Monthly Archives: October 2011

Lansing Police Department Works with Businesses, Residents to Help Cut Crime

By: Jack Crawley
Old Town Times staff writer

The Lansing Police Department works with many residents and businesses in Old Town through its Neighborhood and Business Watch programs, which work to cut down crime in both residential and commercial areas of the city.

Many Old Town residents are involved in the Neighborhood Watch. Theresa Mironiuk, the officer in charge of the programs, said that a lot of the activity within Old Town neighborhoods run through the Lansing Neighborhoods Council.

Many Old Town businesses, however, are involved with Business Watch. Mironiuk said that the idea for the Business Watch was based on the Neighborhood Watch model. Both involve people and police working together in order to help deter crime. Additionally, businesses involved with the program receive updates on crimes committed against other businesses in the area and crimes that are trending.

While Summer Schriner, owner of Grace Boutique, said that she can tell the LPD, which recently had to deal with heavy cuts, has been very busy lately, the department could be getting even busier if Mironiuk’s goals for the Neighborhood and Business Watch programs are met.

“Ideally, my goal would be to have a majority of the city involved, or at least certain areas of the city where if someone wanted to be a part of it they could join one that’s relatively close to there’s,” Mironiuk said. There are currently 133 neighborhood watches and 44 business watches. Mironiuk is the only officer working on the programs. She said that since July 1, 15 neighborhoods and at least 20 businesses have started watches.

Business owners within Old Town seem happy with the program. “It makes me feel safer knowing what’s going on out there and to watch out for certain things that might be happening. If anything is trending, whether it be theft or vandalism, it just gives you a chance to watch out for those kinds of things so hopefully you won’t become victim to that yourself,” said Sarah Christiansen, owner of Katalyst Gallery.

Christiansen also said that the LPD’s Business Watch program helps add to the sense of community in Old Town’s business district, but that relationships among the businesses are already strong. Schriner also feels that Old Town businesses do a good job of watching out for and communicating with each other. “Area businesses seem to have a bit of a network going on, where, especially in Old Town, everyone tries to call everyone else if something is going on. LPD more keeps us updated on what’s going on everywhere, and they do everything they can for us in that area, but it’s more of our neighborhood’s responsibility to contact each other,” Schriner said.

Perhaps it’s this strong feeling of community and protection among fellow businesses in Old Town that persuades Christiansen that the district’s reputation as a sometimes dangerous area is a misconception. Christiansen said that Katalyst has not had any crime problems.

Schriner feels the same way.

“It’s a very close-knit neighborhood. I feel safer here than I do in my own neighborhood. Everyone’s always kind of keeping an eye out for each other here, and I think that definitely make it feel like a lot safer place to be,” Schriner said.

Despite businesses feeling like Old Town is a safe zone, Schriner said that there have been incidents of suspected shoplifters, but that communication among the businesses has been good in these cases. She also said that if an actual crime takes place, they are sure to contact the LPD.

Please see the resources below if you are interested in becoming involved in a neighborhood watch or are a business owner who would like to get your business involved in a watch. Also below is map of North Lansing neighborhood watches.

Neighborhood and Business Watch Info:

 

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Michigan Historic Preservation Network Looks to Make Dilapidation Renovation

By: Jack Crawley
Old Town Times staff writer

Thelma Joyce Osteen Comfort Station; Photo by: Jack Crawley

 

The Michigan Historic Preservation Network recently put in a bid to purchase and renovate the long-vacant Thelma Joyce Osteen Comfort Station, located at 313 E. Grand River Ave. in Old Town.

The MHPN plans to use the second floor of the two-story building as its new headquarters, while leasing out the first floor for retail. The purchase price of the building is currently set at $60,000 and will be be voted upon in the coming weeks.

MHPN Executive Director Nancy Finegood said that the Michigan Historic Tax Credit program will provide a tax credit and the organization will also receive a small facade grant from the City of Lansing. Preserving the Comfort Station would fall in line with MHPN’s stated goal of advocating for “Michigan’s historic places to contribute to our economic vitality, sense of place and connection to the past.” The Comfort Station is nearly 100 years old. It was originally “affiliated with an interurban rail system,” and has most recently been used as a meeting place for community groups.

Old Town Commercial Association Executive Director Brittney Hoszkiw said that she is excited to see the Comfort Station put to productive use. A network dedicated to preserving history moving into a historic building in Lansing’s historic district seems to be a great fit. Finegood said that they are the “perfect tenants” for the building and that MHPN has been looking into using the building since it moved to Lansing nine years ago.

The MHPN is currently headquartered in Old Town, at 107 E. Grand River Ave., just down the road from its proposed new headquarters, at 107 E. Grand River Ave.

Finegood feels that the move to the Comfort Station is advantageous to MHPN. “We’ve been wanting to purchase a building to sort of walk the walk, instead of just talk the talk about rehabbing a historic building,” she said. We’ve been around for over 30 years and we’ve never had the opportunity to actually purchase and rehab a building.”

MHPN must address health issues within the building, since the building currently contains asbestos and lead inside. Finegood said that they are in the process of reviewing the environmental analysis to determine the cost of that abatement. Other renovations are anticipated to cost the network about $400,000.

Beyond the initial rehabilitation of the historic building, Finegood said that MHPN has both short-term and long-term goals in mind. Finegood said that the network would like to use the building for teaching preservation skills and for job training workshops. “We’re going to be starting a revolving fund program where we lend grant money to small projects that would not be eligible for federal tax credits. This will be our first acquisition … and it will be a model for other projects,” Finegood said of MHPN’s long-term goals.

Many who live in or around Old Town seem eager to see the Comfort Station come back to life. “I know that it hasn’t been used for much, so I guess that if they can find a reasonably productive use for it, that’s good,” said Steve Butts, who lives near Old Town. Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing believes people are excited that an organization that does historic work will be using a historic structure.

On the other side of the coin, some oppose the sale. “There was a contingent from the ‘old’ Old Town who believed that it should always be a neighborhood center,” said Bill Castanier, a literary journalist who used to have an office in Old Town and still lives near the area. He said that he believes that this contingent will make their voices heard on the issue, but that they will not prevail because MHPN wants to use the building for a good public purpose.

Residents will have a chance to voice their opinion on the Comfort Station purchase when the Lansing City Council hosts a public hearing on the issue on Oct. 24 at Lansing City Hall, 124 W. Michigan Ave., at 7 p.m.

Please see the qualifications below that the City of Lansing required of all applicants in order to put in a bid on the building.

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Debate about Property Tax Millage Continues

By Katie Harrington
Old Town Times staff writer

Feelings about the property tax millage varied at the Lansing City Council meeting on Oct. 17.  While council members supported the millage, citizens argued against it.

Lansing City Council Meeting, Oct. 17

The millage, which consists of 1.5 mills for police funding, 1.5 mills for fire operations funding and one mill for other essential expenses such as repairing roads, is expected to raise $7.5 million in extra funding.

“We have one of two things that we can do when our budget revenues don’t match our budget expenses,” said City Council President A’Lynne Robinson.  “We can make drastic reductions to our budget, which would include layoffs and cuts to services, or we can find ways to raise revenue.  And this is one way to raise millions of dollars to which everyone across the city can contribute.”

The changes that may occur if the millage does not pass include police officer layoffs and fire station closings.  The city has already closed two fire stations and more are currently in danger.  Council members also said that police and fire response times will drastically increase if the millage is voted down.

“We would lose officers and expand the cover area,” Robinson said.  “There is no doubt that the response times will increase.”

During the meeting, residents had a chance to voice their opinions in front of the council and their views varied.

Lansing resident Michael Williams is in favor of the millage.  “I ask the voters, don’t ask what Lansing can do for you, ask what you can do for Lansing,” said Williams.  “Paying taxes is what gets our roads fixed.  It allows you to call the police and the fire department. People have to pay taxes.”

Charlene Decker, a Lansing resident, disagreed and is reluctant to vote for the millage because she feels that Lansing politicians are not always honest about the use of tax dollars.  “We have to take care of our money, that’s the first thing,” said Decker.  “We gotta let people understand that we don’t have that kind of money sitting around right now.”

Still, some believe that the council is not being honest about what the money will be used for.

Robinson said that to fix this problem, the language in the ballot has been changed since May.  “The ballot actually says ‘dedicated’ to police, fire and roads,” Robinson said.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero asserted that there is nothing to be worried about.

“The guarantee is that the money will be spent exactly how it’s supposed to be spent,” said Bernero.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mSFzivLrYM

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Old Town Boundaries Cause Conflict

By Katie Harrington
Old Town Times staff writer

Old Town may be a Lansing treasure, full of art and entertainment and growing in popularity each day.  But to some, Old Town has extended its boundaries too far into neighboring residential areas, and recently there has been an increasing problem of where exactly those boundaries are.

The issue of Old Town’s borders first began to unfold with the opening of Rizzi Designs, located on North Pine Street in Lansing.

“When they opened, [The owner of Rizzi Designs] stated that she was in Old Town when she is not,” said Rina Risper, the publisher of The New Citizens Press and a resident of the Walnut neighborhood in Lansing.  “She did this to market herself better.  In my opinion it’s deceptive marketing.”

Although Rizzi Designs is a member of the Old Town Commercial Association, an organization that anyone can join, Risper claims that the store is not within the boundaries of Old Town, and that this has blurred the lines of what exactly constitutes a part of Old Town.

Risper said that the neighborhood she lives in, Walnut neighborhood, located west of the center of Old Town, has also been called part of Old Town.  However, she insists that it is not.

Old Town boundaries as seen in a 2005 brochure

“[Old Town] is its own distinct place, and we are distinct,” Risper said.  “I’ve been here for 20 years, and nobody thinks my neighborhood is part of Old Town.”

Eric Schertzing, the Ingham County treasurer, said that although there are boundaries for the OTCA, the boundaries for Old Town are not laid out anywhere.

“My more generic term that I use would be ‘Old Town neighborhood,’” Shertzing said.  “I don’t think anyone outside the OTCA district should say they’re within the district, but I’m not doing anything to stop that.  I don’t have any control to police those words.”

Rochelle Rizzi, the owner of Rizzi Designs, has been an OTCA board member for more than a decade and doesn’t see a problem with associating her business with Old Town.

“We’re very proud of our association with Old Town,” said Rizzi.  “I don’t know where this issue is coming from.”

Part of the problem, according to some Lansing residents, is that they don’t want to be associated with the environment of Old Town.

“It has turned into one big party,” said Walnut neighborhood resident Mike Todd.  “When you link us up to Old Town, you link us up with gay pride festivals, the Jazz Fest, Oktoberfest, etc.  That’s good over there, but why would we want to bring all that up in the neighborhoods?”

Todd said that his neighborhood is mostly older citizens and children and that he doesn’t want the culture of Old Town to disturb the traditions of his neighborhood.

“We live here in a comfortably peaceful neighborhood,” Todd said.  “And these people come in and act like we don’t exist. They want to come in, renovate, do all this stuff in our neighborhood and do it all with our money.”

According to Todd and Risper, there has been no discussion as to the boundaries and the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods have had no say in the matter.

However, Rizzi said that the OTCA board meetings are open to the public.

“Anyone is welcome to get on our agenda and voice their concerns at any time,” Rizzi said.  “We’re all about building bridges and bettering the community.”

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Old Town Organization Committee Meeting to Discuss Sponsors and Popcorn Tins that Raise Money for Old Town

The Old Town Organization Committee met for a regular meeting on Monday, Sep. 26 at 5 p.m. in the Old Town Commercial Association office in Old Town.

The committee is volunteer based and usually meets on the third Thursday of every month to discuss various things involving the town, said Brittney Hoszkiw, the executive director.  The OTCA is a membership organization that provides services to businesses that pay dues, she said.  Hoszkiw ran the meeting.

The committee discussed making a popcorn bin from the store Cravings Gourmet Popcorn, located in Old Town.  Hoszkiw said the popcorn tin was an idea from Chad Jordan, the owner of the popcorn shop, to help raise money for the Old Town Commercial Association.

“The tin is a typical popcorn tin filled with Cravings popcorn and Old Town goodies,” said Hoszkiw. “We are hoping to have them in stores in Old Town for the holidays.”

Hoszkiw then brought up sponsors, which is volunteer Shannon Rolley’s responsibility.

Hoszkiw said that because the committee hosts so many events, they have general sponsors for the town but they get visibility at different events depending on the demographic they are trying to target.

“Part of the committee’s responsibility is to find sponsors for our fundraising festivals and events to help cover the upfront costs of the festivals (tents, licenses, entertainment, etc.) so that all the money raised during the actual event can go towards the cause,” said Rolley. “Each year we review our sponsorship levels and offerings and put together a packet of information to send out to prospective sponsor organizations so they can see what type of investment they could make and what the return would be,” she said.

The committee then discussed Octoberfest, which is held in Old Town on Oct. 16 and 17.

“Old Town Oktoberfest is organized by a sub committee of the Promotions Committee,” said Hoszkiw.  “They meet every other week from July until October and are involved in all aspects of event planning.  The Organization has little to do with Oktoberfest other than helping us spread the word.”

They also described what the committee called, the charitable giving campaign.

“Currently the OTCA has about 100 members,” said Hoszkiw.  “A majority of them are businesses that support the OTCA and utilize some of the member services.  However, after discussing our fundraising strategy, we realized that there are a whole segment of individuals, including students, that would support Old Town and show their pride through a donation.  The materials being designed for the charitable giving campaign will speak directly to individuals that love Old Town and want to support.”

To find out more information about the membership program on our website www.iloveoldtown.org under become a member.

 

 

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Have Crime Rates Decreased in Old Town?

Captain Mike Yankowski, of the Lansing Police Department, said crime rates have gone down in Old Town.

“I do not have specific crime stats, but [crime] has [decreased],” he said. “Occasionally, we will have a breaking and entering, larceny, or robbery.”

Yankowski said he is in charge of all of the department’s Road Patrol Division, which includes 120 employees.

Yankowski said no specific officer is assigned to protect Old Town.

“Old Town is in team number two. There is no community policing officer in Old Town. There are a total of four to five officers that normally work the area, but on different days,” he said.

Brittney Hoszkiw, the executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association, said North Lansing has one of the lowest crime rates in the city.

Hoszkiw said she communicates directly with the businesses of Old Town and the LPD regarding crime in the area.

Jamie Schriner-Hooper, a volunteer on the Old Town Organization Committee, said they have been fighting the perception that Old Town is a dangerous place for some time.

She said the crime rate has decreased over the past 10 years as the vacancy rates have as well.

Yankowski said the most common type of crime he sees in Old Town is probably larceny or malicious destruction of property and Schriner-Hooper said there are occasional break in’s.

Yankowski said the worst crime he can recall this year happened in the spring.
“[There were] four breaking and entering [cases] to several businesses,” said Yankowski. “The Speedway at Larch and Grand River was robbed at knifepoint.”

Schriner-Hooper said the person responsible for the breaking and entering was caught.

Katie Robiadek, program manager at the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, said Old Town is still developing and the crime rate of stealing and violence has remained the same.

“Active citizens and many organizations in Old Town are working to attract investment and residents after the long years of abandonment by government and residents alike, therefore it still suffers from high crime rates,” she said.

Robiadek said she recalled an incident where a friend was assaulted in Old Town.

“An acquaintance was physically assaulted without cause by patrons of the Unicorn Tavern who were standing on the sidewalk outside the establishment and blocking the public right of way,” she said.  “My acquaintance needed medical attention for the injuries the patrons of the Unicorn Tavern caused him and is still overcoming the horrible emotional toll.”

Yankowski said that Octoberfest, a two-day festival in Old Town (it was held on the Oct. 7 and 8 of this year) has not substantially affected crime rates in the past.

“Old Town remains a great neighborhood to live, work and visit,” said Yankowski. “It’s a great place because of the passion of the citizens and business owners. Those who visit are respectful to the neighborhood. The Old Town Commercial Association has done a great job and LPD has a great working relationship with those in the area.”

“Part of why I feel so safe in Old Town, and why our crime rates have gone down is because the community looks out for each other,” said Schriner-Hooper, who said her first home was in Old Town and that she plans to live there again in the near future. “It truly is a family. Everyone knows each other and cares about the community.”

Robiadek and Schriner-Hooper both said people should still take standard safety precautions while in Old Town.

Robiadek said she had a few ideas about how to make Old Town a safer place.

“My opinion is that more investment needs to be sought to increase the curb appeal in outlying parts of Old Town,” said Robiadek.  “Also, property owners need to be held responsible for the condition of their property.  More new residential housing options would be nice.”

Map

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New Mural Program for Old Town

A new mural will decorate the walls of the alley
on the corner of Turner Street and E. Grand River Ave.

The program called Art Spot allowed residents and visitors to choose from more than 10 sketches of prospective murals that could appear in the alley.

“Local artists had the opportunity to submit sketches,” said Brittney Hoszkiw the executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association. “If chosen they will be the ones installing the murals. We hope to begin work immediately, but completion will depend on the weather.” The winners have not yet been announced.

She added that the mural will be in three different parts, on three different buildings: the Wild Rose Café, Swanson Design and 317 E. Grand River Ave.

Planned Mural Locations

 

The OTCA, the mural’s design committee and the business owners involved in the project met Monday night to discuss and solidify the plan for the project, said OTCA Employee Lisa Wright.

The Ingham County Treasurer, Eric Schertzing recently supported a similar project in North Lansing where local artists were allowed to paint their own graffiti on the Deluxe Inn after it closed.  The Inn was eventually demolished, but the murals will stay. Schertzing said in an earlier interview that Old Town is based on art and that anything aimed at promoting art will help the community.

Residents of Old Town Group also supports the program and anything generally related to art in Old Town.

“I think any program to help advance art in Old Town is one I would support,” said Mike Davis Jr., the president of the ROOT Group.

“It will create another layer of opportunity, make a utilitarian alley into an attraction in the community and provide an outlet for emerging artists to display their work in the Lansing
area,” Hoszkiw said.

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