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Wednesday, October 13,2010

New faces seek City Council

Monday night’s City Council vote against tax incentives for the Marshall Street Armory and Market Place kick two campaigns into overdrive

by Andy Balaskovitz

Anyone who underestimates the political dynamite that was ignited Monday night when the Lansing City Council rejected tax incentives on two of developer Pat Gillespie’s projects, take note:


Two Lansing residents announced Tuesday that they are formally launching their campaigns for the 2011 Council elections to unseat two of the four Council members who voted against Gillespie.


Joe Manzella, 24, and Rory Neuner, 30, sat in the City Hall chambers Monday during the contentious votes on brownfield incentives for Gillespie’s $23 million Market Place and $14 million Marshall Street Armory projects, which could result in the Market Place project failing.


Market Place would be a mix of residential and commercial space next to the new City Market on Cedar Street between Shiawassee Street and the Lansing Center. The old City Market was leveled to make room for it. Gillespie is seeking to turn the armory into the headquarters of five nonprofits.


Manzella lives in REO Town and will seek First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt’s seat.


“We don’t have a majority of people on Council looking toward the future,” said Manzella, who called Monday’s meeting “absolutely, incredibly unbelievable.”


Manzella is manager of regional programs for the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP) and also co-founder of Accelerate Lansing, a nonpartisan organization that attempts to involve young professionals in the greater Lansing area. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2008 with a bachelor’s in urban and regional planning and spent time as a system planner for CATA.


Neuner will seek an at-large seat. She hopes to unseat either Carol Wood or Derrick Quinney. She shared Manzella’s experience Monday.


“That was frustrating,” she said. “As a citizen, I’m disappointed with the process.”


Neuner graduated Haslett High School in 1998, earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Yale and a master’s in public policy from the University of Chicago. She lives in the Moores Park neighborhood with her partner. She is a policy analyst with Safe Routes to School National Partnership, a nonprofit organization.


Both Neuner and Manzella have been preparing to launch City Council campaigns, but both decided to make formal announcements after Monday night. Usually Council candidates wait till at least January.


“This was going to come out, but last night just put it over the top,” Manzella said. “It’s never too early to take action when you see that stuff happen.”


Gillespie said at a press conference Tuesday that if the Council is unable to come up with a way to vote again on a 24-year brownfield tax incentive for his Market Place project, the proposed area adjacent to the City Market will become a surface parking lot.


Work on Market Place came to a halt Monday after the Council voted 4-4 on the tax plan, which could withhold nearly $2 million in credits that would have gone to cleaning up the contaminated site.


At-Large Council members Brian Jeffries, Wood and Quinney and First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt voted against the brownfield plan. Jeffries’ term doesn’t expire until 2013.


Jeffries, who chairs the Development and Planning Committee, said he did not support Gillespie’s Market Place project Monday because Gillespie had not outlined any wage agreements for potential construction jobs on the site.


Gillespie said that he has spent nearly $250,000 in architectural drawings and site plans. He said that was his priority until now and that it’s premature to start bargaining labor wages, regardless if they are union or non-union jobs.


“It’s too early (to hold those talks),” Gillespie said.


Bob Trezise, head of the Lansing Economic Development Corp., echoed Gillespie. “I don’t think Pat has enough information to even start that conversation.”


Jeffries disagrees but added that he thinks there is still time to make Market Place happen. “We were told two years ago (the labor would be worked out) and assumed labor and the developer would come together,” Jeffries said. “The goal of fair wages is not met. I hope this creates momentum for dialogue.”


The Council rejected the incentives after a failed attempt by Quinney to attach a project labor agreement, or PLA, to the armory project. That amendment didn’t get out of committee on Monday after City Attorney Brig Smith advised it was illegal for the city to attach a PLA “retroactively.”


Trezise is convinced the PLA debate set up the 4-4 votes on each project. He is frustrated that wage debates got in the way of what was supposed to be large-scale economic developments. Wage talks should have come after the tax incentive plan was approved, he said.


“There was a lot of confusion going into Council (Monday night),” Tresize said. “This was supposed to be a good old-fashioned discussion on economic development.”

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