WEDNESDAY, Sept. 13 —The historic Masonic Temple on Capitol Avenue will be the home of Lansing’s new City Hall if the City Council approves, the Schor administration will announce today.
Mayor Andy Schor said that he expects the empty 99-year-old building, at 217 S. Capitol, will cost “$40 million-ish” to convert. The state has appropriated $40 million to Lansing for a new city hall. He hopes to move city offices into it in “two years or so or less.”
Schor said that the Boji Group, which owns the building, submitted a plan in 2022 after the city sought requests for proposals for a new city hall. Boji Group bought it for $1.75 million from Cooley Law School in 2021, which had vacated it and put it on the market in 2014.
“We’ve been trying to find something for that space for quite a while,” Schor said in an interview yesterday with City Pulse. That “something” once included a possible performing arts center.
“What a great space to use for City Hall. It’s beautiful, and it’s repurposing and revitalizing existing space, so it checks a lot of boxes.”
At a press conference today, Ron Boji, the Boji Group's CEO, laid out a timetable in which Lansing government would move into the temple building by March 2025. That would depend on getting state money by mid-December, which he said the legislation requires, and then a timely closing on the building's sale to the city, he said.
If those pieces fall into place, "There’s no reason why we can’t commence the first quarter of 2024 for a 12-month schedule. Grace of God, by the first quarter of 2025, city hall moves in," Boji said.
Though smaller than the current City Hall, Schor said he was confident that the nearly 109,000-square-foot building will be big enough now that it will not have to accommodate the courts and police headquarters. They will move into a new building on South Washington Avenue as part of a $175 million public safety plan that voters approved last year.
When Schor came into office in 2018, he inherited a City Hall building that is considered a classic example of mid-20th-century architecture but, due to neglected maintenance, needed at least $55 million in work. The previous mayor, Virg Bernero, wanted to sell it to Chicago developer J. Paul Beitler to turn it into a hotel and restaurant. In turn, Beitler would have developed the old Lansing State Journal building, at the corner of Grand Avenue and Lenawee Street, into a new city hall.
However, Schor halted the swap because it left hanging where to put the courts and police facilities, which would not have fit into the old LSJ building.
The current City Hall is still on track to become a hotel in the hands of Beitler, with whom, Schor said, “we are having very good conversations. I am confident we will bring that to the finish line.”
Whatever Beitler pays for City Hall can also go toward turning the temple building into City Hall, Schor added.
The Boji Group submitted one of the two plans that the city received when it sought proposals for a new city hall two years ago. The other was submitted by developers Gary Granger and Paul Gentilozzi as G2 Capital Partners.
The mayor said he was “excited” about the Boji Group’s proposal from the outset, but he could not act on it for lack of funds.
But that changed after the state approved a $40 million appropriation this year for a new City Hall. “Now we believe we can make the numbers work,” Schor said, based on discussions with Ron Boji, CEO of the Boji Group.
A lot of details are still up in the air. “That’s all being worked through,” Schor said, “but we know it’s going to be there,” referring to the temple building.
He said his deputy mayor, Shelbi Frayer, and Boji, “have been putting together all the numbers. They’re convinced that they can get this done for the amount of money that we have appropriated.”
One detail is how much the city will pay for the building. He said the Boji Group “has put a lot of money into it, and they’ve been carrying it and paying taxes and things, but I don’t think we’ve finalized that.” It will be, though, before the administration takes the plan to the City Council for approval.
Schor said the city hasn’t picked a developer yet, but he expects Boji to be involved, perhaps as the “developer’s rep. That’s something I think he’s expressed an interest in, and he’s worked with the city on stuff like that before.”
Schor said the building comes with a small parking lot on its north side, between it and The Louie, which is the old Billie S. Farnum Building, which Boji Group also renovated. For the most part, though, employees and the public will have to park on the street or in parking lots and ramps, including a privately owned one across Capitol Avenue. He said there has not been any discussion of purchasing the surface lot on the south side of the building.
“We could do some kind of validation if you come to pay your city tax bill,” he added, “but we have to navigate all that as it’s in a downtown location.”
While the new City Hall’s layout is still far from decided, Schor said one feature is certain.
“I very much want a customer service center on the first floor for paying taxes, getting permits, doing business with the clerk’s office,” and so on, he said. “I’ve laid down the gauntlet on that.”
At the press conference, Schor and Boji exchanged compliments.
Schor said that Ron Boji and his father, Louie Boji, who is chairman of the Boji Group, “put their money where their mouth is,” and that they “really saw something in Lansing,” when they began investing in the area 25 years ago.
Responded Boji, "My father used to say: ‘pick your partner first, then pick your business’. It’s an honor to be your business partner, Mr. Mayor,” Boji said.
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