Lansing City Council hears presentation on tax abatement, approves proposal for public art installation

by Julie Berg-Raymond

John Danos, of Des Moines, with Dorsey & Whitney LLP, spoke to the Lansing City Council during its regular meeting Monday, May 1 about a complex of issues related to urban revitalization plans and tax abatement policies.

The council took no action on this item; it was offered as a first step toward further discussions about the possibility of passing a local tax abatement policy for housing development in Lansing. Danos, a frequent presenter on topics related to tax increment financing, economic development, municipal debt and complex local government issues, explained - among other topics - the differences between tax increment financing (TIF) and tax abatement policies, and between urban renewal and urban revitalization.

The council approved artist and local pastor Laura Gentry’s proposal for artwork to be placed on the wall of the public restroom located next to the Emergency Services building. The proposal described the artwork, called The Great Blue Heron Mural, as “a public art project wrapping around the public restrooms on Front Street.” The proposal continued: “Artist Laura Gentry is developing a unique, site-specific plan featuring a great blue heron and flowing water with fish, evoking the natural beauty of the Mississippi River. She will invite members of the public to help her paint it by setting it up in simple color blocks similar to a color-by-number project. This will enable people of all ages and artistic abilities to participate in the creation of the mural. The project will be offered to the City at no expense. It will be undertaken by all volunteer labor. The cost involved with buying premium outdoor paint and supplies will be covered by private donations and grant monies. These items will be purchased locally from Hardware Hank.”

Council member Mike Manning voted against the motion; in a follow-up email after the meeting, he said: “All the communications I received after the agenda was posted about allowing City property to be turned into ‘artwork’ were not in favor of allowing it.” Manning’s response implied a distinction between “public art” and “art on public property”; but, according to Americans for the Arts, “Simply put, public art is art in public spaces. The term ‘public art’ may conjure images of historic bronze statues of a soldier on horseback in a park. Today, public art can take a wide range of forms, sizes and scales - and can be temporary or permanent” (

Manning continued, “Tonight there were no restrictive or inclusive parameters set for future request(s) that will undoubtedly follow, other than personal opinions of seated members at any given time, which will leave the City openly vulnerable in similar future proposed projects.”

Council member Steve Murray reported to the council on two citizen concerns he had received since the previous meeting. One person asked why Mt. Hosmer “was not open for a couple of weeks.” Street Superintendent Ken Ripp responded to that concern by saying the road was closed due to the heavy snow breaking branches on trees and said the department did not have time to clean it up since it was dealing with floodwater. The same person also expressed a concern that the north side of the marina dike was eroding away due to the high water. The citizen thought that when the docks were installed on the north side, the correct riprap was not put in to prevent the erosion. Council member Manning responded to that concern, saying there was never good riprap on the northwest side since the barge unloading it to do the dike was not able to get back that far.

The second concern brought to council member Murray’s attention was from a citizen who “did not want artwork on City property,” and who was “concerned about any hidden meanings in the proposed artwork.” Murray said he told the citizen that he believed the council supports community art, but that it would need to approve any proposed artwork, and that “the council would not support anything that had any type of hidden meaning within it.”

Andy Kelleher, executive director of Main Street Lansing (Main Street Matters, Inc.) informed the council about three awards won recently by Main Street Lansing and which were presented at the Main Street Iowa Development Awards celebration held in April. Andrew Boddicker won a Leadership Award; Daniel Wagner won an award for Best Main Street Placemaking Project, for the Lansing Farmer’s Market; and Main Street Lansing won a Benchmark Award, for surpassing $5 million in private dollars invested in the downtown commercial district since the Main Street Lansing program was established in 2012.

Kelleher presented the council with a copy of Wagner’s certificate for the Farmer’s Market Placemaking Project, and a framed copy of the organization’s $5 million benchmark award. Kelleher also announced he will be leaving his position as Main Street Lansing’s executive director July 10, to finish his degree in International Studies at the University of Iowa. Andrew Boddicker has been named the organization’s new executive director.

Sheri Erickson addressed the board about the possibility of bringing a food trailer, Ole & Lena’s Kitchen, to Lansing this summer. The food trailer would serve pronto pups (similar, she said, to corn dogs), lefse and lefse wraps, deep-fried cheese curds, and Spring Grove and other sodas. Erickson said they will be sourcing their menu items from local providers as much as possible, including WW Homestead Dairy and a local lefse maker.

She said they would be interested in setting up the food trailer on a weekly or every-other-week basis for one to two days each time this summer and fall. She told the council she would appreciate suggestions for possible locations as well as for specific events. She further noted she has a generator for electricity, and fresh water. She said she does not anticipate using City water unless the fresh water in their tank runs out.

Council members expressed support for the idea, but also mentioned some concerns - for example, the food trailer possibly competing with local restaurants whose owners pay rent/taxes to operate their restaurants. The council will discuss the request further, at a later date.

The council approved several Parks and Rec Department hires: Patty Olson as city pool manager at $16.50 per hour for the 2023 summer rec season, pending prerequisites; Amber Holter and Sandra Boyd as city pool assistant managers at $13 per hour for the 2023 summer rec season, pending prerequisites; Ella Strong, Zoey Timmerman and Violet O’Nehman as lifeguards at $11.25 per hour for the 2023 summer rec season; Isaiah Wagner, Lilly Kolsrud, Addison Winters, Riley Troendle and Ava Mahr as lifeguards at $11 per hour for the 2023 summer rec season; and Payton Becker as assistant baseball coach at $11 per hour for the 2023 summer rec season.

The council approved Resolution No. 986, Bank Depository, and Resolution No. 987, Annual Urban Renewal/TIF report. The council also approved a liquor license renewal and a cigarette permit for Kwik Trip, Inc. (Kwik Star No. 18).

A special meeting of the Lansing City Council is scheduled for Monday, May 22 at 6:30 p.m. at Lansing City Hall to discuss the possibility of hiring a city manager. The next regular meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 15 at 7 p.m. at Lansing City Hall.