Improved safety to be focus of officials
As East Lansing moves toward a new phase of comprehensive planning and development, city officials are striving toward creating a safer and more diverse downtown that will entertain and retain students while they are at MSU and after they graduate.
In comments made to the State News editorial board Oct. 1, City Manager George Lahanas noted several city efforts to make the community a more welcoming place for its students and long-term residents. He also touched on opening up the doors for community suggestions as the city begins its latest comprehensive planning process.
One major concern on the minds of city staff is the continued safety of its residents. In the wake of four alleged sexual assaults police say were committed by 26-year-old Oswald Scott Wilder between March 30 and May 16, East Lansing police Chief Juli Liebler told The State News that safety on the streets has become even more of a priority.
“We take this very seriously,” she said. “I can’t promise you it won’t happen again, but if it does, I promise you we will work as hard as we can to solve it.”
In addition to putting more officers on duty during the past Welcome Week, the force has implemented undercover cops to look for suspicious activity and combat potentially dangerous situations.
“We do a lot to keep the community safe,” she said.
But Liebler said safety in downtown areas extends beyond fighting crime. She said a proposed ordinance brought forward by city staff that could cap the downtown occupancy for establishments serving alcohol past midnight also aims to keep people safe in the early hours of the morning.
“People are looking to get in and get the most amount of alcohol for the least amount of money, and that’s what we are concerned about,” she said. “I don’t think if you build more bars, you’re going to get more people.”
Since 2007, the downtown occupancy for alcohol serving establishments open after midnight has increased 20 percent, Lahanas said. None of the current establishments would be affected by the proposal.
“We don’t want to cut anything off, we’re not going to be a place where students don’t want to go. It’s a college town — there are going to be plenty of places for people to go.” he said.
As the city moves forward with its comprehensive plan, Lahanas said a main goal of city staff is to retain students after they graduate by diversifying living, dining and entertainment options downtown. He said a vibrant downtown is key to keeping MSU graduates and other young professionals in East Lansing.
“You want to have people come downtown and do something different,” he said.
Lahanas said retaining MSU talent is becoming a problem for East Lansing and is something city officials are working on resolving.
“It kind of gets to the issue that young people want to live a urban downtown lifestyle. … I think Michigan communities are a little late on getting that message,” he said. “Michigan is great at educating people … but they lose too many people elsewhere.”
This October, city staff are hosting a series of events inviting students and residents to comment on ways the city could improve in the future.