Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Jan. 8, 2014): In a meeting that lasted just 40 minutes, the DDA board handled two substantive items of business: funding for design work of a new parking structure elevator; and extension options for monthly parking permits associated with a planned new residential development.
The elevator in question is located at the southwest corner of the Fourth & William parking structure. The 994-space capacity makes it the largest structure in Ann Arbor’s public parking system, which offers around 8,000 parking spaces in lots, structures and on-street, metered parking.
The elevator is at least 30 years old, and was characterized at the meeting by DDA executive director Susan Pollay as one of the slowest in the Ann Arbor area, and the frequent subject of parking patron complaints. A trip from street level to floor 7 was timed by The Chronicle at about 45 seconds. That compares to 17 seconds for a similar trip on the elevator at Fourth & Washington, which is the DDA’s second-newest structure.
The board’s Jan. 8 resolution authorized $40,000 for Carl Walker Inc. to develop architectural renderings for the work at the Fourth & William parking structure. Carl Walker is the consulting firm used by the DDA for its routine maintenance inspection program for the parking structures. The design is supposed to allow for phased construction so that the parking structure could remain open during the construction period, which would not begin before next winter. The estimated construction cost for the project is $2.25 million.
In its other main business item, the board voted to allow the developer of the future 624 Church St. project in downtown Ann Arbor to extend for up to 15 years – for a total of 30 years – the contracts for 48 already-approved parking permits under the city’s contribution-in-lieu (CIL) program. At its meeting on Nov. 6, 2013, the DDA board had already approved the purchase of 48 parking permits through that CIL program for a new version of the proposed residential development at 624 Church St. in downtown Ann Arbor.
The spaces were approved to be provided in the Forest Avenue parking structure. The DDA board’s Jan. 8 resolution indicated that for the extension periods, the DDA might choose to allocate the spaces in some other structure than the Forest facility.
In an update at the meeting also related to parking, city administrator Steve Powers said that the surface parking lot at the former Y site would need to be closed no later than March, due to the sale of the city-owned property to Dennis Dahlmann. The property is located on the north side of William Street, between Fourth and Fifth avenues near the Blake Transit Center and downtown library.
The board also received an update on its initiative to pay for downtown ambassadors. And board members were alerted to the upcoming Jan. 13 city council work session about economic development.
Preliminary Design: Fourth & William Elevator
The board considered a resolution authorizing preliminary design work costing $40,000 for a new elevator and stair tower on the southwest corner of the Fourth & William parking structure.
The resolution tasked Carl Walker Inc. to develop architectural renderings for the work at the Fourth & William parking structure. Carl Walker is the consulting firm used by the DDA for its routine maintenance inspection program for the parking structures. The funds for the design work are to be drawn from the parking fund, not the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) revenue.
The Fourth & William parking structure is described in the board’s resolution as the largest one in Ann Arbor’s parking system with elevators that are more than 30 years old and inadequate to meet customer demand.
A recent trip from the ground floor to floor 7 was timed by The Chronicle at 45 seconds. The comparable trip at the newer Fourth & Washington parking structure took about 17 seconds.
Regular parking customer satisfaction surveys reflect the fact that the elevators are slow. Some sample comments from survey results reported in early 2012 include: “Elevators way too slow. Stairwells dirty on upper floors. Too much constant construction.” and “Elevators are slow so usually take the stairs.”
The Fourth & William structure has 994 spaces. Since 2011, the structure has generated a rough average of $210,000 in gross revenue per month. According to DDA financial records, after expenses and debt service on bonds associated with the structure, the Fourth & William structure generated $293,929 in income for FY 2013.
The board’s Jan. 8 resolution indicated that to keep the facility open during the elevator tower renovation, a phased construction plan would be used. Construction would not be expected to begin until next winter.
Preliminary Design: Fourth & William Elevator – Board Discussion
John Splitt introduced the resolution on the Fourth & William elevator.
Splitt characterized the resolution as taking the DDA to the next step of developing the plan to replace the elevator and stair towers at the Fourth & William parking structure. The elevator and stairway are original to the structure, he said. The DDA had some preliminary discussions with Carl Walker – and based on those conversations, the construction will need to be phased so that there’s an elevator and stair available at all times. It should also be phased so that it’s as much as possible not disruptive to the neighborhood. The resolution authorizes $40,000 for the next phase.
John Mouat asked Splitt to clarify that this is still the design phase. Splitt noted that there’s a lot of work that goes into even this preliminary phase, because you have to know where electrical systems and everything else are going.
Board chair Sandi Smith characterized the southwest corner of the parking structure as very dull but a very prominent corner. She encouraged Carl Walker to make the design more of a “signature piece.” She would be much happier, she said, if the result was something more than just a new stairway. Splitt concurred, saying that the idea is to consider “opening it up” and putting in as much glass in as possible.
City administrator Steve Powers noted that the DDA has a capital improvement plan, and the elevator is included as a part of that plan. [In the course of the debate that unfolded in 2013 about a revision to the city's ordinance the regulates the DDA's TIF capture, the DDA developed a draft of a five-year plan of projects. The ordinance revision eventually passed by the city council, on Nov. 18, 2013, requires the DDA to "submit their capital budgets to incorporate them into the City’s capital improvement plan (CIP)." The state's DDA Act requires – as a part of a DDA's TIF plan – a development plan that includes a description of improvements to be undertaken, with cost estimates and a description of construction phasing. The DDA's 2003 TIF plan adopted by the city council does not appear to contain the kind of detail indicated by the state statute.]
Powers asked DDA executive director Susan Pollay to comment on the elevator tower construction project in the context of the DDA’s five-year capital improvements plan. Pollay indicated that the Fourth & William parking structure was included in that plan. [The five-year project draft document puts the estimated cost of construction at $2.25 million.] The Connecting William Street planning project had highlighted the importance of the parking structure, she said. She also pointed out the link between the Kline surface parking lot at Ashley and William, the Palio lot at Main and William, and the Library Lane parking structure between Fifth and Division, north of William. Pollay characterized the elevator as perhaps the slowest elevator in the whole Ann Arbor area.
It would take about 6-8 weeks to replace the elevator, Pollay said, but the parking structure can’t function with just one elevator, on the north side of the facility. So the DDA is exploring the idea of undertaking the construction in a phased way. She noted that it’s not a very attractive garage, so the DDA is looking at how to enhance its appearance from Main Street. Pollay also described the eventual possibility of building out the ground floor on Fourth Avenue one bay deep to provide commercial space of some kind. It would animate the sidewalk, she said, noting that the block needed to gain back human beings.
Pollay continued by saying that as long as that part of the parking structure was being built out, it would be necessary to add electrical capacity, which ties into electric car charging projects. The impetus for all these various initiatives is the elevator project, she said. Having renderings to look at will help to knit them together, Pollay indicated.
Smith asked if this project would be included in the city’s capital improvement plan. Splitt indicated that it was. Splitt also pointed out that there’s an estimated 30-50 more years of useful life in the structure, so investing in the new elevator made sense.
Al McWilliams asked if there was particular urgency to replace the elevator. Splitt responded to McWilliams by saying that no actual construction would be scheduled until next winter. Pollay added that there was no urgency in the sense that the elevator was failing, but the regular feedback from customer surveys is that the elevator is too slow. The work is planned for the winter, to reduce the impact of construction noise and to be as unintrusive on Main Street businesses as possible.
Outcome: The resolution on the elevator design passed unanimously.
624 Church Street Parking Permit Extensions
The board considered a resolution that would allow the developer of the future 624 Church St. project in downtown Ann Arbor to extend for up to 15 years – for a total of 30 years – the contracts for 48 already-approved parking permits under the city’s contribution-in-lieu (CIL) program.
At its meeting on Nov. 6, 2013, the DDA board had already approved the purchase of 48 parking permits under the CIL program. Those permits were for a new version of the proposed residential development at 624 Church St. in downtown Ann Arbor. The spaces were approved to be provided in the Forest Avenue parking structure. The DDA board’s Jan. 8 resolution indicated that for the extension periods, the DDA might choose to allocate the spaces in some other structure, not necessarily the Forest facility.
The CIL program allows a developer the option of purchasing permits to satisfy a parking requirement that would otherwise be satisfied by providing parking spaces on-site as part of the project. The request for an extension on the CIL monthly parking permit contracts was driven by an interest in the financial backers of the project to see contracts in place that would cover the 30-year period of a mortgage.
Brad Moore, architect for the 624 Church St. project, had appeared before the DDA board at its Dec. 4, 2013 meeting to request the ability to extend the contracts on the 48 permits for up to two 10-year periods past the standard 15-year period associated with the city’s CIL program. After discussing the matter, the board opted at that meeting to table the question. The Jan. 8 resolution gave extension options that were in total 5 years shorter than what Moore had requested, but still covered the 30-year financing period that had motivated the request for the ability to extend the contracts.
The original proposal for the 624 Church St. project, which received site plan approval from the city council at its March 4, 2013 meeting, was for a 13-story, 83-unit apartment building with approximately 181 beds. And for that version, the Ann Arbor DDA had authorized the project to purchase up to 42 monthly permits through the city’s CIL program.
The newly revised 624 Church St. project, which received a recommendation of approval from the city planning commission on Dec. 17, 2013, is larger than the original project, with roughly 122 units and 232 beds. The parking requirement is a function of the by-right premiums for additional square footage beyond the basic by-right of 400% floor area ratio (FAR). So the parking requirement for the revised project is greater than for the original version of the project. That’s why the DDA was asked to increase the number of permits from 42 to 48. The number of required parking spaces for the revised version of the project is actually 53, but five of them will be provided on site. The overall revised project still requires city council approval.
The DDA makes the decision about whether there’s adequate capacity in the parking system to allow the sale of additional monthly permits – because the DDA manages the city’s public parking system under a contract with the city.
Ann Arbor’s “contribution-in-lieu-of-parking” program was authorized by the city council on April 2, 2012. That program allows essentially two options: (1) purchase monthly parking permits in the public parking system for an extra 20% of the current rate for such permits, with a commitment of 15 years; or (2) make a lump sum payment of $55,000 per space. It’s option (1) that the 624 Church St. project is using.
624 Church Street Parking Permit Extensions: Public Commentary
Sean Spellman with The Opus Group – which is partnering with the Tice family on the 624 Church Street project – addressed the board during public commentary at the start of the board meeting. He told the board that he was in attendance so that he could answer any questions they might have about the agenda items regarding the parking permits. Spellman raised some issues with respect to the wording in one of the “whereas” clauses of the resolution – but it turned out that his concerns were based on a draft version. The issues he raised had been addressed in the final version of the resolution.
624 Church Street Parking Permit Extensions: Board Discussion
Roger Hewitt introduced the resolution. He then reviewed the issue of the project’s financing and how it was tied to the ability of the project owners to extend the parking agreements to a total of 30 years – beyond the 15 years normally associated with the CIL program.
Hewitt noted that for the period of the extensions, the spaces could be reallocated to other facilities besides the Forest structure. Hewitt felt very strongly that the DDA needs to have some flexibility in the system. The DDA needs to be careful about what the system is going to look like 30 years from now, he said. He assured his colleagues that the system today is very different from what it was 30 years ago.
If the downtown housing boom continues, he said, the parking system will not have the space to warehouse all the cars. So the current DDA needs to let future boards and future parking operators have some flexibility. Hewitt was reluctant to tie up spaces for 30 years.
Hewitt was willing to bend and give the option to extend for the three additional five-year periods, but he reiterated the need to keep flexibility.
Outcome: The resolution on the extension of the 624 Church Street parking permits passed on a unanimous vote.
Communications, Committee Reports
The board’s Jan. 8 meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown citizens advisory council.
Comm/Comm: City Council – Economic Development
City administrator Steve Powers alerted the DDA board to a city council work session to be held on Jan. 13. The focus of the session will be on economic health – Powers reported that the council had reaffirmed that as a priority area for the coming year.
Later in the meeting, John Mouat reported on the work that a joint economic development task force has been doing. He noted that the group had been meeting for several months now. Powers had drafted a document and DDA executive director Susan Pollay had “worked it up a little,” Mouat said. It would be a kind of “action plan” describing things that different entities can purse. Those entities, Mouat said, were the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor DDA, and the economic development entity Ann Arbor SPARK.
With respect to the DDA’s tasks, it was all work that falls within the purview of work the DDA has done before, he said. Mouat said he’d be interested to see how it’s received at the Jan. 13 work session and how the city council wants to move forward with it. Mouat made two general comments on the work. There are specific action-plan items about things that might get done. But there’s also a chance to change the culture of the community a bit with respect to economic development, he said. Mouat felt that the phrase “economic development” had acquired a negative connotation. He said he also did not care much for the phrase. He felt that it simply has to do with jobs and vitality and the general health of the community. The more the community can be helped to think of it in terms of jobs and vitality, then that’s a good thing, he said.
Powers followed up on Mouat’s remarks by saying that the city council has renamed the priority area to “economic health,” partly for the reasons that Mouat had mentioned. The city pays most of its bill through taxes on the value of the real estate in the city, he noted. So having development is important to the city’s ability to deliver services, he said. The work session on Jan. 13 is intended to provide some discussion about some of the larger economic issues. The work session should also include some specific actions the city could take. The task force so far has helped to frame those actions, as well as the larger policy considerations for the council.
Sandi Smith said the other component of the conversation is the idea that it’s not economic development for the sake of doing it, but to increase the level of services and the quality of life that we enjoy. The point is not to generate dollars, she said, but to make everything better for all the residents of Ann Arbor.
Comm/Comm: City Council – Goals
Reporting out from the partnerships committee, Joan Lowenstein said that they’d heard at their meeting from representatives of the city council about the results of the council’s planning session – which included basic services focused on neighborhoods and quality of life. Lowenstein hoped the council would work to define “some specific parts of those things they would like to see,” she said. [The two city council representatives on the DDA's partnerships committee are Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Margie Teall (War 4). Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) had volunteered to serve in that capacity in November 2013, but was not appointed to the committee. ]
Reporting out from the operations committee, John Splitt said that getDowntown executive director Nancy Shore would attend the next committee meeting to talk about the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s Route #4 and Route #5 from Ypsilanti. [The presentation from Shore will likely lay the groundwork for a request to the DDA to fund the go!pass for the coming year.]
By way of background, for several years the Ann Arbor DDA has had an interest in maintaining some kind of additional patrol presence in the downtown. In the mid-2000s, the DDA entered into a contract with the city of Ann Arbor with the implicit hope that the city would maintain its dedicated downtown beat cops. That contract was structured at that time to pay the city $1 million a year for 10 years, with the city able to request up to $2 million a year for a maximum of $10 million.
That hope was not realized, and the DDA has since discussed the idea of providing additional funding for police or for ambassadors. The idea of “ambassadors” was explored in the context of subsequent re-negotiations of the contract between the city and the DDA under which the DDA operates the parking system. The DDA wanted to be assigned responsibility for parking enforcement – a function performed by the city’s community standards officers. Board members imagined that this activity could be performed in an ambassador-like fashion.
At its June 3, 2013 meeting, the city council approved a resolution encouraging the DDA to provide funding for three police officers (a total of $270,000 annually) to be deployed in the DDA district. The DDA is pursuing the idea of ambassadors. Several DDA board members made a trip to visit Grand Rapids last year, a city that has recently launched an ambassador program.
At the board’s Jan. 8 meeting, Roger Hewitt gave an update on the DDA’s initiative to fund downtown ambassadors. Ann Arbor police chief John Seto and Sgt. Tom Hickey had attended a recent meeting of the operations committee. Concerns had been raised about how communication between the ambassadors and police officers would work, so that issue had been discussed. Hewitt said that the committee had now asked Susan Pollay to come up with a request for qualifications (RFQ) for a company to provide the ambassador service. That would allow the DDA to gather more information and at some point come back to the full board with a recommendation.
John Mouat added that he found it interesting to hear from Seto and Hickey that AAPD is already accustomed to dealing with volunteers in connection with special events. So he felt the ambassador program could be made to work pretty well.
Comm/Comm: Former Y Lot
Board chair Sandi Smith asked city administrator Steve Powers for an update on the former Y lot.
[The context for Smith's request was the recent sale of the former Y lot by the city of Ann Arbor to Dennis Dahlmann. The parcel is currently used as part of the public parking system, which the DDA manages under a contract with the city. The equipment that has been installed there will eventually need to be removed. At one point it was thought the lot would be closed by the end of 2013.]
Powers indicated that the lot will need to be closed no later than March. Smith received a clarification that the parking equipment is still installed and operating.
With two to three days of lead time, all the equipment could be removed. The equipment at that lot is relatively new, so some of it could be installed at other lots with older equipment.
Comm/Comm: CAC, Downtown Zoning
Ray Detter reported out from the downtown area citizens advisory council. He congratulated the DDA and executive director Susan Pollay for the recent opening of the City Apartments project at First & Washington. [That residential complex includes public parking in the lower levels.] That project had taken a long time, and hopefully it will be real success, Detter said. He also complimented the Kingsley Lane and Kerrytown Place projects.
Detter said he wanted to focus his remarks on the recent recommendations that the planning commission had made on possible revisions to downtown zoning regulations. He said that the CAC has all along supported zoning changes consistent with the 2009 downtown plan goal of encouraging zoning and design approaches that minimize negative impacts on neighbors in terms of height, scale, shading and harm to natural and historic resources. He believed that Erin Perdu’s consulting group did a great job at getting the community involved in the review process. Detter also said that the planning commission had done a good job, even if he didn’t agree with everything that had been recommended. The city council will ultimately decide how to proceed, he noted.
The planning commission recommends rezoning the parcel located at 336 E. Ann St. from D1, which would allow an 18-story building right across the street from a historic residential neighborhood, Detter said. He called the D1 zoning a terrible mistake. The CAC recommends the rezoning of that one parcel to D2 be extended along Ann Street all the way to North Fourth for the sake of consistency. The second point Detter noted was the planning commission recommendation to reduce the height in the East Huron I character area – on the north side of Huron Street between Division and N. State Street – to 120 feet, and to include a tower diagonal maximum and consider setback requirements to reduce shading on residential properties.
Detter said that Dennis Dahlmann, who owns the property on East Huron between Sloan Plaza and the Campus Inn, supports that change, even though the proposal would downzone his property from 150 feet to 120 feet. Detter said that the CAC recommends extending that reduced height all the way to North Fourth. Even though the city council had not given direction to do so, he noted, Erin Perdu’s group had made a recommendation that the property at the northwest corner of Huron and Division, where Ahmo’s Gyros and Deli is located, be zoned with a height limit of 120 feet.
Later in the meeting, city administrator Steve Powers followed up on Detter’s remarks about the zoning issue, by pointing out that it would be an item on the council’s Jan. 21 agenda.
Comm/Comm: Communications, Marketing
Reporting out for a communications and marketing subcommittee, Rishi Narayan said that he and Al McWilliams had been newly tasked to focus on communications – and they were really trying to figure out how to explain to people what it is the DDA does.
They’d discussed the idea of partnering with the downtown merchant associations, many of whom are already doing a lot to market and promote their areas. Some of the associations are member-driven, he said, while others are not. Narayan wanted to start by figuring out the DDA’s role – in communications or trying to bring everyone together. He said they didn’t want to reinvent the wheel.
McWilliams added that over the years, the DDA had talked a lot about doing more data and information collection. They’re looking at ways to make that data more useful. Many of those assets are already in place, he said.
Joan Lowenstein noted that for the next meeting of the partnerships committee, representatives of the merchant associations had been invited to attend. John Mouat ventured that it would be a good idea to invite the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to attend as well. Narayan agreed, but indicated the committee felt that instead of having everyone attend at once, they would invite others to subsequent meetings.
Narayan thought McWilliams had brought up a good point: What is the data and information the DDA has that can help downtown businesses tell their story?
Comm/Comm: New Year’s Events
City administrator Steve Powers noted that as everyone knew, the city had hosted two significant events over the New Year’s holiday – on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. [A New Year's Eve event called The Puck Drops Here was held downtown, and the NHL's Winter Classic game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs was held at Michigan Stadium on New Year's Day.] Overall the response had been very positive on both events, he reported. About the traffic control challenges, Powers said it was fortunate the fans were well-behaved and made it to Tim Hortons without any serious injury, he quipped. Powers thanked the DDA for its support of those events through the parking system.
Not mentioned at the meeting were some problems reported on New Year’s Eve in connection with patrons trying to exit, more or less all at the same time, from the newly constructed Library Lane structure. [.pdf of email correspondence between DDA executive director Susan Pollay and Kai Petainen] Petainen reported that he’d waited 45 minutes to exit after paying for his time, which meant that he had to pay again when he reached the exit.
The final email in the chain shows Petainen thanking Pollay for her detailed response and sharing some positive remarks about the NHL’s Winter Classic generally: “I should note that more things went right than wrong during the Winter Classic. A few days ago I was in a taxi ride in Toronto. The taxi driver had been to the game! I actually heard overheard others (strangers) talking about it as well! I heard them at the Tim Hortons, at the airport and on the street. The event was a big deal to Toronto, as much as it was a big deal to Ann Arbor.”
Present: Al McWilliams, Cyndi Clark, Roger Hewitt, Steve Powers, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Rishi Narayan, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.
Absent: Bob Guenzel, Russ Collins, Keith Orr.
Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.]
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