Partnering on Parks: Recreation efforts moving forward across Lansing

Capital improvement projects are in the works for Lansing thanks to funds pulled from the Lansing Park Millage. The most recent iteration of the millage was approved in August 2015 by Lansing voters and will remain in place until 2020 with a goal of keeping Lansing parks well-maintained, safe and inviting. 

Every five years, city residents are asked to approve a mill in property taxes to operate and maintain the city’s parks and recreation system. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value. In August 2015, 69 percent of the city supported the Lansing Park Millage. Lansing Park Board President Veronica Gracia-Wing described the vote as “an indication of overall and continued public support of the department’s approach and management.”

The Lansing Park Millage is responsible for park and playground improvements as well as matching funds for state and federal grant programs. It has been in place for over 25 years and has leveraged more than $50 million in combined millage, grants and community donations to improve Lansing’s park system. Historically, millage approvals are from the existing millage, so property taxes do not increase as a result.

“Fenner Nature Center and Hope Sports Complex are two examples of private-public partnerships through license agreements that allow for capital improvement projects,” said Brett Kaschinske, director of Lansing Parks and Recreation. “With Fenner, funds are being raised for a new education center and pavilion. As for Hope, the group has put in a new turf field, bleachers, a press box, field lighting, scoreboard, restaurant and bar. We see these community partners continuing to increase on future projects.”

The park board and city administration worked together to propose projects that included replacement of the closed Moores Park Pavilion as well as playground equipment upgrades, tree planting, citywide maintenance and repair projects. The 2018-2019 projects also include over $500,000 in matching grant funds, which account for the installation of the “Windlord” sculpture and support of the Beacon Southwest recreation field project. 

“Speaking solely from the perspective of the park board, the board reviews possible projects annually and prioritizes recommended projects as a group, submitting those recommendations to the mayor for his review and ultimate recommendations,” Gracia-Wing said. “Our recommendations are consistently in alignment with the administration’s.” 

Beacon Soccer Field in downtown Lansing attracts students, soccer clubs and tourists, and is busy most of the time. It sports a 60-yard-by-120-yard field and LED stadium lights paid for by Energy Development Corp. The field is immensely popular, and its success sparked talk of a sister field for Lansing’s southside.

 “We feel truly honored that the city of Lansing and the parks board were willing to take on a new, unique project/concept for an open space at Ferris Park. The vision for the field was new and unproven, yet Brett Kaschinske and the parks department put their full support behind it from the start,” said Scott M. Dane, executive director of the Capital Area Soccer League. “Beacon Soccer Field at Ferris Park is a truly amazing gathering place for young soccer players from various backgrounds, cultures and demographics. On any given night, you will hear multiple languages spoken, yet everyone communicates effectively within the game itself.”

Projects the board reviews include many of the items previously mentioned as well as baseball field upgrades, park system maps, pathway installation and more. 

“We strive to make the best use of the funds available, spreading resources out as widely as possible. But of course, since there is a finite number of dollars, not all projects can be funded,” Gracia-Wing said. “Often what we see as possible projects come directly from citizen requests and ideas. And while we’re not able to accommodate all citizen-inspired projects, we certainly appreciate hearing from the public and do our best to provide the support it takes for their projects to come to life.” 

According to Dane, the success of the field has been well-documented, including a US Youth Soccer video, Michigan Economic Development Corp./Patronicity video and through firsthand accounts from frequent users of the field. 

Improvements have also been made due to private funds matched by the Capital Region Community Foundation. 

“So far we have raised $850,000 in private contributions, which the foundation is matching for a total investment of $1.7 million to date toward several projects,” foundation Executive Vice President Laurie Strauss Baumer said about upgrades to parks and public space along the riverfront. 

In addition to improvements cited in a recent issue of Greater Lansing Business Monthly is the foundation’s Riverside Classroom Project. The foundation is also leading a public art project to install a new sculpture in the roundabout at the intersection of Washington Square and Michigan Avenue and will continue engaging the public in making recommendations through a campaign called Penny for Your Thoughts.  

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