Comments on: DDA-City Development Ideas it's like being there Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:56:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: brad mikus brad mikus Mon, 20 Sep 2010 13:51:19 +0000 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”!!

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Sat, 18 Sep 2010 21:16:57 +0000 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”?

By: Newcombe Clark Newcombe Clark Sat, 18 Sep 2010 19:06:31 +0000 Vivienne,

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.

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Sat, 18 Sep 2010 14:24:16 +0000 If I understand #7 correctly, all of Ann Arbor is downtown. Who’d ‘a thunk it?

By: Newcombe Clark Newcombe Clark Fri, 17 Sep 2010 18:37:05 +0000 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.

By: John Floyd John Floyd Fri, 17 Sep 2010 03:27:05 +0000 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

By: Tom Whitaker Tom Whitaker Thu, 16 Sep 2010 19:42:58 +0000 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.

By: Donald Donald Thu, 16 Sep 2010 18:50:00 +0000 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.

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Thu, 16 Sep 2010 17:11:39 +0000 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.

By: Leah Gunn Leah Gunn Thu, 16 Sep 2010 11:22:03 +0000 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.