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Tuesday, January 25,2011

Kids in the Hall

A pep talk, tributes and a public hearing

by Andy Balaskovitz
Tuesday, Jan. 25 — The scene on the first floor of the chilly, well-lit Knapp’s building Monday night was so optimistic, you might think the city faces a $15 million budget surplus and state revenue sharing would be plentiful in 2011.

Inside the old department store, a couple of hundred people mingled around platters of Jersey Giant sandwiches before taking their seats. City department directors, support staff, friends, family, CEOs and City Council regulars awaited the 7 o’clock hour for Mayor Virg Bernero to give his annual Lansing’s-doing-a-great-job speech. This year it was called, “It’s Happening in Lansing!”

They handed out copies of the speech at the door for anyone who was interested. For the most part, the mayor stuck to each and every printed word — all 3,559 of them. There was an occasional impromptu “Yes, that is reason to clap” when the crowd was unsure of expressing appreciation at the end of a paragraph.

City Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar introduced the mayor just before 7 p.m. after The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” played over the loudspeakers.

“A few hearts fluttered when they heard I would be up here unscripted,” Dunbar smiled, recognizing those who know her from her sometimes raunchy stand-up comedy routines.

But Dunbar kept it short — and clean.

“Here’s your boss, colleague and the city’s Energizer Bunny. Mayor Virg Bernero,” she announced.

Bernero spent about a half hour touting downtown projects like the Knapp’s building, Accident Fund Insurance Co. of America, City Market and Pat Gillespie’s Market Place developments.

He made mention of the fact that there’s a $15 million gap between the city’s revenues and expenditures looming, but offered zero details on how to compromise that. New investment was the theme, not cuts.

Bernero did mention one project in particular that will be a true test to the area’s commitment to regionalism.

“Stay tuned to that Michigan Avenue corridor,” Bernero announced.

In an interview after the speech, Bernero, in a black Calvin Klein suit and red and blue striped tie, said things will be “popping soon” around Frandor.

“It’s going to be a complete makeover. Change is afoot along Michigan Avenue,” he said. “We’re going to turn it into the miracle mile.”

When told it’s already being referred to in some circles as the “Mary Jane Mile” for the many medical marijuana businesses, Bernero just laughed it off.

After Bernero’s speech, Joe Manzella spoke in an interview about his campaign for City Council and the state of the city. Manzella is also manager of regional programs at the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, or LEAP. He’s running for a First Ward City Council seat, which is held by Eric Hewitt.

Manzella brought on Tremaine Phillips, a program manager at the Prima Civitas Foundation, to be his campaign manager. They’ve held a couple fundraisers and at this point are “meeting with a lot of people and just listening,” Manzella said.

As for the speech: “We have huge problems ahead of us, but this is what we need to hear (from Bernero),” he said.

Before the State of the City, the Lansing City Council held a 45-minute meeting in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

The Council unanimously approved two tributes and set a public hearing Monday. The six Council members present then recessed and moved 2 1/2 blocks south to the Knapp’s building for Bernero’s speech.

The tributes recognized David Miller, Sr., a staple in Lansing youth sports for nearly 40 years, and also Jon Coleman, who is retiring after 35 years with the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission.

A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 14 to consider a brownfield plan amendment for the East Village residential complex on Lansing’s east side off Saginaw Street.

Council President A’Lynne Robinson and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko were absent from the meeting.

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