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For the first time, Mayor Andy Schor has suggested Lansing could build a new City Hall. And it could be — “could” being the operative word — on the long undeveloped Seven Block property along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard behind the Capitol Complex.
Schor emphasized in an interview with City Pulse that no options have been swept from the table as plans continue.
“If it’s cheaper to redevelop, then we’ll redevelop,” Schor added. “If it’s cheaper to build, then we’ll build.”
What’s new to the public is that building a new city hall is in the mix. Until now, the focus had appeared to be entirely on moving it to an existing building.
The owner of the eight-acre Seven Block property, Sam Eyde, said last week he’s “in conversations” with city officials to offload the property and suggested the land could “do it all” in terms of its size and relatively close proximity to the downtown district.
But Schor downplayed such talk. “This wasn’t like (Eyde) was pitching me on anything in particular,” Schor emphasized. “They believe the property can do it all. And we’ll look into our best options. We contacted him to see if it’s available. He mentioned it’d be a good location for a new city hall. We’re not having in-depth conversations with anyone yet.”
Previous plans for Eyde’s property — part of the Seven Block Renaissance Neighborhood — have also stalled for years. He bought the land from the city in 1999 with the intent to build two office buildings. Protests by nearby residents led to a new mixed-use plan that included retail, but with the slowing economy in the 2000s, development stalled. The property still sits empty.
Climbing maintenance costs pushed officials to consider development proposals and explore alternative locations for City Hall. The previous Bernero administration and the City Council agreed to sell it to Beitler Real Estate of Chicago to redevelop as a hotel, with City Hall moving to the old Lansing State Journal building downtown. But Schor suspended the deal because it would not accommodate the district courts and police lockup.
The courts could be removed from the equation if court consolidation discussions among the city, East Lansing and Ingham County result in a separate facility. Schor said the other two governments appear in favor of such a plan, while the Lansing City Council has yet to be heard from.
“My biggest challenge is the cost to tax payers,” Schor said. “We’d prefer to pay off the new city hall with the price of the sale from the old city hall. We’re going to look at the costs and make sure we’re spending those dollars wisely.”
Discussions to consolidate Lansing and East Lansing’s 54-A and 54-B district courts with Ingham County’s 55th District Court have started and stalled for more than 20 years. But momentum has grown in recent months.
Ingham County commissioners were sold on the idea earlier this year. East Lansing’s City Council has since pledged its support. It needs approval by the Lansing City Council, which has not yet taken it up.
The proposal, steered by state legislation that requires buy-in from each municipality, is still largely in its conceptual stages. Officials said the merger would optimize the local justice system, erase district boundary lines and fuse three courtrooms under a regional banner. Proponents touted the deal as a way to enhance efficiency and save cash.
But besides streamlining the judicial system, the motivation to find a new city hall is driving the renewed consolidation efforts. The building continues to drain at least a half-million dollars in maintenance costs every year.
Schor also said he’d prefer to move the courtroom out of the building and find a new location for the lock-up. But those plans will only be feasible if the city decides to greenlight the courtroom consolidation. County officials have previously said they’re willing to continue with the merger with or without Lansing on board.
Schor said he remains committed to Beitler’s proposal, but only if the plan can remain financially feasible. Beitler has since told City Pulse he will likely take his investment dollars elsewhere if the Lansing plan is still stalled at the end of the year.
State Rep. Sam Singh has introduced legislation that would enable courtroom consolidation and jumpstart plans for Lansing’s City Hall. But the bill will only be able to move if the governments of each municipality pass a resolution in support of the measure. Schor said he can do that independently from the City Council.
“I’m still the mayor and we can provide a general statement of support on behalf of the city,” he added. “I’m not a big fan of setting artificial deadlines. I’d like to see this as soon as possible and we’ll continue to have these conversations. We expect this legislation will move and we’d like to see some other decisions being made.”
Former Ingham County Commission Chairwoman Carol Koenig previously said $1 million in countywide savings would be generated from a merger. Schor suggested Lansing could cut its annual costs by as much as $1.8 million. Each variation of the consolidation proposal, however, could force those figures to change, they said.