn the once-struggling enclave in north Lansing into a busy district of galleries, shops and businesses.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Shafer said.

“We all know it in our heart of hearts. My job is to protect businesses as best I can, but as our board came together and we started to discuss it — it’s about building up community, not being divisive. People are tired of conflict. They want to come together and build community.”

The impending fight over the Chávez renaming is the latest and most high-profile test of whether Old Town, with its increasing bustle and prosperity, had crossed a line of gentrification, drifted from its roots as a community focused on social justice and inclusion and become concerned only with the bottom line.

In an August letter to Lansing City Council, the OTCA argued against the renaming, estimating costs to 75 area businesses at $30,000 to $260,000, a figure that many proponents of the change consider to be exaggerated.

Shafer said she hopes to “shift focus,” accept the name change and work with the City Council and with the Lansing for César Chávez Committee to find ways to mitigate the cost to area businesses, through a gradual phase-in or other means.

“It is a real about-face for us, but we did some soul searching,” she said. “That’s not who I am, who we are. We have respect for everybody who comes to Old Town and to continue to take the stance that we have wouldn’t help.”

Shafer said she hopes OTCA can work with the Lansing for César Chávez Committee and City Council to focus on lessening the financial impact of the change by phasing it in gradually and in other ways.

The reversal brings OTCA’s position into line with the many signs welcoming immigrants posted on Old Town businesses, including the OTCA’s offices on Turner Street.

“With everything that’s going on right now, it’s just too divisive,” Shafer said. “We don’t want to be those people.

We’re hoping for a positive outcome on all fronts — to honor a great man and get some assistance for the businesses so they’re not put out of business.”

The OTCA has already informed members of the change in its position via closed Facebook pages, will distribute letters to its members in the next few days and is drafting a letter informing City Council of the change in its position.