Budget plants seeds for museum complex
A majority on Lansing City Council sees a whole lot of promise in two line items that amount to just $37,000 in the city's 2006 budget.
The outlays - $12,000 to operate the Lansing Historical Museum and $25,000 to hire a site supervisor for the museum - are among the first steps the city is taking in what officials hope will lead to the establishment of a complex that includes the Lansing Historical Museum and a new Regional Prisons Museum.
Last week when the council approved the 2006 city budget on a 5-2 vote, discussion of the museum, both in its current state and in its future metamorphosis, was front and center.
"As many of you are aware," Council member Robert Ulin said during Thursday's budget hearing, "I am a big supporter of the Regional Prisons Museum. I think this museum will be a major attraction that will directly benefit Lansing and indirectly benefit our entire community.
"All of you realize Lansing is not a destination; it is a place you go through to get someplace else. We have to change that."
Approval of the budget included a go-ahead for the city to enter into a contract with the Lansing Historical Society to take over daily operations of the museum beginning Jan. 1, 2006. The changeover will allow the city to extend the museum's hours from the current six hours a week to more than 30 hours a week and it will allow the to-be hired site supervisor to work on securing grants toward the Regional Prisons Museum.
"I have said from the beginning that I do not intend to spend taxpayers' money on the museum," Mayor Kenneth Bernard said, noting his belief that the city can build the prisons museum with grant money, donations and other outside sources. The new site supervisor, he said, would be able to collect information - where is the money available, whom do we need to contact, what do we need to do? - that is vital to getting the prisons museum off the ground.
Council member Billy Blackwell, who voted against the budget, expressed trepidation.
"The reason being is I don't think we've determined the direction that we want to go with the museum," Blackwell said. "I don't think we've determined what we need for the museum in terms of funding, what's out there, how we're going to get it."
He said he didn't think the city would be able to get the work it was seeking from a site supervisor for amount budgeted.
"If you think $25K will buy somebody to run that museum and do a bang-up job, I would adamantly disagree with you on that," Blackwell said. "We've got probably to throw a little bit more money to get somebody to do what we've outlined to do and what the historical society has said they want in the museum."
Bernard dismissed such talk.
"We have talked with some potential candidates who will in fact work for the money that we're giving because of the benefits," he said, referring to the city employee benefits the museum director would be eligible for.
Ulin, who commented when the prisons museum idea was first floated in March that the city needed a solid business plan for the venture, said his discussions with Bernard, City Administrator Mike Smith and Economic Development director Shanae Randolph had put his mind at ease.
"I believe the staff has a viable roadmap that will involve the council, business leaders and representatives from the Lansing Historical Society," Ulin said. "This body will develop a comprehensive business plan that will enable us to move forward with this project in such a way that it will virtually eliminate the need for public funding in the development and construction of the museum complex."
Council member Harland Russell, who also voted against the budget, wondered if the city was taking on another task at a time when it has other economic development projects, including Towne Center, unresolved.
"As excited as I am about the museum project and the drawings that were presented and the plans, I question whether or not the time is right now," he said.
Linda Lockwood, president of Lansing Historical Society, said the timing was right.
"We feel that with Lansing growing the way it is, now is the best time to start a venture like this, and it will do nothing but benefit the city of Lansing," Lockwood said.