Parks Agenda: Downtown, Dogs, Dams, DTE

Public weighs in on downtown ice rink, West Park dog park; also, DTE seeks easement; updates on golf, canoe liveries, dam repairs

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (March 19, 2013): A packed agenda for this month’s PAC meeting included several items related to downtown parks and the Huron River.

Amy Kuras, Andrew Walton, Doug Kelly, Stewart Gordon, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, Library Green Conservancy, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Park planner Amy Kuras, left, talks with Stewart Gordon, an advocate for putting an ice-skating rink atop the Library Lane site. In the background are Andrew Walton, left, and Doug Kelly, the city’s director of golf. Walton supervises the Huron Hills golf course. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners discussed a proposal to build an ice-skating rink atop a portion of the city-owned Library Lane underground parking structure. They took no action on the item, but were briefed on the proposal by two advocates of the effort: Alan Haber and Stewart Gordon. The two men also attended a subsequent March 26 meeting of a PAC downtown park subcommittee. This report includes a summary of that session as well.

River-related items on PAC’s March 19 agenda included a resolution to recommend awarding a $295,530 contract to Gerace Construction Co. for repair work and repainting at Argo and Geddes dams, as well as site improvements around Argo Dam. Brian Steglitz, an engineer with the city, told commissioners that the work is being done in response to the most recent inspection by state regulators.

Commissioners also recommended awarding a $512,180 contract for improvements at the Gallup Park canoe livery to Construction Solutions Inc., which will be funded in part by a $300,000 state grant. Cheryl Saam, facility supervisor for the Argo and Gallup canoe liveries, gave commissioners a presentation on those operations, in preparation for budget recommendations that PAC is expected to consider at its April 16 meeting.

As part of her report, Saam noted that the city plans to issue another request for proposals (RFP) to design a whitewater section along the Huron River, downstream from the Argo Dam near the Argo Cascades. Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith reminded commissioners that the first attempt at this project wasn’t successful. The Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality did not approve the initial design, and would not issue the necessary permit for the project. The staff is working with the state to address MDEQ’s concerns, he said. Smith also reported that DTE Energy still intends to pay for the project, which is located adjacent to property that the utility company is cleaning up.

DTE representatives were on hand at the meeting because of a different project: To request an easement on city-owned land in Riverside Park, where utility poles are located. The easement is needed as part of an $8 million new electrical substation that DTE is building on land adjacent to the park. Commissioners unanimously recommended that the city council approve the easement.

In another presentation to set the stage for next month’s budget discussion, PAC heard from Doug Kelly, the city’s director of golf, and Andrew Walton, recreational facility supervisor at Huron Hills. They reviewed the status of the city’s two golf courses – at Huron Hills and Leslie Park – and noted that both courses have seen significant revenue gains over the past five years.

The issue that drew the most public commentary during the meeting wasn’t on the March 19 agenda: a possible dog park on a knoll in West Park. Residents in that area aren’t happy about the prospect of barking dogs in their neighborhood.

West Park Dog Park

At PAC’s Feb. 26, 2013 meeting, commissioners discussed two potential locations for a new fenced-in dog park: about 2 acres in and near South Maple Park, on the city’s west side off of West Liberty; and a roughly 1-acre section of West Park, on a knoll in the south-central area. No action was taken, but the intent is for a PAC committee to continue evaluating these options with parks staff before making a formal recommendation to the full commission. The previously recommended site – at a different location within West Park, near the parking lot off Chapin Street – was ultimately not presented to the city council, following protests from the nearby New Hope Baptist Church.

Although there was no item on the March 19 agenda related to a possible dog park, the bulk of public commentary addressed that issue. Most of the speakers were residents of the neighborhood near West Park.

Tom Fricke, who lives on North Seventh, told commissioners he appreciated their efforts to provide dog runs for Ann Arbor residents who own dogs. He knew nothing had been decided yet, but he wanted to reiterate some of the objections to the possible use of the knoll in West Park, saying “I think it’s a very bad location for it.” It violates planning and design considerations that went into the recent park renovations, which were enormously successful, he said. It would turn over a general use area to a single use. A dog park would also introduce a range of other issues related to parking problems, noise, and sanitation and watershed concerns.

Tom Fricke, West Park, dog park, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, the Ann Arbor Chronicle

Tom Fricke was one of several residents who live near West Park and who oppose putting a dog park on a knoll in the park.

Fricke said he’s become better educated about dog parks than he ever wanted to, and has been reading a lot of material, including information from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, from other supporters of dog parks, and from other cities with dog parks. No other dog park that he could find was located in the core of an existing park. The dog parks seemed to be tucked to the side or in designated areas that are entirely apart from other park uses. He also noted that enclosing a dog park on the knoll doesn’t seem to comply with best practices for dog parks. If it were to be graded, the location would probably get a C- or D. Fricke concluded by saying that a well-designed dog park would likely be much more than the $25,000 or $30,000 budget that’s anticipated for this project. He hoped PAC would add these issues to their considerations.

Judith Connett said she lives on North Seventh, but her home doesn’t abut the park. Some of the problems, like noise, might not affect her, she said, while other problems – like parking – might be an issue. She objected to the dog park as an owner of two Cockapoos. She was worried about how it would change the use of the park, and about “how it will affect my puppies’ life in a negative way.” Her dogs weigh 22 pounds, and in the past she took them a couple of times to Slauson. [The Slauson Middle School property was used by dog owners as an unofficial dog park for a period of time.] Her dogs had been “horrified” by the big dogs there, Connett said. There will be dog fights if you have dogs of all ages and sizes in the same area, she said. Connett added that she’d like to see another dog park in Ann Arbor, but it needs to be a location where there’s room to separate the dogs by temperament or size. It should also be in a place that’s more rural, she said, so houses aren’t impacted.

Another North Seventh resident, Walter Butzu, said he can’t see the knoll from his house but he hoped a dog park wouldn’t be located there, for all the reasons that had been stated. He had supported the location on Chapin Street, because that’s in the “business side of the park,” where other activities like basketball courts, a baseball field and community gardens are located. The area on the grassy knoll is unstructured, he said. To see more of the park designated for a single-purpose use, like a dog park, would be disconcerting to him. Like Fricke, Butzu said he’s also become more educated about dog parks over the past two weeks. His hope is that the city chooses a location where noise is the primary consideration. Homeowners should be able to enjoy their back yards, and he’d support the objection of any homeowner if that enjoyment is encroached upon. He hoped commissioners would take into account the distance from residences. Part of Bandemer Park or Veterans Memorial Park – especially on the southwest corner – would work, he said. On Seventh Street, people are already chased into their back yards to get away from the street noise, and a dog park would “pretty much eliminate that [option] for us,” he concluded.

Marcia Healey told commissioners that West Park is not acceptable for a dog park. She’s lived near West Park for 15 years, and her house overlooks the knoll. She said she understands how that area is used and its aesthetics, and a dog park would be an immense change. People use this very open space in imaginative and practical ways. You might see people practicing yoga or tai chi, or meditating in the early morning or evening – looking out over the eastern side of the park. The knoll lends itself to being serene or playful, she said. Children use the area to fly kites, families have picnics, teenagers hold hands, people spread out blankets and read. It’s a very special space, Healey said. The park has a pond, wetlands and wildlife, and is a benefit to urban dwellers. She’d like to see a dog park at a different location.

Jim Mazak noted that his property would back up to the proposed dog park, and he’s against putting it there. Other locations got higher ratings, he noted. Parking would be a problem, similar to the problems near the Ann Arbor YMCA, he said. A dog park would bring people from outside the area, in addition to people who are already coming to the park for the community gardens, band concerts or baseball. Noise is also a factor, he said, and Ann Arbor has a nuisance ordinance. He’s been to Swift Run dog park and heard the dogs barking even at a distance, so he wondered how that noise would be blocked from his home. “I’m not going to listen to dogs barking all day long.” He described the dog park at Olson Park as a “mud pit,” with runoff – including dog waste – running into the pond and into tributaries of the Huron River. Finally, Mazak noted that right now, the West Park knoll has multiple uses. If a dog park is there, it would take away his ability to use the area.

Tom Egel said he was against the West Park location for a dog park because of the reasons that other speakers had already stated. Parking would be a problem, and the back yards of the houses along Seventh Street – where he and other residents go for quiet – would be affected.

Bob Dascola said he was with Friends of West Park, and had been involved in the early stages of the park’s renovation. He worked during the summer of 2011 with a group that produced Shakespeare plays in the park’s band shell – Shakespeare West, put on by The Blackbird Theatre – and he was able to observe activity in the knoll. Before that, he’d had no idea how noisy it was in the park. People at Miller Manor, which overlooks the park, make noise that projects into the park, he noted. Dascola also said he’d been to Olson Park, and the dogs there are very noisy. He agreed that a dog park in West Park would be very disruptive.

Janet Osborn told commissioners that she lives on Liberty Street. It’s loud there, and she could only imagine how loud it would be on Seventh, because of the traffic. She wouldn’t want residents there to go into their back yards for peace and quiet, only to be confronted with barking dogs. She agreed with others who had spoken, and felt that the park’s aesthetics are better suited for individuals and families. She thought it would be great to have a dog park at a location like Veterans Memorial Park.

West Park Dog Park: Staff Response

During his manager’s report, Colin Smith noted that the parks staff will continue to work on the dog park issue. It was good to get the feedback from residents, and it shows how the location is a difficult thing to resolve, he said. There are a lot of competing needs, he observed, including the need for a more centrally located dog park downtown.

Downtown Parks

The issue of downtown parks came up at various points during the March 19 meeting. During public commentary, two people spoke about the need for urban parks, particularly atop the Library Lane parking structure. And representatives of a group that wants to put an ice-skating rink on that site were invited to give a presentation at the meeting, after having lobbied the commission for several months.

By way of additional background, a subcommittee of PAC was formed last year to develop recommendations on the need for downtown parks, following up on an informal request from the city council. The effort comes in the context of Connecting William Street, an Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority project undertaken at the request of the council to help guide the future use of five city-owned downtown properties. Several park commissioners felt that the CWS “scenarios” didn’t include sufficient parkland or open space, and the DDA’s final recommendations ultimately stated that the park advisory commission should further examine the downtown’s needs in that regard.

The goal of the subcommittee is to draft recommendations that the full commission can consider and approve, which could be delivered to the city council in about six months. Members include Ingrid Ault, who is serving as the subcommittee chair, PAC chair Julie Grand, Alan Jackson, and Karen Levin. However, any park commissioner can participate.

This report includes a summary of the subcommittee’s most recent meeting, on March 26. For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: “Parks Group To Weigh In On Downtown Need” and “Committee Starts Downtown Park Research.”

Downtown Parks: Public Commentary

Two people spoke at PAC’s March 19 meeting on the subject of downtown parks.

Barbara Bach wondered: Where could she take her granddaughter, and what memory of Ann Arbor would her granddaughter have in the future? Will her granddaughter remember swan boats? A sprinkle pool? A funky favorite bench? Bach cited several other examples from memorable urban parks in other cities, and said her point is that Ann Arbor has no urban parks, and no city staff or elected body is making it a priority. “We have monster buildings, and a city hall that some can’t find,” she said, but there is no downtown public space that defines the character of Ann Arbor as a city of trees. There are real estate studies by the city and the Ann Arbor DDA, she noted, and the mayor often says there are plenty of parks. And there is a small group – with a huge mailing list – that’s been “battling mightily to be heard” about putting a park atop the Library Lane site. [She was referring to the Library Green Conservancy.]

Bach wanted the park commissioners to take the city council, DDA, planning commission and city staff to task on this issue, and to demand that an urban park become a priority. Where is the play space for all of us? Where are the setbacks? She wants to take her granddaughter to play, to rest, to see grass and a sculpture or anything that other cities have, along with new development. “I want her to remember something very special about her second city when she visits me,” Bach said. It’s great to have visitors to Ann Arbor’s restaurants and galleries, and it’s important to have people living and working downtown. All of these people need gathering places – a downtown urban park – to be developed and maintained. “Who knows?” she said. “With encouragement, we might even form a foundation to help maintain these special places that we will never regret having planned for.”

Janet Osborn also spoke about the topic of the “non-green space” at the Library Lane site. She recently moved back to Ann Arbor and was “absolutely shocked” by the number of new buildings in town. She couldn’t believe that yet another building was planned for the top of the Library Lane lot. [At this point there are no specific proposals for a building there, although the infrastructure was built to support a building.] Ann Arbor has long needed a place to gather for ordinary people – not university students – to meet their friends, Osborn said. She thinks the city can find a way to make that happen. “It doesn’t have to be a fancy place,” she said. It could be a very small area, with places to sit and meet friends. Osborn hoped the city would listen to its citizens, who overwhelmingly want a downtown park, she contended.

Downtown Parks: Skating Rink

The Library Lane site was the focus of a presentation at PAC’s March 19 meeting. Julie Grand – who chairs the commission – introduced the topic of a skating rink proposal atop Library Lane by saying that it had been raised several times during public commentary, but the commissioners hadn’t yet had the opportunity to discuss it amongst themselves. She had invited advocates for the project to make a presentation.

Alan Haber, Mary Hathaway, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, Library Green Conservancy, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Alan Haber and Mary Hathaway attended PAC’s March 19 meeting. Haber addressed commissioners in support of an ice-skating rink atop the Library Lane parking structure.

The proposal is to build an ice-skating rink on part of the top of the city-owned Library Lane underground parking structure, which is now used as a surface parking lot. Commissioners have been lobbied about it during public commentary at several meetings, most recently on Feb. 26, 2013. At that meeting, Alan Haber – one of the organizers of the Library Green Conservancy – told commissioners that he hoped PAC could make a statement as a body or individually to the city council, urging them to give the rink a try for just two months.

Haber and Stewart Gordon spoke to commissioners on March 19, and provided a written proposal as well. The proposal again states the request for PAC support, as rink organizers seek $25,000 in matching funds from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. [.pdf of rink proposal]

Gordon told commissioners that he’s lived in Ann Arbor since 1962. Pointing to the presentations earlier in the meeting on the city’s golf courses and canoe liveries, he said it brings him great joy to live in a city that supports those recreational facilities. He wanted to tell commissioners about another project that could bring residents great joy – a downtown skating rink.

The city’s other skating rinks aren’t located downtown, he said, so they don’t draw people to the downtown. He’s seen the joy that urban skating rinks can bring, like the flagship rink at Rockefeller Center in New York. There are others in communities across the country, he noted, even as close as Dexter. People who’ve lived in Ann Arbor a long time remember skating rinks all over the city, he said. So what his group wants to do is bring back something that’s joyous, and that takes advantage of modern technology to make artificial ice-skating a possibility. He emphasized that it’s an experimental project – a two-month trial period, not a permanent installation. After the capital investment is made, the skating rink can be disassembled and located at various sites.

Gordon asked commissioners if and how they’d like to be involved in this project.

Haber reported that his group has already made a proposal to the DDA, which manages the Library Lane site as part of the city’s parking system. He described the goals of the DDA as attracting private interest in the downtown, removing surface parking lots as much as possible, and developing public activities on public land. So skating rink advocates are asking the DDA for matching funds, and will seek private investment for the rest of the estimated $50,000 cost. They’d also like a resolution from PAC and the city council supporting the project, and Haber hoped that PAC’s downtown park subcommittee will explore it further.

Haber said he’s talked with the DDA’s partnerships committee, and a number of questions were raised that would need to be worked out with the city attorney.

The written proposal provided to PAC includes a list of “local supporters and consultants,” including John Fingerle of Fingerle Lumber, Mark Hodesh of Downtown Home & Garden, Carol Lopez of Peaceable Kingdom, Elaine Selo of Selo/Shevel Gallery, and Craig Forsyth of the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club, among others. Updated after initial publication: Forsyth has contacted The Chronicle and stated that although he met with Haber and Gordon, he is neither a supporter nor a consultant for the project. He has asked them to remove his name from their materials.

The plan calls for building a 32-foot by 72-foot temporary artificial ice rink on the northwest corner of the Library Lane lot, at an estimated cost of $50,000. An “in-kind” contribution of 15 parking spaces, which the rink would cover, is also requested from the DDA.

The downtown building of the Ann Arbor District Library is adjacent to the site, although the library has no ownership of the Library Lane parcel. At the AADL board’s March 18, 2013 meeting, Gordon spoke briefly during public commentary asking for the board’s support on this project. He provided a handout regarding the project that’s similar to the one presented to PAC. There was no discussion or response from library board members during the meeting.

Downtown Parks: Skating Rink – Commission Discussion

Ingrid Ault described it as an interesting project. She grew up in the Burns Park neighborhood, and was able to use the rink there. She said she had walked the Library Lane site, to try to understand what’s being proposed. It wasn’t clear to her what size they’re proposing. She was envisioning the entire parking lot area. Haber replied that he could also envision that, “but we’re not being quite so ambitious.” They’re looking at the 15 parking spaces on the northwest corner, although the details still need to be worked out about exactly where the rink’s surface would be.

Ingrid Ault, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ingrid Ault of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission.

Gordon added that different sizes are possible, but their estimates are based on a medium size – roughly 32-feet by 72-feet, adjacent to Earthen Jar restaurant and the sidewalk along South Fifth Avenue.

Ault said the size seemed small to her. She noted that there’s a circular “island” in the middle of the proposed rink, which takes additional space away from the actual skating surface. Haber replied that there are a variety of options, but they’re simply trying to figure out what’s feasible on a short-term basis. He noted that this idea began back in November of 2012, when he learned about the possibility of using artificial ice. Unfortunately it’s now past the time of colder weather, but he reported that artificial ice can be used year-round. “It’s a little counter-intuitive in one way, but in another way it could be very beautiful,” he said.

Gordon added that they didn’t want a rink that would be large enough to tempt hockey players. It’s really more about casual skating and families, he said. There are plenty of other places to play hockey.

Christopher Taylor – a city councilmember who serves as an ex officio member of PAC – asked whether any thought had been given to locating a skating rink on the parking lot next to Palio restaurant, at the northeast corner of Main and William. Given the activity there already from restaurants and retail shops, it might be interesting place to “be watched and watch others,” Taylor said. Haber indicated that he’s interested in having at least partial public use on all of the lots involved in the Connecting William Street study, including the lot next to Palio. However, he expressed skepticism that the DDA and the city council would be interested in giving up parking on that site.

Haber noted that Liberty Plaza – at Liberty and Division – has also been mentioned as a possible location for the skating rink, because that urban plaza needs more vibrancy. That location has challenges in terms of its configuration, he said.

But his focus is primarily on the Library Lane site, Haber said. Maybe things can happen elsewhere too – the hope is that public activities would proliferate, he said. Gordon added that there’s a synergy in being located next to the library. When you come to check out books with your kids, you can also go skating, he said.

Taylor was interested in hearing how AADL board members and staff felt about the ice rink. Gordon indicated that some individual board members are very supportive, but the board as a whole hasn’t weighed in. He said the impact on the library would be minimal – for example, an estimated average of two people per hour using the library restroom. Haber added that in general, the library is reluctant to get involved with the Library Lane site. Haber indicated that the library might be more responsive if questions came from PAC rather than from the rink advocates.

Tim Berla clarified that this project wouldn’t be a park in the traditional sense – for example, no city employees would be involved. It would be a two-month project, followed by what Gordon called a fairly complex assessment, including “social science metrics” and questionnaires. If it appears that it could be a long-term project, then decisions must be made about a long-term organization to handle staff, maintenance and other issues. Gordon characterized it as a long-term capital investment – the ice man manufacturer guarantees it for 10 years.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, asked if the organizers had spoken to other communities that used the artificial ice. Gordon replied that if you’re a high-level figure skater or hockey player, you’ll hate the surface – because it’s slow, and there’s not enough glide to go fast enough for jumps and tricks. If you’re a medium-level hockey player, you’d like it for working on your stick handling. Gordon noted that the artificial ice is used by Advantage Sports on West Stadium Boulevard. But if you’re a recreational skater, he said, “it’s lovely.”

Julie Grand, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Julie Grand, chair of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission.

Julie Grand asked about skates. Her understanding is that the artificial ice would require really sharp skates, which raised safety concerns for her. Both of her kids are skaters, and she said she knows what it’s like helping them get their skates on. Having potentially sharp objects in the public space is a concern.

Gordon replied that there are good models for dealing with that. One possibility would be to have lockers available at the library, he said. For the two-month trial period, however, it’s likely that people would bring their own skates. He said he’d love to have a day for people to dig out their old skates from attics and garages, and donate them for rental.

Haber said the DDA has asked for a two-year projection of this project, including expenses like staff and capital costs. One of those capital costs would be a skate-sharpening instrument, he said.

Berla asked about the process for making this happen – what would be the procedure, from the city’s perspective? Smith guessed that the city staff and DDA would need to negotiate what would happen, because the city owns the lot but it’s managed by the DDA. The council would need to pass a resolution directing it to happen, he said.

Smith continued, saying he appreciated the enthusiasm and effort that organizers have shown. His concern is that there aren’t a lot of examples of other communities using this type of artificial ice. He had asked the managers at the city’s ice rinks to talk to other communities that have tried this kind of project, and the feedback hasn’t been overwhelmingly positive, he said. A couple of recreation departments in other cities removed similar rinks after a year, because the rinks didn’t generate repeat customers. One person had described the experience of skating on the artificial ice as running up a sand dune. Smith said he’d hate to see a community group put energy and funding into a project that won’t work very well.

Gordon pointed to the rink at Advantage Sports, which has been in place for several years. He also volunteered to do additional research about the experiences of artificial ice rinks in other communities.

Smith then expressed concerns regarding maintenance. Often, the manufacturers of “synthetic amenities” will say that there’s no or low maintenance, he noted, but generally “that’s really never the case.” Other recreational departments that have used this kind of artificial ice say that it requires daily application of a spray to make the skating smoother. Gordon replied that there have been several iterations of this technology, and the most recent types of artificial ice don’t require daily spraying.

Ault again stated that the size of the rink concerns her: It’s really small. It would help to know the sizes of rinks in other communities, she said.

She also wondered if the DDA had indicated buy-in with the project. Would the DDA be willing to provide matching funds? Haber replied that he and other supporters are taking this “step by step.” The DDA’s basic view seems to be an interest in buildings, and they’re not eager to see public activity at that site, he said, because if “you let the people on, they’ll never want to get off.” But some of the DDA board members on the partnerships committee were quite interested, Haber added. The short-term nature of this proposal will be persuasive, he contended, but the DDA’s partnerships committee still wants some questions answered. “So I’m hopeful,” he concluded. It’s a big dream to think the DDA might embrace this project, but it’s within their mission to find better uses for that surface parking lot, he said.

Downtown Parks: March 26 Committee Meeting

Haber and Gordon also attended a March 26 meeting of PAC’s downtown park subcommittee, along with Will Hathaway and Mary Hathaway, who also support a park on top of the Library Lane parking structure. The meeting included the city’s park planner Amy Kuras and Colin Smith, parks and recreation manager.

Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Amy Kuras, the city’s park planner (far right), describes aspects of a map that shows public property within the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority district. She was attending a March 26 meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission’s downtown park subcommittee, which was also attended by members of the Library Green Conservancy.

The subcommittee had previously met on Feb. 5, 2013, and had agreed as a first step to read background material from a variety of sources, including the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan, elements of the city’s master plan, and reports by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project.

On March 26, the group discussed aspects of the PROS plan and CWS report that relate to downtown parks. Alan Jackson observed that the PROS plan is a very “interpretable” document. You could draw conclusions that are even diametrically opposed, he noted, so there’s a lot of latitude within the scope of that plan.

The PROS plan’s needs assessment identifies two actions directly related to downtown parks and urban plazas: (1) Discussion concerning downtown open space should continue as well as to plan for developer contributions and small pocket parks; and (2) Work with the Downtown Development Authority to plan for renovation and acquisition of downtown open space, including the development of the library lot [a reference to the top of the city-owned Library Lane underground parking structure].

Kuras, who is responsible for soliciting developer contributions to parks, reported that she’s exploring whether that’s the best approach for the city to take. She typically negotiates with developers, asking them to donate parkland or cash in lieu of land, which can then be used in the parks system. The intent is to maintain a certain ratio of parkland to residents, and to encourage the owners of new developments to help fund that goal. It’s been successful in other parts of the city, but is difficult to do downtown – in part because land is so much more expensive.

Smith noted that right now it’s voluntary, and developers can refuse to contribute. He reported that the developers of the 413 E. Huron project have agreed to contribute $125,000, although it’s unclear whether that project will move forward.

One possibility would be to require this kind of contribution, Smith said. To do that would require action by the city council. Smith also suggested that the city might consider using this funding source not just for park infrastructure or acquisition, but also for programming needs, to activate existing urban parks or plazas.

Smith stressed the importance of programming – saying it plays a role in making a park is successful or not. Traditionally, he said, parks and recreation employees are tied to a facility, like a skating rink or golf course. But the PROS plan discusses the possibility of having a parks employee devoted to programming across the system, not just at one particular facility. That might be a recommendation for the subcommittee to consider, he said.

Regarding the Connecting William Street project, several people observed that the CWS report recommends further exploration of the need for downtown parks and open space. [For more background on the status of Connecting William Street, see Chronicle coverage: "Connecting William To Be Resource Plan."] A few people expressed puzzlement about the CWS proposal for a mid-block cut-through – a possible pedestrian walkway between Main Street and State Street. Kuras said she was baffled by that particular recommendation, because most of the feedback that the city staff hears is about the need for more downtown open space, not a walking corridor.

Smith urged commissioners to look not only at the CWS sites as they prioritize, but also to factor in the Allen Creek greenway, and the city-owned sites at 721 N. Main and 415 W. Washington.

The subcommittee spent a portion of the March 26 meeting looking at a map that Kuras had printed out, which highlighted publicly-owned land in the DDA district – including city land as well as the University of Michigan. They also talked about how to solicit specific input from groups like the downtown merchant associations, the Ann Arbor District Library, the university, residents and others. Their strategy at this point includes inviting representatives to future subcommittee meetings, developing an online survey and holding public forums.

Although the group had previously discussed the possibility of hiring the nonprofit Project for Public Spaces as an outside consultant, Smith reported that he had tried to contact that group but had not received a response.

Also attending the March 26 meeting was Matthew Altruda, who told commissioners that he does the booking for many music events in town, including the Sonic Lunch weekly summer concert series that’s sponsored by the Bank of Ann Arbor and held at Liberty Plaza. At the end of the March 26 session, Altruda said he agreed with the group’s assessment that programming is important, and indicated that he’d be willing to help with that, if they wanted.

The subcommittee’s next meeting is set for Tuesday, April 9 from 5-6:30 p.m. in the second-floor city council workroom at city hall, 301 E. Huron. These meetings are open to the public and include the opportunity for public commentary.

DTE Easement at Riverside Park

On PAC’s March 18 agenda was a resolution to recommend approval of an easement between the city of Ann Arbor and DTE Energy – for land in Riverside Park where utility poles are located. [.pdf of easement agreement]

DTE Energy Buckler substation site plan

DTE Energy Buckler substation site plan. (Links to larger image)

The easement agreement is needed so that DTE can remove old utility poles and install new poles and overhead lines – generally in the same location as existing poles and lines at Riverside Park. The easement will also allow DTE to provide maintenance on those poles and lines. DTE requested the easement in relation to an $8 million new electrical substation that the energy firm is building on land adjacent to the park. The Buckler substation’s site plan was approved last year by the city’s planning commission on June 5, 2012. It did not require city council approval.

The overall project entails building the substation in the utility company’s Ann Arbor service center to provide a way to distribute an increase in electrical power to the downtown area due to increased demand for electricity. The project includes two 15.5-foot tall electrical transformers and related electrical equipment on raised concrete pads, and a new power delivery center (PDC) – a 630-square-foot, 12.5-foot tall steel structure. The source of power will be transmitted through underground sub-transmission cables in an existing manhole and conduit system.

The project needed a variance to the 15-foot conflicting land use buffer requirements along the east side property line, adjacent Riverside Park. DTE requested a variance that would allow the firm to plant 23 trees along the far western side of Riverside Park instead of on DTE property. PAC recommended approval of that variance at its Feb. 28, 2012 meeting. It was subsequently authorized by the zoning board of appeals on June 27, 2012.

In addition to planting trees in the buffer, DTE plans to remove 15 trees along Canal Street, which will be replaced by 50 trees in other parts of the park. As stipulated by city ordinance, DTE also will be required to pay the city a “tree canopy loss” fee. According to the city’s urban forestry website, which provides the technical definition and sample calculations, the current canopy loss rate is $186/inch for shade trees and $172/inch for ornamental trees. For this project, DTE will pay $23,800, which will be earmarked for future improvements to Riverside Park.

Construction on the substation will take place during the summer of 2013. The easement agreement requires approval by the city council.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, introduced the item, saying he’s always wanted to see a better buffer between the park and the power substation. The landscaping that DTE is putting in place will make the park look much better, he said. Regarding the easement, Smith said it wasn’t a significant departure from how things are currently handled with DTE’s utility poles in that area.

Paul Ganz, DTE Energy, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, Riverside Park, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Paul Ganz, DTE’s manager of regional relations, showed park commissioners a map indicating new projects in Ann Arbor that added to the city’s energy needs.

Paul Ganz – DTE’s manager of regional relations in Washtenaw, Livingston and Ingham counties – told commissioners that the substation project is essential, and the easement is a critical piece of that $8 million investment. The project will bring nearly 30 megawatts of additional electrical capacity to the Ann Arbor area.

In order to minimize disruptions during the switchover phase, DTE needs to build a new overhead pole infrastructure, to allow for the safe transfer of the utility’s distribution lines, he said. The company will install a new set of poles, then take off the wires from the old poles and put the new distribution lines on the new poles. He noted that phone and cable companies, which also use the poles, will need to move their lines as well.

He highlighted DTE’s replacement of trees that will have to be removed, as well as the company’s payment to the forestry fund. He said he appreciated the “cooperative posture” of the city staff, as well as PAC’s previous recommendation of a variance to the conflicting land use buffer requirement.

Ganz concluded by calling it a “garden variety easement,” and he hoped commissioners would look on it favorably.

DTE Easement at Riverside Park: Commission Discussion

Tim Doyle clarified with Colin Smith that the 50 new trees would be planted throughout the park. Smith referred Doyle to a drawing – included in the meeting packet – that showed where those trees would be planted. [.pdf of planting map]

Doyle also asked about the purpose of the substation. Was it to generate more electricity for the community? No, Ganz replied. The substation doesn’t generate electricity – it distributes electricity. DTE needs to build new circuits to handle the electricity loads. Ganz showed commissioners a map that indicated new or proposed developments in the city, “and they all need new sources of electricity,” he said. [.pdf of project map]

Doyle then observed that the substation doesn’t encroach on the park itself, but he asked for clarification about the location of the utility poles. Smith explained that the utility poles are located on parkland – that’s why an easement from the city is required.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of granting the easement to DTE. It will next be considered by city council for approval.

Gallup Park Renovations

The March 19 agenda included a resolution recommending that the city council award a $512,180 contract for improvements at the Gallup Park canoe livery to Construction Solutions Inc. The project budget includes a 10% construction contingency, bringing the total cost to $563,398.

Gallup Park, canoe livery, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Schematic of the proposed Gallup Park canoe livery improvements.

Construction Solutions, based in Ann Arbor, was the lowest qualified bidder on the project. Other bids were submitted by Braun Construction Group ($534,600); Detroit Contracting Inc. ($554,620); The E&L Construction Group ($580,700); A.R. Brower Company ($607,160); and Terra Firma Landscape ($612,137).

In introducing the item, parks and recreation manager Colin Smith noted that the project has been two years in the making. He reminded commissioners that park planner Amy Kuras had briefed them on the project in the past. At its March 15, 2011 meeting, PAC had approved applying for a $300,000 grant from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund to help fund the project.

Kuras gave commissioners an overview of the improvements, which include barrier-free paths to the docks; barrier-free docks and fishing facilities; an expanded patio area to create barrier-free outdoor seating and to separate these areas from the pedestrian circulation; sliding glass doors from the meeting room; and redesign of the park entry to create a separation between the service drive and the pedestrian pathway.

The project will be funded in part through the $300,000 MDNR trust fund grant, with matching funds from the FY 2013 park maintenance and capital improvements millage. Smith noted that when the grant was awarded, it was the second-highest ranked application statewide. He credited Kuras for her work in making that happen.

As soon as approval is given by the city council, the project’s first phase will begin on the docks and livery area, with work continuing until Memorial Day in late May. Work will resume after the summer season on Labor Day, focusing on paths and the park entry reconfiguration. The entire project is expected to be finished by mid-November.

Gallup Park Renovations: Commission Discussion

Mike Anglin wondered if there would be a launch for kayaks, so that people wouldn’t tip over while getting into the boat. Kuras explained that a new ramp would allow the kayakers to actually come up out of the water, and grab a railing to help them out of the kayak.

Anglin asked if the renovated meeting space would be available to rent for events. Kuras replied that the space is rented out now, but the staff expect that rentals will increase after the renovations.

Anglin also wanted to know if local firms had been considered for this contract. Kuras noted that the city’s policy is to accept the lowest bid, unless there are reasons to reject it – like past bad performance. In this case, the lowest bid happened to be a local firm, she noted.

Graydon Krapohl wanted to know when the project will likely be completed. Kuras replied that the weather is the biggest factor, but if all goes well, the hope is to have the project finished by mid-November of 2013.

Christopher Taylor observed that a van turnaround area could also be used as a cut-through for pedestrians or bicyclists. He wondered if there will be design elements to discourage it. Kuras said pervious pavers will be used in that area, “so it’s not going to be the most comfortable surface to walk on.” The hope is that renovated walkways will be a more desirable option.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved the resolution recommending that Construction Solutions Inc. be awarded the contract for Gallup Park renovations. It was subsequently approved by the city council at its April 1, 2013 meeting.

Update on Argo, Gallup Canoe Liveries

Cheryl Saam, facility supervisor for the Argo and Gallup canoe liveries, gave commissioners a presentation on those operations. The briefing was in preparation of budget recommendations that PAC is expected to consider at its April 16 meeting. [.pdf of Saam's presentation]

For Gallup, Saam highlighted the stillwater paddles on the 2.5 mile Gallup Pond, the popular 5.7-mile river trip from Barton to Gallup, a coffee shop that sells Zingerman’s coffee and baked goods, and the meeting room that’s available for rental. She also reviewed the upcoming renovations, which had been featured in a presentation earlier in the meeting by park planner Amy Kuras.

Argo Pond, Argo Cascades, Ann Arbor parks and recreation, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of Argo Pond and Argo Cascades – a series of nine pools that lead from the pond to the Huron River. The large site at the bottom of this image is the DTE property that the city hopes to acquire.

At Argo, the livery provides canoe, kayak and tube rentals on the 2-mile Argo Pond, a concession stand, and river trips – a 3.7-mile trip from Argo to Gallup, and a 7.1-mile trip Delhi to Argo. The most recent feature is the new Argo Cascades, a series of pools that allow kayakers to bypass Argo Dam and connect from Argo Pond to the Huron River. Saam noted that the Cascades won the 2012 Michigan Recreation & Park Association (MRPA) park design award, and was named a “Frontline Park” by the City Parks Alliance, a national advocacy group.

Saam noted that the city hopes to expand river recreational activities onto the DTE/Michcon site in the future. That site, which DTE is remediating, is on the opposite side of the Huron River, across from the Argo Cascades. For example, Saam said, because canoes can’t go through the Argo Cascades, one possibility would be to have another canoe livery on the DTE side of the river. “There are lots of opportunities that could come up with that site,” she said.

Both liveries offer River Camps, Saam said. Last year, 101 kids participated at Argo; 258 participated at Gallup.

Overall in 2012, 50,336 people rented boats during the year at both liveries – up from 35,834 in 2011. Saam attributed that increase primarily to the opening of Argo Cascades. A busy weekend day would bring about 900 customers, she reported. “It has been a big hit.” The Argo-to-Gallup river trip was the most popular, accounting for 67% of all river trips during the year.

As a percentage of river trips, the Barton-to-Gallup trip grew from 7.5% to 27% of all river trips in 2012.

Saam reported that projected revenues for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, are $619,626 compare to $569,589 the previous year. Projected expenses of $567,645 are also up, compared to $488,421 in the previous year. She noted that seasonal staff – about 50 employees – accounts for 44% of the budgeted expenses.

Looking ahead, the city plans to issue another request for proposals (RFP) to design a whitewater section along the Huron River, between the Argo Dam and the spot where the Argo Cascades enters into the river. Saam said that the staff believe it will provide a recreational amenity unlike any other in southeast Michigan – nothing too extensive, she added, probably just a surf wave and some eddy points. Most of the public would use the Cascades, which would exit downstream from the whitewater area.

Regarding the whitewater RFP, parks and recreation manager Colin Smith noted that the first attempt at this project wasn’t successful. The Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality did not approve the initial design, and would not issue the necessary permit for the project. The staff is working with the state to address MDEQ’s concerns, he said.

Update on Argo, Gallup Canoe Liveries: Commission Discussion

Tim Berla asked about the 27% of river trips that go from Barton Pond to Gallup Park – he wondered how people using canoes can get around the Argo Dam. Do they have to get out of their canoes? Yes, Saam replied, they have to walk the length of the Argo Cascades, and put in the canoe where the Cascades exit back into the Huron River. Canoes can’t go through the Cascades, but most people use kayaks, she said.

“Is there any chance we’re going to fix this?” Berla asked. Obviously the Cascades has been a successful amenity, he said. But when it was “sold” to PAC, he added, commissioners were told that canoes would also be able to use it. At one point, the idea had been that canoes could even paddle up the Cascades, he said.

Colin Smith, Ann Arbor parks and recreation, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Colin Smith, Ann Arbor’s parks and recreation manager.

Colin Smith acknowledged that the project had been difficult to complete as it was originally envisioned. He noted that even prior to the Argo Cascades project, there’d been a strong trend toward using kayaks rather than canoes. The city is exploring the possibility of partnering with DTE or in some way gaining access to a portion of the land currently owned by DTE that borders the Huron River downstream from the Argo Dam – where the whitewater feature would be located. Earlier this year, DTE issued a request for information (RFI), seeking possible partners to developer that site, which is located at 841 Broadway. [.pdf of DTE's RFI for the 841 Broadway site]

If the city gains access to that side of the river, Smith said, a supplemental canoe livery could be located there so that people wouldn’t need to carry canoes from the current livery past Argo Cascades. “We’re continuing to explore options – it’s not an easy solution,” he said.

Karen Levin asked about the whitewater project: Wasn’t the company that designed the Argo Cascades also hired to for the whitewater feature? She wondered if that same company would still be working on the whitewater.

Smith reviewed the project’s history, noting that when the project was originally proposed, the resolution that PAC recommended, and that the city council later approved, was primarily for the dam bypass – later named Argo Cascades – with the option of adding whitewater. [PAC's recommendation, approved on Oct. 19, 2010, was to build a bypass channel in the Argo Dam headrace for $988,170, and to add whitewater features for an additional $180,000. The $1,168,170 project was designed by Gary Lacy of Boulder, Colo., and built by TSP Environmental, a Livonia firm.]

Smith noted that the whitewater features weren’t required as part of an agreement with the state Dept. of Environmental Quality to address issues related to the dam. [In August of 2009, the state issued a dam safety order to the city, with several deadlines that the city needed to meet in addressing problems with the dam, as well as an order to immediately close the headrace. The city closed the headrace in November of 2009 but contested the order. Negotiations with the state resulted in a consent agreement that was signed in May of 2010. (.pdf file of consent agreement)]

Smith noted that DTE later committed to funding the construction of the whitewater section, because the company needed to do remediation on its side of the river, which needed to be coordinated with construction of the whitewater area. He said DTE is still planning to honor that commitment to pay for the whitewater feature.

The city will issue an RFP for the whitewater design, Smith said, and it may or may not be awarded to the designer who did Argo Cascades.

Mike Anglin thanked Cheryl Saam, noting that it all started years ago with “drainage disconnects.” [Anglin was likely referring to the state's concerns over the condition of toe drains on the Argo Dam embankment. The term "drainage disconnect" is typically used in reference to the city's footing drain disconnect program.] “We took the hard long way,” Anglin told Saam, “but got a great product.”

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Dam Repairs

In another river-related item, commissioners were asked to recommend awarding a $295,530 contract to Gerace Construction Co. for repair work and repainting at Argo and Geddes dams, as well as site improvements around Argo Dam.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, reviewed some history on this project.

By way of background, the city council – at its Nov. 15, 2010 meeting – had passed a resolution directing the city administrator to find a new funding source for the city’s recreational dams: Argo and Geddes. [The city's other dams, Barton and Superior, generate electricity and are not considered recreational.] At that time, maintenance and other needs for the dam were paid for out of the city’s water supply system fund. The resolution stated:

RESOLVED, That City Council direct the City Administrator to remove funding for repairs, maintenance and insurance for Argo and Geddes dams from the City’s Water Supply System Fund in the FY 2012 budget and thereafter.

In 2011 when the council passed its budget for FY 2012 – starting July 1, 2011 – the costs for Argo and Geddes dams were shifted to the parks operations budget. This move had been recommended by PAC, Smith noted.

The current contract is for work that’s done on a 15-20 year cycle, Smith said. Gerace, based in Midland, submitted the lowest of four qualified bids for this work. Other bidders were Anlaan Corp. ($354,050); E&L Construction ($457,989); and Spence Brothers ($797,000). According to a staff memo, the work entails “repair and repainting of gear housings, lift equipment, tainter gate structural steel, miscellaneous concrete repair, and minor site improvements. Site improvements include addition of rip rap and constructing a path to portage around Argo Dam.”

Brian Steglitz, an engineer with the city, was on hand to answer questions. He indicated that the work is being done in response to feedback from state regulators. The two dams are inspected every three years by the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

The project will be funded from the city’s parks maintenance and capital improvements millage.

Dam Repairs: Commission Discussion

Tim Berla observed that since the dams aren’t generating electricity or providing drinking water, the appropriate way to fund them is out of the parks budget.

Tim Berla, Graydon Krapohl, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Park commissioners Tim Berla and Graydon Krapohl.

Smith described the rationale for funding these dam repairs out of the parks and recreation budget. He noted that a lot of recreational opportunities offered by the parks system at Argo Pond are called “pond paddles.” People might prefer pond paddles, as opposed to going down the river, if they have young children, or if they just feel more comfortable on still water. There are also times when the water flow causes the staff to suspend river trips, but people can still enjoy canoeing or kayaking on the Argo Pond, between Barton and Argo dams. In fiscal year 2012, revenue generated from pond paddles, rowboat and paddleboat activities was about $175,000.

Smith likened it to the kind of investment that the city makes in other recreational facilities, like its ice-skating rinks.

Berla clarified with Brian Steglitz that the dams are not involved in flood mitigation. That’s right, Steglitz said. The dams at this point are purely recreational. Under the existing permits, they operate as “run of the river” dams. That is, for every drop of water that enters the pond, a drop needs to go over the dam to compensate.

Berla wondered how this project fits in with the overall cost of maintaining these dams. How much money is spent every year, and when will the city need to make this kind of expenditure again? Smith said the annual cost for operating each dam is about $18,000 to $20,000. That’s already budgeted, he said, separately from the repair project.

Steglitz said this kind of maintenance hasn’t been done on these dams in about 25 years, so it’s past due. Originally, the city had planned to do this work one dam at a time – one per year. But the staff decided to combine some of the less expensive, out-of-the-water work at Argo and Geddes this year. In a couple of years, another project is planned to address the gates on the dams, he said. That will be a more complicated project, and will involve shutting down the dams and de-watering one side in order to paint the gates. Smith reported that the gate repair in the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) for fiscal 2017, estimated to cost about $400,000.

After that second project is completed, Steglitz said, the two dams probably won’t require significant work for another 20 years.

Christopher Taylor asked if the costs were about equally divided between Geddes and Argo. Yes, Steglitz replied.

Taylor also asked for an explanation of the term “rip rap.” Steglitz described rip rap as “large aggregate” – typically rocks or concrete rubble – that’s used for erosion control. The intent is to hold back earth along the dam embankments. From an engineering standpoint, he said, the city needs to make sure it maintains the integrity of those embankments, as well as the integrity of the concrete dams.

Taylor asked where the new portage would be located. It will be constructed from the first pond of the Argo Cascades to the “tail” of Argo Dam, where people will be able to launch their canoes into the Huron River. Tim Doyle asked whether that’s the same location that the city plans to add a whitewater feature. Smith answered by noting that the city hasn’t yet received permits for the whitewater project, and that this new path isn’t a significant improvement. Doyle observed that it’s a temporary fix while the city waits on the whitewater project. Smith agreed with that assessment.

Doyle then asked whether these dams are regulated by the state. Steglitz replied that the dams are regulated by the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality, which inspects the dams every three years. Doyle asked if this repair work is the consequence of the state’s inspection. Yes, Steglitz said. The city is responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of those dams, he said, and this project is in response to that.

Doyle asked if dams, like bridges, have a life. Yes, Steglitz said. He noted that these dams have been rebuilt. Like any structure, you can do things to extend its life, he added, “and that’s what this project is all about.” By doing this kind of work, the city can extend the life of the dam by decades. There’s no reason to believe the dams would need to be replaced in the near future, he said.

Mike Anglin asked Steglitz to describe how Barton and Superior dams differ from Argo and Geddes. Steglitz explained that Barton and Superior dams are federally regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). They both generate power – about 1.5 megawatts of power combined, when operating at full capacity. There are more stringent regulatory requirements, with more frequent inspections. Barton also provides an impoundment for the city’s water supply. Those two dams are also more complex structures, he said, because they both generate hydropower. So they’re more costly to operate and maintain. The city’s general fund receives revenue from Barton and Superior dams, and the general fund also pays for the improvements and maintenance of those dams. Capital improvements are planned at both dams as well, and are in the city’s CIP, Steglitz said.

In response to a query from Doyle, Steglitz said that at one point, both Argo and Geddes also generated electricity. All of the dams were purchased from DTE in the early 1980s, he said, for “very little to no cost,” because major renovations were needed. At that point, the hydropower components at Argo and Geddes were abandoned, he said.

Taylor questioned a clause in PAC’s resolution, which stated: “Whereas, The coating on the gear housings and portions of the gates at both Argo and Geddes Dams has failed; …” The proximity of “failed” and “dams” caused him, as a lay person, to raise a “flashing light red alert.” He joked that Steglitz appeared calm, so Taylor asked him to elaborate on that wording.

The dams aren’t in danger of failure, Steglitz replied, but the coatings have failed. There are places where the coating is gone. Coatings aren’t just for aesthetic purposes, he noted, but rather to protect the structural steel from corroding. There are now signs of corrosion, he said. If that continues, at some point you just can’t repaint the steel – you’d need to replace it, which would be a lot more expensive. There are some components that will need to be replaced, he added, but not many. “We’re doing this at the right time.”

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously approved awarding the contract to Gerace for work on Argo and Geddes dams. The contract was subsequently won approval at the city council’s April 1, 2013 meeting.

Golf Courses Update

In another presentation to set the stage for next month’s budget discussion, PAC heard from Doug Kelly, the city’s director of golf, and Andrew Walton, recreational facility supervisor at Huron Hills. They reviewed the status of the city’s two golf courses – at Huron Hills and Leslie Park.

Andrew Walton, Doug Kelly, Huron Hills golf course, Leslie Park golf course, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Andrew Walton, recreational facility supervisor at Huron Hills, and Doug Kelly, the city’s director of golf.

Kelly told commissioners that his overview would be similar to one he made at PAC two years ago, at their March 15, 2011 meeting. He described attributes of both courses – Huron Hills has a shorter layout that’s good for the entire golfing community, for people of all ages, abilities and economic backgrounds. During the winter months, Huron Hills also provides one of the area’s best sledding hills, he said.

Leslie Park “is our jewel,” he said, attracting golfers from across southeast Michigan and beyond with its layout that is challenging, yet playable. Golf Digest magazine has rated it as the best municipal course in the state, he said. More recently, Leslie Park golf course has been “entrenched” in a $1.4 million major Traver Creek reconstruction project.

As background, in 2007, the city council and staff examined the golf courses closely, hired a consultant and made some decisions about the future of the courses. “It was decided that if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this right,” Kelly said, so the city invested in infrastructure and staff.

As a result, he said, the number of golf rounds have increased at both courses. At Huron Hills, rounds have grown from 13,913 in 2007 to 23,842 rounds in the 2012 season. At Leslie Park, 21,857 rounds were played in 2007, compared to 32,628 in 2012. Those represent increases of 70% and 50%, respectively, and come during a period when rounds of golf in Michigan have been flat, Kelly said, and when rounds have fallen 2.4% nationwide.

Revenues have also increased during that period, Kelly reported. In fiscal 2007, Huron Hill reported revenues of $242,577. Those increased 55% to $375,068 in fiscal 2012. At Leslie Park, revenues grew from $623,942 in FY 2007 to $929,071 in FY 2012 – an increase of 49%.

Kelly noted that fees haven’t changed significantly since 2008. Rental revenues at Huron Hills increased from $5,000 in fiscal 2007 – when the course did not have rental carts – to $72,000 in fiscal 2012. Leslie Park’s golf cart rental revenues grew from $122,000 to $183,000, while concession revenues grew from $28,000 to $97,000, in large part because the clubhouse now has a liquor license. The idea wasn’t to make it a local pub, he said, but rather to make it more attractive for group outings and league golfers. Some of that is due to increased rounds, but Kelly attributed about $50,000 of that increase solely to the sale of alcohol.

Ann Arbor park advisory commission, Huron Hills golf course, Leslie Park golf course, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Revenues from Ann Arbor golf courses FY 2007 through FY 2012.

Kelly also highlighted the priorities that he and other golf staff have emphasized in the last five years: exceptional customer service, excellent facilities, environmental stewardship, collaboration with the community, and an effort to grow the game of golf.

Leslie Park golf course has been certified by the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program, which requires that the course exceed requirements of environmental laws, protect water resources and enhance the maintenance of turf grass and open spaces. The course also was designated as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, part of a national program that focuses on enhancing the habitat for wildlife on golf courses. Huron Hills is currently working to get both of these certifications, he said.

Kelly noted that several years ago he came up with the idea for a Michigan “municipal golf trail,” to promote municipal courses throughout the state. It was launched last year by the Michigan Recreation and Park Association, with a goal of getting 500 people signed up. They exceeded that goal, with about 3,500 people participating.

Andrew Walton highlighted several efforts to grow the game of golf – because most of those types of programs are located at Huron Hills, which he supervises. Efforts include family nights on Sundays after 3 p.m, when children can golf free; “nite lite” golf events with glow-in-the-dark equipment; a $100 season pass for juniors; “wee tees” – a shorter 7-hole course for kids; golf lessons and other instruction programs; power carts; and leagues.

Huron Hills also received a $12,000 grant from the National Recreation and Parks Association to help pilot a national program called SNAG – Starting New at Golf – aimed at children 4-5 years old. The city was one of only 15 agencies nationwide to pilot this program. SNAG is now partnering with the Jack Nicklaus Learning Leagues, and Ann Arbor expects to be involved in that effort as well, Walton said.

Golf Courses Update: Commission Discussion

Julie Grand recalled serving on the golf task force several years ago, and said it’s amazing to see how the golf courses have changed over the past few years.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, praised the golf staff as well as the staff of the canoe liveries. He highlighted the role of seasonal staff, saying those employees are crucial to the success of the parks system.

Grand joked that she remembered a time when “a young Colin Smith” was also a seasonal employee in the parks. Smith replied: “I wouldn’t recognize that person.”

Mike Anglin said that if there’s a national parks and recreation month, he’d like to see Smith and other senior parks staff come forward to city council to be recognized for their work. The parks system has been supported by a millage for a long time, he noted, and the system just keeps getting better even though the economy has declined. That might be because people can’t afford to travel, so they stay and use the local parks, Anglin said. The city’s recreation facilities are packed, he noted, in large part due to the people on staff. Anglin concluded by saying he was on council when Smith was hired as parks and recreation manager, “and I’ve never regretted it.”

Communications: Recreation Advisory Commission

Tim Berla, a PAC member who’s the liaison to the city’s recreation advisory commission, reported that the Ann Arbor Public Schools are “strapped” in terms of their budget. It’s possible that all sports will become “pay to play,” so at the most recent RAC meeting there was a long discussion about the possibility of having a recreation millage, he said. It’s something they’ll continue to think about for the future, he added.

Present: Ingrid Ault, Tim Berla, Tim Doyle, Julie Grand, Alan Jackson, Graydon Krapohl, Karen Levin, and councilmembers Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks and recreation manager.

Absent: Bob Galardi, Missy Stults.

Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 begins at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

The Chronicle survives in part through regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. If you’re already helping The Chronicle with some financial green, please encourage your friends, neighbors and coworkers to do the same. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle.


  1. By Larry Baird
    April 2, 2013 at 7:26 pm | permalink

    I am having trouble understanding the logic behind this new idea (not on PROS plan) of building a third canoe livery on the Michcon site. If the Barton to Gallup trips are up from 7.5% to 27%, those canoes would still have to portage at Argo.

    In addition, if the new livery is built up stream of the planned new whitewater, how would the canoes by-pass the new whitewater? How would those portaging closer to Argo Dam by-pass the new whitewater?

    Finally, with the faulty engineering of the Cascades – originally designed for kayaks and canoes but resulting in Class 2 rapids declared unsafe for novice canoeists, how can we know for sure the water levels just below the dam would support a new livery at this location? Last summer that section of the river completely dried up as well as many parts of the Argo to Gallup stretch. In fact, there have been many past summers when the Argo livery stops renting canoes for the Argo to Gallup stretch due to the low water levels.

    I would caution PAC to explore this idea very carefully and slowly. The Cascades have only been open one year. More time is needed to see what the long term impacts will be on this stretch of the river.

    I also do not see the urgency when other long term PROS plan projects (such as the Bandemer to Barton trail connection)have been patiently waiting to receive funding.

    I own three kayaks and an old A2 parks resale canoe and enjoy the river as much as anyone, yet I also enjoy the border-to-border trail too and would like to see it completed sometime during my lifetime.

  2. By George Hammond
    April 2, 2013 at 11:36 pm | permalink

    Larry, I agree that some caution is called for. I don’t think anyone is proposing that a third livery be upstream of the white water feature in the main course of the river. A very tentative concept, with the livery below the white water features, was released in a draft report last week: [link]

    I share your concern about flows in the summer. When the water is low, I wonder how they will decide to allocate: water over the dam and past the whitewater feature, or water through the cascades? I think there might be some legal requirements to maintain flow in the main channel, requirements that might not have been observed last year, but I don’t really know for sure.

  3. By Timothy Durham
    April 3, 2013 at 6:00 am | permalink

    Hi Mary,
    I will pledge an extra $10 p/month to the Chronicle so that, when I click on them to get a closer look, I will get a BIGGER (even MUCH bigger) picture of the maps in your stories so I can read them. Thanks. Keep up the good work!

  4. By Dan Ezekiel
    April 3, 2013 at 8:26 am | permalink

    I am not a dog owner, but I feel the reactions to the proposed dog parks is overdone. I visited a dog park in Boston with my dad and his dog, and it was nothing like what the neighbors fear. Dogs socialized happily and quietly on the site (half an acre or so), as did their owners. The site was completely clean, with pea gravel and a plastic liner. Owners cleaned up all poop. The dog park enhances my dad’s neighborhood.

  5. By Larry Baird
    April 3, 2013 at 9:28 am | permalink

    George, you hit the nail on the head – water allocation between the main channel and the Cascades. Is there enough water all summer long to support both “channels”?

    Having used the old Argo headrace and portage numerous times over the years, I can recall seeing the old spillway with just a small stream of water leaving the headrace, nothing like the continuous flow passing through the Cascades all summer long.

    Since the DEQ did not approve the initial whitewater design, it seems we are letting the design firm off a bit lightly given both the design flaw of the Cascades and the no-go on the “initial” whitewater design?

    Hopefully there will not be a Strike 3 – potential closure of the Cascades at mid-summer or late summer – if there is not enough water flowing over the dam into the main channel of the river and the DEQ decides to enforce the rules.

  6. By Dave Fanslow
    April 3, 2013 at 2:55 pm | permalink

    The main channel whitewater feature would serve as a mixer/diffuser of the highly contaminated Allen Drain water that currently tends to flow in a distinct plume against the South bank until the constriction at the Broadway bridge forces it into the main flow. But if recreational water quality standards are followed the e-coli counts will likely prevent it from being a viable paddling site. Moving water is pretty, and it aerates the pollution, but dont sell a sewer outflow as a paddling site which seems like an explicit expectation in these discussions.