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Before former Capitol renovation project manager Tim Bowlin moved to warmer climates and then- Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero moved to the private sector, the two talked conceptually about moving the state Christmas tree one block east from the Capitol’s front lawn to the traffic circle at Michigan Avenue and Washington Square.
Instead of what are commonly referred to as “Virg’s Angry Red Balls” gracing the circle during the holidays, the state’s Christmas tree would adorn the circle, replacing a fountain that would adorn the circle the other 10 and a half months of the year.
“It was a joint endeavor, but the state took the lead,” Bernero said. “They brought in some of the top fountain designers and engineers from around the country. The designs were detailed, captivating and indeed breathtaking.
“Tim Bowlin properly recognized that the traffic circle is the gateway to the Capitol.”
The traffic circle is widely considered to be an underutilized cosmetic opportunity for the Capitol City. Last fall’s proposed sculptures for the space were described as “generic, emoji-like designs” that “overwhelmingly underwhelmed” those involved.
After new Mayor Andy Schor rolled out Bernero’s red ornaments as part of some yule-time spirit this past November, a driver hopped the curb right before New Year’s Eve and smashed into one of them.
Schor said he wants a permanent art piece in the traffic circle, but that’s another year or two off now. The city is updating its public art policy. When that’s done, they’ll go out to bid, he said. What will come out of that process isn’t known yet.
But a few years ago, the preliminary discussions were going in a different direction. Bowlin, who had been House Business Office manager until he took the lead in the current massive Capitol rewiring project, said he was working with Bernero, but realized quickly it would not be a state project.
State legislators were reluctant to dedicate money for a new Capitol visitor center, let alone a project a block away from the Capitol. Private funds totally in the millions of dollars would need to be raised to create a fountain/state Christmas tree arrangement.
As it turned out, the project never got to first base, let alone off first base.
“Conceptually, everything sounds great,” Bowlin said. “When you look at trying to transform a fountain into a Christmas tree, anything can be done with money.
“But putting in fountains is never cheap, and when you’re trying to find private funds for a big project like this, it can be difficult, and I have a feeling that’s one of the reasons it didn’t go anywhere.”
In the fall of 2017, Bowling retired as the manager of the Capitol renovation project. Bernero didn’t run for reelection in 2017, either. Both were out of their respective jobs by Jan. 1, 2018. The fountain/Christmas tree idea left with them.
House Clerk Gary Randall, the chairman of the state Capitol Commission, said he questions whether the project would have gotten far anyway. To move the state Christmas tree off the Capitol’s front lawn would have been a “tough sell.”
Some legislators take part in the Christmas tree’s annual selection, Randall said, and there’s a certain amount of in-district pride in its coming to the Capitol lawn every November. To move it to downtown Lansing “may or may not have been a distraction.”
“I can’t believe the commission would have been very receptive to that proposal,” Randall said. “The members view the front of Capitol lawn as the place the Christmas tree should be.”
Schor said if Capitol Commission is up for moving the tree to the circle, however, he’s all ears.
“I am open to the conversation until we have something permanent there.”
Chances Bishop runs again ‘50/50’
It’s a “50/50” shot former Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop returns to face the person who unseated him in the 8th Congressional District last fall, Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, according to Bishop political consultant Stu Sandler.
“If you look at what happened in the 7th District in 2008 and 2010, Tim Walberg lost the seat to Mark Schauer, came back and won the seat back,” Sandler said. “Mike is very popular in the Oakland County part of the district. He’d be a strong candidate if he decides to run.”
Bishop has upped his public visibility and social media presence. This week, Bishop guest-hosted Frank Beckmann’s show on WJR.
(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service IRS is at email@example.com.)