Would you support a four-story music and arts studio off South Washington in downtown Lansing? How about a training center at the former Sears in Frandor where people can learn everything from video production to employee wellness training?
A spruced-up Michigan Avenue? Trails that connect Lansing’s River Trail to trails in Eaton and Clinton counties? A pedestrian walkway from the Grand Avenue parking garage to Impression 5?
These requests and a lot more are on the table.
Led by the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, a coalition of businesses and public interests are asking state government to invest heavily in the city it calls home. They are asking the state Legislature — whose spending committees are now chaired by Lansing-area leaders — for $530 million to tackle projects that are both flashy and dull.
The argument for the money is this:
Lansing has been Michigan’s capital city for the last 175 years, and, at least in the last several years, many would argue that it hasn’t gotten much for it.
It provides the police, fire and roads for state government, but it gets little in the way of direct revenue from the state, unlike other capital cities in other states.
Thousands of state employees working for departments and agencies downtown used to keep some Washington Avenue lunch spots and after-work taverns afloat. Then COVID made state government mostly a collection of nomadic employees.
The state doesn’t pay local property taxes to the city. Unlike forestland, there isn’t even a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes option for the city. An estimated $4.67 million a year is lost by city government, which can collect income tax on the state employees, as long as they’re still classified as working in Lansing.
Now, in 2023, state government is flush with surplus money, a little more than $7.5 billion at last count. The people who decide where that money goes — Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sarah Anthony and House Appropriations Committee Chair Angela Witwer — are from the Lansing area.
As far as Lansing goes, it’s really now or never.
Steve Japinga from the Lansing chamber helped pull together an enormous wish list that looks like this:
First up is a $100 million “Making It Grow Here Fund” to clean up brownfield sites, help finance affordable housing and generally make Lansing look like a great place to locate a business with strong childcare, broadband, transit, etc.
The Lansing Center has $30.5 million in upgrade requests. Delta Township’s Wastewater Treatment Plant needs $84 million, and that’s just for starters. The Lansing Board of Water & Light needs $50 million. Lansing’s airport wants $9.4 million to improve its roads.
“I can say that we’ve looked at several of the requests in the proposal, but nothing is final,” Anthony told me. “In addition to those items, there are other Lansing-area needs that focus on human services and community development that are priorities for members of the Capital Caucus. Nothing is final.”
There are a lot of other requests from a lot of other people. Witwer has stressed throughout the budget process that the state “has to be responsible” with its money. That said, creating vibrant communities and urban cores are a priority for her.
Up to now, the House’s budget included several pieces from the list. They put in $5 million in federal money for a Lansing Center renovation.
The aforementioned training innovation center in Frandor has $10 million set aside — less than the $15 million requested, but better than nothing.
Money for some housing projects, like revamping the Walter French school building, is in that budget.
Lansing could always take advantage of $100 million for a Community Downtown Economic Development Program. There’s another $100 million for a “Regional Empowerment Zone.”
Japinga concedes he’s not expecting all $530 million in next year’s state budget, plus an annual $4.67 million directed to Lansing from the state to cover the costs of providing municipal services.
But, of course, you can’t get what you don’t ask for.
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