Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Sept. 4, 2013): The board’s first meeting since early July was attended by the minimum seven members needed for a quorum on the 12-member group. In its one main business item, the group voted to approve a $300,000 grant to Washtenaw County, to support renovations to the county-owned building at 110 N. Fourth in Ann Arbor, which is known as the Annex.
The renovation is part of the county’s overall space plan, approved by the board of commissioners at its July 10, 2013 meeting. The space plan calls for modifications to the Annex so that it can house the county’s Community Support & Treatment Services (CSTS) department. The cost of the renovations at the Annex, which would include a new lobby and “client interaction” space, would be about $1 million, according to the DDA board resolution. [.pdf of DDA resolution on the Annex] The Annex has housed the county’s office of community and economic development, office of infrastructure management, and the public defender’s office. Those offices are being moved to other leased and county-owned space.
Not described at the DDA’s board meeting was the backdrop of the grant award to the county, which evolved from a conversation between county administration and the DDA about ways the DDA could help the county address its budget deficit. A pitch from the county had been to re-open the agreement under which the county purchases monthly parking permits in the city’s public parking system, which the DDA manages. The alternative proposed by the DDA was to make a one-time $300,000 grant – to help fund a project for which the county had already identified funding.
Also not mentioned among the several updates given during the Sept. 4 DDA board meeting was an Aug. 26 meeting of a joint DDA-council committee. That committee had been established by the Ann Arbor city council at its July 1, 2013 meeting to work out a recommendation on possible legislation to address an ongoing controversy about DDA tax increment finance revenue. Not much forward progress was made at that committee meeting.
The city council has already given initial approval of changes to the ordinance language that would clarify the amount of tax increment finance capture (TIF) revenue received by the DDA . The clarification currently under consideration does not work out in the DDA’s favor. A final vote of approval appeared on the council’s Sept. 3, 2013 agenda – the day before the DDA board met – but the council decided again to postpone a final vote.
At their Sept. 4 meeting, DDA board members also got a look at a draft five-year plan of projects that has now been generated, partly in response to pressure from the city council – dating back to April of this year – asking the DDA to explain what projects would not be undertaken if the DDA didn’t continue to receive TIF revenue based on its preferred interpretation of the city’s ordinance.
Highlights of other updates that were given at the Sept. 4 DDA board meeting included a review of the preliminary end-of-year figures for the public parking system and the rest of the DDA’s funds. Overall, the DDA’s financial picture was better than budgeted. That difference is due to the timing of various capital costs.
For the parking system, the year-end picture was consistent with the trend throughout the year. Revenue generated by the parking system was up by 11.9% ($19.09 million) compared to the previous fiscal year, while the number of hourly patrons was down by 1.96% (2,232,736).
Low attendance at the board’s meeting was partly a function of the fact that two of the seats are currently vacant. One of the seats could potentially have been filled by the city council through confirmation of Al McWilliams’ nomination at its Sept. 3, 2013 meeting. However, as the nine councilmembers present debated his confirmation, mayor John Hieftje withdrew it, at least for the time being.
McWilliams’ confirmation would have needed six votes on the 11-member council – and the outcome was dubious based on conversation among the nine attendees at the council table. Some councilmembers questioned whether McWilliams’ might have a recurring conflict of interest based on the work his advertising firm, Quack!Media, does for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority and the allocations that the DDA makes to the AAATA’s go!pass program. That allocation amounted to $479,000 this year, and was approved at the DDA board’s March 6, 2013 meeting.
The Sept. 4 DDA board meeting was somewhat unusual in that no one from the public chose to address the board during the session at either of the two points on the agenda for public commentary.