Archive for May, 2009

A2: Photography

Photographer James Howe posts an image of the storefront of Acme Mercantile on West Liberty, and described how he processed the image to create the final effect. “I always feel guilty when I use some sort of ‘creative’ filter on my images. I feel like I’m cheating somehow. However, at the same time I like the end result. I’m curious what others think, not only about this particular image, but about using ‘creative’ filters in the post processing stage.” [Source]

Ann Arbor Reaches Tax Settlement with Pfizer

Local governments are one step closer to knowing the impact of a tax appeal that Pfizer is pursuing – and while the news isn’t great, it could have been worse.

Last year, Pfizer contested the assessed value that the city of Ann Arbor set for the drugmaker’s former research campus here. Pfizer, which closed its massive local R&D operation last year, argued that its Ann Arbor properties should be given a dramatically lower assessment – less than half of the value assigned by the city for 2008 and 2009.

A settlement reached earlier this month between Pfizer and the city of Ann Arbor is a compromise that’s now being reviewed by the Michigan Tax Tribunal. It lowers Pfizer’s assessment for 2008 and 2009, but not by as much as Pfizer requested. If approved, it will represent a total loss of roughly $10 million in tax revenues over the tw0-year period for all local entities that received taxes from Pfizer, including the city, Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor Public Schools, Washtenaw Community College and the Ann Arbor District Library. The tribunal is expected to make a ruling in the next few weeks, and is expected to approve the deal. [Full Story]

Targeted Cuts for Washtenaw County Budget

A page of notes taken during Tuesdays county budget forum.

A page of notes taken by Andy Brush, the county's knowledge manager, during Tuesday's budget forum.

The handful of business people who attended a Washtenaw County budget forum on Tuesday morning stressed the importance of local investment, and heard a preview of areas targeted for cuts as the county grapples with falling revenues and a potential $26 million deficit over the two-year period beginning in 2010.

County administrator Bob Guenzel gave the small group, which also included several elected officials and department directors, a preview of budget recommendations that will be released later this week and formally presented to the board of commissioners at their June 3 meeting. Though he didn’t provide details Tuesday morning, he said the recommendations will include layoffs and a change in compensation for non-union employees. Meanwhile, union leaders from 17 different bargaining units are being asked to renegotiate contracts in talks that will continue through July. The county employs about 1,300 people – roughly 80% are union employees.

Guenzel outlined four general areas identified to close the $26 million budget deficit: 1) revenue generation, $3 million to $5 million; 2) department reductions, $7 million to $10 million; 3) employee compensation and benefits, $12 million to $14 million, and 4) structural changes, $3 million to $7 million.

He also laid out a wide range of possible cuts, including selling county-owned facilities – he noted that the Zeeb Road building was only half occupied, for example – and even the possibility of not opening the jail expansion when it’s completed in 2010. That expansion, which would provide an additional 112 beds, would cost at least $1 million extra per year to staff. He said that though governments in general are good at finding one-time solutions, “what we need going forward is primarily structural savings.”

Guenzel cited the Wall Street Journal in characterizing the economic crisis as the worst since the 1930s, with no end yet in sight. He said that though this area had the lowest unemployment rate in the state, the magnitude of the problem was dire. “We haven’t hit bottom,” he said. [Full Story]

A2: Comics

The Kalamazoo Gazette reports that Dave Coverly, an Ann Arbor resident and creator of the “Speed Bump” syndicated cartoon, recently won the Reuben Award Cartoonist of the Year, a top honor for the field given by the National Cartoonist Society. The award was presented at a ceremony in Los Angeles. [Source]

Washington & Ashley

Young woman wearing a U-M School of Public Health sweatshirt and smoking a cigarette. She must have missed that class.

A2: Food

The Ann Arbor Restaurants blog reviews Rod’s Place on South State: ”When I was eating a frat boy type walked in screaming into his cell phone and whining to his mother. I asked myself WWCED? (what would Clint Eastwood do)” [Source]

UM: Illegal Drugs

The Associated Press reports on how violent Mexican drug cartels are fighting over the U.S. market. The article quotes Lloyd Johnston, a UM researcher who oversees annual drug-use surveys: ”The damage done by our insatiable demand for drugs is truly astounding.” [Source]

On the Bus to Chelsea, Ypsi, Arborland

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (May 20, 2009): On an evening when board chair David Nacht rode his bicycle to the meeting, he acknowledged the board’s agenda was “rather sparse.” Still, the discussion by the board – and conversation elicited through public commentary  – gave some insight into the future of transportation service into three areas.

First, a significant chunk of time was invested in discussing the relative lack of success of the A2Chelsea Express, a commuter express bus service between Chelsea and Ann Arbor, plus the intent to begin offering a similar service for Canton. Nacht concluded the discussion on the Ann Arbor-to-Chelsea express bus by saying that he continued to be a “faith-based believer in commuter bus service, but I hope at some point to have some data to support my theology.”

Secondly, Nacht gave his assurance a couple of different times during the meeting that it was not the intent of the AATA board to discontinue service to Ypsilanti. And finally, Dawn Gabay, interim director of the AATA, indicated that efforts were being made “behind the scenes” in conversations with the management of Arborland to preserve the AATA bus stops on that shopping center’s property – Arborland management has indicated a preference to have the bus stops removed.

Gabay might not have to serve in the capacity of interim director much longer, as the board got an update that negotiations were proceeding apace with Michael Ford, the one final candidate for the CEO position. [Full Story]

Main and Liberty

Shiny black chunks smash down on the sidewalk as Seyfried’s facade is chipped off the building.

Washtenaw & Hogback

Workers and construction equipment moving dirt at the site of the county jail expansion. Rain will likely turn the place into a mudpit.

A2: Newshawk Report

The Ann Arbor Newshawks have posted another hard-charging video report, featuring an investigative segment on plans to expand bike lanes in Ann Arbor, titled “Let the Workday Begin, I’ve Arrived on My Schwinn.” The report includes a commercial for the Ann Arbor News, “resized for the 21st century” into a streamlined one-column format that still retains all the qualities you’ve come to love in the newspaper (ink-smudged hands, readable in 2-3 minutes). You’ll also see how the paper can be recycled in an innovative, environmentally friendly way. As a comment posted after the video states, “In this era of glossy journalistic professionalism, it is so refreshing to see unrehearsed and amateur crap. Our town today is a much better place. … [Full Story]

A2: Economy

The Wall Street Journal profiles Ann Arbor and Warren as examples of two cities in Michigan that are being affected by the economy in very different ways. ”That economic gulf wasn’t always there. In 1979, the average family in Warren made $28,538 annually, not much below Ann Arbor’s average of $29,840. But in the past 30 years, the U.S. economy has undergone a sweeping transformation that has benefited cities like Ann Arbor and hurt manufacturing hubs like Warren. As transportation and communication costs fell, and countries like Japan and, now, China, increased their manufacturing capability, Michigan’s advantages have faded. Those same forces of globalization benefited educated workers – an area where Michigan largely fell short. Except in Ann Arbor.” [Source]

Main & Miller

Breakfast tab for The Chronicle on Memorial Day morning at The Broken Egg was $17.76.  Feeling extra patriotic.


The Freep profiles Ann Arbor businessman Ron Weiser, chairman of Michigan’s Republican Party, focusing on his plans for winning back GOP leadership in the state in 2010: “We have to get more people to vote for Republicans. Not to become Republicans, because that will take time. But if we can convince them that we are the party who can best lead this state’s economic future, then they will vote for us. And then we have to get more of them to the polls.” [Source]

Main & Miller

Chalkboard at the Broken Egg promotes its new Apple Twinkies – “three grilled Twinkie impersonators loaded with apples, cinnamon and applesauce….topped with warm caramel and a splash of whipped cream.”

Madison & Ashley

9:30 p.m. Long line at Washtenaw Dairy, plus all benches outside are full. Families, couples, dogs, kids running around. And it’s not even their 75th anniversary weekend yet!

A2: Food

The Four Obsessions blog posts two recipes for miso soup, the first one a part of this dinner: “We tossed the greens with vinaigrette and walnuts, then poached the asparagus and eggs. Served with a glass of wine, a hunk of paesano bread and a really stinky Camembert that I got at the Friday Zingerman’s warehouse sale this would have been fine for dinner. But then Sarah brought out the soup!” [Source]

Eberwhite Blvd.

A bicycle built for three just rolled by. Person in middle is wearing a funny hat.

The Where and Why of Ann Arbor’s Art

Map at AAPAC

At an open house hosted by the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, people were asked to mark the locations in town where they'd like to see public art. Sophie Grillet drew in a bike bridge she'd like to see over the railroad tracks on the south part of town, connecting South State and South Industrial.

A trio of women stood staring at the piece of paper on the wall, pencils and shiny star stickers poised in their hands. One of them announces she wants to mark somewhere with a bench. Somewhere she can sit and look.

The paper they’re looking at is a map of Ann Arbor. The stickers and pencils are tools to highlight places they think could use some artwork. On a bench below the map, there’s also a suggestion box, with squares of paper scrawled with the public’s suggestions for the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission’s next project.

The map was part of AAPAC’s open house, which the commission held Thursday evening at the Ann Arbor Art Center. The event, where commissioners entertained about 30 supporters and community members, featured a slideshow of public art – from the Arch in Kerrytown’s Sculpture Park to various pieces by Herbert Dreiseitl, the German artist AAPAC commissioned to work on the public art installment at the municipal center.

There were also sheets of paper with information about the commission attached to the wall, answering questions like “Why a public art commission?” and “Creating a public art plan: How do we get there?” While perusing the center’s Jewelry + Objects exhibition and enjoying wine, fruit and brownies, attendees told The Chronicle why they came and what they think of public art. [Full Story]

Downtown A2

Lots of people strolling, walking dogs, hanging out at sidewalk cafés. Guy sanding dark green paint off the porch pillar at Herb David at Fifth & Liberty. Further east on Liberty, a line of people, mostly with kids in tow, outside Michigan Theater waiting to get into the “Mary Poppins” sing-a-long.

A2: Tourism

The Battle Creek Enquirer publishes a guide to a day-trip in Ann Arbor. Highlights include the M-Den on South State, the Michigan Theater, the UM Exhibit Museum of Natural History, and Zingerman’s Deli. [Source]

UM: Supreme Court

The New York Times profiles Gov. Jennifer Granholm as a possible Supreme Court nominee, and quotes UM law professor Richard Friedman: “A court of nine Jennifer Granholms – something’s missing. The question is whether one seat on the court should be going to someone like her. And I just don’t think that’s a problem. Given that perspective, she brings something very valuable.” [Source]

Main & Huron

Owners of Pita Bite doing some painting trim work on the facade of their as-yet-unopened restaurant on North Main. When asked, they say they’ve been waiting for the county health inspector to drop by – when that happens, they’re ready to open for business.

UM: Tobacco Regs

The Baltimore Sun publishes an article about proposed federal legislation that would more strictly regulate the manufacturing of cigarettes and other tobacco products. The article quotes Kenneth Warner, dean of UM’s School of Public Health, about the impact of the legislation: ”We just don’t know what is going to happen. This is uncharted territory.” [Source]