Here Are 14 Stories We Expect Will Be Big in 2019

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Friday, December 28, 2018, 7:57 am
Alice Dreger, Publisher

As the leader of the East Lansing Info (ELi) government reporting team, I thought about bringing you the list of the Top Ten “hard” news stories we expect to be covering for you in 2019. But then I realized, considering the Park Place plan may involve the first 14-story building in East Lansing, we should think about the Top Fourteen stories. So, here you go:

1. Park Place: The agreement between the developers and East Lansing’s Downtown Development authority called for the site plan of Park Place – which would be the third large redevelopment downtown during a single span – to be submitted on Monday, December 17. 

We filed a Freedom of Information Act Request to see it, but the City says it needs two more weeks to locate it. What we know so far is that the developers are talking about a 14-story building along Abbot Road where Dublin Square now stands plus a 12-story building along Evergreen Avenue near Valley Court Park. (Read more.)

The project is already quite controversial. A majority of Planning Commission doesn’t like the idea of such a big building along Evergreen Avenue, and this past week at Council, Council Member Aaron Stephens said he can’t support that idea either.

2. City Council elections: In November, the terms of three members of Council will be up: Erik Altmann, Shanna Draheim, and Mark Meadows. Will they run for re-election, and who else will put themselves up for the three open seats?

Whoever runs, you know we’ll bring you information on their records and campaign finance, and we’ll be fact-checking their campaign claims.

3. The income tax: East Lansing’s new income tax officially begins January 1. ELi will stay on this story for you, looking at how the administration is going, what’s happening in terms of MSU’s approach to the tax (MSU is expected to be the source of a large chunk of the new revenue), and how much money is really coming into the City from the tax.

4. Town-gown relations: With the new income tax, a new president likely to be hired by MSU, the university’s concerns about balancing on- and off-campus housing, and Council Member Aaron Stephen’s decision to form a task force to look at student housing issues, we expect that 2019 will be a big year for coverage by ELi of town-gown relations.

5. The future of the Hannah Community Center: Hannah continues to cost over a million dollars a year net, but Council Member Shanna Draheim has suggested that maybe there’s a way to shrink that net cost and make the beloved public asset a more exciting destination for a broader section of the community.

A special committee is forming to study the question, and we’ll be keeping you posted on their work.

6. Park District: The DRW/Convexity project at the blighted corner is set to start any day now. It will include a 12-story building at the main corner and a 10-story The Graduate hotel next door. (The Park Place project would be immediately north of this.)

But is the drama really all over with this redevelopment, and what will it mean for businesses downtown to be facing a second major redevelopment project while Center City is still going on? We’ll be tracking those questions.

7. Center City: Speaking of that big project now under construction in the heart of downtown, this week, we reported that Bario Tacos ("tacos + tequila + whiskey") out of Cleveland is looking to move into the Albert Avenue retail space.

Last week, Council voted through more parking vouchers for the downtown businesses so customers can continue to obtain free parking via shops and restaurants near Center City.

We’ll keep following which new stores and restaurants are expected to move in, how the tax increment financing dollars are really being used, and what’s happening to existing businesses as they continue to face the hardships associated with the project’s construction.

8. Marijuana comes to town: The current City Council has set the stage for marijuana growing and dispensing to come to East Lansing. How will it really play out? We’ll keep you posted like nobody else as policy turns into reality.

For example, we’ll be following consideration of draft ordinance 1448, which would give the City an economic advantage in the race to make money off properties qualified to become medical provisioning centers in East Lansing. Last week, Draheim and Stephens objected to the idea that the City should give itself a real estate advantage over private-property owners in this game, but Meadows responded that he sees it as his job to maximize income for the taxpayers.

9. Senior housing: ELi is gearing up to substantially increase its reporting on and outreach to senior citizens in 2019. Top among the issues we plan to cover is the perceived lack of good housing options. The Bailey Center has opened – not without some concerns – and Center City’s “active adult” (age 55+) rental apartments are now under construction. But will more be done?

10. New schools, new school board, new school boundaries: With the new Donley and Glencairn Elementary Schools set to open in the fall, Red Cedar open and currently functioning as a “swing” school, and Marble, Whitehills, and Pinecrest set to be rebuilt, we’ll be following progress and the shifting of boundaries.

We’ll also be following the actions of the new School Board and keeping you apprised.

11. Public works: Expect in 2019 to see a ton of new public works projects, from major work at the City’s wastewater treatment plant, to rebuilding of roads, to work on lead pipe concerns, continued fixing and extending of trails, and more. Not only will we keep you informed about these activities, we’ll also get your questions on them answered if you contact us.

12. The City Attorney: In June of this year, Draheim and Stephens were rebuffed in attempts to call for applications for the job of City Attorney, but Ruth Beier said at the time that she might consider supporting opening up the job to other applicants in the near future.

We’ll follow this story and take a look at what it’s costing City taxpayers to pay not only Tom Yeadon and his partners, but the many outside law firms also hired to manage the various issues and cases Yeadon’s firm doesn’t take on.

13. Transparency: City leaders talk a lot about “open government,” but the reality is that it’s often challenging in this City to find out information that is supposed to be public. We reported last week on how a 3-2 majority of Council voted to change the City’s approach to Freedom of Information Act requests, giving the City Manager and Mayor powers previously held by all of Council.

We’ll stay on this issue, because ELi believes that a major function of a free press is pushing for the public’s right to know what’s being done by and in the name of their governments, how tax dollars are being spent, and why decisions are being made the way they are.

Photo: Ryan Hodnett

14. You never know: We can’t possibly guess what else we’ll be covering for you, because you never know what’s going to pop up in East Lansing! It could be scooters, the City threatening to arrest a man over a driveway, a carjacking attempt, a law over air conditioning noise, or a bumper crop of skunks (literally).

Whatever it is, we plan to be here to bring you the news.

Will we be able to bring you that news? As of this moment, we’ve raised just over $70,000 of the $80,000 we need to be sustainable throughout 2019. If you can pitch in some funds now – before January 1 – we can see those dollars matched, and you get a tax deduction as you bring us closer to sustainability for 2019.

There are two ways to help: a lump sum donation or a monthly commitment of a steady amount. Click here to see your options to support ELi right now! Thank you!



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