The Edit

The rocky road to a new City Hall


At long last, the journey to a new home for Lansing’s municipal government appears to be in the home stretch. After a divided City Council rejected Mayor Andy Schor’s proposal to transform downtown’s historic Masonic Temple into the new city hall, Schor regrouped and last week rolled out his plan to build a structure on the city-owned parking lot directly across from CATA’s downtown transit center on Grand Avenue. Having already secured a $40 million state grant for the project, Schor has set the stage for a celebratory groundbreaking that hopefully will mark the final chapter in a long-running civic drama. 

Of the four City Council members who voted against the Masonic Temple plan, First Ward representative Ryan Kost led the charge by challenging the transparency of Schor’s RFP process and arguing that the Masonic Temple is too big, too expensive and too old to serve as the new city hall. When the mayor’s proposal came up for a Council vote, Kost was unexpectedly joined by Council members Jeffrey Brown, Tamera Carter and Trini Pehlivanoglu.  

After the vote, the anti-Masonic group called for a new Request for Proposals, which the mayor quickly and wisely rejected on the grounds that a redo would undermine the integrity of the city’s RFP process. Instead, Schor doubled down, sending a stern letter to the four wayward Council members that defended the city’s RFP process and rejected their claims that it lacked transparency. 

To his credit, Councilmember Kost accepted the mayor’s proof that the process was fair and transparent and even stood up with him last week when he announced his new plan. With Kost on board, it appears more likely that Schor will get the five votes he needs to make the project happen. 

That said, we remain perplexed by the motives of the other three Council members who continued to oppose the Masonic Temple plan, even though they indicated they supported it right up to their votes. Although we disagree with the reasons Kost voted against the Masonic Temple plan, he has been clear and transparent about his opposition. 

The same cannot be said for Brown, Carter and Pehlivanoglu, whose collective intransigence and unexpected flip-flop upended a perfectly sensible plan. We hope their opposition was not driven by pressure or undue influence by a competing developer who wanted to snag the city hall project after losing out in the RFP process. We also hope they will get on board with Schor’s new plan.  

After all, there’s much to like about Schor’s new proposal. While we are enthusiastic proponents of adaptive reuse that breathes new life into historically significant buildings, there is also something to be said for a fresh build that includes all the modern conveniences and efficiencies one expects from a public facility that’s built to last. We encourage the mayor and his development team to make sure the new structure is designed with all due consideration for green building principles, perhaps even aiming for a LEED certification. City leaders should also explore federal funding opportunities available through President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act to power the new building with renewable energy. 

One of the most thrilling upshots of the deal is the possibility that Chicago-based real estate developer J. Paul Beitler will move forward with his visionary proposal to transform the current City Hall into a much-needed downtown hotel. Beitler’s wildly compelling plan would rescue and repurpose the old City Hall — a historically significant example of mid-century modern architecture — and bring new vitality to a pivotal downtown location in the shadow of the Capitol. 

We’re also excited by the notion of co-locating city services alongside CATA’s administrative and customer service teams. The public transit provider hopes to occupy several floors of the new building and has asked the state Legislature for funding to facilitate the move. CATA’s current headquarters on Tranter Street on the city’s southeast side is inconvenient for the public and largely inaccessible to the agency’s riders. Moving downtown, directly across from its transit hub on Grand Avenue, is a smart move that will pay dividends for years to come. 

Mayor Schor’s administration seems to be hitting its second-term stride. Space has been cleared for the Ovation, a long-needed downtown performance space. Demolition is underway at the former Washington Street Armory, where the new home of 54-A District Court, the Lansing Police Department and the city lockup will soon take shape. Adding a new city hall to the mix ensures that Lansing’s municipal government will operate from modern facilities that should last for the next 50 years. And with more attention to maintenance than has been paid to the current City Hall, hopefully much longer. 



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