If the plans of Mayor Andy Schor and a lot of other people come to fruition, downtown Lansing has a performing arts center (PAC) in its future. The center would stand in addition to a multi-use performance stage in the works at Adado Park and the Capital Region Community Foundation’s plan for a performance space under the Shiawassee Bridge dubbed the Happening under the Bridge.
Mayor Schor told GLBM, “Lansing is a community very friendly to art and culture. We can easily attract concerts and symphonies and other performers. We just need a performing arts center where they can perform. I am excited that we have again started the conversation, and hope that we can have this finalized and up and running as soon as possible.”
To the mayor’s point, Lansing residents often head to cities such as Grand Rapids and Detroit for concerts, so keeping them home could be good for the city’s economy and a boost to Lansing’s public profile as an entertainment destination.
Laurie Strauss Baumer of the Capital Region Community Foundation (also called the Community Foundation), said the organization is providing the city of Lansing with a grant toward a feasibility study and that the Mayor’s Arts and Culture Commission has a facilities committee assisting in the exploration phase of the project. Other principals involved include Dominic Cochran from Lansing Community Media and Courtney Millbrook with the Lansing Symphony Orchestra.
Past plans for a performing arts center were scrapped when the economy slowed, but the possibilities are alive again. In an article in the Lansing State Journal in December, Mayor Schor said, “For the PAC, it can be part of a larger development with retail and maybe a hotel. People are very interested… We already have three developers working on land parcels and development packages. We’ve identified a few locations that would work.”
Design possibilities include a modular auditorium that can be configured to multiple seating arrangements and seating for up to 1,500. This option allows for accommodation of different sized audiences. The Wharton Center has two halls, Pasant Theater and Cobb Great Hall, with seating for about 550 and 2,500 respectively; the city’s plan has the performing arts center, with its right-in-the-middle number of seats, dovetailing with Wharton, not competing with it. The possibility of blending the performing arts center with adjacent retail and hotel space is also being discussed.
Plans for a performing arts center date back to when David Hollister was Lansing’s mayor and the city received a $500,000 grant from then-Gov. John Engler’s office. The funds were to cover a study and preliminary plans, and because the city had recently acquired the Lugnuts, it was decided that a cultural center would be a more effective spark to the economy than the addition of more sports. Then the overall economy faltered, and plans shut down. Of the $500,000 received from the state, $56,000 was spent on the study and the remaining funds returned.
If the performing arts center becomes a reality, the Lansing Symphony Orchestra will likely perform there. Currently, the orchestra performs at the Wharton Center for Performing Art’s Cobb Great Hall, which is generally too large for its audiences, and where other groups must be fit into the schedule. The presence of the orchestra, combined with plenty of restaurants, shopping and hotels, could be a big boost for the region in both culture and economics.
Deborah E. Mikula, executive director of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, heads the Adado Park stage project. She is also a member of Mayor Schor’s arts commission. Mikula clarified for GLBM that the proposed performing arts center will be a separate entity from the stage designated for installation at the south end of Adado Riverfront Park, where the Common Ground music festival usually takes place. In GLBM’s July 2018 article titled, “Big, Artful Changes: Coming to a Park Near You,” Mikula said “Because of Michigan’s climate, outdoor activities are more or less confined to May through October. We’re working on changes that will enable more year-round programming such as seasonal festivals.”
Mikula and the Arts Council, along with city personnel, Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), Parks and Recreation, and the Lansing Entertainment & Public Facilities Authority (LEPFA), have been working on the project for about four years.
If everyone’s plans work out, Lansing could become an even busier place for art, culture, shopping and a whole lot more.