At long last: A city hall plan that may actually stick


The road to a new Lansing city hall has been about as smooth as most roads in Lansing and elsewhere in Michigan: full of potholes.

Preceded by decades of neglect of the current building, the Bernero administration announced in 2017 that it wanted to move City Hall to the old Lansing State Journal building at the corner of Grand Avenue and Lenawee Street on the south side of downtown. Mayor Virg Bernero picked a Chicago developer, J. Paul Beitler, to convert the 1951 newspaper building into the city’s new home and turn the current City Hall into a hotel. The latter was a victory for preservationists because of City Hall’s importance as an example of mid-century modern architecture in mid-Michigan.

That sounded great to mayoral candidate Andy Schor — until he got into office in 2018. Then he grappled with the reality that no good solution was in sight for a problem his predecessor left behind: what to do with police and courts, which the Journal building couldn’t accommodate. Schor hit the pause button.

Brad Funkhouser (left), CEO of the Capital Area Transportation Authority, at the press conference. CATA could benefit by sharing space for a new headquarters at the new city hall across the street from CATA’s downtown transit hub.
Brad Funkhouser (left), CEO of the Capital Area Transportation Authority, at the press conference. CATA could benefit by sharing space for a new …

One pandemic later, a solution emerged. The public supported Schor’s grand plan for a public safety building, under construction on Washington Avenue in south Lansing. Schor picked the Boji Group to develop a new, smaller city hall with a $40 million state grant, sans police and courts. And Schor designated the old Masonic Temple, which the Boji Group owns, as where it should go. It was a double win for preservation: The empty, century-old Masonic Temple would become a stately new city hall. And Beitler still wanted to renovate the current City Hall into an upscale hotel.

Then the City Council intervened. On March 11, as the Council met in a Committee of the Whole session, Schor’s plan appeared headed to a 7-1 victory. By the end of the night, the Council rejected it on a tie vote, led by the defection of At-Large member Jeffrey Brown.

What happened? And how did the proposed new city hall end up catty-corner from where Bernero proposed city hall go seven years ago?

In an exclusive interview with City Pulse, Schor shed some light on those issues last Thursday, a few hours after his press conference announcing the new, new, new location.

“Let’s start with we can do it immediately,” Schor said when asked about the upsides of his new plan. That’s because he doesn’t need the Council’s support to buy property, and he still has the $40 million state grant for construction. Moreover, the city attorney has told him that the Boji Group can still be the developer, which Schor confirmed it will be.

It’s understandable why he’d prioritize not needing the Council. Despite his overwhelming election to a second term in 2021, Schor has been unable to count on Council backing, whether it was over last year’s budget, when the Council overrode his veto, or when it kept him waiting a month before it approved his choice of a new city attorney this spring.

But the city hall fight was particularly frustrating because all but Ryan Kost, who represents the First Ward, were supposedly on board with the administration for once. “I think I’ve got a very good relationship with all eight,” Schor insisted. “We can respectfully disagree on things as long as we’re upfront with each other.”

And that may be, in the sense that they can talk to each other. (In contrast, Bernero and his longtime nemesis former Council member Carol Wood wouldn’t even converse in the City Hall elevator.)

But given that the Council turned against him on the Masonic Temple plan with no notice, how upfront does Schor think Council members are with him?

The old Masonic Temple, 217 N. Capitol Ave., where Schor had hoped the new city hall would go. The fate of the 100-year-old building is uncertain.
The old Masonic Temple, 217 N. Capitol Ave., where Schor had hoped the new city hall would go. The fate of the 100-year-old building is uncertain.

“Those folks caught a lot of folks off guard,” Schor replied. “That wasn’t just me. That was members of the community, that was other Council members. I can’t explain it.”

He singled out Kost as being upfront with him throughout the process. “We disagreed, but I understood.” As for the other three, “I’m not sure what they heard between votes.” He cut some slack for two of them for being new, Tamera Carter and Trini Pehlivanoglu, both just elected in November. Referring to conversations after the vote, “They told me was that they weren’t comfortable and they didn’t feel it was transparent and they were getting conflicting information,” he said.

But when asked if he trusted Brown, whose change of heart turned the tide against the Temple plan, Schor was not as generous.

“I’m not going to answer that on the record,” he said.

“It was a good try, though,” he commented on the question.


‘Infills’ and other positives

As for other pluses to the new city hall plan, Schor cited that it’s an “urban infill,” meaning Schor will win a battle against surface parking lots, a personal peeve of his. The city property has sat empty over a decade after the Council for the Arts pulled the plug on the old Center for the Arts and the Bernero administration demolished it. “We have more surface parking lots than any other city in the country,” many state owned, Schor said. With fewer people using them since the pandemic, loss of parking revenue is insignificant, he added.

The new city hall will bring hundreds of people close to historic Cherry Hill. “It will be good for that neighborhood to have more folks there,” Schor said. Another plus is its proximity to the Ovation, the city’s new performance center, property for which has been cleared on nearby Washington Square.  “It can help increase the flow and walkability in the southern downtown and really beef up Grand Avenue, which has recently been made two ways. With more people comes more retail and shops on Grand, and it’s only a block away from Washington.”

“We’ll have a new building,” Schor said as he continued down his list of pluses, unlike the 6-decade-old current City Hall or the 10-decade-old Masonic Temple. “And we’re able to get out of the old building and get that started to be repurposed, which has been on hold while we’ve been trying to figure out the new city hall building.”

Another positive is the opportunity to partner with the Capital Area Transportation Authority. CATA wanted to build a new headquarters at the same location and has asked the state for $15 million to do so. Now it can build on top of the new city hall, which is across the street from CATA’s transit hub. Then it can relocate from its remote Tranter Street offices in south Lansing. Schor predicted perhaps $10 million in construction savings, plus the city and CATA could share some facilities, like conference rooms, and services, such as IT.

The current City Hall. After a seven-year wait, the Schor administration hopes Chicago developer J. Paul Beitler will still pursue its plan to turn it into a hotel, thus preserving an important example of mid-century modern architecture.
The current City Hall. After a seven-year wait, the Schor administration hopes Chicago developer J. Paul Beitler will still pursue its plan to turn …

A political intangible that may be a plus for Schor is that he and Kost had some sort of breakthrough. Kost has been a thorn in Schor’s side since the young Councilmember’s 56-vote victory in 2022. While Kost didn’t budge from his original opposition to the Masonic Temple plan, he was the sole opponent to publicly acknowledge that the Schor administration had conducted a transparent process in selecting the Boji Group.

Kost told me the other day that the Schor had proved him wrong on the transparency issue in the weeks since the Council had rejected the Masonic Temple proposal. At the heart of the issue was whether the Granger Group, the only other developer to bid on a new city hall, had been treated fairly. Both Gary Granger and his son Jason insisted the administration had not given them equal treatment with the Boji Group, going as far as claiming in writing that the mayor had broken the law. But Kost said that the administration documented that the Granger Group had been accorded equal treatment and had failed to respond to the administration.

That was insufficient to win Kost’s vote, though. He still opposed the Masonic Temple choice on other grounds: too big, too old, too expensive. But it caused him to drop his demand for a new request-for-proposal process. Last Thursday, Kost was the only one of the four Council opponents to show up and stand beside Schor at his press conference.



While Schor led his list of pluses with “we can do it immediately,” he led his list of downsides with, “It’s going to take more time” to move in, “probably two years instead of one to one a half, because we have to restart the programming.” That’s government talk for there are no floor plans yet. “We don’t have to start from scratch, but it’ll probably take a little more time.” So, while there won’t be a repeat of the protracted fight to buy property, the city will lose time overall.

The greater distance from the Capitol is another negative, meaning fewer interactions with the legislators, whose generosity this budget year to Lansing and a mayor who came from the House of Representatives was substantial.

Another negative Schor said, was that the Lansing School District has lost an opportunity to occupy the Masonic Temple’s top two floors, which the city didn’t need. The district was apparently interested in solving its own problem with decrepit facilities by considering such a move.

A downside Schor didn’t raise was losing the opportunity to preserve the Masonic Temple. But when asked about it, he was quick to express his disappointment.

“City Hall would have been a great use. It looks like a City Hall. But I couldn’t get five people to agree. And there’s only so long we could wait before we had to move forward. I’m not interested in the Legislature trying to take the money back because they don’t think we’re using it.”

He expressed confidence that the Boji Group will find another buyer or use for the Masonic Temple, which has been empty since 2008, when Cooley Law School moved out. The city considered it a possible home for a performing arts center, especially since an auditorium occupies the top two floors. But that presented too many challenges, including the lack of an elevator to those floors. Since buying it three years ago, the Boji Group has mentioned residential use. But sources have told City Pulse that the Boji Group was eager to turn it into City Hall because of the challenge of repurposing. So, its fate remains uncertain.

Gary Granger, whose family company Granger Group, failed to convince the Schor administration to award it the bid for a new city hall after the Council defeated the Masonic Temple plan.
Gary Granger, whose family company Granger Group, failed to convince the Schor administration to award it the bid for a new city hall after the …

One result of the city hall fight is the Granger Group, which lost out to Boji, dug itself into a deep hole with the Schor administration.

Schor blamed the Granger Group for influencing Brown, Carter and Pehlivanoglu into undoing the Masonic Temple plan. “The criticism came realistically from a bidder who lost,” Schor said, without identifying it by name. “’It wasn’t transparent’ was a complaint from the losing bidder from his allegation that he wasn’t able to update his bid, which is completely false because he was offered the opportunity to update his bid and didn’t.”

The Grangers’ goal was to solve a decades-old problem by selling its downtown property at Grand and Allegan Street to the city for the new city hall. That’s where the remains of the Walter Neller Building sit, easily the city’s biggest eyesore. The Grangers let it slide into ruin to the point that a tree is growing inside of it and a window fell out of the second floor last year, narrowly missing a pedestrian. After years of efforts to get the Grangers to clean up their mess, the city finally put the Neller Building on the make-safe-or-demolish list last year.

That process still needs to play out, but one thing is clear: The Grangers made no friends in the administration while it does.



No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

Connect with us