Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (June 6, 2012): The board’s action items this month covered both of the DDA’s functions – as the administrator of tax increment finance (TIF) revenues within its geographic district, as well as the manager of the city’s parking system.
On the TIF side, the board first adopted a formal policy to guide its allocation of grants to new private developments. The board then acted to authorize a $650,000 TIF-capture-based grant to the 618 S. Main project. The policy applies to developments that are seeking to leverage support from the state’s brownfield and Community Revitalization Program, or other matching programs.
Highlights of that policy include a priority ranking of benefits that a development must offer. At the top of that list: A requirement that the project fills a gap in the existing market. The DDA board concluded that the 618 S. Main project filled such a gap – by targeting residential space for young professionals. The $650,000 would be distributed over four years, with the amount in any one year not to exceed the estimated $250,000 in TIF capture that would ordinarily be retained by the DDA as a result of the completed construction.
The board was interested in achieving a unanimous vote of support for the 618 S. Main grant, and not all board members agreed with covering bank carrying costs and the full amount of streetscape improvements. So the $650,000 reflected a reduction from a $725,000 grant in the original resolution before the board.
On the parking side of the DDA’s responsibilities, routine business was mixed with issues involving the imminent opening of a new underground parking garage on South Fifth Avenue. In the routine category was the board’s authorization of three-year leases for two properties from companies controlled by First Martin Corp., which the DDA manages as surface parking lots – at Huron/Ashley and Huron/First. Per space, the Huron/Ashley lot generates more revenue per month than any of the other public parking facilities in the city.
The board was also presented with a demand-management strategy for encouraging the use of the new underground parking garage on South Fifth Avenue, which is scheduled to open in mid-July. Highlights of that strategy include a reduced rate for monthly permits of $95/month – a $50/month savings over the $145/month rate set to take effect in September this year, and a $60 savings over the extra increase that the DDA is planning for two structures. The special $95/month permits are available only to current holders of permits in two other parking structures in the system: Liberty Square and Maynard Street. The DDA wants to free up spaces in those two structures for people who do not hold permits, and pay the hourly rate instead.
The DDA board also heard public commentary from advocates for some kind of public park to be constructed on top of the new underground parking structure – instead of using the space for additional surface parking, with the eventual possibility of allowing development of a significantly-sized building there.
In the board’s final action item, routine adjustments were made to the current fiscal year’s budget in order to assure that actual expenses did not exceed budgeted revenues for any of the DDA’s four funds. Last year, the routine adjustment did not adequately cover construction invoices that arrived after the final budget adjustment, something that was pointed out in the DDA’s audit for that year.
Brownfield Grants: Policy
In 2008, the DDA discontinued its partnerships grant program, because the board believed that development interest in downtown Ann Arbor was strong enough that such grants were no longer needed to help spur investment. [.pdf of March 5, 2008 DDA board resolution]
However, the board was approached recently by Dan Ketelaar, developer of the 618 S. Main St. project, with a request for support for the project based on the TIF (tax increment finance) revenue it would generate. The support would count as the local match expected as part of the state’s brownfield program. Ketelaar made his initial presentation to the DDA board on Feb. 1, 2012 after having won a recommendation of approval for his project from the city planning commission on Jan. 19, 2012.
One of the concerns that was expressed by board members through the months-long discussion over the course of several partnerships committee meetings – some of them added to the calendar as special sessions – was the absence of any formal brownfield grant policy. So the policy was developed during these discussions.
Sandi Smith introduced the policy by noting that the DDA’s partnerships committee has struggled with the discussion for several months. She reminded her board colleagues that a draft policy had been presented to them at their May 2, 2012 meeting. She felt that not many of the changes made since then were substantive. The cap was changed, she noted. Another significant change was to try to make the evaluation criteria objective. She noted that the criteria in the policy reflect the priorities and values of the DDA in order of importance:
- Addresses a documented gap in the marketplace or underserved markets of commerce.
- Will act as a catalyst for additional revitalization of the area in which it is located.
- Is “connected” to the adjacent sidewalk with uses on the first floor that are showcased using large transparent windows and doorways to give pedestrians a point of interest to look at as they walk by the project.
- Creates a large office floor plate.
- Will facilitate the creation of a large number of new permanent jobs.
- Is a mixed use development, that will encourage activity in the daytime, evening, and weekend, such as a development with a mix of commercial and residential.
- Adds to downtown’s residential density.
- Reuses vacant buildings, reuses historical buildings, and/or redevelops blighted property.
- Number of affordable housing units created on site or funded by the project elsewhere in the community, which are beyond what is required by the City.
- Environmental design exceeds City requirements.
- Architecturally significant building or project design.
- Strengthens Ann Arbor’s national visibility.
Newcombe Clark suggested adding a clause that stated: “Grant approval will also be contingent on DDA review and approval of any subsequent substantial changes made prior to or during construction, which must be fully disclosed on an on-going basis.”
Clark described the added clause as matching up closely to how things are handled at the city with development agreements, when they’re approved by the city council and then must be reviewed for possible approval at the administrative level or by the council itself.
Nathan Voght – Washtenaw County’s brownfield program coordinator who works in the county’s office of community and economic development – was asked to comment on Clark’s amendment. Voght indicated he felt it was fine – because it would put the developer on notice that the DDA is to be kept abreast of any changes. Smith took the opportunity to acknowledge the work that Voght had done to help with the formulation of the policy, as well as that of Matt Naud, the city of Ann Arbor’s environmental coordinator.
Clark then offered an additional amendment to add a specific item to the list that an applicant must submit as part of the financial pro forma [added language in italics]:
The Developer making a grant application to the DDA must submit a full financial pro forma, including purchase cost and construction cost breakdown, sources and uses including any equity positions that constitute managing member position, rental income or condo sale prices, tax assumptions, and recurring expenses, etc.
Clark’s amendments were accepted as “friendly” and thus did not require a vote.
Roger Hewitt thanked the partnerships committee for the enormous amount of work they’d done. He agreed with the concept of using TIF money to support state brownfield grant money. He supported that, he said. He had hoped that the policy would remove the subjectivity from the evaluation and make it essentially an administrative action. He understood the need to balance what the market wants and what the DDA would like to see – which can be a challenge.
Having gone through the process when the DDA previously had a TIF grant program, Hewitt felt it could lead to long endless discussions and to subjective decisions that will leave some people unhappy. Speaking to the 12 criteria, he said he did not think there’s a developer born who doesn’t think they qualify for some of those. He would have been happier supporting something more administrative and objective.
Responding to Hewitt, Smith ventured that something as objective as he had described might leave the DDA in a position that forces the board to approve a project. She did not want to be hemmed into something so rigid that the board has to automatically approve a project.
John Mouat suggested that it might be worth looking at needed streetscape and infrastructure improvements that could be undertaken, without needing to undergo a brownfield grant application process.
Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the brownfield grant policy. [.pdf of brownfield policy as adopted]
Brownfield Grants: 618 S. Main
After approval of the grant policy, Sandi Smith moved into the reason for having such a policy: The DDA had received a request for the kind of support outlined in the new policy – for the 618 S. Main project.
Brownfield Grants: 618 S. Main – Commentary
Dick Carlisle of Carlisle/Wortman Associates spoke at the start of the meeting on behalf of Bill Kinley. They’re partners and tenants of South Main Market, located across the street from 618 S. Main. Since their acquisition of the South Main Market about seven years ago, he said, they’ve made investments to keep the retail space alive and have worked closely with tenants. As a result, the market is now 100% occupied – a total of 14,000 square feet. He said they feel very fortunate, but they also worked very hard to make that happen. He did not want to speak specifically to the 618 S. Main project, but said he was very happy to see private investment being made in that area of South Main Street. All the improvements that are made will be helpful to everyone, if the entrance to downtown Ann Arbor is improved.
His message, Carlisle said, is quite simple: please consider allocating funding for streetscape improvements on both sides of the street [which would include the South Main Market side]. He noted that there’s a lot of pedestrian activity, especially on University of Michigan football game days. There also have been significant traffic issues, he said, due to his own property’s businesses and the gas station on the corner, which generates a lot of traffic. He asked the DDA board to consider allocating funds to make that area more pedestrian friendly.
Ray Detter, during his report from the downtown area citizens advisory council, called 618 S. Main an excellent first use of the policy.
Brownfield Grants: 618 S. Main – Board Deliberations
Based on the criteria in the policy, Smith said, the partnerships committee had concluded that the project addresses a gap in the rental market, that it act as a catalyst for the South Main area, that it will add to the downtown density, and that it has environmental features exceeding the city’s requirements.
The grant that the board was asked to consider included the following line items, for a total of $725,000:
Recommended DDA Brownfield Grant for 618 S. Main Street $135,000 Streetscape costs (sidewalk adjacent to project on Mosley/Main $384,500 Streetscape costs (sidewalk on west side of Main north of project) $100,000 Rain garden to infiltrate storm water, rather than detain and release $ 80,500 Upsizing the water main under Ashley Street to a 12” pipe $ 25,000 Bank carrying costs $725,000 TOTAL
The amount of the grant was proposed to be disbursed over four years in the following amounts: $100,000, $225,000, $225,000, and $175,000.
Mayor John Hieftje weighed in with a number of concerns. In the course of conversation with Smith and DDA executive director Susan Pollay, Hieftje drew out the fact that the dialogue about the detail in the streetscape improvements is now starting. Hieftje said he was concerned that the developer be required to actually build to the detailed specifications that are agreed upon. He made an apparent allusion to the Corner Lofts building at State and Washington as an example of a building that was ugly – due to the failure of the developer to build it to the approved specifications.
Another concern Hieftje had was about the bank carrying costs – because he did not feel the DDA should bear that cost. John Mouat ventured that one way to reduce the carrying costs would be for the DDA to front-load its support on the first years of the four-year period. [The board would be constrained in that option by the policy, which states that "the amount released will at no point be greater than the amount of new TIF paid by the developer of the new project."]
Outcome on amendment: The board voted unanimously to eliminate the $25,000 for bank carrying costs from the grant award.
Hieftje also confirmed that the $135,000 line item for streetscape improvement costs did not include a specific breakdown of those costs for the ordinary work that is required of a developer to perform as part of a project.
So Hieftje put forward an amendment to eliminate the $135,000. Roger Hewitt suggested that there’s a base amount for the sidewalk improvements immediately adjacent to the project that should be the developer’s expense. But he could support improvements that go beyond the city’s minimum requirement. The DDA could support the differential, he said.
Leah Gunn asked Pollay to comment on the sidewalk improvement design. Pollay clarified that the developer, Dan Ketelaar, is planning to do more than what is required by code. She described it as an enhanced planting scheme that’s more than what’s required. Newcombe Clark questioned whether it made sense to talk about what was actually required – because the project has not yet received approval from the city council.
DDA board chair Bob Guenzel asked Nathan Voght how the Michigan Economic Development Corporation brownfield program might view the reduction in local support – which would result from eliminating the $135,000. Voght said the state wants to see a significant contribution.
At the $725,000 level, Voght felt the MEDC was feeling positive about the 618 S. Main application. Gunn said it bothered her that the state won’t just say how much the DDA needs to contribute. Nader Nassif also asked if there were an exact dollar figure that the MEDC was looking for.
Voght ventured that if the amount is still “in the ballpark,” he felt it would be okay. But he stressed that the MEDC has not formally considered the application. He also noted that the state has two programs – a brownfield redevelopment program and the new community revitalization program. Voght said the state is still figuring out the community revitalization program.
Clark ventured that based on his own experience, it’s the amount of enthusiasm from the local authorities that matters, as opposed to the dollar figure. The state doesn’t want to tie its hands so that only the “haves” get the money.
Sandi Smith proposed coming up with a number – some percentage of $135,000 – and encouraging the best-looking streetscape. She didn’t want to leave the amount shy of what was necessary to get a good streetscape.
Gunn offered an amendment to Hieftje’s proposal to eliminate the $135,000, instead cutting the amount to $100,000. She was concerned there could be a “tipping point” past which the state would not consider the local match to be sufficient. Hieftje indicated a preference to go down to $85,000. Clark ventured that for the state of Michigan, a unanimous vote would be more interesting than an additional $15,000.
Outcome on amendment to grant $100,000 instead of $135,000 for sidewalk improvements: It failed with only 10 members present and four members voting against it – Hieftje, Hewitt, Mouat and Clark. It needed seven votes to pass.
So Gunn tried again, this time offering an amendment to make the amount of support $85,000.
Outcome on amendment for $85,000 instead of $135,000 for sidewalk improvements: It passed unanimously.
With the reduction in the grant award now resulting in a $650,000 award, Hieftje returned to the topic of the rain garden. Smith explained that under the city code, detention is required, which could be achieved at a cost of around $100,000. That approach detains stormwater in a tank, then releases the water into the stormwater system pipes. The benefit offered by a rain garden with infiltration is that it keeps the stormwater out of the pipe. It’s not about the visual aesthetics of the rain garden. The cost of the rain garden would be around $850,000, so the DDA was supporting something that went $750,000 beyond what was required, she said.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the $650,000 grant to the 618 S. Main project.
The DDA operates the public parking system under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor. Under terms of the contract, the city receives 17% of gross parking revenues from the system. So the public parking system, which is mostly located within the Ann Arbor DDA TIF (tax increment finance) district, is a topic at nearly every DDA board meeting.
Parking System: Monthly Report – Break in Trend
A standard part of a DDA board meeting is an update on the monthly parking report, looking at the most recent month for which data has been analyzed. At the June 4 meeting, board members discussed data from April 2012. In giving an overview, Roger Hewitt noted that for April, the revenue to the system was up compared to April 2011, but it had not increased as much (on a year-over-year basis) as in previous months. He also noted that there’d been a decline in the number of hourly patrons. So he’d asked Republic Parking to take a closer look at that, he said. Republic Parking handles day-to-day parking operations under a contract with the DDA.
One factor contributing to the decline, Hewitt reported, is that there was one fewer business day in April this year – 25 compared to 26. In addition, there were two fewer “weekend days” [Friday and Saturday] – 8 compared to 10. Another wrinkle was that this year, the University of Michigan held graduation on four days, all in April. Last year there were only three days of graduation, and one had been in May, Hewitt reported. And the parking pattern for graduation attendees, he said, is that they enter the structure as hourly patrons, but stay almost the whole day. So the number of patrons is depressed, even though the revenue is the same.
Hewitt noted that revenues were still up 9%, which he characterized as a solid increase – more than the 6-7% range for the rate increases.
Parking System: Demand Management – Maynard, Liberty Square
Hewitt gave the board an update on the parking demand management system that the DDA’s operations committee has been working on, in connection with the completion and opening of the new underground parking garage on South Fifth Avenue. The board had given the committee direction to undertake development of the program at its May 2, 2012 meeting.
In broad strokes, the DDA would like to reduce the number of spaces taken up by monthly permit holders in the parking structures nearest to the high-demand University of Michigan campus. The DDA would also like to ensure usage of its new underground parking garage.
Hewitt summarized the approach as establishing prices for parking based on the demand in a particular area – higher demand areas have higher prices and the lower demand areas should have the lowest prices. Integrated into the concept is a component for alternative transportation, he said.
The DDA has asked the getDowntown program to do a transportation audit for the State Street and South University Avenue businesses. The DDA has also asked that getDowntown do some targeted marketing and communication to those businesses. Further, the getDowntown program has been asked to encourage businesses to adopt a “transportation stipend” program, instead of just providing a monthly parking permit. The stipend would allow employees to realize the savings that would result from opting to take public transportation, instead of claiming an employer-provided monthly parking permit. The Zipcar car-sharing program would be expanded in the Maynard Street parking structure, Hewitt reported. In-street bike racks will also be added to the State Street area.
From experience, Hewitt reported, the Maynard Street structure does fill up in the middle of the day, and people have to wait to get in. Liberty Square, Hewitt said, is also near capacity. Hewitt then unveiled the details of what he described as a two-year pilot program – based on the DDA’s experience in opening a new parking structure. A new structure doesn’t get used much for the first couple of years, Hewitt said. It takes the public a couple of years to find it and to start using it routinely.
So the idea is to “jump start” that process, Hewitt said. Currently, based on rate increases approved by the DDA board earlier this year, monthly permit rates are scheduled to increase from $140 to $145 per month on Sept. 1, 2012. Hewitt announced that for the Maynard Street and Liberty Square structures – the two highest demand structures in the system – rates would now be raised even higher, to $155 per month. Hewitt said there are around 700 monthly parking permits in the roughly 1,400 total spaces in those two structures, so the idea is to move those monthly permit holders to the new underground garage.
By way of background, the contract between the DDA and the city of Ann Arbor, under which the DDA operates the city’s parking system, was revised in May 2011 to give the DDA the unilateral authority to adjust rates, without approval by the Ann Arbor city council. However, the contract requires the DDA to announce intended rate increases at a board meeting, hold a public hearing at a subsequent board meeting, and not vote on rate increases before a third board meeting.
The rate increases triggering the public announcement and hearing process are described in the contract as “any increase in the Municipal Parking System’s hours of meter operation or parking rates intended to persist for more than three (3) months.” Based on a telephone interview with DDA staff, the DDA is interpreting the clause to apply to parking meter rates, not monthly permit rates.
The rate changes are meant to be revenue neutral, because the increase in rates for the two high-demand structures are expected to be balanced against the decrease in monthly permit costs for the new underground garage.
The monthly permit rate increases were characterized by Hewitt as the “stick part” of the plan. The “carrot part” is an offer of cheaper monthly permits to current permit holders in the Liberty Square or Maynard Street structures – if they move to the new underground garage. It would be a $60 savings compared to the monthly permit rate they’d pay if they stay in their current structure. The rate of $95 per month in the new underground structure would be good for two years. Any new users of the system would also be offered the $95 per month rate.
Hewitt characterized the plan as the first real substantive experience with differential rates in parking structures. “We’ll see what happens,” he said. Even though the spaces they’re offering in the new garage will be cheaper, the DDA expects that those are spaces that would otherwise be empty – because the DDA is not expecting a lot of underground parking garage use in the first few years. Hewitt felt that by opening up Liberty Square and Maynard Street to more hourly patrons, the enormous demand could be met for that kind of parking. The new rates, as well as the incentives for parking permits, will be implemented Sept. 1, Hewitt said.
Nader Nassif thought the incentive system is a great idea. He reported that based on his hard-hat tour of the new underground garage, he felt it’s actually a very well-designed, beautiful structure. It’s impressive to see natural light from several levels underground, he said.
John Mouat stressed the need to use getDowntown to help get the word out. Board chair Bob Guenzel thanked the DDA staff for their hard work putting together the incentives.
Outcome: This was not a voting item. The board had given direction at its previous meeting to the operations committee to develop the demand management pricing.
Surface Lot Leases
The board considered lease agreements for two surface parking lots in downtown Ann Arbor. One lot is known as the Brown Block, bounded by Huron, Ashley,
Liberty Washington and First streets. The other is located on the southeast corner of Huron Street and South Fifth Avenue. The new leases extend for a period of three years.
Surface Lot Leases: Background
The DDA manages the two lots as part of Ann Arbor’s public parking system. The leases, which have been in place for several years, are between the DDA and two limited liability companies owned by the local real estate development firm First Martin Corp. Those two companies are Huron Ashley LLC and City Hall LLC. The lease for the Brown Block had been with the city of Ann Arbor, but this year it’s with the DDA – due to the fact that the city and the DDA signed a new contract last year, under which the DDA operates the city’s public parking system.
The monthly rents paid to First Martin under terms of the leases are stipulated at $28,333/month and $2,122/month, respectively. Based on arithmetic done by The Chronicle on DDA revenue data, the monthly revenues for the two lots since July 2009 have averaged around $61,000 and $9,500, respectively. There is a provision in the leases for the rent paid to the DDA to increase based on the consumer price index (CPI).
Although the two parcels are not zoned for parking use, First Martin Corp. could itself choose to use the surface parking lots for commercial parking – as a pre-existing, non-conforming use, according to city planning manager Wendy Rampson’s response to an emailed query from The Chronicle. The lot on the Brown Block is used by the DDA for hourly parking, paid to an attendant in a booth. The other lot, across the street from Ann Arbor’s city hall and new Justice Center, is used for monthly permit parking.
Surface Lot Leases: Board Deliberations
Newcombe Clark was keen to establish that the new lease amounts for the two lots did not reflect any more than a simple CPI increase from the previous amounts.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the two lease agreements for the surface parking lots.
John Splitt gave an update on the construction of the underground parking garage, which is nearing completion. South Fifth Avenue between Liberty and William had been expected to reopen by the end of May, but that re-opening was delayed. At the June 4 meeting, Splitt gave June 18 as the new date for probable re-opening of the street, and July 12 as the date of the opening of the structure.
The Library Lot, as the parcel is called due to its proximity to the downtown library, is part of the area of study for the DDA’s Connecting William Street project, which aims to find alternate uses for the surface parking lots in the area bounded by William, Ashley, Liberty and Division streets. That project is being undertaken by the DDA at the direction of the Ann Arbor city council, given last year on April 4, 2011. As the opening of the underground structure draws closer, advocacy for construction of a park on top of the lot has become more vocal.
Library Lot – Public Commentary
Commentary by Will Hathaway and Eric Lipson focused on the future of the top of the new underground parking garage, which is due to be completed in mid-July. By way of brief background, a request for proposals (RFP) process that could have led to the selection of a development project on top of the underground parking structure was terminated by the Ann Arbor city council on April 4, 2011. The proposal in play at that point was for a conference center. The parking structure includes reinforced footings designed to support future development on the site. Among the proposals that were rejected in the earlier phases of the RFP review process were two that envisioned the use of the area as primarily open space – some kind of park.
Lipson essentially ceded his time to Hathaway, who reprised many of the points he’d made at the DDA board’s meeting the previous month, on May 2, 2012. He told the board that his group was working to promote the idea of a park of some kind on the Library Lot. [It's called the Library Lot, but the Ann Arbor District Library does not own the parcel.] He’d put together a slide show to promote that, he said.
He began by saying that Ann Arbor lacks public space downtown for people who work and live. Ann Arbor previously had a town square, he said, in the form of the lawn at the old 1878 Washtenaw County courthouse, which had stood on the block of Huron and Main.
Hathaway suggested that the top of the underground parking garage is a place in the middle of Ann Arbor that could be a missing “Central Park,” bounded by Fifth Avenue, William, Division and Liberty streets. He described the block as anchored by the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. But he also noted that the area is home to organizations like the Center for the Education of Women, the Christian Science reading room, the University of Michigan Credit Union and the Inter-cooperative Council. Small businesses in the area include Jerusalem Garden, Earthen Jar, Seva, Comedy Showcase and Herb David guitar studio.
Hathaway described Liberty Plaza on the northeast corner of the block as the only park in downtown Ann Arbor – a modest open space connected by a ramp and footpath to the Library Lot. Hathaway pointed out that the Library Lot was formerly a surface parking lot, that’s been transformed by the new underground parking garage. So the question is how to use the top of the new parking garage, he said.
The Calthorpe study from the mid-2000s recommended a “town square” on that site, Hathaway said. A hotel/conference center was proposed and rejected, as were two proposals for parks – because the RFP review committee contended that they would not create adequate economic benefit. So Hathaway ticked through other examples of park-like spaces that had generated economic benefit: Campus Martius and River Walk in Detroit; Post Office Square in Boston; Millenium Park in Chicago; the High Line Park on an abandoned rail line in New York City; and Discovery Green in Houston. All those parks generate economic benefits through “place making,” he said. That happens in several ways, Hathaway continued: revitalization of an existing building, new construction, more customers, and increased tax revenue.
Liberty Plaza is the only green space in the downtown, Hathaway said, and creating a pedestrian link to the Library Lot would essentially create Ann Arbor’s downtown Diag [a reference to the University of Michigan campus landmark]. He suggested that the Ann Arbor District Library could extend itself in connection with an adjacent park. Outdoor features that might be constructed on the Library Lot space, he said, include ice skating, interactive sculptures (like the Wave Field or The Cube), a sculpture plaza, or a town square gazebo.
The current plan is to put around 40 surface parking spaces temporarily on the top of the parking garage. So Hathaway concluded by saying that the choice is between a park or a parking lot. On July 14, after the grand opening of the new garage, his group has permission to host an event on top of the parking garage. It will be an afternoon for celebration of the end of construction and the businesses nearby who’ve endured the turmoil. It will be an opportunity to envision what a park on that spot might look like.
Library Lot – Board Response
Sandi Smith responded to the slide show presented by Hathaway by saying she appreciated the passion of his group, but said she found it “slightly disingenuous” when the location of the underground parking garage is bordered for the most part by historic districts. What’s displayed on the slides, she contended, is not feasible to achieve in the center of Ann Arbor.
Every example that Hathaway had given, she said, has high-rise buildings all the way around – extreme density. In Ann Arbor, she said, there are not even 5,000 people living downtown yet. She wanted the Connecting William Street process to unfold and she wanted Hathaway and his group to participate in it. Smith said it’s important to keep in mind that “we’re not Houston, we’re not New York City. We just don’t have the possibility of creating what was presented to us today.” She concluded her remarks by saying it’s important to keep in mind what is possible.
Mayor John Hieftje, who sits on the DDA board in a position created by the organization’s state enabling statute, agreed with Smith, saying that it’s “a little bit disingenuous” to say Liberty Plaza is the only green space in downtown Ann Arbor. Hieftje then went on to describe the University of Michigan Diag as a public park that is populated by students, people of Ann Arbor, and families having picnics. It’s a “state of Michigan park,” he said, that is “open and available to all of us.” Hieftje also pointed to an area near the new North Quad residence hall at State and Huron as an additional park. All those spots on University of Michigan property should also be shown as green space on the map in Hathaway’s presentation, Hieftje contended.
Regarding Liberty Plaza, Hieftje said he and Ward 1 councilmember Sabra Briere – along with city parks and recreation manager Colin Smith and park planner Amy Kuras – had taken a look at Liberty Plaza. Hieftje said there may be a possibility to redesign Liberty Plaza and there might be some grant money available.
Hieftje also said it might be possible to use some parks capital improvements millage money for Liberty Plaza work. A request might also come to the DDA. He said he did not want improvements to Liberty Plaza to be construed as opposition to a significant park on the Library Lot. He then went on to describe how in his time as mayor, he’d been very active in adding parkland to the city.
Library Lot: Public Commentary – Reprise
At the conclusion of the meeting, Nancy Kaplan addressed the board on the future of the Library Lot. [Kaplan serves on the Ann Arbor District Library board.] She asked the board to consider the results of a survey that the DDA had done. The responses showed support for green space in the Connecting William Street study area. She said that although Liberty Plaza has failed as a park, its existence shows that the city was willing to have a green space.
In the area where the Library Lot is located, Kaplan said there’s a need for respite from stone and hardscape. She asked the board to do something, at least temporarily, that would allow for a use of the top of the underground structure that is different from surface parking. She suggested using tree plantings. She encouraged the board to try it as a pilot program. Kaplan said the area has a lot of unattractive buildings and needs some respite from that.
Kitty Kahn told the board she totally agreed with Kaplan. She asked why a green roof on top of the underground garage couldn’t be tried. She contended that there is plenty of parking and that more is not needed. She urged the board to give the idea of some green space a try.
Annual Budget Adjustment
The DDA board considered amendments to its previously approved fiscal year FY 2012 budget (ending in three weeks, on June 30). It is an annual exercise undertaken to ensure that the actual expenses incurred are allowed for in the budget.
An example of a major difference between the already authorized budget and the amended version is an adjustment upward from $1,017,847 – for capital construction costs from the TIF (tax increment finance) fund – to $3,480,701. Those costs are construction invoices related to the new South Fifth Avenue underground parking garage, which is expected to open in mid-July. The budget adjustment is conservative, in that it assumes the parking garage will be completed and invoices will be submitted by the end of June, although that’s not likely. [.pdf of FY 2012 budget revision]
Last year, the DDA received construction invoices after its final regular budget adjustment that resulted in an excess in expenditures over budgeted revenues for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011. The overage was identified in the regular audit that was done by Abraham & Gaffney, P.C. as inconsistent with Michigan’s Uniform Budgeting and Accounting Act (UBAA) of 1968. DDA staff attributed the $337,478 overage to the submission of a bill forwarded to the DDA in June by its construction management consultant, Park Avenue Consultants Inc. The bill was for the underground parking garage and streetscape improvement projects that are currently under construction.
This year an additional effort was made to ensure that the final budget adjustment allowed for additional construction invoices that might be submitted between now and the end of the fiscal year.
South Fifth Avenue between Liberty and William is expected to reopen in mid-June, although it was most recently expected to open by the end of May.
Roger Hewitt introduced the item to the board and gave the background, noting that a city councilmember had been sharply critical of the DDA in connection with this issue in the past. [He was alluding to Stephen Kunselman, who represents Ward 3.]
Aside from some lighthearted commentary about a line item for the graffiti-removal product Elephant Snot, and more serious inquiry about the inclusion of the cost of surface lot leases in the direct parking expenses category, there was not a lot of board deliberation on the budget adjustments.
Outcome: The board unanimously approved the adjustments to its FY 2012 budget.
Communications, Committee Reports
The board’s meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown citizens advisory council.
Comm/Comm: State Street
During public commentary, Frances Todoro addressed the DDA board as a member of the State Street Area Association board. She noted that the State Street area currently has some challenges with respect to retail space – frequently turnover, for example, and the opportunity for the former Borders space. As a board, the SSAA has expressed a desire to learn more about opportunities, what is possible in the community. Specifically, she described an interest in having a retail location analysis done, that would encompass the entire downtown. It would be something that landlords, merchant associations, everyone who wants to understand the potential for downtown Ann Arbor could participate in. Questions such a study might answer include: Who wants to be in Ann Arbor? What demographic would make a retailer successful?
Todoro said the SSAA is interested in partnering with the DA to make the study happen.
During his remarks near the beginning of the meeting, mayor John Hieftje mentioned an improvement he’d like to see in the State Street area – widened sidewalks through bumpouts. It would enhance the outdoor dining possibilities, he said, making it more like Main Street. The sidewalk currently is too narrow there, he said. The idea of bumping out the sidewalks on State Street in downtown is something he said he did not want to fall off the radar screen. [Hieftje had begun talking about that idea around a year and a half ago.]
Responding to Hieftje’s suggestion to increase opportunities for outside dining on State Street, Roger Hewitt quipped that he supported Hieftje’s comments strongly. [Hewitt owns the Red Hawk Bar & Grill on State Street, which would benefit from that kind of streetscape improvement.]
Comm/Comm: R4C Zoning Review
Ray Detter, during his report from the downtown area citizens advisory council, said that the CAC had asked mayor John Hieftje to support the report from the R4C/R2A review committee. He characterized the work of that committee as reflecting an overwhelming desire to preserve streetscapes in the R4C/R2A area and to curb development patterns that depend on the accumulation of lots so that larger projects can be built. [See Chronicle coverage: "Planning Group Weighs R4C/R2A Report."]
Comm/Comm: Near North
Mayor John Hieftje gave an update on the latest report from Avalon Housing’s Near North affordable housing project. The DDA board had voted on Sept. 7, 2011 to extend a $500,000 grant that it had previously awarded. At that time, the closing on the deal had been thought to be imminent. At the June 4, 2012 meeting, Hieftje reported that financing was now expected to be finalized at the end of June. Demolition of the vacant houses, he said, would be expected to begin in July.
Present: Nader Nassif, Newcombe Clark, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, John Mouat.
Absent: Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein.
Next board meeting: Noon on Monday, July 2, 2012, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]
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