Bailey Residents Concerned that Community Center on List for Sale

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Thursday, October 2, 2014, 5:13 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

In an effort to push development within city limits, City of East Lansing Planning staff have produced a recommended list of “redevelopment ready” properties. This is essentially a list meant to attract potential developers, and although Bailey neighborhood residents thought the Bailey Community Center had come off the redevelopment-ready list at their request, according to a recent disclosure by City Planning staff, the Bailey Community Center is back on the draft list.

This revelation angered members of the Bailey neighborhood who appeared at City Council’s September 23 work session concerned about the Bailey daycare and the Community Center that houses it. At the work session, with at least sixteen members of the Bailey community and daycare speaking in protest of the closure of the daycare and/or Community Center, Councilwoman Ruth Beier suggested to Council that the Community Center be taken off the redevelopment ready list.

Discussion by Council began only after an unusual two hours of public comment on the matter, with no citizen speaking in favor of closure. Seconding Beier’s concerns, Councilwoman Kathy Boyle told Council, “we need to consider the importance of the Community Center to the neighborhood and the neighborhood to the City of East Lansing.” Boyle said at the meeting, “It’s easy not to grasp how important this is to keeping that neighborhood vital. We talk about supporting fragile neighborhoods that surround the university.”

Beier stated outright, “The building should not be on a list for redevelopment. Since we get to recommend, I would recommend Bailey come off that list. It scares the community and it scares me.”

But Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris strongly disagreed, insisting it should stay on the list. “It’s just out there,” she said, adding, “I would hope people would see that as a positive, as part of a big picture.”

The rest of Council also did not ultimately provide any support for Beier’s recommendation. When I asked her afterward why Boyle did not push with Beier to take the Bailey Community Center off the redevelopment-ready list given that she appeared to share Beier’s concerns about the neighborhood’s stability, Boyle replied “I believe any decision regarding its future use or possible sale should be part of the Comprehensive Plan updates that are currently underway.” She added that Beier did not make a formal motion, so there was no vote.

Like many publicly-owned properties in the City of East Lansing, the Bailey Community Center does not bring in enough income to meet the costs of maintenance. This is also true of the Hannah Community Center, the Family Aquatic Center, and the soccer complex, for example.

In the discussion at the work session, Mayor Nathan Triplett said he would draw a “line in the sand” against any attempts to sell the green space or turn the building into student housing.

Replying to this, forty-year Bailey resident Roy Saper, owner of the downtown Saper Galleries, told me, “Triplett said he will not allow the green space to be taken away, which is another way of saying, in effect, that he is not against another use or owner of the building. Nathan was clearly not adamant about trying to save” the daycare or community center, “though he was very open about wanting everyone’s voice to be heard.”

The Councilmember with the least participation in the discussion of the Bailey Community Center’s future was Susan Woods, the only Council member who is also a resident of Bailey. Woods did say she appreciated the green space of the area. I asked Woods by email why she did not support Beier’s suggestion to take the property off the list, but Woods did not respond.

Tom Muth, a Lansing resident who has two children at the Bailey daycare, described his feeling about the matter this way: “Don’t put a for-sale sign on something unless you intend to sell it. You’ll annoy both potential buyers when you tell them no, and put those who use the building on edge about what will happen.”

Bailey resident and Planning Commissioner Erik Altmann told me he was “surprised and discouraged” to learn that the Bailey Community Center is back on the list of redevelopment ready properties. “No one said a word to us that it was going back on,” Altmann says, “And if this all wasn’t actually at the direction of the Mayor Pro Tem, it was clearly with her support, so this goes all the way up.” He concluded, “They’ve decided where they’re going with this.”

Saper says, “The City years ago wanted to get rid of the Bailey area Pump House building. The neighbors were vocal and vehement and the Pump House was saved. The same should be done with the Liberty Hyde Bailey school building.”

 

[This story was amended on October 2, 2014, to correct the residency status of Tom Muth (Mr. Muth lives in Lansing, not East Lansing) and to note that the redevelopment-ready list is, according to the City's Lori Mullins, a draft list.]

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