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Ann Arbor Council Focuses on Downtown

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (April 4, 2011): At its Monday meeting, the council focused much of its time discussing the future of downtown Ann Arbor.


Councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) ticks through the list of parcels that would be the focus of a DDA-led development process. (Photos by the writer.)

Councilmembers voted on two major downtown-related agenda items – one affecting the immediate future of an individual parcel, the city-owned Library Lot. The other item involves a process by which the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority would lead the planning of development for multiple downtown parcels, including the Library Lot.

The council voted, over dissent from two of its members, to end the RFP process for the Library Lot and to reject a draft letter of intent they’d discussed at a March 14 work session, which would have called for the city to work with Valiant Partners to craft a development agreement for construction of a conference center and hotel on the lot. The Ann Arbor DDA is currently building a roughly 640-space underground parking garage on that parcel.

Based on a separate resolution passed by the council, the future use of the Library Lot could emerge from a process to be led by the DDA. The council required lengthy deliberations before narrowly approving an amendment that reduced the area of focus for the DDA-led process. The amendment limited the area to the square bounded by Ashley, Division, Liberty and William streets, which would include the Library Lot on South Fifth Avenue, the Kline Lot on Ashley, the old YMCA Lot at Fifth and William, and the Palio Lot at Main and William.

The resolution on the DDA-led process is part of a broader ongoing negotiation between the city and the DDA, related to the contract under which the DDA operates the city’s public parking system. That contract is being renegotiated, and since January, the city has not budged from its position that the DDA should pay the city a percentage-of-gross parking revenue of 16% in the contract’s first two years and 17.5% in years thereafter. It appears that the DDA board is gradually conceding to the city’s bargaining position. That will become clearer at the DDA board meeting on Wednesday, April 6.

The city’s negotiating position is based in part on the idea that the DDA is, as mayor John Hieftje has described it, “an arm of the city.” Hieftje’s view of the DDA as part of the city was further accentuated on Monday, when he announced at the end of the council’s meeting that he would be inviting the DDA to move its offices into newly-renovated space in the city hall building. The DDA currently leases space about a block south of city hall.

Also a part of Monday’s downtown-themed meeting was initial approval the council gave to a revision to the city’s ordinance on panhandling. That ordinance revision – which added some areas where panhandling is prohibited – will require a second reading and a public hearing in front of the council before it can be enacted.

An additional part of the downtown discussion came at the start of the council’s meeting, with a presentation on work being done to plan and study the 415 W. Washington parcel for future use as a center for artists and as a greenway park.

In non-downtown business, the council accepted a series of easements that will set the stage for TIGER II grant funds – already awarded by the federal government – to be formally obligated to the city. At stake is $13.1 million, which is currently still part of a continuing resolution for the federal budget. But that continuing resolution expires April 8, so the council was acting with some urgency.

The council also gave necessary approvals for a bus pullout to be constructed on Washtenaw Avenue, and authorized emergency purchase orders for furniture. And the council heard a presentation from Andrew Brix, the city’s energy programs manager, about efforts to increase the percentage of renewable energy that the city uses. [Full Story]