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Monday, March 18,2013

Kids in the Hall

Casino hearings set; more questions from Council

by Andy Balaskovitz
Tuesday, Feb. 21 — Depending on public turnout, March 12 may be a long night for the Lansing City Council. At its meeting Monday, the body set four public hearings on various aspects of the Kewadin Lansing casino proposal for that date.

The Council gave unanimous support for the hearings, which will cover rezoning land north of Cooley Law School stadium to accommodate a mixed-use, 2,500-space parking ramp; construction of that ramp; a more than $20 million brownfield for the same area; and selling and acquiring land as part of the agreement between the city, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and the project developers, Lansing Future LLC.

Details on those four hearings is here. (http://www.lansingcitypulse.com/lansing/article-7012-council-night.html)

The public will have two more opportunities to weigh in on the casino project before the hearings. On Feb. 29 at the Southside Community Center and again on March 7 at the Foster Community Center, the Council is hosting public forums on the casino.

And for the second week in a row, the Council met as Committee of the Whole Monday to discuss the casino with administration leaders and an outside attorney. John Wernet, who is representing the Sault Tribe throughout the process, drove down from the Upper Peninsula Monday to attend the committee meeting.

At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood first asked if Wernet had any new information relating to increases of crime around new casinos. While he said Sault Tribe casino staff are still “pulling together data and studies on crime,” he added: “My understanding is that many national studies generally show little to no increase in crime relative to a casino. You may get some additional increase but will not see an increase connected to the casino business compared to Wal Mart or any other business enterprise.”

Council President Brian Jeffries expressed frustration that the Council wouldn’t be able to amend ways in which new casino revenue to the city could be spent or perhaps bargain for more. While he said he supports the Lansing Promise scholarship program — which stands to gain $5 million to $6 million annually under the proposal, city officials say — he wants the Council to be able to amend aspects of the comprehensive development agreement and intergovernmental agreement between the Sault Tribe and the city. He also wondered if the city could have gotten more than 2 1/2 percent total.

City Attorney Brig Smith said the Council could have a say, but only as a “yes” or “no” vote for the entire agreements. “I’m saying if you don’t like that you can vote no on it,” Smith said to Jeffries.

Jeffries focused on the 2 percent that would go to the scholarship fund and another 1/2 percent, or $1.2 million, for public safety. He wondered if the city could have gotten more. Wernet said “I had a difficult time persuading the board of directors it should go higher in this agreement” than 2 percent total, common (but not always the case) in intergovernmental agreements throughout the state, he said.

“I’m trying to get my arms around the 2 percent and why that’s so sacrosanct when there’s a lot of money sitting on the table here,” Jeffries said, referring to the estimated $250 million in annual revenue projected. “That’s quite a bit of money.”

Jeffries was also frustrated that the comprehensive development agreement does not explicitly say the developer must build a 2,500-space parking ramp north of the baseball stadium. “We’ve been down this road with developers before. They said they were going to do all this and we end up with something much different than what we were promised. I just want to see it in writing,” Jeffries said.

Wernet assured Jeffries that the Sault Tribe is “very concerned there be adequate parking for the facility,” and that the agreement allows the developer to build one. Smith added that “it didn’t occur to us this would be an issue. … This is one of those drafting things where it is so clear we didn’t feel we needed to delve into details.”

Wood also questioned the financial wherewithal of the developer’s ability to pay for the project. Wernet and Smith both assured her that that would not be an issue moving forward, also noting the uncertainty of that timeframe as the project awaits federal approval.

In other business, the Council unanimously approved six more resolutions Monday night:

-    A resolution encouraging Meijer to not adopt a new policy of banning free publications, including City Pulse, at its stores. The Council also agreed to include a letter in the resolution that encourages other municipalities to follow suit. Meijer’s policy would take effect March 1;
-    A $100 advertisement for the Lansing Kappa Alpha Psi Foundation fourth annual “Mardi Gras Masquerade Ball and Millionaire Party for Charity,” to be paid in $12.50 installments by each Council member;
-    A waiver of the noise ordinance for the state Department of Transportation’s construction work on the Saginaw Street bridge over the Grand River on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.;
-    Carry-forwards in the budget from the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2011;
-    Accepting a $25,245 Homeland Security Citizen Corps Program grant to be administered by the Lansing Office of Emergency Management which will last for nearly three years; and
-    Accepting another Homeland Security grant fro nearly $1.5 million to be administered by the Office of Emergency Management to be spread to municipalities throughout the region.
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