‘Warp speed’ on Red Cedar

By Andy Balaskovitz

Mayor Virg Bernero on Red Cedar approval; EFM defeat; and a pledge to not seek reelection if Lansing, East Lansing and Lansing Township merge

Thursday, Nov. 8 — What started out as excitement to redevelop the former Red Cedar Golf Course evolved into a criticism of Gov. Rick Snyder’s urban agenda, which was underscored by the repeal Tuesday of the state’s Emergency Financial Manager law.

In an interview on “City Pulse on the Air” Wednesday, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero discussed Tuesday’s election results on the authorization of selling up to 48 more acres of the Eastside golf course and voters’ repeal of Snyder’s EFM law.

Bernero said the Red Cedar redevelopment, led by the team of Chris Jerome and Joel Ferguson, will now go into “warp speed,” after voters approved the sale of additional land 68 percent to 32 percent.

“Now developers can put skin in the game, so to speak,” Bernero said, referring to the fact that generally developers want to know if public land will be sold before pursuing specific plans.

While the ballot language authorizes the city to sell “up to” 48 acres of additional parkland — voters authorized the sale of 12.5 acres along Michigan Avenue a year ago — Bernero said “in the ballpark” of around 20 acres will most likely be sold because of plans to preserve the riverfront on the south side of the course.

He was unsure about a timetable for redevelopment.

More broadly, Bernero called the redevelopment part of a bigger effort to “create our own economic stimulus” in the city by spurring job growth and development. Shedding surplus city-owned property may very well be a recurring theme moving forward.

“There’s no sense in us holding on to surplus property, especially in tough economic times like this,” he said.

In other election results, Bernero said he was “glad” to see voters repeal the EFM law Tuesday, which lost by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin. While he said the law was not entirely bad, “Now the Legislature and the governor can go back to the drawing board.”

Bernero believes the law would be more useful if it gave mayors the same powers as emergency managers and the right of first refusal. “You’re not gonna fix cities with a law that just puts a czar in charge of the mess,” he said. “They’ll be able to fix the mess but won’t be able to fix the cities.”

He added that the fundamental problem with Michigan cities — such as Saginaw, Flint, Pontiac and Detroit — is the “structure of government” and particularly how they are funded. “Unless you fix that, what you’re doing is window dressing. You’re really just dancing around the issue.

“Our cities are dying. Too many of our cities are once-great cities and we’re losing population because of it. … I’m challenging the governor to do more than simply train emergency managers. That’s not an urban agenda.”

The problem is exacerbated, Bernero said, as development is encouraged to take place outside of urban cores. Regionalizing services should take place in Michigan as it has in Madison, Wis., Indianapolis, Denver and Louisville, Ky., he said.

“This separatism is costing us — this byzantine, parochial system we have is costing us,” he said, referring to the state’s township system.

Imagine, Bernero thought, if East Lansing, Lansing and Lansing Township were all merged together. “By God, this city would be hopping. … Hell, they share the same name, why not share the same government?

Bernero, who has already said he will seek re-election next year, declared: “I will absolutely commit: If you simply merge Lansing, East Lansing and Lansing Township, you will have a behemoth of a city. You will have an economic engine and I will get out. I’ll be gone. … I’m running for mayor until we merge. When we merge, I am gone.”

You can listen to the full interview here.