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WEDNESDAY, Feb. 5 — Hundreds gathered for Lansing Mayor Andy Schor’s third annual State of the City address earlier this evening at the former Michigan School for the Blind campus to hear his latest plans for 2020.
For the most part, Schor’s speech was business as usual as he focused on familiar talking points and touted a surge in development from downtown to the outer bounds of the capital city. He said more than $200 million in construction projects were announced last year, amounting to more than triple the investment from 2018.
But progress never stops, Schor emphasized. Hundreds of new housing options and businesses are en route to Lansing in 2020, including at least 277 apartments coming to the downtown area alone, he announced. Cranes will remain in the air. Potholes will continue to be filled. And services for local residents will continue to expand.
“It has been two years since I took office,” Schor said. “We’ve done so much that it feels like 20 years. The pace of this job is extraordinary, but the work is rewarding and exciting. And we have no plans to slow down in our third year.”
Beyond highlights from the last two years, a few announcements were also unveiled. Among them:
The city will hire an environmental sustainability manager.
Schor emphasized that “something” still needs to be done to address climate change locally. He hopes a soon-to-be-hired sustainability manager will be able to figure out exactly what those efforts will include.
Lansing, in recent years, commissioned a general climate action plan and an energy efficiency review of city buildings. But in order to take those efforts to the next level — and actually create some actionable plans — Schor wants to bring on an employee specifically tasked with reducing the city’s environmental footprint.
“This is in addition to our LED street light conversion program, our increased recycling initiative — including the creation of a facility in Lansing this year — and a variety of other internal efforts being done by the city,” Schor added. “These efforts will not only help the Earth, but they will save taxpayer dollars in efficiencies.”
Whoever is hired into the role will be tasked with reviewing and helping to implement ongoing plans to reduce the city’s dependence on non-renewable energy sources and to help curb emissions and other activities that contribute to the global climate change crisis. The city’s climate action plan is due back next month, Schor said.
“It is certainly important to have a single person to focus on sustainability priorities full time,” Schor noted.
Schor last year announced “necessary first steps” to combat climate change with plans to power every city-owned building through renewable energy. The City Council, however, pulled the plug on that proposal, instead opting to shift the proposed investment — an extra $284,300 annually — elsewhere to other city functions.
That earlier plan didn’t actually call for the creation of any additional renewable energy. Instead, it only tapped into BWL’s existing renewable energy reserves, most of which were purchased in the form of credits. And most of the Council decided the cash would be better spent on bolstering code enforcement, among other functions.
Council members Kathie Dunbar and Brian Jackson had instead suggested the city should hire a sustainability manager after the Council had reallocated about $14,000 for its ongoing environmental assessment. And Schor said the newly announced position will ensure the findings of that study translate into meaningful action.
“I’m excited to hear about this announcement,” Jackson said about plans to hire a sustainability manager. “Other cities have been doing this type of work and I think it’s overdue that Lansing — being the capital city and a leader in our state — gets involved as well. I hope the administration is willing to take these eventual recommendations seriously and put plans into action.”
Details about the new position weren’t immediately available. Schor hopes to have those hiring plans locked down in a few months. The funding for the position will likely be allocated as part of his next budget proposal.
A new city collaboration — BOLD Lansing — is geared toward enhancing student success.
Schor also announced the creation of BOLD Lansing, a collaborative new program designed to align the city’s ongoing “economic mobility” efforts to increase student success in Lansing. BOLD, Schor explained, stands for Believe, Optimize, Learn, Dream. It’s designed to assist both college-bound students and their parents.
“It will serve as a centralized resource where students and parents can get information about economic mobility services, from Lansing SAVE to help applying for financial aid for college, or even one-on-one financial counseling,” Schor said.
City officials have been working with community partners in the Lansing School District to assist students with saving for college and their futures, Schor said. Lansing SAVE — a nationally acclaimed partnership with MSUFCU — has also helped provide children with savings accounts. And donations help to keep them filled.
Last year, Bethlehem Lutheran Church collected more than $4,000 for Lansing SAVE students, Schor noted.
“We are also working with Kroger so that 1% of reward card purchases in Lansing go toward Lansing SAVE and our children for college,” Schor said. “Simply by having a savings account for education in their name, students become three times more likely to attend college, trade school or other post-secondary pursuits.”
More information about the newly announced student success effort will be made available at boldlansing.org.
More public artwork is coming to the city of Lansing.
Artwork, especially public artwork, has been a “significant focus” of Schor’s administration, he said.
Lansing’s Arts Commission — with Schor’s wife, Erin Schor, as its chairwoman — has been working for nearly two years to enhance the artistic culture in Greater Lansing. Annual Arts Impact grants have helped breathe new life into otherwise mundane concrete spaces throughout the city. And a few more big projects are underway.
“One of our strengths is the talent of our artists and the creativity in our community,” Schor added.
Schor announced that artwork created through a $75,000 grant doled out in 2018 is poised to go live on April 16 and will coincide with the Capital City Film Festival. The project includes a massive scale projection mapping on a downtown building that uses animation, light and sound effects, film and 3D modeling.
“Every night at the same time, the work will project iconic images from our past and present to tell Lansing’s story, engaging residents, attracting tourists from near and far and inspiring the future of our community,” according to the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. “Art installations such as these connect the community.”
Schor also announced the winner of the 2020 Arts Impact grant, Alexandra Leonard, who will lead the production of a ceramic tile mural on multiple walls and on the steps of the Shiawassee Street Bridge. Schor said it’ll be a collaborative project with workshops where local residents can help to assist in its eventual creation.
A local neighborhood is poised for some major improvements.
Following recent improvements made in the Baker-Donora Neighborhood and southwest Lansing, a new area of the capital city will be targeted as a “Neighborhood of Focus” in 2020. Schor said properties around Willow and Walnut streets and Comstock Park are poised to receive some additional resources for continued growth.
“Lansing will focus on empowering our residents, building wealth and ensuring they have services they need while working with existing community partners in the area,” Schor said. “We’re going to do a mapping of resources that can be provided to the area, and will be working directly and intentionally with the neighborhood to create change.”
Schor highlighted the newly opened Beacon Park and CATA bus shelter near the Baker-Donora Neighborhood and a town square pocket park at the corner of Pleasant Grove and Holmes streets that’ll be finished by summer.
He also noted that victim and property crime has been reduced in those areas by about 33% after the city focused on improvements, adding that more families with young children have moved into the neighborhood.
While Habitat for Humanity will continue to rehabilitate homes within those neighborhoods over the next few years, Schor said the city’s redirected focus will now cover much of northeast Lansing from the Grand River on the north to Saginaw Highway on the south, including a swathe of MLK Jr. Boulevard and Willow Street.
“Growing Lansing means proactively helping our residents,” Schor added, noting that an additional community police officer has also been assigned to the southeastern part of the city. There are now 12 throughout Lansing.
A mental health task force will help some of Lansing’s most vulnerable residents.
Schor announced the creation of a mental health taskforce that will be charged with creating solutions — including an inventory of local mental health organizations — to Lansing’s growing mental health crisis. Mental illness is a growing concern across the nation, Schor said, and it needs to be addressed quickly and efficiently.
“All city departments deal directly with mental illness every day, including our fire department, our code compliance officers, our parks staff and really all of our service providers that assist residents and visitors,” Schor said. “We know that this is a major problem everywhere and today I’m making this a priority for the city.”
The taskforce will be appointed by the mayor and will generate various recommendations on how to streamline services for local residents and city employees. Schor said the group will also form a “communication matrix” so that officials better understand how to address the issue together and work to generate the necessary solutions.
A full-time social worker has also recently been hired to work alongside the Lansing Police Department.
“In Lansing, we have many experts on behavioral health, and we have many here in Lansing who deal with mental illness daily,” Schor added. “We have our city employees, our two hospitals, Community Mental Health and many others. I’m going to bring them all together to work on solutions for Lansing.”
Lansing also won’t forget about its senior citizens as it strives to be a more “age-friendly” community.
A series of one-way streets downtown will soon be converted into two-lane roadways later this year amid efforts to become a more pedestrian-friendly community, Schor announced previously. Two lanes will help to slow downtown traffic, making travel safer on nearby sidewalks and helping to attract more traffic to local businesses.
But the city isn’t stopping there, Schor said. In 2015, the city joined AARP’s Age-Friendly Communities network to focus on creating an inclusive and accessible environment that promotes active aging. And that’s an important effort when the largest recent increase in the city’s population is between the ages of 55 and 64.
Schor said Councilwoman Carol Wood — an “obvious choice” for the role as the director of the senior volunteer organization RSVP — will serve as chairwoman of a new age-friendly community steering committee to help develop a more walkable Lansing.
“While downtown is our core business district and a destination for residents, visitors, and workers, it’s also a neighborhood,” Schor added. “With all the new housing, we want our new residents to know that their neighborhood has walkable, pedestrian- friendly streets.”
Visit lansingcitypulse.com for continued coverage as Schor’s newly announced plans continue to develop.