DDA Hires Christman, Bonds Delivered

Underground parking garage goes ahead despite lawsuit

Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Aug. 19, 2009): As expected, the DDA board approved spending $226,000 to replace 6-inch water mains with 12-inch pipes, and authorized hiring The Christman Company for $40,000 worth of construction management services – which are for now limited to the pre-construction phase of the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage.

The same day, the city of Ann Arbor delivered the roughly $49 million worth of bonds that had previously been sold to pay for the project, and received the funds. In response to the obvious Chronicle question, the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford told The Chronicle over the phone, “Yes, we have the money.” So far, then, the lawsuit that was filed last week by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, has not had a material effect on the forward progress of the underground parking garage project.

Wednesday’s special meeting of the DDA board – called to consider authorization of expenditures on water mains and to hire a pre-construction manager – was also John Splitt’s first opportunity to chair  a meeting since his somewhat controversial July 1 election as board president.

As Splitt caught sight of his place at the board table, he observed cheerfully, “It’s not pink!”

The non-pink item in question was his gavel. The previous board chair, Jennifer Hall, had been presented with a pink gavel at last year’s September meeting, which had been her first meeting as chair.

The New Board

At Wednesday’s special board meeting, Splitt welcomed the board’s newest member, Newcombe Clark. Clark replaces Rene Greff. Without Greff, and without Gary Boren and Jennifer Hall – who are still on the board, but were absent – the three votes at the July 1 board meeting not supporting Splitt as president were not in the room.

At the July 1 meeting, Greff had raised the question of whether the 7-vote majority that elected Splitt as board chair counted. The basis of the objection was that Mayor John Hieftje’s vote had been made by Leigh Greden, a Ward 3 councilmember who follows mayor pro tem Marcia Higgins and Margie Teall (Ward 4) in the order of succession to the mayor. Hieftje, Higgins and Teall had been all been unavailable.

Water Mains

The water main replacement was part of the project plans for both the Fifth and Division street improvements project, as well as the underground parking structure. The water mains in question run along the 300 block of Fifth and Division streets – they’re currently 6 inches in diameter, but will be replaced with 12-inch diameter pipes.

In response to a query from board member Newcombe Clark about the project’s timing, Adrian Iraola of Park Avenue Consultants, who’s overseeing the project, explained that permits had been requested from the Michigan  Department of Water Quality. Iraola estimated 2-3 weeks before the work would actually begin. Clark said that property owners tended to be reluctant to upgrade their fire-safety systems (sprinkers) and that it would be worth stressing to property owners along the block that now might be a good time to tap into the new mains.

Board member Sandi Smith asked about vacant parcels – could they tap into the new mains? Iraola said that any parcel could tap into the new mains – it’s a city permit that’s required. Smith was also curious to know whether the new mains would service the old YMCA site, property owned by First Martin, and the Ann Arbor District Library. Iraola said it would not serve those properties. Smith concluded that the primary use of the new main would be whatever might be built on the Library Lot.

Construction Manager

In accordance with the recommendation of the DDA’s capital improvements committee, The Christman Company was awarded the contract to provide pre-construction services on the underground parking garage project. The board watched a 5-minute video presentation that Christman had prepared, chronicling their experience with the Grand Rapids Michigan Street Improvement project.

It was that experience with very similar kinds of underground parking structures – plus the fact that they were bringing the same project team that had worked in Grand Rapids – that had convinced the capital improvements committee that Christman was right for the job.

Deliberations on Wednesday consisted of getting some clarification from Michael Ortlieb – of the design firm Carl Walker – about what the award of the $40,000 pre-construction contract to Christman meant for the award of the actual construction services work. Ortlieb clarified that there was no contractual obligation to hire Christman for the actual work. The strategy in the two-step approach, he said, was to get a committment from Christman for pre-construction services – assistance with cost estimating, constructability analysis, phasing of project elements.

Then, sometime in early October, Ortlieb said, Carl Walker and the DDA would have a guaranteed maximum dollar amount, plus the work performance of Christman to date, on which to base a final hiring decision.

Board member Newcombe Clark asked what the impact would be on the project if somehow Christman were not selected as the construction manager for the actual construction work. Ortlieb allowed that it would represent “inconvenience to the project,” but that it would simply become a familiar here’s-a-design-give-us-a-bid bidding process.

Board member Sandi Smith confirmed with Adrian Iraola that it would be Christman – or whoever the eventual construction manager was – that would be dealing directly with the adjacent property owners during construction.

Roger Hewitt, chair of the capital improvements committee, was effusive in his appreciation for the hard work of the committee in evaluating the candidates for the construction manager job, characterizing it as an “arduous process” that had forced them to select from many qualified candidates.

In explaining the rationale for selecting Christman, he reiterated how Christman had experience doing exactly the same kind of work in Grand Rapids in connection with the Michigan Street Improvement project. He added that he’d been born in a hospital about a half block north of that project.


The lawsuit filed by GLELC in connection with the underground parking garage contends that the decision to authorize the issuance of the bonds was made at a meeting that violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act. The lawsuit seeks to have that decision declared not valid. In delivering the bonds, the city acknowledged the pending litigation in its official statement. (The city’s bond counsel bond advisor and financial consultant is Stauder, Barch & Associates, Inc.):

Dated: August 19, 2009


An action relating to the construction of the public parking structure (the “Parking Project”) to be financed in substantial part by the Bonds was filed against the City in Washtenaw County Circuit Court (Case No. 09-945 CZ) on August 11, 2009 by a nonprofit environmental group and two neighborhood businesses. Such action includes a count seeking an order invalidating the initial approvals of the Parking Project and the Bonds by the City’s City Council, based upon an alleged violation of the Open Meetings Act. Counsel to the City has advised that the count is without legal merit on various grounds [emphasis added]. Bond counsel to the City has advised that it is able to render its approving opinion with respect to the validity and enforceability of the Bonds, without any qualification as to the pending action.

Present: Gary Boren, Newcombe Clark, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, Keith Orr.

Absent: John Mouat, Jennifer Hall.

Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Sept. 2, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]


  1. August 19, 2009 at 11:37 pm | permalink

    This past week my wife got into a car crash in the Maynard garage. (She’s not hurt)… but the driver refused to identify themselves or provide insurance information. A2 Police wouldn’t respond when she called saying they don’t respond to private property. If it’s private property then why should we allow any public money be spent? If it’s not private property, then shouldn’t police respond to a driver refusing to identify themselves in a crash (when still on scene)?

  2. By Alan Goldsmith
    August 20, 2009 at 6:28 am | permalink

    So who does ‘own’ the Maynard Street Garage?

  3. By anon
    August 20, 2009 at 11:06 am | permalink

    How many out of the weather bicycle parking spaces will be in this new underground structure? Probably none, because this underground structure is a hidden tax, a phony money making scheme, that increases the wear and tear on the already torn up roads in Ann Arbor that are paid for by city taxes.

  4. By Pete Long
    August 20, 2009 at 1:34 pm | permalink

    A minor correction. Stauder Barch is a bond advisor and financial consultant, not a bond counsel firm.

  5. August 20, 2009 at 4:07 pm | permalink

    @Fred Posner – when the police said they don’t respond to crashes “on private property”, I believe what they technically mean is that they don’t respond to “non-traffic crashes”, which includes any crash that doesn’t take place on the roadway. (Typical examples are parking lot crashes and snowmobile crashes.) There’s an exception for non-traffic crashes that result in fatalities, I believe, which the police are reasonably required to respond to.

    I thought there was also some sort of hit-and-run exception requiring response, which it seems like might include your wife’s case of the other driver refusing to identify, but I’m not certain.

    These rules come out of either the Sec’y of State or the Michigan State Police – sorry, it’s been a while and I’m fuzzy on the details.

    At any rate, “on private property” was not an accurate statement on the part of the police – the Maynard Street Garage *is* public property, owned by the City.

  6. By Bob Martel
    August 20, 2009 at 4:24 pm | permalink

    Whatever I may think about the appropriateness of building this garage at this time, I am pleased that Christman was selected. I’ve worked with them before on other projects and they are a top notch firm.

  7. By Jack Eaton
    August 20, 2009 at 6:08 pm | permalink

    The Local in Ann Arbor blog is reporting that the City has revised the downtown plan by including a recommendation for a convention center downtown. The article can be found here.

    The revised downtown plan is link in the article and has been posted on the Ann Arbor Area Government Document Repository.

    As the blog posting asks, is the RFP for development projects for the top of the parking lot just a pretext to get to building a convention center? Looks “scripted” to me.

  8. By Dave Askins
    August 20, 2009 at 7:45 pm | permalink

    Re [8]

    The idea of revising the downtown plan as well as the zoning code in the A2D2 process to include a convention center as a special exception use has been around a long time. Here’s what we published in The Chronicle back in November 2008:

    “The other land use in the proposed new zoning that has generated some discussion community-wide is a convention center as an allowable use. Use as a convention center is proposed to require a special exception, which would come from planning commission. City council would still need to approve the whole project.”

    Part of that community-wide discussion included Stew Nelson’s campaign for a council seat in Ward 2. This spring, the Downtown Plan, with its revised land use, was considered by planning commission, approved, sent to city council, sent back to planning commission, discussed again by planning commission, sent to city council, and finally adopted in June, with the language about convention center land use included all along the way.

    So when you write, ” … is reporting that the City has revised the downtown plan,” it leaves an impression that is counter to fact. Specifically, it implicates that this happened somehow unbeknownst to anyone without any due process, and further, that it happened just now, perhaps in conjunction with the RFP issuance.

    Uploading the Downtown Plan to the GDR creates the impression that somehow the document had to be dug for, that somehow it was “unearthed” — when in fact it’s readily available on the city’s website and was available in all of its draft iterations throughout this long process including the language about the revised land use for a convention center. To be clear, I think that duplication of documents available on government sites is a reasonable use of GDR. But to describe it as a “surprise” as you did, Jack, in your annotation in the GDR plays right into the hands of folks who need to dismiss “the neighbors” concerns — because they can be labeled as “conspiracy theorists” who try to twist facts in whatever way supports their notion that there’s secrets everywhere.

    There are plenty of legitimate concerns with transparency in Ann Arbor’s city government. But when events that come as a surprise to some people — because they missed a detail along the way, or were out of town for a key meeting or whatever other reason — are mis-analyzed as an attempt to keep citizens in the dark or out of the process, I think you make it that much harder to work on the actual problems.

  9. August 20, 2009 at 8:43 pm | permalink

    That would be my error – and I freely admit that I had not followed all the perturbations of the Downtown Plan. Someone just mentioned to me that it had appeared in the Plan this summer.

    One of the questions I have, as a longtime document editor, is how one tracks all the changes in these large and complicated documents. I don’t believe that the different iterations are provided and notated to show changes. (Am I mistaken? Or would one have to be following the changes blow by blow?)

    But the question still remains – did this rise to the point of a public discussion? I don’t believe so. Yet the fact that you had highlighted it in your earlier reports is commendable, and sobering.

    FWIW, the question of including documents already public in the Depository hasn’t really been settled, has it? I don’t believe it is intended to include only uniquely available documents, or am I wrong?

  10. August 20, 2009 at 9:17 pm | permalink

    @MURPH I was extremely disappointed with them. If a driver refuses to exchange information, they need to respond… especially when there’s damage. Honestly, there’s no excuse for it. At one point I even told them that I wouldn’t argue about whether a city garage is public property… but would like them to instead respond to a non-adult driver who refuses to identify herself after causing property damage. Just sadly disappointing.

  11. By Patricia Lesko
    August 20, 2009 at 9:42 pm | permalink


    The “folks” who have been dismissing the concerns of not just neighbors, but a wide swath of the electorate and citizenry, spent last summer making Stew Nelson out to be one of those “conspiracy theorists.” Nelson (and Tom Wall’s) assertions that there was a “clique” on Council were dismissed as patently absurd by Hieftje, Teall, Greden, and Rapundalo. Thanks to the FOIAed emails, we can see quite clearly there IS a track record of conducting deliberations in secret by a “clique” comprised on the Hieftje Eight.

    Is Jack Eaton twisting facts to, perhaps, give life to a particular conspiracy theory? No, because the theory has been proven valid by the revelations contained in the emails. Just because, in this particular instance, there was no effort to keep secrets from the public, doesn’t negate the ample evidence that Council has been conducting the Public’s business in secret since well before you wrote your November 2008 piece. What these so-called “conspiracy theorists” didn’t do is make up the fact that a “clique” of elected officials lied, mislead constituents, and conducted the people’s business in secret during open meetings.

    Citizens are allowed to miss meetings and misinterpret details. Governing is about constant education of the people. Thus, it’s not the ignorance of the citizenry that makes the work of governmental transparency “much harder,” It’s about the elected officials who betrayed our trust, mocked us, lied, and mislead us, and decided that it was fine to conduct secret deliberations during open public meetings.

    All these elected officials had to do, at any point along the way, was stop themselves. Instead, they slandered citizen activists, critics and political opponents by dubbing them “conspiracy theorists.”

  12. August 20, 2009 at 10:26 pm | permalink

    I’ve now updated my blog to reflect your November 18, 2008 mention. Goodness gracious, that was the whole long first review of the A2D2 changes, with many details about FAR changes, D1 and D2, etc. A lot for the average citizen to retain for 10 months. The actual version on the city website was adopted by the Planning Commission on May 19, 2009, and the Council has not yet adopted a finalized plan.

  13. August 21, 2009 at 8:11 am | permalink

    Thanks to Vivienne, we now know about the secret plan for the conference center. I don’t think details about what was in the downtown plan, and when, matter much.

    Dave, how about doing an article with a link to Vivienne’s revealing blog entry? It is certainly a big story, and I don’t know how many of the Chronicle’s readers follow comments to something that is no longer the Chronicle’s lead article.

  14. By Jack Eaton
    August 21, 2009 at 12:49 pm | permalink

    Dave, sorry that I offended you. I will check my background better in the future. I was surprised, but that surprise arose from my failure to read previous versions of the downtown plan carefully. I read Vivienne’s blog and failed to follow up on what I understood it to say.

    I certainly did not mean to imply that you or the Chronicle were remiss in covering a story. Please keep up the good work.

  15. By Marvin Face
    August 21, 2009 at 5:32 pm | permalink

    I hope the hotel/conference center idea becomes reality! This would be great for Ann Arbor in this location. Why does everything have to be public from the moment of inception? I say these folks should figure out if the idea has legs, talk to Council privately to guage their interest and acceptance and THEN they can allow all the conspiracy theorists behind the curtain for some “public comment” about how this destroys Ann Arbor, etc…

    No “top secret” deal or plan here. This is how it works, folks.

  16. By Joan Lowenstein
    August 23, 2009 at 12:22 pm | permalink

    A note about the bond advisors stating that the GLEC lawsuit is without merit — that’s true. The suit claims that the decision by the council to issue the bonds should be invalid because it was made in violation of the Open Meetings Act. But the OMA states that any suit brought to invalidate a decision must be brought within 60 days of when the minutes are available. If the decision involves bonds, the suit has to be filed within 30 days. Since the meeting was February 17 and the suit was filed a few weeks ago, it clearly doesn’t meet the statutory requirement.

  17. By suswhit
    August 23, 2009 at 11:25 pm | permalink

    Re 16. Nice. A former councilperson steps forward to point out that, hmmmm. let’s see. If council violates the open meetings act it’s ok just so long as no one notices for 30 days. As long as the violation is kept quiet long enough, hey, it doesn’t matter. Excellent defense.
    Pee-ew. What’s that smell?

  18. By John Floyd
    August 24, 2009 at 1:22 am | permalink

    #17 has hit the nail on the head. Ms. Lowenstein’s point is NOT that council acted legally, within the Open Meetings Act, but that council’s violation may not have been caught in time, the public be damned. This is not a basis for expanding trust in the current political class.

    Mr. Face,

    Perhaps I mis-read you, but it appears that because you agree with one particular decision of council, you believe that it is OK for council to keep the public uninformed about ideas in the works. You appear to imply that this is OK because you like this project, but suspect that most people do not want it, and therefor fear that early public discussion would kill the convention center.

    Public discussion of public policies, investments, and lands is one part of what makes democracy. That’s why the public’s business should be in public from the moment of inception. Council cannot represent the people if the people are not informed about what council is considering in a manner timely enough to affect – or change – outcomes. Timely information is part of what enables citizens to hold elected officials accountable, which in turn is another part of what makes democracy. If your principles are essentially un-democratic – well, OK.

    If I have mis-read you, I apologize, and welcome your correcting comments.

  19. August 24, 2009 at 11:14 am | permalink

    I’m not sure Joan is right about the 60- and 30-day periods. The Open Meetings Act does specify these limits. See Michigan Compiled Laws sections 15.270(3)(a) and (b). However, the suit says that the claimed violations were not discovered until July. I tiptoed quickly through the various appellate court decisions involving these limitations periods, and I couldn’t find any decision where the court confronted a situation of late discovery of the violations. The courts may apply a “knew or should have known” test to the violations, in which case the suit won’t be thrown out on the basis of these limitations periods. With the violations occurring in secret e-mails, who knows what a judge might decide?

    Also, I’m not sure the City Attorney and City Council are willing to stand the political heat if they invoke the “too late, sucker” defense.

  20. August 24, 2009 at 12:32 pm | permalink

    Joan, why would the entire lawsuit be found without merit if only one of the (multiple) complaints was invalidated?

  21. By Marvin Face
    August 24, 2009 at 1:09 pm | permalink

    John Floyd,

    I don’t think you misread. I hadn’t thought about it until now but I guess maybe my principles are inherently un-democratic. I think there is some “behind the scenes” work that has to be done very early on to make sure good money is not thrown after bad. If everything looks like it alligns, then open up the discussion to the public. There are things that need to be vetted in private, they just do. Anyone who does not think that is not living in a reality-based environment.

  22. By Tom Whitaker
    August 24, 2009 at 8:49 pm | permalink

    “If the decision involves bonds, the suit has to be filed within 30 days. Since the meeting was February 17 and the suit was filed a few weeks ago, it clearly doesn’t meet the statutory requirement.”

    Ahhh yes, but here’s the rub, as I understand it: The City failed to turn over the emails (the ones that revealed the potential OMA violation) to the GLELC in a FOIA request that WAS made within 30 days. The emails were later turned over to the Chronicle in a subsequent, and similar FOIA request. Had the City properly complied with the original FOIA, the OMA violation could have potentially been challenged in the time prescribed by the OMA.

    And P.S.: Convention centers are notorious money-losers, which is why they require “public-private” partnerships. I thought the proposal for “the top” had to provide revenue to the City, not suck more money out of our wallets? I’d been interested in hearing what Ann Arbor hoteliers and the UM facilities folks have to say about the market for such a facility. Are the dozens of Ann Arbor/UM facilities so heavily booked that we need to build another one?

  23. August 27, 2009 at 4:15 pm | permalink

    Re: comment #1 (and my, how fast time flies when we’re all having fun! It’s been a week!)
    Fred Posner reported his wife’s accident. I don’t know Mr. Posner, but did recognize that being told the City-owned parking structure was ‘private property’ would have set anyone off.

    I contacted the Chief of Police, and spent a little time working with Deputy Chief of Police John Seto trying to follow up on this situation. Of course, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to discuss any individual accident. I can comfortably say the following:

    For police reporting purposes, any place that *isn’t* a street or public hiway is considered private property, no matter who owns it.
    Unless an accident causes personal injury (or, I suspect, a vehicle is undriveable and is causing a hazard) the police welcome both / all people involved to come to the police station to report the accident. This is bar far the fastest way to get service. Personal injury or major accident undoubtedly get quick attention; otherwise, people can find themselves waiting for a long time while the police respond to more urgent matters. This works best if the parties involved come to the police station together, right away.
    In the event one of the parties in an accident is uncooperative, the Police Department should send an officer to the scene. During the first two weeks of August (through the 19th) the police responded to 3 accidents at the Maynard Street parking structure; I have no idea what the details might be in any of them.
    I’m sorry for my delay in getting this information out into the public. I heard back from Deputy Chief Seto on Monday, August 24th, and should have entered this response immediately.

  24. August 27, 2009 at 4:17 pm | permalink

    (Typos are all my own — too many interruptions! Bar far! humpf!)

  25. August 27, 2009 at 5:03 pm | permalink


    Thanks for asking for me… definitely was set off and the phone “conversation” I had with several employees of the PD that day would definitely reflect that. I completely agree that when people are responsible, life is easier. Of course, if people were responsible and trustworthy, we would be able to reduce the police budget significantly.

    When drivers refuse to exchange information, the police should respond period. If they don’t they are, at the very least, causing the “victim” driver to be further victimized by their insurance company later on. I felt it was inappropriate and have studied / worked with public safety policy for more than 15 years. I let them know of my feelings very directly at the time and wish the Deputy Chief ensures that their dispatchers know this and act appropriately in the future.

    Thank you again.