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.
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]