Schor lays out arguments for Masonic Temple as new city hall to its Council critics

Mayor concedes that his plan is dead unless at one member comes around


Lansing Mayor Andy Schor has sent four City Council members a lengthy letter today defending his choice of the Masonic Temple building for a new city hall and asking them to reconsider their opposition.

But, he said, if none of them is willing to give him the fifth vote he needs to move forward, then he will abandon the Masonic Temple proposal.

Your recent letter indicates your continued opposition to this proposal, despite your indication of potential support after needing more time and increased transparency (both of which were provided),” Schor wrote today.

“If it remains your final intent to vote against the proposal in front of you to purchase the Masonic Temple building for a new City Hall, I will move on to reviewing ... remaining options regarding where to locate our new City Hall.”

If Schor cannot convince one of the four to vote for his plan, sources have told City Pulse that Chicago developer J. Paul Beitler will withdraw his 7-year-old proposal to convert the current City Hall into an upscale hotel. That would mean putting at risk preservation efforts not just to repurpose the century-old Masonic Temple, but also City Hall, which is considered a classic example of mid-century-modern architecture.

The letter is the latest development in a month-long series of events that began at the City Council meeting on March 11. Seven of the eight Council members were expected to support a resolution to buy the Masonic Temple building, 217 S. Capitol Ave., from the Boji Group for $3.65 million as the first step toward converting it to a new home for Lansing government with a $40 million state grant.

Ryan Kost of the 1st Ward was the only member on record against the purchase. At-Large member Jeffrey Brown, who multiple sources said had promised developer Ron Boji, leaders of local unions and the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce that he would back it as well, voted an unexpected no. He was then joined by two others who were thought to be in support: Tamera Carter and Trini Pehlivanoglu, both serving their first terms on the Council.

Brown’s supposed change of heart so angered someone that a full-page ad paid for by a dark-money group appeared in City Pulse two weeks ago comparing the first-term Council member to a “grifter.”

Another player in the controversy is the Granger Group, which competed with the Boji Group two years ago by also submitting a plan for a new City Hall. The Grand Rapids-area developer acted quickly to reinsert itself in the picture after the 4-4 vote that rejected the plan to buy the Masonic Temple. Developer Gary Granger promptly sent Schor a letter asking for reconsideration of his bid. Schor promptly rejected it, and Granger replied with a letter accusing the mayor of not following “Lansing laws” governing the request-for-proposal process.

That same theme became one of the arguments by the four Council members who voted against the Masonic Temple purchase. In a letter delivered to Schor before Monday’s Council meeting — at which the Council was expected to reconsider the Temple building purchase — the four said the process had not been transparent.

In his letter today, Schor called the process “very transparent” as he reviewed the steps his administration took to choose the Boji plan over Granger’s. He continued to shift the blame to Granger, saying the developer failed to respond after the city asked both bidders for changes to their original proposals.

In rejecting the Council members’ demand for a new, 30-day bidding process, Schor said doing so “would put into question our bidding process."

“People will not bid on city projects if they believe that the loser can force a re-bid and undercut them. This gives a leg up to a losing bidder, and is bad practice for any entity that bids out projects.”

Moreover, doing so “would add significant time to the process of finalizing a new city hall, potentially putting new and existing state funds for Lansing in jeopardy. The Legislature is considering its budget now. Not having certainty could make it very difficult to ask for and receive further funding, when the city still hasn’t decided what to do with the existing $40 million that has been allocated to us.”

For example, Schor wrote that the delay could risk “significant dollars for projects like Logan Square and others.” Moreover, a delay could cause legislators to try to “claw back unspent and unallocated City Hall dollars.”

Our legislators have done a great job for us, and I am not willing to put them in that position,” he said.

Schor also pointed to a legality. “The request you made in your letter for the City Council to be part of the bid process (‘the bidding entities should be allowed to provide answers to the public and Council’) runs contrary to city ordinance” 206.06. He said the ordinance sets out a process “specifically intended to not be public, so that no bidder can exert improper influence.”

He added that the “Council can approve or deny any purchase of land or long-term leases. Should there be any requests for land purchase, I will certainly present those options to you for your consideration.”

Schor strongly defended his choice of the Masonic Temple.

“This would be the best place for a new City Hall, based on the benefits of the proposal (rehabilitation of two historic buildings, customer service center, new hotel, etc.).”

Counting the Council members’ contention that many residents oppose the plan, Schor said, “I believe that you are listening to the vocal minority rather than the quiet majority.”

 “I have had many people stop me around town and at events (as recently as yesterday) and indicate their excitement about this proposal because of the re-use of the Temple as well as the re-use of the current City Hall.

“A recent poll of Lansing residents indicated 58% support a plan to use already-passed state funding to build a new city hall with a one-stop customer shop that this plan provides,” he added.

The Council members offered other criticisms in their letter that Schor addressed one by one.

He said the public parking situation would be better, not worse, as the four Council members contend.

He rebutted their concern about the building's age by arguing that it is worth the effort to preserve a historic site and citing other successful examples of doing so in Lansing.

Addressing their complaint that the building is too big for the city’s needs, Schor countered that the plan to lease the top three floors would give the city a “non-general fund revenue stream to ensure that the building is maintained. I see this as a win for our city.” Administrative offices of the Lansing School District have been mentioned as a possible tenant.

However, he said, he would consider using the additional space for city offices not now housed in City Hall if that was a sticking point.

As for Schor’s plans if he cannot persuade at least one of the Council members to vote for the Masonic Temple, he wrote, “I will look at all possible options, including potential vacant sites as well available buildings. I will look at existing city property, and if we can make it work within the $40 million then I will move forward with the funds allocated by the state that have been appropriated by City Council. If private property is a better option, then I will bring to City Council an option for purchase.”

But, he closed, “if any of you are willing to vote yes on the Masonic Temple based on this new information provided, then we can move forward with the newest resolution that was provided to City Council. I will provide the public and City Council information on these future City Hall plans as soon as possible.”


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