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Micky Hirten: Cedar Street Arts Center on the way?
December 6, 2009
There's a plan developing for the long-discussed Lansing "Arts Center" that's not quite cooked, but certainly intriguing.
It would locate the Impression 5 Science Center, the BoarsHead Theater, the Lansing Art Gallery and similar organizations in a sprawling building at the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Cedar Street.
Local arts organizations have discussed a proposal and location with Lansing officials. There are, of course, money issues; who pays and how much?
The location is directly south of a new parking structure to be built by the city. This five-level structure will be bid sometime between April and June 2010 and will cost about $9 million, says Bob Johnson, director of Lansing's Planning and Neighborhood Development Office.
The city always seems to need more parking and there's not much on the east side of the Grand River.
But what's far more interesting in the architectural drawings of the parking structure is the contiguous building labeled "potential future space."
As detailed in the site plan, which the city released only after a Freedom of Information Act process, the structure would fill the parking lot adjacent to Cedar Street. The site plan shows three levels of floor space with 15-foot ceilings, making it suitable for specialty uses like museums or galleries or small theater. It could also be used as an extension to the Lansing Center, Johnson said. At this point, it won't be part of the parking structure bid.
"We're interested in the project and exploring all of the options," said Erik Larson, executive director of Impression 5. His museum's attendance is growing nicely (now attracting about 109,000 visitors a year.)
He notes that an arts center would be a large investment in the core downtown district and the location is outstanding.
"When you place a cultural arts center between two of the largest Lansing draws -- the Lansing Center and baseball stadium, there's a great deal of opportunity for critical mass."
With the completion of the new City Market to the north and with the potential offered by the new Accident Fund headquarters, an arts center could become the hub unifying all of these sites.
As Larson explains it, the challenge is finding entities that can work collaboratively and use the space "as 24/7 as possible."
This reflects the relationship between Impression 5 and the nearby Riverwalk Theatre. The museum is busy during the day; the theater at night.
Some of the planning for this arts center was conceived during better fiscal times. Budget woes make it difficult to project when - or whether - this project will fly.
Arts organizations will need to make significant financial contributions. It may require a community-wide capital campaign.
The fiscal health of one key participant, the BoarsHead Theater, is grim and an affiliation with Lansing Community College would address the challenge of finding a new home. The city owns the current building on Grand Avenue and plans to demolish it for, that's right, parking.
But things will improve. And speeding that improvement would be an arts center in the heart of Lansing.
What do you think? Write Mickey Hirten, Lansing State Journal, 120 E. Lenawee St., Lansing, MI 48919. For past columns, visit www.lsj.com/columnists.