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Wednesday, July 10,2013

Hope and change

by Virg Bernero
One thing I’ve learned during my eight years as mayor of Lansing is that change is hard. The status quo is a powerful force, and most people, especially politicians, are firmly wedded to keeping things just as they are. Change can upset people, and unhappy constituents are many an elected official’s worst nightmare.

And so it seems with the apparent controversy over major changes now underway at the Hope Soccer Complex in south Lansing.

When Ingham County’s parks director told Lansing’s parks director that he would recommend ending the county’s management of the Hope Soccer Complex due to declining revenues, my administration immediately began considering the alternatives. The city could take over management of the soccer fields. We could work with a private company to manage the complex for us. Or we could simply close the facility.

We carefully considered each of these options. Closing the facility in the middle of the soccer season was, of course, the least attractive option. Thousands of young people who enjoy playing soccer at the Hope Complex would have been left out in the cold. Bringing the facility under the management of the Lansing Parks and Recreation Department was another option, but that would be a challenge due to continuing budget constraints.

Engaging a private entity to manage the facility was the most promising option for keeping the complex up and running. As luck would have it, a local company was very interested in doing exactly that. Even better, they offered a compelling vision of what the Hope Complex could become in the future.

Rather than just maintaining the status quo, they offered a bold plan to make significant new investments at Hope, including a new artificial turf field that would allow soccer and other sports activities even when traditional grass fields are too wet for play. Their plan included new lights that would allow practices, games and tournaments at night. Eventually, if the initial improvements were successful, the company proposed constructing an air dome that would allow year-round play.

In short, the company was willing and able to transform the Hope Complex into the premier soccer and multi-sports facility in mid-Michigan. This would not only be a significant boost for recreational opportunities, it would deliver significant economic benefits to south Lansing by attracting thousands of families from across the state to participate in tournaments. This means more customers for local businesses.

After concluding that this exciting new public-private partnership was our preferred option, we advised the county in writing of our decision and signed a 5-year lease with Mid-Michigan Sports Turf, LLC to take the Hope Complex to the next level.

I appreciate the county’s continuing interest in the Hope Complex and look forward to future opportunities to work with them on regional initiatives. Our terrific partnership in regionalizing the Potter Park Zoo remains one of the truly shining examples of what we can accomplish when we work together. But in the case of the Hope Complex, we are committed to a more comprehensive and compelling vision.

Some have expressed concern that the new management at Hope will discriminate against local soccer clubs, or raise rates so high that local families cannot afford to have their children play there. The fact is it makes no sense for Mid-Michigan Sports Turf to set rates that their customers cannot afford. It makes even less sense for the company to discriminate against local soccer clubs, who are the anchor tenants of the Hope Complex.

To address these concerns, the city included ironclad terms in the new lease that guarantee fair and equitable treatment of local soccer clubs, and that gives the Lansing parks director the authority to approve rates. I can assure everyone who has a stake in the success of this partnership, including Lansing taxpayers and the young people who enjoy playing soccer at Hope, that we will continue to protect the public character of the facility, even as it is managed on a day-to-day basis by a private company.

Others have expressed concern that the facility would no longer honor its namesake — legendary local political scion Ken Hope. I knew Ken quite well. He helped me get my start in public service. I believe Ken would be delighted that new investments are coming to the park named in his honor, and that the Hope Soccer Complex is set to become an even better facility to the benefit of our citizens, especially our youngsters, and the entire Lansing region.

I can think of no better way to honor Ken’s legacy than to make the Hope Soccer Complex the best soccer and multi-sports facility in mid-Michigan. That’s what we endeavor to accomplish.

I don’t fear change. I embrace it.  There is always some risk involved, but without change there is no progress.

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