Kids in the Hall

By Sam Inglot

City Council gets its first look at the city’s new lease agreement for the Kenneth A. Hope Soccer Complex

Monday, July 8 — The Lansing City Council’s first look at the new lease agreement between the city and a private company for the Kenneth A. Hope Soccer Complex came with questions about the contract and the lessee at tonight’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

For the past 15 years, the complex has been operated by Ingham County, but the city owns the land. The county leased the property from the city for $1 a year, but that contract expires on July 27.

The city recently signed a new 59-month lease for the complex with Mid-Michigan Sports Turf LLC at $1,000 a year. The lease begins on July 28.

Tonight was the Council’s first look at the lease and the first chance for Council members to ask questions about the agreement.

There was some debate as to whether the agreement, which falls just one month shy of five years, would have required Council approval at five years. Based on a 2008 city attorney opinion, Council President Carol Wood said it should have. But City Attorney Janene McIntyre, who did not issue the 2008 opinion, said it wouldn’t have mattered.

“As I see it, whether it’s the 59 months or the 60 months,” the approval of the agreement “would be at the discretion of the mayor,” she said. She added that she would issue a formal opinion on the situation if the Council wanted. It was not clear at the meeting whether the Council will ask for it.

Randy Hannan, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s chief of staff, called the agreement an “exciting new venture” that would “take the complex to the next level.” He said that over the next several years Mid-Michigan Sports Turf would create a new artificial turf field, install lights for night games and practices and eventually build a dome that would “allow soccer and other sports to be played year round.”

Lansing Parks Director Brett Kaschinske said the company plans on making an initial $1.5 million investment in the site to add the artificial turf field. The agreement states that the field has to be built within one year of the start of the lease, he said.

Hannan said the field would help create a regional draw for tournaments, which would improve the local economy.

But the agreement, which takes what has been a publicly run complex for 15 years and hands it over to a private company, doesn’t come without some concerns.

During public comment, Jenny Metzmaker, a parent in the Lansing soccer community for the past 12 years, said she had concerns about the accessibility of the park after it was turned over to a private company.

“I’m concerned for the children and the community not being given a fair chance to use the park,” she said. She hoped that there would be “public information” regarding “someone monitoring” use of the park “so it’s fair and unbiased without discrimination.”

Kaschinske said it’s outlined in the contract that no preference be given to any soccer club for scheduling or field time. He said it requires “fair and equitable” treatment and that the city would have oversight on rates and scheduling.

The agreement includes honoring all games that are scheduled through 2013, Kaschinske said, responding to a question from Councilwoman A’lynne Boles-Robinson.

“When we met with the Soccer Advisory Board, we stated that anything on the books and paid for would be upheld,” he said.

Wood asked about soccer programs that may have had games scheduled, but for whatever reason hadn’t paid for them yet. Would they be left out of the picture?

“We promised the scheduled and paid for,” Kaschinske said. “That doesn't mean they’re out, but that doesn't mean they’re in either.” He said the city would meet with those groups, if they exist, to discuss the matter.

When asked by Council member Brian Jeffries what kind of experience Mid-Michigan Sports Turf had in operating sports complexes like this, Kaschinske said “vast experience.” He said the company had operated fields all over the country.

But after the meeting, Kaschinske said he had mistakenly referred to the wrong company. He was talking about Sports Field Contractors LLC, based in Pawnee, Ill., which is the company that will be installing the artificial turf field. Mid-Michigan Sports Turf didn’t formally register with the state until late April. He said he would clarify that issue with Jeffries and the Council.

Council regular Claude Beavers said during public comment that the Council should “look very carefully” at the lease and should work towards a way the city and county can work together to “keep this complex out of private hands.”

“This is a complex that was made possible by public monies,” he said. He called the lease agreement “another black eye against the city of Lansing.”

Wood asked about how much public money had gone into the complex.

Kaschinske said the field, which was built on a landfill, was constructed with a $744,000 Department of Natural Resources grant and a $77,000 match from the county. He said the city funds that have gone to the field total $124,000.