Lansing to build performing arts center on Washington Avenue
TUESDAY, Feb. 1 — A performing arts center that’s been in the making for two decades finally seems to be coming to fruition in downtown Lansing.
Lansing Mayor Andy Schor today announced plans to build a mid-size concert hall and arts center this year on vacant land at the southwest corner of South Washington Avenue and West Lenawee Street , in downtown Lansing. A Dymaxion development from Lansing, led by Jeff Deehan and Brent Forsberg, was named developer.
At a press conference due to start at 3 p.m. today, Schor unveiled details of an installation, called The Ovation, designed to fill the empty market niche between smaller venues and the 2,000 Wharton Center squares. A major goal is to attract national rock, country, hip-hop, comedy, and other attractions that typically skip Lansing to play in Detroit or Grand Rapids.
Fueled by a proposed public-private partnership that involves at least $10 million in dedicated city and state arts funding, the site could also host arts organizations, events and educational programs.
It will also serve as a year-round hive of cultural activity as the permanent home of the Lansing Public Media Center, Schor said.
And if additional funding comes in, it could have up to 40 units above the performance space where artists can live and work at rents meant to attract renters whose price is out of space elsewhere in the downtown. The income is intended to offset the operating costs of the performing arts center.
“For decades Lansing has needed a venue for concert and the performing arts,” Schor remarked. “This is an incredibly exciting opportunity to bring together concerts, community events, educational opportunities, speeches, comedy and so many other live performances in one new state-of-the-art venue. Bringing thousands of people to downtown Lansing for concerts and other events throughout the year will have an incredible impact on our small businesses.
Early plans called for the construction of a hall that could seat 1,530 – or 2,025 standing spectators – which could also eventually house local arts and cultural organizations like the All of the Above Hip-Hop Academy and the Lansing Art Gallery. Officials are also considering a calendar of concerts, classes, recitals, exhibitions, independent film screenings and other events throughout the year. It could also become the headquarters of the Capital City Film Festival.
Financing has not been finalized, but the construction project is expected to cost up to $21 million. At least $10 million has already been raised by state and local authorities to support arts and culture in Greater Lansing – including $2 million in the latest state budget, with the possibility of additional grants, d private investment and tax incentives yet to come.
City officials said a loan on housing and workspace lofts could also be requested, if needed. The city also hired Capitol Fundraising Associates to plan and finalize fundraising for the balance. Several organizations and community groups are already interested in sponsorships.
Early plans also include a private party room with a balcony overlooking the main stage; a second, smaller performance area near the lobby; multi-purpose community rooms for local non-profit organizations and school groups; and retail space along South Washington Avenue.
It could also mark the latest chapter in a 20-year saga to bring a performing arts center to Lansing — one that only began and stagnated under four different city governments.
In September, it was announced that the Lansing area would receive $2 million as part of this year’s state budget for the construction of a new performance hall. An additional $8 million in revenue is expected from the Public, Education, and Government Access Fee—or PEG—bond, giving the city of Lansing at least $10 million to launch the public-private project.
These fees are part of the franchise fees that cable companies pay the city in exchange for installing their cables in public rights-of-way. By law, 2% of gross revenue from these City of Lansing businesses must be used for capital investments, much like this project.
Dominic Cochran, director of the Lansing Public Media Center and a key player in the development of the proposed facility, said “the goal is not to have an operating grant at all.”
“The plan is to build a culture from the start that makes this really inclusive for the community – so everyone can have a sense of belonging,” Cochran said at today’s press conference. “I think because we work with these organizations like the Lansing Art Gallery and All of the Above Hip-Hop Academy, we expect this to be a very community-based installation.”
Market research predicted that the facility would attract up to 190,000 visitors a year, including 60,000 from out of town, and that visitors to the arts center would lose Lansing $5,300,000.
Lansing-based Wieland Construction, the contractor for the proposed facility, has already staged its equipment on Capitol Avenue, where construction of a new building is underway.
Capitol Fundraising Associates released a study in May 2020 concluding that a proposal for a larger $60 million facility was not feasible in Lansing, due to a lack of major donors in the area and “fatigue donors” among the others. At a stakeholder meeting last week, Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Area Economic Partnership, or LEAP, also urged the city to make the performing arts center a public- private sector to take advantage of brownfield tax credits. Schor said he was open to a brownfield project. State officials said the arts center may also be eligible for a $5 million grant under the Places Revitalization and Creation Program, a federal COVID-19 relief program.
State Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. also spoke at today’s press conference.
“Cities are not just jobs. Cities are also places for art and entertainment. It’s not just a place to go to work, but it’s also a place to inspire you – to improve your soul “, Hertel said. “Today’s plans show a commitment to Lansing as a hub for arts, music and culture.
Negotiations between city officials, developers and potential tenants will continue this month.
The next steps, according to a recent stakeholder presentation, are to “build consensus” among stakeholders on how to move forward and set fundraising goals by spring. And depending on how plans evolve, construction could begin this year, officials said.
LAWRENCE COSENTINO contributed to this report. Read more in this week’s print edition.