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Wednesday, November 11,2009

Ghost of ramp past

Officials at Lansing Community College and the city of Lansing say the North Capitol ramp sale could be revisited

by Neal McNamara

 


For newly elected Lansing Community College Trustee Larry Meyer, his first order of business when he takes office in January will be to raise from the dead the issue of the school buying Lansing’s North Capitol Avenue parking ramp.


“I would ask the (LCC) administration and (Lansing City Council President) Derrick Quinney,” Meyer said. “I think those are the two I need to talk to.” Meyer is a former Council president.


The beginning of the end of the deal started in October 2008, when four members of the City Council — At-Large Council members Carol Wood and Brian Jeffries, First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt and Third Ward Councilwoman A’Lynne Robinson — voted against bringing the sale of the ramp for $2.7 million to a general vote.


But the issue raged on after that vote. Jeffries, who was then president of Council, worked out a new deal with the college that would have it sold for $2.8 million, plus the city would vacate Schoolcraft Lane, which runs along Saginaw Street between Grand Avenue and Capitol. But that deal was rejected by Mayor Virg Bernero.


The spirit of the deal was to unload an aging parking structure, mostly used by LCC students, and its future cost off of the city and onto the college. LCC, meanwhile, was — and still is, say officials — in the middle of a major parking shortage.


In
May, when the issue was brought to Council for a vote, it died 5-3,
with Wood, Robinson and Hewitt voting “no.” It needed six votes to pass.


Quinney,
who will no longer be Council president when Meyer takes office, said
that he certainly wants the issue to be brought up again.


“I
believe it’s a win for both the city of Lansing and LCC, based on
discussions we had early on about the what the renovation would bring
and how much it would add to the downtown area in terms of making it
accessible for LCC,” Quinney said.


However, Quinney said Bernero would be the one to have to initiate the sale.


Randy
Hannan, Bernero’s deputy chief of staff, said that the mayor would be
open to rehashing the deal, but the college could do the same.


“Now that we’re past election, we’re shaping up our agenda, and I would be shocked” if the ramp was not on it, Hannan said.


According
to the City Charter, selling city property requires a three-quarters
majority vote, which means six members would have to vote yes. Though
the Nov. 3 election saw the election of two new members of Council,
Jessica Yorko and Tina Houghton, neither is replacing a “no” vote on
the sale, and both have said they supported it.


Quinney
said that Robinson, Hewitt or Wood would have to be convinced that the
deal is good in order to gain the votes necessary to approve the sale.
(Jeffries, in May, voted for the sale in part, he said, because he felt
the neighborhood surrounding the parking ramp was being held hostage.)
He said their concerns over the purchase price of the ramp would have
to be quelled.


LCC
President Brent Knight said that he is still very much interested in
purchasing the ramp, even though the college recently purchased land
near the intersection of Saginaw Street and Capitol Avenue to turn into
parking.


“We continue to be interested in any via ble solution that would solve a longstanding parking problem,” he said.


Knight
said that he has not recently had any talks with Bernero about bringing
the sale forth again. He said the college could simply resubmit its
last proposal, or design a completely new one.


Bob
Johnson, director of the city’s Planning and Neighborhood Development
office, says that the ramp continues to be used, in his estimation,
mostly by LCC students.


“At
this ramp, regardless of what you hear, when you see this ramp full it
is only because LCC students are filling those spaces,” Johnson said.


Wood,
who was derided on this issue by Bernero during the mayoral campaign,
said that she would be willing to revisit the issue, but the content of
the proposal would still have to be carefully reviewed. The situation
is different now, Wood said, because a piece of the North Grand Avenue
ramp was recently torn down, eliminating downtown parking spaces. She
also said the city would have to pay rent to LCC for offices in the
North Capitol ramp, if that part of the rejected proposal remained. And
in light of a mid-year $3 million budget shortfall, she didn’t think
paying rent would be beneficial.


“There
are a lot of things you have to look at,” she said. “I look at every
proposal that comes through and evaluate it on its merits.”




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