Comments on: Ann Arbor DDA: Let’s Do Development it's like being there Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:56:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: JOHN FLOYD JOHN FLOYD Wed, 02 Jun 2010 03:06:10 +0000 Point of Order, Mr. Chairman: the DDA is not permitted to issue debt. All of it is issued by the city. While revenue bonds tied only to DDA REVENUE could in a sense be called, “DDA Debt”, my understanding is that the city is only issuing General Obligation bonds these days – bonds backed by the full faith & credit of the City of Ann Arbor, not by the DDA
or its revenues. In both strict and effective senses, there is no DDA debt, only City of Ann Arbor debt.

By: Dave Askins Dave Askins Tue, 01 Jun 2010 21:27:53 +0000 Re: [3] ” … I find the suggestion that the DDA would actively lead in development of city property troubling …”

What specifically troubles you? Is it the current composition of the DDA board and staff? Or is it the layer of accountability between the DDA and voters? Or what? It seems to me that in theory we get a way more transparent process, if it’s clear whose job it is to lead downtown development. If not the entity whose middle name is ‘development’ who would you suggest lead development of city-owned surface parking lots downtown? Or do you not agree with the apparent basic premise of much of the city-DDA conversations to date — that those lots should become something other than surface parking?

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Tue, 01 Jun 2010 19:45:31 +0000 Dave, I recognize that my response was rather hyperbolic and yours is thoughtful. Thanks for the long careful account, which I will read more mindfully when I have time. It isn’t the reading that I find difficult, but the assimilation of all the implications and undertones.

Nevertheless, I find the suggestion that the DDA would actively lead in development of city property troubling, especially with regard to the conference center concept, which was being facilitated through the DDA for many months before it came to public attention.

By: Dave Askins Dave Askins Tue, 01 Jun 2010 13:38:48 +0000 Re:[1] ” … without accountability to citizens … give over their governing authority … odor of a palace coup … cleverly kept the original boundary.”

Well okay, I suppose having “only scanned” it earns some consideration. But really? REALLY?

A lot of the DDA has evolved in recent years to be a “parking authority” which then allocates “excess” parking revenues to various entities — the city, the getDowntown program, etc. As a “parking authority” the DDA wants the ability to enforce parking rules so that it can bring enforcement strategies in line with management strategies that it uses as a tool to attract private investment in the downtown. The DDA manages the parking system under contract with the city, and the city wants to change that contract so that the DDA pays the city more rent for parking facilities than under the current contract.

So the DDA isn’t “setting itself up” as anything. It’s negotiating with the city for something it thinks will allow it to do a better job running the parking system. Other code enforcement was wiped off the board. DDA board members are accountable to citizens. But their accountability has an extra layer — it goes through elected officials who must confirm their appointments. The observation that they’re appointed, not elected, does not translate to no accountability. As the DDA board’s discussion makes clear, the DDA recognizes that its site plans will not excused from city council approval, or anything of that sort. For example from the report:

The idea on the term sheet was that the DDA would be the primary public entity in charge of ensuring that downtown surface parking lots would be developed. The DDA would be in charge of the planning process, the public hearings, the RFP process. All of this would need the city council’s approval – it was clear, Hewitt said, that the city council was unwilling to just turn over the whole process to the DDA and walk away from it.

I think the idea that this is an attempt at a power grab by the DDA, or that the DDA could even remotely contemplate a “coup” has zero basis in this report. Kunselman did call the idea of the DDA enforcing city laws setting up a “shadow government.” But the criticism made by Kunselman is not directed solely at the DDA, but rather against the idea that this is something to be discussed at all — so he’s faulting the city council working group for producing a term sheet that even contemplates DDA enforcement of city laws. He’s also engaging in a bit of rhetorical flourish.

Why does the decision not to change the boundary on renewal have to be “clever”? Why can’t it just be “prudent” or “cautious” or “politically realistic”? How really “clever” do you have to be to come up with the brilliant idea of … leaving things the same? I think Newcombe Clark nailed it when he suggested that people would “freak out” about any discussion of boundaries. But the key result from the retreat on the boundary issue: The idea of changing boundaries did not stay on the white board.

I much prefer it this way: to hear the words spoken out loud at public meetings, see the words written down on a white board, then see them wiped away. The alternative is that the discussion takes place out of public view, it gets polished into a presentation designed to persuade, and then develops a momentum based around a memorandum, or a study, or a report, … or a term sheet, which only a select subset of people had any part in developing.

If the city council and the DDA board had used their committee structure and reported back to those respective bodies for these conversations, by now it would already be clear that the real discussion ought not be about revising the parking contract, but about how to get the DDA out of the parking business entirely. Otherwise put, how does the entire parking system get moved back into the city’s management — with perhaps a parking advisory commission roughly parallel to the park advisory commission? The parking advisory commission would carry on the policy direction of transportation demand management and all the rest. It would also be charged with the responsibility of making sure adequate capital was reserved for repairs and reconstruction of the parking structures.

The challenge there gets reduced to the question of how much of the DDA’s debt gets taken on by the city or some new “parking authority.” But the city would be getting all the revenue — presumably using an enterprise fund for the accounting. Whether the municipal service charge would apply to that fund is something maybe the DDA could negotiate — but once it’s out of their bailiwick, why would they care? For its part, the DDA — assuming there’s the political interest in maintaining its existence — could then focus on development and be funded solely through TIF without the distraction of managing parking or the city taking its money. TIF money is not something the city could grab without fighting it out with the other taxing authorities.

I actually think that there’s a 50-50 chance a conversation about getting the DDA out of the parking business will evolve over the next few months. I base that on comments like Keith Orr’s remarks at the last partnerships committee meeting to the effect that it was important to consolidate parking management with parking enforcement — even if eventually that assembled “package” of enforcement and management was not the DDA’s responsibility. I think “eventually” could be now, and I think it should be now. And then let’s see what, if anything, the DDA can do development-wise. With the power of site plan approval, the city council can fend off any project it thinks is not in the best interests of the city, or even just a project that it feels is politically untenable. As part of the future discussions, the DDA might want to consider negotiating for the privilege of adding an item to the city council’s agenda so that it can at least force the council to vote on any particular proposal. The DDA lacked that ability back in 2005, and the council never actually voted on the 3-Site Plan.

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Mon, 31 May 2010 01:50:12 +0000 I confess that I have only scanned this excellent report, not read it in full. But I find it deeply disturbing. The DDA appears to be setting itself up as a governmental unit, a city within a city, but without the accountability to citizens. I think I heard that Stephen Kunselman used the phrase, “shadow government”. This should not be tolerated by the City Council. How could they possibly give over their governing authority to another body? It has the odor of a palace coup.

With regard to the district boundaries: when the DDA asked to have its charter extended for 30 years, it cleverly kept the original boundary. I actually did some investigation at that time (I was on the county Board of Commissioners, and Washtenaw County is one of the entities who are losing tax revenue to the DDA). Because they kept their boundary the same, the district could not be challenged by the other taxing entities. But if they expand the boundary, I assume that they would have to ask for a charter amendment, and that the county, WCC, AADL, and maybe WISD (have to check on that one) would have to sign off. Considering that money is tight everywhere, I would hope that all those boards would examine this request critically. Oh, and the (Ann Arbor) City Council might want to look at it critically too.