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Amid speculation that a deal was already in the works to sell off the Lansing City Market to a developer, Mayor Andy Schor dropped his proposal to ask voters to approve the sale of the building, and the parkland beneath it, in a July 27 press release.
The moribund market will likely lay fallow this winter while Schor’s office collects and sifts through proposals on what to do with the structure.
“I never said I wanted to sell it,” Schor said in an interview Monday. “There is no secret deal. I wanted all options on the table to re-activate that space.”
Last spring, Schor said that all options were on the table. In early July, he announced that he would ask voters to approve giving the city permission to sell the property. The City Charter requires such a vote because it is parkland.
He made the decision to keep the market in the city’s hands after a July 26 public forum.
“One of the things we heard, not just at the forum, but in general, is that people feel it’s a very important property in the city of Lansing,” Schor said.
The mayor said he got a “tremendous amount” of feedback on the proposed City Market sale in person, by email and social media.
“I’ve been listening to people and thinking about that space, and, at this point, my preference is to have the city maintain control of that space,” he said.
Rather than selling the building, Schor said, the city would “more likely” lease it to a third party that would maintain or manage it, as a restaurant, a rebooted market, an entertainment space or for some other use.
“That way, whatever the next thing is, if that doesn’t succeed, we don’t lose control and end up with a use that we don’t want,” Schor said. “It’s a prime piece of property, right on the river, and we’d like to hold on to control of it.”
Elaine Womboldt of Rejuvenating South Lansing, an opponent of the proposed sale, attended the July 26 forum.
“I appreciated Mayor Schor doing that, because it was a strong indication to me that he is listening to his constituents,” Womboldt said. “The majority of people involved with Rejuvenating South Lansing are completely opposed to selling any portion of the riverfront parkland. It’s on a very precious part of the river and we believe it should be saved for future generations.”
But Womboldt was concerned over what she called the “lickety split” timing of the proposed sale.
“We felt we didn’t have enough information, enough transparency, enough understanding about why this had to be done by Aug. 14,” Womboldt said. Aug. 13 was the deadline Schor said the City Council would have to meet for authorizing such a ballot proposal in order for it to appear on the November ballot.
Schor pushed back at the notion that the request to put the option to sell on the ballot was hasty.
“What haste?” Schor said. “We said in April we were putting all options on the table.”
That would have allowed six months, Schor said, before the voters would have decided in November.
“But at the end of the day, we’re going to pull that back,” he said. “I listened and decided a sale was not the best option right now.”
Womboldt said rumors have been “flying around town” of behind-the-scenes deals being made for the City Market, including a pending deal with a brewery owned by pop singer Pat Benatar.
“I heard the rumors,” Schor said. “The mayor’s got something and he’s just waiting to announce it —completely false. We did have one person come forward with a good idea and since then, we’ve had others come forward with developed proposals.”
Schor didn’t offer specifics on the proposals.
“We’re not going to choose the first, we’re going to choose the best,” he said. “There could be something out there that we haven’t seen yet. At the end of the day, it’s going to be my decision on which proposal we decide to go with. When we make decisions, the public’s going to know about it.”
Ryan Smith, former owner of a sports memorabilia store in the Meridian Mall, also attended the July 26 forum. Smith sent Schor and City Council a proposal to re-boot the City Market, suggesting the city charge lower rental rates to attract vendors.
“There’s a lot of speculation that offers exist, and now they’re just waiting,” Smith said.
The mayor’s deliberations on what to do with the market are complicated by a cloud of mistrust that formed when the market moved to its new building in 2009 and the surrounding land, including the 1938 City Market was sold to developer Pat Gillespie. Many market supporters felt the move was a sweetheart deal, made with the intention that the market fail and end up in private hands.
“There is a huge disconnect between the citizenry and government right now, whether it’s local, state or federal,” Smith said. “No one has any faith that what is being done is being done in their best interests, and it takes time to heal that.”
But Schor said “Lansing history” doesn’t change the problem (or opportunity) he was confronted with when he took office.
“I wasn’t here,” Schor said. “I got elected with a lot of hope and a lot of excitement to do things differently than what had been done in the past. Either people are going to trust me or they’re not. It’s up to them. Everybody who wants to make all these allegations about what I’m doing behind the scenes — I have been more transparent and more public with just about everything we’ve done.”
Meanwhile, a few businesses are still operating in the building. But the biggest tenant, Waterfront Bar & Grill, is facing closure unless a suit it has filed succeeds. The Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority, which manages the building, said the business’ lease has expired and won’t be renewed. But the owners contend its lease automatically renews.