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Plans to replace Lansing’s aging City Hall are gaining steam after being stalled almost a year.
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor declared a moratorium in February on plans that the Bernero administration had approved because they did not include space for courts or a police lockup.
“We’re getting to the point right now where because court consolidation is still up in the air, we may just have to plan for a new city hall with the courts,” Schor said last week.
Schor has kept his options open as regional efforts to consolidate district-level courtrooms gain momentum. Before plans could ever be hatched for a new city hall, officials needed to first decide where to house the 54A District Court and the Police Department lockup that share space in the building, he said.
But as lame duck legislation to unify the courts moves along in the Senate, Schor has grown increasingly willing to consider construction plans long before officials ever decide what to do with the justice system. Besides, a developer wants to lock down plans of his own for the aging building — and that also plays a role in the urgency.
Schor inherited a plan from his predecessor, Virg Bernero, to allow Chicago developer Beitler Real Estate to renovate the old Lansing State Journal into a new city hall and turn the current City Hall into a first-class hotel.
In October, Schor allowed that Lansing could build itself a new city hall on the long-undeveloped Seven Block Property along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard behind the Capitol Complex, among other potential locations.
Property owner Sam Eyde said Tuesday he remains eager to sell the city the property. He said, though, that there have been no discussions.
Meanwhile, efforts continue to consolidate the Lansing, East Lansing and Mason district court into a countywide system in a new location. The House has passed a consolidation measure sponsored by state Rep. Sam Singh of East Lansing. The Senate has yet to act.
Under the bill, regional officials would have nearly a year to come up with a plan for courtroom consolidation. The potential merger wouldn’t take effect until 2020. Plans have also surfaced for a courtroom complex that could eventually handle caseloads for both cities of Lansing and East Lansing.
Schor said if the consolidation occurs, construction plans could be altered before shovels hit the dirt to cut out space for a courtroom or for the police department lock-up. Undecided proposals to shift the county’s jail north from Mason could also alleviate the city’s need to run its own lockup from inside its city hall, he said.
“If something changed during the construction plans, we could just amend them as we go,” Schor added.
Meanwhile, Chicago-based developer J. Paul Beitler is still eyeing Lansing’s existing City Hall for a luxury hotel. He previously said he wants to lock down plans by January or else he’ll likely take his development to another city. And Schor said that developmental pressure is a “factor” in his increased willingness to move on City Hall.
“It’s a factor, but we’re not going to go anywhere with a gun to our heads,” Schor said.
“We’ll make the best decisions going forward based on what’s best financially and what’s right for our city and our citizens.”
Beitler has stressed that time was running out to step back on the gas because of concerns about rising interest rates that could make the plan cost prohibitive.
Reached for comment this week, Beitler said, “Until I hear something from the city, it’s hard to say that I’m interested,” Beitler added. “This new administration has been seated for a year since we were told we’d be able to move ahead with this project. We still haven’t heard anything. It’s hard for us to make any plans around plans that don’t really exist.”
In a related development, residents on Lansing’s south side — after hearing about the potential for the city to construct a new building — have since drawn a blueprint of their own. And at least a few think they’ve landed on the perfect location for a new city hall facility: McLaren Greater Lansing’s soon-to-be-vacant hospital along Greenlawn Avenue.
McLaren officials earlier this year announced plans to cease operations at that campus and another hospital building on Pennsylvania Avenue as it merges into a larger complex near Michigan State University, for which ground was just broken. And no formal announcements have been made regarding any redevelopment at the massive, 700,000 square-foot site.
“It’s in great shape,” said Kerby Rials, who lives near the McLaren hospital. “It’s ADA-compliant. It has a helipad. It has radar towers for the police. It has wide corridors. It has plenty of space; too much space really. There’s a parking ramp and a lot out front. It’s really everything that the current City Hall is not.”
Rials and his neighbors have since banded together as the “McLaren Revitalization Committee” to help catch the city’s attention. The last thing Lansing’s south side needs is another vacant building, Rials said. And he doesn’t want the city to miss an economic opportunity.
“It’s a better opportunity. It’s a better location for parking,” Rials added. “There is plenty of room for expansion. It would be a center for local government. Why not do it? If they bulldoze the building, it could cost millions of dollars. The building is in great condition. Why not work together to save money on both ends?”
Schor said officials at McLaren have promised to either repurpose both buildings or tear them down and convert them to green space. He, too, is concerned about leaving empty buildings in local neighborhoods but doesn’t expect Rials’ idea to ever come to fruition. After all, “there are a lot of people with a lot of ideas,” Schor said.
And redeveloping the building into a new city hall could cause massive, neighborhood traffic jams, he added.
“McLaren owns those buildings and they’re going to try to repurpose them,” Schor said, noting that he still prefers a downtown location. “There would be challenges to putting city hall in that location. We have no idea what the costs would be to develop there. There are several benefits to having city hall in a commercial area.”
Officials at McLaren Greater Lansing couldn’t be reached for comment on the neighborhood suggestion.
“We must have an affordable option first and foremost,” Schor said. “We have redevelopment options as well as options that do not involve redevelopment. Many of the redevelopment ideas are tremendously expensive.” He also noted the need to “navigate the impact to taxpayer dollars that could be involved in such a redevelopment.”
“I am hoping not to have to spend much (or any) in taxpayer dollars to make this happen,” Schor emphasized.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to more accurately reflect the city's conceptual plans to construct a new city hall and to further elaborate Schor's concerns regarding moving the facility to a southside neighborhood.