Parking Deal Talks Open Between City, DDA

Initial discussion touches on role of DDA in development

Almost a year ago, the city council appointed members to a committee that was to talk with a corresponding committee of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board about amending the contract under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system.

The two groups are known as the “mutually beneficial” committees, reflecting the language of a January 2009 city council resolution that called upon the DDA to begin a conversation about revising the parking contract in a “mutually beneficial” way.

On Monday morning, for the first time in public view, members of the DDA board and the city council met to discuss the contract.


The two mutually beneficial committees (starting at the far right of the frame, proceeding clockwise around the table): Carsten Hohnke, Margie Teall – both city councilmembers; Sandi Smith, city councilmember, but representing the DDA; Christopher Taylor, city councilmember; Roger Hewitt and Russ Collins, both on the DDA board. (Photo by the writer.)

The basis of these further discussions was a term sheet that had been produced in late April by some members of the city council and the DDA working outside of either body’s committee structure.

That term sheet had been the good faith basis on which the DDA board, on a 7-4 vote in May, voted to amend the parking contract. That unilateral amendment amounted to a payment from the DDA to the city of an additional $2 million that had not been required under the existing contract.

The specific outcomes of Monday’s meeting between the two committees were: (i) staff for the DDA and the city would be asked to develop a list of policy points that would need to be addressed in order for the DDA to assume responsibility of enforcing parking rules, but not other codes; and (ii) the DDA would be asked to develop a detailed plan by Sept. 13, 2010 describing the role of the DDA in the development of city-owned surface parking lots within the DDA district.

The planned schedule for meetings between the two committees will be the second Monday morning of each month at 8:30 a.m. at the DDA offices on Fifth Avenue. Members of the council’s committee are Margie Teall (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). Representing the DDA are Sandi Smith, Russ Collins, Roger Hewitt and Gary Boren.

Who Was There

All members of the committees attended except for Gary Boren on the DDA’s committee. Besides The Chronicle, in the audience was Maura Thomson of the Main Street Area Association.

There was no discussion of the objections raised at the city council’s May 17, 2010 meeting to Sandi Smith’s participation on the DDA’s committee. Smith serves on both the DDA board and the city council. Those objections had been raised by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). Their objections were countered at that council meeting by mayor John Hieftje and Margie Teall (Ward 4):

Higgins then expressed concern about Smith sitting on another body’s committee that was having discussions with the city council.

Smith was quick to respond to Higgins’ remarks by indicating that if there was a strong feeling on the part of the city council, then she would resign her committee membership on the DDA’s mutually beneficial committee. However, she told Higgins that she’d thought about the issue a lot. Smith said she felt she had an opportunity to provide insight into both organizations. She also said that up to that point, she had helped the two organizations get past some historical hard feelings – she characterized it as a “clash of cultures.”

Smith said the DDA may or may not be interested in doing any of the items listed on the term sheet. Smith then floated the idea that both the city council and the DDA board would meet together as entire bodies.

Higgins picked up on Smith’s offer to resign from the committee by indicating she wanted to request that Smith not be a member of the DDA’s mutually beneficial committee. Rapundalo echoed Higgins’ request, saying he meant no disrespect to Smith. However, he said that if she were removed from that committee, he would be more comfortable.

Hieftje noted that Smith brought a great deal of knowledge to the work.

And Teall echoed Hieftje’s sentiments that Smith’s skills and knowledge would be useful. Hieftje also suggested that the work going forward should not be thought of as a negotiation but rather a conversation.

Teall was appointed to the council’s mutually beneficial committee in summer of 2009 along with Carsten Hohnke and Leigh Greden, who represented Ward 3 at that time. Teall and Hohnke’s appointments to the council’s mutually beneficial committee at the May 17 meeting was thus their second time to be appointed to such a committee.

Not present at the discussion on Monday morning were any staff members from the city or the DDA.

Opening Discussion

The group spent the opening moments of the meeting reciting familiar facts – the term sheet produced by the working group had been acknowledged by both the city council and the DDA board as a basis for further discussions. As chair of the DDA board’s committee, Sandi Smith took the lead in reviewing the results of the recent retreat, which the board had held to discuss the term sheet.

Opening Discussion: Term Sheet

In bullet-point form, the key elements of the term sheet for discussion were these:

  • Parking Enforcement: DDA assumes responsibility for enforcement of parking rules.
  • Code Enforcement: DDA assumes responsibility for enforcement of other community standards codes (e.g., sign violations).
  • Services: DDA assumes responsibility for various services in the downtown.
  • Development: DDA assumes responsibility for development of city-owned downtown surface parking lots.

There were some additions to the term sheet at the DDA retreat, Smith reported. But with respect to the items already on the term sheet, she said, there was “not really stomach” to do code enforcement. If the DDA had no ability to establish the code, she said, the sentiment was that the DDA would be set up only to be “the bad guy” – not something the DDA was interested in doing. In addition, she said, she didn’t think there would be a lot of financial savings.

Opening Discussion: No Deals Already Cut

Russ Collins led off his contribution to the discussion by cheerfully saying that he would like to make “a posturing statement for the media and the citizens attending today.” Collins then stressed that the discussion was “an open dialogue” – there were preliminary discussions where the group had been exploring possibilities, but “no deals were cut.”

The idea that no deals had already been cut, Collins continued, was made clear from the fact that when the entire DDA board and the city council had looked at the term sheet, there had been some reaction among other members along the lines of “I don’t know if we want to do that.”

Collins noted that they were just volunteers who were public servants who were trying to do the best job possible for the citizens. [Editor's note: While DDA board members like Collins are appointed and are not compensated financially for their work, city council members are elected and paid an annual salary of $15,913.]

Teall added to Collins’ “posturing statement” that she felt the term sheet was a “great framework” for the discussion.

Opening Discussion: Basic Premise Is that DDA Manages Parking

Hewitt noted that there were not a lot of additional items that came up during the retreat, and there was one item about which there was not a lot of interest in pursuing – code enforcement. He emphasized that something not explicitly discussed – perhaps because everyone just assumed it – was that the DDA would continue to be in charge of management and operations of the parking system throughout the city.

Consolidation of Parking Management, Enforcement

The two committees dove fairly straightaway into discussing the idea that parking enforcement could be added to the existing DDA responsibility of managing and operating the parking system.

Parking Consolidation: DDA Handles Parking

It should be a single entity that handles the management and the enforcement of parking, Hewitt said – that was the basic assumption underlying the idea that the DDA would assume responsibility for both. Teall asked if it meant that parking enforcement would be done throughout the city, not just downtown.

That brought the conversation to a brief halt. Collins responded by saying, “I don’t know that there’s an answer to that.” He said that his understanding was that parking enforcement outside of parking districts would essentially be accomplished by the community standards officers – there are not meter attendants who cover the whole city.

Smith noted that the DDA currently operates parking meters outside of its tax increment finance (TIF) district, so the idea was not that the district would be an absolute boundary. Hewitt gave an example of something that the DDA did not want to pursue: There are “no parking” signs out near West Stadium Boulevard on a side street in the vicinity of the Dairy Queen that’s outside the DDA district – the DDA doesn’t want to go out and write tickets there.

Christopher Taylor’s characterization was accepted by the others around the table: “DDA-managed parking will be enforced by the DDA.” Smith offered the example of residential parking permits as a “gray zone” – community standards were not likely to take that on, she said.

Hewitt reasoned that the DDA was not doing code enforcement inside the DDA district – there was no board support for that. But there would be code enforcement by community standards staff outside the DDA area, so it would be possible for community standards officers to do parking enforcement outside the district too.

Collins noted that the spirit of previous discussions was essentially that neighborhood parking discussions were a complex matter, and it was important to have an opportunity for political input from the citizens. Hewitt labeled the issue as a “question that needs to be answered” and suggested that there was no particular leaning in one direction or the other at this point.

Parking Consolidation: Consolidate, But Separate From the DDA?

Collins then tentatively raised the issue of a general strategic direction – he indicated he was almost hesitant to say it, because it probably wouldn’t come true. The notion of consolidating “the parking world” and then possibly moving that to a separate kind of authority “isn’t a crazy notion” from the DDA’s standpoint, he ventured. He allowed that this was probably a minority opinion on the DDA board at this point.

Smith offered the counterpoint that parking in itself was not the end – it’s a tool in the development toolbox. “Nobody comes downtown to park,” Smith noted, “they come downtown for other reasons.” Parking is something that can be leveraged and made part of a development strategy – she pointed to the fourth item on the term sheet.

Collins said that for the foreseeable future, unifying management and enforcement within the DDA made sense. He reiterated, though, that as a strategic direction – in terms of aligning Ann Arbor with the way that other cities do things – it was worth bearing in mind that it could be separate. Other cities, he said, had parking authorities that handle these kind of things – it would be a good thought experiment. Other cities had already solved these problems of what’s in and what’s out and who enforces what, he noted.

Parking Consolidation: City Council Approvals, Vetoes

Hewitt noted that there were a number of places where the Ann Arbor city council would want to have control in terms of ratification and veto power, as they have now with the parking rates. So he identified as a challenge to specify where the council had input on parking policy. He said he did not expect the city council to say, “Take the parking system and never come and darken our door again.”

On the other hand, Hewitt said, if the parking system were to be a very complex and dynamic system of the kind that transportation demand management calls for, he did not want to have every decision micromanaged by the city council, and he figured that the city council would also not want that. Where the line was drawn – residential permits, fines, rates – those were details that would have to be worked out and clarified.

Smith suggested that on an annual basis the DDA could do an update to the parking plan that it had submitted to the city council in April and make an annual presentation to the city council. It would not make sense, she said, to say to the city council, “On these five blocks we want to raise the rate, and on these five blocks we want to lower the rate.”

That’s why, Hewitt said, he would still like to have a joint working session with the city council to review the parking plan and the complexity of it.

In response to Hewitt, Taylor said he wanted to “push as much of this to staff as possible.” He suggested that the city staff create a chart of policy decision points by July 12 – the next joint meeting of the two committees. Teall noted that there would be city councilmembers who would want to have input on the policy issues, to which Taylor responded, “That is so deeply true.”

Taylor felt that the discussion would be best served, however, by having a pre-existing list to check through. The list/chart would include, for example, all the points of entry into the public parking system, meter location inside and outside the DDA, loading zones, residential parking, fees, fines – what are the city council’s veto, ratification and initiation roles for each of those?

At the mention of rates, Hewitt noted that under a transportation demand management strategy, the rates would be highly variable depending on the time of day and the location. The rates would also vary depending on demand. It would be difficult to express that as something the council could approve or disapprove. To that Taylor suggested that you would use a range of rates – you can charge “up to X.” Teall stressed that she just wanted the rate to be clear.

Hohnke brought the conversation back to the day’s agenda, after the group had drilled down fairly deep into the issue of parking.

Collins said that they needed a significant representative from the city’s and the DDA’s administration at the meetings. Teall asked if there were legal question about what the city council could and could not have veto power over. Collins said he didn’t know that they needed an attorney to sit at the meetings. The legal matters had to get vetted out eventually, and having attorneys present would simply make the meetings longer, he feared. Teall countered that it would be important to get legal advice quickly when a question came up.

Parking Consolidation: But Wait – Separation of Parking From Code Enforcement?

The committee discussion took an arc that included the third term sheet item – services in the DDA area – before Hohnke again brought the conversation back to a substantive issue related to separating parking enforcement from code enforcement.

Based on Hohnke’s query, the conversation circled back around to whether the DDA was interested in code enforcement. Hewitt reiterated that the DDA was concerned that it would wind up being responsible for enforcing codes that it had no input on – it should be eliminated from future discussion.

Taylor observed that the same problem could occur with respect to parking, in view of the city council’s veto power, but said that it was a smaller point. Collins called it a matter of scale. The only reason code enforcement had originally been included as a possible DDA responsibility was that community standards officers essentially enforce the parking, so there was a thought that an efficiency could be gained by consolidating that function.

But Collins said it was complicated by matters of law and politics. It was logical to do from a work-flow dynamic, but not for the public. Teall asked if community standards officers performed code enforcement work inside and outside the DDA district, would they be only looking for code violations and ignore parking violations? Hewitt pointed out that code enforcement throughout the city would be complaint-driven. They only enforce if someone complains. At that point Smith suggested that level of detail would require staff input.

Collins said it didn’t make a lot of sense to take an officer with the responsibility of doing a variety of enforcement and then to exclude certain geographic areas. Taylor suggested that the language of the term sheet adequately addressed the issue by stipulating “primary, but non-exclusive, responsibility.” Collins said that if a community standards officer was downtown in response to a sign problem and noticed a car parked in a no-parking zone, then of course they would write a ticket for that.

Collins allowed that some DDA members would disagree with that kind of scenario. But he said that he thought if someone is told “don’t worry about that area, someone else is doing the work” then it would not get done. Smith noted that she thought there was a difference between parking in a no-parking zone – that’s an illegal act – versus an expired meter, which is a just a ticketable offense, she said. There was a difference between someone who has chosen to park in an illegal spot versus someone whose meter expired, she contended.

Hewitt also raised the question of where the revenue from various citations would go.

Hohnke indicated a desire to have staff input on the question of whether there was any economy of scale and the potential for mutual benefit by having one group of people responsible for parking enforcement and code enforcement. It would be nice, he said, to have staff verify that separating the two kinds of enforcement is not a financial stumbling block.

Taylor noted that it was clear that the DDA board was not interested in taking on code enforcement. He said that at least some councilmembers had also expressed concern about it. Asking staff if separating the two would cause difficulty would be a good idea, said Taylor. The question to staff should be along the lines of: Right now it looks like we’re going to separate these two – tell us if we should change our minds.

Provision of Services in DDA Area

The third item on the term sheet was the possibility that the DDA would provide various maintenance type services in the downtown area.

Services: Enhancement, Calculation of Cost Savings

Hewitt moved the conversation to the topic of the DDA providing some types of services in the DDA district currently done “occasionally” by the city – in the area of trees and parks.

Smith gave a somewhat more complex representation of the DDA view on services. First, she said, there was a question of whether it was an enhancement of what was supposed to be done. The second issue, she said, related to possible cost savings. If the DDA hired a company to do all the tree trimming, that would have a cost to the DDA, but the cost saved by the city would be different. The city’s crew already existed, she said. So the DDA would not be able to write off the full cost of the tree trimming in any arrangement under the general context of the parking contract.

Collins said there was a two-edged sword with respect to downtown areas and taxation. Yes, he said, we want to have a nice downtown so that people will want to go there. But there was also a view among some DDA board members that downtown was being bled financially for the benefit of the wider city. That was not true, Collins said, but some people had the idea that if the DDA takes responsibility for doing some things downtown, it freed up other money so that leaf collection could happen in Ann Arbor Hills. Collins said he knew that it was not true, but observed that this was the “folk logic” to it.

Smith raised the issue of scale – she’d just visited Austin, Texas, and talked to the director of the downtown development authority there. Based on that conversation, Smith said that 90% of the taxes generated in the Austin district are used throughout the rest of the city, due to the high density. In that case, the amount of taxes generated in a small area suggested that it needed to be disbursed. It was a real question, she said, of how much money generated in the DDA district needed to stay inside the district.

Hohnke asked Hewitt what the level of support on the DDA board was in exploring service levels. Hewitt indicated that there was, in fact, interest in pursuing that as part of the parking contract. There was some discussion about how current the data was that had been included in the chart accompanying the term sheet.

Services: Private Support for Parks

The idea that private companies might adopt certain areas, like parks, in the downtown was not discussed at the committee meeting on Monday.

However, following up on some information from an audience member at the meeting, The Chronicle spoke by phone with John Teeter of First Martin Corp. about First Martin’s current supplement of maintenance in two Ann Arbor parks – Wheeler Park just north of the DDA district, and Liberty Plaza at the corner of Division & Liberty, located squarely in the DDA district.

According to Teeter, First Martin paid for the tree trimming at Wheeler Park this year and is handling the mowing, trimming and edging through this year’s mowing season. They’ve also repaired the steel fence around the playground area. In Liberty Plaza there’s no area to be mowed, but First Martin will be taking care of the tree trimming as soon as the holiday lights are taken down. In addition, the trash collection in the plaza has been added to a First Martin employee’s task list.

The two parks are not accidental choices of First Martin as locations where the real estate company thought about helping to supplement city services. Wheeler Park is located directly across from First Martin offices on Depot Street. And Liberty Plaza adjoins a First Martin property – the Michigan Square Building at 330 E. Liberty. The plaza was built at the same time as the building. First Martin takes an interest in neighborhoods where they operate, Teeter said.

DDA Does Development

Collins described support for parking enforcement by the DDA as strong, but complicated by legal issues, so support wasn’t 100% from the DDA board. Provision of services also had strong support, said Collins, but was work-flow complicated, so also not at 100%.

On the other hand, said Collins, support for the idea of the DDA assuming a leadership role in downtown development might have 100% support from the board. You could make a business case for the parking enforcement, because there are dollars in and dollars out. For services, that was more difficult, there were no dollars in per se, Collins said.

Development: Blueprint for DDA’s Role

Teall asked what staff should be asked for in terms of evaluating development. Hohnke said there was currently a work flow associated with development involving planning staff. He suggested it would be important to look at what currently happens and what a more DDA-driven work flow would look like.

Hewitt characterized current development as “reactive” on the part of city staff. The city council might say that it would like to see a particular lot developed, and staff then reacts to that. A DDA approach would be to look at all the lots in the DDA area and come up with a master plan for those – how they should be used and developed, with timelines.

Hewitt allowed that everything would have to be approved by the council, but it would be a more proactive, comprehensive approach than a one-at-a-time reaction. Smith said she didn’t think it belonged in the parking agreement – it should be a resolution from the city council directing the DDA to create a master plan for “divestment” of the city-owned parking lots over the long term. That would mean gathering input from consultants and the community and presenting it to the city council. Taylor objected to the term “divesting,” saying he’d prefer “optimizing.”

Collins indicated that the reason there was strong DDA support for this fourth point on the term sheet was that it was viewed as the core of the DDA’s mission, so everyone could agree with it. Developing for the benefit of the community was the core of what the DDA was about – parking, trees, community standards were part of the equation, but the development of the downtown was the real core of the DDA mission.

Smith said she didn’t think the city had a great track record recently, and concurred with Hewitt’s characterization of the approach as “reactive.” Hewitt said that with a one-project-at-a-time approach it was hard to maintain expertise among city staff. It was a matter of trying to fit it into people’s responsibilities who had other things to do.

Taylor asked if the Aug. 9 meeting of the committees would be a useful target date for a DDA proposal on how it should work – something fairly detailed. There would need to be appropriate points of city council check-in for the process. Smith noted that the DDA board did not typically meet in August and Hewitt said he’d need to check with staff – the DDA had just recently had its staff develop a parking plan on four months notice. So he wanted to at least consult with DDA staff before pledging them to a certain timeline.

Taylor suggested that at least among the committee members they would hope for a fairly detailed proposed by the Sept. 13 meeting for how the DDA would run development.

Development: Ann Arbor as a Suburban Community

At the most recent DDA board meeting, Russ Collins expressed a lament that what a lot of people wanted was acres and acres of parking, and that in general people did not necessarily support the idea of a downtown. He continued with that theme at a couple of points during Monday morning’s committee meeting.

I think that collectively we need to figure out how to deal with this – I’ve said this before so this is not new – but Ann Arbor is bottom line a suburban community where people pull up in their driveways at their house on a lot. So the vast majority of the electorate, of the population, doesn’t relate viscerally to what a downtown is. So consequently, it’s very easy for the NIMBY nature of communities and neighborhoods … to be encouraged to oppose things that are logical and appropriate for a downtown, but are more nuanced, or complicated or even inappropriate in a suburban kind of environment.

Collins said that accounted for the resistance on the part of citizens and the government alike to those things that the downtown needed in order to be vital. There was too much focus on parking as a problem – either as something there was under- or over-capacity for. Parking is something that suburban people worry about, said Collins, it’s not what urban people worry about.

There was a similar over-focus on parks, he continued. In a suburban setting, parks are 100% positive, he said – in an urban setting it’s more complicated and nuanced. When you say, “Parks” and 95% of your voters are suburban people, they go “Yes!” when that could really be a bad idea for a downtown, he said.

Overcoming the complicated dynamic of the electorate and politicians who have to respond to that electorate, said Collins, is going to be critical.

Development: The Politics of Downtown

Hewitt noted that less than 3% of Ann Arbor residents live in the DDA district. If that were 20%, he said, there would be an entirely different political dynamic going on. On that scenario, Hewitt continued, there would be a constituency that viewed the downtown as a downtown that would have political influence. With the current numbers, it was too small a group and it was divided among all the wards.

The shaded areas are Ann Arbor's five wards with the DDA district in red outline. The roughly pie-shaped configuration of the wards is specified in the city charter. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Teall agreed with Hewitt, noting that each ward only had a slice of the downtown. Hewitt continued with the theme by saying there was no constituency that votes in numbers, with enough influence and a stake in downtown. It’s not that people don’t go downtown, he said, it’s just that “They love it in the wrong way.”

Taylor began his response to Collins and Hewitt by saying, “Without agreeing with a good deal of that …” He acknowledged that residents appeared before the city council and expressed opinions about developments. It struck him, however, that there is a strong consensus about density in the non-South-University area of the DDA district.

Development: How Tall Is Tall?

Collins contended that the only way to have a significant impact on density was to put up 20-30 story buildings – because that’s when you get the real estate efficiency and payback. But the citizenry at large, he said, would go “Whoah! Anything more than five stories makes me nervous!”

Taylor pointed to Zaragon Place 2 as an example of a project that enjoyed support. Hewitt allowed that Zaragon Place 2, at 14 stories, did not seem to be getting a lot of opposition at this point – it had not gotten high on the public’s consciousness, yet. The possible acceptance of Zaragon Place 2, he thought, suggested a slow transition was taking place. [The development, proposed for the southeast corner of William and Thompson, received approval from the city's planning commission on Tuesday.]

Hewitt noted that at First & Washington, a project had failed to get support 10 years ago because it was going to be seven stories instead of six stories. So 14 stories in the core of downtown was starting to become acceptable, Hewitt said. But 20 stories probably isn’t acceptable at this point, he said.

In response to an indication from Hohnke that he wanted to get the discussion back to the specific agenda of the DDA assuming responsibility for development, Taylor characterized the discussion to that point as acknowledging the challenges of putting together a proposal by Sept. 13.

Hewitt suggested that the DDA draft something and put it out there – the DDA was aware as well or better than anyone of the opposition. Smith suggested that the DDA board’s partnerships committee would be a good venue to discuss the issue – there was representation from the city council there, as well as the city planning commission, via the council’s representative to the planning commission, Tony Derezinski.

Collins said that from an emotional point of view, he was “about to give up and just say, screw it, bulldoze the downtown.” Everybody loves it to death, he said, and let’s just turn everything into a “strip mall karma,” so that when you’re outside of downtown you have one-story strip malls, and when you’re inside the downtown you have five-story strip malls. People want acres of parking everywhere, he said. “It takes a helluva lot of backbone to not cave in to that,” he concluded.

Hohnke allowed that it was a fair point, but he did not think it was exactly accurate. He then ticked through a list of approved developments:

  • 8 stories at First & Washington [Village Green's City Apartments]
  • 8 stories at Washington & Ashley [Tierra on Ashley]
  • 10 stories at Kingsley & Ashley [Kingsley Lane]
  • 5 stories on North Main [Near North]
  • 10 stories of development at the Greek Orthodox church [The Gallery]
  • 10 stories at Washington & Division [Metro 202]
  • 14 stories at S. Forest [601 S. Forest]
  • 14 stories at William & Thompson [Zaragon Place 2]

Hohnke concluded that the notion that there isn’t forward movement with development downtown is factually inaccurate.

Collins came back to the complicated nature of the discussions. Any building above five stories and below 20 stories, he said, is inherently inefficient, because above five stories you have to build a skyscraper in terms of the building code. And if you’re going to build that complicated a building, you need to build to 20 stories to get the payback you need to accommodate that.

Collins compared a 10-story building to a car with only two wheels. That was only halfway to where the city needs to go to get the financial incentives that would create density and development. Teall added that the greater height would also allow residential units to be affordable.

Development: City Council Would Retain Approval Power

Smith came back to idea that the DDA would just be creating a blueprint and it would remain 100% within the city council purview to execute the plan. Teall cautioned that she thought the DDA was to execute the plan as well. But Smith stressed that the city would not simply be turning the deeds to properties over to the DDA. And final approval of anything would rest on council, she said.

Taking Kline’s Lot – on Ashley between William and Liberty – as an example, Smith said the DDA could develop a plan, it would be presented to the city council and the council would either say, “You’re crazy!” or “Go for it!”

Teall said she wanted the city administrator, Roger Fraser, to be part of the development of the plan – she felt he had a good feel for the big development picture right now. People came to Fraser to ask about development, she said. Collins said that one of the things he and Teall had talked through with Fraser a few months ago was the idea of an “ombudsman for development” – someone to be an advocate for the developers within the city. Collins noted that obviously the ombudsman would not be able to circumvent the law or the process.

Smith mentioned that in Chicago they’d created a policy whereby green buildings went to the top of the processing pile.

Additional Ideas: Village Green, Bonding, Fees

At the DDA’s May 28 retreat, board member Newcombe Clark had raised a collection of points with hopes of getting some contractual consideration in connection with the $2 million payment the DDA had already agreed to make to the city.

Village Green

Those points included creating a deadline for Village Green, the developer of the City Apartments project at First & Washington, to exercise its option to purchase the land. The city council will vote at its June 21 meeting on extending that option.

At Monday’s meeting, Smith characterized the Village Green City Apartments issue as more of “an FYI” because it was coming before the city council for a possible extension of the deadline.

Hewitt said that from a budgeting point of view, the DDA was reserving a significant chunk of cash and bonding authority to finance the project and it was important to have some clarity.

Bond issuance, Smith said, was a valid point to raise, related to fees that the DDA pays to the city on major projects. Hewitt described the situation with the underground parking garage as paying for the privilege of paying for bonds for a structure that the DDA was giving to the city. “I think you can probably imagine,” Hewitt told the councilmembers present, “that it does grate somewhat.”

Downtown Policing

Clark has also pushed the idea of contracting for downtown police patrols – or some other means of getting “eyes on the street” as part of the possible parking contract discussions.

At Monday’s meeting, Hewitt said that having contracted for downtown beat patrol officers for State Street back in the mid ’90s, he had some clear ideas of how it should be handled. He said the DDA board was not yet ready to determine what their approach would be.

Smith stressed that it was important to inquire of the city staff what the capacity was for community standards officers to provide “eyes on the street.” Can they ask panhandlers to move on? What’s possible and what are the efficiencies? Chief Barnett Jones or the deputy chief will be addressing the DDA board’s partnerships committee next month on safety issues. Collins noted that he’d been reading “Freakonomics” recently, which includes a range of examples illustrating the difference between perception and reality.

The results of the safety survey had come back not as bad she thought they might, reported Teall – the results had been discussed at the last partnerships committee meeting. Hewitt noted there were only three reported crimes in parking structures in 2009 – it was his favorite statistic. Collins addressed the 84% statistic of those who felt the city was safe – what he didn’t know is if 16% considering it unsafe was too high.


Smith moved the group to wrapping things up and the next two main steps identified were: (i) to ask the staff of both the DDA and the city to identify the key policy decision points for parking enforcement, and (ii) to share with DDA staff the goals of putting together a proposal for the DDA’s role in developing city-owned surface parking lots.

As part of the concluding discussion, Collins noted that it was important to be mindful that using words like “development” already caused a lot of anxiety. He characterized it as a leadership issue – you lead people to what is beneficial without obfuscating. Teall agreed that it was important not to use trigger words.


  1. By cosmonıcan
    June 16, 2010 at 1:01 pm | permalink

    Whatever happened to parking structures like this one from the movie Atlantic City [link]? I recall there used to be one a long time ago near the UM Hospital. Could they fit into the mix needed for downtown, or did they stop making them?

  2. June 16, 2010 at 3:12 pm | permalink

    No way would I get into a structure like that! How to combine challenges to acrophobia and claustrophobia in one package!

  3. By cosmonıcan
    June 16, 2010 at 3:44 pm | permalink

    re #2: You don’t enter the structure at all, an operator brings your car up and down; no searching for your car in a dark, urine-smelly structure, more like valet parking.

    I could envision a privately operated structure like that on the edge of downtown. If they had a shuttle service, your car could be waiting and running when you get back.

  4. By johnboy
    June 17, 2010 at 2:38 am | permalink

    If the DDA is going to take on the responsibilities for all of the above mentioned services and enforcements then that’s going to result in a significant reduction in head count at city hall. What does the employees union say about this? How is this going to affect future city payrolls?

  5. By David
    June 17, 2010 at 10:21 am | permalink

    I believe you can still find those parking structures in NYC. The are a great way to save space without the expense of putting up a structure.

  6. By Rod Johnson
    June 17, 2010 at 10:32 am | permalink

    I always wanted to use that structure by (old) St, Joe’s, but by the time I could afford to own a car, it was gone.