On tie vote, Council rejects Schor’s plan to move city hall to the Masonic Temple

Council accepts $80 million state grants for a new city hall and New Vision Lansing plan


TUESDAY, March 12 — The Lansing City Council voted last night to reject buying the old Masonic Temple building as a new city hall location, at least for now.

In a blow to Mayor Andy Schor on the eve of his State of the City address, the Council turned down his proposal to purchase the Temple, 217 S. Capitol Ave., from the Boji Group for $3.65 million. The measure lost on a tie vote.

The Council agreed, 7-1, to accept a $40 million state grant for a new city hall, with 1st Ward member Ryan Kost in dissent.

Also, the Council unanimously accepted a $40 million state grant for New Vision Lansing and a $228 million, three-building proposal from the Gentilozzi family that would include the 26-story Tower on Grand, the tallest building in the city.

Councilmembers Jeffrey Brown, Tamera Carter, Kost and Trini Lopez Pehlivanoglu voted no on Schor’s plan to buy the Temple building.

Pehlivanoglu said the Council still has time to consider the purchase because the city isn’t required to spend the state money until September 2027.

“That leaves a lot of time. I mean, we're talking about three years. I do want to see a project going forward. I do believe that will happen. But I would feel more comfortable taking more time and making sure that we are going step by step in a transparent process for the public, explaining to them how we are taking in this information and the steps we're going through,” Pehlivanoglu said.

“I do think that, for the sake of transparency with residents, we've heard time and time again, they simply don't understand the process. There's some missing pieces there for them,” she added.

Carter, who with Pehlivanoglu was elected to first terms as at-large members in November, agreed.

“As newer Council members, want to make sure we do our due diligence. So, I definitely would appreciate the openness, since we do have the time moving forward,” Carter said.

Schor has touted the Boji Group property as the city’s best bet for a new city hall. He held a joint press conference with developer Ron Boji inside the building last September to announce the plan.

Just before that vote, Schor told the Council that the proposal for the Masonic Temple building “was a result of a bid process that was done years ago.”

He said two developers submitted bids back then: Granger Group and Boji Group. Boji’s offering was a different building, not the Masonic Temple, though. Schor did not identify the building. Efforts to find out today were unsuccessful.

“At the time we couldn’t afford either of them,” Schor said.

“We went back to the Boji Group, and they said that they had a smaller building and they would advocate at the City Council and the state legislature for the funding. That's what they did. They came back with an affordable product, and that's what we're moving forward,” Schor said.

When the purchase agreement failed yesterday, he asked the Council to reconsider, but the Council wouldn’t budge on its 4-4 decision. Now, a new purchase agreement would have to be brought forward to the Council for renewed consideration.

Said Kost, “I see no harm in taking a breath, looking at this in the light of day and talking to our community members to see what they have to say. There’s no rush to do it right this second.”

Brown, an at-large member, said some of his constituents felt there wasn’t enough public input considered in the decision to purchase the building.

“My conviction is to have integrity and open transparency. So, it has nothing to do with the development or the building, but the process,” Brown said.

Vice President Adam Hussain said he supported the project, despite some of his own concerns, because he felt the city’s chances for future state development grants could suffer if this process fell through.

“When we talk about the intention that this was going to be used on transformational municipal infrastructure, I also look at that as: any project that stems from this needs to be transformational,” said Hussain, who represents the 3rd Ward.

Moving out of the current City Hall building, 124 W. Michigan Ave., and freeing that building up for future development would be the true “transformational piece,” he added.

“That doesn’t happen without this, and so I will be supporting it,” he said, referring to the Temple purchase.

Joining Hussain in backing the plan were At-Large member Peter Spadafore, President Jeremy Garza, who represents the 2nd Ward, and Brian Jackson of the 4th Ward.

Two weeks ago, The Council delayed accepting the two grants after City Attorney Jim Smiertka advised the Council to appropriate the grants if it accepted the money from the state. The two resolutions only sought to accept the two $40 million grants without determining how the money would be spent, so in Smiertka's view, they had to be reworked.

A few speakers cited concerns with both projects during public comment.

David Ellis said he supported the Gentilozzi project during his public comment at the last meeting but has “some reservations” after reviewing the numbers.

“It is a beautiful-looking development, but I do wish it could have gone to a bid process so we could have seen what could this $40 million have actually gotten us. This could have been the best option, but we will never know if there was a better alternative,” he said.

Brett Dreyfus, the former clerk of Meridian Township, called the Gentilozzi plan a “dirty project.”

“Putting the word transformational in front of something does not make it transformational. This is absolutely not transformational, this is status quo,” Dreyfus said. “It’s not community building, because people living in 25-story buildings typically do not form community. They come into a garage, they leave the building from the garage — they don’t mingle on the streets.”

Dreyfus urged the Council to vote no on the plan and instead form a task force to use the money as part of what he called “a true vision.”

“The real issue here is that we need a much better vision. That could include cooperative housing and alternative housing. There are many ways to look at this. Don’t rush and accept money,” he said.

Linda Appling, a Lansing resident who resides in Eaton County, said the Gentilozzi plan for the Tower on Grand was “too big and will cost too much.”

“However, if you do approve it, please assess the building for new fire equipment, because what we currently have will not be able to reach that high,” she said, adding that she was skeptical about portions of the project that would create new office spaces, which she thought would only add to existing vacancies in other office buildings downtown.

On the city hall funding, she said: “I see no reason the city should purchase the building. It’s 10 years older than the current city hall. Secondly, $40 million is not going to be enough to rehab that building.”

Shawn Elliot of the Diamonds in the Rough development company spoke in support of both projects.

“Don’t make perfect the enemy of good. These are really good projects, and I hope we support them. I’ve put a lot of sweat and equity into this town, and these projects would help all of us who have really cut our teeth and reinvested our fortunes here. I hope it works out for the city,” Elliot said.

In an interview today, Kost said he had expected to be alone in opposing the city hall funding and purchase agreement. While he agrees that a new city hall is needed or that the existing building needs to be renovated, he said the city needs more time to vet its options. One alternative he floated was to renovate a blighted downtown property instead.

“I believe I articulated my concerns clearly, and the vote surprised me. Trini made a valid point that we have time to be transparent. I conducted extensive research on this matter and could not justify the project as presented. While it is undeniable that we need to renovate or replace the current building, I do not believe this was the optimal solution,” Kost said.

Several members who voted against the Masonic Temple purchase stressed that they could approve it in the future. The delay, they said, is tied to a greater need for transparency.

“At the end of the day, it very well could be that, yes, this is a project that we end up with — and that would be OK with me at that time,” Pehlivanoglu said.


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