Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (July 2, 2014): Much of this month’s meeting was devoted to infrastructure projects and organizational matters, as the DDA board restructured its committees and elected new officers for fiscal 2015, which began on July 1.
The board approved a $390,000 grant related to an extended-stay hotel project on the downtown’s west side. The development is by First Martin Corp. at 116-120 W. Huron – the intersection of Huron and Ashley streets. The grant will be used to pay for a new 12-inch water main, sidewalk improvements along Ashley, and landscape maintenance in the public right-of-way.
This was the first grant awarded after the board adopted a grant policy earlier this year.
The board also gave a one-year extension to a previously-awarded $650,000 brownfield grant for the 618 S. Main apartment complex. It was originally awarded in 2012, but the project is not yet completed – in part because of the recent harsh winter. The funds would help pay for upsizing a water main to 12 inches, as well as streetscape improvements and a rain garden for stormwater management.
Also related to infrastructure, the board established a project budget of $100,000 for tree maintenance and sidewalk repairs in downtown Ann Arbor in fiscal 2015.
Related to personnel issues, the board held a closed session to evaluate Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director. After about 15 minutes, the board emerged and voted to give Pollay a 5% raise, increasing her salary from $109,119 to $114,570.
In describing the rationale for the raise, Roger Hewitt noted that Pollay had received “good raises” in the last two years, but for the six years before that she had not received a raise because of the difficult economy. Her position as a city employee is in the Level 2 category, which has a salary range from $95,000 to $157,000. Several board members indicated a desire to move Pollay toward the midpoint of that range over the next few years. Sandi Smith characterized it as “catch up” to compensate for the years when Pollay didn’t get a raise. Hewitt said the intent is to bring her up to that midpoint salary of $126,000 “within a fairly short time period.”
Casting the sole vote against the 5% increase was city administrator Steve Powers, who said he’d be more comfortable with a 3% raise, and hoped there would be a more robust evaluation process in the future.
Immediately after its regular monthly meeting, the board held its annual meeting to elect officers for the coming fiscal year. John Mouat was unanimously elected to serve as chair of the board. Other officers are Roger Hewitt (vice chair), Rishi Narayan (treasurer), and Keith Orr (secretary). Outgoing chair Sandi Smith was thanked for her service, and received a gift from staff – a small pin from the former Selo/Shevel Gallery, which Pollay indicated evoked a cityscape of tall buildings. Pollay said it was inspired by a trip that several DDA staff and board members took last year to New York City for the International Downtown Association conference.
Also at the July 2 meeting, the board dissolved its two existing committees and created four new committees: (1) marketing, (2) partnerships/economic development, (3) finance, and (4) operations (parking/transportation/construction).
In supporting the idea of a separate marketing committee, Narayan noted that if a staff member is hired to focus on marketing and communications, “this area might become more fleshed out very quickly.” Previously, a marketing subcommittee had been part of the partnerships committee. The new finance committee was created in part in anticipation of the DDA’s growing budget, and a desire for more financial oversight.
During updates, Hewitt reported that work continues on a possible north/south commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Howell known as WALLY – the Washtenaw and Livingston Line. A recommendation will be coming soon to locate a stop on the east side of the railroad tracks between Liberty and Washington streets, opposite of the former city maintenance yard. He stressed that this transportation service is probably a significant way off from being offered. If the project moves forward, the recommended stop wouldn’t be a full station – it would simply be a platform with canopies, and would be built entirely within the railroad right-of-way. Hewitt plans to make a short formal presentation about the recommendation at a future DDA board meeting.
Also related to transportation, Orr reported that the new Greyhound ticket office at the Fourth & William structure will be opening next week – ahead of schedule. Next week also will be the grand opening of the nearby Blake Transit Center, operated by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.
In other updates, Hewitt noted that members of the DDA’s operations committee continue to work on a downtown ambassadors program, and are likely to bring two potential service providers in for interviews by the end of this summer.
Grants for two projects appeared on the DDA board’s July 2 agenda: a one-year extension for a previous brownfield grant to the 618 S. Main Street project, and a new grant to the 116-120 W. Huron Street hotel project.
Grants: 618 S. Main
The 618 S. Main project is an apartment complex that Dan Ketelaar’s Urban Group Development Co. intends to market to young professionals. The 7-story building, between Mosley and Madison, would include 190 units for 231 bedrooms, plus two levels of parking for 121 vehicles.
The original $650,000 brownfield grant to the 618 S. Main project was approved by the DDA board at its June 6, 2012 meeting, a week before the city council gave its approval to the project on June 18, 2012.
The $650,000 total breaks down as follows:
$85,000 Streetscape costs (sidewalk adjacent to project on Mosley/Main) $384,500 Streetscape costs (sidewalk on west side of Main north of project) $100,000 Rain garden to infiltrate stormwater, rather than detain and release $ 80,500 Upsizing the water main under Ashley Street to a 12” pipe $650,000 TOTAL
That total is to be disbursed over four years in the following amounts: $100,000, $225,000, $225,000, and $175,000. None of the money is to be awarded before the taxes are paid each year. The DDA will use the tax increment finance capture from the project to make the grant payments.
In introducing the resolution on July 2, Joan Lowenstein noting that there’s sunsetting language in the DDA’s grant policy:
The DDA’s grant will automatically expire by June 30th at the end of the fiscal year following the fiscal year the grant was approved by the DDA if a developer has not requested and received all necessary City construction permits, and the project footings/foundations are not completely installed. The DDA grant will automatically expire by June 30th at the end of the third fiscal year following the fiscal year the grant was approved by the DDA if construction has not been completed and a CO issued for the project.
The project is underway, Lowenstein said, but it has been delayed by the harsh winter. Without an extension of the grant, it would expire automatically. The length of the extension, to receive all construction permits and to complete the project, is one year. The partnerships committee reviewed the extension and recommended that it be granted.
John Mouat said he’d read that the site next to 618 S. Main, where Happy’s Pizza had been located, is going to be redeveloped. The building where Happy’s Pizza was housed had been destroyed by fire earlier this year. The site is at the southwest corner of Main and Madison.
Mouat said that’s a great sign, because the DDA had hoped that the whole area along South Main “would start to rise.” He called the changes at the Happy’s Pizza site a “fortuitous happenstance, in some ways.”
Keith Orr joked that it was rising from its ashes.
There was no other discussion.
Outcome: The vote on the 618 S. Main grant one-year extension was unanimous.
Grants: First Martin Hotel Project
John Mouat brought forward a proposal for a $390,000 grant related to an extended-stay hotel project. The development is by First Martin Corp. at 116-120 W. Huron, at the intersection of Huron and Ashley streets.
The new building will be an 88,570-square-foot structure with a ground-floor restaurant or retail space. The extended-stay hotel will occupy the upper five levels and will be operated by Marriott. The city council gave approval to the site plan at its June 16, 2014 meeting. The project also had been reviewed and recommended for approval by the city’s planning commission on May 20, 2014.
The grant was recommended by the DDA’s partnerships committee.
Mouat said that First Martin had been very patient while the partnerships committee developed its grant policy over the past few months. The First Martin project will be used as a kind of test for the new policy, he added.
The $390,000 breaks down like this:
$340,000 New 12” water main on Ashley Street, and related hardscape $ 10,000 Sidewalk enhancements on Ashley Street $ 40,000 Right-of-way landscape maintenance (20-year commitment) $390,000 TOTAL
The $390,000 amount is to be distributed over three years – $100,000 (Year 1); $145,000 (Year 2); and $145,000 (Year 3).
The maximum amount that can be awarded to a project under the DDA grant policy – adopted by the DDA board at its June 2, 2014 meeting – is 25% of the tax increment capture due to the project that the DDA receives for the first 10 years after the project is built. That amount is about $390,000, according to First Martin Corp. based on an annual figure of $156,515. But the DDA’s resolution indicates the figure has not yet been verified by the city assessor. Grants are not awarded until after the taxes are paid.
Grants: First Martin Hotel Project – Board Discussion
Mouat reported that the partnerships committee had focused on two factors in considering the grant. The first was whether this was an area where the DDA would like to promote development. The committee felt that the area had been lacking, so the project met that criteria, he said. The second factor was whether the grant would result in benefits for the community, he said, such as opportunities for other sites to be developed, or for the street to be improved. It met that criteria, too, he said.
The public benefits are the new 12-inch water main on Ashley, sidewalk enhancements on Ashley, and right-of-way landscape maintenance for 20 years. Mouat said the bulk of the grant – $340,000 for the water main – isn’t very sexy, but it would help future development in that block.
Regarding the landscape maintenance contract, Mouat said that street trees in Ann Arbor suffer. They aren’t always cared for, and sometimes they die and are unsightly, he said. So the owners of the site will be responsible for those trees and landscape features. Mouat hoped it would serve as a nice precedent for projects in the future.
Board chair Sandi Smith invited First Martin’s Mike Martin and Darren McKinnon to the podium. Martin described the location where improvements are proposed along the street and alley. He highlighted the minimum amount of work that would have been required, compared to what First Martin is actually doing.
Roger Hewitt agreed that the water main and sidewalk improvements are clear public benefits. He expressed caution about the right-of-way landscape maintenance commitment. In this case, he said, he had no concern – because First Martin has a superb reputation for maintaining its properties. But for future grants, unless the DDA has a way to monitor and enforce the agreement, he would be less interested in doing it.
Martin replied that it’s his understanding that there would be an agreement to cover those details and allay Hewitt’s concerns. Hewitt again stressed that he wasn’t worried about First Martin, but “I just don’t know if other developers will be as conscientious.” Smith said she assumed there’d be a remedy for default, if the developer didn’t follow through on maintenance.
Steve Powers said it was a great example of the DDA being part of a public/private partnership that will help improve downtown. He assumed that the partnerships committee was satisfied that the grant meets the criteria that the DDA spent several months developing.
Smith passed out copies of the grant policy. It states that the project should address significant elements of these 12 criteria:
1. Addresses a documented gap in the marketplace or underserved markets of commerce within this sector of downtown.
2. Demonstrated that the project will act as a catalyst for additional revitalization of the area in which it is located which will trigger the creation of additional new tax revenue.
3. Is “connected” to the adjacent sidewalk with uses on the first floor that are showcased using large transparent windows and doorways to give pedestrians a point of interest to look at as they walk by the project.
4. Creates a large office floor plate.
5. Will facilitate the creation of a large number of new permanent jobs.
6. Is a mixed use development, that will encourage activity in the daytime, evening, and weekend, such as a development with a mix of commercial and residential.
7. Adds to downtown’s residential density.
8. Reuses vacant buildings, reuses historical buildings, and/or redevelops blighted property.
9. Number of affordable housing units created on site or funded by the project elsewhere in the community, which are beyond what is required by the City.
10. Environmental design is at or above a Gold LEED certification, or an equivalent environmental assessment.
11. Architecturally significant building or project design.
12. Strengthens Ann Arbor’s national visibility.
Smith said she wanted to review the grant process at the partnerships committee’s July 9 meeting, to make sure everyone is comfortable with it after this first grant has been awarded using the new policy. They wouldn’t change the grant itself, she noted, but they might recommend tweaks to the guidelines.
Bob Guenzel and Keith Orr also supported the grant, saying it benefited that area and the entire downtown. Orr said he was thrilled that the DDA is again awarding partnership grants, saying it’s what the DDA’s mission is about, especially related to infrastructure.
Mouat noted that the project meets all the elements outlined for eligible improvements in the grant policy. The policy states:
To be eligible, the public improvements should include elements that extend beyond the public ROW directly adjacent to the site; this may include streetscape enhancements (and on-going maintenance), street and crosswalk resurfacing, crosswalk and bike lane pavement marking upgrades, innovative public stormwater treatments, and upsizing water, storm or sewer mains. Inclusion of any of the above elements may then allow site adjacent public improvements to be eligible as well.
Mouat also highlighted the fact that the project met 8 out of the 12 elements mentioned in the policy, which he called “quite extraordinary.” Smith said there were two additional elements – adding to the downtown’s residential density, and strengthening Ann Arbor’s national visibility – that could have easily been considered as benefits that the project brought. The partnerships committee discussed whether having a national hotel chain located downtown raises the city’s visibility, she said. The hotel will be operated by Marriott.
Martin reported that a lot of people locally are excited about the project. Raising the site’s visibility within the community isn’t part of the DDA’s list, he said, but people locally are excited about having another hotel option for out-of-town guests.
Outcome: On a 9-0 vote, the board awarded the grant to First Martin’s hotel project. Al McWilliams abstained on the vote, but did not indicate why. Russ Collins and Cyndi Clark were absent.
Funds for Sidewalks, Trees
The July 2 agenda included a resolution to establish a project budget of $100,000 for tree maintenance and sidewalk repairs in downtown Ann Arbor in fiscal 2015. The item was introduced by Roger Hewitt, and had been recommended by the DDA’s operations committee.
The work will include repairs like displaced bricks and uneven sidewalk flags, as well as pruning of trees. The money to pay for the work will be drawn from tax increment finance (TIF) revenue, which the DDA is authorized to capture under state statue.
Hewitt noted that traditionally, the DDA has done sidewalk maintenance – things like repairing cracks and replacing slabs. There are numerous trip hazards and other minor maintenance issues for the sidewalks, especially after such a harsh winter, he said. Many of the thousand or so trees downtown are not in good shape, he added, and haven’t been pruned in many years. Some trees are dead and need to be replaced.
There’s money set aside in the DDA’s FY 2015 budget for sidewalk work, Hewitt noted. This $100,000 would be specifically designated for sidewalk repairs and tree maintenance or replacement.
Sandi Smith pointed out that a list of projects generated from DDA board retreats is posted on the boardroom wall, to remind them about their priorities. She said the resolution clearly aligns with some of the priorities that the DDA board has identified.
Al McWilliams stressed that by doing the work now, it will save money in the future – because the problems will only get worse if left unaddressed.
John Mouat asked whether the board could consider approving a budget for a three-year period – $100,000 for each year. Hewitt said the intention is that the DDA will spend at least this much every year. But since they haven’t approved the budgets beyond fiscal 2015, it’s better just to designate the amount for this year. He noted that in the somewhat distant past, the DDA budget had a separate fund for this kind of work, but eliminated it because it was cumbersome from a reporting standpoint, he said.
Mouat observed that one-year timeframes are tight, if the DDA is coordinating with the city for this kind of work. Hewitt again stated that it was the intent to spend money on this kind of thing in the future, and that the $100,000 for FY 2015 wouldn’t address all the problems, because maintenance has been deferred for years. “This will be a first step,” he said.
Outcome: The board vote was unanimous in support of the allocation.
Executive Director Raise
The July 2 agenda included a closed session for “a periodic personnel evaluation.” The agenda also included a resolution regarding compensation for the DDA executive director, Susan Pollay. The resolution for a salary adjustment was drafted prior to the closed session, and included this whereas clause: “Whereas, The DDA Executive Committee recommends that Ms. Pollay be provided with a salary adjustment beginning July 1, 2014 to increase her salary from $109,119 to $XXX,XXX; …”
The executive committee members are Sandi Smith (chair), John Mouat (vice chair), Keith Orr (secretary) and Roger Hewitt (treasurer). Pollay serves as a non-voting ex officio member.
Before going into closed session, board member Keith Orr noted that a closed session isn’t required unless the person being reviewed requests it. He said the review was being conducted in closed session at Pollay’s request. The closed session was held in Pollay’s office.
The board emerged after about 15 minutes and Roger Hewitt brought forward the resolution for her salary adjustment. Board chair Sandi Smith said the evaluation of Pollay was extremely positive, saying that Pollay worked well with board members, general community entities, and is “a wonderful ambassador for the city.”
Hewitt noted that Pollay’s current salary is $109,119. He said she had received “good raises” in each of the last two years. However, she did not take a raise during the six years before that, he added, and that had been at her request because of the difficult economy. Hewitt said her eight-year average raise comes out to about 1.9% annually, which he said is below the rate of inflation. “It’s actually a losing position versus the cost of living,” he said.
Pollay is a Level 2 in the city’s pay range, Hewitt reported, which has a salary range from $95,000 to $157,000. The midpoint is $126,000 annually, he noted. Given her evaluations, he added, Pollay should be receiving a salary that’s closer to the midpoint.
However, even though Ann Arbor is doing well, the state is still not doing very well, Hewitt said. So he suggested giving her a 5% raise, which would be about $5,456 – bringing her total salary to $114,570. About half of the raise would cover cost of living increases, he said, and the other half would be to move her more toward the midpoint of the Level 2 pay range.
Board chair Sandi Smith said she hoped that future executive committee members would keep that record in mind when they evaluate Pollay’s salary in the coming years, saying there’s some “make up” that needs to happen.
Bob Guenzel asked if there was any consideration given to doing a longer-term look at her salary, for the next two or three years. Hewitt replied that the executive committee didn’t discuss it, but “the intention is that there will be continued raises above the cost of living to bring her up to a level that is appropriate for her responsibilities.” Guenzel said it would be nice to see Pollay reach the midpoint. Hewitt replied that the intention is to bring her up to that midpoint salary of $126,000 “within a fairly short time period.”
Steve Powers said he would not support a 5% raise. He understood the reasons given for it. He thought the movement of Pollay’s salary to a midpoint level, which is being tied to her performance, needs to be part of a more robust evaluation process. Also, according to a University of Michigan economic report, he noted, inflation has been between 1.7% to 1.9%. Powers said he was more comfortable with a 3% raise.
Smith replied that Pollay hadn’t received a raise in 8 of the past 10 years, “and I think there’s some opportunity for some catch-up.” She characterized a 5% raise as “extremely modest.”
Al McWilliams asked Powers if there were precedent for this raise compared to other positions within the city. Powers replied that the management employees of the city received a 3% increase this year. Last year they also got 3%. Prior to that there’d been a one-time adjustment, he said, and salary freezes during the recession.
The resolution regarding the increase states that “a number of important DDA projects were undertaken in FY 2014 under Ms. Pollay’s leadership, including opening the new First and Washington parking structure, creating a Street Framework planning initiative in partnership with the City, and working with the City Council to approve amendments to the DDA ordinance.”
The resolution also states that board members provided reviews of Pollay’s work in FY 2014, and the reviews “noted how effectively she works with the DDA Board to support board member involvement and effectiveness, how effectively DDA programs and projects are managed, and that Ms. Pollay serves as a vital resource for downtown stakeholders, and the community at large…”
Pollay has served as the DDA’s executive director since 1996.
Outcome: On a 9-1 vote, the board approved a 5% increase to Pollay’s salary, over dissent from Steve Powers. Russ Collins and Cyndi Clark were absent.
Immediately after its regular monthly meeting on July 2, the DDA board held its annual meeting to elect officers and form committees.
Annual Meeting: Election of Officers
John Mouat was nominated to serve as chair of the board for the coming fiscal year, which began on July 1, 2014. The nomination of Mouat as chair was made in accordance with the custom of the DDA board over the last several years – to elect the vice chair from the preceding year as chair. Mouat is a partner in the downtown firm of Mitchell & Mouat Architects.
Mouat’s term on the DDA board runs through Sept. 6, 2015. He was first appointed in 2007.
Other officers nominated by the board included Roger Hewitt as vice chair, Rishi Narayan as treasurer, and Keith Orr as secretary. Outgoing chair Sandi Smith was thanked for her service. She presided over the annual meeting until the end, as Mouat’s term began at the conclusion of the meeting.
There were no competing nominations.
Outcome: All officers were elected unanimously.
The executive committee consists of these four officers: chair, vice chair, treasurer and secretary. They serve in those positions for one-year terms. Given the custom of the board, Hewitt is now in a position to become the next chair. He has served on the DDA board since 2004 and his current term runs through Aug. 19, 2016. He owns two businesses in downtown Ann Arbor – Red Hawk restaurant, and Revive + Replenish shop.
Annual Meeting: Committee Structure
In other business at the annual meeting, the board discussed what committees it wanted to create or continue in the coming year.
The board’s bylaws state that committees can be created to advise the board. From the bylaws:
Committee members shall be members of the Board, any board member may serve on any committee of the Board. The Chair of the Board shall appoint the members and select the chair of the Board committees and will solicit volunteers to chair the standing committees. The committees may be terminated by vote of the Board. At the annual meeting, the committees will be evaluated and reappointed or dissolved.
Sandi Smith noted that for the last several years, all members of the board served on every committee. That way, she said, everyone got the meeting notices and packets. “I don’t know whether that’s a good practice or a bad practice, but it’s time that we bring that forward,” she said. Smith added that she believed she got the opportunity to appoint the committee chairs, as board chair.
The two existing committees were (1) partnerships/economic development/communications, and (2) operations. The partnerships committee includes a subcommittee on marketing. The board first considered whether to dissolve these committees.
Annual Meeting: Committee Structure – Partnerships, Marketing
Keith Orr advocated for keeping the partnerships/economic development/communications committee as is, with its marketing subcommittee working as needed. He didn’t think there needed to be a separate marketing committee.
Al McWilliams said he tended to agree with Orr. While marketing and communications activity is “picking up steam,” he didn’t think it was mature enough yet to need its own full committee.
Rishi Narayan pointed out that the partnerships meetings are getting unwieldy, so it might be better to pull out marketing and communications. If it turns out that a separate marketing/communications committee eventually isn’t needed, the board could dissolve it, he noted. This would allow there to be two separate meetings, each one shorter than the current combined committee.
Orr advocated for keeping it unchanged, and noted that the board can create a separate marketing committee during the year, if they feel they need it.
Joan Lowenstein agreed with Orr, saying she didn’t think the partnerships meeting was unwieldy. She noted that the board members are volunteers, and creating new committees requires yet another block of time to devote to the work. She thought it worked better for people’s schedules to consolidate as much as possible.
McWilliams then suggested creating separate committees, but holding back-to-back meetings.
Narayan said that in the future, if there’s a staff member focused on marketing and communications, “this area might become more fleshed out very quickly.” He noted that there’s been talk about hiring another employee for that purpose in the future, although he characterized that possibility as a “fantasy” at this point.
Smith picked up on McWilliams’ suggestion – having the partnerships meeting run from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., then a marketing committee could meet as needed at 12:30 p.m. People attending the partnerships meeting could stay for marketing if they’re interested, she said.
Mouat encouraged board members to arrive at committee meetings on time, saying it would help save time and make the meetings more efficient.
Steve Powers asked that the DDA board chair or executive director remind the partnerships committee members who represent other taxing jurisdictions about the purpose of the committee and the changes that are being made, “so that their expectations are in line with the DDA board’s expectations for that committee.”
Smith said it sounded like there was consensus for a new marketing committee. She asked that McWilliams serve as chair. She asked anyone who was interested in serving on the committee to raise their hand. She, McWilliams and Narayan raised their hands.
At this point, DDA executive director Susan Pollay asked whether the board was going to vote to dissolve the existing partnerships/economic development/communications committee, and vote to create the marketing committee.
Orr repeated his preference to keep the current committee structure.
Outcome: The board voted to dissolve the partnerships/economic development/communications committee.
Roger Hewitt then moved to create a partnerships committee and a marketing committee. As a friendly amendment, Keith Orr suggested that the partnerships committee be named partnerships/economic development.
Outcome: The board voted to create a partnerships/economic development committee and a marketing committee.
Sandi Smith asked Joan Lowenstein and Al McWilliams to serve as co-chairs of the partnerships/economic development committee. Other board members who volunteered to serve on the committee are Bob Guenzel, John Mouat, Rishi Narayan, Keith Orr, Sandi Smith, John Splitt.
Smith noted that “committee participants” of the partnerships/economic development committee are: Ken Clein (city planning commission); Jane Lumm and Margie Teall (Ann Arbor city council); Charles Griffith (Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority); and Jason Morgan (Washtenaw Community College). Based on an emailed response to a Chronicle query to Pollay, the DDA’s position appears to be that historically, membership on the partnerships committee was always restricted to DDA board members – because it has been a “board committee” under the DDA bylaws.
By way of background, however, the DDA bylaws provide for a second committee type – “advisory committees” – that do not have a requirement that members be DDA board members. It’s been assumed by at least some city councilmembers that those who are now being described as “committee participants” have been actual “members” of the partnerships committee and that the partnerships committee has been an “advisory committee” under the bylaws. To the extent that the DDA board committees function without taking formal votes or observing rules on quorum, the issue of committee membership as compared to “participation” could be considered moot.
At the July 2 meeting, Smith added that there was an “ongoing invitation” for representatives from Washtenaw County government and the Ann Arbor District Library to participate. “They know that they’ve been invited to come and share during the update time” during the partnerships meetings, she said.
By way of background, the DDA captures taxes from the following jurisdictions that collect taxes in the DDA district: the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Community College, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, and the Ann Arbor District Library. The partnerships committee includes representatives from each of those entities, with the exception of the AADL and Washtenaw County. Until last year, county commissioner Leah Gunn was a DDA board member and served on the partnerships committee. Former county administrator Bob Guenzel is on the DDA board and the partnerships committee.
When queried by The Chronicle via email, AADL director Josie Parker stated that she hadn’t been formally invited to join the committee. She said she did participate on the partnerships committee several years ago, but hasn’t been part of it at all in the last few years. That was her choice, she said.
Annual Meeting: Committee Structure – Operations, Finance
Roger Hewitt noted that the DDA has a budget of about $24 million. During the operations committee meetings, there’s a lot going on, he said, and the financial piece tends to not get the attention that it needs, given the size of the budget. Having a separate committee that focuses strictly on the financial aspects of the organization would be beneficial, he said.
So Hewitt preferred two separate committees. He suggested that operations could continue to meet at 11 a.m., then would break for lunch and continue with a meeting of the finance committee. Anyone who’s on operations could attend the finance committee meeting, he said, but it would focus in more detail on the organization’s financial records and reports.
Keith Orr said he thought it made sense to have separate committees for operations and finance. Finance is an important enough subject to warrant its own committee, especially as the DDA’s budget continues to grow, he said. It’s important to develop people on the DDA board who are comfortable with the financial oversight role – especially since there are now term limits, he said. [The city council voted last year to impose a limit of three terms for DDA board members, which amount to 12 years.]
Hewitt then brought forward one resolution to: (1) dissolve the existing operations committee, and (2) form two new committees: the finance committee, and the operations (parking/transportation/construction) committee.
Outcome: The resolution passed unanimously.
Smith appointed the new board treasurer, Rishi Narayan, as chair of the finance committee. Other board members who volunteered for the committee were Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Splitt and Keith Orr.
Smith then appointed John Splitt as chair of the operations committee. Other board members who volunteered to serve on the operations committee are Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, Joan Lowenstein, Rishi Narayan, Keith Orr.
Annual Meeting: Committee Structure – Executive
Sandi Smith noted that the executive committee consists of the board officers: chair John Mouat, vice chair Roger Hewitt, secretary Keith Orr, and treasurer Rishi Narayan. Smith, as the most recent former board chair, is a non-voting member. The DDA’s executive director, Susan Pollay, is a non-voting ex officio member.
Annual Meeting: Committee Structure – Membership
Committee membership was determined by board members volunteering for the committees on which they wanted to serve. The committee chairs were appointed by outgoing DDA board chair Sandi Smith. The four new committees have the following membership:
- Marketing committee: Al McWilliams (chair), Rishi Narayan and Sandi Smith.
- Partnerships/economic development committee: Joan Lowenstein and Al McWilliams (co-chairs), Bob Guenzel, John Mouat, Rishi Narayan, Keith Orr, Sandi Smith, John Splitt. Listed as “committee participants” of the partnerships/economic development committee on the agenda are: Ken Clein (city planning commission); Jane Lumm and Margie Teall (Ann Arbor city council); Charles Griffith (Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority); and Jason Morgan (Washtenaw Community College).
- Finance committee: Rishi Narayan (chair), Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Splitt and Keith Orr.
- Operations (parking/transportation/construction) committee: John Splitt (chair), Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, Joan Lowenstein, Rishi Narayan, Keith Orr.
Two board members – Cyndi Clark and Russ Collins – were absent, and will likely be joining one or more of the committees.
Steve Powers noted that he hadn’t volunteered for any of the committees, but he’d try to attend meetings if assistance is needed. He encouraged the committee members to make sure that the purpose of the committees is clearly understood by committee members, staff and the public. It’s important to be aligned regarding the role of the committees, he said, and to maintain the positive relationship between the DDA board, staff, and the other jurisdictions.
Smith agreed, saying that in September each committee should kick off their meeting with a re-introduction of members, and a discussion of purpose.
Powers said he appreciated that the board priorities were posted on the DDA boardroom wall, saying that it’s a powerful reminder about why the DDA is here and what they’re focusing on. He suggested doing something similar for the committees. Smith joked that “it’s easy to be swayed by shiny objects.”
Annual Meeting: Committee Structure – Coda, Future Meetings
The board discussed the possibility of canceling its committee meetings for July. Roger Hewitt indicated a possible need to meet to discuss renovations at the Fourth & William parking structure, but that might be handled by a subcommittee. Sandi Smith wanted to have a partnerships meeting in July but not August. She wanted to evaluate the partnerships grant policy, after awarding its first grant under the new policy. She thought the committee should review the policy while the action was still fresh, rather than waiting until August or September.
After further discussion, the board decided to leave the July committee meetings in place.
According to the DDA’s website, upcoming committee meetings will take place at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth, Suite 301:
- Partnerships & Economic Development: Wednesday, July 9 at 9 a.m.
- Marketing: Wednesday, July 9 at 10:30 a.m.
- Operations: Wednesday, July 9 at 1 p.m. and Wednesday, July 30 at 11 a.m.
- Finance: Wednesday, July 30 at 12:30 p.m.
In addition, the board has scheduled a meeting on Wednesday, July 9 at 11:30 a.m. to discuss the design of the Fourth & William stair tower & elevator tower. All committee meetings are open to the public.
Communications, Committee Reports
The board’s July 2 meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown citizens advisory council, as well as public commentary. Here are some highlights.
Comm/Comm: Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council
Reporting out from the downtown area citizens advisory council, Ray Detter said the group recently welcomed two potential new members who live and work downtown. He said the advisory council would welcome the participation of others who live or work in the downtown area and who are interested in shaping developments downtown. There are three more membership openings. The group meets on the first Tuesday of every month except August at 7 p.m. in city hall.
He noted that by next fall, new developments will open that bring hundreds of residential units to the downtown, and “amazingly, our group is in full support of most of them.” Those developments that avoid having a negative impact are being undertaken by local developers, he noted.
But most of the advisory council’s July 1 meeting had been focused on the future of the Library Lane site, Detter reported, where a current surface parking lot is located atop the underground parking structure there. He noted that the city council provided direction to the city administrator to hire a broker to explore selling the development rights for that site, while reserving a portion of the property for a downtown park.
Members of the advisory council strongly support a significantly sized public plaza on the Fifth Avenue side of that location, Detter said. They also support pedestrian walkways to Liberty Plaza, and believe that all future development should take into consideration the needs of the Ann Arbor District Library and possible connections to the Blake Transit Center as well as nearby historic properties, and businesses. They encourage the possibility of a new tax-generating private or public development on the major part of that Library Lane property, he said.
Detter noted that the issue of improving Liberty Plaza has apparently been moved to the city’s park advisory commission. He said most of the citizens advisory council believe that changes to Liberty Plaza should be part of a larger plan for the entire block. The city about a decade ago spent $250,000 on redesigning Liberty Plaza – with $50,000 from the city’s parks department, and the rest provided by the DDA, he said. It’s a beautiful park, Detter added, and he hoped it would be part of a larger plan for the block.
Comm/Comm: Streetscape Framework Project
John Mouat noted that there was no agenda item for an update on the DDA’s streetscape framework project. He asked Amber Miller, the DDA’s planning and research specialist, to provide an update.
Miller said the staff and consultants had done some on-the-ground outreach, getting feedback from people who were using the streets downtown. They heard from over 200 people and got a lot of good feedback. She said they’ve also pulled in an “economics team” that focuses on retail and ground-floor uses, to make sure that any streetscape improvements would benefit those active uses. That team made its visit on July 1 and July 2, she said, meeting with some DDA board members and walking around the downtown district. More information would be provided at the project’s next advisory committee meeting, Miller said.
The next advisory committee meeting is Tuesday, July 8 at 9 a.m. at the DDA’s office, 150 S. Fifth, Suite 301. The meeting is open to the public.
By way of background, at its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, the DDA board authorized the consulting contract SmithGroupJJR and Nelson\Nygaard to manage the project. According to the project’s website, a “comprehensive set of design, construction, and maintenance standards can enhance and maintain the high quality experience provided by some streets and improve the identity and functionality of others. A framework plan will be a tool to ensure downtown streets provide a high quality of place for all users, while also meeting broader community goals.”
Comm/Comm: Connector Study
Roger Hewitt reported on the status of the connector study. [By way of background, an alternatives analysis is currently being conducted by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority 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.]
The technical oversight committee met last week, Hewitt said, and are very close to wrapping up its preliminary conclusions. A public meeting is planned for Sept. 17, he reported. That will take place in the evening at the Ann Arbor District Library to bring the public up to date, with two sessions – at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Hewitt described it as a long and arduous process, going through reams of data. They’re close to making recommendations, depending on public input, he said.
Roger Hewitt also gave an update on the federally funded study regarding a railroad station for a north/south commuter rail running between Ann Arbor and Howell. [The project is known as WALLY – the Washtenaw and Livingston Line.]
Hewitt said this service is probably a significant way off from being offered, but there had been funding for a study to recommend station locations. The consultants evaluated “every possible location” between North Main Street south to where Fingerle Lumber is located, he said.
The final site recommendation for a stop is for the east side of the railroad tracks between Liberty and Washington streets, Hewitt reported – opposite of where the former city maintenance yard was located [at 415 W. Washington]. He said it wouldn’t be a full station – it would simply be a platform with canopies and a ramp to Washington Street to the north and a sidewalk connection to the south onto Liberty.
The stop would be built entirely within the railroad right-of-way, he explained – there would be no taking of public or private property.
Hewitt said he’d like to make a short formal presentation about the recommendation at a future DDA board meeting.
Comm/Comm: Communications & Marketing
Rishi Narayan reported that the marketing/communications subcommittee was still collecting data to determine what the DDA’s place might be in marketing the downtown. Traditionally, marketing hasn’t been part of the DDA’s role, he noted, so if they decide to do it, they need to make sure it’s efficient in time, money and staff energy.
Narayan said they’re working with a company, at no cost to the DDA, to develop a plan that would give the DDA some macro-economic data. They’ve also started talking with Republic Parking, which oversees the city’s parking system under contract with the DDA, to see if there’s a way to extract information from Republic’s data.
Because the art fairs are approaching, people don’t have a lot of time to talk about this, Narayan noted. He hoped to come back with recommendations in the coming months. It might mean partnering with the downtown area associations and the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau to do more, such as grants for events.
Al McWilliams noted that the CVB is doing data collection during the art fairs, to show what the impact of those events are. The CVB will be sharing that data with the DDA.
Comm/Comm: Fourth & William Renovations
John Splitt reported that the subcommittee for renovations at the Fourth & William parking structure had met with the design team. Construction drawings for the elevator and stair tower are moving forward. By way of background, the board had approved the $5 million project budget at its May 2, 2014 meeting, with Carl Walker Inc. handling the design.
The subcommittee is still fleshing out general concepts about the rest of the potential build-out along Fourth and Williams, Splitt said. They want to be as flexible as possible, and would like to see wheelchair access, awnings and ways to break up the horizontal surfaces. Architect Carl Luckenbach has come up with some different concepts that the subcommittee is considering.
They haven’t decided where bathrooms might be installed, and aren’t certain how much space they can build out without triggering city code issues for ventilation and fire suppression, Splitt reported. The subcommittee is meeting with the design team again in the next week, and might emerge with answers to some of these questions.
John Mouat said they’d be reaching out to “our realtor friends” to get advice about what the “white box” might be for this build-out, to make sure that it’s viable for potential tenants.
Roger Hewitt reported that the subcommittee already had one meeting with real estate professionals. The feedback was that there’s big demand for business incubator start-up space, he said.
Keith Orr told the board that construction of the Greyhound ticket office at the Fourth & William structure is underway, and the bus company will be relocating there next week – ahead of schedule. The office was previously located at the site on West Huron where First Martin is now constructing an extended-stay hotel.
Reporting out from the operations committee, Roger Hewitt noted that a meeting had been held with several representatives of local social service agencies, as well as Ann Arbor police chief John Seto and Mary Kerr from the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau. They discussed how an ambassador program might be integrated into existing efforts, and complement those efforts.
Now they’re trying to figure out how to frame an RFP (request for proposals), Hewitt said. They’d like to bring the two potential providers here for interviews, he added. A meeting is set for Wednesday, July 9 at 1 p.m. to discuss exactly how to structure the interview process.
Hewitt expected to set up interviews sometime before the end of this summer.
Comm/Comm: Parking Update
Roger Hewitt said there was nothing new to report, other than the monthly permit data that was provided in the board packet.
Comm/Comm: City Updates
City administrator Steve Powers gave a couple of updates that related to the DDA district. The city council, as part of its approval of the fiscal 2015 budget, has authorized hiring three new police officers. Two of the three positions will be community engagement officers who’ll be starting by the end of July, he said. Downtown will be a priority area for their work over the summer.
Sandi Smith asked Powers to elaborate on the nature of the community engagement work. Powers described it as an initiative that police chief John Seto has been advocating since he took that position. Currently there is one officer doing community engagement – Sgt. Tom Hickey. The additional officers will help Hickey engage with three areas of emphasis: downtown businesses, neighborhoods and public schools. Their work will contrast with patrol activity or calls for service, Powers said, in that they’ll be more pro-active.
Powers also noted that during this year’s art fairs, the city’s police, fire and emergency management staff will be using Liberty Plaza – on the southwest corner of Liberty and Division – as staging area and a cooling station for the public. There will be misting and water available, as well as shade, he said. Red Cross will be participating, as will the city’s volunteer community emergency response team (CERT).
Comm/Comm: Real-Time Parking Data
During public commentary, Ed Vielmetti noted that in 2009, he’d approached the board with ideas and a prototype of a system to monitor and provide real-time information about the city parking system. At the time, the DDA board was not interested in supporting it, he said, and the DDA removed access to the real-time information. He said he’s recently spoken to staff at Republic Parking, which manages the city’s parking system under contract with the DDA, and showed them some prototypes. They’d been receptive to some of the ideas, he said, but had made it clear that a good first step would be to talk with the DDA board.
Vielmetti said his system could provide real-time alerts when parking structures are full, for example, among other features. He said he’s built all of this on his own, mostly as a demonstration project. He’d be happy to share the results of the prototype with board members. He’s doing a similar project for a solar energy-monitoring system.
Sandi Smith suggested that Vielmetti talk with DDA executive director Susan Pollay, as well as the board’s operations committee.
Changmin Fan introduced himself as the owner of TiniLite World. He said the company is registered in Ann Arbor, and he has a factory in China that’s building a prototype. He’d like to manufacture the product here, however. He said all four mayoral candidates are great, but noted that Sally Petersen has pointed out the city’s economic development needs. The economic ecosystem isn’t very good for him, Fan said. Small businesses and people – not just the University of Michigan – are the engine for economic development in this city. Communications are also important, he added, and there needs to be smart signs on the street. The DDA can take a leadership position on this, he concluded.
Comm/Comm: BTC Open House
Nancy Shore, director of the getDowntown program, invited board members to the Blake Transit Center grand opening on Monday, July 7 at 10 a.m. There will be tours, food and “dignitaries aplenty,” she said. The getDowntown office is located on the second floor, and she urged them to drop by.
Shore also reported that there is a community space within that facility where meetings can take place. It might be a nice location for a retreat, she said.
The Blake Transit Center is the downtown hub for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. It’s located north of William Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues.
Comm/Comm: Bill’s Beer Garden
Board chair Sandi Smith noted that the DDA board would be gathering that night at Bill’s Beer Garden at 6 p.m. She joked that the purpose was “to have some very serious discussions about Original Gravity, IBUs and things like that.” She said it would be open to the public, and is a celebration of hard work by a lot of volunteers.
Comm/Comm: Staff Thank You to Board Members
At the end of the annual meeting, executive director Susan Pollay made a presentation to the board, saying it was the staff’s chance to thank the board. DDA board members are volunteers, she said. “I don’t know that that’s widely understood out in the community.” She thanked the board for their service.
Pollay also said that it’s a tradition for the staff to present a small gift to the outgoing board chair. This year, the gift was inspired by a trip to New York, she said. “It was a wonderful moment for many of us to actually be in one of the most fabulous cities in the world.” [The trip was for the International Downtown Association conference in October 2013.] The gift comes from Selo/Shevel Gallery on Main Street in Ann Arbor, which closed earlier this year. It’s a pin that evokes a cityscape of tall buildings, Pollay said.
Smith received a round of applause from staff and the board.
Present: Al McWilliams, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, Steve Powers, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Rishi Narayan, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.
Absent: Russ Collins, Cyndi Clark.
Next board meeting: The board does not meet in August. The next board meeting is at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.]
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