Laying the Groundwork
Officials in the process of reviewing, revamping E. Lansing's long-term strategy
As East Lansing officials look back on a week of public participation to help plan the direction of the city for the next five years, the question now is what comes next.
The comprehensive planning week aimed to provide the public with opportunities to work with city officials to discuss and plan how they want the city to look economically and structurally.
The week featured several city-sponsored events where members of the community met with officials in settings other than a government building, such as the kick-off Bigger Picture Open House at the Hannah Community Center, which featured guest speaker Lou Glazer, workshops at (SCENE) Metrospace and a Brew & Do event at Dublin Square Irish Pub.
The highlight event was DTN Management Co.‘s second design charrette on the Park District project at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.
Now that events have concluded, city officials are sifting through the information they received and planning to make changes where needed.
“We’re going to start over the next couple of weeks to synthesize all the feedback we got,” City Manager George Lahanas said. “We got a lot of feedback, and that is what you want, but now we have to distill the feedback and put it into usable chunks of information that we can respond to.”
The planning week explored issues ranging from the height of buildings to major development projects. The issues discussed will affect the city long past the development window the plan addresses.
Changing the downtown
One of the major changes on East Lansing’s horizon is the development of the Park District Project on the city’s west side. The proposed building site has vacant properties currently, and once was the development site of the failed City Center II project.
That project failed after developers had difficulty obtaining proper financing and meeting certain city funding evaluations.
The Park District Project, on the other hand, is a face-changing overhaul that looks to provide a mixed-use, $105 million addition to the same west side of the downtown. It would look to provide dining, hotel and retail options.
The project also aims to provide East Lansing with what the City Center II project did not.
“You didn’t get a lot of these in the past,” Dublin Square owner Paul Vlahakis said during the first charrette, held Sep. 30. “There certainly wasn’t a charrette process for the City Center II project. When stuff like this isn’t brought forward, you get a lot of push-back.”
The second charrette was held Oct. 16 at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum and provided the opportunity for residents to use blocks and map out what they envisioned the final project to look like.
DTN Vice President Colin Cronin said the second charrette brought more people than the first charrette in September.
“I’m guessing a little over 100 people showed up,” he said in a previous interview. “It’s a good tie-in to work with (the students). … It’s very positive for student input.” he said.
East Lansing City Councilmember Kevin Beard praised the charrette as one of the most important events of the week.
“It gave people a very tactual, tangible way to look, feel and gain an appreciation for the project,” he said.
Keeping Michigan talent in Michigan
One of the city’s top priorities is keeping the academic talent studying at MSU in the city post graduation, as opposed to relocating to another city.
To learn more about how to do this, community members and city officials saw a presentation from Michigan Future Inc. Founder and President Lou Glazer during the week’s kick-off open house. Glazer has done extensive research on the “brain drain” epidemic that is taking people from college towns like East Lansing.
The presentation explored why young people want to live in large cities such as Chicago or Minneapolis as opposed to East Lansing.
“It kind of gets to the issue that young people want to live (an) urban, downtown lifestyle … I think Michigan communities are a little late on getting that message,” Lahanas said in a previous interview with The State News. “Michigan is great at educating people … But they lose too many people elsewhere.
“A compelling part of that event was hearing Mr. Glazer speak about what keeps cities and urban regions competitive and not competitive, and I took it as a call to action. We have to make sure we are creating a place that talent wants to stay.”
In recent weeks, a new branch of insurance company Jackson National Life opened up in the former site of the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Grand River Avenue. Officials hope the new branch will keep more MSU graduates in East Lansing through jobs.
Mayor Diane Goddeeris said MSU makes East Lansing a place where significant growth is possible.
“Our community is one of those communities that is blessed with having a university, so that is where the potential for growth is really high,” she said. “Hearing him (Lou Glazer) talk about that and what a urban area would look like in this community was good.”
Now that the public has spoken about their ideas for what they want the city to look like, the burden falls on the members of city council and the steering committee to hatch out a plan for the city moving forward.
One theme was the public did their job of showing up and giving input.
“It really allowed people to learn about the city, look at it from a different perspective, put on their thinking caps and feed information back to the staff and consultants,” Beard said. “It’s the kind of exercise people don’t usually go through.”
Goddeeris said the diversity of events helped get as many people out to give their opinions as possible.
“I think it was a diverse group of participants and each event had a different population which was the target of these events,” she said. “I think it allowed for a lot of thought provoking discussion.”
Lahanas said although he was happy about the public participation, the goal always is to get more input from residents.
“Certainly we are pleased with the amount of input — you always want more, but between the input we got during the week (and) the participation from the steering committees I was pleased.” he said. “I think it is off to a very good start.”
But the city’s work is far from over, he said.
“It’s hard to say what we got out of this yet,” he said. “I don’t want to jump the gun and say, ‘This is what I think the answers are,’ because it is kind of like we put out a lot of surveys. We need some time to see how it all falls into place.”