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East Lansing City Council puts Valley Court Park renovation on hold

An overhead view of the plan for Valley Court Park showcasing the pavilion. City Council voted against pursuing the proposal Tuesday.
An overhead view of the plan for Valley Court Park showcasing the proposed pavilion. City Council voted against pursuing the proposal Tuesday.

East Lansing is putting a proposal to renovate Valley Court Park on hold.

With Councilmember Noel Garcia Jr. absent at Tuesday's meeting, City Council deadlocked 2-2 and voted down a resolution to approve a grant funding agreement for the park. Councilmembers cited rising construction costs, criticism from residents and a growing number of staff departures as reasons for the decision.

The city had been exploringproposals for months to renovate Valley Court Park and install a covered pavilion. The new construction would have served the East Lansing Farmer's Market with dedicated space for food trucks as well as small performances.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) awarded East Lansing a $1 million grant for the project. A condition of the grant was that the city would have to match the amount of funding.

Officials had hoped the design would be an attractive location for families. But many residents voiced open criticism of the project design, arguing it would lead to the installation of excessive pavement and make the park more prone to flooding.

Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg supported the project. She said the renovations would generate activity downtown, but acknowledged the city didn't want to push for a design that lacked public support.

“The ultimate goal here is not to spend a million dollars of the state's money, but it is to create an amenity in our central downtown neighborhood that will be engaging and activating to our community members that live around it.”

Other officials said the council should consider how the increase in construction and material costs could affect the city's ability to pursue the project. City Attorney Anthony Chubb said the MEDC grant had specific timeline requirements that could be difficult to meet.

The loss of staff also seemed to damage the proposal. East Lansing City Hall has seen a wave of departures since council members terminated former City Manager George Lahanas' contract early. That includes Interim Director of Planning Peter Menser, who presented the park project to City Council and whose last day with the city is Wednesday.

Councilmember George Brookover voted against moving forward with the grant due to the atrophy of staff. Referring to the work of city employees as "sweat equity," Brookover said the loss of staff would make it difficult to pursue the project.

"We don't have enough staff," he said. “At this point, I think we'd better be using our workforce’s sweat equity for something else that maybe is more significant to the city.”

Officials said East Lansing could pursue renovations to the park in the future. But the city would need to secure a new source of funding for the project.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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