Ten Big Local Stories on Which ELi Will Shed Light in 2020

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Tuesday, December 31, 2019, 7:45 am
Alice Dreger, Publisher

Above: Sunrise along Albert Ave. (photo by Ann Graham Nichols, with the ELi light-shedding orb added).

One of the great joys of seeing ELi’s year-end Sustainability Campaign obtaining community-wide support is knowing the ELi reporting staff will be able to tackle the big stories for you in the coming year. We can’t completely predict what we’ll have to cover, but here’s our Top Ten list of stories we think will be big in East Lansing in 2020:

#1 East Lansing’s new income tax and the City’s ongoing financial problems: We first broke the story in July that the new municipal income tax is not going to net the $5 million/year estimated by the pre-vote review provided by external consultant Plante Moran. East Lansing Finance Director Jill Feldpausch tells ELi the first year is likely to net closer to $3.3 million.

Above: East Lansing Income Tax Administrator DaMar Boyd (photo by Andrew Graham)

The income tax was never going to be a cure-all, but now we know for sure there’s going to have to be more creative budgeting to deal with the City’s serious pension debt problem. The good news is that some extra revenue sources have been materializing as hoped. We’ll track the City’s major revenue sources, expenses, and budget decisions for you throughout 2020.

#2 The future of East Lansing’s festivals: The decision by MSU Museum Director Mark Auslander to end the Great Lakes Folk Festival combined with a late shake-up of the East Lansing Art Festival combined with the City’s budget problems has left the future of the festivals in doubt. What will happen in 2020? New staff, new approaches, new leadership, new revenue sources? We’ll let you know.

Above: Core Spaces' proposed "Hub 2" project for Bogue Street in a rendering from the developers.

#3 The downtown apartment boom: Even as another big proposal for more student housing is coming from Core Spaces to City Council, the City’s planning staff is working on finding an external consultant to try to figure out what might happen in the coming years — and to advise what the City might be able to do to encourage more diversity of residents downtown and to enable more families to move into the East Lansing Public Schools basin.

#4 New elementary schools and the Red Cedar School question: More families are expected to be attracted to the District as the new elementary schools continue to be constructed and opened. The construction of Donley and Glencairn are still a bit incomplete, and this has some wondering what will happen with the other schools’ construction. Whatever happens, ELi will track it along with whatever is ultimately decided about programming at Red Cedar School.

Above: Pinecrest Elementary School groundbreaking (photo by Mark Meyer)

#5 Voters’ decision on whether to allow sale of Lot 4 to MSUFCU: This vote is scheduled to happen on March 10, the same day as the presidential primaries in Michigan. In advance of the ballot proposal, we will bring you what we can find out about MSUFCU’s plans. As always, we’ll also provide context to help you vote in an educated fashion.

#6 Parking, parking, parking: Already the MSUFCU Lot 4 concept is causing some controversy because it would result in the reduction of parking spaces available downtown. The City is set to convene a new Parking Task Force to study parking downtown, as some say we have too much and others too little. Street parking is likely to also remain a hot political topic as we move into 2020.

Above: Downtown parking meters (photo by Ray Holt)

#7 Environmental changes: The parking debate is, of course, wrapped up with a debate about how to think about responsible transportation planning, as the globe faces climate change and attempts are being made by the City of East Lansing to encourage reduction carbon emissions by making the City more accessible via nonmotorized means. Although we’ve always covered the local environment, ELi is looking to do dedicated reporting this coming year on things like the influx of solar power systems, the deforestation of parts of the City, and City government environmental policy.

#8 Redevelopment in the Evergreen/Valley Court Park area: As The Abbot and The Graduate Hotel open in 2020, lots and lots of decisions will be made in 2020 about other parcels in this part of the City. The DDA has a call for proposals out on the Evergreen properties, and the Director of Public Works has recommended the City go ahead and do the major sewer rebuild now instead of waiting for that to all play out.

The City Council is also considering changing the boundaries of the Oakwood Historic District, including potentially taking Valley Court Park out of the District and allowing redevelopment on the land of the Valley Court Community Center. Expect big decisions about this whole area in 2020, and expect ELi to tell you what’s going on in time for you to weigh in.

#9 Form-based code: There’s one more big moving part in the whole downtown redevelopment scene, and that’s the move to adopt an architectural code for a large swath of downtown. Proponents hope that if it happens we’ll see faster redevelopment and better design downtown. Critics are concerned that the institution of a form-based code in East Lansing could in fact make redevelopment more difficult or that it will mean less citizen-input on specific redevelopment proposals.

Above: The current East Lansing City Council (photo by Ray Holt)

#10 Transparency: We know this is a big issue for our readers, so we will be continuing to look at places where our local authorities provide or obscure transparency. That means not just City Council, but ELPS School Board, ELPD and ELFD, and more.

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