July 1 2013 12:00 AM

City’s lease agreement over soccer complex is one month shy of requiring City Council approval


This story was corrected on July 1. Because of a reporting error, the story said that Kevin Mullin is the owner of Mid-Michigan Sports Turf LLC. His wife, Julie Mullin, said she is the owner. Julie Mullin is listed as the resident agent of the LLC.

Friday, June 28 — In what seems like an obvious attempt to circumvent the Lansing City Council, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero has agreed to lease the Kenneth A. Hope Soccer Complex to a private company for 59 months — one month shy of the five-year threshold that would require Council approval.

For the past 15 years, the city has leased the complex to the county for a dollar a year.

Lansing Public Service Director Chad Gamble said skirting the Council wasn’t the intention of the 59-month lease.

“That wasn’t a goal of this,” he said. “They (Mid-Michigan Sports Turf, the private company) want to walk before they can run. We wanted to make sure they could be successful and prove their theory. That’s the main reason for that.”

A 2008 Lansing city attorney’s opinion states that any lease of real property for five or more years requires City Council approval, but the lease agreement of 59 months doesn’t fall under that umbrella.

“After not seeing the lease, not knowing the lease and not knowing enough about the parties involved, I find it disingenuous from the administration to put it one month shy from Council weighing in,” Council President Carol Wood said. “If this is a good proposal and there are benefits to the community and those involved with utilization of the Hope Soccer Complex, then adding a month to allow Council to review and weigh in would be best way to make sure this is an open and transparent policy and process.”

On June 10, Bernero sent a letter to the county saying the city would not be renewing its lease of the soccer complex with the county. The complex has been a public park operated by the county for the past 15 years. In an interview last week, Bernero said the county parks director had said they had planned on not renewing the lease.

However, on June 18, Deb Nolan, chair of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, sent a letter to Bernero saying the exact opposite.

“The Ingham County Board of Commissioners wants to renew our license agreement, allowing the County to operate the Kenneth A. Hope Soccer Complex through the end of 2013,” Nolan wrote. “As you know, the County has never taken any official action to close the complex. This extension will give the County time to plan for the continued public operation of the Hope Soccer Complex during its 2014 budget process as well as to plan for subsequent years.”

She said she never got a response to her letter.

Nolan said she was “very disappointed” that the city decided not to renew the lease.

“I’m very disappointed that it won’t be a public facility,” she said. “I hope that the new owner will be fair and equitable to all private clubs who choose to use it. It’s disappointing that the rates are going up immediately.”

The city entered into the agreement with Mid-Michigan Sports Turf for $1,000 a year, Gamble said. Julie Mullin said she owns the company and is listed as the company's resident agent. Julie Mullin co-owns Michigan Chill SBS Soccer Club, with her husband, Kevin Mullin. Michigan Chill is an East Lansing-based, private soccer club that hosts youth and young adult teams.

Like Nolan, there are concerns from other county commissioners and folks in the soccer community who fear turning the complex over to private hands may diminish the accessibility of the fields.

“The Mayor has effectively given a valuable public resource to a private enterprise. This offends the memory of Ken Hope and everything he stood for — values like inclusiveness and public recreation opportunities for everyone, especially kids,”
Ingham County Commissioner Kara Hope said in an email.

Hope’s husband, Delhi Township Clerk Evan Hope, is the nephew of the late Ken Hope.

“What's more, the Mayor talks up regionalism, but he has thrown away a great example of regional collaboration by ignoring the County's request to extend its lease with the City. Actions speak louder than words — even louder than the Mayor's words.”

Hope said the mayor giving the lease to a private company flies in the face of his recent objections to Michigan Flyer receiving a federal grant.

“I couldn't help but laugh when I read the issue of the City Pulse which included the story about the Hope Soccer Complex and the Michigan Flyer grant controversy,” Hope said. “On one page, the Mayor is unapologetic about giving Hope Soccer Complex away to a private enterprise. And on the next page, he is decrying the Flyer grant as corporate welfare. The hypocrisy is astounding.”