Parking Deck Pre-Tensioned with Lawsuit

Bond sale and construction manager selection move ahead
View of construction sight for proposed underground parking garage looking east to west. Herb David Guitar Studios and Jerusalem Garden are located in the upper right corner of the block.

View of construction site (Ed. note: corrected from "sight") for proposed underground parking garage looking east to west. Herb David Guitar Studios and Jerusalem Garden are located in the upper right corner of the block. (Image links to Microsoft's Bing Maps for full interactive display.)

As The Chronicle previously reported, at last week’s city council meeting, Ann Arbor CFO Tom Crawford announced that bonds for the 677-space South Fifth Avenue underground parking garage had been sold on Aug. 5.

And on Friday, Aug. 7, the Downtown Development Authority’s capital improvements committee conducted interviews with four candidate companies for the job of construction manager of the garage.

Then, by Wednesday morning of this week, references and financials for the Christman Company had checked out to the satisfaction of the DDA staff and Carl Walker – the design firm that’s been hired for the project. DDA executive director Susan Pollay is working out a time for a special meeting of the whole board to award the job to Christman.

But the day before, on Aug. 11, a lawsuit in connection with the parking garage project – which had previously been threatened by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center – was actually filed. The complaint alleges violations of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Michigan Open Meetings Act, as well as nuisance and trespass violations.  Herb David Guitar Studio and Jerusalem Garden restaurant are plaintiffs in the suit, along with GLELC.


On Wednesday morning, after arriving at a consensus that they wanted the Christman Company as their construction manager for pre-construction services, several DDA capital improvement committee members wanted to know: “When do we get the money?” That is, when does the bond money arrive so that they can pay Christman?

The money is coming from municipal bonds. And it’s supposed to arrive next week  (on Aug. 19), Tom Crawford told The Chronicle in a phone conversation. It’ll be a wire transfer for roughly $49 million. Here’s a brief historical sketch of the bonds.

The municipal bonds for the proposed underground parking garage were first authorized by Ann Arbor’s city council at its Feb. 17, 2009 meeting – that’s a key date with respect to the lawsuit that’s been filed. Then at its July 20 meeting, the council authorized a change from tax-free bonds to taxable municipal bonds, which have higher interest rates, thus costing the city more in debt service. That’s more than offset, however, by money from the federal stimulus package through its Build America Bonds program.

In his presentation to the DDA board at its July 3 meeting, Crawford said that switching to the BABs would actually save around a $1.5 million over the life of the bond.

At the council’s most recent meeting, on Aug. 6, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) queried Crawford about the city’s bond rating in light of a $5 million payment out of cash reserves, which was needed to finance the early-out police retirements. Crawford told Anglin that the cash reserves were still within the policy range of 8-12% of expenditures, and that the city’s bond rating  had been confirmed the previous day at Aa2 when the bonds for the parking garage had been sold.

So the bond sale date was Aug. 5. How exactly are bonds sold? There’s a bidding process. In this case the “sale date” corresponds to the deadline for submitting sealed bids. From the city’s Preliminary Official Statement for the issuance of the bonds:

Sealed bids for the purchase of the issue of  bonds described below of the aggregate par value of $49,420,000 to be issued by the  City of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Michigan (“City”), will be received by the undersigned at the office of the Treasurer, at 100 N. Fifth Ave. Ann Arbor, Michigan
48107, until 11:30 o’clock, A.M., Eastern Daylight Time, on Wednesday, the 5th day of  August, 2009, at which time and place such bids will be publicly opened and read.

Delivery of the bonds is scheduled for Aug. 19. After delivery, the city would receive a wire transfer of around $49 million, which would be invested in low-risk financial instruments – like U.S. Treasury bonds – in a manner that would allow those investments to be cashed out in the course of the project. That way, when the DDA requests funds to meet its construction payment obligations, those funds will be available.

When we spoke with Crawford, we asked him explicitly not to factor in any possible implications of the lawsuit on what might happen to the bonds – from Crawford we wanted to know how things worked in a garden-variety case. In a usual course of events, after the “sale,” Crawford told The Chronicle, “We’re in, we’re done.”

However, based on the Preliminary Official Statement, it appears that delivery of the bonds might founder on the need to attest that there is no pending litigation:

DELIVERY OF BONDS: The City will furnish bonds ready for execution at its expense. Bonds will be delivered at the principal office of the Bond Registrar, or any other place mutually agreeable, at the expense of the City. The usual closing documents, including a certificate that no litigation is pending affecting the issuance of the bonds [emphasis added], will be delivered at the time of delivery of the bonds. If the bonds are not tendered for delivery by twelve o’clock noon, Eastern Daylight Time, on the 45th day following the date of sale, or the first business day thereafter if said 45th day is not a business day, the successful bidder may on that day, or any time thereafter until delivery of the bonds, withdraw its proposal by serving written notice of cancellation on the undersigned, in which event the City shall promptly return the good faith deposit.

The lawsuit filed by GLELC alleges Open Meeting Act violations at the Feb. 17 meeting when the bonds were issued.

If the lawsuit delays bond delivery, that would delay construction start. And based on the construction manager interviews,  delays in the construction start could potentially wreck the timing of crucial phases of the project.

Construction Interviews

The DDA board’s capital improvements committee interviewed four candidate construction companies from around noon to 7 p.m. last Friday in a meeting open to the public.

We’re Going to Dig a Big Hole

At least two companies  for the construction manager job had taken to heart an apparent message from the DDA about timing: Get Fifth Avenue back open in time for the Art Fairs.

Timing of closure and opening of Fifth Avenue was a key part of presentations from Barton Malow and Christman Company – we missed Spence Brothers, and Granger Construction Company’s pitches. Those four had been winnowed down from 14 companies that submitted bids.

Barton Malow described digging the big hole from west to east. Christman had an idea for digging from east to west.  They both talked about the project in terms that pretty much anybody could understand. Barton Malow, whose construction trailers can currently be seen parked on the north end of Michigan Stadium in connection with the university project, described the process like this: “We’re going to dig a hole – a big hole. And we’re going to fill it with concrete – a lot of concrete.” For their part, Christman described starting the excavation then “chasing ourselves around the hole with our concrete.”

Construction Manager Selection Interviews DDA Underground Parking Garage

Interviews for the construction manager job by the DDA's capital improvements committee. From left, Roger Hewitt (DDA), Michael Ortlieb (Carl Walker), Neal Morton, standing (Barton Malow). (Photo by the writer.) (Ed. note: "Barton" corrected from "Baron")

The presentation was by no means just a bunch of concrete guys pouring out homespun phrases. It was a bunch of concrete guys with 3-D renderings of the site and their proposed phasing of the construction to take place in the tight quarters on the library lot.

Both companies had put effort not just into 3-D modeling, but into getting to know their potential client. Christman met with councilmembers.  Barton Malow attended DDA board and city council meetings – at the interviews, The Chronicle had noticed the face of Neal Morton of Barton Malow, which had grown familiar from some of those meetings. Morton had also put time into measuring current light levels (in  foot candles) and noise levels (in decibels) at the site so that they’d know what kind of comparative impact the construction was having.

Morton’s effort, however, was ultimately not rewarded with a recommendation to the board that his company be selected as construction manager.

Still, Barton Malow and Morton could make money on the job – if they’re selected as a concrete subcontractor. The construction manager candidates have their “in house” concrete divisions, and would ordinarily not need to subcontract out that work. But the DDA would like the construction manager for this project to bid out the concrete work. It was a question that DDA board member Leah Gunn put to the construction manager candidates during the interviews: Would they be comfortable having to compete for the concrete work with other bidders? The correct answer was yes.

The candidates for the job emphasized that the close quarters of the site made it a challenge – both logistically and in terms of minimizing impact on the immediately surrounding property. They’d be installing earth retention systems that would minimize vibration impacts, for example.

Why Christman is the Committee’s Choice for the Job

At Wednesday’s meeting of the DDA’s capital improvements committee, Mike Ortlieb of Carl Walker reported that they’d followed up with six different references for Christman: the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, and Traverse City; Foote Hospital, Catalyst Development, and Spectrum Hospital.

They heard back from four of them. There was “not a negative word in any of them,” said Ortlieb. What had been particularly impressive was the fine job of coordination on any issues that had come up. It was their people who really made the difference, he reported.

The financial picture for Christman had also checked out. Adrian Iraola of Park Avenue Consultants, who’ll be coordinating with the construction manager for the DDA, said that Joe Morehouse, deputy director of the DDA, had cross-referenced the financial statements. Asked by board member Roger Hewitt if they’d looked at an audit, DDA executive director Susan Pollay indicated that Christman’s numbers had been checked using an online service from Dun & Bradstreet Inc.

But for Hewitt and other capital improvement committee members, what made Christman rise above the other three was the fact that they just recently completed three simultaneous projects of the same kind as the underground parking project planned in downtown Ann Arbor – they’d worked on the Michigan Street Development project in Grand Rapids. Plus, they’d be bringing that same project team to Ann Arbor.

Construction Manager Selection Interviews DDA Underground Parking Garage

Carl Luckenbach of Luckenbach|Ziegelman Architects listens to a presentation from the Christman Company, one of four candidates for the job of construction manager for the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage. (Photo by the writer.)

Recently-elected board chair John Splitt placed a high enough value on the people on the project team that he said he’d like it written into the contract that if Christman were selected to handle the actual construction phase – the current award for the job is just the pre-construction phase – then he wanted that same project team in place.

Recently-appointed board member Newcombe Clark noted there was an interesting parallel between Christman as a construction company with its own “in house” concrete division, and Christman as a construction company that is also affiliated with its own development company:  Christman Capital Development Company. As previously noted, the DDA wants its construction manager to solicit sealed bids for subcontracted work – the construction company’s “in house” concrete division won’t have any advantage against other bidders.

In the same way, Clark said, it’d be important that Christman as a development company not have any advantage in an RFP (request for proposals) process for the question of what, if anything, gets built on top of the underground parking structure.

The question of “what goes on top” was a contentious one at city council’s July 6 meeting when the council ultimately passed a resolution to set an RFP process into motion for how the top of the parking garage would be developed.

It’s possible, even likely, that alterations in the parking garage design might need to be undertaken on the fly during construction to accommodate plans for what goes on top. So, during the interviews last Friday, Carl Luckenbach of Luckenbach|Ziegelman Architects, who’s on the design team, asked candidates how well-equipped they might be to deal with such design revisions.

At Wednesday’s capital improvement committee meeting, Hewitt emphasized that “no RFP would come from us [the DDA]!”

The Lawsuit Against the City of Ann Arbor

Recall that references were checked for Christman, the construction company recommended by the DDA’s capital improvements committee for the construction manager job. Of those, Mike Ortlieb indicated that one was a neighbor to the Grand Rapids street improvement project that Christman had worked on, directly across the street from the site.

In Ann Arbor, it’s two immediate neighbors to the Fifth Avenue construction site – Herb David Guitar Studios and Jerusalem Garden restaurant – who are parties to the lawsuit filed on Aug. 11 against the city of Ann Arbor.

One: Nuisance

The  first count of the suit’s claim is one of nuisance:

86. The City’s proposed Parking Garage project will cause vibrations, noise and dust, creating a nuisance that will cause damage to, and interfere with the businesses, of Plaintiffs Herb David Guitar Studio and Jerusalem Garden.

Two: Trespass

The second count of the suit’s claim is one of trespass:

94. If the Parking Garage project is permitted to go forward, vibrations, noise and dust from the construction process will physically invade the Plaintiffs’ properties.

95. The vibrations, noise and dust which will enter, settle upon and physically invade Plaintiffs’ properties will interfere with Plaintiffs’ use and possession of their properties and will constitute a continuing trespass upon Plaintiffs’ properties.

96. Plaintiffs do not consent to having vibrations, noise and dust physically invade their land and property.

Three: FOIA Violation

The third count of the suit’s claim is that the city of Ann Arbor violated the Freedom of Information Act in failing to provide documents that the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center had requested under that act:

108. The City has failed to meet its burden of claiming an exemption because FOIA exemptions must be supported by substantial justification and explanation, not merely conclusory assertions.

109. The City withheld email communications among Council members concerning whether to postpone a decision on the Parking Garage resolution which is clearly a matter of urgent public interest. These communications do not fall within any of the exemptions to FOIA claimed by the City.

In part, GLELC became aware  of the failure of the city to provide responsive documents through a FOIA request made by The Chronicle:

69. Upon information and belief, much of the material exempted from GLELC’s FOIA requests were disclosed as part of a similar FOIA request submitted by The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

Four: Open Meetings Act Violation

The FOIA violation claimed in the third count of the suit is a key element related the fourth count, which is a claim that the  Open Meetings Act was violated at the Feb. 17 meeting of the city council:

122. The Open Meetings Act requires that all decisions and deliberations of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public. MCL 15.263

123. The City violated the Open Meetings Act when City Council members discussed and decided not to postpone a vote on the resolution to approve the Parking Garage project through private email communication.

124. After the private email discussion among Council members, Council voted to approve the site plan for the new Parking Garage and the bonding to finance the project.

Paragraph 54 (b) of the complaint indicates the specific councilmembers, whose email exchanges during the Feb. 17 meeting are alleged to constitute a violation of the Open Meetings Act, are Carsten Hohnke, Sandi Smith, Margie Teall, Leigh Greden, Marcia Higgins and Sabra Briere. In The Chronicle’s set of emails, we identify only one email involving Briere, which was sent to her and Smith by Higgins at 8:27 p.m. with an empty body and the subject line: “I won’t be asking for a postponement.” To the extent that  GLELC wants to make a quorum-based argument that a meeting took place that was not properly noticed,  it may depend on demonstrating that Briere looked at that email during the meeting.

As a part of that OMA count, the suit states that because of the FOIA violation, GLELC did not become aware of the OMA violation until long after it occurred:

126. In response to GLELC’s FOIA request, the City refused to provide the email communications between Council members regarding postponement of the vote on the resolution to approve the Parking Garage.

127. As a result of the City’s failure to comply with FOIA, Plaintiffs did not become aware of the private emails and the City’s violation of the Open Meetings Act until on or about July 9, 2009.

Five: Violation of MEPA

The details of the claimed violation of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act are discussed more fully in a previous Chronicle article. From the complaint:

148. The proposed Parking Garage will “pollute, impair and destroy” the natural resources in several respects, including, but not limited to, the following:

(a) The Parking Garage will increase motor vehicle miles traveled (“VMT”) to downtown Ann Arbor, causing increased greenhouse gas pollution and other air pollution impacts;

(b) Construction  of the Parking Garage will create significant localized environmental impacts such as particulate pollution, dust and noise in the project area; (c) The manufacture and synthesis of construction materials require vast amounts of resources and energy with associated pollution, impairment and destruction of the natural environment; and (d) Such other pollution impacts as may become apparent during the course of discovery in this matter.

149. During the City Council meeting on February 17, 2009, Environmental Commission Chairman Bean urged City Council to postpone its decision regarding the bonding and approval of the new Parking Garage until the City properly considered the need for the project, the environmental impact of the project and the range of less impacting alternatives to the project.

150. In clear violation of MEPA, the City failed to consider the environmental impacts of the proposed new Parking Garage and/or the alternatives to the Parking Garage.

What’s Being Asked of the Court?


WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs request the following relief:

(a) Declare that the City approved the Parking Garage project in violation of the Open Meetings Act;

(b) Declare that the City’s nondisclosure of requested documents violated the Freedom of Information Act;

(c) Enter an order which invalidates City Council’s approval of the site plan for the Parking Garage and the bonding to fund the project which occurred at its meeting on February 17 , 2009 ;

(d) An order which enjoins City Council members from engaging in any further private emails discussions during public meetings regarding the Parking Garage project or funding for the project; [emphasis added]

(e) Enter an order holding that the proposed Parking Garage project constitutes a threatened nuisance to Plaintiffs’ properties;

(f) Enter an order holding that the proposed Parking Garage project constitutes a threatened trespass to Plaintiffs’ properties;

(g) Enter an order holding that the proposed Parking Garage project is likely to pollute, impair or destroy the air, water and other natural resources;

(h) Enter a preliminary injunction requiring the City to undertake a study to determine the following:

  • (i) Consideration of the environmental impacts of the proposed new Parking Garage;
  • (ii) Identification and evaluation of the purpose and need for the proposed new Parking Garage; and
  • (iii) Evaluation of alternatives to the proposed new Parking Garage;

(i) Enter a preliminary injunction which prohibits the City from constructing the Parking Garage until a comprehensive study as detailed above is completed;

(j) If construction of the Parking Garage proceeds, award Plaintiffs damages for the City’s interference with the use and enjoyment of their properties as more fully described above;

(k) If construction of the Parking Garage proceeds, award Plaintiffs damages for the trespass upon their properties committed by the City as more fully described above;

(1) Award GLELC its actual and reasonable attorney’s fees, as required by MCL 15.240(6);

(m) Award Plaintiffs their actual and reasonable attorney’s fees as required by MCL 15.271(4); and

(n) Award Plaintiffs such other relief as the Court deems just under the circumstances.

Chronicle Commentary on What’s Next

The city of Ann Arbor has 21 days to file a written answer to the court in response to the suit filed by GLELC. Based on The Chronicle’s understanding of the requirements of bond delivery – described at the beginning of this article – the fact that a lawsuit has been filed surrounding the issuance of the bonds could stop the parking garage project at least until the city files a response. Specifically, on our understanding, the existence of the lawsuit stops the project because it makes bond delivery impossible – because  bond delivery requires there be no pending litigation on the issuance of the bonds.

The full DDA board will not meet to vote on the award of the construction manager job for pre-construction services until sometime in the week of Aug. 17. But if the lawsuit remains unresolved past the end of next week, it’s fair to start the clock on the length of the project’s delay.

The request (d) in the lawsuit by the plaintiffs that the court enjoin city councilmembers from further email communications on the topic of the underground parking garage is a narrowly drawn version of requests to the city council that The Chronicle made earlier this week. That is, The Chronicle’s requests have not yet been escalated to litigation, and the request is not confined to the topic of the underground parking garage. Those requests are numbered 1-3 in this excerpt from the full text of our communication.

On examination of the corpus of email exchanges between city council members during open meetings, it is clear that many of these exchanges augmented the open deliberations as viewed by a public observer, thus effectively shielding a portion of the council’s deliberation from public view. This is not a gray area and constitutes a violation of both the letter and spirit of the OMA.

It is The Chronicle’s position that the city council should adopt a policy to prevent such instances of Open Meetings Act violations in the future. Our concerns for the openness of future discussions of public policy could be addressed by immediately enacting a council policy that does the following:

  1. Prohibits electronic communications between members of city council during public meetings, because such electronic communications are not accessible to the public at the time of the meeting.
  2. Defines “electronic communications” broadly enough to include email, instant messaging, text messaging and use of third party message services such as Facebook.
  3. Does not rely on self-policing or FOIA requests made by citizens to check for compliance with the policy.

There are obvious technology solutions that would allow for the council to conduct its business in an efficient and convenient way, while still enforcing the openness that Open Meetings Act requires, a requirement which the Ann Arbor city council has not met in its recent history as demonstrated by the corpus of emails obtained by The Chronicle under the FOIA.

In light of our specific interest in the Open Meetings Act, it is that aspect of GLELC’s lawsuit that has been filed against the city on which we will focus as the litigation makes its way through the court.

[Partially Searchable Text of Complaint]


  1. By Bruce Laidlaw
    August 13, 2009 at 8:14 am | permalink

    Very thorough story. I wish the plaintiffs luck in their lawsuit. They will need it.
    Deep underground parking structures can be a nightmare. Detroit discovered that when it built the Kennedy Square parking garage.

  2. August 13, 2009 at 8:18 am | permalink

    A fine, complete account. It is difficult to say which is more impressive, the reporting or your outstanding work on behalf of transparency. Thank you.

  3. By Rod Johnson
    August 13, 2009 at 10:33 am | permalink

    “Site” not “sight” in the picture caption (feel free to remove this comment to cover your tracks:).

  4. August 13, 2009 at 10:41 am | permalink

    I’m curious what might happen to other neighbors of the construction site, including the Kempf House Museum. Should I run over there now and see it before it’s damaged? I admit I haven’t been, yet.

  5. By a2eastsider
    August 13, 2009 at 11:02 am | permalink

    Thank you for a thorough and fact filled article that was free from hyperbole.

    It is clear that information was being exchanged among elected officials regarding the project that was not available to the public. Whether or not there was intent to keep that information from the public is immaterial.

    I have long felt that all participants at public meetings, including the audience, should be asked to turn off all of their electronic devices. Sitting near people who are exchanging text messages, web surfing, or exchanging emails during a meeting is distracting and rude to people who are there to listen and/or participate. I suppose for the very few that absolutely need to be reachable, they could leave pagers and phones on vibrate and excuse themselves from the meeting in order to respond to a call.

  6. August 13, 2009 at 11:14 am | permalink

    Regarding (4), has there been any comment from the Library board or administrator on how this project would affect accessibility to the Library? And what about those expansion plans that were put on hold – are they cancelled or still possible?

    Yes, do go check out the Kempf House. Right now there is easily accessible parking.

  7. By Rici
    August 13, 2009 at 11:37 am | permalink

    Regarding (6), at the library Lego building contest this past Monday they announced that it had been moved (to Weber’s) in part because they thought there would be a giant hole next door. (And also because the multipurpose room was too small to hold the entries and the crowd last year.) So clearly they are aware that the garage will affect accessibility.

  8. By Rici
    August 13, 2009 at 11:38 am | permalink

    Baron Malow? (caption in 2nd picture)

  9. By Bob Martel
    August 13, 2009 at 11:51 am | permalink

    I am not comfortable with the timing of this project due to the economy.

    Will we be left with yet another expensive set of bonds to retire with a decreasing tax base?

    I’m sure that the bonds are projected to be retired from parking proceeds from the new structure. But, does downtown really need all that new parking? I never have a problem finding a spot downtown with the exception of Art Fair and football Saturdays. If this expanded parking lot is not filled with new cars that do not currently come downtown, it will simply cannibalize revenue from the other lots and we will not see as much incremental revenue as expected. In that case, we will not be retiring the bonds with incremental parking revenue, but rather with revenue that we would have received anyway.

    Over the past several years, I’ve seen this City, this School system and this County spend money on bricks and mortar projects with the promise that the bonds would be paid out of “operational savings” or “incremental revenue streams.” Now we learn that the new jail will not be opened when completed due to operational costs, our school system is in deep financial trouble over Skyline high and as far as I can see the School Board is still in “lala land.” Don’t even get me started on that new City Hall (sorry, Roger.)

    I think that it’s high time that we pause all of this and take stock of what this community an actually afford.

  10. By Matt Hampel
    August 13, 2009 at 1:06 pm | permalink

    Bob: (kind of offtopic) Has there been recent reporting on the School Board or district financial issues? I found articles from March and April on the Chronicle, but nothing more recent.

  11. August 13, 2009 at 2:24 pm | permalink

    (RE: 9)

    Dave: Nice piece of work.

    Bob: Your position has merit. However, I remember that when I moved my firm into the city I could not get monthly parking passes. The lots were full.

    My firm is small and I could afford to pay the retail parking for my employees (wherever they could find it). However, were I a bigger firm or had more confined by finances I simply would not have moved into Ann Arbor.

    The point I’m making Bob is that you build for future needs, not present ones. If you believe Ann Arbor will prosper (as I do), the added parking makes sense. If you don’t, your position is the right one.

    If you choose to pause, you are choosing the “not prosper” position. The parking has to be there when the new firms arrive. They are not going to sit around losing business while awaiting the City’s convenience.

    I guess that the way I look at it is that there are so many positive things going on (e.g., bio-tech, engineering, etc.) that the need is inevitable. So, my vote is “let’s do it.”

    However,I fully understand and appreciate the contrary position. I think that in final analysis it boils down to a matter of faith in the future. As an entrepreneur, I’m inherently optimistic.

  12. August 13, 2009 at 2:52 pm | permalink

    Gary’s comment points to the need to differentiate between parking demand by commuters and that by shoppers and other visitors. The two groups present quite different demands on the system, both spatially and temporally. The go!pass program has successfully addressed the demand from commuters.

    When did you move your company into the city, Gary? Was it before the go!pass program took off? If you’re still waiting for parking permits, you might ask the DDA why they don’t make some of the approximately 200 spaces that are consistently available in the 4th & William structure into permit spots.

    As for waiting or moving forward, one risk of moving forward now is the loss of existing spaces–about 193 in the library lot, 88 in the old Y site lot (which will be used for equipment and material staging), plus the potential on-street spaces (and for all I know, maybe even spaces on the far side of Division) that are slated to be added to 5th & Division–during the construction period of two years or so. Is the long-term benefit of the new structure worth the short-term economic risks (and the long-term environmental impacts)?

  13. By anon
    August 13, 2009 at 4:53 pm | permalink

    If you are talking about future prosperity, you have to prioritize mass transit over single occupant automobiles. The current paradigm with additional automobiles is unsustainable; it literally has no future.

  14. August 13, 2009 at 5:08 pm | permalink

    Good reporting. The non-litigation certificate referenced in the preliminary official statement is potentially waiveable by the purchaser of the bonds (if, for instance, it receives a legal opinion that the suit is “without merit”).

    However, if the suit has colorable legal merit as to the procedures used to approve issuance of the bonds, then the question for Bond Counsel (and others) is whether the bonds are validly issued – a core legal requirement that speaks to whether the repayment obligation is enforceable (and whether invalidly issued bonds are entitled to tax-exemption). Although litigation matters, Bond Counsel’s opinion of the validity of the bonds is a more fundamental concern for the bond purchasers.

    As you might imagine, a post-sale lawsuit is never a welcome development for the financial and legal professionals involved in issuance of bonds.

  15. By Bob Martel
    August 13, 2009 at 8:00 pm | permalink

    @ Jeff, I beg to differ with respect to part of your last comment. The legal professionals will be the only clear winners if there is any post-sale lawsuit!

  16. By Joel Batterman
    August 13, 2009 at 11:25 pm | permalink

    Gary, I’m bullish about the future of Ann Arbor too. There’s little doubt that more firms are going to be joining yours in the city, and that’s great. And, if we assume that the region’s future housing and transportation trends will continue to look like they did over the past 50 or 60 years, there certainly would be a need for more parking downtown at some point in the future. That’s because the old trend was pretty simple: more and more development, farther and farther away from urban centers, that made it impossible, inconvenient, or just plain dangerous for people to get to work without getting into a car. “Drive-or-die development,” or DODD, you might call it.

    The future, however, isn’t going to look like the past fifty years. In much of the U.S., housing and transportation patterns are already changing. Phoenix, the embodiment of DODD, just got a light rail line. And even in Michigan, the shift is starting to arrive. You could say we’re witnessing the freezing-over of the past fifty years of housing-and-transportation-pattern hell. Not everyone in the Google set wants to live in a mini-Manhattan, but it’s fair to say that most don’t want to have to drive everywhere for everything, and few still see “bigger and bigger houses farther and farther apart from one another” (Bill McKibben’s words) as the embodiment of the American Dream.

    That’s precisely why Ann Arbor is going to be such a prosperous place in future. We have a downtown that hasn’t been bulldozed or burned, and the return of Detroit commuter rail, as well as high-capacity transit along Plymouth and State, will allow a much better mix of transportation choices. I only hope that before things really shoot through the roof, we can put policies in place to ensure a larger supply of affordable housing within the city.

    So growth doesn’t have to mean new parking. As Steve pointed out, U-M and downtown workplaces have already figured this out, kind of. (Our failure to provide affordable housing, or indeed much new housing at all, has meant that a lot of workers can’t live here, so many drive to Ann Arbor’s outskirts from elsewhere and use the AATA park-and-ride.) In fact, growth won’t mean new parking, owing to the shift in preferences and the fact that the economic and environmental costs of DODD are just too great.

    To sum up, you might say that we can have our growth, and eat less gasoline, too. Prosperity is no longer positively correlated with parking capacity. Indeed, the latter is hindering the former, certainly where our City finances are concerned. If we hadn’t dawdled so long in getting transit off the ground, no one would even have proposed this garage. As it is, Ann Arbor citizens could hardly choose a worse investment, and one can’t help but wonder why we should allow our elected officials to make that decision.

  17. August 14, 2009 at 1:18 am | permalink

    Joel, I don’t disagree with your logic on philosophic grounds. I do question whether it is salable to a firm coming into the city.

    I lived in Chicago for 10 years without owning a car. However, the buses came every 5 minutes, I had the option of using the “L” and could hail a cab any time of the day or night. That made public transportation viable–at least to me.

    I question whether a city the size of Ann Arbor could pull off the public transportation convenience needed for business purposes. I can see it working with the regular hours of the University or with students with flexible schedules. The days of 9 to 5 in business are gone–at least for the foreseeable future.

    But, if you can figure a way of pulling it off I’m all for it. However, a few hundred more parking places does not sound to me like a an excessive insurance policy when viewed in the context of decades.

  18. By suswhit
    August 14, 2009 at 7:41 am | permalink

    Joel [16] said it all so well. “If we hadn’t dawdled so long in getting transit off the ground, no one would even have proposed this garage. As it is, Ann Arbor citizens could hardly choose a worse investment, and one can’t help but wonder why we should allow our elected officials to make that decision.”

    And for [17] the 50+M that Council is willing to borrow for a “few hundred more parking spaces” would go a long, long way toward improved public transportation. If only. :-(

  19. By Duane Collicott
    August 14, 2009 at 12:13 pm | permalink

    Fantastic journalism. I also like the use of “pre-tensioned” in the headline of an article about construction. Very smooth!

  20. By Joel Batterman
    August 15, 2009 at 1:31 am | permalink

    Indeed, we need to get much more serious about improving transit service system-wide. We certainly haven’t been too aggressive about winning riders of choice. (See the ad in the Observer’s new CityGuide: “Most importantly, TheRide makes it easy for everyone to contribute to the local economy.”) The Plymouth-State high-capacity transit study, however, should help get us on the right, er, track or busway.

    To be sure, we’re not Chicago. A good model for transit in this town is Eugene, Oregon, which is a college city of Ann Arbor’s size in a county of about Washtenaw’s population. It’s not quite as dense as Ann Arbor, I think, but they’ve got a countywide transit authority, and have developed a plan for a comprehensive bus rapid transit system. Its first 4-mile corridor opened in 2007, and a 7.8-mile extension is set for action in 2010. Combined cost: $61 million. That’s $50 million federal, $5.5 state, and less than $7 million local money. Not a bad investment.

    When I visited Eugene recently, I made a stop at their brand-new downtown library. Interestingly enough, it’s adjacent to the downtown transit center, which was also brand-new (and the terminus of the bus rapid transit line.) I thought I’d better check the number of parking spaces underneath the library. For what it’s worth, it was about 56: roughly equivalent, I think, to the number of sheltered bike parking spaces just outside.

  21. August 15, 2009 at 9:22 am | permalink

    Joel, thanks for the effort. It sounds like Eugene has something worth looking into. I sure can’t argue with you about the Plymouth-State issue. And it is equally clear that the answer is not more roads.

    Maybe some kind of mix is the best course. Encourage public transport but also encourage downsizing cars. Create parking spaces by building some and downsizing the per vehicle provision in others. Create monumental public art while at the same time provision moderate income housing.

    This kind of thing should be doable. Ann Arbor is after R&D type firms as well as those with high intellectual content. That’s our competitive advantage. It seems to me that the people who populate these kind of firms should be able to find common ground with the other interests in town. Maybe the final recipe involves a “little of this” and “smidge of that.”

  22. August 16, 2009 at 8:02 pm | permalink

    For a detailed account of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center’s work on this issue, including links to many of the original documents referenced in our complaint, see my August 16 blog post at

  23. August 21, 2009 at 6:18 pm | permalink

    A principle of the Information Age: Government is wise to organize itself and its records (including email) so it can swiftly and efficiently respond to freedom of information act requests. Resistance to such requests is wasteful and makes government look out-of-touch. link to Legal Beagle –Ben