DDA-City Development Ideas

Hohnke: "How do we come to a conclusion it's resonating?"

On Monday morning, the respective “mutually beneficial” committees (MBCs) of the city council and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority continued their work on renegotiating the parking agreement under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system.

The discussion provided some clarity about what’s feasible with respect to the DDA’s role in enforcing parking regulations. And though parking enforcement appeared ready to slide completely off the table at the last committee meeting due to practical concerns, it appears now that the issue could be back in play, at least from the perspective of technical feasibility.

Concerns of Main Street merchants were also aired at the meeting, with Maura Thomson, executive director of the Main Street Area Association, addressing the two committees to suggest that any additional payment by the DDA to the city be partially earmarked for downtown public safety – that is, downtown police patrols.

But the highlight of the meeting was a more fleshed-out version of an outline that DDA executive director Susan Pollay provided, which describes a process by which the DDA would lead the community in comprehensive site-planning for the downtown’s city-owned surface parking lots, based on work that’s been done over the last half-decade – including the Calthorpe process, the A2D2 rezoning process, and the downtown plan.

DDA board member Russ Collins wanted to know if the process addressed any specifics regarding payments from the DDA to the city. Pollay responded to Collins by acknowledging that DDA board member Newcombe Clark – who does not serve on the DDA’s MBC – was keen to see the DDA purchase land from the city as part of the process. She indicated that would be a topic addressed by the DDA at its retreat, scheduled for Sept. 22.

However, the focus for Monday morning’s meeting, said Pollay, was not on the idea of land purchases, but rather on a comprehensive site-planning process: If the process feels like it resonates, she said, then the discussion could move on later to include land purchases. City councilmember Carsten Hohnke then zeroed in on a crucial question: “How do we come to a conclusion it’s resonating?”

DDA-Led Development Process of City-Owned Lots

DDA board member Gary Boren followed up Hohnke’s question – about how to conclude that the process described by Pollay was resonating – with a more specific one: With whom is it resonating? For his part, Hohnke said, “It’s resonating with me!” Hohnke went on to say that he felt it was resonating with councilmember Christopher Taylor, who’d left the meeting shortly before it adjourned. Before he left, Taylor had said that “Broadly speaking, I’m pleased with the direction.” Margie Teall, the third member of the council’s committee, was absent.

What was it that was resonating with Hohnke and Taylor about the proposed DDA-led development process for city-owned surface parking lots? Many of the key features of the plan were provided in outline form at the two committees’ last meeting, on Aug. 23.

One basic theme of the proposal is to start not from scratch, but rather to build on the discussions that have taken place over the last five years in connection with initiatives like the Calthorpe process, the A2D2 rezoning process, and the downtown plan. Another basic theme is a focus on a comprehensive approach to downtown – not every parcel must provide all amenities. The process also stresses the integration of professional expertise.

Pollay walked the two committees through the four-page document.

DDA-Led Development: Overview of Current City-Run Process

The first page of the document is devoted to a sketch of the city’s approach to development of city-owned property downtown, illustrated by examples drawn from the last decade:

  • Ashley Mews, a project approved at Main & Packard in 2000 and constructed in 2001.
  • A project at First & Washington with Liberty First that was terminated in 2003 despite an approved development agreement.
  • William Street Station at Fifth & William, which had a site plan approved and a purchase agreement negotiated, but ended in a lawsuit against the city.
  • City Apartments at First & Washington, which is a Village Green project receiving site plan approval in 2008, with a purchase agreement recently extended by the city council to spring 2011.

The two most recent efforts to develop city-owned parcels using an RFP (request for proposals) process are: 415 W. Washington, which generated three local responses, none of which were selected; and the Library Lot on top of the underground parking garage being built along Fifth Avenue – a review committee has winnowed six proposals down to two, with those two currently being evaluated by a consultant.

As described in the document that Pollay provided, the city’s current process begins with city council direction to issue an RFP for city-owned property. The RFP is drafted by city staff, then disseminated via the city’s website or by email. An advisory committee is established by the city council to oversee review, interviews are held, a recommendation is made, and city staff oversee negotiations with the developer.

DDA-Led Development: Background Research – Expertise/Information

The first step the DDA would undertake would be to assemble information and expertise about the whole downtown area, and to integrate it with the city’s existing planning documents: the downtown plan, the central area plan, and the the new A2D2 zoning regulations.

Some of the work would take the form of developing an inventory of sites with detailed physical information about those sites – from square footage to soil conditions. The inventory would also include a breakdown by the city’s planning staff of all the specific zoning requirements for each site – the basic zoning, plus the character district overlays, adjacent historic districts, and the like.

Public services city staff – led by public services area administrator Sue McCormick – would be called upon to provide information on stormwater and sanitary sewage systems, with estimates on upgrades that could be required if parcels were  developed to their maximum density. At Monday’s meeting, McCormick weighed in for the comprehensive approach that’s called for, saying it could allow for costs for infrastructure upgrades to be spread across developments, instead of saddling a single “first-in” development with all the costs. Detroit Edison would be asked to provide information on electric capacity, and Ann Arbor SPARK would be tapped for information on any state and federal grants that could be used for downtown redevelopment.

Expertise from other communities where successful downtown development has occurred – elected officials, developers and others – would be invited to Ann Arbor to explain how that successful development happened.

A real estate consultant would be hired to assist in the process by identifying what current real estate development looks like, what kind of lease rates are prevalent and what prices land is selling for. The real estate consultant would help identify for each specific site the exact set of information that would need to be assembled.

DDA-Led Development: Community Work – Goals Plan

The second section in the development document focuses on integrating previous work done in and by the community with the process of more comprehensive, but detailed, planning of individual sites. At Monday’s meeting, Pollay stressed that “this is not just another planning exercise.” This kind of planning would go beyond the Calthorpe community engagement process done five years ago, which explicitly avoided specific suggestions for individual sites.  It would involve a level of detail far greater than the new A2D2 zoning, character district overlays and design guidelines.

One key part of that community work would be done in the context of a city council work session, in which the council would prioritize its downtown development goals: Optimal purchase price? Catalyst projects? Iconic projects? Projects that maximize pedestrian activity?

Focus groups and other larger community meetings, plus online surveys, would provide additional input. University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University faculty would be looped into the discussion depending on their area of expertise. UM planning staff would be consulted to provide the perspective of future UM projects and goals for the campus.

The outcome of this community activity is to be a detailed “goals plan” for the downtown that is meant to provide for everything that’s needed in the downtown, without insisting that every site provide for each specific need.

DDA-Led Development: How an Individual Site Would Get Developed

How does the DDA envision getting from an assembly of information, expertise and site goals to the development of any one specific site?

Step one would be for the DDA to make specific recommendations for each development site in the downtown that would underpin the expectations and goals for any future requests for proposals (RFPs). The DDA’s recommendations for the sites would be presented to the city council.

By way of background, the Ann Arbor city council has had general conversations over the last few years focused on the future of city-owned real estate in downtown Ann Arbor – beyond the development of the city-owned Library Lot on top of the underground parking garage currently under construction on Fifth Avenue.

For example, at the Dec. 1, 2008 city council meeting, the council authorized continued interest payments for the property the city had purchased from the YMCA at Fifth and William, the Old Y lot [emphasis added]:

In deliberations, councilmember Sandi Smith said that she would support the continued financing of the property, because they had no other choice, but that she urged her colleagues to begin thinking of master planning the area so that the city could divest itself of the property as soon as possible.

Or, at a February 2010 budget work session, one chunk of the conversation was devoted to downtown real estate, including the lot at Main and William next to Palios restaurant. From The Chronicle’s account of that work session:

An additional land parcel downtown that [Stephen] Rapundalo thought warranted some focus was the parking lot at Main & William, next to Palios restaurant. He noted that there were just 21 parking spaces at the lot, but it was possibly ripe for investment. He wanted to know if it was on the list somewhere. [City administrator, Roger] Fraser told him it was on a list, but not near the top.

Part of the process now being proposed is a systematic way of assembling information about items on the “list” and identifying which site will be the first one to focus on.

So with city council approval, the DDA would then pursue development on that first site, Site #1. The DDA would need to approve incentives funded by the DDA tax increment finance (TIF) capture – like parking, affordable housing or pedestrian improvements.

The RFP for the site would be extremely detailed and specific, with a draft site plan included in the request, that would have undergone the city’s site plan approval process. Here’s how that would evolve: The initial version of the RFP would be drafted by the DDA, with all the information previously assembled attached to it. The RFP would be reviewed by a professional real estate consultant and improved based on their feedback. An architect would then be hired to develop a draft site plan. This draft plan would be submitted to city staff, the city planning commission and the city council for review and approval. The RFP would specify that the draft site plan is not a mandated plan, but that potential developers should be challenged to design and implement a project even better than the draft site plan imagines.

Once the RFP is created, it would then be aggressively disseminated – with the help of the real estate consultant. A pre-proposal meeting would include a tour of the site. At Monday’s meeting, Pollay gave one example of the way the RFP could be marketed: She felt that if potential developers understood how much investment the university made in the community, it would help provide a case to developers to make a response to the proposal.

Once responses are received, they would be reviewed by an advisory committee assembled by the DDA, which will include people who have experience financing successful development projects or who have constructed downtown projects. After an interview process, the advisory committee would make a recommendation, which would then need to be approved by the DDA. The recommendation would be forwarded to the city council. If approved by the city council, the DDA would then proceed with negotiations on land purchase by the developer from the city and other project details, as the developer completes the site plan. The developer’s site plan would then be submitted to the city’s site plan approval process. And on approval, the project would then be constructed.

Reaction to Proposed DDA Process: Land Purchase?

Susan Pollay wrapped up her synopsis of the draft process document by noting that it assigned a lot of responsibility to the DDA, but she said the DDA is set up to take on that kind of responsibility.

Carsten Hohnke’s reaction to the process description was: “It’s fantastic!” He did wish for a presentation that visually contrasts the current timeline of the city’s strategy to develop a parcel side-by-side with the proposed DDA strategy.  He alluded to the fact that councilmember Sandi Smith had pushed the council to have a conversation about more than just the question of what goes on top of the new underground parking garage – other parcels downtown also need to be addressed.

Before departing from the meeting, councilmember Christopher Taylor indicated broad agreement with the basic proposal. However, he also indicated that he’d like to see a more detailed description of where the public conversation fit into the picture, as well as more clarity about the specific points in the process at which a collection of information is reduced to the form of a specific document.

DDA board member Russ Collins raised the money question: Does the process address any specifics of money transfers between the DDA and the city? The short answer is no. But Pollay acknowledged that DDA board member Newcombe Clark – who does not serve on the DDA’s MBC – was keen to see the DDA purchase land from the city as a part of the development process. She indicated that would be a topic addressed by the DDA at its retreat, scheduled for Sept. 22.

The question of money transfers from the DDA to the city is what prompted the city and the DDA to begin the talks about the parking agreement, under which the DDA operates the city’s parking system. The 2005 parking contract calls for $10 million to be paid by the DDA to the city over the course of 10 years – a commitment which the DDA had fulfilled by fiscal year 2010, which ended June 30. Earlier in 2010, the DDA then authorized an additional $2 million for FY 2011, and the city is expecting the DDA to continue $2 million annual payments.

At Monday morning’s meeting, Pollay deflected the question of land purchase by the DDA as part of the development process, suggesting that it would be more suitable for the DDA board to take up the issue at its Sept. 22 retreat. However, she indicated that as she’d consulted with various community members about putting together a proposed process for DDA-led development, what she’d heard was: “You’d be a fool to go through all this without possession [of the land].” Pollay indicated that the 3-Site Plan from 2005 had been thrown at her as an example.

The 3-Site Plan was an attempt by the DDA to develop three sites downtown in a coordinated fashion, in a similar spirit for what is being proposed for all the city-owned surface lots downtown. From The Chronicle’s report of the April 2010 DDA operations committee meeting:

The 3-Site Plan was an effort to develop city surface parking lots, including lots at First & William, First & Washington and the Kline’s lot – on the east side of Ashley Street, between William and Liberty. The concept underpinning of the 3-Site Plan was that parking could be decoupled from development – build a parking structure at First & William and free up the other two sites for development without the constraint of building on-site parking.

The 3-Site Plan was never voted on by the city council: The site at First & William provoked controversy that continued through most of 2005 when supporters of an Allen Creek greenway objected to the use of that parcel for a parking deck.

If the DDA owned the land, then in concert with a developer-partner, the DDA could submit a site plan to the city’s approval process and assure itself that it would at least come to the city council for a vote. And if the site plan conformed to the zoning, the city council would have limited discretion to deny the project. So land ownership is one means by which the DDA could guard against wasted effort.

One possible concern that could be raised about the purchase of city land by the DDA is a passage from page 23 of the DDA’s Renewal Plan, approved in 2003:

At this time the Authority has no plans to sell, exchange or donate property to or from the City. The DDA leases seven parking structures and several parking lots from the City under a management agreement, which will expire in 2012.

Downtown Police Patrols

While a money-for-land deal is one idea that could receive discussion during the Sept. 22 DDA retreat, another idea was floated at Monday’s meeting by executive director of the Main Street Area Association, Maura Thomson. The MSAA is keen to see part of any payment by the DDA to the city earmarked for public safety – that is, police patrols. Thomson heaped praise on the Ann Arbor police and fire departments, saying that they are second to none. She stressed that the downtown is the hub of the city and that there’s relationship between a healthy downtown and a healthy community.

Thomson acknowledged that when measured by statistics, a greater police presence might not be be warranted, but she encouraged the DDA board members and city councilmembers to think about issues that aren’t measured in statistics:

In early August my daughter found a man deceased in a planter bed on Main Street. Later in August I happened upon a man passed out on the sidewalk on the corner of Main and Liberty. Incidents such as these certainly jade the downtown experience. The impact of having dedicated officers in the downtown neighborhoods can not be measured by reported crimes alone – neither of the examples noted were crimes. The lack of police presence in our downtown neighborhoods is contributing to non-crime related issues and if left unchecked, this type of activity will lead to the downfall of our downtown as we know it.

Related to downtown public safety, at the city council’s Sept. 7, 2010 meeting, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) updated her council colleagues on her intention to bring forward a proposal to re-form a task force on panhandling in the downtown.

Parking Enforcement

At the previous meeting of the two mutually-beneficial committees, the discussion of a role for the DDA in parking regulation enforcement appeared to have been pushed to the edge, if not completely off the table as part of the negotiations. The number of logistical and legal hurdles seemed to be accumulating to the point where it appeared that little enthusiasm was left for pursuing the topic. [Chronicle coverage: "DDA Parking Enforcement Prospects Dim"]

At Monday’s meeting, however, a case was made by DDA staff for the technical feasibility of the DDA’s role in enforcement.

Amber Miller, planning and research specialist for the DDA, had compiled research from other cities in Michigan where the DDA in those cities either enforces parking directly or contracts for it: Traverse City, Petoskey and Kalamazoo. The DDAs in those cities write tickets for violations in the Michigan Vehicle Code, but do not have a direct reporting relationship to the chief of police. The lack of a reporting relationship to the police chief had been cited by the Ann Arbor city attorney’s office as a reason that the DDA could not enforce MVC infractions.

Access to information from the Michigan Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN), which provides vehicle owner information, is achieved in these other three cities via application by the city to the Michigan Secretary of State on behalf of the DDA, so that the DDA can be granted access to the information. Access to repeat-offender information for a subset of certain kinds of parking infractions is key to the Ann Arbor DDA’s intended strategy of having graduated fines based on prior offenses, or forgiveness of first offenses. The ability to filter data for DDA-contracted parking enforcement staff – so that they can view only authorized data – could be managed with the handheld devices used by ticketing officers.

That technological capability here in Ann Arbor was confirmed by Susan Pollay in her description of a meeting she’d had with Sue McCormick and a representative from Complus Data Innovations, the manufacturer of the handhelds used by the city. The CDI representative confirmed that data could be filtered by user login.

Pollay also made a case that the DDA was able to enforce parking regulations outside its tax district by citing local precedent for the city council authorizing the Ann Arbor DDA to act outside its boundary – the original parking agreement and the language of the DDA Renewal Plan – plus the state enabling legislation, which reads in relevant part:

An Authority possesses all the powers necessary to carry out the purpose of its incorporation. The enumeration of a power in this act shall not be construed as a limitation upon the general powers of an authority.

At Monday’s meeting, fresher parking enforcement data was also provided than had been available at the previous meeting. The five-year trend for monthly tickets issued is decidedly downward. Almost five years ago, 11,000 tickets were issued in a month, but in the last year around 6,000 tickets have been issued per month. In the most recent month for which data was available at the meeting, January 2010, only 4,647 tickets were issued.

Fewer tickets means less revenue: In FY 2006 around $2.1 million was collected in parking ticket revenue, but in FY 2010 that fell to around $1.1 million. Commented Russ Collins: “It’s hard to see the business case for the DDA taking this over.” However, Sue McCormick indicated that the lower numbers are due in part to lower staffing levels for community standards officers, who write parking tickets. The city currently has two community standards vacancies, she said.

Next Steps

Towards the conclusion of the meeting, Carsten Hohnke sought to summarize the committee work to date and to identify specific next steps:

  • Parking Enforcement: Points made about feasibility of parking enforcement by the DDA at Monday’s meeting will be reviewed by the city attorney’s staff, hopefully by the time the committees meet again, on Sept. 27.
  • DDA-led Development of Surface Lots: City council will schedule a working session to discuss the proposal that Pollay had presented to them.
  • Affirmation of DDA’s Parking Role: In the new parking agreement, DDA’s role will be based largely on its current, existing role.
  • Non-Parking Code Enforcement: This is now off the table – from the start there was little enthusiasm on the part of the DDA for this.
  • DDA-Provided Services: This appears now to be practically off the table. It’s received little attention since the very first meetings. Although there was initially some interest on the part of the DDA, that interest was expressed mainly by DDA board member Roger Hewitt, who could not attend Monday’s meeting. Gary Boren suggested that there was real potential for the new Main Street Business Improvement Zone to address the issue of services, if it can be expanded beyond the current, limited area between William and Huron along Main Street.

On Sept. 22, the DDA board will hold a retreat focused on the city-DDA talks. The target date for the signing of a new parking agreement between the city and the DDA is Oct. 31, 2010.

Although they were clearly kidding around, the following exchange could be analyzed by some as an accurate reflection of the reality of the talks:

Russ Collins: “We’re getting nothing of what we wanted and you’re getting everything that you wanted!”

Carsten Hohnke: “So it’s going exactly according to plan!”


  1. September 15, 2010 at 10:04 pm | permalink

    Sounds like a very orderly discussion, fleshed out with lots of background. Just what I would expect from a document prepared by Susan Pollay. Carsten Hohnke’s contribution also seems substantive and helpful. I am offering these judgments because I have been critical of this initiative.

    As usual, the reporting is superb.

  2. By Leah Gunn
    September 16, 2010 at 7:22 am | permalink

    Note about the lawsuit against the city by the “Y” lot developer, HDC: it was thrown out by the judge as having no merit. Basically what happened was that HDC lost its bank financing in the 2008 debacle, and was not able to meet the Council imposed deadlines for development. Council literally bent over backwards to facillitate this proposal, by allowing first condos, then office space and then a hotel on the site. It never got off the ground, but not due to any opposition from the city.

  3. September 16, 2010 at 1:11 pm | permalink

    Leah, your history of the HDC failure is not accurate. To begin with, the project was killed by Council on November 5, 2007, so the 2008 financial breakdown was clearly not a factor.

    I reviewed the history of this project extensively and reported a good deal of it in a blog post in January, 2010. [link] The post has a number of important links, including to the text of the complaint by HDC. The complaint makes interesting reading because it details a chronology of the project and interactions with city officials, as well as the Council.

    In preparing for the post, I interviewed Bob Jacobson, one of the HDC principals. Because he had a lawsuit pending against the city, I did not reveal some parts of our conversation. Now that the lawsuit has been dismissed, I can reveal that while he was putting together the proposal for incorporating a hotel into William Street Station, he had conversations with some who were later players in the development of what is now a proposed conference center for the Library Lot. According to my notes, he spoke with Bruce Zenkel (one of the principals with Valiant, a proposer for the conference center RFP), who was intrigued by the hotel concept but wasn’t interested in having the affordable housing associated with it. He also met with Jesse Bernstein, who would later make some very extensive efforts to promote the hotel and conference center idea.

    In the blog post, I speculate on what back room conversations may have occurred that contributed to the abrupt cancellation of the project. It was certainly a shock to HDC. Of course, we may never know everything.

  4. By Donald
    September 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm | permalink

    I don’t care WHO enforces the parking regulations, I just want them enforced. Far too often I see pickups and SUVs parked in the SubCompact car only spots, a vehicle parked so far over a line the spot next to it is useless, or (most recently) the Smart car in the TRUCKS ONLY spot in the parking structures, esp the Maynard lot.

    If someone is parked in a spot like that, TOW THEM and make them pay the $250 to get their car out of impound.

    DDA or City Police, just pick whoever will DO IT.

  5. By Tom Whitaker
    September 16, 2010 at 3:42 pm | permalink

    Hurray for detailed, site-specific planning! But what I did not see in this report was any mention of bringing in the other major government landowners in the downtown: the County, AATA, AA Library, and the Fed. No where is this more critical than the 300 block of South Fourth and South Fifth Avenues where all of these owners converge.

    “If the DDA owned the land, then in concert with a developer-partner, the DDA could submit a site plan to the city’s approval process….if the site plan conformed to the zoning, the city council would have limited discretion to deny the project.”

    This part is very concerning to me. The DDA should be partnering with the City Council and the public, NOT private developers as a means of forcing approvals. If the broad-based research, planning and public involvement in the process is indeed carried out as proposed, there should be no fear of mass opposition or last-minute defeat.

    Public opposition to the DDA/Chamber/City Council’s conference center idea has been partly based on the perceived (and apparently real) lack of research and planning. But more importantly, opposition grew from revelations that there were back room meetings with developers where the developers seemed to feel they could expect public money and financing as part of the deal. This is the climate of distrust that this new process must be developed from. It was not the public that created the distrust.

    We, the public, are not obstacles to be manuevered around. We are the reason the DDA exists, we own the land, and we deserve to have this process be as transparent as possible, with final decisions made by officials who are directly accountable to us.

  6. By John Floyd
    September 16, 2010 at 11:27 pm | permalink

    We have an elected city council and mayor, and a city manager. These are the people who are supposed to run the city – the whole city. Using the DDA as a “government within the government” makes me uneasy, at best.

    Recent forays by the DDA outside of its own boundaries – the North Main project, and more recently, the suggestion to help fund the skatepark – suggests that something is rotten in Denmark. Turning over (unbounded!) portions of the city to an entity outside our conventional government structure is evidence of a breakdown of city governance.

    If the city feels that it is not competent to run itself, and feels the need to “hire” the DDA to run various programs – including elements of law enforcement – perhaps the better solution is to simply bring the DDA personnel formally into the city administration, and remove the people who are not competent to do the city’s jobs.

    I am sure that all DDA members and staff are fine people, doing what they think is The Right Thing at all times in the their official capacity. Indeed, I think the DDA folks should go ahead and be part of city government – I don’t want them to go away. It is the institutional arrangements that are unseemly, not the people implementing them.

    All personnel performing city functions should be under the direct authority of the city manager.

    John Floyd
    Republican for Council
    5th Ward

  7. September 17, 2010 at 2:37 pm | permalink

    We (us DDA members) are appointed by the mayor and council who are elected by us (us voters). We have by-laws (approved by council) and our meetings are open and televised (by our own choice). We’re an authority, like the AATA, or the library. We use tax money for a specific purpose. Specifically we use tax money to aid in Downtown Development. It’s in the name. It’s part of the game. Telling us not to do Development is like telling the AATA to get out of the bus business or the Library to get out of the book business.

    As for the boundary, we spend money on all sorts of things outside of our boundary because we recognize that our boundary is completely arbitrary and frankly was defined at the time more by racial steering and political disenfranchisement than by any radial or character proximity to our core.

    People who live on the West side of Chapin St probably feel the same way as the people who live on the East side, which is probably different yet the same as the way people feel who live opposit from Washtenaw Dairy, or on opposite sides of Kingsley or Madison. Think they know or care that a tax boundary separates them from their neighbor. How they feel is probably completely unique to their own situation and their relationship to the downtown. To put it another way, Downtown is very much a feeling.

    If you think you live downtown, you do. If you try to sell your home and the Realtor puts “downtown” in the listing to the benefit of your sale price, you live downtown. The Census, by the way defines our core out to Stadium.

    If the public wants us to do something different with their money. Like fund beatcops for instance. Email us, or council, or better yet, come to our committee and board meetings and suggest it (like Maura Thompson did as mentioned above).

    We are transparent, and open to constructive criticism and suggestions. That being said, we have a job to do (volunteer) and a 4 year term each to do it. It’s 4 years by design, acknowledging the reality that if we and our budget were yanked and pulled by a 2 year election cycle, all of the parking decks would fall down within a year and the downtown would go back to the way it was in the 70s. The U would build a wall and moat around it’s campus (South Bend and New Haven anyone?) and we’d have to fight packs of dogs for our Lobster Bisque at LeDog.

    For better or worse, elected officials on two year terms are often unable, or feel unable to make any decisive moments or actions, especially in public meetings. It’s easier and less risking to just say ‘no’, or, as is often the case, never discuss anything complex or controversial at all.

    It has to do with trust, and communication, and expediency…and simple human nature. People don’t like to get yelled at or threatened. Politicians as elected officials, should expect it, it’s part of the job. It isn’t however part of the DDA’s. We like to listen to people, because it’s important and it helps generate ideas, but we are not going to be swayed by threats, lobbying, or advocacy alone.

    We are only concerned with the practice of pragmatic inquiry to fulfill our mission which is “to undertake public improvements that have the greatest impact in strengthening the downtown area and attracting new private investments.”

    Until the mission changes, that’s what we’re going to do. Want to change the mission?…see above.

  8. September 18, 2010 at 10:24 am | permalink

    If I understand #7 correctly, all of Ann Arbor is downtown. Who’d ‘a thunk it?

  9. September 18, 2010 at 3:06 pm | permalink


    You had mentioned recently you do have an alternative vision that you would like us to follow with respect to the lots, however you haven’t yet revealed it, at least not publicly, or at least not anywhere I’m aware of. We would LOVE you to bring it to us so we can have a look at it. Your institutional knowledge would certainly be an asset as we move forward with.

    I’ll urge you again, as I frequently have; If you have constructive criticism of what we’re doing or ideas of your own, please bring them to the table and lets discuss.

    Your right as a citizen to criticize what we do of course, but we’re not stopping and we’re not moving backwards. If you want to demonstrate some leadership on this issue or anything else we engage in or should be engaged in, the door and our ears are wide open.

  10. September 18, 2010 at 5:16 pm | permalink

    Thank you for the invitation, Newcombe. My laggard response is because I can’t just sit down and whip off a thesis on the spur of the moment. My blog has been waiting for me while I have been pickling, preserving, canning and freezing (think community food security at home). I spent part of the morning decanting my sauerkraut. But really, I’ll try to get back to it.

    A couple of comments: I’m not sure who “we” is in this context (#9). Also, my last comment was not meant as criticism so much as a little wry rejoinder.

    Briefly, I believe that there are two very different views on what an appropriate – or even possible – future for Ann Arbor is.

    Mine could be characterized by these words: localization, sustainability (in its original usage), community. A different viewpoint might be called the “growth scenario”. Of course, there are probably as many different private visions of these, and perhaps even some combinations of the two, as there are individuals who are thinking about this question. Some of it is dependent on what predictions we would make about the future, or about the consequences of decisions made now.

    I was interested to note that we have or will have had two different presentations of scenarios that predict a contraction of our national economy (in contrast to a growth scenario such as we have been living by). Last Saturday it was a talk by Nicole Foss, sponsored by Transition Ann Arbor [link]. In another week, there will be a talk by Pat Murphy of Community Solutions [link], sponsored jointly by the Planning Commission and the Energy Commission. (The talk is Tuesday September 28, 2010: 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm, Mallett’s Creek Library Branch; I regret that I have to miss it because of the LWV candidate forum.)

    Basically, I believe that we should not leverage our future by placing all of our community resources into a rush to development. Our public lands (including downtown lots, parks, and other property held by the city) are a commonly held asset and their disposal should be approached cautiously and with the broader benefit to the community in mind.

    So my objections to the DDA’s taking on the development responsibilities for downtown properties (or by your thinking, all city properties) are two: (1) I don’t agree with the basic worldview and prediction of the future that the DDA seems to represent in this regard; (2) I continue to state that it is antidemocratic to have an unelected body making such decisions. As has been eloquently expressed by other commentors on this thread, the intent seems to be to skirt objections by our populace. I remember well the frustration suffered by the DDA over the 3-site plan, which was scuttled by public opposition. Sorry, but that’s life in the big city.

    If you are inviting me to offer a specific picture of what should happen on a particular city lot, here is one: let’s have a civic open space and event venue on the Library Lot. That option has not been given an adequate hearing, especially as to its benefits, economic and otherwise, to the public and the city.

    Here is a challenge to you, Newcombe: what would constitute “moving backwards”?

  11. By brad mikus
    September 20, 2010 at 9:51 am | permalink

    I agree with John about keeping the master planning within the City Manager’s authority. However, I think a specific plan for various city parcels has merit.

    @Newcombe: Development doesn’t necessarily mean “development”. Many people would argue that the City Commons/Central Park idea would develop downtown. The GoPass bus subsidies develop downtown; the sponsoring of the Michigan Theatre’s Metropolis developed downtown. I respect your consistency and determination, but focusing on definitions is simplistic…of course, your argument is more complicated than “DDA means development”, so I’m calling for:

    Vivienne vs Newcombe on CTN’s “Other Perspectives”!!