Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Oct. 2, 2013): In its one piece of voting business, the board approved a $20,500 grant to the Arts Alliance to implement a pilot project that would wrap 14 traffic signal electrical boxes in downtown Ann Arbor with vinyl that’s imprinted with artwork.
Called PowerArt, the project is proposed as a way to beautify downtown as well as deter graffiti. The proposal was developed by the DDA – working with the Ann Arbor-based Arts Alliance and the Ann Arbor public art commission. The art commission had voted at its Sept. 25, 2013 meeting to support this first phase of the project with the same amount as the DDA – $20,500. While the first phase of the project would wrap 14 traffic signal boxes, the Arts Alliance is proposing two more phases, for a total of 42 wrapped boxes, and a total cost of $121,000.
The Arts Alliance will administer the project, taking an administrative fee of 30% for the first phase and 25% for the second two phases, if the first phase is judged to be successful. The $41,000 cost of the pilot includes the 30% administrative fee for the Arts Alliance. [.pdf of PowerArt proposal]
The relatively brief board meeting featured an introduction of new board member Al McWilliams as he participated in his first meeting after winning confirmation for service from the city council on a 6-5 vote.
The board also heard various updates from its two standing committees on topics that included the bike share program, the streetscape framework planning project, the connector study, parking structure repairs, and National Hockey League-related events on New Years Eve and New Year’s Day.
The board considered a funding proposal to wrap downtown Ann Arbor traffic signal electrical boxes with vinyl imprinted with artwork. The grant considered by the board was for $20,500.
The art commission, at its Sept. 25, 2013 meeting, had voted unanimously to support this first phase of the project with the same amount as the DDA – $20,500.
While the first phase of the project would wrap 14 traffic signal boxes, the Arts Alliance is proposing two more phases, for a total of 42 wrapped boxes, and a total cost of $121,000.
The Arts Alliance will administer the project, taking an administrative fee of 30% for the first phase and 25% for the second two phases, if the first phase is deemed a success. The $41,000 cost of the pilot includes the 30% administrative fee for the Arts Alliance. [.pdf of PowerArt proposal]
Deb Polich, executive director for the Arts Alliance, is married to Russ Collins, a member of the DDA board. Collins did not attend the Oct. 2 DDA board meeting.
The PowerArt proposal from the Arts Alliance indicates that the program was modeled on one that has been implemented in Boise, Idaho, where city officials there contend that vinyl art wraps have helped deter graffiti, even on traffic signal boxes that are not wrapped with art.
PowerArt: Public Commentary
During public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, Kathy Griswold led off her remarks by characterizing the project as a “transfer of taxpayer money to an art project.” She felt the project would be “extremely dangerous” and called it ill-conceived, as well as posing a conflict of interest. [That was an allusion to the fact that DDA board member Russ Collins is married to Deb Polich, executive director for the Arts Alliance. Collins did not participate in the vote on the resolution, because he was absent from the meeting.]
Griswold pointed out that the number of pedestrian-vehicle crashes in Ann Arbor had increased during the past two years – 60 in 2012 and 63 in 2011, compared to 45 in 2010 and 42 in 2009. She called that increase extremely troubling, but would not say why it was happening – because she felt the reason is not known. But she said the last thing that we should do is to decorate utility boxes, which are in the sight lines for intersections. She contended that it would violate the city’s own ordinances. In Boulder, Colorado, she said, a very aggressive local ordinance does not allow any utility boxes or vegetation taller than 30 inches.
Griswold characterized the PowerArt program as using utility boxes within the sight lines of intersections to “camouflage” pedestrians. She had seen one example that looked to her like the artwork depicted body parts. She could not think of anything worse than a utility box depicting body parts with a pedestrian standing behind it. She allowed that Ann Arbor has a very vibrant downtown, but a lot of people on weekends are downtown “under the influence” and the last thing we want, she said, is more pedestrian crashes.
Deb Polich also addressed the DDA board on the topic of the PowerArt program. She told board members that she was a resident of Ann Arbor’s Ward 5. She introduced herself as director of the Artrain and the Arts Alliance. She described the Arts Alliance’s mission as representing the creative industries, creative individuals and creative organizations in Washtenaw County – to ensure that the county remains a great place to live, work, play and visit. The Arts Alliance represents thousands of creative individuals, she said. Instead of a public art project, she said, she preferred to think of PowerArt as city beautification, and an investment in the downtown area.
The idea of wrapping traffic signal utility boxes with vinyl wraps is not new, she allowed. It had been done in lots of other cities, she said – cities to which Ann Arbor would compare itself or would like to be like. She compared the traffic signal utility boxes to a “canvas.” The project provides an opportunity for community engagement, and would be attractive to visitors. In connection to a similar project that had been implemented in Boise, Idaho, she continued, graffiti had decreased on the utility boxes that had been wrapped with art – as well as other boxes in the vicinity. She noted that the project cost is meant to be shared between the Ann Arbor DDA and the Ann Arbor public art commission. The Arts Alliance, she said, would be administering the project.
Reporting out from the downtown area citizens advisory council, Ray Detter conveyed the CAC’s strong support for the Arts Alliance PowerArt proposal. He called it “local art on urban canvases.” He called it a very carefully developed plan, using local artists, that would result eventually in the wrapping of 42 traffic signal utility boxes with art. He allowed that the concept was not anything new – saying that everyone remembered Bob Dascola’s efforts in connection with fire hydrant and traffic signal utility boxes. Right now that previous work was “a little bit down,” Detter said, and he suggested it needed to be “pepped up” a little bit. Detter reported that at the previous day’s meeting of the downtown marketing task force, Ann Arbor police Sgt. Tom Hickey had described a new police-community engagement program, which involves using convicted taggers who remove graffiti as part of their required public service.
PowerArt: Board Deliberations
The resolution making a grant award to the Arts Alliance PowerArt program was introduced by Roger Hewitt. He noted that the resolution would fund the first of potentially three rounds of the program. He described the other half of the funding as deriving from “other arts organizations.” [The other half of the funding has been identified as coming from Ann Arbor's public art commission.] Each round of the program would wrap 14 traffic signal utility boxes, he said – if the project progressed beyond the first-year pilot. He referred board members to the informational packet, which he said contained a great deal of detail.
Mayor John Hieftje, who sits on the DDA board, offered some comments on the PowerArt program. He said a couple of years ago the city has seen a “plague” of graffiti. A comprehensive response had been called for, he said. He reported that he visited with young people who’d been working with Mary Thiefels at the Neutral Zone, painting the railroad underpass – between First and Second streets on West Washington. He’d also visited with the AAPD’s Tom Hickey and the youth under his supervision working on graffiti cleanup. That had resulted from police detective follow-through, tracking down the perpetrators who had caused tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage, Hieftje said. The PowerArt project continues with that comprehensive approach, he said, adding that the project would provide a creative outlet for people who would otherwise possibly be damaging property. [According to the PowerArt proposal, the intent of the project is to enlist artists, but not necessarily people who might otherwise engage in graffiti tagging.]
Hieftje felt that the program would enhance the walking experience in the downtown. Referring to Kathy Griswold’s public commentary, Hieftje said it was hard for him to see how the PowerArt project would aggravate safety concerns. If the traffic signal utility boxes need to be moved and a better place needs to be found for them, that’s something that the city’s signs and signals staff could look into. About the value of such improvements, Hieftje contended, “If it’s quirky, if it’s artistic, people love it.”
Hewitt echoed Hieftje’s comments. He again mentioned Bob Dascola’s efforts a few years ago, to decorate traffic signal boxes as well as fire hydrants. He called the PowerArt program “picking up where [Dascola] left off.”
As far as safety, Hewitt said, he did not see how artwork could be more dangerous than graffiti on a utility box. So Hewitt said he would support the first-year pilot project and see what kind of results they get.
John Mouat said he was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the selection process described in the information packet. He thought it would be very positive for the downtown and he would support the resolution.
Outcome: The resolution was approved unanimously. Russ Collins was not in attendance.
PowerArt: Additional Background – Art, Graffiti
When Roger Hewitt described Bob Dascola’s efforts in the past, he was referring in part to a project that the Michigan Daily reported on back in 2004 as originating from the International Downtown Association’s conference that year. From the Daily’s “Firing Up Downtown“:
It all began when members of several of Ann Arbor’s downtown associations attended an International Downtown Association conference in Cleveland, Ohio, last year. Bob Dascola, an Ann Arbor native and University alum, tells of the project’s origin: “We brought this project down from Cleveland. They had professional paint (work) there.
“We discussed it over three hours on the way back and had all the details worked out by the time we got to Ann Arbor.”
[The Ann Arbor DDA is sending some members to this year's IDA conference in New York City, which runs from Oct. 6-9, 2013.]
Ann Arbor News coverage of that previous signal box painting project describes some of the locations and artists who painted them.
The box by city hall at North Fifth Avenue and Ann Street suddenly boasts eye-popping red poppies painted on a light green background by local artists Stephanie Staley and Carla Thompson. Artist Tomoko Ogawa covered the box at the Diag entrance at South State Street and North University Avenue in eye-catching abstract designs and bold colors. Dascola, a State Street barber shop owner and longtime downtown booster, led the project, in which local artists are painting designs on some nine traffic control boxes downtown. (Other box artists include Mary Thiefels, Joyce Tinkham, Barb Goodsitt, Sophie Grillet, Connie McKinney, Vickie Elmer, Mike Hahn and Tim Douthit.) [July 3, 2006 Ann Arbor News article "Signal boxes now traffic in public art"]
About five years ago, on Jan. 20, 2009, the Ann Arbor city council also enacted changes to the city’s graffiti ordinance. Those changes established a framework under which property owners would be required to remove graffiti on their property within a specific timeframe, with the city empowered to charge removal costs to the property owner if the owner does not remove the graffiti.
PowerArt: Follow-up Questions
Although Deb Polich, the executive director of the Arts Alliance, attended the Oct. 2 DDA board meeting and indicated to board members that she was available to answer questions, board members did not ask any questions at that time.
The Chronicle followed up with Polich by email with some questions. Questions are in bold, with responses from Polich in italics.
- Is there a contract between the DDA and the Arts Alliance related to the PowerArt grant funding? The approval of the DDA sets in motion further discussions on project development and protocols for all details pertaining to the PowerArt! program. At this moment there is not a contract between the DDA and the Arts Alliance.
- Will payment by the DDA to the Arts Alliance be made to reimburse documented actual costs up to $20,500, or will the grant simply be provided to the Arts Alliance as a lump sum? Per #1 above, we are working out the details – for example: what items on the full estimated budget are covered by the AADDA and what are covered by other funders is still be determined.
- The Arts Alliance proposal indicates that the maintenance estimate of $50 per installation is included as a precautionary measure. What happens to the DDA’s portion ($350) of that if no maintenance is required? The budget estimates on the costs of installation and maintenance are based on inquiries to three vendors. Further negotiations, including a final vendor and average cost per box (boxes are different sizes) will be determined in the coming months. In regards to maintenance, the Arts Alliance recommends that a vendor or the City of Ann Arbor be responsible for general cleaning and maintenance. Per #2 above, the cost share between funders is still to be determined.
- The Arts Alliance presentation includes a calculation of a 30% administrative fee that totals $9,100. However, 30% of 31,900 – which the total project cost for phase one – is $9,570, which should result in a total project cost of $41,470, which is more than the $41,000 indicated by the Arts Alliance proposal. In addition, for phase two, the 25% charged on $63,800 should result in $15,950 of administrative fees for a total project cost of $79,750, which is less than the $80,000 calculated by the Arts Alliance. It appears that the dollar amount of the administrative fee has been adjusted – in one case upwards and in one case downwards – to allow for rounding to the nearest thousand. Yes, the Arts Alliance did round the fees. Its presentation should have indicated that the fee was “about” 30% and “about” 25% respectively for the pilot cycles 1 phase and the following 2 cycles. To be more precise, its Cycle 1 fee is actually 28.52% and its Cycle 2 & 3 fee is calculated at 25.39% for a combined fee on the whole project calculating to 26.437% of project costs.
Question 4.1: Given the rounding tolerances evident in the proposal – which suggest that the Arts Alliance may not conceive of the administrative fee amount as related to covering actual costs – why is the administrative fee so high, relative to the 8% the city of Ann Arbor used for its Percent for Art program? I encourage you to contact the AAPAC administrator to research how the Percent for Art the administrative fee is calculated and what is included. The Arts Alliance is an independent nonprofit responsible for earning or raising every dollar necessary to further its mission, operate and manage its projects. The Arts Alliance must pay direct in-house and overhead costs such as rent, insurance, legal counsel, finance, telephone, audits, printers, computers, IT, staff compensation, licensing etc. plus much more. Perhaps a more apt comparison is the fee the Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs pays the Arts Alliance to administer the Region 4 Regranting program. MCACA pays the Arts Alliance $9,720 or 29.28% of the $33,200 allocation.
Question 4.2: What, if any, documentable cash or in-kind contribution will the Arts Alliance itself be making to this project? At a fee averaging $8,433.33 per year, the Arts Alliance expects that it will accumulate a reasonable amount of in-kind expenses to contribute to this project. The Arts Alliance will do its best to manage its resources effectively and efficiently.
Question 4.3: Beyond a potential Arts Alliance contribution to the project, is there any private investment associated with support for PowerArt? Not at this time but the possibility does exist.
Communications, Committee Reports
The DDA board’s Oct. 2 meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown area citizens advisory council.
Comm/Comm: New Board Member – Al McWilliams
Ann Arbor DDA board chair Sandi Smith led off her communications time by inviting the newest appointee to the board, Al McWilliams, to introduce himself. McWilliams responded by saying that he runs Quack!Media, describing it as an advertising agency on Main Street, located right above Conor O’Neill’s. Quack!Media also does a lot of television development, he said, and is currently writing a television show for Disney Channel primetime.
Comm/Comm: Support for DDA
Reporting out from the downtown area citizens advisory council, Ray Detter stated that the CAC highly values the DDA’s mission – strong leadership and strategic planning in shaping the vision of downtown. That creative vision requires a focus, he said, that goes beyond political control. The downtown requires special attention, he said. Only the DDA is uniquely equipped with a creative focus and economic tools necessary for the strategic planning that would help to realize long-term community goals for the downtown area. At its meeting held the previous evening, the CAC had reviewed the draft five-year project plan of the DDA, Detter said. He indicated the citizens advisory council’s strong support of that proposed draft five-year plan and a willingness to participate in the public process that would implement the plan.
Comm/Comm: Bike Share
Keith Orr reported out on the bike share project. [The Ann Arbor city council voted on Aug. 8, 2013 to support the bike share program with $150,000.] He said there had been some personnel changes associated with the bike share program over the last several months. However, the project was still on track, he said. He described the DDA as “out of the loop” for a couple of months but the DDA is now back in the loop. He described the funding as coming from the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor, plus federal CMAQ (congestion mitigation and air quality) grant money. He identified the Clean Energy Coalition as the group that is pushing the project forward. The coalition had approached the DDA in the past to talk about an in-kind donation, he said. The specifics are still being worked out, he reported.
Orr reported that there would be a walk-around on Oct. 15 and Oct. 16 with the people who will actually be installing the bike stations. That would allow the fine-tuning of the CEC’s request for the use of parking spaces. Not all of the bike stations will fit in off-street locations, he said. Orr ventured that four or five parking spaces would be requested. They would only be used from the spring through the fall, he said – and the equipment would be stored in the wintertime. That specific request would come to the DDA’s operations committee at the end of the month, with a proposal for the full board at the November board meeting.
Another request associated with the program, Orr continued, has been on-again-off-again: storage during the off-season. The request was now “on again,” he said. The challenge, Orr continued, is that it’s not just the bikes that need to be stored, but also the equipment. The current estimate is about 1,700 square feet – which the DDA does not have available on its own. He said that initially it was thought that the lower levels of the new Library Lane underground parking structure might be available for that purpose – but the demand for use of that structure had exceeded initial expectations, which precluded that as an option.
The bike share program is on target to launch in April 2014, Orr said, with 12-14 stations. One of the stations would be located on the University of Michigan north campus. The rest would be centered around central campus and as far west as Ashley Street.
Responding to a question from board member John Mouat, Orr indicated that the mid-October walk-around would not include installation of any stations, but simply would be the final site analysis. He also explained that some storage would be needed between February and April of next year. Mouat wondered if an advertising program had been developed to make people aware of what is happening. Orr indicated that a recent meeting had covered that topic – which had included discussion of branding. The bikes would be blue, he said, which lent itself to slogans like “Go Blue Bike” or “Go Bike,” but apparently there are trademark issues related to several of those kinds of phrases, he said.
Comm/Comm: Abandoned Bikes
Related to bikes, Keith Orr mentioned that the DDA had been in discussions with the city about the removal of abandoned bikes. There had been some concern about what constitutes a “junk bike” – as opposed to a bike of value that would need to be held for certain claim period. The city is finally getting some answers to those kind of questions, Orr reported. So some bikes that have been sitting for years at a single location will likely be removed sometime soon, he said.
Comm/Comm: Streetscape Framework
The streetscape framework plan, Keith Orr reported, is still moving forward. A request for qualifications (RFQ) process has resulted in four responses. [At its July 3, 2013 meeting, the DDA board authorized $200,000 over the next two years for consultants and other costs associated with developing a plan for future streetscape work.]
Comm/Comm: Connector Study
Roger Hewitt reported on the connector study. By way of background, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is currently conducting an alternatives analysis study for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, then further south to I-94. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of transit mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops. A previous study established the feasibility of operating some kind of high-capacity transit in that corridor.
Hewitt participates on the technical committee for that study, he said at the DDA’s Oct. 2 meeting. The committee had reviewed a preliminary draft of a video about the connector, which would try to inform people about the project. The video still needs a little bit of polishing, he said, but it should be ready within the next month. He felt it would probably be ready for presentation at the next DDA board meeting. He described it as about 4.5 minutes long. A meeting of stakeholders in the project could take place on Oct. 24, he said.
Another public meeting is also scheduled sometime in November, he said, ensuring that it would probably be scheduled sometime before Thanksgiving. The committee continues to review the multitude of possible alignments for the route, he said, noting that it measures about 8 miles from end to end. So the committee has broken the distance into segments. For some of the segments, it’s fairly clear that only a couple of different options would be feasible.
However, the downtown area is the most challenging segment, Hewitt said. After a lot of back-and-forth at the previous day’s committee meeting, he said, the committee had settled on six different alternatives of the route through the downtown. Those alternatives would be presented at a public meeting in November, he said, with the date still to be determined. About five months remain in the study period, he concluded. After the path of the route is identified, station locations would be considered, he said.
Comm/Comm: Parking Structure Repairs
Reporting out on the topic of parking structure repairs, Roger Hewitt said that over the past few years the DDA had not done much in routine maintenance of the parking structures – while the Library Lane underground structure was under construction. But this year, he said, the DDA had “come back with a vengeance.” Work is being done in almost every parking structure, he reported. Structural repairs are being done, including replacing concrete where there has been corrosion or deterioration.
A lot of sealing work is also being done, he said. He thought that the work in the Maynard structure was nearly complete and Liberty Square and Forest structures were also nearly finished, if not already done. Hewitt ventured that by the end of October all of the repair work would be done. Next year, the same level up intensity of repair work would continue, he concluded.
Comm/Comm: First & Washington Structure
Responding to a question from John Mouat, Susan Pollay – the DDA’s executive director – reported that the First and Washington parking structure, in the bottom two floors of the City Apartments residential development, was now in possession of the city. There had been some delays, she allowed. Originally it had been anticipated that when the garage was accepted into the possession of the city, at that same time the garage would be open for public parking.
Now, the opening of the garage appears to be more likely to be timed to coincide with the moving of the first tenants into the building – which is expected to be in early December. Pollay explained that until the tower crane is moved away, the sidewalk cannot be poured, and without sidewalks, parking patrons would not be able to get in and out of the structure very comfortably or safely.
Comm/Comm: NHL New Year’s Day
DDA executive director Susan Pollay gave the board an update on planning and logistics for the upcoming NHL hockey game on Jan. 1, 2014 – to be held in the University of Michigan football stadium. Typically on New Year’s Day, she said, all of the public parking structures as well as the UM parking structures are open to the public, so there is no staff on-site. The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority buses also do not ordinarily run on New Year’s Day, she said, and neither do the UM blue buses.
But thousands of people would need to be able to find a way to get to Michigan Stadium, she said. Buses would be arriving from the east – from Ontario and the Detroit area, she said. The difference between the hockey game and a typical home football game, she explained, is that for football games, a large number of the fans are not attending their first game and are familiar with the area. In addition, she said, many of the fans could walk to the game from campus, and everyone knows where they are going. But the hockey game would include many fans who had never even been to Ann Arbor before, she said. She had wanted the operations committee to begin thinking about planning.
Pollay felt it might be necessary to charge for parking on New Year’s Day – as a way to encourage people to reserve a parking space in advance. [The DDA works with Park n Party to allow art fairs patrons to reserve parking in public spaces.] That way, the demand for parking could be spread out as broadly across the community as possible, she said. Adding to the challenge was the potential that the weather might require the postponement of the game to the following day.
Also adding to the complication, Pollay said, was a planned “hockey puck drop” at the intersection of Main and Liberty streets on New Year’s Eve. The Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is coordinating that event, which Pollay felt would draw its own audience. The public parking structures typically do fill up on New Year’s Eve anyway, she said.
Comm/Comm: Joint Economic Collaborative Task Force
Joan Lowenstein give an update on a joint economic collaborative task force established by a city council resolution passed earlier this year. The group is currently focused on looking at overlap between the DDA’s work and Ann Arbor SPARK‘s five-year strategic plan.
Comm/Comm: D1 Zoning Review
The DDA’s partnerships committee had received a presentation from city of Ann Arbor planning manager Wendy Rampson, Joan Lowenstein reported.
The city planning commission had been directed by the city council to review the D 1 zoning designation on the north side of Huron, the south side of William, and the south side of Ann Street, as well as the city’s development premiums. The project consultants had conducted a number of rounds of public feedback, she said – with attendance starting to wane at some of the events. Draft recommendations are anticipated by the end of the week, she said. [.pdf of draft recommendations]
The final recommendations to the city council were anticipated later in October, Lowenstein concluded.
Joan Lowenstein gave an update on construction of the new Blake Transit Center by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, saying that it was expected to open in December. She ventured there would be some kind of grand opening.
Comm/Comm: New York City IDA Conference
Joan Lowenstein reported that the next meeting of the DDA’s partnership committee would not be held the week following the board meeting, which is the typical schedule. That’s because many of the members will still be in New York City at the International Downtown Association’s conference. So the partnerships committee meeting would take place on Oct. 23, she said.
Present: Rishi Narayan, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat, Al McWilliams.
Absent: Russ Collins.
Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]
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