Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (May 1, 2013): The DDA board’s meeting, which lasted under a half hour, included only public commentary and some updates from the board’s committees. No voting items were on the agenda.
The meeting did not feature one of its typical highlights – discussion of the monthly parking report. However, the data was released to the public at the meeting, and it was mentioned that the data was now available to the public in draft form.
So this meeting report adds that provisional parking data to the data set that The Chronicle maintains – to chart the activity in Ann Arbor’s public parking system as the DDA measures it.
Highlights from public commentary included appreciation from representatives of the Neutral Zone for grants the organization has received from the DDA. The board also heard an update – during public commentary and in its committee reports – on a proposal to install an artificial ice rink on top of the new Library Lane underground parking garage.
Committee reports included updates on a possible economic development task force initiated by Ward 2 city councilmember Sally Petersen. Other updates included getDowntown’s commuter challenge, which takes place during the month of May, and the opening of the “Bike House” bicycle parking facility inside the Maynard parking structure.
The monthly parking report is a typical highlight of board meetings. Because the full board meeting falls on the first Wednesday of the month, the monthly report presented to the board is not from the immediately previous month, but rather for the month before that. So for the May 1, 2013 meeting, the monthly parking report would be expected to cover March 2013.
Parking Data: Background for March 2013
At the May 1 meeting, Sandi Smith raised the point that the board had by the time of the meeting received the monthly parking data from March 2013. Keith Orr noted that the operations committee meeting from the previous week had been cancelled – which is when the data would normally be reviewed. He said there was some concern about getting that data out. Anyone from the public can see it, he said, but he cautioned that the report had not been vetted, let alone proofread.
By way of background, the concern about getting the data out arose from an informal request from The Chronicle made on Monday, April 29 for the March 2013 parking report. DDA staff refused to provide it, based on the cancellation of the operations committee meeting, where the data is reviewed. Staff contended that the data could be released only through the DDA board.
When The Chronicle then made a formal request for the routine monthly report under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, DDA executive director Susan Pollay responded by asserting the DDA’s right under the statute to claim an extension of 10 business days beyond the standard 5-day response period.
That would have shielded the report from public view until the third week of May. On May 1, however, Sandi Smith handed the report to The Chronicle before the board meeting started. And Pollay followed with a formal response to the request made under Michigan’s FOIA, providing the document by email later in the day on May 1.
Parking Data: Parking Picture
Adding the provisional data from March 2013 shows that activity in Ann Arbor’s public parking system is consistent with the seasonal patterns over the last four years.
The two main measures used by the DDA to track overall activity in the public parking system are actually proxies for the number of parking hours used in the system: revenue and number of hourly patrons. An hourly patron is someone who pays by the hour in a structure or in a surface lot – as contrasted with someone who pays for a monthly permit.
Since 2009, revenue has shown increases year-over-year for the same month. Parking rate increases account for at least some of that additional revenue. And since September 2012, the total parking system inventory has been increased by the completion of the new underground parking garage at Library Lane. The new garage offers 738 spaces compared to the 194 spaces provided by the surface parking lot where it was built.
The number of patrons over the last four years has shown relatively flat performance within the seasonal pattern:
The top-performing facilities in terms of gross revenue per space continue to be surface parking lots – the lot at Huron/Ashley/First (aka Brown Block) as well as the Kline lot (red and blue lines in Chart 3). While the Brown Block lot has historically outperformed the Kline lot, over the last year the gap between the two lots seems to be growing:
However, those two surface lots – or surface lots in general – don’t make up a significant percentage of the revenue for the whole system. It’s metered parking (on-street) that makes up the largest part of the revenue in the parking system (black line in Chart 4):
Even though metered parking is the largest revenue component in the Ann Arbor public parking system, on a revenue-per-space basis, it’s one of the weakest performing facilities. The new Library Lane garage, on a revenue-per-space basis, now exceeds that of the performance of parking meters:
Communications, Committee Reports
The board’s May 1 meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown citizens advisory council, as well as public commentary.
Comm/Comm: Neutral Zone
During public commentary time at the start of the meeting, Jon Weise introduced himself as the executive director of the Neutral Zone. He thanked the DDA for all the support and partnership that the DDA had provided to the Neutral Zone over the last several years. He highlighted the Neutral Zone’s participation in the DDA’s energy savings grant program – which pays for an energy audit and a percentage of energy improvements to a property. He reported a 25% savings in energy costs as a result of that program. And year and a half ago, the Neutral Zone had again approached the DDA for some help in redoing the driveway. The DDA had helped to broker an arrangement with the contractors who are in town working on streets and roads. “We are thrilled to be here and to thank you and to tell you how much we love the DDA,” Weise said.
Mary Thiefels introduced herself as the visual arts coordinator at the Neutral Zone. She had a long history of public art in Ann Arbor and in southern Michigan, she told the board. She was trying to extend public art opportunities to the youth of the community, she said. She wanted to provide a preliminary report on activity associated with the program. Applications had been sent out to all the youth at the Neutral Zone, she said, and there were seven applicants. It’s being set up as a work-study type arrangement, she said. A site will be chosen – most likely one of the railroad underpasses. The youth will submit a proposal and develop a budget and a timeline, she said, and will document the process. A final press release will be sent out when it concludes with an unveiling of the project. Thiefels wanted the youth to have a full-circle experience of ownership and design, learning how to talk about what they want to create and following through.
During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Dave MacNamara addressed the board on behalf of himself and Omari Rush for “shur! Live, Work, and Play Better.” He told the board he was not there to complain but rather to thank the DDA for what it does. The shur! series involves young professionals who want to be downtown and who want to start local businesses. He told the board that young professionals like him were there to stay. He wanted to help promote what the DDA does, to give Ann Arbor an edge.
Comm/Comm: Ice Rink
During public commentary time at the start of the meeting, Alan Haber gave the board an update on his group’s proposal for a temporary artificial ice skating rink to be installed on top of the Library Lane underground parking garage. They’d met with the DDA’s partnerships committee. Members of that committee had given his group a number of questions to pursue. His group had also held a meeting with the city attorney’s office, to see if it’s possible to use the top of the underground structure for other purposes besides parking. There was a possibility that the contract – under which the DDA manages the city’s public parking system, on behalf of the city – might need to be amended, Haber said.
Haber said that some city councilmembers are working on a resolution that might change the zoning of the surface lot from public land parking to public land non-parking. Another question from the city attorney involved the legal form of the entity that Haber’s group would need to form – a nonprofit or a cooperative. Haber said his group was asked to look at a comparable rink in Boulder, Colorado. He reported that people seem to like that rink and it gets a lot of publicity. The rink had been established by the Boulder equivalent of the Ann Arbor DDA, Haber said. Haber told the board that his group was hoping to have a two-year pro forma, for initial operation of the rink over a two-year period. He said his group had talked to the library board about the security issues. [Haber and Stewart Gordon had made a presentation to the Ann Arbor District Library board's April 15, 2013 meeting.]
In her report from the DDA partnerships committee, Sandi Smith confirmed the committee did have a presentation from Haber’s group about the potential ice skating rink on the Library Lane lot. The committee continues to have questions about financial aspects and security. At this point, there were more questions than answers, she felt. The committee had sent the group back to the drawing board, Smith said – adding that the group’s proposal needed to have more flesh on the bone.
Comm/Comm: Downtown Citizens Advisory Council
Ray Detter gave his monthly report on behalf of the downtown citizens advisory council. He invited everyone to an annual downtown potluck party that he helps to host at his home. [The two addresses on the invitation are 120 and 126 N. Division.] This year the potluck falls on June 6, starting at 6:30 p.m.
Detter then described what the downtown citizens advisory council is. Members are appointed by the mayor and city council, he said. The only qualification is to live in the DDA district. The group meets in city hall, typically on the day before the full meetings of the DDA board. Detter reported to the board that there are 11 active members of the CAC, and there’s a limit of 15. Detter announced that if anyone wants to join, the council would be glad to have them.
He highlighted the Downtown Ann Arbor Historical Street Exhibit Program as a project that the citizens advisory council had initiated. This year from May 15-16, 600 high school students would be visiting downtown Ann Arbor to participate in one of 13 tours that would be conducted over the two days.
During the time for communications from DDA board members, Russ Collins, who’s executive director of the Michigan Theater, stated simply: “Go to Cinetopia!” Cinetopia is an international film festival that takes place in Ann Arbor and Detroit from June 6-9 this year.
Comm/Comm: Economic Development
Sandi Smith, in her report from the partnerships committee, said that Ward 2 city councilmember Sally Petersen had attended the last committee meeting.
Petersen had floated an idea for an economic development task force with membership from the DDA, Ann Arbor SPARK, and city councilmembers – to look at goals and tactics. Smith said she didn’t think the proposal had been presented to the council yet. Mayor John Hieftje, who sits on the DDA board, indicated that it would likely be on the May 20 city council meeting agenda.
Joan Lowenstein added that the partnerships committee would be getting an update from Ann Arbor SPARK CEO Paul Krutko about SPARK’s work plan and how the DDA can work more with SPARK. Lowenstein said the DDA has been working with SPARK all along. So she thought that the update from Krutko would cover projects that the DDA and SPARK could continue to work on together.
Comm/Comm: Commuter Challenge
Reporting from the operations committee, Keith Orr noted that May 1 was the first day of getDowntown’s commuter challenge. So far this year 1,400 people have registered, from 232 organizations. He reported that DDA staff are also participating, as well as some DDA board members. It’s not too late to sign up, he said. His own restaurant, the \aut\ BAR, is also participating, Orr said.
Comm/Comm: Bike House
Keith Orr reported from the operations committee that the “bike house” would be launching May 17. Two parking spaces in the Maynard parking structure are being converted to a walled-off secure location for bicycle parking. The capacity of the bike house will be 37 bicycles, Orr reported. It’s hard to miss, he said, with its lime green walls. “As we speak, the hoops are going in.” He gave May 17 as the official launch date, which is Bike-to-Work day. Cupcakes would be served, he said.
Russ Collins quipped that he was disappointed that the bike house is so aesthetically pleasing. [Previous descriptions of the new facility had called it a "bike cage."] It means that there would be no opportunity for a cage fight fundraiser, say between Bob Guenzel and Ken Fisher, Collins joked.
Present: Nader Nassif, Newcombe Clark, Bob Guenzel, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein.
Absent: Roger Hewitt, John Mouat.
Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, June 7, 2013, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]
The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!