Park Commission: Budgets, Ballots, Ballparks

Also, a status report on golf courses

Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission meeting (Sept. 21, 2010): Held this month in the studios of Community Television Network, the park advisory commission received updates on Tuesday about finances for the parks system as well as RFPs (requests for proposals) that are in various stages for Argo Dam, Huron Hills Golf Course and the Ann Arbor Senior Center.

Sam Offen

Sam Offen of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission hands off his ballot to Christopher Taylor, the Ward 3 councilmember who's an ex-officio representative on PAC. Per its bylaws, the commission elected officers by secret ballot, though only one person was nominated for each position. (They seemed to appreciate the irony.) Offen was re-elected chair of PAC's budget committee. (Photos by the writer.)

A financial report for the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, included news that Ann Arbor’s two golf courses performed better than expected – though one commissioner calculated that the city still paid a $10 subsidy for each round of golf played during the year.

Later in the meeting, Colin Smith – the city’s park and recreation manager – reported that an RFP for the Huron Hills Golf Course has been issued, with a pre-bid meeting to be held on Monday, Sept. 27. Several members of the public turned up at last month’s PAC meeting to argue against the RFP, which is soliciting ideas for a possible private/public partnership at the course. No one spoke during public commentary on Tuesday.

Another RFP – this one for reconstruction of the Argo Dam headrace – has yielded two responses that are being reviewed. A recommendation will likely be brought to PAC next month, Smith reported. If approved, it would change the shape of the embankment.

And an RFP for the Ann Arbor Senior Center has nearly reached the end of the selection process. On Tuesday, commissioners unanimously voted to recommend hiring Hooker/De Jong, a Muskegon consulting firm, to develop a strategic plan for the center, at a cost of $34,570. It now goes to the city council for approval.

A council directive issued last year – asking PAC to prioritize 30 recommendations made in the Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan (HRIMP) – was raised during Tuesday’s meeting by Julie Grand, the commission’s chair. She noted that the year-end deadline for completing this task was fast approaching, and they needed to carve out some time to address it. Commissioner Tim Berla said he’d like to see the council form a river stewardship committee – that’s one of the HRIMP recommendations.

The commission also heard a report from David Barrett, a PAC member who’s been assessing the conditions of the city’s ball fields. “With a few exceptions, most are in need of help,” he told his PAC colleagues.

Financial Reports: Open Space Millage, Fiscal Year Update

Commissioners heard two financial reports during Tuesday’s meeting, for 1) the open space and parkland preservation millage, and 2) the city’s overall parks and recreation budget. Both reports covered 2010 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010.

FY2010: Open Space and Parkland Preservation Millage

Ginny Trocchio of The Conservation Fund gave a presentation on financial statements for the open space and parkland preservation millage for the fiscal year. Trocchio serves as support staff for the millage-funded greenbelt and park acquisition programs. [A similar presentation was made at the greenbelt advisory commission's Sept. 8 meeting.]

Revenues coming from the 30-year millage, which Ann Arbor voters passed in 2003, were slightly higher in FY 2010 – $2.262 million, compared to $2.232 million in FY 2009. Two-thirds of the millage proceeds fund the greenbelt program, with the remaining third – $793,000 in FY 2010 – allotted to parks.

In FY 2006, the city took out a $20 million bond that’s being paid back with revenue from the millage. The fund balance from the bond stands at $15.427 million, down from $17.1 million in FY 2009. Millage revenue exceeds the amount needed to make debt service payments on the bond – the surplus is accruing in a separate account. Of the $15.427 million fund balance, $12.475 million is the accrual of funds from the millage and $2.952 million is the remainder of the bond monies.

The $15.427 million fund balance is divided between parks and the greenbelt in the same one-third/two-thirds allocation. The fund balance available for parks is $4.77 million.

On the expense side, during FY10 $281,020 in millage funds were spent on park projects. The city bought the Patrician Homes property at the southwest corner of Miller and Chapin, adjacent to West Park. A house on the property will be torn down, with the intent of giving West Park greater visibility and access from that side. Later in the meeting, Smith said that the city would soon be soliciting bids to demolish the house, which he expects to happen later this year.

In addition, Dr. Lev Linkner donated land along Huron Parkway, between Packard and Washtenaw, that connects Redbud Nature Area and Scheffler Park. The parcel is roughly a third of an acre, and crosses Malletts Creek.

After Trocchio’s presentation, PAC chair Julie Grand told Trocchio that she shouldn’t be offended that there weren’t questions – it reflected the clarity of her report, Grand said.

FY 2010: Parks and Recreation General Fund

Colin Smith, manager of parks and recreation, gave an update on year-end finances for FY 2010, which ended June 30. He began by saying that the recreation managers did a great job of managing revenues and expenses for the year. [.pdf file of financial summary spreadsheet] The report did not show comparative data to previous years.

Smith first reviewed 12 parks and recreation line items in the general fund budget. Only three areas had been budgeted to show a surplus, and they achieved that result: Veteran’s fitness center ($3,059), Argo livery ($19,376) and Gallup livery ($59,779). The Argo livery surplus was lower than budgeted by $36,620, while Gallup’s surplus was $42,566 higher than budgeted – Smith attributed that to a staff allocation issue, with more time than anticipated spent on Argo by facility supervisor Cheryl Saam, and less of her time spent on Gallup than had been budgeted.

Revenues were higher than budgeted in four of the 12 line items. Facility rental revenues were up nearly 13% compared to budget, because of an increased interest in renting Cobblestone Park, the farmers market and other facilities, Smith said. Also outperforming the budget was the Ann Arbor Senior Center, which brought in $65,767 in revenues – about $10,000 more than expected. Revenues at Veteran’s Pool and for the administration line item – which includes revenues from leasing parking lots to the University of Michigan – were up slightly more than expected too.

Revenues were down significantly at Buhr Rink, Smith noted, because the facility didn’t open until January due to renovations there. The rink brought in $76,491 in revenues, 39% less than what was expected. However, expenses of $106,151 were also lower – 37% less than budgeted.

Overall, parks and recreation general fund line items brought in $2.109 million in revenue, with total expenses of $3.288 million – for a loss of $1.179 million during the 12-month period.

FY 2010: Parks and Recreation Enterprise Funds

The two enterprise funds for parks and recreation – the farmers market and golf – were reported  separately. Enterprise funds are operations that are expected to be self-sustaining. The farmers market brought in $161,262 in revenues, with $155,993 in expenses for the year – resulting in a $5,269 surplus.

Colin Smith

Colin Smith, manager of Ann Arbor parks and recreation.

The golf enterprise fund includes operations at Huron Hills and Leslie Park golf courses. In total, the fund reported revenues of $1.122 million for the year, with $1.645 million in expenses – for a $523,529 total loss. Huron Hills revenue of $304,541 was 19% higher than expected, while expenses were lower than budgeted by nearly 8%.

At Leslie Park, revenue of $817,638 was 1.5% higher than budgeted. Expenses of $1.067 million were on par with budget.

Commissioner Tim Berla asked how many rounds of golf were played last year, and was told about 30,000 rounds at Leslie and 20,000 rounds at Huron Hills. Berla then calculated, based on the roughly $500,000 loss, that the city is paying about a $10 subsidy for each round of golf. He noted that this was his perspective and that others look at it differently, but he found it troubling. It seems out of balance to subsidize something that only a small percentage of residents use, he said. It might be the case that more people play soccer, Berla said, but the city pays perhaps 10 times as much for its golf courses than it does for its soccer fields. “I just wanted to note that, that’s all.”

Smith pointed out that the subsidy came from the general fund, not out of the parks and recreation budget – though he conceded that if the city council decided to change the accounting for golf, it would significantly impact the parks and recreation budget. But regardless on your perspective about a subsidy to golf, Smith said, both courses as budgeted were doing a fantastic job in an overall market that saw declining revenues and rounds played statewide.

Berla asked Smith to remind them of where the courses stood in terms of the long-range plan that had been laid out by a consultant hired to assess the city’s golf operations. FY 2010 was the second year in a six-year forecast, Smith said. For that year, the forecast had anticipated a $519,000 loss for the courses. So they’re on track with the forecast, he said, adding that the courses were never expected to eliminate their losses completely over that six-year period.

Gwen Nystuen recalled that PAC had recommended Huron Hills not be an enterprise fund. Smith confirmed that of the two courses, Leslie was more likely to be self-sustaining. Nystuen pointed out that the rest of the parks weren’t self-sustaining, and the city is willing to subsidize them. Do they calculate how much it costs someone to walk across a park? she asked. The city shouldn’t put something into an enterprise fund if the operation can’t support itself. Smith replied that the golf courses “will be part of very robust discussions come budget time.”

PAC chair Julie Grand, who serves on the city’s golf advisory task force, noted that the strategy right now for Huron Hills is to make rounds affordable so that they can draw in seniors and youth, by making play more accessible. And David Barrett pointed out that Leslie now has a liquor license – he asked if revenues from alcohol sales were “baked into” the total revenues for Leslie. Smith replied that total revenues did include alcohol sales, which were about $40,000 out of $79,000 in concession sales at Leslie during the year. Barrett asked if the liquor license had been a plus for Leslie, and Smith said that it was, especially for bringing in more leagues, outings and traveling golf groups.

As an overall comment about the budget report, Sam Offen – who chairs PAC’s budget committee – complimented Smith and the parks staff. Not only did they do a good job in sticking to their budget, he said, but they also produced a report that could actually be understood, “which wasn’t the case five or six years ago.”

Consultant for Senior Center Strategic Plan

During the previous budget cycle, the city administrator initially proposed closing the Ann Arbor Senior Center, which operates out of a building in Burns Park. It was part of a broader effort to cut expenses from the budget – at the time, the center’s operating deficit was about $150,000.

But the community rallied, and the city formed a task force to identify ways to raise revenues and cut costs. Among a raft of recommendations made – which ultimately convinced the city council to keep the senior center open – was the suggestion to develop a long-term strategic plan. The city received a $16,949 grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation to help pay for a consultant to develop the plan, and earlier this year a request for proposals (RFP) was issued to solicit proposals. [For an update on other recommendations, see Chronicle coverage: "Shoring Up the Ann Arbor Senior Center"]

At Tuesday’s PAC meeting, Colin Smith – the city’s parks and recreation manager – told commissioners that three consultants responded to the RFP. [The three firms were Schumaker & Co. of Ann Arbor, Hooker/De Jong and The Woods Consulting Group of Muskegon, and The Kittle Group of Auburn Hills.] Two were determined by a review committee to be viable, but both were too expensive. After asking the consultants to resubmit, the committee – which included PAC chair Julie Grand – selected Hooker/De Jong for a total cost of $34,570.

In addition to the community foundation grant, Smith said the cost will be covered with $10,000 from the city’s community services administration general fund, and $7,621 from the parks and recreation services administration general fund.

Smith said Hooker/De Jong was selected because of their experience working with senior groups, their enthusiasm for the project, and their proposed approach. Jeff Straw, deputy manager of parks and recreation, reported that the consultants will begin by assessing current conditions, doing market research and talking to stakeholder groups. They’ll look at national trends and at what similar centers are doing in other communities. They’ll explore possible partnerships, rebranding, use of the center’s website and possible changes to programs and services offered at the center.

One of the challenges is the center’s building, Smith said, and because Hooper/De Jong also provides architectural services, they’ll be in a better position to make recommendations on possible changes to the buildling. Commissioner Gwen Nystuen noted that the space was originally a shared facility for theater and dance, as well as seniors – that, in part, explains its “strange” shape, she said.

If approved by council, the consultants are expected to start their work in November, with a strategic plan developed by February or March. With that timeframe, the plan’s recommendations can be considered as part of the FY 2012 budget process, Straw said.

Nystuen asked about the nearby Eberbach building, at corner of South Forrest and Wells. Smith said it’s owned by the city but being used by Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, which is part of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Sara Aeschbach, director of Rec & Ed, was in the audience and told commissioners that under an agreement with the city, it’s leased for $1 a year. AAPS covers expenses associated with the building, and sets aside roughly $10,000 each year for future capital needs.

Outcome: PAC unanimously approved a recommendation to select Hooker/De Jong as the consultant to develop a strategic plan for the Ann Arbor Senior Center. The proposal will be forwarded to city council for its approval.

Report on Ball Field Conditions

Commissioner David Barrett gave an update on his work to assess the city’s ballparks, and thanked commissioner Tim Berla, parks manager Colin Smith and Matt Warba, supervisor of field operations, for their help. It was a simple process, Barrett said – he just went to each field and walked around it. There are 28 fields at Ann Arbor public schools, and 26 owned by the city. “I may have missed a couple, but not many.”

Barrett also went to surrounding communities to look at the condition of their ballparks. For each field, he recorded his general impressions, as well as the conditions of the infields, outfields and backstops.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Barrett read a 1.5 page memo he prepared about the condition of the fields. [.pdf file of Barrett's ballpark report] An excerpt:

From the general to the specific, the larger canvas of their state is that many fields appear to be worn down and dog eared. Some simply need some work around the edges; others need fundamental renovation. Some fields need dirt and a refashioning of the drainage from the fields so that every rainstorm does not stop play for days; others need new backstops. Some need the outfields to be fertilized so the grass in the outfield grows evenly versus in clumps; others simply need more frequent mowing. Some need decent rubbers on the mound so the pitchers have something decent to push off of when they throw the ball; others have infields that are so hard that sliding would be inadvisable if not dangerous.

The interrelationship between the City, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and Rec & Ed is a complex tapestry that was woven together organically over the years when monies were more plentiful – but as the budgetary stresses touched all of these organizations, there was a need to clarify the exact maintenance responsibilities of each. Recently, these responsibilities have been formalized in an agreement between all parties. Whether this has helped or hindered the maintenance of the existing fields remains to be seen. That said, this on-going dialogue should aid in figuring out how to best use limited resources.

Barrett – best known outside of Ann Arbor as a songwriter, whose repertoire includes “One Shining Moment” – told his fellow commissioners that he approached this project through the eyes of a nine-year-old who used the fields. It was heartening to him that the city staff recognized the need for improvement. Ann Arbor can do better, he said.

David Barrett

David Barrett is spearheading an effort to improve the conditions of the city's ball fields.

The fields are well-used, and some have been in place for 30-40 years. Smith reported that in the 2009 fall season, there were nearly 14,000 participants playing baseball, softball or kickball on the fields. In the summer of 2010, that number reached nearly 40,000. The fields are maintained by the city and public schools, Smith said, and this is just the start of a conversation about how to do a better job of that.

Warba praised Barrett for his approach – not placing blame, but trying to do something positive. It was similar to Barrett’s work on the city’s soccer fields, which led to major renovations of the fields at Fuller and Olson parks. It’s not lost on the staff that maintenance has been deferred, Warba said, but they are working with limited resources. Both Warba and Smith said it made sense to add the city-owned ballparks to the capital improvements plan (CIP) – funds might be available there to upgrade the facilities.

Barrett said there were other possibilities too, like recruiting neighborhood or civic groups to adopt a field – the new volunteer outreach coordinator for parks and recreation might help with that, he said. As an example, Barrett said the field at Forsythe Middle School was in bad shape when he visited there a year ago. But recently, he’s been by there and seen an improvement, though he’s not sure who’s taking care of it. “Someone adopted this field,” he said, “and the difference was night and day.”

HRIMP Recommendations To Be Reviewed Again

Saying she almost hated to bring up the topic, PAC chair Julie Grand reminded commissioners that last year, the city council had directed PAC to take another look at the 30 recommendations made in the Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan (HRIMP). By the end of the year, PAC needs to report back to council with a list of the recommendations that are financially feasible to implement, she said.

By way of background, the HRIMP committee was established by the city’s environmental commission in March of 2006 to develop a plan for protecting and maintaining the portion of the Huron River that flows through the city of Ann Arbor. Beginning in early 2009, a series of public engagements were held as the committee entered the final stages of its work. [Chronicle coverage: "Not So Gently Down the Stream"]

The Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan produced by the committee contains 30 recommendations labeled “consensus recommendations,” with two others on which there was no consensus. The two non-consensus resolutions contradicted each other, with one calling for the removal of Argo Dam and the other calling for its preservation. Much of the public engagement focused exclusively on the dam-in/dam-out question. Part of the context for that question was a problem with toe drains, identified by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, in the earthen embankment adjacent to the concrete and steel dam, which separates the headrace from the river.

In May of 2009 the city’s environmental commission voted in support of dam removal, while the city’s park advisory commission voted for its preservation. [Chronicle coverage: "City Council To Weigh Mixed Advice on Dam"] The resolution to accept the committee’s plan was first considered at the council’s Nov. 16 meeting, but postponed until Dec. 7.

At that Dec. 7 meeting, the city council held an extensive discussion about the plan, including a somewhat tortuous debate about whether the council would “accept” it or “receive” it. Ultimately, council voted to remand the plan back to the environmental commission and PAC.

At Tuesday’s PAC meeting, Colin Smith read the directive given by council:

RESOLVED, That the Ann Arbor City Council directs the Park Advisory Commission and Environmental Commission to evaluate the 30 consensus recommendations, and to present options for implementation to City Council for those that can be acted upon at little or no cost; and

RESOLVED, That the Park Advisory Commission and the Environmental Commission complete their recommendations and report back to Council within one year.

When he read the phrase “at little or no cost,” commissioners laughed.

Grand said she hoped they could schedule a working session on the topic in October or November. A regular PAC meeting didn’t seem the best forum to take a first stab at the task, she said.

Gwen Nystuen asked whether this involved the dam in/dam out decision. Grand replied that although council never voted on that, it appears that the decision has been made to leave the dam in. PAC’s task is to look at the 30 consensus recommendations that didn’t address the dam in/dam out issue.

Tim Berla noted that PAC had voted on a resolution to recommend keeping the dam in, but that they’d dropped the ball on the other 30 recommendations. He said he wanted them to craft a resolution calling for council to create another commission that would regulate all things related to the river: noise; rules regarding motorboats; relationships between rowers, canoeists, kayakers, fishermen and others who used the river; and plant management, among other things. It’s like the sheriff’s out of town, he said, and no one’s in charge to enforce the rules.

Smith pointed out that one of the 30 recommendations calls for creation of a river stewardship committee. But they weren’t going to go over the specific recommendations at this meeting, he said.

Berla said he wanted to make sure the public had the opportunity to get involved before PAC took action regarding the HRIMP recommendations. So if PAC plans to vote on it at their Nov. 16 meeting, he wanted to get something out to the public before then. Sam Offen suggested that they talk about it at their October land acquisition committee meeting, of which all commissioners are members. Then they could draft a resolution for the Oct. 19 PAC meeting.

Grand observed that some of the issues are quite complex, and that they might need more time. In response to an email from The Chronicle on Wednesday, Grand said they hadn’t yet decided when to discuss the recommendations.

Julie Grand

Julie Grand was re-elected chair of PAC at Tuesday's meeting.

Election of PAC Officers

The commission quickly dispatched its annual election of officers – none of the three positions were contested, and each officer was re-elected.

Julie Grand was re-elected as PAC chair, a role she has held since Scott Rosencrans left the commission when his term ended at the end of April. John Lawton was re-elected vice chair, and Sam Offen was re-elected as chair of PAC’s budget committee.

According to PAC bylaws, the elections are held by secret ballot – on Tuesday, those took the form of yellow slips of paper distributed by Colin Smith, parks and recreation manager.

There was no suspense as he counted the ballots – everyone was re-elected unanimously.

Report from Parks and Recreation Manager

Colin Smith relayed several updates to commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting, including a few that prompted discussion.

Argo Dam Reconstruction

The city received two responses last week to its request for proposals (RFP) to reconstruct the headrace at Argo Dam. They received three bids for repairing the toe drains. [Details of the RFP were presented at PAC's July 20, 2010 meeting. See Chronicle coverage: "Two Dam Options for Argo"] A committee that includes PAC commissioner David Barrett will be reviewing the proposals, Smith said. If there are any they’d like to pursue, they’ll hold interviews in early October, then bring a committee recommendation to PAC’s Oct. 19 meeting.

Also related to Argo Dam, Smith reported that a contractor had started removing dead and dying trees along the dam’s embankment. It’s part of a consent agreement that the city reached with the state in May, laying out steps that the city must take to address some of long-outstanding issues with the dam. The path along the embankment is closed every Monday through Thursday while the work is completed. About 100 trees are being removed, and the work is expected to be finished later this month.

Tim Berla asked whether PAC would receive a recommendation at its next meeting on the Argo Dam proposals, and whether they’d be asked to vote on the recommendation at the same meeting. Yes, Smith said. Berla said his understanding was that the selected proposal would likely change the shape of the dam. Smith confirmed that it would – one of the requirements listed in the RFP was removal of the portage, which would change the shape of the embankment.

Berla asked whether information about the embankment would be made public before the meeting, so that the public would be informed. The information will be available, Smith said.

Sam Offen asked whether a public hearing could be held, given that it’s unclear how controversial the proposals might be. Smith said they were working under a tight timeline because of the consent agreement with the state. That means PAC needs to make a recommendation at its October meeting, he said.

David Barrett agreed – his understanding is that the state is driving this compressed timeline. “There’s no shell game here – we simply have a gun to our head to get it done, or bad things happen.”

Berla suggested putting out a press release about the proposal at least a week before the meeting, so that people could email staff and commissioners if they wanted to “rant or rave,” and that they’d know to come to the meeting for public commentary. Smith said that the city put out a press release to notify the public about the previous PAC presentation on Argo Dam, and they might do that again.

Huron Hills Golf Course RFP

The request for proposals (RFP) for Huron Hills Golf Course has been issued, Smith told commissioners, and there’s a pre-bid meeting for potential responders on Monday, Sept. 27 at 2 p.m. [For background on the Huron Hills RFP, see Chronicle coverage: "Public Turns Out to Support Huron Hills Golf"]

Responses are due Oct. 29, followed by committee review and interviews in November. If the review committee finds a response worth recommending, they’ll send it to the golf advisory task force, then PAC, Smith said. Any proposal would have to obtain city council approval before being implemented.

Fuller Road Station

As an FYI, Smith passed out a copy of the planning staff report for the Fuller Road Station site plan, and noted that the city’s planning commission would be reviewing and voting on the project later that night. [At its meeting – which included three hours of staff presentations, a public hearing and commissioner deliberations – the planning commission voted to approve the project, with two of the nine commissioners dissenting. The joint city of Ann Arbor/University of Michigan project calls for building a five-level, 977-space parking structure on city-owned property that’s designated as parkland. The site would include a 44-space parking lot and bicycle parking. The city hopes eventually to build a train station at that location as well, but that isn’t part of the current site plan.]

Smith noted that in their report, the planning staff strongly recommends that a shared use path for bicyclists and pedestrians to the Fuller bridge be incorporated to the project’s design. This was a recommendation that PAC commissioners had discussed at previous meetings.

Sam Offen said that when mayor John Hieftje had attended PAC’s May 18, 2010 meeting, he had mentioned that the city was still negotiating an agreement with UM over use of the structure. What was the status of that – does it accompany the site plan?

Smith replied that work is still being done on the agreement, and that the administration is aware that PAC would like to see it before it goes to city council for approval. From The Chronicle’s report of that May 2010 meeting:

Heiftje’s presentation had not been on the agenda, but the commission was set to discuss a resolution that called for city council to stop the project, or at the least negotiate better terms with its partner, the University of Michigan. Several commissioners have expressed concerns about the project, which would be on city-owned property designated as parkland. Under proposed terms – which Hieftje said are not finalized – the city would receive less revenue from UM for parking than it currently gets from the surface lots it leases to the university on Fuller Road. Those revenues support the city’s parks operations.

On Tuesday, Offen said it would be useful to see the agreement before negotiations were finalized with UM – otherwise, there wouldn’t be opportunity for real input.

Berla mentioned that he’d read a comment online from someone who said there would be a 75-year lease agreement with the university. He wondered what kind of ongoing obligation the city would have to UM. Christopher Taylor, a city councilmember who’s an ex-officio member of PAC, said that he hadn’t seen a draft of the agreement and didn’t know its terms, but it was his understanding that the land and facility would always be owned by the city. The university would certainly have contractual rights under a use agreement, but Taylor didn’t know the length of the agreement being contemplated.

Given that some community members believe a long-term lease is a defacto sale of land, Berla said he hoped the city would make it clear how long the use agreement would be in effect.

Volunteer Outreach Coordinator

Gayle LaVictoire has been hired for the newly created position of volunteer outreach coordinator for parks and recreation, Smith reported. It was an internal hire – she previously served as facilities supervisor for Buhr pool and ice rink. Smith described her as energetic, enthusiastic and forward-thinking – the kind of qualities they were looking for in that position. She’ll be working with Jason Frenzel, volunteer and outreach coordinator for the city’s natural areas program. Smith said she’ll be coming to introduce herself at a future PAC meeting.

Bandemer Park and Punk Week

Smith said that Berla had requested a report on the incident during Punk Week at Bandemer Park, which runs along the Huron River north of town. A resident near the park had called police about people who were swimming naked, engaging in “lewd acts” and letting their dogs run off leash. An officer responded, and was surrounded by the group. Another resident called police after hearing someone in the group threaten to set a dog on the officer. A second officer responded and they went after the main instigators, Smith said. Park rules were being broken and the police responded appropriately, he said. Seven people were arrested for disorderly conduct, Smith said.

Berla said it was obvious that police needed to respond. If people had dispersed, he posited, then it likely wouldn’t have escalated into arrests. Smith said that was a fair assumption.

Punk Week has been part of Ann Arbor’s summer culture for more than a decade, occurring in the third week of August and including events like shopping cart races and zombie walks.

Present: David Barrett, Tim Berla, Julie Grand, John Lawter, Karen Levin, Sam Offen, Gwen Nystuen, councilmember Mike Anglin (ex-officio), councilmember Christopher Taylor (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks manager.

Absent: Doug Chapman, Tim Doyle.

Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 19 begins at 4 p.m. in the Washtenaw County administration building boardroom, 220 N. Main St. [confirm date]


  1. By Duane Collicott
    September 23, 2010 at 1:34 pm | permalink

    There are several topics that are all intertwined here.

    The first topic is the condition of the fields. They are bad in Ann Arbor, and I’m glad the PAC has taken notice of this. When I talk to coaches in surrounding communities, this is one of the main issues they point out (along with the fees, which is addressed in a couple paragraphs).

    Adopting a field is a great idea, and is exactly the idea I submitted in response to an email survey several months ago. I never heard anything back from anybody, so I had no idea if anyone was listening. We (travel baseball teams) would be very happy to adopt a field and take care of it. We would solve the problems with puddles hanging around for days after it rains, holes in the backstops, bases set at the wrong positions for games, and other problems. Some of it would take some City funds (no amount of raking will fix a field that is as hard as cement), but the result is a benefit to both travel (remember, Ann Arbor citizens) and Rec & Ed baseball teams, because the field would be in better condition.

    This second topic is rental fees. Currently, field rental rates are about $180 per game, which is astronomical. The increases that occurred two years ago killed-off the only organization that offered competitive youth baseball in Ann Arbor (AAABA); Rec & Ed does not offer competitive baseball to Ann Arbor citizens. In the absence of such an offering, the City should make its fields available to these teams, which are made up mostly of Ann Arbor citizens and coached by Ann Arbor citizens.

    Currently, competitive baseball teams in and around Ann Arbor avoid Ann Arbor’s fields; we can’t afford them. We have to leave town to play at other fields, which are already crowded with teams from those towns. Ann Arbor is missing revenue that these teams would provide. Beginning with the first 45-degree day in March we would gladly rent (for a fair price) Ann Arbor’s fields for our practices, and beginning in early May, before Rec & Ed baseball, softball and kickball even start, we would rent the fields for games (again, at a fair price). As it is now, these fields sit idle for these months and the City generate no revenue from them. Please notice that we are not looking for free handouts. We are asking for the ability to rent the fields, but at a realistic price.

    My understanding is that the current system of field preparation involves an inefficient process where a contractor visits each field to remove the bases and pitcher’s plate, then a city tractor visits each field to groom it, then the contractor makes a second visit to each field to place the bases and chalk the lines. I can’t help but think this process is directly related to the high rental fees.

    In contrast to this, other communities use a process in which the bases are kept in a locked box at night. The city grooms the fields, and the coaches, who are given the combination to the padlock at the beginning of the season, set the bases and chalk the lines themselves. After the game, everything is put back in the box and the box is locked. This requires one visit to each field by a city employee. As coaches of competitive baseball teams, we are more than willing to do this work ourselves. It’s happening everywhere… except Ann Arbor.

    This summer my youngest son had a baseball game, through Rec & Ed, at which the bases were set to the incorrect distance. The umpire pointed out that nobody – not even he – could move the bases, and if they were moved, there would be no game. This is simply nuts.

    The third topic is competitive baseball. I don’t know why Ann Arbor refuses to offer this, but non the less, it’s completely absent. Many other communities offer both competitive and “house” (everybody-plays) leagues. I know of two dozen boys just at the 13-year-old level who are looking for teams to play on and are coming up short.

    Now go back and read all that again, while replacing the word “baseball” with “softball,” because the same issues apply to girl’s youth softball, and the same problems exist for them.

    The youth baseball environment in Ann Arbor is one that would make Norman Rockwell cry. Al Slote, if you’re out there, we need you!

  2. By Tom Hollyer
    September 23, 2010 at 2:13 pm | permalink

    Duane, what would be a reasonable/realistic per game fee? What is it in surrounding communities?

  3. By Duane Collicott
    September 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm | permalink

    Fees range from $30 to $60 elsewhere. The fields at EMU are $90. I think that’s another youth baseball organization charging that, and it’s for good fields and including lights.

    Ann Arbor charges $80 for grooming alone. On top of that, Rec & Ed charges a $55 “field setup fee,” which is the work performed by a contractor who makes the dual visits to each field. Then, for City fields, there is a $29 “booking fee” per two-hour block of time, or for AAPS (Rec & Ed) fields there is a $9 per hour rental fee.

    So, I was wrong, it’s $164, not $180. I had both the $29 City and $18 ($9 for two hours) Rec & Ed fee in there at the same time, but I think they’re mutually exclusive. Still, though.

    What I’m wondering is why can’t one person do all the prep work on a single visit? Can’t the City and Rec & Ed figure out some way to have a single person drive the tractor, set the bases and chalk the lines? What is preventing the introduction of an efficient process into this?

  4. By Duane Collicott
    September 23, 2010 at 3:44 pm | permalink

    By the way, I have done research into this – it’s not just off the cuff or loosely inferred from spotty, third-hand information – but I still might not have everything right or up to date. I welcome official corrections of my information. I also welcome official explanations why this process is used to prepare the fields, why it costs so much for its own citizens to rent a baseball field, and why Ann Arbor does not offer a competitive baseball program.

  5. By John Floyd
    September 23, 2010 at 7:21 pm | permalink

    I note that my son’s WABA team played all its home games at EMU last summer – the fields are in excellent shape, rents were reasonable, and there are bleachers, dugouts, lights and a concession stand. The city’s policies give the appearance of wanting to make use of the ballfields so unreasonable as to end their use. Some have speculated that the city wanted to do this in order to justify removing the fields altogether. This may be totally off the mark, but when cities from Battle Creek to Farmington have great fields, it does give one pause. After all, we’ve often been reminded that lots of Michigan cities would love to have Ann Arbor’s fiscal position – and yet their fields are playable.

    This may sound like a broken record, but is “building a five-level, 977-space parking structure on city-owned property that’s designated as parkland” the same thing as, “building a five-level, 977-space parking structure in a city park”? Bird Hills Park has 140 acres of woods “on city-owned land that’s designated as parkland”. Burns Park has two baseball diamonds and a basketball court “on “city-owned land that’s designated as parkland”. You get to choose your own words, but your phraseology might read a tad less torturedly, and a bit more straightforwardly, if you simply referred to Fuller Park as “a city park”.

    And yes, leases for long-term structures, with no provision for removing the structure ever, with transfer of the rights and responsibilities of ownership to the lessor, do smell to some like constructive sales, structured to try to avoid the city charter’s requirement for a referendum, no matter who’s name is on the deed.

    Guess I’m feeling petulant today.

    John Floyd
    Republican for Council
    Ward 5

  6. By jcp2
    September 24, 2010 at 3:19 pm | permalink

    I’ve always wondered why there is no competitive youth baseball (and specifically no Little League baseball) in Ann Arbor. Maybe baseball is too red and not blue enough for this town.