Jaycees Want Mansion

The following is the text of an article in The State Journal of April 17, 1975. Upon request, the Secretary can provide a copy of the article.

Jaycees Want Mansion

by Mike Hughes

There's a big sigh of relief around Lansing's City Hall now. The City finally has a Dodge Mansion proposal to consider. In recent months, the mansion became an increasing source of embarrassment for councilmen. They weren't able to find anyone to use it.

When the council was considering buying the place, ideas were plentiful. It could be a museum or an art gallery or a cultural center or a Bicentennial center or city offices or community rooms or a North Lansing center or ... So they bought it. They paid $180,000 (the assessed value of the 8.5-acre site) for the property and poured another $60,000 into fixing the building's exterior. Then they waited for someone to come in with a proposal. And waited and waited ...

"Everyone seems willing to use it if we spend all the money," Councilman William Brenke said. "It seems that there are plenty of groups willing to use it at more cost to us than to them," Park Board chairman Justin English said.

But what the City really wanted was someone willing to provide some of the work and some of the money. The only offer it received was from the Impression Five museum. "It's quite a futuristic museum, and wouldn't really fit into the building's historical nature," parks director Ted Haskell says. (Impression Five is now aiming for a former industrial building on S Pennsylvania Avenue.)
James Blair, chairman of the council's parks committee, tried to rally enthusiasm. He went to various groups, including the Lansing Jaycees, and gave pep talks. Eventually, that paid off.

The Jaycees first came in with an idea to use the building strictly for offices and meeting rooms for service clubs. That drew a lukewarm reaction, because people still were dreaming about the museums and galleries and whatnot. So the Jaycees retreated and came back with a more elaborate plan: The Jaycees would pour about 8,000 man hours and $8,000 cash (raised through fund drives) into returning the interior to its turn-of-the-century glory. After that, the place would be available to an assortment of nonprofit groups.

"We've had a terrific amount of interest from other groups," Scott Hillery of the Jaycees said. Among others, he says, there has been interest from the historical society, the North Lansing Community Association, the Community Design Center, and the Antique Dealers Association. Those groups would form a nonprofit corporation, [fix] the place, and come up with about $300 a month for heat, insurance and minor maintenance. The [City] would provide water, electricity and major maintenance. All of that would have a historical theme of sorts, geared towards an opening on July 4, 1976.

"What excites me about this proposal is that it blends many of these ideas together" Blair told the park board Wednesday. "What excites me is that someone is willing to spend some of his own money," English joked.

The proposal will stay in limbo for a while. The Parks Department is getting the site ready for use as a park this summer and the council is pondering uses for the building. The Jaycee idea was tossed around at both the Park Board meeting and the council parks committee meeting Wednesday. Most officials are noncommittal so far, but Haskell granted that it is "a pretty good offer," and Blair was enthusiastic. "I really think it's a good proposal," Blair said. "I think it's an exciting possibility in the area of keeping this open to performing arts, history, all sorts of groups. It could be a real community catalyst."