March 13 2013 12:00 AM

Highlighting Lansing’s newfound economic development prowess, another official backs consolidation concept


Friday, Dec. 7 — The president and CEO of a regional economic development agency joined the chorus of officials today who support the concept of consolidating area units of government with the city of Lansing.

Bob Trezise, speaking today at a luncheon hosted by the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council, was asked by an audience member his thoughts on consolidating East Lansing, Lansing and Lansing Township, as was proposed recently by Mayor Virg Bernero.

“He is profoundly right,” said Trezise, who heads the Lansing Economic Area Partnership. “We would be better off being one big city.”

Trezise called it an “elephant in the room kind of question.” About five years ago at a Chamber of Commerce event, Trezise recalled when Bernero first proposed the idea.

“I think the mayor shocked everyone about five years ago. He said if East Lansing and Lansing combined, it wouldn’t be twice the city, it’d be 10 times the city,” Trezise said, echoing a statement Bernero made recently to City Pulse. “It’s the most profound statement I’ve heard in 20 years doing economic development.”

Moreover, Trezise believes it’s a “big mistake” to get caught up in debates about details of sharing services and potential affects on property tax rates. “I think the mayor had it philosophically right.”

“The fact is, we’d be bigger — and bigger is better in global competition,” he said.

City Pulse explored the topic in a Nov. 28 cover story, which was met with opposition by a few officials in Lansing Township and East Lansing. Lansing Township Supervisor Kathleen Rodgers countered that township residents would never support a plan that could double their property tax rates — the township’s is around 8 mills; the city’s is just below 20 mills. East Lansing Councilman Nathan Triplett says smaller, incremental steps toward shared services is more realistic than complete consolidation.

The topic was also discussed in recent episodes of “City Pulse on the Air.” Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing joined Triplett and Rodgers in an episode that aired Sunday; former Lansing Mayor David Hollister — who also supports the concept — was the interview guest this week. That episode airs on Sunday in Lansing and Meridian Township (audio is available here).

But while Trezise supports the idea in concept, he’s skeptical that the political will from the three parties will achieve the vision. “It’s not going to happen, by the way,” he said.

Trezise’s talk today largely highlighted the region’s recent economic development success. He pointed to several area projects — the Knapp’s Center redevelopment; the Ottawa Power Station restoration; the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum; and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, to name a few — that suggest Lansing is at a “tipping point.” Such projects should cure the region of its “self-esteem problem,” in which some try to compare Lansing with areas like Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Madison, Wis., and Indianapolis. “Let’s wake up for a minute — our major assets are unbelievable,” he said.

And he defended the use of tax incentives for some of these larger developments: “They make these projects a go.”

Projects like the Knapp’s and power station redevelopment are a far cry from the way economic development happened in the 1990s, Trezise said, when there was a “mass leakage from primarily the city of Lansing.”

“Urban sprawl stopped in 2008,” he said, “and I don’t think it will make a comeback.”