Stories indexed with the term ‘city-DDA relations’

Ann Arbor Council Finally OKs DDA-Led Plan

At its April 4, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council finally voted to approve a resolution that would establish a process to develop alternate uses of city-owned downtown surface parking lots, to be led by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The vote was unanimous.

The council had considered but postponed the resolution at its March 7, 2011 meeting, and before that at its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting. At the March 7 meeting, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had complained that no revisions had been made to the resolution to accommodate objections made at the Jan. 18 meeting. [.pdf of the unamended resolution with the parcel-by-parcel plan] At that meeting, objections to the proposal included “resolved” clauses in the resolution that would (1) require placement of items on the city council’s agenda; and (2) under some circumstances require the city to reimburse the DDA for its expenses.

At the April 4 meeting, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) offered amendments to the resolution that among other things added additional language about public process: “Solicit robust public input and conduct public meetings to determine residents’ parcel-level downtown vision.” Taylor also added clarifying language that would require the DDA to account for its direct costs and that they be reported along the way, in order to potentially have their costs reimbursed. Those amendments were undertaken as revisions to the resolution at the start of deliberations.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) offered an amendment that confined the focus to the area bounded by William, Ashley, Liberty and Division streets, which passed on a 6-4 vote, with dissent from Taylor, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2).

At its Jan. 5 board meeting, the Ann Arbor DDA board had approved a resolution urging passage of the council resolution, which had been circulated as early as the city council’s Dec. 20, 2010 meeting, when Taylor had attached a copy of the the draft resolution to the council’s meeting agenda, and alerted his council colleagues to it at that meeting

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 100 N. Fifth Ave. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Column: DDA – The Sure Thing

In 1985, Rob Reiner made a movie called The Sure Thing, starring John Cusack as a college student who made a 3,000-mile journey on a break from school in order to meet up with a “sure thing” – a girl who didn’t need any convincing to have sex.

Given the movie’s plot, it was a little odd to hear a scene from it cited by an Ann Arbor city councilmember to bolster a budget argument.

Carsten Hohnke, who represents Ward 5 on Ann Arbor’s city council, used the “credit card scene” from that movie – without naming the movie or giving the broader context of the plot – during a meeting of two committees on Monday morning, April 4, 2011. Known as the “mutually beneficial” committees, one is composed of Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board members and the other is made up of city councilmembers.

To understand the reference to The Sure Thing scene, it’s useful to have some brief background on the city-DDA parking drama. Understanding that drama, in turn, leads to some interesting conclusions about the relationship between the city and the DDA, and about what city councilmembers might be willing to say to get what they want. [Full Story]

Column: Library Lot – Bottom to Top

Editor’s note: Although the parcel immediately north of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown location is known as the Library Lot, it does not belong to the library, but rather to the city of Ann Arbor.

Last Thursday, news of a breach in the earth-retention system of a downtown Ann Arbor construction site had reached all the way to Detroit’s Channel 4 News. Channel 4 sent a crew Friday evening to file a report. It was tagged on the Channel 4 website with the summary: “An Ann Arbor construction project is sinking, literally.” Chalk that up to the hyperbole of television news.

Library Lot conference center schematic, retaining wall

Top: View to the northeast along Fifth Avenue from Valiant Partners' concept for a conference center and hotel, proposed for the top of the Library Lot underground parking garage. Bottom: Breach in the earth retention system for the underground parking garage currently under construction on the Library Lot.

While the roughly 640-space underground parking garage, being built by Ann Arbor’s Downtown Development Authority, is not sinking in any way, a conference center and hotel proposal for the top of the underground structure might be sinking.

At first glance, the 190,000-square-foot project proposed by Valiant Partners Inc. seems like it’s on a path to approval by the city council. In November 2010, an advisory committee – charged with evaluating responses to a city of Ann Arbor request for proposals issued in late 2009 – finally settled on the Valiant proposal as the best of the six the city had received.

That decision came with the aid of Roxbury Group, a consultant hired to help evaluate the proposals and to negotiate an agreement with a developer. At an early March meeting of the advisory committee, a Roxbury representative presented a draft letter of intent, which had been worked out by Valiant and Roxbury, to be signed by the city of Ann Arbor and Valiant. The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the city council consider the letter of intent.

Then, on March 14, the city council held a work session on the proposed conference center. The council heard essentially the same presentation about the letter of intent that Roxbury had made to the advisory committee. The council is scheduled to consider the letter formally at its second meeting in April, which is now scheduled for Tuesday, April 19, to accommodate the first night of Passover. The letter of intent calls for a development agreement to be presented to the city council within four months of signing the letter of intent – which would mean sometime near the end of August 2011.

But I think it’s clear at this point that a development agreement between Valiant and the city of Ann Arbor to develop the Library Lot would not achieve the necessary eight-vote majority for an actual real estate deal. That’s why I think the city council might vote down the letter of intent – even if there are at least six councilmembers who would support going forward with the letter, which is all it would take for the letter’s approval.

I base that conclusion on remarks made by councilmembers at the March 14 work session, and regular politics as reflected in the council’s history – both recent and ancient. But before considering politics, let’s dig into some really ancient history – the kind measured in geological time – to gain some additional insight into why a pile of dirt spilled unintentionally into the underground parking garage construction pit. [Full Story]

“Transformer Plaza” Money OK’d by Council

At its March 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized the transfer of $90,000 from its parks memorials and contributions fund to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The money will be used by the DDA for the design and construction management of improvements to a plaza near the Forest Street parking structure. Because of the number of DTE transformers that are situated near the plaza, it’s known in some circles as Transformer Plaza.

The $90,000 figure stems from the $50,000 and $40,000 contributions made to the parks fund by the 601 S. Forest and Zaragon I developments, respectively, which are located in the vicinity of the plaza. As part of any site plan review process in the city of Ann Arbor, developers are asked to make a donation of land so that new residents have access to adequate open space. But the city also accepts cash donations in lieu of land contributions.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Beyond Pot: Development, Liquor, Parks

Ann Arbor city council meeting (March 7, 2011) Part 1: The city council’s Monday meeting lasted nearly until midnight, with most of the five hours devoted to discussion of a proposed medical marijuana ordinance, which the council ultimately elected to postpone. The meeting included other significant business as well, and Part 1 of this meeting report is devoted to just those non-marijuana-related business items.

Tony Derezinski Ann Arbor city council

At the March 7, 2011 city council meeting, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) was appointed as a hearing officer to consider appeals of recommendations to revoke liquor licenses. To Derezinski's right are Margie Teall (Ward 4), Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). (Photos by the writer.)

Also postponed – until the council’s first meeting in April – was a resolution that would outline a way for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to lead the process of transforming surface parking lots currently owned by the city of Ann Arbor to alternate uses.

The resolution, which articulates the so-called “parcel-by-parcel plan,” had already been postponed once before. In explaining the rationale for the postponement, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) cited the desire of the DDA to ensconce the parcel-by-parcel plan in a contractually binding agreement, which he said had not been previously indicated.

Not postponed was a vote on appointing a hearing officer for appeals of recommendations that liquor licenses not be renewed. The original resolution was to appoint the members of the council’s liquor license review committee to a hearing board, but it was amended at the table – to the surprise of some councilmembers – to allow for appointment of just one hearing officer: Tony Derezinski (Ward 2). Derezinski also serves on the liquor license review committee. Voting against the amendment, as well as the final appointment, were three councilmembers, including Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). Rapundalo chairs the council’s liquor license committee and has served on it since it became a permanent council committee in 2008, as well as before that, when it was an ad-hoc committee.

The council also approved the city’s Parks and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan – an inventory, needs assessment and action plan for the city’s parks system, which is required by the state for certain grant applications. The deadline faced by the council to renew the five-year plan was April 1, 2011.

In other non-marijuana business, the council approved a “complete streets” policy, authorized a stormwater study in the Swift Run drain system, established a loan loss fund for the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, and authorized the purchase of LED streetlight fixtures.

The council also heard its usual range of public commentary and communications from its own members. A public hearing was held on the establishment of a Washtenaw Avenue corridor improvement authority (CIA), during which Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber spoke. The Chronicle will cover the mayor’s comments as part of a future report on a CIA public meeting conducted by city planning staff. [Full Story]

DDA-Led Development Stalls Again

At its March 7, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council again delayed action on a resolution that would have authorized the city’s downtown development authority to create a parcel-by-parcel plan for the development of downtown city-owned surface parking lots. The council had also considered but postponed a vote on the proposal at its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting. Objections at that meeting to the proposal included “resolved” clauses in the resolution that would (1) require placement of items on the city council’s agenda; and (2) under some circumstances require the city to reimburse the DDA for its expenses.

The postponement at the March 7 meeting was accomplished on a 10-1 vote, with Sandi Smith (Ward 1) casting the dissenting vote. Smith also serves on the DDA board. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) noted that the DDA appeared to be interested in creating a contractual, binding relationship – instead of working based on city council and DDA board resolutions – and in light of that he wanted to postpone the issue until the council’s first meeting in April.

The two “mutually beneficial” committees of the city council and the DDA board met for the first time since the council’s Jan. 18 meeting on the morning of March 7, providing little lead time for the discussion by the whole council of the latest proposal. The committees are negotiating a revision to the contract under which the DDA manages the city’s public parking system, as well as a framework under which the DDA would lead the redevelopment of city-owned downtown surface parking lots.

At its Jan. 5 board meeting, the Ann Arbor DDA had passed a resolution urging passage of the council resolution, which had been circulated as early as the city council’s Dec. 20, 2010 meeting, when Taylor attached a copy of the the draft resolution to the council’s meeting agenda, and alerted his council colleagues to it at that meeting.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

DDA Passes Budget, Pig to Follow

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (March 2, 2011): At its regular monthly meeting, the DDA board approved its budget for the next two years – fiscal years 2012 and 2013. The DDA’s fiscal calendar is aligned with the city of Ann Arbor’s, which runs from July 1 to June 30.

Board members of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority

DDA board members study the budget proposal they approved at the March 2 meeting. From left to right: Bob Guenzel, Sandi Smith, Russ Collins. Obscured, sitting between Guenzel and Smith, is John Mouat. (Photo by the writer.)

For FY 2012, the DDA is budgeting for $20,118,601 in total revenues – of that amount, $3,893,943 is forecast to come from tax capture, $16,162,752 from parking revenues, and $61,906 from interest earnings. Budgeted expenses, at $20,631,328, will exceed revenues by $512,727.

The board has not yet incorporated into its budget the likely revisions that will be made to the DDA’s contract with the city of Ann Arbor, under which it manages the city’s public parking system. Those contract revisions are expected to result in a total parking-contract-related payment to the city of $2.26 million in FY 2012. The approved DDA budgets for FY 2012 and 2013 include only the roughly $1 million of payments to the city that the DDA is currently obligated to make.

While the DDA expects to be drawing down its fund balances over the next two years – due in large part to the expense of the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure that’s under construction – the longer-range forecast by the DDA shows increases in revenue that are expected to replenish reserves. The DDA estimates that its tax capture revenue will increase from its current level of roughly $3.9 million to $4.7 million by 2020. Parking revenues are also forecast to increase – due in part to the increase in parking space inventory offered by the underground garage, but also due to increases in parking rates – from an estimated $16 million next year to $22 million by 2020.

About the underground parking garage, at the February 2009 board meeting, Russ Collins had said the board needed to keep alert for their next projects after “this pig makes it through the python.” At Wednesday’s meeting, mayor John Hieftje alluded to Collins’ remark in trying to emphasize the long-range projected financial health of the DDA.

In the other business item handled by the board at its Wednesday meeting, Hieftje cast the lone vote of dissent on a vote to approve $45,000 out of $50,000 for a discretionary management incentive that’s part of the DDA’s contract with Republic Parking, which manages day-to-day operations for the city’s parking system.

The board also heard its usual round of committee reports; however, no one addressed the board during either of the opportunities for public comment. Highlights from Ray Detter’s report from the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council included an update on plans for the new Blake Transit Center and a report from the city’s panhandling task force. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Parks Plan Moves to City Council

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Feb. 15, 2011): Planning commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the city’s Parks and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan on Tuesday, and gave parks planner Amy Kuras a round of applause for her work updating the document over the past year.

Evan Pratt, Jeff Kahan

Ann Arbor planning commissioner Evan Pratt, left, gets a handout from Jeff Kahan of the city's planning staff prior to the commission's Feb. 15 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Earlier in the evening, the plan was also approved by the city’s park advisory commission. Both groups suggested minor revisions, and the document will next be forwarded to the city council for final approval in early March.

Updated every five years, the PROS plan is a comprehensive look at current assets and future needs. The current update spans 2011 through 2015. It’s a document required by the state to qualify for grant funding.

Discussion of the PROS plan was the main agenda item at Tuesday’s meeting, which lasted less than an hour. The commission also set a public hearing for its March 1 meeting, regarding a request by Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity to convert the church at 730 Tappan Ave. into a fraternity house.

During his communications, commission chair Eric Mahler reported that the city’s Library Lot review committee – the group that’s evaluating potential development atop the city-owned underground parking structure being built on South Fifth Avenue – will meet next on March 3. Tony Derezinski, who serves as the city council’s representative to the planning commission, highlighted two upcoming public forums regarding a Washtenaw Avenue corridor improvement authority, set for Feb. 23 and March 2.

No one spoke during public commentary on Tuesday, but nine students from Skyline High School attended the meeting as part of a class assignment.  [Full Story]

Marijuana Issue Lingers; DDA-City Deal Stalls

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Jan. 18, 2011): At its most recent meeting, scheduled a day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the council was due to consider, for a second time, a first-reading of a licensing scheme for medical marijuana businesses that has been put forward by city attorney Stephen Postema.

Stephen Kunselman, Roger Fraser

In deliberations on a resolution that would have authorized the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to start designing a plan to develop city-owned surface parking lots, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who's speaking here, said he did not want to tie the city administrator's hands. The hands in question are visible in the right of the frame, clearly still untied. (Photos by the writer.)

After amending the licensing proposal heavily at its Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, the council had decided to postpone the measure until Tuesday’s meeting. After a relatively brief attempt to undertake further amendments, the council decided to postpone consideration again – until its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting. They also voted to extend the moratorium on opening additional marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities through March 31, 2011.

Not relatively brief were Christopher Taylor’s (Ward 3) opening remarks about a resolution that would have authorized the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to design a plan to develop city-owned downtown parking lots.

In the end, the council decided to postpone consideration of the DDA parcel-by-parcel proposal – on a 6-4 vote, with some of those voting against postponement looking to vote it down. The effect of the postponement was likely similar to what outright rejection would have been. The clear message was this: Substantial revision to the proposal would be required to gain the kind of overwhelming support the measure will likely need to persuade DDA board members that the council is in agreement with the proposal.

Another piece of major business, which passed quietly, was approval of an overhaul of the ordinance language defining the city’s retirement system. An additional tax abatement for Edwards Brothers received a lot of discussion, but was ultimately approved.

The city also accepted a grant from the Home Depot Foundation for sustainability work, that earned praise for the city’s environmental coordinator, Matt Naud. In other city environmental action, David Stead was reappointed to the city’s environmental commission, and Steve Bean’s decision was announced that he had not sought reappointment to that commission, after a long tenure.

Th site plan for Lake Trust Credit Union at the southeast corner of West Liberty and West Stadium Boulevard was approved. And two additional parcels were added to the land that is protected by the city’s greenbelt program.

As budget season looms, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who serves on both the city council’s budget committee and the labor and administration committee, gave a status update on the city’s negotiations with its unions. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Delays DDA-led Plan

At its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council delayed action on a resolution that would have authorized the city’s downtown development authority to create a parcel-by-parcel plan for the development of downtown city-owned surface parking lots. The postponement was accomplished on a 6-4 vote – Margie Teall (Ward 4) was absent. Voting against postponement were: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), and Sabra Briere (Ward 1). Kunselman, Higgins, and Rapundalo were clear that they were prepared to vote against the resolution, if the motion to postpone had not passed.

At its Jan. 5 board meeting, the Ann Arbor DDA had passed a resolution urging passage of the council resolution, which had been circulated as early as the city council’s Dec. 20, 2010 meeting, when Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) attached a copy of the the draft resolution to the council’s meeting agenda, and alerted his council colleagues to it at that meeting.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Parking Money for City Budget Still Unclear

On Jan. 5, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board held a retreat to discuss current negotiations with the city of Ann Arbor about the agreement under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system. And this past Monday, the respective “mutually beneficial” committees of the city council and the DDA board met to continue their conversation on the parking contract – a dialogue that has taken place in public view since June 2010.

Newcombe Clark, Sabra Briere

Left to right: Teddy Bear (on screen); DDA board member Newcombe Clark; Ward 1 city council representative Sabra Briere. Clark and Briere were chatting during the break between the regular DDA board meeting and the DDA board retreat. Briere did not take part in the meetings – she was there as a member of the public. The teddy bear was featured in a video short that was meant to kick off the retreat with a bit of humor. (Photos by the writer.)

Two days later, at Wednesday’s meeting of the DDA partnerships committee, board member Gary Boren reported back to his colleagues about the conversation that had taken place at Monday’s mutually beneficial committee meeting. Boren was frank in his assessment that the city’s team appeared intransigent.

To Boren, it appeared that city representatives had staked out their position, and they saw anything less than that position as meaning the city was not receiving what it is properly owed. For his part, Boren considers the DDA to be in the driver’s seat, because the current contract runs through 2015, and would not require the additional payments the city is seeking for that period.

At the partnerships committee meeting, Susan Pollay – executive director of the DDA – drew attention to the fact that there will be an increasing sense of urgency to firm up the contract as both the city and the DDA put together their respective budgets for the next fiscal year. The city administrator will need firm numbers by March, she suggested.

In this report, we put Boren’s comments and the ensuing discussion by the DDA’s partnerships committee in the context of the DDA’s board retreat last week, when board chair Joan Lowenstein noted, “We’re not a savings bank. We’re supposed to spend money.”

The retreat included a discussion of the kinds of projects the DDA would like to undertake over the next 10 years, some of which would need to be deferred, depending on the amount of parking revenue the DDA passes through to the city. The DDA also appears ready to defer some of its scheduled maintenance to the parking decks, if the maintenance activity is of a more aesthetic or cosmetic nature.

It emerged during the retreat that the politics of parking contract negotiations include the city’s ability to fund public safety – firefighters and police. The speculation was floated at the retreat that it might actually help the city’s negotiating stance with its labor unions, if the DDA took a firmer approach to the parking contract. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor District Library Gets Clean Audit

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Nov. 15, 2010): Two financial issues drew much of the focus at Monday’s AADL board meeting.

Dave Fisher

Dave Fisher of the accounting firm Rehmann Robson delivered highlights of the Ann Arbor District Library's financial audit at the AADL board's Nov. 15 meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Dave Fisher of the accounting firm Rehmann Robson was on hand to review the district’s financial audit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010. He described the library as in solid financial shape, especially in relationship to other entities in Michigan that rely on property tax revenues. The library has no long-term debt and its fund balance is strong, he said. But he added a cautionary note that like other taxpayer-funded entities, the library would likely be grappling with a continued drop in property tax revenues in future years.

Property tax revenues emerged again in a discussion during the director’s report. AADL director Josie Parker drew attention to a Nov. 15 column published in The Ann Arbor Chronicle regarding the ongoing negotiations between the city of Ann Arbor and the Downtown Development Authority. The column pointed out an issue that Parker has been tracking as well: the potential for tax increment financing funds captured by the DDA from public entities, including the AADL, to be used to offset a parking fund deficit caused by striking a new parking deal with the city. The board ultimately passed a resolution at Monday’s meeting, directing Parker to seek legal counsel on the issue.

Board member Ed Surovell said he wanted to make sure the board was defending their right to collect taxes, and that they’re being as responsible as possible to the citizens of the district. “I think this is dead serious business,” he said. “The appropriation and misappropriation of tax revenues is the lifeblood not just of this library, but of a democracy.”

Also during her director’s report, Parker described the results of a site review by staff of the Michigan Commission for the Blind, which manages the federal program that the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled @ AADL is part of. The review, conducted every two years, is the first one since the AADL took over management of the WLBPD from the county, a transition that occurred in early 2009. AADL received several commendations for its approach to providing WLBPD services.

At the end of the meeting, outgoing board member Carola Stearns – who lost her seat in the Nov. 2 election to challenger Nancy Kaplan – gave a poignant speech, thanking the library staff and her colleagues on the board. In connection with a possible downtown building project, she urged the board to explore alternative funding sources, beyond paying for the project solely with taxpayer funds. [Full Story]

Column: Impact of DDA-City Parking Deal

Just before their Thursday post-election meeting on Nov. 4, Ann Arbor city councilmembers heard a work session presentation from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The hour-long work session covered the DDA’s proposal for a process to develop city-owned downtown surface parking lots. It’s a process in which the DDA would play a leading role. The DDA’s proposal has evolved in the course of ongoing discussions between the city and the DDA since early summer.

The DDA will make  another work session presentation before the city council’s meeting on Monday, Nov. 15 – this one about the parking contract under which the DDA uses city-owned assets like decks, lots, and streets to manage the city’s parking system. The current $10-million contract runs through 2015. But the DDA has already paid the city $12 million on that contract, and the city wants an even better deal. Although it won’t be part of the parking contract language, the DDA sees the ability to take more leadership in the development of city-owned surface lots as part of the benefit it would get from a renegotiated parking deal with the city.

For the city, the parking deal is crucial for its budget planning for FY 2012. Already at its mid-October meeting, some city councilmembers began to raise questions about projections for FY 2012. The council must approve the FY 2012 budget this coming May. [The city's fiscal year begins on July 1 each year – the current budget year is FY 2011.] This past May, the city’s projected budget deficit for FY 2012 was $5 million, which already assumed an additional $2 million payment from the DDA.

There are likely enough votes on the 12-member DDA board to approve the new deal. And based on the most recent city-DDA discussions, the new arrangement is likely to take the form of a percentage-of-gross arrangement – 17.5% of gross parking revenues would be paid to the city.

But here’s a different way to describe the arrangement: The city of Ann Arbor would impose a 17.5% parking tax on downtown motorists. That is, downtown parking patrons will pay exactly 17.5% more to park than is actually required for the public parking system to sustain itself, in order that general fund revenues for the city of Ann Arbor can be supplemented.

And to derive support for the city of Ann Arbor general fund from the parking system, the DDA’s parking fund will operate at a greater deficit for the next few years than it would if the city honored the current parking contract. During that period, the DDA’s tax increment finance revenues – the amount it captures from other taxing authorities besides the city of Ann Arbor – will need to remain uninvested on behalf of the broader community. The unspent TIF fund balance will be able to offset the parking fund deficit, leaving the DDA still solvent, but barely so.

Two important questions have been ignored in the course of the city-DDA negotiations: (1) Is it appropriate to use non-city TIF funds – from the county, Ann Arbor District Library, Washtenaw Community College and Ann Arbor Transportation Authority – to offset the parking fund deficit caused by striking a new parking deal with the city? and (2) If the city’s public parking system generates more revenue than is required to operate and maintain it, what investment of that excess revenue would yield the greatest and best return for the community? [Full Story]

DDA: Dogged Enough for Development?

At a three-hour retreat Wednesday morning, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board met to discuss ongoing negotiations about the city-DDA parking agreement. The DDA manages the city’s parking system under an agreement last amended in 2005, which provides for a total payment of $10 million in rent through 2015. This May, the DDA agreed to make an additional $2 million not required by that contract.


During the retreat, DDA board members marked up a poster-sized version of the DDA enabling legislation using a pink highlighter, undeniably a funky color. (Photo by the writer.)

Wednesday morning’s retreat was meant to focus on the role of the DDA in future development of the downtown area and the role of the DDA in parking enforcement.

The outcome of the retreat was essentially that the DDA is interested in cleaning up various aspects of the parking agreement language, but not in pursuing a role for the DDA in the enforcement of parking regulations. Further, greater support was expressed for the DDA as a facilitator of process, rather than as a driver of development through land acquisition and sale. [Full Story]

DDA Parking Enforcement Prospects Dim

The “mutually beneficial” committees of the city and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority met on Monday for the second time this month. The committees are charged with re-negotiating the contract under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system.

Fifth Avenue looking north

What's the relationship of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to the city of Ann Arbor? Ann Arbor DDA offices on Fifth Avenue are on the left. The new city hall building is visible behind the backhoe one block to the north. The construction work is part of the DDA's streetscape improvements for Fifth and Division streets.

At the meeting, the committees focused on the question of how the DDA might take on responsibility for enforcement of parking regulations. The DDA would like the ability to manage parking enforcement, so that it can implement an approach to enforcement that complements a demand management pricing strategy and a customer-service approach to downtown. However, the city has identified a number of ways in which it believes the DDA would be constrained in its ability to enforce parking regulations.

At Monday’s meeting, those constraints had accumulated to the point where it became a fair question: Would the DDA still find parking enforcement an attractive proposition, given the constraints? The meeting did not settle the question, with some hope maintained on the DDA side – by Sandi Smith, specifically – that the DDA might play some role in enforcement.

However, if parking enforcement is not something the DDA takes on, it’s not clear what the basis will be for the additional payments the city would like the DDA to make, beyond what is required by the current parking contract. That contract was renewed in 2005. It required a $1 million per year payment by the DDA to the city, with the provision that the city could request $2 million in any given year, and that the total amount did not exceed $10 million from 2005-2015. The city requested $2 million for the first five years, and the DDA agreed unilaterally this past May to make an additional $2 million payment to the city.

When the discussion at Monday’s meeting moved from parking enforcement – which seemed like it had been pushed to the edge, if not completely off the table – to the calculation of a formula for a DDA payment to the city, Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, questioned on three separate occasions: Where is the benefit to the downtown in this?

Also at the meeting, the committees got a preview of an outline sketch regarding how the DDA might play an active role in the development of city-owned downtown surface parking lots.

The committees are scheduled to meet next on Sept. 13. Their twice-monthly meeting schedule was adopted starting in July, when it became apparent that the target date of Oct. 31 for a new contract ratified by the respective bodies would not be achieved with a once-monthly schedule. [Full Story]

City-DDA Parking Talks Gain Tempo

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority manages the city’s parking system under a contract last revised in 2005 to extend through 2015.

In early summer 2010, committees from the DDA board and the Ann Arbor city council set out a schedule of monthly meetings to renegotiate that contractual parking agreement.

Susan Pollay at table with timeline on whiteboard in the background.

Susan Pollay, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, takes notes at the end of the table an hour and a half into the July 12 meeting of committees from the city council and the DDA. On the white board behind her is the timeline worked out by the committees that led to the scheduling of additional meetings. (Photo by the writer.)

Faced with a target of Oct. 31, 2010 for a completed contract, the two groups – known as the mutually beneficial committees – have now increased the frequency of their meetings to twice-monthly. At the June 14 meeting, it was agreed that staff members from both the city and the DDA would attend future committee meetings, and that staff would prepare a matrix of policy points related to the parking system.

But at the July 12 meeting of the two committees, the matrix of policy points had not yet been prepared and no city staff were present. Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, attended the July 12 meeting as the DDA staff representative. And Pollay led the committees through a calculation backward from the Oct. 31, 2010 target date, which showed that an outline of the agreement needed to be ready by the very next monthly meeting – then scheduled for Aug. 9.

When committee members apparently teetered on the edge of abandoning the Oct. 31 target, Pollay gave them a nudge, tilting them back to terra firma. She was prepared to work with a sense of urgency, if that is a priority, Pollay told them – but if they already wanted to push past the deadline, then she was content to take it easy, too.

Committee members responded by deciding to add extra meetings to the schedule. Besides scheduling issues, the July 12 meeting also focused on: (i) contractual aspects of the current parking agreement that had possibly been overlooked in recent city council decision-making; and (ii) the appropriate length of the term and monetary consideration in the new contract.

On July 26, the two committees held an extra meeting, this time joined by Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator. The task of creating the parking policy matrix had been taken on by Pollay, who had then worked with McCormick to produce a chart that included the city’s recommendations along with DDA suggestions.

The next regular meeting – the second Monday of the month – falls on Aug. 9, with an additional meeting planned for Aug. 23. [Full Story]

Parking Deal Talks Open Between City, DDA

Almost a year ago, the city council appointed members to a committee that was to talk with a corresponding committee of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board about amending the contract under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system.

The two groups are known as the “mutually beneficial” committees, reflecting the language of a January 2009 city council resolution that called upon the DDA to begin a conversation about revising the parking contract in a “mutually beneficial” way.

On Monday morning, for the first time in public view, members of the DDA board and the city council met to discuss the contract.


The two mutually beneficial committees (starting at the far right of the frame, proceeding clockwise around the table): Carsten Hohnke, Margie Teall – both city councilmembers; Sandi Smith, city councilmember, but representing the DDA; Christopher Taylor, city councilmember; Roger Hewitt and Russ Collins, both on the DDA board. (Photo by the writer.)

The basis of these further discussions was a term sheet that had been produced in late April by some members of the city council and the DDA working outside of either body’s committee structure.

That term sheet had been the good faith basis on which the DDA board, on a 7-4 vote in May, voted to amend the parking contract. That unilateral amendment amounted to a payment from the DDA to the city of an additional $2 million that had not been required under the existing contract.

The specific outcomes of Monday’s meeting between the two committees were: (i) staff for the DDA and the city would be asked to develop a list of policy points that would need to be addressed in order for the DDA to assume responsibility of enforcing parking rules, but not other codes; and (ii) the DDA would be asked to develop a detailed plan by Sept. 13, 2010 describing the role of the DDA in the development of city-owned surface parking lots within the DDA district.

The planned schedule for meetings between the two committees will be the second Monday morning of each month at 8:30 a.m. at the DDA offices on Fifth Avenue. Members of the council’s committee are Margie Teall (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). Representing the DDA are Sandi Smith, Russ Collins, Roger Hewitt and Gary Boren. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor DDA: Let’s Do Development

Friday morning before the Memorial Day weekend marked the first public meeting of the city council’s so-called “mutually beneficial” committee – first created and appointed back in July 2009.

wiping-off-code-enforcement Ann Arbor DDA

Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, erases "code enforcement" from the list of term sheet items the DDA wants to see discussed further. (Photos by the writer.)

And later in the afternoon, the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority met for a retreat to give direction to its own “mutually beneficial” committee.

The two committees are charged with the task of redefining the agreement between the city and the DDA that allows the DDA to manage the city’s parking system.

From the city councilmembers’ perspective, the ball was in the DDA’s court. They were hoping that the DDA’s retreat later in the day would reduce the items on the term sheet that is supposed to underpin the city-DDA conversation.

At their retreat, the DDA board did eliminate an item on the term sheet – code enforcement, other than parking regulations, was not something for which they wanted to assume responsibility. The remaining three term sheet items – parking enforcement, provision of services, and development of city-owned property – stayed on the white board. The clearest consensus among board members seemed to be around the idea that the DDA should focus on development.

But a couple of additional items were added into the mix – issues related to Village Green’s City Apartments project. That project, located at First and Washington, has previously seen its site plan approval option to purchase extended through June 30, 2010. City council action would be required in the next month, if it’s to be extended again.

Downtown police beat patrols were also left on the board as an additional item of discussion.

At Friday’s retreat, the board heard the same message from Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, that she’d conveyed at a partnerships committee meeting two weeks earlier – the reason for the DDA’s existence was to spur private investment in the downtown.

But as a group, there was an uneven embrace of that message. Some board members preferred to identify “development” as meaning something broader than building new infrastructure, suggesting that a more general “economic development” approach might also be appropriate for the DDA.

And one other idea was thrown up on the white board, but did not stick: altering the DDA district boundaries. [Full Story]

City Accepts $2 Million, DDA to “Retreat”

At its May 5 board meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority approved a $2 million payment to the city of Ann Arbor. And about two weeks later, at its May 17 meeting, the city council used the additional revenue in the city’s FY 2011 budget to help reduce the number of planned layoffs in its police and fire departments from 35 to 5.

The $2 million payment was based on a term sheet that a “working group” of councilmembers and DDA board members had put together out of public view over the first four months of the year. The term sheet was adequate to convince a 7-member majority of the 12-member DDA board that the $2 million should be paid by the DDA to the city in advance of a long-term revision to the city-DDA contract, under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system.

The parking contract was most recently renegotiated in 2005 and provided for a maximum payment by the DDA to the city of $10 million over the period from 2005 to 2015. The city drew $10 million in the first five years and had requested in January 2009 that the DDA open discussions to renegotiate the contract.

With the term sheet now out in the open, it’s clear that its content is problematic for councilmembers and DDA board members who were not part of the working group that produced it. Several councilmembers and DDA board members alike have expressed strong opposition to one of the key ideas in the term sheet – that the DDA would assume responsibility for parking violations and other code enforcement.

But based on the term sheet discussion at the May 12 meeting of  DDA’s partnerships committee, the piece of the term sheet of most interest to DDA board members is one that is also the most politically controversial: The DDA would be acknowledged as the engine for developing city-owned land in the DDA district.

The DDA partnerships committee conversation on May 12 came against the backdrop of recent questions raised by the mayor and the city council about what kind of legal authority a DDA has in the context of the city’s system of governance.

And the outcome of the partnerships committee meeting was a decision to hold another full board retreat, this one on May 28 at 2 p.m. at the DDA board room. The general topic of the retreat, which is open to the public, will be the term sheet. The DDA already held its semi-annual retreat about two months ago, on March 16. [Full Story]

City’s Budget Takes Backseat to DDA Issues

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (May 17, 2010): By its second meeting in May, the city of Ann Arbor’s charter stipulates that the city council must adopt a budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

City treasurer Matt Horning. Chief financial officer Tom Crawford in background.

City treasurer Matt Horning. Chief financial officer Tom Crawford in background.

On Monday night, the council unanimously adopted its roughly $78 million general fund budget – as amended to reflect new revenue items. Those new revenue items allowed the council to eliminate five firefighter positions and no police jobs. As originally proposed, the budget would have eliminated 35 fire and police positions combined.

Next year’s work will not be any easier. CFO Tom Crawford said at the meeting that he’s projecting a $5 million deficit in FY 2012.

Deliberations on the budget did not begin until late in the evening. Occupying more of the council’s time than the city’s FY 2011 budget were two issues related to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. One of those issues was a sidewalk occupancy ordinance applicable only within the DDA district. The ordinance, which legalizes the use of sandwich board signs, passed after a failed attempt by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) to get it postponed.

The second DDA issue on the agenda involved a $2 million payment from the DDA to the city, which helped the council to amend its budget to reduce layoffs of fire and police. In approving the $2 million payment, the DDA board had included in its resolution a requirement to have a future public process for continued conversations between the city and the DDA about renegotiating a parking agreement between the two entities. From January through April of this year, conversations on that topic between the city and the DDA took place out of public view.

On Monday, the council considered a resolution thanking the DDA for the money and providing a commitment to public process for conversations about the parking agreement – parallel to the public process explicated in the DDA’s resolution. The council resolution passed – stripped of its language about open and transparent process on the grounds that it was redundant – after a brief attempt by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) to get the resolution tabled.

In other significant business, mayor John Hieftje nominated a replacement for Ted Annis on the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board: Roger Kerson, who in 2008 contemplated a run for a Ward 5 council seat, but decided against it.

Anya Dale had been nominated by the mayor to replace Paul Ajegba on the AATA board at the council’s previous meeting. On Monday, confirmation of her appointment included one hitch – Sabra Briere (Ward 1) cast a vote against it. [Full Story]

Extra City Revenue Based on Optimism

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (May 16, 2010): On Monday night, the city council will deliberate on several amendments to the proposed city administrator’s budget that, if approved, would significantly alter the assumed revenue picture for that proposed budget. [Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Budget Deliberations Preview"]

Ann Arbor city council caucus

From left to right: mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Briere looked up various facts in the FY 2011 budget book during the course of the caucus. (Photo by the writer.)

The city council’s regular Sunday night caucus, which again enjoyed only sparse attendance – from four out of eleven councilmembers – gave a glimpse into how part of the city council is thinking of the possible changes in revenue items. One of those changes to revenue items is certain – the DDA agreed at its May 3 meeting to pay the city $2 million to help cover general expenses at the city.

Two other revenue changes are based on projections, not payments – an additional $625,000 in parking fine revenues, plus almost $1 million in statutory state shared revenues. The additional state shared revenue is an amount that the city administrator assumed for his budget would not be forthcoming from the state.

During the Sunday caucus, mayor John Hieftje attributed the difference in outlook on state shared revenues to a difference in political perspective. He said that Roger Fraser, the city administrator, is “not as plugged in” to the political considerations in Lansing as he and the rest of the city council are.

Questions were raised among residents about the certainty of the extra $625,000 in parking fine revenues. Those questions were raised in the context of the DDA’s interest – as expressed in the term sheet produced recently by a “working group” of city councilmembers and DDA board members – in moving towards a parking enforcement system managed by the DDA and designed to reduce the number of parking tickets.

The revenue items are key to budget amendments that would result in eliminating five firefighter positions – instead of the 20 firefighters and 15 police officers that the city administrator’s budget calls for.

At the caucus, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) gave some insight into an amendment he’ll be bringing forward to reduce the tax administration fee from 1% to .81%. When the fee was increased from .81% to 1% in 2007 for the FY 2008 budget, explained Kunselman, it had not come as a request in the administrator’s budget. The increase, he concluded, had not been made in order cover costs of administering the property tax – they were already covered.

Councilmembers at caucus had no information on the possibility of moving maintenance costs for Argo Dam out of the city’s water fund. Indications from city official on multiple occasions through the fall of 2009 and winter of 2010 were that those maintenance costs would be moved from the water fund to the parks fund. [Full Story]

DDA OKs $2 Million Over Strong Dissent

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (May 5, 2010): During the DDA board’s monthly meeting, mayor John Hieftje and city councilmember Sandi Smith found themselves briefly sidelined from the board on which they sit.


As mayor John Hieftje looks on, Rene Greff addresses the DDA board at the beginning of Wednesdsay’s meeting, asking them not to approve the transfer of $2 million to the city of Ann Arbor. Greff is a former DDA board member, but addressed the board as a downtown business owner – of Arbor Brewing Company.  (Photos by the writer.)

They were at the table, however, for the final vote on whether to pay $2 million to the city, which the DDA is not obligated to pay under terms of its existing parking system agreement.

The 7-4 outcome of that vote on the 12-member body, of which 11 were present, was enough to write a $2 million check to the city. Voices of opposition to the fund transfer came not only from inside the board itself, but also from the business community during public commentary. Two former DDA board members were in the audience.

An initial opinion given at the meeting by DDA legal counsel Jerry Lax was that Hieftje and Smith could participate in the deliberations. But when an amendment was proposed, which had a side-effect of removing the basis for Lax’s earlier advice, Smith recused herself. As it became apparent that Hieftje intended to remain at the table, board member Jennifer Hall raised the point of order again, and Lax indicated Smith’s recusal was appropriate and that Hieftje should follow suit. Finally, Hieftje accepted the opinion of the DDA’s legal counsel and took a seat in the audience, but contended that he’d been given different advice from the city attorney’s office. When the amendment failed, Smith and Hieftje were back at the table.

Another board resolution that generated animated discussion, but was ultimately tabled, involved a systematic re-allocation of funds, in $60,000 increments, to a reserve to pay for the restoration of downtown police beat patrols. The re-allocation would have come from monies previously slated to fund the Howell-Ann Arbor commuter rail project (Washtenaw Livingston Rail Line – WALLY).

The committee reports to the board did not involve the kind of blunt talk that emerged during discussions of the two resolutions. But two topics reported out from the board’s transportation committee can be expected to receive wider visibility in the coming months: (i) Where will the two employees of the getDowntown program be housed? and (ii) Can there be an express Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti bus?

In this meeting report, we focus exclusively on the $2 million transfer from the DDA to the city of Ann Arbor. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Budget: Formal Commencement

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (April 19, 2010) Part 1: In the main business of the meeting, city administrator Roger Fraser delivered to Ann Arbor’s city council a presentation required by the city charter, which contained his proposed budget for FY 2011. That marks the formal start of councilmembers’ opportunity to modify the budget proposal.

Hieftje Higgins Fraser

From left to right: Mayor John Hieftje, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and city administrator Roger Fraser. The trio were basking in the blue glow of the slide projector before the start of the council meeting, which began with Fraser's budget presentation. (Photos by the writer.)

The council must adopt amendments to the budget by their second meeting in May – May 17 this year – or else see the administrator’s unamended budget enacted by default, as stipulated by a city charter provision.

The council also heard a summary of the parking plan that they had commissioned the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to produce.

Related to the city budget and the DDA board – but not reported during communications time at the council meeting – members of the DDA board and city council held a closed-door meeting last Friday afternoon with city administrator Roger Fraser to discuss a $2 million payment by the DDA to the city this year.

At Monday evening’s meeting, the council postponed a vote on a schedule of fine increases for parking violations. The estimated $635,000 in additional revenues that the increases would bring, said CFO Tom Crawford at the meeting, was not part of the FY 2011 budget assumptions.

The topic of the University of Michigan’s upcoming graduation exercises on May 1, which will feature an address by President Barack Obama, found its way into deliberations at various points in the meeting. The city approved road closures around the football stadium in conjunction with the UM commencement. Residents who live near Elbel Field will contend with floodlights and loudspeakers as early as 4 a.m. on commencement morning. And during public commentary, one resident expressed concern over the city’s denial of a permit to demonstrate – organizers of “Fulfilling the Dream” expect to draw hundreds on May 1, but as yet have nowhere to gather.

The city administrator’s report to the council featured an explanation of parking citations handed out during the previous Saturday’s UM spring football game, as well as an explanation of the closure of city hall last week due to elevated levels of carbon monoxide.

Public commentary was weighted towards an agenda item that allocated $313,000 from the Ann Arbor Housing Trust Fund for three different permanent housing projects. The council approved the allocation.

The council also satisfied an obligation it had under the settlement terms of a recent lawsuit by voting to remand consideration of an email rule to its rules committee.

In Part 1 of this report, we focus on the budget, parking and UM’s commencement. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Caucus: Fires, Fines, Fuller

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday night caucus (April 18, 2010): Access to city hall for the caucus on Sunday evening required a manual unlocking of doors with assistance from the Ann Arbor police department. But after gaining lawful entry, about a half-dozen residents discussed a range of topics with the three councilmembers who attended – mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Bob Snyder couch fire

Bob Snyder reads aloud from the preliminary report of the Ann Arbor fire department, which summarizes the events of a recent nighttime house fire that killed one resident.

A recent fire on South State Street, which killed a resident of the house that burned, prompted a call to revisit a 2004 proposal to ban from porches the use of indoor furniture, like couches. That measure was ultimately tabled by the council six years ago, left to demise without any action.

A couple of residents expressed some disappointment that the councilmembers would not be discussing the budget that evening, but budgetary topics did make their way into the conversation. Chief among them were the relationship of the new parking fine schedule – which is expected to generate an extra $635,000 for the FY 2011 budget – to the parking plan that’s scheduled to be presented on Monday night to the council by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Questions about the planned Fuller Road Station were also raised, including the plan for financing the project. That project is not on Monday night’s agenda. But a different major capital project does have an associated Monday agenda item: the East Stadium bridge replacement. The item involves authorization for the city to apply for funds from the state’s local bridge fund – the city’s most recent application was denied. Caucus attendees heard Hieftje explain that the city would delay the start of replacement construction from fall 2010 to spring 2011, to allow for another round of funding applications.

The council also got an update on one resident’s ongoing efforts to move a mid-block crosswalk in front of King Elementary School to an intersection where cars already stop. [Full Story]

Parking Report Portends DDA-City Tension

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (April 7, 2010): At its regular Wednesday meeting, the full board of the DDA endorsed a draft of the parking report it has been asked to submit to the city council by April 19, when the council next meets. Before it’s sent to the city council, the report will possibly undergo some minor tweaking at the DDA’s partnerships committee meeting next Wednesday, April 14.

Granger Construction Company

David Olson, vice president of Granger Construction Co., delivered a letter to the DDA board during public commentary, which questioned the way concrete bids were handled for the DDA's underground parking garage. The garage is currently under construction along Fifth Avenue. (Photos by the writer.)

Though not addressed by the board as business items, two areas of controversy emerged during public commentary.

One involves the award of a bid as part of the DDA’s construction of the underground parking garage along Fifth Avenue. The contract for construction management for the entire project was awarded to The Christman Co. However, under the terms of the contract, Christman must bid out various components of the project, like the concrete work – even though Christman has the capability of doing that work itself.

The low bid for the concrete work was submitted by Granger Construction Co., at $21.5 million. But Christman awarded the contract to Christman Constructors Inc., which had submitted a bid of $22 million. Christman’s selection as construction manager of the project had been finalized at the DDA board’s Nov. 4, 2009 meeting with a guaranteed maximum price of $44,381,573. Representatives of Christman and Granger aired their differing points of view on the concrete bid at Wednesday’s meeting, with DDA board chair John Splitt concluding that he was satisfied the process had been fair.

The other point of controversy arising during public commentary is the probable $2 million payment this year by the DDA to the city of Ann Arbor – which it has no obligation to make under its current parking agreement with the city. The city’s budget book for FY 2011, released on Monday, does not factor in a payment from the DDA. Instead, it shows a $1.5 million shortfall for the year. The DDA’s parking report to the city council hints at the possibility that the DDA would take responsibility for the ticketing of parking violations. That change in enforcement could be included in the renegotiation of the parking agreement.

Other business transacted by the board on Wednesday included a resolution calling on the city council to revise its sign ordinance so that downtown merchants could use sandwich board signs legally. A recent attempt to revise the ordinance by the council was voted down at its Feb. 16, 2010 meeting. [Full Story]

DDA Amends Bylaws, OKs Management Fee

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Feb. 3, 2010): The DDA board passed two resolutions at its Wednesday meeting. The first authorized a $45,000 discretionary part of the management fee in Republic Parking’s contract.

The Big Drill

The view from Division Street to the Library Lot work site, where the Christman Company is managing the construction of the underground parking garage. The drilling is part of the earth retention work. (Photos by the writer.)

The second resolution amended the DDA bylaws. The change eliminates the ability of the executive committee to act on behalf of the board between regular board meetings, and clarifies the role of the executive director in relationship with the board. Efforts to change the bylaws have accumulated over two years worth of history, and still need the approval of the Ann Arbor city council to take effect.

Another main theme of Wednesday’s meeting was finances – from parking revenues to tax increment finance (TIF) capture, to the housing fund.

And in a nod to the Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day,” we note that The Chronicle’s report of the DDA board’s February meeting from last year also featured a big drill as lead art. Both drills are related to the construction of the underground parking garage along Fifth Avenue. The board received updates on that and other construction projects, as well as on planning and development downtown. [Full Story]

Council: Art Key to Ann Arbor’s Identity

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Dec. 21, 2009) Part I: Ann Arbor’s city council meeting lasted past midnight, as the council concluded the evening with a closed session on labor negotiations. The apparent focus of that closed session was the possibility that an agreement could yet be struck with the firefighter’s union that would prevent the layoff of firefighters who’ve already received letters of termination that would end their service to the city on Jan. 4, 2010.

public art line up for public hearings

Members of the public line up for the public hearing on the Percent for Art program. (Photos by the writer)

What pushed the council meeting into the wee hours, however, were the topics of art and parking.

Several members of council backed off their previous support for a reduction in public art funding. The Percent for Art program was left at its full funding level. The council also approved a contract for management services for the Dreiseitl art project to be installed as a part of the new municipal center – amid legal concerns raised by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Also, the council ultimately approved a heavily amended version of a resolution on parking that Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had added to the agenda on the previous Friday, which left the intent of two key “Resolved” clauses largely intact: (i) the city will get revenues from a surface parking lot, and (ii) the city’s plan to install its own meters has been braked indefinitely. A third clause that would have extended downtown meter enforcement to 10 p.m. was swapped out in favor of one that is less specific.

The council attended to a variety of other matters, including its new committee organization, authorization of purchases connected to single stream recycling, and acceptance of an energy grant. Councilmembers and the city administrator also made robust use of the communications section of the agenda to provide status updates on their recent work.

In Part I of our council report, we focus on art and parking. [Full Story]

City-DDA Parking Deal Possible

At the Dec. 16 meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s operations committee, DDA board member Sandi Smith previewed a city council resolution on parking she said she expected would be on the Dec. 21 city council agenda. Smith also serves on the city council.

Ann Arbor parking meter

Ann Arbor parking meters are currently enforced from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Saturday. (Photo by the writer.)

Key elements of the draft resolution that Smith shared with fellow DDA board members included: (i) net revenues from the Fifth and William (old YMCA) lot would go into city rather than DDA coffers, (ii) downtown parking meters would operate and be enforced until 10 p.m., which is later than their current cutoff of 6 p.m., and (iii) the city would discontinue its plan to install its own parking meters in neighborhoods near the downtown.

The city’s plan to install its own parking meters in neighborhoods near downtown was formulated as part of the city’s FY 2010 budget (the current fiscal year), but implementation was not immediate. Reference to the city’s installation of “its own meters” alludes to the fact that the DDA manages the public parking system via an agreement with the city – the new meters would not fall under that agreement.

Although the specific wording of the draft differed in parts from the resolution that was added to council’s agenda on Friday, the key points remained.

Within hours of its appearance on the agenda, the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce had sent a memo to city councilmembers asking for postponement of the resolution.

Smith’s resolution puts one question that’s been simmering for nearly a year closer to the front burner: Will the parking agreement between the city and the DDA be renegotiated as part of the FY 2011 budget? [Full Story]

Two Library Lot Proposals Eliminated


 This rendering shows a proposal by Dahlmann Apartments Ltd. for a project called Ann Arbor Town Square. It was one of two proposals for the development of Library Lot that have been eliminated from further consideration.

Two of the six proposals to develop the top of the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure – known as Library Lot – have been eliminated from further consideration.

At a Friday morning meeting, members of a committee that’s overseeing the Library Lot development cited insufficient financial benefit to the city as the reason for taking Ann Arbor Town Square and Ann Arbor Community Commons out of play. Both of those projects would put primarily open space on the 1.2-acre lot. Three of the other proposals include a hotel, with the fourth focusing on housing for senior citizens.

Developers of the four remaining proposals will be scheduled for interviews throughout the day on Wednesday, Jan. 20. It’s possible that the field will be thinned even further before then, depending on how developers respond to a list of questions that committee members have formulated about each specific proposal.

The Jan. 20 meetings will be open to the public. The city also plans to hold an evening open house on Jan. 20 for the public to meet with developers and give feedback on the proposals.

In addition, the committee on Friday discussed the possibility of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority paying for a consultant to help evaluate the remaining proposals. [Full Story]