Halfway through Mayor Andy Schor’s first term in office, it’s time to take stock of his administration’s efforts to move the city forward. There is much to like about our new mayor. His low-key, engaging leadership style is a sharp contrast with his predecessor’s muscular persona. We have no complaints about Schor’s more easygoing approach. With the understanding that running a city comes with a steep learning curve, we see both positive and negative in the results that Schor and his team have delivered thus far.
On the economic development front, the mayor has cut plenty of ribbons in his first 24 months. Schor highlighted many of them in his second State of the City Address last week, including the Red Cedar Renaissance, Pat Gillespie’s 600 Block hotel and urban grocery store, new mixed-use developments on Michigan Avenue and on the old downtown YMCA site, Rotary Park on the downtown riverfront, the long-awaited revamp of Oliver Towers, and the renovation of the historic Abigail building on the former campus of the Michigan School for the Blind. In fairness, most of these projects had their genesis during the Bernero administration or as community-driven initiatives that predate Schor’s administration. But Schor certainly deserves credit for keeping them on track and bringing them across the finish line, notwithstanding the recent and hopefully solvable financing glitch for the Red Cedar project.
One major initiative that Schor shepherded entirely on his own was the launch of the short-lived Lansing Ignite professional soccer team. It wasn’t Schor’s fault that the venture failed after a single season, but shrewder negotiation might have secured a guarantee from Lugnuts owner Tom Dickson that the soccer team would stick around for a minimum of two or three years. Pulling the plug on Ignite after one season may have been financially prudent for Dickson, but it was a modest political embarrassment for Schor.
Two important projects that have languished on Schor’s watch are finding a new use for the Lansing City Market and moving forward with a plan for a new City Hall. As to the former, Schor held a listening session in July 2018 to gather public input on what to do with the barn-like structure on the downtown riverfront. Eighteen months later, no apparent progress has been made in repurposing the now vacant facility, which is a key component in unlocking the riverfront’s full potential. The mayor seems inclined toward a for-profit commercial project — for example, yet another brewpub. We encourage him to give equal weight to a city or privately initiated project with broader appeal to area citizens to complement the stellar addition of Rotary Park. Remember: The public approved the construction of the building for public use (as the ill-fated city market); it’s time to make a success of it.
Regarding the City Hall project, we recognize that relocating the home of city government is a complicated puzzle, yet we can’t help feeling the sting of lost opportunity. As the Bernero administration came to a close, a Chicago-based real estate developer offered a compelling plan to transform the existing City Hall into a new downtown hotel and move city operations to the former headquarters of the Lansing State Journal. We’re not convinced that the obstacles cited by Schor, principally the lack of a solution for where to locate the city’s courts and jail facility, are as insurmountable as he represents. In any case, the seeming lack of any progress on the project for two years running is disappointing.
As much as we like Schor, it pains us to also note his well-publicized challenges in navigating the sensitivities of race relations. Having dismissed Bernero appointees Bob Johnson and Mary Riley at the outset of his administration, then muddling through a public spat with former Fire Chief Randy Talifarro, then catching heat for hiring an all-white class of new firefighters, Schor managed to create the impression — fair or not — that he is uncomfortable working with people of color. While the evidence makes clear it was the right thing to do, his recent suspension of Human Relations and Community Services director Joan Jackson Johnson reinforced that perception. To his credit, Schor has hired a diverse cabinet and staff that largely reflects the community it serves and retooled the process for hiring entry-level firefighters to ensure a more diverse department.
Taking a cue from his ubiquitous marketing slogan, we think the time is now for Schor to more boldly define and articulate his unique vision for Lansing’s future, and to map out a clear and compelling strategy to accomplish his goals. We were pleased to see his State of the City speech make important strides in this direction. The mayor touted his administration’s success in promoting arts and culture, fixing local roads, and coordinating efforts to aid distressed neighborhoods. Hiring a chief strategy officer to tackle the city’s ongoing legacy cost challenges, his proposal to hire a sustainability director to develop and implement a city climate change plan, and his efforts to investigate the potential for a new downtown performing arts center are also noteworthy. We appreciate and support Schor’s emphasis on placemaking and building more resilient neighborhoods. These initiatives should strengthen the city’s quality of life and deliver even greater economic opportunities for all Lansing residents.
Based on our overall assessment of his performance, we give Mayor Schor a solid B as a midterm grade, with high hopes that the next two years bring him even closer to fulfilling his considerable potential as the city’s chief executive.
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