By Ray Wilbur
Listen Up, Lansing
After nearly 20 years of being closed to the public for tours on Saturdays, Lansing’s 136-year-old Capitol building will be opening its doors this month for residents and tourists alike to tour the state’s Capitol.
The Michigan State Capitol Commission, formed in 2014 to oversee the Capitol, decided last Tuesday to hire another tour guide, allowing the Capitol to provide more hours for touring, chairman of the commission and clerk of the state House Gary Randall said.
The new tour guide will cost about $33,000 a year, according to Randall.
Randall said any additional costs would be small by comparison to the return on investment that the commission hopes will be created by the new Saturday tours.
“I think this is going to engage the public and be a great service for citizens in the area and in Michigan,” Randall said.
Michigan’s Capitol hasn’t been open for tours on Saturday since the 1990’s when each state department had to decrease spending, Randall said.
The Capitol will be open on May 30 this month for the city’s annual “Be a Tourist in Your Own Town” event, and will then maintain regular Saturday hours from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. beginning June 6.
Tours include viewing the public areas of the Capitol, and also the House and Senate galleries.
Randall said he thinks allowing people to tour the Capitol building on Saturdays will make it a tourist destination for people in Michigan and will be a positive revenue stream for the city and the state.
John Truscott, vice chairman of the commission, echoed Randall and said he thinks this is a big step for downtown and its ability to engage people in the area.
“I think there is a large population of people in the area who don’t see a reason to come downtown or to the Capitol for that matter, and this could change that for many of them,” Truscott said.
Furthermore, Truscott said Tim Bowlin, the state House business director, is looking in to whether or not the Capitol could open a gift shop for the public, which could increase revenue.
Residents in the area are looking forward to the Capitol’s hours being expanded into Saturday and see it as a chance to tour the grounds as a family, which can be difficult during weekdays.
“My kids have been there for school, but I think going with them and the whole family will give us a different experience,” Lansing resident Denice Richards said.
“I would never be able to take my kids to the Capitol during the week, I’m just too busy, now that’s going to be possible and I’m excited for my kids,” another Lansing resident, Stephen Morrison, said.
The Capitol has undergone huge changes in recent years – a state law passed last year which set aside $3 million a year in tobacco settlement money to be used for Capitol upkeep, and a $6.4 million restoration of the Capitol’s dome and exterior is underway and set to be finished by this fall.
Truscott said the new touring hours and the possibility of a new Capitol gift shop could help negate some of those costs, while also providing a service to the downtown area.