Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Oct. 7, 2009): Last week’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new underground parking garage at the Library Lot included car-related songs from DJ Surfer Joe. And the theme of cars – and specifically the underground parking project, which the DDA is undertaking – echoed through the DDA board’s Wednesday meeting.
The board approved a $50,000 expenditure for an earth retention system design, as well as a commitment to support two additional Zipcars at $36,000 a year, for a total of six cars in the downtown area. The actual amount of the subsidy is expected to be zero, based on experience with the first four vehicles.
The board also heard a report from getDowntown director Nancy Shore about the results of a commuter survey. Board members also spent time discussing under what conditions they should call special meetings.
Mayor John Hieftje announced that Ann Arbor’s Main Street had earned a special designation from the American Planning Association. All that and who’s getting married, after the jump.
John Splitt, chair of the capital improvements committee, introduced a resolution to approve payment of $50,000 for the design of detailed structural plans for earth retention systems that will be used for the underground parking garage project on Fifth Avenue.
Splitt clarified that the money would come out of the bonded expenses and would be part of the guaranteed maximum construction price to be provided by Christman, which has already been contracted for pre-construction services. Christman has not yet been tapped for the job of construction manager of the project – that’s contingent on performance in the pre-construction phase.
There was brief confusion in the discussion, when board member Gary Boren mistook the earth retention systems for a geo-thermal heating system.
Board member Jennifer Hall questioned how this expenditure related to future plans, noting that Christman, at this point, had not been hired as the construction manager.
At Splitt’s request, Adrian Iraola of Park Avenue Consultants clarified why the DDA had delayed acceptance of a guaranteed maximum construction price for the project. The bids for the earth retention system had come back dramatically different, with the low bid $1 million lower. The money for design work would allow for evaluation of that low bid.
Board member Newcombe Clark expressed the sentiment that it was important to bear in mind that Christman had not been engaged as the construction manager, comparing it to a wedding that’s been planned but hasn’t taken place: “All the invitations have been sent, we’re walking down the aisle, but we haven’t asked Christman to marry us.”
Splitt, for his part, felt that the fact of a separate resolution helped to clarify that Christman was not yet selected as construction manager.
Splitt indicated that he expected the next capital improvements committee to yield a guaranteed maximum price for construction. That meeting will be held on Oct. 14 at 11 a.m. at the DDA office. Splitt gave board members a heads up that a special meeting of the entire board might be called to consider the question of hiring Christman as the construction manager for the entire project and to accept the guaranteed maximum price.
Board member Russ Collins then executed the parliamentary procedure of “calling the question,” and the board agreed to end discussion and vote on the resolution.
Outcome: The board approved the $50,000 expenditure, with dissent from Hall.
During the public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, Ed Vielmetti, who’s the blogging leader at AnnArbor.com, used his turn to read aloud a narrative he’d posted on that website on Aug. 19. [Link to the text of that narrative.] In that piece he critiqued the adequacy of the DDA’s practice for notifying the public of its meetings.
At the conclusion of the DDA’s board meeting in the time alotted for other DDA business matters, board member Jennifer Hall took up the issue Vielmetti had raised, but focused on the fact that the meeting in question had been a “special meeting.” Special meetings require a minimum 18-hour noticing. From the Open Meetings Act:
(4) Except as provided in this subsection or in subsection (6), for a rescheduled regular or a special meeting of a public body, a public notice stating the date, time, and place of the meeting shall be posted at least 18 hours before the meeting.
Hall expressed concern about the idea that major decisions were made at special meetings that were not on the regular calendar. [The Aug. 19 special meeting had been called to hire Christman to provide pre-construction services on the underground parking garage project. Coverage of that meeting is here: "Christman Hired, Bonds Delivered."]
Making decisions at special meetings, Hall said, left the board’s decisions susceptible to criticism. It also disadvantaged board members, she said, noting that she’d been unable to attend the Aug. 19 meeting due to its scheduling.
Responding to Hall, Russ Collins pointed out that if you listened to what Vielmetti had actually said, he’d conceded that the meeting had been posted on the DDA’s website and that he might have missed an email about the meeting. Collins went on to point out that the board’s commitment to openness was reflected in part through the institution of video recording of its meetings – something that Hall had pushed forward. Collins said that clarity and openness is absolutely important. He rejected the idea that a special meeting that was called in order to make time-sensitive decisions related to a construction project meant that the board was trying to cover something up.
Board member Leah Gunn pointed out that in the past one could depend on the local media, but now Ann Arbor did not have a daily printed newspaper.
Board member Sandi Smith suggested that when a special meeting was necessary, an attempt should be made to match the weekday and time of the board’s regular monthly meeting: “Try for noon on a Wednesday.”
Board member Joan Lowenstein speculated that the issue would not come up with all that great a frequency. Splitt, for his part, said that he did not enjoy calling special meetings, but that construction was time-sensitive.
Board member Newcombe Clark suggested that the issue was not really about posting meetings, but about communication – talking openly about money and where it’s going. He noted that the DDA board did not have a communications or a marketing committee.
Board member Keith Orr suggested that when a special meeting was anticipated, it would be possible to set a tentative date, in order to give more advance warning.
Outcome: A tentative special meeting of the DDA board was set for noon on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009.
Two Additional Zipcars
Zipcar is a membership-based carsharing service. In December 2008, the DDA added a fourth car to a previously approved three-car Zipcar fleet, with a minimum revenue stream to Zipcar guaranteed by the DDA. From Chronicle coverage of that meeting:
The board considered and passed a resolution authorizing funding for a fourth Zipcar in addition to the three for which funding had already been approved in May 2008. The amount of the original authorization was up to $54,000 for $1,500 a month in guaranteed revenue to Zipcar and $10,000 for marketing and promotion. The new resolution added $18,000 to account for a maximum of $1,500 per month for a fourth vehicle. Nancy Shore, director of the getDowntown program, which will work with the DDA and Zipcar on the marketing end, clarified for the board that it’s conceivable that the guaranteed revenue would be covered completely by actual Zipcar usage. This assessment was based on the fact that the $1,500 revenue level corresponded to 40% usage, and the UM Zipcar program currently enjoyed 60% usage. Board member Gary Boren asked if the arrangement was a dollar-for-dollar abatement, and Shore said that she believed it was.
In the first seven months after the launch of the Zipcars in early 2009 – with two cars each at two different locations – the DDA’s cost for subsidizing the vehicles has been $3,260, compared to the maximum $42,000 [7 months x 4 cars x 1,500 per car], which the DDA could have been required to pay, if there had been no usage of the cars by paying customers of Zipcar.
Zipcar approached the DDA with the proposal to add two additional vehicles to the fleet – location of the parking spaces to be determined – under the same arrangement.
The resolution to provide the same kind of guaranteed revenue for two additional cars was brought forward by John Mouat, who chairs the DDA transportation committee.
Board member Russ Collins led off deliberations by saying that “Because it works, I won’t be supporting it.” By that he meant that the DDA had helped provide the support to get it launched – now Zipcar could make their own decisions about whether to add more vehicles. “Backstopping it isn’t necessary,” he concluded.
Nancy Shore said that this was the last time that Zipcar would ask for a subsidy. The two vehicles in question would be a Civic and an Escape. The latter is a Ford product, she pointed out, which was a response by Zipcar to suggestions that their vehicles be domestic.
Board member Newcombe Clark said that Zipcar is finding Ann Arbor to be a surprising market. They’re still trying to figure out how it’s become so successful so quickly, he said.
Board member Jennifer Hall pointed out that Zipcar is one of many ways that Ann Arbor residents use car-sharing as a strategy for reducing car ownership. The Enterprise car rental at the corner of Huron and Chapin did a brisk business with residents like herself, she said, who used a rental on occasion as an option to get by with one car in a household.
The location of the cars’ parking spots has not yet been determined, but Shore said that the Washington Street area was being considered.
Roger Hewitt, who allowed that he had a new business interest in the South University area [Revive and Replenish in the ground floor of Zaragon Place], said that Zipcars would be welcome in that area.
Outcome: The board approved the support of two additional Zipcars, with dissent from Collins.
First some background. The getDowntown program provides downtown commuter services and is jointly funded by the DDA, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the city of Ann Arbor, and the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. It’s perhaps best known for its role in administering the go!pass, which downtown employers can purchase for their employees for $5 per year – it allows them to ride the bus without paying a fare on boarding. Fares are paid to the AATA by the DDA. [In her presentation, getDowntown director Nancy Shore indicated that the go!pass is the No. 1 program that downtown employers take advantage of and find useful.]
Part of the chamber’s support of getDowntown includes providing office space. At the meeting of the DDA’s operations committee last week, DDA board member and chamber board member Newcombe Clark reported that the result of a chamber board vote meant that the getDowntown program might need to find alternate space, if the chamber found a sublessor for its downtown offices. [The chamber is seeking to reduce costs by finding cheaper space and subletting the remaining seven years of its lease. Previous Chronicle coverage here: "Transitioning the Ann Arbor Chamber."] One AATA board member, Ted Annis, has suggested that the AATA bring the administration of the go!pass in house in order to save costs. [Previous Chronicle coverage here: "Buses for Ypsi and a Budget for AATA."]
However, at the operations committee meeting, Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, said that the DDA had assured getDowntown of a “soft landing” at the DDA offices, if they lost their space with the chamber. Further, she said she would be meeting with the four partners to discuss the getDowntown program to sort through any issues.
At Wednesday’s DDA board meeting, getDowntown’s Nancy Shore gave the board an update on the results of a survey of downtown employers and employees. The survey had the goal of benchmarking commuting data, determining commuting attitudes and needs, and assessing awareness of getDowntown programs.
The survey was conducted previously in 2000, 2001 and 2005. It was conducted this year prior to getDowntown’s commuter challenge, which is a month-long May event.
Responding to the survey were 416 businesses and 352 employees. The improvements compared to previous years reflected in some 2005 numbers for overall commuting behavior were, said Shore, reflective of 2005 being an odd year. The 2009 numbers were more consistent with the 2000 and 2001 numbers. For example, for preferred transportation mode:
Mode 2000 2001 2005 2009 Drive alone 61.0 61.1 56.4 61.4 AATA bus 12.1 9.2 14.7 11.8 Walk 11.8 14.1 15.1 13.6 Bike 3.6 2.2 4.2 2.3
Shore said that numbers for the bus, walking or biking were better when commuters were asked about modes they used at least three times per month, as opposed to naming their most frequent mode. On that score, 25% rode the bus, 23% walked and 8% bicycled to work at least three times per month.
Parking habits and attitudes are always a welcome topic of discussion at the DDA, which oversees the city’s parking structures. And Shore’s presentation showed that the percentage of survey respondents who park in a public parking structure had increased from 27.6% in 2005 to 43.0% in 2009. Attitude-wise, 88% of 2009 survey respondents described parking as either “very easy” or “easy,” compared to 69.9% in 2005.
Roger Hewitt gave an update on the initial year-end numbers for the DDA budget. He called on deputy director of the DDA Joe Morehouse to explicate some of the variances. They were due to requirements of accounting – you can’t go back to a previous year and record a deposit then. So the TIF fund, for example, showed a $1.3 million excess in income, which was due to reimbursements from bonding.
The parking revenues and hourly patrons report given by Hewitt contained a statistical nugget not mentioned at the full DDA board meeting, but it had been discussed at the operations committee meeting the previous week. The Liberty Square parking structure showed $109,826 in revenue for August 2008, compared to $103,296 in August 2009. But hourly patrons jumped from 2,099 to 3,900. The explanation was that Ann Arbor News employees had monthly permits at the Liberty Square structure – and when the News closed, revenue from those spaces was lost, but that freed up spaces for hourly parkers.
In his communications to the board, Mayor John Hieftje announced that South Main Street had been named as a “Great Street” by the American Planning Association.
Background: The APA is a professional membership-based organization for planners. The Great Street program is part of their Great Places program, which includes Great Neighborhoods and Great Public Spaces. Suggestions for great streets, neighborhoods and public spaces can be submitted to the APA by anyone – membership in the APA is not necessary.
Denny Johnson, with APA public affairs, explained to The Chronicle in a phone interview that there’s a first cut of applications made, with a follow-up request of additional materials for those locations deemed to have merit. The original application materials and the identity of the submitters, he said, is not something the APA generally shares. The APA does not make on-site visits to the locations, Johnson said.
So what does the APA get out of this? Johnson explained that planning is something that has outcomes not seen for several years or decades. So to convince communities that planning is worth doing, it’s useful to have good examples to point to. [Summary text of South Main Street by APA.]
As part of her update from the partnerships committee, DDA board member and Ann Arbor city councilmember Sandi Smith reported that the DDA had closed the second round of Phase I applications for the energy grant program. Phase I of the program involves an energy audit of a building, while Phase II is the implementation of the recommended measures. They received 44 applications, said Smith. In the first round of grants, there were seven businesses that had completed both Phase I and Phase II.
Local Currency and Stimulus Funds
Sandi Smith also announced that the partnerships committee had commissioned a feasibility assessment from Think Local First to explore whether a local currency initiative could work in the Ann Arbor area. Questions to be explored include the demand for such a program and whether coordination with a bank would be necessary.
DDA board members were alerted to some existing experience with local currencies in the Ann Arbor banking community, when Stephen Ranzini addressed them during public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting. Ranzini is president of University Bank. He described how he’d begun his banking career in Newberry, Mich., near Sault Ste. Marie, and how he’d developed a local currency there. In the first year, they’d circulated around $0.5 million of local scrip, and found that it had increased local shopping. So it was an idea he thought was worth looking at.
Ranzini also serves on the city’s economic development corporation board as well as Washtenaw County’s economic development corporation. He alerted the board to the fact that federal stimulus funds provided for $17 million in tax-free bonding authority in the city – which has a $6 million net present value. There’s also $33 million in tax-free bonding authority available in the county. That’s $50 million that could be invested in Ann Arbor. Ranzini said that as a practical matter, the minimum size of such a bond would be around $2 million.
Other Public Commentary
Ray Detter: Detter is president of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, and regularly gives the board an update on DCAC meetings. He pointed board members to an article that had been published in the most recent edition of the Ann Arbor Observer on Courthouse Square. He said that the DCAC would be inviting Ward 1 city council representatives Sandi Smith and Sabra Briere to help develop a strategy to deal with what he thought would be a sale of the building in November.
He said that they’d discussed the progress of the A2D2 rezoning and design guidelines process and were content that with the additional time that had been given to it, the results would be “even better.” [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Mandatory Process Likely for Design Guides."]
Tamara Real: Real is president of the Arts Alliance, and was at the board meeting to request $25,000 in funding for the Arts Alliance to develop a web-based arts portal. They’d achieved $75,000 in funding already, she said, for the project which had a budget of $100,000. In a process that had spanned two years and included over 2,000 people, the No. 1 priority that had been identified, she said, was a centralized arts presences on the internet. It would be “a piece of infrastructure” for all things arts and cultural.
Mike Kessler: Kessler gave the board a synopsis of the Workantile Exchange at 118 S. Main, which is a venture that Kessler launched in early summer. The idea is to provide a productive environment for independent workers – the 1099 folks. He said that he was working on pinning down exactly how many workers fit that description, but said that it was more than 10%. The Workantile provided a productive work environment with other people around. For $100 a month, he said, you get access to the space, which includes conference rooms and wireless internet access. Although he conceded that anyone who’s hunched over a laptop computer might look like a computer programmer, the Workantile focused on recruiting members with a diversity of skill sets. The membership includes an archeologist, a novelist, a filmmaker, a translator, and a publisher of children’s books.
Hal Wolfe: Wolfe just finished his third year as race director for the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run. Next year will be his fourth. He was there to express his appreciation for the help that the DDA had provided with the race, which included the use of a surface parking lot and the waiving of parking meter bag fees. He alerted the board to a possible future proposal he’d be making, that a permanent finish line plaque be installed on Main Street to serve as a symbolic commitment between the city and the race. Wolfe concluded his remarks with a presentation of a plaque to Jennifer Hall, who served as chair of the DDA at the time the race was held, as well as T-shirts to all the board members.
Present: Gary Boren, Newcombe Clark, Jennifer Hall, Roger Hewitt, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat, John Hieftje
Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Nov. 4, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]