May 4 2010 12:00 AM

An aggregation of Lansing government happenings

Mayor Virg Bernero’s administration is asking the City Council approve a plan to spend $350,000 to create a city-run TV production studio at the former Holmes Street School.

Deputy Chief of Staff Randy Hannan gave the details during a Monday night budget hearing for City TV, the city’s government access channel. The funds would come from a fee the city collects from local cable providers for their use of public land for cable television infrastructure.

The facility is part of the administration’s overall plan to create an Office of Community Media. The OCM would be an amalgam of all channels of local cable access TV — public, educational and government (PEG). Lansing also collects money in two forms from local cable providers — Comcast, AT&T and Arialink — for use of the public right of way to run cable: PEG fees and franchise fees. The city has $1.2 million in franchise fees and has budgeted $600,000 for PEG fees to run the new Office of Community Media for the upcoming fiscal year.

The $350,000 facility could be used by the public to produce its own shows (the public access channel has been on life support since Comcast moved Lansing’s public access studio out in 2007) and to train the public in video production. The Cable Advisory Board would dole out the remaining $250,000 in grant grants to people in the community that want to produce cable access programming.
At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries asked Hannan why Lansing was not attempting a regional cable access model, which is used by other communities that have successful cable access programs.
Meridian Township intends to go live with a regional government channel this summer and on April 20 passed a resolution pledging 2 percent of its PEG funds to a regional media channel.

Hannan told Jeffries that a regional channel would take longer to get off the ground than if Lansing did its own. He said that there are issues like funding, politics and operations that would take a while to sort out.

Hannan said the Office of Community Media could be up and running at the Holmes Street School by July.

The Council moved its budget, including City TV, internal audit, and general Council funds, to “budget wrap-up,” which has been described as a sort of “holding cell” for individual budget items before they are passed by the Council.  

Knapps public hearings set

Next Monday, May 10, Council will have two public hearings on incentives to get the Knapp’s redevelopment project up and running. Council will also vote on the two hearings that same night.

The first public hearing deals with changing this fiscal year’s plan for the Community Development Block Grant (a pot of money given to the city every year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Lansing got about $2.1 million this fiscal year), the HOME grant (HUD funding for building, buying or rehabbing housing stock for low income people) and the Emergency Shelter Grant Funds. The reason for the change is to allow for the city to apply for a $5.4 million loan from HUD (a section 108 loan), which will fund part of the Knapp’s rehab.

None of the CDGB, HOME or shelter money is going to be diverted for the Knapp’s rehab. However, if the Knapp’s developer — the Eyde Co. — defaults on the $5.4 million loan, CDGB money will be used to pay it back. Also, if the Eyde Co. defaults on the loan, the city will hold first mortgage — that means that it will take possession of the building, which will have an estimated value of $22 million.
The second public hearing deals with the city’s actual application for the Section 108 grant plus an application for a $2 million Brownfield Economic Development Initiative grant. The city will use the Brownfield grant to pay the interest on the first few years of the Section 108 loan.

Other incentives coming up

In other incentive news, the Council will soon decide on two tax incentive programs for developer Pat Gillespie’s redevelopment of the Marshall Street Armory. Gillespie wants to turn the building into a space for nonprofits and is applying for a Brownfield redevelopment plan (where cleanup of contamination of the site can be reimbursed through a sort-of tax savings account), and an obsolete property rehabilitation certificate, which can freeze taxes for up to 12 years on improvements.

Uncle John’s Fruit House plans coming to … fruition

St. John’s Uncle John’s Cider Mill is coming to the City Market, and it wants to install a wine-tasting area. The Council has been put on notice that Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery LLC is applying for a wine-tasting-room license from the state.

According to plans submitted to the Council, Uncle John’s will offer sale and tasting of wines and hard ciders in a roped-off area, much like what’s offered at the St. John’s location.