On Tuesday, March 8, 2011, a committee appointed by the Ann Arbor city council and charged with reviewing proposals for future use of the Library Lot – the top of the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure – met for the first time since November. The expected result of Tuesday’s meeting had been that the committee would move a proposed hotel/conference center project forward to the city council.
And that’s what the committee voted to do – specifically, to recommend to the city council that a letter of intent (LOI) be signed with Valiant, the developer, which could eventually lead to a development agreement. The city council will receive a presentation on the letter of intent at a work session on Monday, March 14 at 7 p.m. at the Washtenaw County Board room at 220 N. Main St.
In the draft of the LOI unveiled at Tuesday’s committee meeting, the city and Valiant would try to strike a development agreement no later than four months after the signing of the LOI, with construction to start 15 months after the signing of the development agreement.
Attending the committee meeting on Tuesday was David Di Rita of The Roxbury Group, which has served as a consultant to the committee. In November, Di Rita had delivered a report to the committee recommending Valiant’s proposal over a similar project proposed by another developer – Acquest.
The majority of Tuesday’s meeting time was taken up with Di Rita delivering introductory remarks – a self-described “soliloquy” – and walking the committee through the main points of the draft LOI, or responding to committee member questions.
In his introductory remarks, Di Rita distinguished between the idea of analyzing the financial viability of a specific proposal – which he stressed that The Roxbury Group had not done – and the overall economic validity of a concept.
Key points in the draft LOI are the idea that Valiant would pay for the acquisition of development rights on the property, but could use part of that payment for the design and financing of the conference center. The city of Ann Arbor would own the conference center, and would not be held liable for its maintenance and operation costs, unless Valiant were to cease holding the management agreement. The city’s ownership could, according to the draft LOI, possibly implicate payments by Valiant to the city in lieu of taxes. The draft LOI also calls for reserving no fewer than 350 daytime parking spaces in the underground parking garage, currently under construction, for the hotel/conference center.
In addition to committee members, more than 20 people attended the meeting, filling the fourth floor conference room of city hall. Attendees in the audience included Ward 1 councilmember Sabra Briere; Ann Arbor District Library director Josie Parker; and AADL board member Nancy Kaplan. Several people who attended have expressed objections to the hotel/conference center project, based on either the substance of the proposal itself or the decision-making process.
Related to complaints about the decision process, the meeting began with an adamant request from local attorney Tom Wieder to be allowed to address the committee, which was denied by the committee’s chair, Stephen Rapundalo.