Library Lot: Choice Between Apples, Pears?

Briere: "Maybe people want grapefruit."

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (Jan. 3, 2010): As construction gets started on the underground parking garage on the former surface parking lot next to the downtown library, the city of Ann Arbor is trying to answer the question: What goes on top?

Tangerine Tower is not an alternate proposal for the Library Lot development. But in providing art to accompany an article, sometimes you go to press with the fruit you have, not the fruit you wish you had.

Tangerine Tower is not an alternate proposal for the Library Lot development. But in providing an illustration to accompany an article, sometimes you go to press with the fruit you have, not the fruit you wish you had.

A committee appointed to review the proposals submitted for the city-owned parcel, known as the Library Lot, recently dropped two of those proposals from consideration. [Chronicle coverage: "Two Library Lot Proposals Eliminated"]

The two proposals – one from Ann Arbor residents Alan Haber and Alice Ralph, and the other from a local developer, Dahlmann Apartments Ltd. – both envision the top of the underground garage primarily as open space.

At Sunday’s city council caucus, seven supporters of an open-space use for the Library Lot outnumbered the four councilmembers who attended: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje.

Conversation at caucus was devoted almost exclusively to the RFP (request for proposals) process and dissatisfaction with its preliminary outcome. On the council’s Monday night agenda is a resolution sponsored by Briere that seeks – “delicately,” in Briere’s words – to address some of that dissatisfaction.

Briere likened the winnowing down of the alternatives in advance of public participation to asking someone if they’d like an apple or a pear – you might get a different answer, she said, if you ask, “What kind of fruit would you like?” Maybe, she said, people want grapefruit.

Briere’s Resolution: Directing Proposers

Sabra Briere’s resolution that will be considered by the council on Monday night is a directive to the proposers who responded to the city’s Library Lot RFP. Its text reads:

Whereas, The RFP advisory committee is charged with making a recommendation to the entire City Council about the proposals submitted in response to the RFP involving the “Library Lot”;

Whereas, The City Council has the right to accept any proposal or reject all proposals; and

Whereas, The City Council should therefore have equivalent information about all six proposals;

RESOLVED, That City Council requests that any proposers eliminated by the RFP advisory committee submit all relevant financial information about their projects to the City Council at their earliest convenience; and

RESOLVED, That any proposers eliminated by the RFP advisory committee be prepared to respond to questions from the City Council in advance of City Council’s consideration of any recommendation the RFP advisory committee may make.

Asked at caucus to explain the rationale behind her resolution, Briere described it as: “This is me being delicate.” It was a way, she said, to get what she wanted, stepping on as few toes as possible.

What she wanted, Briere said, was all the information about all the proposals. She said that up until the last Sunday night caucus – when mayor John Hieftje had stressed that the city council could bring back any proposals it wished to – she’d been under the impression that the council would have to accept or reject the RFP committee’s recommendation. [Chronicle coverage: "Mayor: 'Council can bring back any proposal it wants.'"]

The mayor’s revelation at the last caucus, Briere said, made clear that the council would have the freedom to explore other proposals not recommended by the review committee. But if the council did not have equivalent information on all of the proposals, she said, it would be in no position to make a decision other than up or down on the committee’s recommendation. [City website with .pdf files of all six proposals]

The sense in which Briere’s resolution is intended to step on as few toes as possible is that it does not direct the RFP committee to undertake any action or to undo any of its work to date. Briere noted that she felt it was important as a general principle that committees appointed by the council be given independence to do their work, without interference from council. That did not mean, she cautioned, that the council needed to abide by any committee’s recommendation.

The resolution – by directing the proposers to take an action, as opposed to the committee – is intended to elicit information from eliminated proposers that might have come to light in the course of the next steps of the process. Those next steps include in-person interviews on Jan. 20, which allow 90 minutes for each of the four remaining proposals, during which time questions from the public will be entertained.

If the resolution does not pass, Briere said, then proposers whose projects had already been eliminated, or that were eliminated at future points along the way, could still expect questions from her, if not from the council as a body.

Objections to the Process to Date

It is the exclusion of the two open space proposals in the next steps of the process that residents attending Sunday night’s caucus criticized. The criticisms at caucus mirrored many of those cited in a letter forwarded to the council from several citizens – some of those who signed the letter were in attendance at caucus.

Chief among the objections was that there was an expectation – based on the resolution passed by council establishing the RFP review committee – that the public would be able to weigh in before any decisions on the proposals were made. At caucus, the decision by the committee first to eliminate two of the proposals, and then provide the public with an opportunity to react, was described as “backwards.”

Another objection, raised both in the letter and at caucus, is the membership of the RFP committee. There is no “citizen at large” on the committee who is not also a member of council, city staff, or an appointed city board or commission. Caucus attendees emphasized that they did not question the qualifications of Sam Offen – who’s on the RFP committee and also serves on the city’s park advisory commission – and allowed that “he’s a regular person.” But he was not a citizen who had no connection to other city entities, they said.

At caucus, mayor John Hieftje said that membership on the committee by a park advisory commission member had been seen as useful in light of the fact that the council had expected there would be proposals that included predominantly open space.

Centrally Located Park versus Greenway?

In the Sunday caucus discussion, mayor John Hieftje said that in weighing the merits of a park for the top of the Library Lot, he saw a connection between such a park and the city’s financial ability to realize the vision of a greenway along Allen Creek: “I can’t for the life of me figure how we can maintain a park [at the Library Lot] and a greenway.”

The choice between a centrally located park versus a greenway was rejected by one caucus attendee as an artificial one. She told the mayor that he should not connect the two, based on her support of both. Another caucus attendee suggested that the choice as yet “does not appear to be either-or, but rather neither.”

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) suggested that until the railroad came to the table – which they had not yet – the greenway was unlikely to happen.

When Hieftje expressed concern about security costs associated with a park on top of the underground parking structure, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) offered this solution: “You gate it!”

Vision for Ann Arbor: Where’s Its Heart?

A thread that ran through much of the caucus conversation was the community’s vision for Ann Arbor. When one caucus attendee asked that councilmembers individually and as a group articulate their overall vision for Ann Arbor, mayor John Hieftje noted that he’d done that before in response to a question from The Chronicle and that it could be found online. [Hieftje's vision for Ann Arbor]

Some of that discussion on vision concerned where the “center of Ann Arbor” is. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Hieftje – who both grew up in Ann Arbor – pointed to the University of Michigan Diag as a natural place where the community gathered. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) allowed that when she’d moved to Ann Arbor in her early 20s, the Diag served that purpose. But she felt its role as a central gathering place for Ann Arbor – as opposed to the university community – was less and less significant.

Caucus attendees saw the Library Lot as an opportunity to define a “heart” of Ann Arbor, which it had not had since the old county courthouse was torn down and a new one built.

Hieftje noted that in a video produced by Kirk Westphal – who serves on the city’s planning commission – people were asked to identify the center of Ann Arbor and that people tended to point to the Main and Liberty intersection. [Link to that video, now available on YouTube: "Insights into a Lively Downtown"]

Public-Private Partnership?

Another theme that ran through the caucus discussion was the question of public-private partnerships – which some of the hotel/conference center proposals would entail.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) was not bashful at caucus about his opposition to public-private partnerships, and proposed instead that the question of what goes on top of the underground garage could be settled without an RFP process. An alternative that he described would have a public process to determine how much of the area would remain public space and where that space would be located. Then, he said, you draw a line around that, and the rest is available for sale and development through the regular site planning and review process.

The idea of essentially fixing the location of buildable space above the parking structure was also mentioned at caucus by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who described how other communities had built underground parking garages, placed supporting foundations in a way that dictated where things could be built, and then allowed proposals to be made under those constraints.

As for public-private partnerships and RFP processes for city-owned property, Briere observed that the city did not have a great track record – citing William Street Station (the old YMCA lot), 415 W. Washington, and Village Green as examples. The developer of William Street Station has filed a lawsuit against the city for canceling the project, no recommendation for one of the three proposals was ever rendered by the city’s RFP review committee for 415 W. Washington, and Village Green may or may not happen, depending on the developer’s ability to get financing.


  1. By mr dairy
    January 4, 2010 at 10:43 am | permalink

    Where is the vision? Where is the leadership?

    The library lot and the area around would have been perfect for a PUBLIC square with other PUBLIC buildings and adjacent PUBLIC transportation. Everything was already there except for the political will and leadership!

    A new Courts/Police/City Hall adjacent to the Public Library. (Yet a few shortsighted people decided to jam that add on and patch to the horrendously dysfunctional Larcom Building, down the public throat.)

    The nearby Federal Building.


    Kempf House and a small pocket park.

    This area, described as “Midtown” in a few of the public zoning exercises in the past 5 years, would have been a perfect location that would help connect Main Street with State Street.

    What’s lacking in this town is vision and leadership that can make the case for what best serves the public.

    I have never been as disappointed in the politics in this town as I am right now.

  2. By LiberalNIMBY
    January 4, 2010 at 10:43 am | permalink

    Okay, this process is making me a little bit angry. Did council not approve an RFP that essentially said the project has to make us some tax money? All this dancing and delicateness seems innocuous, but at the end of the day, it is wasting council’s and staff’s time (and our money). We’ve seen all too often how you can second guess these things to death. Sure, the number of valid proposals we got back is lame. Yes, it sounds more prudent to have stepped back and master planned this whole block and the one next to it. But at a certain point, you have to say, “Enough,” make an expertly-informed decision, and get back to the business of finding more ways to fund our services and keep people safe. Money and/or services are literally being taken away from city taxpayers with every passing moment that council and the administrator dallies: it’s Ann Arbor’s achilles heel called “opportunity cost.”

  3. By Leslie Morris
    January 4, 2010 at 11:36 am | permalink


    Selling land is not a sensible way to pay for services. What are we supposed to do next year to pay for services? Sell more land?

  4. January 4, 2010 at 11:56 am | permalink

    One of the RFP committee members for 415 W. Washington reminded me today that NONE of the proposals in response to the RFP were recommended for approval — that *was* the committee’s recommendation.
    I need to become more educated myself on best practices in writing and evaluating RFPs. That seems clear to me, as I’m not satisfied and I’m ignorant.

  5. By KGS
    January 4, 2010 at 1:11 pm | permalink

    “Hieftje expressed concern about security costs associated with a park on top of the underground parking structure”

    I do not understand why the security costs at a public park – visible from Fifth Ave. and on all sides by surrounding buildings – in the middle of downtown is a reason for not considering it. How will the underground parking structure, with *no* visibility on any side, be safe? Wouldn’t the same security force that is presumably guarding the structure also guard the park? or if the underground parking structure is not guarded, won’t it become an unsafe place?

  6. By mr dairy
    January 4, 2010 at 1:24 pm | permalink

    Sabra want to make nice and not step on toes.

    Will someone please step up and lead?

  7. January 4, 2010 at 4:08 pm | permalink

    Councilmember Briere is on the right track. The committee jumped the gun on dismissing two proposals without information on which to base a determination of financial return. (Speaking of which, the requirement for a “financial” return to the city, as opposed to an economic return to the community, is interesting.)

    However, it’s not necessary to ask permission of her council colleagues to get more info from the disqualified respondents (nor is it appropriate for council to resolve that private entities will do something for them.) Just ask for it and forward on whatever (if anything) they provide. Alternatively, council could give further direction to (as opposed to “interference with”) the committee to request and consider the additional information.

    A commenter on the previous story pointed to Campus Martius Park in Detroit as a model to emulate. (I also see that the Dahlmann proposal references it.) Looks like a lovely space. Got me wondering if the anticipated Ann Arbor Skatepark facility would be more of an attraction to spectators (as well as more easily accessed via mass transit) there than at the Vet’s Park space. Three-season (or more?) skateboarding, one-season (or more) ice skating, and summer events — Top of the Park 3.0? The full site is approximately the same area as the part of Ingalls Mall that’s been used in recent years — now that I’m giving it some thought, I’m warming to it. It probably is a matter of managing the space(s) well, though. As another commenter suggested, selling Liberty Plaza (a corner lot with high prospective foot traffic) might be a reasonable financial tradeoff (not to mention an economic improvement.)

    One more thought: the criteria didn’t include a requirement for a ‘library lane’. That was a feature that the DDA’s proposal for the underground structure (prematurely?) included. Interestingly, the Dahlmann proposal included it — I haven’t looked at the other proposals yet.) Given the city’s requirements for the proposals (and maybe not even without them), I don’t think it’s appropriate to grant that much land for the primary benefit of another entity, public or not. (I’ll forego the obligatory, “especially in these tough economic times.”)

  8. By John G
    January 4, 2010 at 7:22 pm | permalink

    The Dahlmann proposal is the only one to offer any substantive ideas for a differentiated space that meets multiple important needs. The RFP is far too narrow in scope and piecemeal in vision, however. All proposed projects fall short of what could be achieved by designing an integrated plan for the library parking lot and all adjoining publically owned spaces and buildings between Main and Division. This is an extraordinary opportunity that should not fall victim to the need to solve short-term revenue problems, or to polarized assertions of what the city’s priorities should be. These connected spaces can support appealing heterogeneity of function. This is more urgent as the campus no longer is the center for Ann Arbor’s public life. This effort, however, is at risk of producing yet more city-killing mediocrity that, like Tally Hall, will not be undone in our lifetimes. This project needs to be taken back, started over, and expanded in scope. No one agenda can win if the city is to win.

  9. By Rod Johnson
    January 4, 2010 at 7:31 pm | permalink

    That Top of the Park thing is a terrific idea, Steve. I’m glad to see people becoming more attuned to the need for a public space downtown–the greenway, for all its virtues, isn’t the same thing as a civic gathering space.

  10. By Peg Eisenstodt
    January 4, 2010 at 8:39 pm | permalink

    I don’t feel like commenting on the library lot at the moment, but I do want to comment on your wonderful Tangerine Tower. It’s true, sometimes you just have to deal with and use the fruit on hand…

  11. By Marvin Face
    January 4, 2010 at 9:45 pm | permalink

    I like the idea of open space and a park but I wonder if this small space is the correct space. I would think the ideal park space would encompass the entire block bordered by 5th, Division, Liberty, and William. It would be very visible from these highly travelled streets, would be the “center” of town between State St and Main St, and would be large enough to accommodate many different types of events and uses.

    Kempf House and the Library would be the only uses retained and integrated into the park and Liberty plaza would be mercifully eliminated. Top of the Park could be moved to that space (not enough space or visibility at the current Library lot).

    Earthen Jar, Jeruselem Garden, Seva, Herb David, the new Condos, (what else is over there that i’m forgetting?) would go but in my 20 years living and working in town, I have never been in any of these places so it would be no big deal.

  12. By Rod Johnson
    January 5, 2010 at 12:27 am | permalink

    Well, when you put it that way–Ann Arbor’s new Central Park, bounded by Huron, State, Main and Packard (too much? OK, Wiliam)–with its running paths, observation tower, monorail stop, playground, picnicking areas, ice rink, skate park, arena, stables and ball fields, could be the key to the revitalization of downtown. (“Downtown” here refers to the Stadium-Maple corridor) I like it! Maybe we could take out Liberty between Main and First to connect the park to the greenway, daylight Allen Creek down to the river, blow the dams and open up the wharves of Lower Town to transatlantic shipping. I like the way you think!

  13. By Rod Johnson
    January 5, 2010 at 12:29 am | permalink

    But seriously–why is Tally Hall so unfixable? Was there some sort of curse attached to it because of Lou Belcher?

  14. January 5, 2010 at 1:00 am | permalink

    Tonight Marcia Higgins gave a really beautiful and apparently heartfelt statement about the diversity of views and how that makes us as a community. This commentary proves it. Steve, love your thinking. Marvin, try the Jerusalem Gardens’ tabbouleh. It’ll blow you away. Rod, I’d love to see Top of the Park move to Top of the Parking.

  15. By Ruth Kraut
    January 5, 2010 at 9:48 am | permalink

    My primary concern is that it would be really, really easy to turn that block into a desert. And I have been to plenty of towns where that is exactly what a concrete convention center is. People drive in, go inside, don’t explore the downtown, and there is no reason for locals to walk down that block.

    The two dismissed proposals are the least likely to turn into deserts, the most likely to bring people through the area.

    But if there is not enough there, maybe they need to start the RFP process over. From scratch.

  16. January 5, 2010 at 10:55 am | permalink

    re: Ruth Kraut’s concern about a desert and Marvin Face’s thought that a whole block site would be better, there’s a danger of an urban park being too large so that it feels deserted and empty.

    One concept in urban development is you want “eyes on the street.” That’s why spaces like convention centers feel deserted. I also think that’s also why the east side of main street from Washington to Catherine is so empty. It may also be why Liberty Plaza doesn’t work well as a downtown space.

    Whether the library lot becomes a park or a convention center, I think it will work better if it supports street-level vitality and “eyes on the street.” If it’s a concrete block or a patch of grass surrounded by the backs of buildings, I think it will hurt the downtown.

  17. By Andy
    January 5, 2010 at 11:01 am | permalink

    The witty image and caption on this article are the best part of it. :) Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the article was good too.

  18. By cjenkins
    January 5, 2010 at 11:36 am | permalink

    Actually, I think that putting a park in that area would create the desert. This city has so many parks why should anyone come downtown to sit in this specific park. Even if you put in a skating ring, why go downtown when you have many other skating rinks to choose from. The only way a skating rink will encourage people to come downtown is if you close the other ones in town. One idea I read about, once upon a time, suggested putting a skating rink on top of a tall building. I sort of like that idea because it would be novel and create a destination for people to come downtown. (and the view would be great!)

    I think too many people are glamorizing parks as the gold standard of viability. Personally I go downtown “to do” something not to sit in a park. Yes, a secondary use of the “new” park could be to host activities, but if you move all the downtown street activities to this “new” park location from Main Street, how does that increase any viability? It only shifts the event location rather than increase activity. The last thing I want to see in that spot is a park. Mixed use retail or an event/entertainment center would be more of what I would want. But does my opinion matter? Not according to the pro parks crowd. Just because I don’t go to public meetings and grandstand my opinion is not real to them. I prefer to write my councilmember instead.

    As for the two park proposals getting eliminated, they did not follow the rules, plain and simple. If they wanted their proposal to be taken seriously they should have attempted to find a way to justify the expense of the project. But no, they chose to throw together an RFP, ignoring what was asked for, and expected to just slide by. Now they want a “do-over”. I find that unprofessional. If they are allowed to re-submit data, then I think the two proposals that were thrown out because they missed the deadline should also be considered. I have not seen those other proposals but it is only fair for them to be re-considered. They all broke the rules albeit different rules (submitting late vs. omission of financing data) and that should be considered as the same offense.

    The submitters of the parks proposals should have known better if they really wanted their project to succeed. Now, to me at least, it appears that their main goal is to impede progress not actually accomplish the creation of a park. If that was their goal they would have followed the RFP instructions.

  19. January 5, 2010 at 12:39 pm | permalink

    I fully agree with CJenkins. Have any of the commentators ever tried to put a convention or other large gathering together in Ann Arbor? I have. And it wasn’t even large. It wasn’t easy. Hotel and meeting space both became issues.

    I guess if the desire is to have Ann Arbor a bucolic community of vegetables, the park would be attractive. If the desire is to have Ann Arbor as a nexus of innovation, new initiatives and economic advancement for the entire community a convention center or the like would be a better option. Count me on the side of CJenkins who “go(es) downtown “to do” something not to sit in a park.”

  20. By Marvin Face
    January 5, 2010 at 1:07 pm | permalink

    Gary, I prefer a community of vegetables, thank you.

  21. January 5, 2010 at 1:43 pm | permalink

    Clearly, people in the neighborhoods won’t come downtown to sit in a downtown park. But the thousands of people who work and live downtown will use a downtown park, if there is one to use.

  22. By CDBF
    January 5, 2010 at 1:53 pm | permalink

    I live downtown, and I work downtown. If I need green space, I walk to the river, or west park, or bird hills. Why do people who live in suburbia want to impose their suburban ideals on me?

  23. By cjenkins
    January 5, 2010 at 2:10 pm | permalink

    There are plenty of small parks in the neighborhoods all around downtown and West Park is only a short walk away. Also isn’t a park anticipated as part of the greenway over on Washington Street? There are many parks for people to use already.

    Prime real estate in the heart of the city should be used to benefit MOST city residents not just a FEW city residents. Another park that is a duplication of other services that are found elsewhere in the city is not a benefit for MOST city residents. It is a convenience for a few local residents.

    If this location was not such prime real estate, then the issue might be different. If we can’t put in a vibrant mixed-use retail or entertainment center (the city benefiting by increasing quality of life) then we should benefit financially by way of a conference center (tourism, shoppers, diners etc).

    If people want to live in a small, old fashioned town, there are plenty of them in Washtenaw County that they can move to. I do not live here because Ann Arbor is a sleepy, family oriented, quiet, bedroom community. I live here because of the diversity, culture, entertainment and vitality.

    Ann Arbor needs to be a vibrant, active town where locals and tourists come to shop, eat and do. Like it or not we are a tourist destination. We should recognize it, embrace it and benefit from it.

  24. January 5, 2010 at 3:10 pm | permalink

    What I found so exciting about the Dahlmann proposal (and it is not inconsistent with the principles of the Commons piece) is that it is an active concept, not a place with benches. It has a pavilion that could have a concessionaire (which would bring revenue), an active water feature, a space for an ice rink in winter and active play space in summer. It could host theatricals and public gatherings. Someone mentioned to me that surrounding restaurants like Seva, Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden could have openings toward it so that people could dine next to the restaurants and expand the sense of open space. Some suitable retail space might also open up to the area. It could make for a lively active place that would be drawing people constantly – and add to the “diversity, culture, entertainment and vitality”.

  25. By John Floyd
    January 5, 2010 at 6:17 pm | permalink

    The A2D2 re-zoning anticipates thousands of more people living in central Ann Arbor than now live there. They will need some place to throw their frisbees, or walk their dogs, or push their babies in swings. While I disagree with much of what was ultimately passed by council, if they are determined to change Ann Arbor’s character by imitating Seattle, Portland, or Chicago, then let’s at least give it a chance for success and add downtown green space.

    The idea of locating the skateboard park next to the library is a creative idea.

    If anyone can point me to a convention center that has benefited its immediate environment, and does not require tax subsidy,I would be pleased to hear about it. The comment about creating economic value vs. destroying economic value is on the money.

    It would be nice to avoid suggesting that the people with whom we disagree should leave town, no matter how tempting it is.

    There are no central cities in America that are attractive to families. Ann Arbor’s uniqueness lies in its ability to have many attractive elements of urban life (e.g. great pastrami, interesting people from across America and the world, good music) with the best elements of a family-friendly community: walk-to-good-schools neighborhoods, safe streets, nighttime quiet. Some might call this, “Small-town feel, big-city vitality” We mess with this formula at our peril – it’s the only thing that makes us an attractive place. We cannot “out Chicago” Chicago; we lack the Front Range of Boulder; we are not on Seattle’s Puget Sound, an arm of the Pacific Ocean, sandwiched between the Cascades and the Olympics; we are not on a major navigable river, a short drive from the ocean, the Cascades, and the Oregon wine country, the way Portland is. No one moves here for the climate or the geography. “Small-town feel, big-city vitality” is what we have to offer. We mess with this at our peril.

    Fundamentally, Michigan as a state will not be healthy – or a Gen Y magnet – until Detroit is re-invented. This is the place to which growth must return for Michigan to be a growth state. To pretend that an Ann Arbor of 500,000 is a sustainable, viable long-term alternative requires myopia.

    The growth advocated for Ann Arbor comes, fundamentally, at the expense of Michigan’s true urban core, Detroit. This, in turn, delays the eventual re-birth of Michigan’s central city, and of the state itself.

  26. By ChuckL
    January 5, 2010 at 11:27 pm | permalink

    There is an ongoing presumption that an underground structure with a hotel/conference center will make money for the city. Given the failure of the Lower Town development (the city was prepared to fork over a $40 million gift to the developers); I don’t think it should be taken as a given that any of the projects will generate cash flow sufficient to pay for the costs of construction for the underground structure and conference center.

  27. January 6, 2010 at 8:33 am | permalink

    ChuckL–I agree that there is no assurance that a hotel/conference will make money for the city. However, I am certain that the “green” alternatives will not contribute to our economic well being–in fact, they are certain to be a net cost. It seems to me that possibility for a gain is better than the certainty of a loss.

  28. By John Floyd
    January 6, 2010 at 10:41 am | permalink

    Mr. Salton,

    I gather that there is a large literature on the effect of public green space on the value of nearby properties in urban areas, to the effect that it causes important increases in property values and commercial/retail activity. I even heard Carsten Hohnke once cite the Boston Public Garden and Commons as important elements in the vitality of the fashionable parts of Boston, or words to that effect.

    Once again, this council apparently wants to encourage tens of thousands of new residents in central Ann Arbor, which lacks the street size, sidewalk size, and public space needed to accommodate 10,000 to 30,000 new residents. An “Ann Arbor Public Garden” would go some distance towards making council’s apparent vision less of a fiasco.

    Re: public subsidy for the building proposals: if financial markets, venture capitalists, and Ann Arbor’s own investor community think that a hotel/convention center is a dog and a loser (hence the need for public $$), what information does council have that contradicts those “who know what they are doing?”

    Green space is relatively low maintenance; Dalman has offered “at least” $2.5 million toward creating public space. On the other hand, because the hotel/conference center presume that Ann Arbor will issue the bonds for the whole project (i.e., “hold the bag”), and pay to operate the conference center, the potential for such a project to turn into a fiscal fiasco for the city is more than theoretic.

    Lastly, the possibility for tax revenue from a hotel/conference center is almost nil, because of 1) requested tax abatements; 2) the existence of the DDA & Local Development Finance Authority, which will “capture” close to 100% of any potential new tax revenue for their own uses – this project is designed to possibly drain the General Fund, and to never contribute to it.

  29. January 6, 2010 at 4:02 pm | permalink


    Your logic has some merit. If the goal is to increase the wealth of the owners of adjacent properties your recommendation is probably on target. However, my logic holds. It a park will not make money for the city. In addition, your claim that it will improve retail activity over that of a hotel in the same space is more than a bit of a stretch.

    Contrasting what amounts to a “pocket” park with Boston Commons is also a stretch. The scale alone makes the comparison specious.

    I’m not conversant with the proposed financial terms and conditions. Since the deal is not yet struck, the financial penalties you cite are mere speculations. I’m confident that the city council is smart enough to hire some good accountants and financial advisers who will act to prevent the dire circumstances you cite.

    John, I’m not against parks. I just believe that Ann Arbor needs things that support more commerce, not more recreation. Your claim that green space has “relatively low maintenance” depends on the word “relatively”. How many more teachers, police or firefighters have to be laid off to pay for that “relatively” low maintenance?

    How about focusing on generating revenue so that we can pay for city services AND build parks. Given the economic circumstances, that would seem to be the more prudent course. Your favored option appears to me to be the one fraught with risk.

  30. By suswhit
    January 6, 2010 at 6:27 pm | permalink

    Re #29 The library lot a “pocket park?” While admittedly I am not familiar with the Boston site you mention, I think the pocket park analogy is not a good one. Our latest proposed “pocket park” is the little strip of land along the 4th Ave side of the proposed Moravian project which is perhaps 1/4 of the block long and the width of the sidewalk plus the easement between the street and the sidewalk. Useless space that the city already has the right of way to being designated as “open space.” (Insert Planning Commissions members fawning all over how “nice” that is! A bench next to a building! What a huge benefit to the citizens of Ann Arbor! Yes! Yes!) The pocket park “concept” is completely and utterly different than the potential for the library lot.
    In addition, the financial complexities of the “done deal” are many and they are already in the proposal. If the hotel/conference center that Fraser et al are shoving down our throats doesn’t make enough money after the Valiant folks split their $1M developer fee then guess who gets stuck with the bill? You do! How many police and firefights will get laid off when that happens? Hello “risk!” Hello Tally Hall #@2! (FYI, Out esteemed city manager and council do not control the school budget, thank heavens.) And, go figure, at this late point in the process the RFP committee realizes that they don’t have the expertise to properly evaluate the proposals. (Insert Consultants licking their lips at the prospect of a nice juicy fee! We can afford that, too! Right?) But the committee DID have the expertise to determine that the public space option is not viable. Hmmmmmm. Which is it then? They do or they don’t have the expertise? I tell you what I think, they don’t. Start over.

  31. January 6, 2010 at 7:17 pm | permalink

    John Floyd’s comment about downtowners needing a place to throw their frisbees made me think about all the parks near downtown that are pretty much vacant most of the time: Wheeler park, Liberty Plaza (granted, not good for frisbee), the park on Packard and Division, the park on Packard just southeast of Jacks hardware.

    Vivienne’s praise of the active concept is an important piece here.

  32. By David Lewis
    January 6, 2010 at 11:27 pm | permalink

    The city of A2 has 168 parks on 2,400 acres. I was told by a parks employee that of the 40% of the land in the city that is off the tax roles the city park system makes up the largest part. I would guess that in comparison to other cities A2 has a huge parks system. Not one but TWO golf courses!

    No city in Michigan has any extra cash. A2 is no different. The city is using every possible parks dollar to maintain what they have.

    This city needs a big park downtown like the proverbial hole in the head. The new park would be right next to the library, kind of like a giant Liberty Plaza. People hanging on the benches in the daytime when it’s warm out, inside the Library when it isn’t but year round, dead as a doornail at night.

    What downtown needs is customers, people living and working on this site, people who will shop and eat. What this site needs is 18 hours of every 24 to be activated.

    As Chuck says, there are parks everywhere around downtown. Add the huge open, GREEN Diag to his list along with West Park.

  33. By jcp2
    January 7, 2010 at 12:09 am | permalink

    The trouble with downtown when I go at night is that after six or sevenish, most stores close, so all there is to do is to eat. I generally get an early reservation, finish the meal, and shop at the mall or at Target before going home. I’d stay longer downtown, but I’m not a bar type of guy anymore.

  34. By cjenkins
    January 7, 2010 at 4:46 pm | permalink

    I am appalled at what I have just learned reading some comments on another website. I couldn’t believe that it was true until I actually checked it out for myself but it is true.

    One of the largest campaign donors to both Briere and Anglin’s campaigns was Dennis Dahlman! And this contribution was made in the last election cycle. Briere and Anglin have been lecturing everyone in this city about ethics, transparency, and integrity. I guess those things only matter when you are accusing others.

    Is this the same Dennis Dahlman who has submitted the RFP?

    If not, I apologize for my statements.

    If so, I hate to say it but something stinks here.

    Briere submits a resolution that insults the RFP committee and some of her fellow councilmembers. She calls them untrustworthy and incapable of making an unbiased decision. Yet Ms Briere and Mr. Anglin are showing favoritism and giving special favors to a large important campaign donor.

    Hello? Ms. Briere it sure looks like a little quid pro quo to me. If it walks like a duck……

  35. January 7, 2010 at 5:25 pm | permalink

    Mr.(?) Jenkins:

    Mr. Dahlmann contributed to my campaign, too. (City council, 2008) But you should realize that contributions to city council campaigns are limited to $500. Few people are bought by such small amounts. (Yes, that is small in the context of campaigns, which are getting amazingly expensive – my opponent spent $20,000 on his.) If you want to get into that game, you will find many interesting stories in other councilmembers’ campaign records. Quite a few of them have had donations from law firms and others associated with developers. Others accepted donations from the firefighters’ union. Shall we now presume that their every action is determined by their acceptance of those small sums? I could cite some specific examples, but I decline to enter that game. We do have transparency. That is the purpose of campaign donors being listed on a public website (the county elections website).

    There are some real differences of opinion on this and other issues. People support the candidates who reflect their views. That does not reflect an underhanded “deal” but merely the political process.

    Mr. Dahlmann, like everyone else in and out of the city, has a right to participate in the political process. Someone suggested on another blog that no one who has given to a political campaign should ever be appointed to a board or commission. But that is a restraint of individual political involvement (the Supreme Court would say free speech).

    I read CM Briere’s resolution and sat through the entire city council meeting. Never did she call the advisory committee untrustworthy and incapable of making an unbiased decision. Other speakers accused her of that (by inference), but it does not establish a fact. Her resolution was very mild and simply asked for all information to be made available to council. On another blog (presumably not the same one you are citing) she was accused of weakness for not doing enough.

    I hope that we can resolve differences without unfounded accusations of malfeasance on either side. Things are tense enough.

  36. By Stephen Cain
    January 7, 2010 at 5:42 pm | permalink

    As a reporter for The Detroit News from 1968 to 1983 and then at The Ann Arbor News into the late 1990s, I can recall many developers complaining about “The Peoples Republic of Ann Arbor” and about how they were strong-armed into adding green space, parks, etc. into their projects. Of course all the great parkland in Ann Arbor contributed to making the city a wonderful place where people (and developers) wanted to be, which, strangely enough, seems like a long-range recipe for prosperity. I’d love to see a significant portion of the library lot devoted to creating a downtown park. I’ve been living outside of Asheville, N.C., for the past decade. Its downtown parks host innumerable events and contributed significantly to the city’s downtown rebirth.

  37. By Dave Askins
    January 7, 2010 at 6:29 pm | permalink

    Re [34]: campaign contributions “… I actually checked it out for myself but it is true.”

    The Washtenaw County clerk’s office maintains campaign finance records online: [Link to campaign finance page]

    [Link to Briere's set of filings]
    [Link to report of Briere's pre-election contributions]

    [Link to Anglin's set of filings
    [Link to report of Briere's pre-election contributions.]

    Other councilmembers elected in the last cycle:

    [Link to Rapundalo's set of filings]

    [Link to Kunselman's set of filings]

    [Link to Higgins' set of filings]

    When searching for sets of reports by name, the county’s website will give a “date of last filing” date that is erroneously outdated for all candidates — click through undaunted to get the set of links to all the filings.

    A quick perusal of the filings for Briere and Anglin would show that the amount contributed by Dennis Dahlmann to each of their campaigns in the last cycle was $500. I haven’t reviewed filings for the other councilmembers or candidates who did not win election, but my recollection is that Dahlmann contributed to others as well, for this election and in previous cycles.

  38. By cjenkins
    January 7, 2010 at 6:50 pm | permalink

    People contribute to campaigns all the time. Councilmembers vote up and down on issues all the time. Taking a contribution from a PAC or individual and then being for or against something that individual might be involved in does not imply any unethical behavior (especially if you vote against the PAC or person). That is simple politics.

    The difference in this situation is this:

    The donations were given late summer/fall after the announcement that the city would be asking for RFPs. Has Dahlman ever given to their campaigns before? I looked but did not see any contribution to Briere or Anglin before this past fall.

    More importantly is that this was not an up or down vote. This was an EXTRAORDINARY ACTION that asked for special consideration. This was a special resolution that yes, did insult the committee (at least that is how I took it), and basically said “I don’t trust them to come up with the correct decision so I want to have the control. I want this proposal looked at again and given special consideration.”

    The issue is that her action was atypical; not the normal way that council deals with their designated committees. This atypical action along with the large campaign donations is what makes this unethical or at the minimum appear unethical. If Briere/Anglin were just in favor of the project that was selected by the committee then I don’t think anyone would question it. Voting up or down on it is their job, they have to do that.

    The issue is the EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES that were taken to please a donor.

    It definitely has the appearance of impropriety in my eyes.

  39. January 7, 2010 at 7:07 pm | permalink

    #38: You are again imposing your own interpretation on her action, which was not at all extraordinary.

    I think the more reasonable, and defensible, interpretation is that her action was taken out of a combination of personal conviction and the overall expectations of all her political base (of which I am one).

    That was neat, how you excused all others’ actions that might be interpreted as favorable to donors while excoriating CM Briere (and Anglin, though all he did was to speak in favor of and vote for her resolution).

    Why don’t we return to discussing the merits of various outcomes and leave destructive personal politics behind? Or are you concerned about the direction the merits are taking us?

  40. By Eric Boyd
    January 7, 2010 at 9:56 pm | permalink

    If we’re talking about valuable additions to the city’s park system, I’d much rather see the Bandemeer Underpass finally built (quietly bumped out a few years again in the latest Capital Improvement Plan [CIP], without discussion, as far as I can determine), which would greatly extend the park “spine” along the river than a small, disconnected park downtown.

    The city needs to generate more business, more downtown residents, more visitors, and more taxes in order to fund the effective development of our other parks, along with other services.

  41. By cjenkins
    January 8, 2010 at 9:05 am | permalink

    Vivienne, considering you write a blog based on complete innuendo and opinion and pass it off as conspiracy and fact, I do not think you are the one to accuse me of “imposing my own interpretation on her action”. I will let the facts here speak for themselves. Maybe you should keep such an open mind when you consistently accuse all the other public officials in town of wrongdoing.

    As for the direction the merits are taking us, I do believe that there are many people here and on other blogs who agree with my opinion stated above regarding that a park should NOT go in this area. No need to worry about the direction of the comments, because the “no park” stance is the majority stance.

  42. January 8, 2010 at 11:40 am | permalink

    With regard to the “majority stance”, remember that 46% of the nearly 1500 voters in the poll wanted the Dahlmann project. The Chamber of Commerce’s conference center got 20%.

  43. By cjenkins
    January 8, 2010 at 1:29 pm | permalink

    Dave -That poll is completely unscientific and one can most easily stack the ballot box on this type of poll. I don’t give any credence to such a poll.

    The choice is not between the Dahlmann project and a conference center; the choice is between the Dahlmann project and something else. The something else is yet to be determined.

    I believe that most people do NOT want a park in this location. The only people I have heard say “yes” to a park are people who are always against any type of development anywhere in the city. Do they truly want a park, or do they just not want a building on that property? hhmmm…

  44. By Alan Goldsmith
    January 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm | permalink

    I would like to see a list of times, places and dates when any current member of City Council, as well as other city or DDA members have met with any of the developers privately over the past year. That would go a long way in clearing the air on the matter and let the public know a ‘fix’ isn’t in.

  45. By Rod Johnson
    January 8, 2010 at 5:53 pm | permalink

    CJenkins, meet me. I’m pro-density, generally pro-development, and happy about much of the development that’s going on, and I would like a park in that location. You tar with too broad a brush.

  46. January 8, 2010 at 5:58 pm | permalink

    People used to say “never explain, never complain” but I think it’s valid to ask about campaign financing, even if it doesn’t play a major role in my life.
    I’ve met only one of the people who responded to the RFP for the Library Lot — Mr. Dahlman. I’ve met him 4 times now. 2 of those times were at social events at someone’s home. 1 time I invited him to a party at my home (we didn’t really get to talk; it was very crowded, but I saw that he talked with others). I sat down and spoke with him last September — well after the donation he made to my campaign in July. It was the first time we had really spoken.
    We met to discuss the A2D2 rezoning (coming again before Council)and to discuss downtown planning issues. I had concerns about possible conflicts between the needs for his building and those of the neighboring Sloan Plaza. I’ve held such meetings with many constituents in the past. His company owns 4 buildings in the 4th Ward — I need to hear his views.
    I’ve also met with (former) Chair of the Chamber of Commerce, Jesse Bernstein, (interim) Chair of the Chamber of Commerce, John Hansen, and will undoubtedly meet with the new Chair of the Combined chambers. I try really hard to make certain I listen to the voices that represent various downtown and neighborhood issues.
    I meet with developers — and neighborhood groups and interested bystanders. I listen to the people whose interests I represent, especially when they disagree with each other.
    I appreciated Mr. Dahlman’s contribution. I also appreciated the $10 and $25 contributions I received for my recent campaign, as well. I received far more of those, from people who have known me a long time.
    And if you read to the bottom line of that finance report, you’ll see the campaign was also very frugal. We didn’t spend great deals of money, retained quite a bit, and will hold it for future use.
    I really appreciate the concerns voiced here that any member of Council could be ‘bought’. Such issues must always be seen as valid.

  47. January 8, 2010 at 6:00 pm | permalink

    Correction — Mr. Dahlman’s company owns 4 buildings in the 1st Ward; my fingers don’t type tonight!

  48. By Cosmonican
    January 8, 2010 at 6:10 pm | permalink

    I can’t believe any council people are for sale, though the actions of DINO’s may confuse those of us who accidentally voted for them, by virtue of their political DNA. A look though, at their client lists, five or ten years in the future may be instructive.

  49. By cjenkins
    January 8, 2010 at 9:02 pm | permalink

    Actually Ms. Briere Dennis Dahlman gave you $500 on 6/26/09 and ANOTHER $500 on 9/26/09.

    This second contribution was reported on your campaign finance report but was illicit. Contributions for city council campaigns is limited to $500 per individual. The county clerk sent you a notice asking that the contribution be returned and yes you did return $500.

    The question is why was a second donation that was illigitimate sent in after the RFP process began?

    Honestly, Ms. Briere I don’t usually go around expecting the worst out of people. However, you, Mr. Anglin and many of your supporters have chastised, accused, grandstanded, and propagated conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory over so much less regarding other people. You claim integrity and hide behind “I am just doing my job”. Doing your job is voting things up or down at the council table. Doing your job is NOT trying to twist the rules and change the process to go in your donor’s favor.

    Over the past year, you have talked of integrity yet you violated campaign finance laws and gave special consideration to those who fund your campaign. I seriously hope someone FOIAs your emails to see what kind of exchanges you had with Dennis Dahlmann. I also hope that what ever authority is in charge of this sort of thing investigates the situation.

  50. By Sabra Briere
    January 8, 2010 at 10:42 pm | permalink

    Oh dear. I knew I should have checked the campaign finance report. Thank you so much for asking me to explain so politely.

    Of course, my emails have been FOIAd. Just as have every other member of Council.

    Mr. Dahlmann (you are correct, I mispelled his name earlier) donated to campaigns during primary season. I didn’t have a primary. His was an unsolicited donation (I did not seek donations until after Labor Day).

    He quite probably then sent a subsequent round of donations to candidates for the general election. His donation to me was inadvertently deposited. It was properly reported, caught by the Clerk, and quickly returned to him. He thought that he could contribute once for the general and once for the primary. He could, but not to me.

    My resolution had the following clauses:

    RESOLVED, That City Council requests that any proposers eliminated by the RFP advisory committee submit all relevant financial information about their projects to the City Council at their earliest convenience; and

    RESOLVED, That any proposers eliminated by the RFP advisory committee be prepared to respond to questions from the City Council in advance of City Council’s consideration of any recommendation the RFP advisory committee may make.

    Personally, I don’t see that these resolved clauses favor any eliminated proposers — whether the two already eliminated or any that may be eliminated in the future. I just wanted the information that (I feared) might be lost if enough questions didn’t get asked — especially if I had to make a decision about an eliminated proposal.

    I am grateful that the Mayor and the RFP advisory committee members discussed the situation and that the RFP committee today agreed to have a public hearing involving the two proposals already eliminated. I hope enough questions can be asked in 90 minutes (each) to answer anyone’s concerns.

  51. January 9, 2010 at 6:29 am | permalink

    A minor correction – the RFP advisory committee agreed to have the two open space proposers participate in the interview process, not a public hearing. They will each be given 90 minutes on Jan. 19 in a format identical to the interviews from the other four proposers scheduled on January 20. This includes a 30-minute presentation, 30 minutes from the committee (AADL director Josie Parker and AATA director Michael Ford are to join the committee for the questions) and 30 minutes for public questions (to be gathered on index cards). The committee also will send the questions to the two additional proposers that were not sent before and give them a week to answer them.

  52. By Leslie Morris
    January 9, 2010 at 8:51 am | permalink

    The notion that an Ann Arbor city council member could be bought (or even alter a vote or position) for a $500 campaign contribution is ludicrous, insulting and demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the way our local political process operates. I spent six years on city council, worked on many campaigns for local office, and attended city council meetings as a citizen for years. During that time I observed (and participated in) many serious fights over controversial development projects, budget decisions,etc. As strange as it may seem to a naive and suspicious observer, the various participants in these fights actually believe in the positions they take, and are convinced that their opponents are wrong. City council members sacrifice huge amounts of their time, and considerable amounts of money to do their jobs. I have disagreed vehemently with many of them on numerous issues. I have even disliked some of them. But the thought that even a single one of them (including the ones I disagree with or dislike) could be bought for $500 is just plain silly. Let’s get back to debating the issues.

  53. By cjenkins
    January 9, 2010 at 9:38 am | permalink

    I agree that the notion that a city councilperson could be bought with $500 SOUNDS ludicrous.

    However, there has been a group of people including Ms. Briere and Mr. Anglin who have been crying conspiracy, foul play, insinuating back room deals and payoffs over the past year regarding the library lot. They have screamed this loudly and consistently to the point that it is rather tiring. There has never been one piece of proof except for their own imaginations.

    Now we actually have a piece of proof that could incriminate someone in all the conspiracy theories except that person is on the side of “pro-park”. All the accusations from them now make it seem like they were trying to deflect the attention away from the themselves and on to others.

    I am not saying that Ms. Briere is guilty of anything; let the powers that be decide that. I am just saying that there is an appearance of impropriety which has been brought on by her direct actions and accusations of others by her, Anglin and their supporters.

    It would be nice if all of you who are defending Briere could give the rest of the councilmembers and the city staff this benefit of the doubt. You all jump to conclusions regarding people’s character and professionalism without a second thought with no evidence except blog accusations. Then when your preferred elected officials does something that has the appearance of impropriety you say it is a silly argument.

    I guess the question truly is, who is it that does not have integrity?

  54. By Leslie Morris
    January 9, 2010 at 12:25 pm | permalink

    As I have stated before, there is no appearance of impropriety, despite the repeated allegations of one poster to the contrary.

  55. January 9, 2010 at 12:41 pm | permalink

    Cjenkins, your statements are repetitive and hyperbolic. You have repeatedly accused a number of public figures and others who use their real names in public statements of abusing the truth. One of your comments (# 41) specifically addresses my blog, Local in Ann Arbor (accessible by clinking on the hyperlink behind my name, thanks to the Chronicle). You say “you write a blog based on complete innuendo and opinion and pass it off as conspiracy and fact”.

    Since I take attacks on my integrity very seriously, I’ve been examining the approaches and statements on my blog. First, I make an attempt to distinguish between opinion (which I do state) and fact. I provide links or documents whenever possible. I do make inferences. So if I observe events A, B and C, I may make statements that link them. These inferences are not always necessarily correct. For example, I stated in one post that CM Sandi Smith called a meeting about the structure above the library lot that violated the Open Meetings Act (this was true and documented by an email). But I also made the inference that she was promoting the conference center. Later I came into possession of a different email and clarified in a later post that she had in fact been trying to broaden the discussion from a single proposal (the Valiant Group) to a range of proposals (a commendable effort). So I did attempt to rectify my earlier inference.

    I will also admit and attempt to correct errors of fact. If you see one, or even just object to a statement or have a contrary opinion, you are welcome to comment on my blog. (I don’t moderate comments but will edit out personal attacks, so please be civil.) As far as I know, you have not done this to date.

    In comment #53, you say that a whole group of people has been making allegations of a back-room deal for the library lot, but “There has never been one piece of proof except for their own imaginations”.

    I don’t think anyone that I associate with (including CM Anglin and CM Briere and their supporters) has made a public statement alleging a payoff. (Obviously I can’t speak for private conversations.) You are clearly a reader of A2Politico since you quoted it. That is an anonymous blog that makes many statements and accusations without citing a source. However, it is that blog that attacked CM Briere, so it does not fall within the group you are accusing. Can you name a different example?

    Because I was personally attacked as not basing my statements on fact, I’ll comment on the specific issue of the library lot. Apologies to the editor and publisher of the Chronicle for this long post.

    I have certainly been forthright in alleging that there was a “secret plan” for a conference center. Actually, it was only secret in that it was not made publicly available until I was able to publish a leaked copy (source confidential). But in an April 2008 story in the Ann Arbor News, there was a discussion of the perceived need for a conference center in Ann Arbor. Bob Guenzel, Jesse Bernstein, and a number of other players were quoted. Here is what it says about Roger Fraser: “City Administrator Roger Fraser has advocated having something specific planned for the top side of the parking deck.
    ‘It could be a number of things,’ he said. ‘I have no objections if it turns out to a conference or convention facility.’ That kind of amenity would serve a number of community interests, he said.”

    Fraser then presented an “unsolicited proposal” to the council in January 2009. It was not released for public viewing and attempts to FOIA it were unsuccessful. I later obtained the leaked copy prepared by Valiant Partners. Here is what they say in their current proposal in response to the RFP:

    “For well over 18 months we have been meeting with
    institutions, businesses, public officials, individuals and focus groups throughout the Ann Arbor community to determine
    what is the type of project that will best meet the needs of the City and the broader community.” Note that 18 months puts them back to about May 2008 (same time-frame as the News article). Indeed, there are several emails that have been obtained by FOIA that indicate a cordial ongoing conversation between this group and members of city government.

    Now that the process is much more open, any odor of “back-room deals” is being wafted away. But it is clear from verifiable data that there were more or less confidential conversations going on for many months and that expectations may have been raised. Imagination was not required.

    I’d like to conclude by praising the city administration for putting all material regarding this RFP on a website. It is now a model of openness.

  56. By Tom Whitaker
    January 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm | permalink

    “It would be nice if all of you who are defending Briere could give the rest of the councilmembers and the city staff this benefit of the doubt.”

    I am always very reluctant to put any stock in conspiracy theories and I don’t even like discussing them very much. But I do want to add my thoughts to this comment about Sabra and the concept of “benefit of the doubt.”

    Sabra consistently listens and responds to constituents, whether they are in her ward or not. The responses are not “thanks for writing,” or lectures on how naive the constituent is. Rather, they are thoughtful and humble; often demonstrating her strong desire to learn more about all sides of an issue and make the best decision she can. She attends community meetings even when she is not required to do so. She posts on responsible online forums, like this one, to help clarify issues–even at times to defend others on Council who may not agree with her. She attends caucus religiously. She has shown her committment to open government and public input with the “public participation” ordinance and also with this latest resolution about the RFP. To me it was very consistent with her past positions, and that of Mike Anglin, that this City belongs to its people and the people ought to be heard. Back in July, they both spoke at length about the need for better public participation in the RFP effort, and so far, I think they’ve been proven correct. This whole process would have been smoother and more widely accepted had the public been allowed to help shape it from the start.

    When our leaders don’t communicate well, they risk mistrust, paranoia and talk of conspiracy. At a minimum, they risk the perception that they are arrogant. I don’t always agree with Sabra’s votes, but I do appreciate her methods and her willingness to work her way through issues openly and honestly. She has EARNED my trust and my political support, even though I’m not in her ward.

  57. January 10, 2010 at 12:18 am | permalink

    I guess that when your position on an issue has no merit, the best you can do is to attack motives. Hey, no one can prove you wrong. It’s good refuge for the exhausted mind.

    In final analysis, parks are good. Hotels are good. Convention centers are good. The issue is which option is best in current circumstances. My vote is for hotels/convention centers. My reasoning is the current poor economic conditions and the fact that we can’t take care of the ones we got (i.e.,we are cutting park maintenance now). I’ll let the logic carry the position. There is no need to challenge the honesty, intelligence or motives of those that disagree.

  58. By Tom Whitaker
    January 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm | permalink

    @57: “In final analysis, parks are good. Hotels are good. Convention centers are good.”

    What analysis was that? I think that’s the whole problem here. No one did a thorough, objective analysis of what would be best for the City before going out and soliciting proposals. Now we’re spending an additional $50K to analyze several proposals, none of which may turn out to be “good” (whatever that means, the definition seems to be a moving target).

    Because of the rush to force some kind of development in this economy, the people of this community have been pushed into corners labeled “park” or “conference center.” And there is a third proposal, senior housing, which doesn’t seem to be getting much attention (+ or -) at all. Whatever Council decides, if it indeed chooses any of these proposals, the community will be thoroughly divided instead of somewhat united behind it. It didn’t need to happen this way.

    I wish we’d spent the $50K on an upfront analysis and some cooperative public area planning instead.

  59. By Peg Eisenstodt
    January 10, 2010 at 1:01 pm | permalink

    I don’t have a strong opinion, yet, about what should be done with the library lot. I do have a question, though, about ice skating rinks. Does the rink at Veteran’s Park make money? My recollection is that revenue was/is a problem but I may be wrong. Would putting another rink downtown compete with Vet’s Park to such an extent that both could struggle and potentially fail? Having an ice rink downtown sounds like fun, but what’s the financial risk?

  60. January 10, 2010 at 2:51 pm | permalink

    Tom Whitaker@57: I thought the word “good” was common enough usage as not to require definition or elaboration. Guess I was wrong. By “good” I mean generally desirable, worthy, of benefit, meritorious and the like. The point was that the decision is a choice among “goods.” That was not the analysis, just a statement that I find none of the alternatives repelling.

    The analysis is what follows. My position there is simple. If we can’t afford what we’ve got now (i.e., parks) it does not seem to me to be wise to build more of them. In my opinion, this is not rocket science. Just common sense.

    The senior housing alternative seems to be getting the amount of attention it deserves. Unless, of course, the intention is to get the housing to pay full market rent and contribute taxes and fees accordingly. However, I suspect that the intention is some kind of subsidized arrangement where city revenues would be further drained.

    The Hotel/Conference Center just seems like the best option (or “good”). Even if it were given tax a abatement it would be no worse than the revenue generated by a park. Hotel guests and conference attendees probably contribute more revenue to the city than do senior citizens (even those paying full market). The aesthetic contribution depends on the skill of the architect. Given the rigor applied to other buildings, I have confidence that the city council will be sensitive to that issue.

    Tom, I like parks; I like senior housing; I like hotels. The point is that, in this case, I think the hotel/conference center is just the best choice among “goods.”

  61. January 10, 2010 at 4:28 pm | permalink

    @60: “If we can’t afford what we’ve got now (i.e., parks) it does not seem to me to be wise to build more of them. In my opinion, this is not rocket science. Just common sense.”

    Generalizing from the entire park system — including natural areas and playing fields, among other variations — isn’t analysis. Downtown parks are different, especially when they have the potential to host active uses and events.

    That said, I think that Peg raises a valid question in #59. I’m not an ice skater so I can’t address it. I’ve only seen some photos of the rink at Campus Martius. I have no idea how many days that space gets heavy use (nor do I know that for Vets Park.) That’s part of the reason I suggested the skateboard park in #7 — I’m fairly confident that it would get daily use, including evenings, at least 9 months of the year. I’m assuming that it would only take up a quarter or so of the space, but maybe it wouldn’t work to have a bowl (if that’s part of the anticipated design) on top of the structure.

  62. By Tom Whitaker
    January 10, 2010 at 5:59 pm | permalink

    Gary: My concern is not with your opinion of what is good, but rather that the authors of the RFP did not sufficiently define what would be perceived as “good” by the review committee or Council. Now we have members of the committee trying to define it after-the-fact. When the consultant comes back with a report, what definition will be applied? That’s what’s missing in all this.

    Planning and analysis, coupled with some well-executed public forums could have helped us narrow down the definition of “good” ahead of time, reducing the level of suspicion of people and process we’re seeing voiced here.

  63. January 10, 2010 at 11:49 pm | permalink

    @62- Tom: Sure seems to be a good idea to define what you want before you ask someone to quote it. However, one merit to the chaotic process is that you probably got the full range of realistic possibilities. But I sure would not recommend using this approach on a regular basis.

    @61- Steve: Maybe you know something I don’t. I figure that when the Parks Department is cutting 7.5% of their budget a year that the reduction would apply to “natural areas and playing fields, among other variations”. Maybe you have ideas on why the proposed green area is exempt from budget constraints. If so, I’d like to hear it. If not, the analysis I offered is sufficient for decision making. Some things are so obvious that they do not require Excel spreadsheets to assess.

  64. January 11, 2010 at 7:00 am | permalink

    Gary, basically you’re saying that if we had the opportunity to add a facility like the farmers market, which Jayne Miller says is a net revenue generator, you’d forego that opportunity because it’s “common sense” to base your decision on generalized information. I’m saying that that would be poor analysis, not common sense.

  65. By Mary Morgan
    January 11, 2010 at 10:12 am | permalink

    Re. city-owned ice rinks: The rinks at both Vets and Buhr parks are subsidized by the city’s general fund. In FY09, Vets had a shortfall of $18.5K; Buhr’s shortfall was $26.8K. This year, projections show shortfalls of $25K and $43K, respectively. In addition, capital projects, like the recent sub-floor work at Buhr, are paid for out of the parks millage – those expenses aren’t factored in to the revenue/expense budget.

    [.pdf file of Vets ice arena budget] [.pdf file of Buhr ice rink budget]

  66. By Rod Johnson
    January 11, 2010 at 10:46 am | permalink

    It seems obvious that different types of space that we put under the general umbrella category of “parks” have different costs, different uses, different benefits and it doesn’t make sense to view any particular space as just a microcosm of the whole parks budget, without, as Steve says, some analysis.

    We’re focusing on the “parks” notion here and people are pointing at places like West and Wheeler as “downtown” parks. But those aren’t “downtown” parks to people who might have a half hour for lunch or need a quick walk to clear their heads at work. The fact is, there’s very little space downtown, except Liberty Plaza, for people to just sit and hang out, unless they’re willing to be part of the great downtown retail machine. I guess there are some planters and benches scattered around, and the Kerrytown area. But what’s more important, in my view, is that there’s no central civic gathering space for weddings, concerts, rallies, etc. Ann Arbor really doesn’t have much shared public life–everyone’s inside bitching on blogs or in their cars driving to Whole Foods. A space downtown would provide a place for some civic engagement. No doubt some thought needs to be given to how costs will be addressed. But think about what great public spaces have done for other cities–there are diffuse benefits that are not easy to represent on a balance sheet. Before the 1970s, who wanted to have a conference in San Antonio? The popularity of the River Walk has played a major role in the revitalization of the city. Ignoring all these benefits and characterizing these proposals as just another “park” is deceptive. This couple block downtown core is such an opportunity to change the nature of downtown, and once we turn it over to private developers, we’ll never get it back. As people in this thread keep saying, remember Tally Hall. Do we want, 20 years from now, to remember the library lot as Hieftje’s Folly, the way we remember Tally Hall as Belcher’s?

    We have neglected this aspect of our own urban fabric for too long, happy to build schlocky fortress-like monstrosities downtown for the sake of bringing in revenue, instead of making downtown livable and pleasant. Things are working out fine for Main Street merchants who can sell high-priced food to fudgies, but what do local people get who actually want to live and work and shop and socialize downtown? (And wouldn’t it be nice to have a big public event downtown without having to shut down the streets for an entire weekend?)

  67. January 11, 2010 at 11:17 am | permalink

    Beautifully put, Rod. A commenter on my blog also pointed out that this space could be used during Art Fair and could generate income at that time. If there is a pavilion, there would be a concessionaire, another source of revenue. Weddings could pay fees comparable to those paid at other parks facilities.

    I am interested in the idea of a conservancy-type organization that could solicit donations for maintenance and some operations. It would keep a separate, properly accounted and audited fund. The “square” could perhaps collect revenues and then pay rental to the parks system, rather than being a drain on it.

  68. January 11, 2010 at 12:05 pm | permalink

    @64-Steve: The park/hotel issue is a choice among alternatives it is not a simple go-not go decision as your Farmers Market illustration suggests. The analogy is poor.

    While revenue is not the sole determinant of a decision, it certainly is one of them. It seems to me that the factions in this debate break down by those who value put high value on recreation and those who see economic well-being as more important. I too enjoy recreation but in times where we are laying off teachers, police and fireman would see economics as more important. I guess not everyone shares my value system.

    @67: Vivienne: Good luck on the conservancy idea. If you can find a wealthy donor, it might work. If you’re going to depend of $50-$100 contributions I’d give your odds at 1,000,000 to 1. However, if you do pull it off I can be tapped for $50.

  69. By suswhit
    January 11, 2010 at 1:28 pm | permalink

    Arrrgh. It’s so frustrating that people make this assumption that this is a debate between a hotel/conference center that brings in revenue or a park (no revenue). I think there is ample evidence that a central community space creates greater opportunity for increased traffic as well as revenue to the surrounding area. And also evidence that a hotel/conference center might fail and/or create a drain on local finances. Perhaps if we think instead of a debate between whether we need a building to shelter people who already want to come here OR a reason for people to visit downtown Ann Arbor?

  70. By Joan Lowenstein
    January 11, 2010 at 2:34 pm | permalink

    @66: People who want to “live and work and shop and socialize downtown” do that in buildings that are built by people who can make money doing so. How many people live and work and shop and socialize in open spaces like Liberty Plaza? It’s nice to have the open spaces that we do have, but not many people socialize or gather there. People do socialize at the Farmer’s Market. We already have one of those.

  71. By Rod Johnson
    January 11, 2010 at 6:44 pm | permalink

    Thanks for the lecture, Joan. Gosh, I never knew all that stuff about money’n'all! And you’re right, the Farmer’s Market renders all other public spaces unnecessary! That must be why we only have one set of ball fields, one golf course, and one canoe livery.

    The point is that open spaces can enhance the downtown mix and create a climate in which people want to come to downtown. It’s part of the whole walkability thing. People live and work and shop and socialize in walkable, livable downtowns. A lot of factors go into that, including enough density to support downtown businesses, but also including other amenities, some of which may not have immediate revenue streams attached but which may be better for the long-term health of the community. Obviously opinions vary about what the right mix is–how does being patronizing move the discussion forward?

  72. By Dan Ryan
    January 11, 2010 at 10:49 pm | permalink

    As a 30-something, I think the last thing downtown Ann Arbor needs is another park, er “open space.” I don’t go downtown for “open space.” I go downtown to drink, eat and see a show. The open space mantra is just a cover for the anti-build crowd. And by the way, the downtown already has lots of unbuilt areas. There’s liberty plaza. And the Diag.

  73. January 11, 2010 at 11:47 pm | permalink

    @71–Rod: Seems to me that your reply was a bit patronizing. You wasted a lot of electrons stating the obvious in your talk about “mix.” That does little to “move the discussion forward.” Perhaps you needed Joan’s lecture more than you realize.

  74. By AntiRedRidersNo1
    January 12, 2010 at 8:16 am | permalink

    “And the Diag.”

    Townies like to ignore the industry that makes their hick town worth more than a pile of furniture a dog leaves in a yard.

  75. January 12, 2010 at 10:30 am | permalink

    Interesting that #74 refers to the UM (presumably) as an “industry”. From his/her remarks, I gather he/she does not consider him/herself an Ann Arborite. “Their” hick town?

    The Diag really is part of the UM and belongs to the students, faculty and staff of the UM. It is a lovely and important space but I doubt the UM would like us to commandeer it for any purpose other than strolling through it. At one time, many Art Fair activities occurred there but I believe that has been curtailed.

    The same is true of the Law Quad. That is a beautiful space that I visit as reverently as though at a museum. I would never think to take a picnic lunch there.

    Both West Park and the UM campus are near the downtown but not part of it. Liberty Plaza may be an “unbuilt area” but is very limited in use and doesn’t really provide a sense of open space. Downtown really doesn’t have any open space that is usable by the general population, including those who go there for other reasons than to drink and eat.

  76. January 12, 2010 at 12:15 pm | permalink

    @74–AntiRedRidersNo1: On the contrary. We do recognize the “industry that makes their hick town.” We don’t tax the UofM employees who make their money here, use the facilities but don’t pay any city taxes. I guess these people live in an “un-hick” town.

    PS: I don’t blame you for using a pseudonym. If your name ever gets out you’d be exposed to a lot of ridicule.

  77. By Rod Johnson
    January 12, 2010 at 10:37 pm | permalink

    Sorry, Gary, specifics? It’s hard to know what’s obvious and what isn’t to various people.

  78. January 12, 2010 at 11:22 pm | permalink

    @77–Sure, Rod. Joan offered specifics to illustrate her points. You might disagree with her view but she stated a clear and concise one with “evidence”-e.g., Farmers Market, Liberty Park.

    Your reply starts with a “poke” implying that she said “Farmer’s Market renders all other public spaces unnecessary”–she did not say that the Farmers Market was a singularly sufficient social forum. Just that it was one. Putting words in someone’s mouth is a bad way to start to build a compelling argument.

    You then proceed to say “People live and work and shop and socialize in walkable, livable downtowns”. Rod, they do that everywhere. If you’re going to claim that the park would yield that outcome in a more favorable manner than will a hotel, it is incumbent on you to cite why.

    You then proceed to note that there are “A lot of factors go into that” (e.g., density, amenities , etc.). I consider the factors you cite to be obvious. The hard part is weighting them. You fail to offer anything along those lines.

    I’m temped to rattle on. However, the above is hopefully sufficient to explain why I judged your reply (just this one, not all of them that you hold)as not “moving the ball forward.”

  79. By AntiRedRidersNo1
    January 13, 2010 at 8:12 am | permalink

    “Interesting that #74 refers to the UM (presumably) as an “industry”. From his/her remarks, I gather he/she does not consider him/herself an Ann Arborite. “Their” hick town?”

    Perhaps you should visit some cities that are actually progressive instead of living in one that just pays lip service to it.

    “We don’t tax the UofM employees who make their money here, use the facilities but don’t pay any city taxes. I guess these people live in an “un-hick” town.”


  80. By Rod Johnson
    January 13, 2010 at 6:38 pm | permalink

    Fair enough, Gary. In fact, I’m in complete agreement that “the hard part is weighing them.” I wish I knew a reliable process for that–besides a few studies purporting to show that this or that approach leads to a better outcome, all of which are pretty shaky, it seems like all we have to go on are gut feelings about which vision we prefer and the political process to sort it out. (I think some people are feeling that the political process is broken in Ann Arbor, unfortunately.)

    I think the things you find obvious are me trying to summarize points that have come up earlier in this discussion, so yeah, they are obvious. I’m not trying to be provocative making them. It seems to me that some people are fastening on one aspect of this argument (the need for revenue), and I’m just trying to say that I think a more… “holistic” view is necessary–which, you’re right, is not an earth-shattering insight–and that in that larger context, the approach represented by the Valiant proposal is unwise. I’ve tried to articulate why I think that above; you’re welcome to disagree.

  81. January 13, 2010 at 11:24 pm | permalink

    #79:AntiRedRidersNo1–You again demonstrate the wisdom of your choosing using a pseudonym.