Typically on the last Wednesday morning of the month, two committees of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority meet back to back – transportation and operations. This past Wednesday was no different.
At the transportation committee meeting, Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, floated an idea for partnering with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority on improvements to the South Fourth Avenue corridor, between William and Liberty streets. The partnership would include a grant to the AATA in connection with the reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center. No numbers are yet attached to the concept, which Pollay described as a possible “transit mall” – she was checking with the committee for their basic reaction to the idea. That reaction could fairly be described as warm, with some caution expressed by DDA board member Leah Gunn, when she arrived for the operations committee meeting.
Starting last month, the last half hour of the transportation committee’s meeting has been configured to overlap with the operations committee’s meeting, so that the two groups can meet jointly to discuss a directive from the city council to the DDA to deliver a parking plan to the council by April. A preliminary outline of that plan was discussed on Wednesday.
When DDA executive director Susan Pollay articulated the concept for creating something like a “transit mall” along Fourth Avenue on Wednesday morning, it was not the first time transportation committee members had heard the idea. As a part of The Chronicle’s coverage of the AATA board’s December meeting, we reported on last month’s DDA transportation committee meeting as well:
At the Downtown Development Authority’s transportation committee meeting earlier in the day, executive director Susan Pollay had focused on the 50% of those passengers who did not transfer, but rather had downtown Ann Arbor as a destination point. The DDA, she said, needed to make sure that for those passengers, the area around the Blake Transit Center was a welcoming place. DDA board member Newcombe Clark concurred with Pollay’s suggestion of putting “everything on the table” – including Fourth Avenue as a transit hub, possibly integrating the Fourth and William parking structure, with getDowntown offices constructed in that structure. [For the complete Chronicle article, see "AATA Board: Get Bids to Rebuild Blake"]
At Wednesday’s meeting, Pollay offered the idea in somewhat more concrete form, though it could fairly be described as still conceptual. Her goal, she said, was to see if the idea resonated with the transportation committee, before trying to attach some dollar figures to it.
The concept includes four elements. First, it would include a grant to the AATA in connection with the reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center, which is located on that block. The current conceptual design for the new BTC is for it to be a two-story building located on the same footprint as the current one-story facility.
The DDA grant to the AATA would go towards providing additional structural support in the new facility, so that additional stories could be added later – possibly in concert with development that might happen on the old YMCA lot, which directly abuts BTC to the south.
A second element of the concept would include installation of pedestrian-friendly amenities along the block, like trees and planters, or colorful banners and the like. A third element would be informational electronic signs mounted on the Fourth and William parking structure facing BTC, so that bus passengers could see arrival and on-time data for the next buses.
A final element of the transit mall concept would include building out the ground floor of the Fourth and William parking structure to accommodate retail/office space, to give the corridor a more human feel and generate more activity there. Offices for getDowntown was a specific suggestion – that organization recently relocated to Washington Street office space when the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce ended their arrangement to provide in-kind support.
Transportation committee member John Mouat suggested that a place for the AATA board to meet could be a part of the space built out in the parking structure. Finding a location for the AATA board that is more accessible to the public than their current board room at AATA headquarters on South Industrial Avenue has become a priority for the AATA.
About the concept Pollay said, “I’m feeling ambitious,” and the transportation committee seemed to concur in principle. Pollay will now work with deputy director Joe Morehouse to develop some dollar figures and present those to the transportation committee at its February meeting. At that point, the committee could choose to send a recommendation to the full board.
If a recommendation comes to the full board that includes building out retail/office space in the parking structure, board member Leah Gunn will likely need to be convinced that commercial enterprises that might use the new space would not be subsidized to compete with other businesses. That was the sentiment she conveyed later during the joint transportation and operations committee meeting, which followed the transportation committee’s session. [Gunn serves on the operations committee.]
Chronicle readers might have already seen Gunn’s view on the subject. She left a comment following a recent Chronicle article about the closing of the John Leidy shop, expressing much the same sentiment:
And who is to say that an existing business should not be helped as much as a “start-up” business? (Could your tax money have kept Shaman Drum or John Leidy open?) [link]
At their last meeting of 2009, on Dec. 21, the city council approved its part of an arrangement with the DDA that would direct net revenue from the surface parking lot at the old YMCA site to the city of Ann Arbor. [See Chronicle coverage: "Also: Most aspects of parking deal approved"] The DDA agreed to the deal at its Jan. 6 meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: "DDA Ponies Up: Parking, Pipes, Planning"]
Originally part of the city council’s Dec. 21 resolution was an extension of evening enforcement of parking meters downtown, but that was swapped out in favor of a resolution calling on the DDA to provide the city council with a plan:
RESOLVED, The City requests that the DDA present a plan to Council at its April 19, 2010 meeting for a public parking management plan. The plan should include but is not limited to:
- a communication plan to Downtown patrons, merchants and evening employees
- options for low cost parking for evening employees
- variation of rates and meter time limits based on meter location
- hours of enforcement
- methods of enforcement
So on Wednesday, a draft outline of the presentation was discussed by the joint assembly of the transportation and operations committees of the DDA board.
The outline of the presentation was a comprehensive look at the entire parking program of the DDA – in terms of the city council resolution, it appears that the “not limited to” language is being taken seriously. Leah Gunn remarked: “I don’t think the council realized how big an assignment they gave us.”
Executive director Susan Pollay clarified for committee members that the outline was far more comprehensive than what the city council had asked for – the DDA was taking the opportunity to provide a complete overview. She reminded the committee, however, that the audience for the April presentation – the city council – would be listening for some very specific information: How much revenue would evening enforcement generate?