Although the East Lansing work week was shortened to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the City and school district each held multiple meetings this week. The ELi Team brings you a rundown of what happened.
Covered by Alice Dreger
The Marketing Committee of the Downtown Management Board (DMB) met on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at 4 pm and talked about the continued uncertainty ahead and how to support local businesses that are in danger of going under. One concern is that annual festivals this year may again be disrupted. A suggestion was made that the City plan right now for socially-distanced concert spaces – like moving outdoor concerts to Valley Court Park, where it is easier to space out than in the Ann Street Plaza.
The DMB also talked about the work by PR firm Piper & Gold and to what extent that has (or has not) helped bring customers downtown. Jim Croom noted that ELi has been steadily publishing a Spend Locally series, and asked how to get more of that kind of push and also how to encourage more local business leaders to attend DMB meetings.
The ongoing placemaking project was also a subject of conversation, as was the downtown gift card program (read more here) and the online Downtown East Lansing app. At meetings later in the week, we learned that the placemaking crowdsourcing has raised about $33,000 towards the $50,000 goal and that about $7,700 has been spent on local businesses through the gift card program. The $33,000 raised for the crowdsourcing project includes $25,000 in City funds.
Covered by Andrew Graham
City Council on Tuesday denied an application by Gateway of East Lansing (a DTN subsidiary) to modify the site plan and Special Use Permit at 300 Grand River Ave. to convert vacant first-floor retail space into six residential units. The vote was 2-2 — Council member Ron Bacon was not present at the meeting — with Mayor Aaron Stephens and Council member Dana Watson voting to approve and Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg and Council member Lisa Babcock voting against. (To pass, an item needs to get a majority of a quorum.)
Watson supported the conversion to the residential units as two of the six would have been dedicated to low-income housing. Gregg and Babcock voted against, citing their desire to see retail space be filled at that property. Gregg has indicated she believes that DTN should drop the rent price until it fills.
The request had been before various City bodies for many months, including being discussed at multiple meetings of the Planning Commission and DDA. According to DTN representatives and City staff, numerous potential commercial tenants have been put off by an hours restriction put in place on the retail space by Council when that body approved the project and granted it tax incentives in 2015.
Using the consent agenda, Council approved an extension to the downtown mask mandate, allocated nearly $35,000 more to the Employee Homeownership Program, and approved three items to make improvements and repairs to public parks and trails — two contracts and an increased allocation of funding from the Ingham County Trails Millage — worth more than $1 million dollars.
Covered by Emily Joan Elliott
At the Wednesday Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission meeting, the commissioners heard an update on multiple projects from Wendy Longpre, the Assistant Director of Parks, Recreation, and Arts. According to Longpre, the updates to White Park Nature Area and the nearby trails are almost entirely complete. And, as ELi reported in October, the work on Bailey Park has also been completed.
Other major renovations to parks and trails are scheduled for this summer.
The City plans to repair cracked pavement along the Northern Tier Trail from July through October, and the repairs may include moving parts of the trail away from nearby drains.
The Aquatic Center will be closed this summer for repairs to the liner, gutters, waterslides, and concrete. Director of Parks, Recreation, and Arts Tim McCaffrey said that the Aquatic Center cannot reopen without these repairs and the continuation of the pandemic would have made it difficult to open the center this summer.
The Softball complex will also receive shaded dugouts and some other improvements thanks to a donation from the East Lansing Baseball Club. Concrete repairs will be covered by the income tax.
Patriarche Park’s restrooms and pavilion will be remodeled this March through June. The new restrooms will consist of four all-gender units. The City had also applied for Natural Resource Fund and Recreation Passport grants to reconstruct the courts for tennis, pickleball, and basketball at Patriarche Park, but only received money for the tennis and pickleball courts, which will be rebuilt sometime in 2022. The basketball court may receive repairs through other funding streams.
For a previous description of these proposed renovations, click here.
Covered by Alice Dreger
For information on this meeting, please click here to read our Friday feature article about what we learned at that meeting about the deal with River Caddis on the Evergreen properties. (That report incorporates salient points from the DDA’s Executive and Finance Committee meeting, which met the same day.)
Covered by Heather Brothers
The Arts Commission met Thursday evening for its first meeting of 2021. Allie Siarto, Benjamin Van Dyke, and Barbara Worgess were welcomed as new commissioners. Laura Scales and Wendy Sylvester-Rowan held on to the Chair and Vice Chair positions respectively.
In continuing efforts to draw residents to downtown businesses, the Commission detailed a public arts project involving 15 East Lansing storefronts. Through the end of February, these stores will display digital photography from students of East Lansing High School. Then, the stores will house art from local elementary students. The projects will move from the businesses to the MAC street garage when their rotation is complete, in an attempt to “passively” encourage people to come downtown, according to Sylvester-Rowan.
The Commission also heard a presentation from Adam Cummins on ongoing plans to “activate” outdoor downtown spaces to facilitate more flow to businesses through art installations and pop-up markets. Cummins has been spearheading a crowdfunding campaign, open until February 10, with the goal of amassing fifty-thousand dollars that would then be matched by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation “Public Spaces, Community Places” program. The Arts Commission unanimously approved a resolution that donated $10,000 from their Public Art Fund to Cummins’ project. (The sum quoted above for the total raised so far includes the $10,000 from this vote.)
East Lansing Public Schools Sexual Education Advisory Committee
Covered by Emily Joan Elliott
The committee met on Thursday evening to tackle several issues. The meeting opened with a discussion on the best way to share resources associated with Puberty: The Wonder Years, which is included in the curriculum. The resources include information for parents on the best way to address sexual education with their children.
The committee also worked on integrating intersex inclusivity into the fourth and fifth grade curriculum. Members also began to review statistics on sexual activity among students and how that might shape the curriculum.
A meeting of the Mental Health Advisory Committee was also scheduled for Thursday evening, but the login information provided on the East Lansing Public Schools website did not work. The meeting happened, but ELi was unable to cover it because of the incorrect information provided. We are seeking to find out what happened at the meeting.
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