Monthly Archives: December 2011

Old Town Trying to instill a Business Improvement Zone

Old Town is trying to instill a Business Improvement Zone (BIZ) to increase funding.

“Old Town is part of what’s called a Principal Shopping District (PSD) and has its properties assessed, essentially a special tax,” said Jamie Schriner-Hooper, a volunteer for the Old Town Organization Committee.   “Old Town has been trying to put a Business Improvement Zone (BIZ) in place so that the funding stays in Old Town.”

“The process of a BIZ is quite intricate.  Once we are a BIZ we will not be a PSD they are two different types of taxing bodies,” said the executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association, Brittney Hoszkiw.  Attached is an excel work sheet with a work plan regarding Old Town becoming BIZ.

Half of the PSD tax that property owners pay is returned to the Old Town community, in the form of a grant.  They would like 100 percent returned to the community, she said.

Hoszkiw described the PSD as an organization that has a similar mission, focused on downtown Lansing.

Heather Chunko, the board treasurer for Old Town, said the budget has improved over the past two years due to reduced costs creating a greater surplus at the end of the year.

“The director has done an excellent job of cutting costs, so the budget has improved to strengthen the cash position of the association.  More accurate financial reporting and using the QuickBooks budget tool has also made it easier for the board to measure their performance against the budget on a monthly and annual basis,” she said.

Shannon Rolley, a volunteer for the Old Town Organization Committee, said Oktoberfest, that took place on Oct. 7 and 8 in Old Town this year, affected Old Town’s budget.

“We had a record year that will definitely help us set aside funds for future years,” said Chunko.

Hoszkiw said Old Town’s budget is very dependent on the success of the festivals held there.

There are three sections to the Old Town Budget, said Chunko.

“There is a section for festival and event revenue, dues, grants, and donations.  We also have a section for our direct festival and event costs, and then a section for general and administrative costs for the association,” she said.

“Most of the amounts in the annual budget are ball parked based on historical data, unless we are aware of something that would cause it to be significantly different,” said Chunko.  “The budget is then reviewed monthly and can be revised based on any new information that might affect it for the remainder of the year.”

Katie Robiadek, the program manager for the Arts Council of Greater Lansing said government funding is lacking for certain programs.

“Government funding is way down for important programs that help urban revitalization.  Those government funding programs come from tax revenue,” she said


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Is Old Town Still Gay Friendly?

By Kaelin Roberts
Old Town Staff Writer

Detective Michelle Bryant says that Old Town is the most gay friendly area in Lansing.

“The shop owners and bar owners are open minded and welcoming. Some are gay themselves,” said Bryant, who is the LGBT Liaison officer for the Lansing Police Department.

Old Town has two gay bars, Spiral and Esquire, and many gay owned businesses like Tallulah’s Folly, said Jamie Schriner-Hooper a volunteer on the Old Town Organization Committee.  These businesses welcome both gay and straight people, she said.

Louise Gradwohl, an intern at the Old Town Commercial Association, said without diversity, Old Town wouldn’t be what it is today. The Michigan Pride Festival is held there every summer and brings in thousands of people.

Schriner-Hooper said people against gay rights also show up for the festival. “Gay Pride has been held in Old Town in part over the last few years and in-full last year. To my knowledge, there’s not anything [anti-gay in Old Town], other than the crazy protestors who come out for every festival.,” said Schriner-Hooper.

Yankowski said about three to four years ago some anti-gay graffiti was painted on some of the properties in Old Town. “We were able to ID and arrest the individual for those disturbing crimes,” he said.

Schriner-Hooper said the homophobic graffiti was cleaned up by volunteers within 12 hours of the incident. “I’ll tell you that the community came together and the graffiti was gone almost as fast as it went up,” said Shannon Rolley, a member of the Old Town Organization Committee.

A Michigan State student, who asked that his identity remain anonymous, said he began doing drag shows in October at Spiral nightclub. “I started in Spiral’s Annual Drag Race, which I actually ended up winning, and have also been a guest in Drag Queens Gone Wild, which is also hosted at Spiral,” he said.

He said he thinks Old Town is a gay-friendly community but there are some changes that can be made to improve the gay scene there. “In order to improve their gay scene or increase interest, I would suggest that Old Town open more gay friendly places and ensure that they are welcome in all places whether or not that is the target audience of the business,” he said.  “Offering a wider variety of places for people to go would allow for more opportunities to go out and have fun.

He said he goes by the drag stage name Elise Lacroix.

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Is There Still a Place for Young Artists in Old Town?

By Kaelin Roberts
Old Town Staff Writer

Old Town has an expanding art scene supported by local artists in the area.  

“Old Town has one of the largest concentrations of artists (galleries, boutiques, design studios, video productions…etc) in this area,” said Louise Gradwohl, an intern at the Old Town Commercial Association.

Gradwohl said the art scene in Old Town is thriving because of the numerous artists.  They have many events where young artists have opportunities to get involved.

“We have Scrapfest in the summer. Teams form and have the opportunity to create anything out of scrap metal they find in Friedland’s scrap yard,” said Gradwohl.  “It’s a great opportunity for artists, welders, family and friends to come together and create an amazing sculpture that is then auctioned off at Festival of the Sun.”

Gradwohl said the artists get a portion of the auction price and have great exposure to community members who might be interested in more of their artwork.

Katie Holcomb, the owner of Absolute Gallery in Old Town, said there are many up and coming artists active in Old Town and that there is definitely still a place for more.

“As a gallery owner, I am always willing to look at new artists’ work seeking the next greatest artist for my shop,” said Holcomb.  “Several gallery owners are also working to put together an event for March 2012 focusing specifically on new artists.  This event will feature breakout sessions talking about intellectual property and copyright issues for artists.”

Holcomb said new artists need to know how to best market their work. They also need to learn how to take the best photos of their work and how to approach galleries and what to expect from them.

Brittney Hoszkiw, former Executive Director of the Old Town Commercial Association, said Old Town’s art scene is unique because it is lead by local artists and that many of the events held in there cater to emerging artists.

Amy Moore, the co-owner and the creative director of the Redhead Design Studio in Old Town, said that art is alive and flourishing in Old Town but there still could be improvements made. “A greater link to the art community on campus, perhaps with shared events would be great,” she said.

Holcomb said Lansing and mid-Michigan need to look at the overall development of the community rather than competing against itself.

Moore said several of the art galleries worked together to start art fairs in Old Town in July and September.  The fair will offer booth prices that are affordable so new artists can participate.

“I know many who have gotten their start and/or been able to grow their following via their presence in Old Town — Barb Hranilovich and Erika Majors are a couple of traditional artists who have been successful here. Redhead’s own Dario Corsi is a talented illustrator, and there are at least a dozen very talented young designers in Old Town,” said Moore.

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Lansing School Board Questions Music Programs at Local Schools

By Kaelin Roberts
Old Town Staff Writer

The Lansing Board of Education held a regular meeting to discuss the music programs offered at local schools among other issues.

Deputy Superintendent Jim Davis reported on the district-wide music program at the local elementary, middle and high schools and said that the quality is not what he would like to see in certain schools.

Jack Davis, treasurer of the board, said the board had previously voted to cut the budget. However, he did not realize the impact that would have on some music programs. “I’d like them to reinstate the programs,” Davis said.

“We need to revisit band and strings of the elementary program,” said Myra Ford, the secretary for the board.

Nicole Armbruster, a member of the board, asked about the program. “At Pattengill [elementary], we have immediate and advanced band, but there’s no beginning and then we have no band in elementary, so how are [the students] supposed to go to intermediate band with no beginning?” she said.

Deputy Superintendent Davis said they continued to have orchestra and band at the elementary level up until this year.  There still is a music teacher that teaches general music, like choir, at each of these schools, but not a separate program for band and orchestra, he said.

“Even though they don’t have those programs, the schools still have holiday performances,” he said.

Ford said she was the one who requested this report because she had recently gotten information on the secondary music programs at the local schools, and she is very disturbed by where they seem to be headed.

“In my previous [time] as a board member, we had a lot of support and push from our community to offer art and music in our district and the board responded. We used to have an amazing music program,” said Ford.  “Pattengill and Everett still have amazing music programs, but we had a district-wide program that was outstanding.  Districts around us used to envy our music program.  We used to do a performance in the spring at the Wharton Center and teachers from other districts would compliment the fact that our music program was so amazing.”

Ford says that when she compares Pattengill’s music program to the programs at Gardner and C. W. Otto, she is very disheartened. “Otto is where most of the Old Town residents send their kids,” said Brittney Hoszkiw, the executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association.

Deputy Superintendent Davis said out of all of the local high schools, Sexton High School has the smallest amount of music.  Over the last few years, enrollment at the school has been really low, he said.

“Let me sit down with each building to come up with a plan that won’t cost much,” said the deputy superintendent.  “The upkeep is hard, that’s what happened with Sexton, it fell apart.  If we build it, they will come.”

It is the quality of the program that will make it effective and sustainable, he said.

Shirley Rodgers, the president of the board, said she agrees with the ‘if you build it they will come’ theory, but only if you have the right people building it.

“Music is a very important aspect for students in terms of things like math,” said Armbruster.

Rodgers said Otto middle school used to feed into Sexton High School.

“Some people look at music as extras. I don’t,” said Deputy Superintendent Davis.

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North Lansing Dam Repair Nearly Complete

By Jack Crawley
Old Town Times Staff Writer

The construction project that Old Town residents and visitors have been seeing near the North Lansing Dam since September is a $1.2 million federal repair project.

Lansing Board of Water and Light Communications Director Mark Nixon said that water erosion on the dam has undercut the river bottom. This erosion process is also known as scouring, and Nixon said that if it continued it could eventually lead to dam failure.

“What we have done, and what we are doing right now, is actually installing new concrete piers which will help alleviate some of that erosion. Additionally, we’re going to be putting in some pretty large boulders, just plain old granite rocks, at the bottom. The combination of the piers and the rocks will, we think, alleviate any erosion in the future,” Nixon said.

By federal mandate, the North Lansing Dam undergoes a safety inspection every few years to ensure that it is still functioning properly and up to code. The 2007 inspection estimated repairs costing about $689,000 would be needed in 2011. Nixon said that the estimate was early on in the process, so the price was raised significantly before repairs began. According to Nixon there are no federal grants being given to help bear the cost of the project and it is all coming out of the BWL’s operating budget.

The work site for the North Lansing Dam repair on the west side of the Grand River.

According to the Lansing City Council’s Oct. 3, 2011 agenda, a major reason for repair costs being so much higher than the original estimate is the installment of cofferdams. A cofferdam is a watertight enclosure from which water is pumped in order to create a dry work environment and they were added to this repair project, in large part, to quell concerns about lowering water levels in order to do the work, which is a common concern with dam repairs.

It’s not so much dam repairs, or even the possibility of temporarily lowering water levels, that seem to bother most environmentalists, however, but the building of dams in the first place. Dams inherently have negative effects on the environment, such as soil erosion and harm to marine wildlife. The North Lansing Dam has the Brenke Fish Ladder to help minimize harm done to fish that live in the Grand River, but some damage is still inevitable. The Sierra Club, a national environmental group that has a local chapter office located in Old Town, has stood against dam construction for over a century because of the effects on the surrounding ecosystem.

Ingham County Drain Commissioner Patrick Lindemann does not support the building of dams in the first place, but believes that destroying longstanding dams (the North Lansing Dam has been around since 1936, but there was another dam in its place beforehand) can do more harm than good. Lindemann said that wetlands miles away from the dam exist only because of the dam itself.

“Now that we’ve put the dam in, a hundred years later, we have all of these ecosystems. If we destroy that dam, if we take it out, then what happens to all of those [ecosystems]?” Lindemann said. “There’s literally, I’ll bet you, hundreds of acres of wetlands because that dam has existed that long.”

One group adversely affected by the repairs, at least temporarily, are anglers (fishermen or fisherwomen) in the area. Sean McCue, a local fisherman who frequents near the dam and fish ladder, said that fish haven’t been around for about six months because of the construction. He is also willing to wait it out, however, and hopes that the project will be worth it and fish will be biting again soon.

One major positive impact of these repairs is the boost to the construction job market. Contrary to concerns about Michigan’s struggling economy and job market, the boost provided by this dam repair actually adds to a positive trend in construction jobs overall for 2011. The Michigan Labor Market Information Monthly Industry Employment Highlight for October 2011 points out that, “Over the year construction is up by 4,500 jobs (+3.7 percent).” October, a month when much of the preparation for the cofferdam was done, was the strongest month of 2011 for the construction industry since May, contracting a “significant” 3,900 employees. While national construction employment is up 0.2 percent overall in 2011, Michigan’s October construction employment numbers stand out compared to national numbers, which dipped 20,000 in October.

Those in and around Old Town hoping to visit nearby Burchard Park, which is directly east of the dam and has been closed since repairs began in September, will have to spend more time fishing or enjoying the sights along the river (although it should be noted that Lansing’s River Walk is and has remained open through the project). However, Nixon said that visitors will not have to wait much longer. Repairs should be wrapped and things should be back to “business as usual” by mid-December.

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Preuss Pets Sparks Interest in Aquariums

By Katie Harrington
Old Town Times Staff Writer

Rick Preuss has a dream, a dream for our planet, our oceans, our wildlife and for our community.  His vision is to inspire others to save our earth, and since he opened Preuss Pets in 1982, he has worked to make this dream a reality.

“To have a reef tank in a classroom or in a living room where a child is growing up so they can identify what coral is, what a clown fish is, what an anemone is … that’s the value of this business,” said Preuss, the owner of Preuss Pets in Old Town Lansing.  “The best we can do is to hope that these bright, young minds witnessing these reef tanks will be inspired to protect the resources that are out there.”

A saltwater aquarium inside Preuss Pets.

In the Lansing community, saltwater aquariums are gaining popularity, thanks to Preuss, who says that anyone can establish an aquarium at home.  Since the opening of Preuss Pets, Preuss has inspired hobbyists, students and school children alike to take up an interest in these fascinating underwater microcosms.

“Every customer can be successful and every costumer can grow their own coral to a full size coral,” Preuss said.  “You’re really just providing consistency and as long as you provide that, your corals grow on their own.”

Janet Riefer, an East Lansing resident who was introduced to indoor reef-keeping by Preuss, started her own saltwater aquarium eight years ago.  She said that having her own aquarium is like having a little piece of the beach at her home.

Riefer's fish tank, located in her East Lansing home.

“I love everything about it,” said Riefer.  “I love looking at it, I love cleaning it, I love rearranging it, I love sharing it with people.  It’s like indoor gardening!”

As for the upkeep of the aquarium, Riefer insists that it’s really not much work.

“People say that it’s expensive and hard to keep and all those excuses, but I disagree,” said Riefer.  “I started with a tank we had at home and everything else I’ve bought, I’ve bought from a used equipment room that Rick has.”

And the myth that saltwater aquariums are expensive is also false.  Preuss Pets sells coral fragments which grow relatively quickly (about an inch a month) for about $15.

But the fact that saltwater aquariums are easy to maintain and relatively inexpensive is not what makes them so important to the Lansing community.

“I grew up in the middle of Pennsylvania, so I was never exposed to anything like a saltwater aquarium,” said Preuss.  “And if I didn’t get into the industry, I would have never been exposed to it.  My thinking is, the more people who are exposed, the better off we are.”

Preuss’s hope is that if kids are able to see and learn about the beauty of the planet in everyday life, they might be moved to help change it.

Jake Billhorn, a zoology major at Michigan State University and employee at Preuss Pets, said it has been a great experience to work at Preuss Pets. He says that being involved with the saltwater department has helped him prepare for his career. He agrees that Preuss Pets does a good job of exposing marine biology to the community.

“It gives people the ability to enjoy nature and when they learn about it, they want to save it because they think it’s cool,” said Billhorn.

Jessie Hughes, another Preuss Pets employee, started her own aquarium in 2008 and said she never would have done it if not for Preuss Pets.

“Working here completely introduced me to the whole saltwater area,” Hughes said.  “It allowed me to take that first big jump.”

Hughes said that the best part about owning an aquarium is that it’s always a new experience.

“So much life goes into salt water aquarium,” said Hughes.  “Almost everything in there is alive and people don’t realize that until they really sit and look at it.”

A second grade class in front of Marble Elementary's saltwater aquarium.

But perhaps the most valuable impact Preuss Pet’s saltwater aquariums have had is on local schools.  The fish tank at Marble Elementary School in East Lansing was started as a memorial for a student who passed away in 2004. Every day, the students passing through the library, where the aquarium is located, can enjoy the bright pink coral and the clown fish they’ve named Nemo.

“I like it that there are coral, rocks, all different plants, shrimp and fish in the tank,” said Selena Zeineh, a second-grader at Marble Elementary.

“When you’re reading, it’s cool to look at the fish swimming,” said second-grader Finni Padgitt.  “And it’s cool how everything is alive.  Even the plants move.”

That energy and excitement is exactly what Preuss hopes will one day be the catalyst for future marine biologists or environmentalists.

“I think sometimes we miss our connections to nature,” said Preuss.  “But if there’s something you can do to pay homage to these creatures in the way that you do your work, there’s value in that.  It’s about paying respect to life itself.”

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Neighboring Communities Dispute Old Town’s Borders

Nearby neighborhoods are unhappy with being included in Old
Town and are disputing the community’s borders.

2005 Map of Old Town

“There is no border,” said Rina Risper the publisher and owner of the Lansing based
newspaper The New Citizens Press.  Risper is a resident of the Walnut neighborhood, and said that her area hasn’t been a part of Old Town since she bought her house in 1989.

“We have never been a part of Old Town,” she explained.  “They are only interested in businesses and not the community. You can clearly see where Old Town ends when you’re down there.  This is all a result of Ingham County and Eric Schertzing.  They haven’t asked us what we wanted.”  She explained that there are only boundaries when they want them, and right now they want them for marketing interests only.

Ingham County Treasurer and Chairman of the Ingham County Land Bank, Eric Schertzing, explained during an earlier interview that his main responsibility and goal with the Land Bank is to help economic development throughout the county.  The Old Town Commercial Association, the business district of the community, has a border, Schertzing explained.  But in beyond that area there are a number of
neighborhood organizations that overlap.

“Some people want to identify [an area] by the neighborhood organization,” Schertzing
said.    “Sometimes that is driven by the subdivisionplaque built way back when, but usually they’re just boundaries somebody created.  I have an area about a mile west from there and I think about that as the Old Town area.  Some people want it to be called the Walnut neighborhood, but nobody has any idea.  There’s a Walnut Street, but
what does that mean? A lot more people know where Old Town is.”

Louise Gradwohl, an Old Town Commercial Association employee said that the surrounding areas are serviced by the OTCA.

“Our mission of community empowerment and revitalization is not commercial property specific and any economic growth that can be found in Old Town, Downtown or otherwise has a direct impact on residential property values, quality of life, job opportunities, civic engagement opportunities, access to arts & culture and fresh fruits & vegetables, etc,” Gradwohl said.

Risper also said she is concerned with the relationship between Rizzi Design and Ingham County.  Risper said that Rizzi Design was hired by Ingham County for marketing purposes.  Then Rizzi bought 1141 N. Pine St., now known as Old Town

Old Town Manor
Old Town Manor

Manor, from the Land  Bank, she continued.

“They just skipped over eight blocks,” Risper said.  “They’re trying to
make a speedway to the School for the Blind.”

In the past Ingham County has controlled the sales of properties to ensure that the buyer will be a positive fit for the community, as is the case with a current restaurant property in Williamston.  Schertzing explained that the sale of Old Town Manor was a similar situation.

“The Rizzi Design building was purchased by the Land Bank from the Lansing Housing Commission,” Schertzing explained.  “We renovated the property
and came across Rizzi as a buyer near the end of the renovation.”  Schertzing also added that the Land Bank had worked at trying to reach a deal with businesses other than Rizzi Design.

Old Town Manor is on the School for the Blind property and used to house the school’s superintendent.  Schertzing sees the site as an area with opportunity to grow.

Schertzing explained that the biggest problem with the School for the Blind is that the entire property of more than 12 acres is under split-ownership.

“The School for the Blind needs an overall plan that would come from one owner,” Schertzing said.  “The site is in a great location to build upon the strength of Old Town.  I would link Old Town and the School for the Blind site along West Grand River.”

Gradwohl also said that she sees the School for the Blind as a positive for the Old Town Community as well.

“The School for the Blind is a wonderful asset to the Lansing area and a important part of North Lansing heritage,” said Gradwohl.  “Though there has been no actual action on linking the commercial corridor of Old Town with the School for the Blind Campus, OTCA continues to provide support to the Neighborhood Empowerment Center, Ingham County Land Bank and Rizzi Designs, three of the property’s initial tenants.  These organizations receive member business services such as access to the business assistance team and many other business support programs, market support, an opportunity to sit on the board of directors and committees, etc.”

The Greater Lansing Housing Commission, which owns the Neighborhood Empowerment Center,  is not an economic development entity, Schertzing added.  They are facing mortgage foreclosure on their 3 buildings and we’ll have to see how that turns out, he added.



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