"The key to a vibrant East Lansing isn’t the downtown."

What’s the obsession with downtown?

Why are a few miles of Grand River avenue more important than hundreds of miles of neighborhood streets and hundreds more miles of sidewalks? Do any of the city’s tax payers really believe that the Park District project will generate any return on their tax dollars?...whatever is built. Hasn’t everyone awakened to the hype of “game changing” projects? And come to think of it, our old city manager really could be mistaken for Robert Preston—The Music Man!

But unlike Staton, Professor Hill had the courage to stick around.

Let’s face it, downtown’s will become what they will, no matter how much taxpayer money is redirected to them. They are subject to the laws of economics. For East Lansing, that probably means student oriented retail, dining and housing—or empty buildings.

Across the country a quarter century of “downtown development” has mostly been a means of transferring taxpayer dollars to developers, with a nice skim to politicians. As I recall, when City Center II was on its death bed, a final study revealed that its assumptions for rentals, offices, retail and hotel space simply didn’t add up. Has anything changed? Did the Park District committee read the report? It should have been included in RFQP. Let’s stop the madness.

The key to a vibrant East Lansing isn’t the downtown. It’s the neighborhoods. It’s our tree lined streets and increasingly affordable beautiful old homes. It’s our small walkable elementary schools. And, by the way, does city hall give homeowners special financing and tax breaks to put on an addition?

The obsession with the Park District is based on all the money already invested. Since those dollars are gone, the city might just as well stay invested, maintain its equity and expect the developer to put in the rest of the money needed to develop it. That would go a long way to insure that what’s built would succeed.

And to that end, why not work with Michigan State on a senior housing project for alumni and faculty. These have worked with other universities. I’d vote to let the DDA die a peaceful death and welcome its members to a shiny new retirement facility, where, no matter what they did, it wouldn’t be damaging to our wallets.

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