Lansing wins $2M in state funds for a performance hall

It's "going to happen," says Lansing Mayor Andy Schor

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TUESDAY, Sept. 21 — The Lansing area will receive $2 million in state funding to go toward a future performance hall as part of the coming year's state budget.

The shot in state funding, when added to an $8 million in upfront revenue expected from the bonding of public, educational and government access (PEG) fees, is expected to give the city the $10 million needed to get the ball rolling on a 1,200-to 1,500-seat center.

"This is going to happen," said Lansing Mayor Andy Schor. "Younger and older people alike who enjoy live music won't need to drive to Grand Rapids or Detroit as much to hear it."

Discussions on where the performance hall will be located and other details will begin in earnest with the state money on the way, said Schor, adding that he hopes to have more to announce in the next few months.

The performance complex would include the Lansing Public Media Center, which has accumulated $8 million in so-called PEG fees that can be put into the project, said Dominic Cochran, the center’s director. Though operated by city government, the PEG fees are dedicated for use by the media center and cannot be spent for other city purposes.

The state funding is a big step toward some semblance of a performing arts center, a goal of successive city administrations going back to that of Mayor David Hollister, who left office in 2003. In scoring the funding, Schor has made progress toward a goal that eluded former mayors Tony Benavides and Virg Bernero as well.

The performance hall would fill a void in Lansing, which has missed out on notable concert opportunities. Outside of the annual outdoor Common Ground festival — which after declining to just one night this year has an uncertain future — there's no place to put them. The Wharton Center works well for live performances, but not a rock concert. Lansing has a dearth of concert space big enough for touring groups. Even bands with smaller followings are hard to accommodate. Once upon a time, Lansing hosted big-name groups at the old Civic Center, which was demolished in 1999. The Lansing Center took over the convention and meeting business, but it was not built for rock shows.

Legislative leaders Tuesday afternoon moved a massive $50 billion budget out of a joint House-Senate conference committee. The plan is for the House and Senate to approve the spending plan in separate votes as soon as Wednesday.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has already signed off the on budget and is expected to sign it next week.

Amendments aren't accepted this late in the budget-making process, meaning that unless the Legislature votes the whole budget down and starts over or Whitmer uses her line-item veto authority to strike the funding out, the $2 million in going through.

It's highly unlikely either will happen.

The budget-making process at the state level has become an increasingly closed-door affair in which legislators cut side deals in exchange for their votes on a final spending plan.

Being the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, has much more leverage than your average legislator. He's scored millions of dollars for the Lansing area through this process and was the impetus for this $2 million.

"The city of Lansing doesn't have a performing arts center. We used to. This is a down-payment on getting it done," Hertel said. "I was proud to stake out $2 million and I was proud to be part of that process."

A longtime goal for a performing arts center has been to provide a home for the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, which largely performs at the Wharton Center for the Performing Arts, in East Lansing.

The director of the Lansing Symphony Orchestra said Tuesday she is looking to learning more details about the hall. Courtney Millbrook said the seating capacity could accommodate the LSO, but there are other considerations, such as stage size, that would also determine if the hall would be a good fit.

Rep. Sarah Anthony also worked to get a $1 million for security cameras and heightened security around the Capitol. Lansing is also looking to get some extra money to solve cold cases.

Rep. Angela Witwer helped steer some money to Delta Township for a ladder truck.

The roughly $10 billion coming from the federal government in COVID-19 relief dollars and increased sales and income tax dollars also has legislators dealing with much money than they typically have to spend.

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