Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Feb. 5, 2014): Highlights of the board’s hour and a quarter meeting were communications and transportation, on an agenda that featured no substantive voting items. The meeting consisted of various reports and discussion points.
A communications and marketing strategy for the downtown was the focus of Rishi Narayan’s report from the board’s partnerships committee, which had invited representatives from the four downtown area merchant associations to it most recent meeting. The message from those groups, Narayan reported, was a desire to see more events take place downtown.
A desire to see more signature events take place, especially during the winter, had been one of several items identified by board members at a recent retreat, held on Jan. 30, 2014 in the jury assembly room of the Justice Center, from noon to about 3:30 p.m. At its Feb. 5 monthly meeting, the follow-up discussion about the retreat also focused heavily on the idea of events and the possible role the DDA might play in facilitating more frequent events downtown. An initial reaction that appeared to be shared by several board members was this: The DDA should not necessarily be in the event-hosting business, but rather provide assistance to those organizations that are already hosting various events.
Board chair Sandi Smith also floated the idea of hiring an additional staff member to focus on marketing. City administrator Steve Powers stressed the importance of having a clear idea of the financial basis for the DDA’s capacity to undertake various projects on the list of its five-year plan. That five-year project plan, which Smith characterized as always in draft form, will be a focus of discussion when the board continues its retreat on Feb. 19. In addition to the five-year project plan, the board will focus on its 10-year financial projections at the Feb. 19 session. [Updated: The board has decided to continue its retreat on Feb. 26 at 1 p.m. at the DDA offices.]
Transportation was a topic addressed by the sole speaker during public commentary at the Feb. 5 monthly meeting, as Martha Valadez, an organizer with Partners for Transit, asked the DDA board to support a millage proposal that’s expected to be placed on the ballot by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. Late last month, the board’s operations committee had been briefed by AAATA staff on the five-year transit improvement plan – the set of service increases that are driving the likely request that voters approve an additional 0.7 mill tax.
Also related to transportation was a report from the board’s operations committee that included an update on the go!pass program, which the DDA has funded historically. Last year, the DDA granted the AAATA about $560,000 to pay for rides taken by downtown employees through the go!pass program. A request will be coming up soon for this next year’s funding.
In another transportation-related topic, the board also received an update on a possible part-time conversion of downtown on-street loading zones into taxi stands. Somewhat related to on-street right-of-way, the board was briefed on city council action to impose a fee on developers who cause the removal of on-street parking meters – unless the development has a more general public benefit. It will be up to the DDA to define what constitutes a public benefit – a task the board will now take up.
Related specifically to the public parking system, which the DDA manages under a contract with the city, the board reviewed the parking revenues for the second quarter of the fiscal year, compared to last year. It was the first full quarter for which the year-over-year comparison was for periods that did not include any parking rate increases. Revenue was essentially flat, showing just a 0.7% increase.
It’s not clear how much longer the former Y lot – located on William between Fourth and Fifth avenues – will continue to be used as a surface parking lot. Not mentioned at the Feb. 5 board meeting, but discussed at the Jan. 29 operations committee meeting, was a proposal from Dennis Dahlmann about leasing the lot back to the DDA after he completes the purchase of the city-owned land. The idea would be for the DDA to lease the property and continue to operate a surface parking lot on the parcel until Dahlmann is able to move a site plan forward. At the operations committee meeting, the idea was not warmly embraced.
Other updates included the regular report from the downtown area citizens advisory council. Chair of the group, Ray Detter, reported that the CAC was generally supportive of an effort now being made by Will and Mary Hathaway to work with some city councilmembers on a resolution about the future of the surface level of the Library Lane underground parking structure. The resolution would establish a significant part of that level – but not all of it – as an urban public space.