DDA Embraces Concept of Development Plan

Also, outgoing staffer offers: What I learned at the DDA

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Jan. 5, 2011): The regular noon meeting of the DDA board on Wednesday afternoon lasted well under an hour. Its single piece of major business was passage of a resolution that expressed support for the concept of a DDA-led parcel-by-parcel development plan for downtown city-owned surface parking lots. The city council will likely be considering a resolution on Jan. 18 that articulates in some detail how the DDA would be authorized to implement the parcel-by-parcel plan.

Joan Lyke

Outgoing management assistant Joan Lyke was honored by the board with a resolution acknowledging her service to the DDA. She gave a few remarks on the subject of what she'd learned working at the DDA.

Following the regular board meeting was a board retreat that lasted until around 3 p.m. The board’s retreat focused on the contract under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system. It runs through 2015, but is being renegotiated so that the city receives more of the parking system’s revenue than is currently stipulated in the contract. The retreat will be left to a future Chronicle report.

Also left to a future report will be a third meeting held later Wednesday evening, which was tied to the DDA board meeting via the theme of surface parking lot development – though it was not a DDA meeting. It was hosted by First Hospitality Group Inc., a developer that’s proposing a new 9-story, 104-room hotel at the southeast corner of Division and Washington streets. Held at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, the gathering satisfied the city’s citizen participation ordinance for new site plans.

Besides The Chronicle, four others attended all three meetings – DDA board chair Joan Lowenstein, chair of the downtown citizens advisory council Ray Detter, newly elected Ann Arbor library board member Nancy Kaplan, and Ann Arbor city councilmember Sabra Briere. 

DDA-Led Development Plan

In reporting out from the DDA’s “mutually beneficial” committee, Roger Hewitt indicated that the DDA’s committee had met with the city council’s corresponding committee twice in December. The two committees are currently negotiating two issues: (1) the parking contract under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system, and (2) a plan for the DDA to lead the development of downtown city-owned surface parking lots.

The resolution before the DDA on Wednesday expressed support for the city council resolution that the council will consider at its Jan. 18 meeting. The city council resolution has been circulated to councilmembers. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) attached a copy of the the draft resolution to the council’s Dec. 20 meeting agenda and alerted his council colleagues to it at that meeting.

The proposal would establish phases:

  • Phase I – DDA assembles information and brings in development expertise. This includes information from the city’s relevant boards and commissions, Ann Arbor SPARK, and real estate professionals.
  • Phase II – Visioning downtown development. This includes building on previous work done, for example, during the Calthorpe process, and would involve work sessions with city council, the city’s planning commission and public engagement.
  • Phase III – Taking these ideas and shaping a strategic plan for city council approval. This phase will yield the draft of a “parcel-by-parcel” plan, with the idea that it be incorporated as an amendment to the city’s Downtown Plan.
  • Phase IV – Implement the parcel-by-parcel plan. This entails selecting a specific parcel and developing a request for proposals (RFP) for that parcel. This process would then be repeated for other parcels.

Two key resolved clauses would require the city administrator to place items on the agenda for the council to consider, and would require the city to reimburse the DDA for expenses, if the council were to decline a specific site plan for any reason other than a failure to meet zoning regulations.

RESOLVED, that for items above requiring City Council approval, the City Administrator shall place such items on the agenda of City Council no later than thirty (30) days after the City Administrator’s receipt thereof and determination that such items comply with City requirements. In the event that such item is not voted upon within thirty (30) days of being placed upon the agenda, then at each subsequent meeting of the City Council where the item does not appear on the agenda, the City Administrator during Communications from the City Administrator shall provide a status report as to reasons for the item’s failure to appear on the agenda.

RESOLVED, that in light of the DDA’s expenditures of Phase IV monies in reliance upon City Council’s approval of the Parcel-by-Parcel Plan, any resulting RFP, and the DDA-proposal recommendation, if City Council declines to approve a Parcel site plan for any reason other than the site plan not complying with applicable zoning regulations, then the City of Ann Arbor shall reimburse the DDA for all direct DDA Phase IV costs related to such Parcel.

Newcombe Clark wanted to know what the timing of the council’s resolution would be and what effect the DDA’s resolution had. Hewitt explained that the DDA’s resolution would serve to inform the city council that the parcel-by-parcel development was something the DDA is interested in doing.

Clark was concerned that the DDA’s resolution not be construed as the board’s input or feedback on the council’s resolution. He wanted to know whether the resolution superseded having a contract, saying that the resolution was not the same as having an agreement to develop surface parking lots. Hewitt responded by saying that the resolution expressed that the DDA board “embraces this responsibility.”

Clark then focused on the phrase “applicable zoning” in the final “resolved” clause – did that include the design guidelines, which have not yet been finalized?

Gary Boren allowed that he’d been one of the more critical members of the mutually beneficial committee. He said he could not support the resolution unless it was to be understood as meaning that the fine points of an agreement on how to develop surface lots are yet to be worked out. As it stood, he said, the resolution doesn’t nail down all that much.

Leah Gunn characterized the resolution as the expression that philosophically, the council’s resolution was a good draft for discussion. John Mouat said the mutually beneficial committee would disappear when the negotiations with the city are done, so he raised the question of which DDA committee would take up the issue. He wondered what the next step would be. Mouat asked if it would be helpful for the city council to have some feedback on their resolution.

Board chair Joan Lowenstein noted that the council resolution was more specific than many of its resolutions, and said she hoped the city council would pass it. The next step, she said, would be to turn the resolution into something more than just a framework.

Lowenstein allowed that the council resolution is clearly not a contract – it’s just a resolution. There could perhaps later be a contract, she said.

Clark proposed an amendment to the DDA’s resolution of support, adding the clarification that the DDA board looked forward not just to the approval of the city council’s resolution, but also to “working out the details [suggested by Bob Guenzel] of the development plan [suggested by Sandi Smith]. [.pdf of original text of the DDA resolution].

The amendment was accepted as friendly.

Mouat characterized the resolution as a great first step. Mayor John Hieftje concurred with Mouat’s sentiments, but cautioned that the city council might take a couple of meetings to work through it.

Outcome: The DDA unanimously approved the resolution urging support of the city council resolution articulating the parcel-by-parcel plan.

Communications, Committee Reports

The board’s meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown citizens advisory council. No one addressed the board during the two opportunities the board provides for public commentary.

Comm/Comm: Downtown Citizens Advisory Council

Ray Detter gave his report from the CAC, which typically meets each month on the Tuesday evening before the Wednesday DDA board meeting. Detter noted that Ward 1 councilmember Sabra Briere attended the meeting and had given an update on the first five meetings of the street outreach task force. Three downtown panhandlers had attended a recent meeting of the task force, said Detter. [See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Task Force Consults Panhandlers"] They confirmed that panhandling is not a problem of homelessness, rather a problem of substance abuse and mental illness. They’d also received a report from Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, Detter said.

The CAC has always supported area planning, Detter said. He alerted the audience that there would be a citizens participation meeting later that evening at the Ann Arbor District Library for a proposed hotel at the corner of Washington and Division, across from the former Ann Arbor News building. Detter said that the proposed project claimed to be a “by right” project that meets the A2D2 zoning standards, but Detter questioned whether it will meet the design guidelines that have yet to be approved by the city council.

On Monday, Jan. 10, the city council will conduct a work session on the design guidelines. Detter characterized the newest version of the guidelines as a good improvement over the last set and said they may need to be revised in light of what kinds of projects are proposed. The guidelines relate to what is acceptable with respect to what gets built on top of the underground parking structure on the city-owned Library Lot, as well as whatever project is proposed for the Kline’s Lot, a surface parking lot that’s also owned by the city.

Comm/Comm: Library Lot RFP Review Committee

John Splitt reported that the committee reviewing proposals for the top of the Library Lot underground parking structure has not met since the last DDA board meeting.

Comm/Comm: Bricks and Money

Roger Hewitt made short shrift of the latest monthly parking report, saying that the year-over-year comparison showed a 7% increase in revenue. The numbers reflected that the parking system is maintaining steady usage, he said – there is no significant falloff of usage. [.pdf of November 2010 DDA parking report].

John Splitt gave an update on the underground parking garage construction. Concrete pours of between 1,000 and 2,000 cubic yards at a time continue. About 99% of the mass excavation has been completed, he said.

The Fifth and Division streetscape improvement project has been shut down for the winter, he said.

Comm/Comm: Economic Development, Communications

The DDA’s newest committee – the economic development and communications committee – had met for the first time, Joan Lowenstein reported. They had reviewed economic development efforts locally, regionally and  statewide, she said. There is a lot of work being done in the area of economic development, she said, especially by Washtenaw County. The big picture vision, she said, is for the committee to act as the point agency for downtown.

They will be focusing on image, defining or branding what the downtown is and develop a marketing plan. They plan to include business encouragement and the creative recruitment of businesses downtown. The committee’s action steps will include: (1) establishing partnerships, (2) assembling research and information, and (3) establishing metrics to measure outcomes.

Lowenstein said the communications aspect of the committee would be considered next.

Comm/Comm: Partnerships

Reporting out from the partnerships committee, Sandi Smith gave an update on the energy-saving grant program – 32 applications had been received this year for the first phase of the program. The program has two phases – an energy audit phase and an implementation phase. The DDA’s grant program funds the audits and provides a 50% match for installation of energy-saving measures recommended in the audit, with a cap of $20,000 per installation. Smith noted that across from the Ann Arbo Farmer’s Market, MAVDevelopment is drilling 11 600-foot geothermal wells that will be used to heat and cool the Market Place building. She noted that the DDA is not matching the entire cost of the project, because it reached the $20,000 cap fairly quickly.

Comm/Comm: Transportation

Reporting out for the transportation committee, John Mouat indicated that the committee had not met. As a preview of the next topics the committee would be tackling, he said they would start working on transportation demand management.

Resolution Honoring Joan Lyke

Working her last board meeting before her retirement was Joan Lyke, management assistant at the DDA. Board member Leah Gunn read aloud the resolution honoring Lyke’s service, highlights of which included the fact that she’s served the DDA for nearly two decades, a stretch that covered nearly four dozen different DDA board members. Lyke was the sole staff member during the transition period between DDA director Reuben Bergman and Susan Pollay – a period when Gunn chaired the DDA board. In response to an email query from The Chronicle after the meeting, Gunn wrote about Lyke during that time: “She was my rock.”

Lyke delivered a few remarks of her own to the board, prefacing them by saying that the board is a living example of how government can work for the good of the people. She’d said that she’d learned a lot while working at the DDA. Highlights of what she’d learned:

  • Nothing is simple.
  • Parking isn’t free.
  • If an idea is good, it will always resurface.
  • Retreats are just extended board meetings.
  • Criticism is ample.
  • Compliments are few.

She concluded by saying that she looked forward to reading about the board’s future accomplishments.

Lyke’s post will be filled by Julie Uden, who’s been working with Lyke for the last month learning the details of the job. On Wednesday, one vignette from Uden’s day included greeting an Ann Arbor resident who appeared at DDA offices with a question about the new ePark machines. The resident was in luck, because Republic Parking manager Mark Lyons was in the building for the board meeting, and Uden was able to make introductions. [Republic Parking is under contract with the DDA to manage the city's parking.] The two went out to Fifth Avenue to have a look at a machine. The DDA is installing the devices in place of standard parking meters.

Present: Gary Boren, Newcombe Clark, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.

Absent: Russ Collins, Keith Orr.

Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]


  1. January 10, 2011 at 9:52 am | permalink

    Joan is the best – a consummate professional who has been working for the City in one role or another for decades. I’ll miss her.

  2. By Susan Lackey
    January 10, 2011 at 2:19 pm | permalink

    It is hard to imagine the DDA without Joan. Leah and Vivienne are both right on in their description of her, but I’d add another. Joan is one of the MANY public servants in Ann Arbor and elsewhere who do their jobs (and then some) every day — without recognition, without credit and often with unfair disdain. We only appreciate them when they are gone.

  3. By Tom Whitaker
    January 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm | permalink

    “Roger Hewitt made short shrift of the latest monthly parking report….The numbers reflected that the parking system is maintaining steady usage, he said – there is no significant falloff of usage.”

    Depends on your definition of significant, I suppose. Is a 3.5% drop in hourly demand significant?

    November 2009 had twenty-four business days with a total of 179,865 hourly patrons, or an average of 7494 hourly patrons per day.

    November 2010 had twenty-FIVE business days with a total of 180,727 hourly patrons, or an average of 7229 hourly patrons per day.

    This means there were 265 fewer hourly patrons per day, on average, when comparing November 2009 and November 2010. Put another way, the demand for hourly parking dropped 3.5% in November 2010 when compared to November 2009.

    I’m concerned that the City and DDA have relied on projections of ever-increasing parking demand to justify the new underground structure. Now they are relying on ever-increasing parking revenue to pay the debt for the structure, to fund the City’s coffers to the tune of $2.5 million per year, as well as pay for pending projects like the City Apartments parking structure. Meanwhile, it would appear that hourly parking demand has decreased as the rates were increased. In about a year, we will be adding 600-700 MORE spaces to the supply when the new structure opens, along with all of the operating costs that come with that.

    The laws of diminishing marginal returns, and supply and demand, would seem to indicate that the parking revenue well may be starting to run dry. Already, the DDA has admitted that it will need TIF money to make payments on the new underground structure, something that was denied by the DDA, City Council, and City staff for the past two years.

    With the stakes for parking revenue this high, I think the parking data deserves far more than “short shrift” and spin from a board that is seeking to be the shepherd for the development of City-owned lots (including the engagement of the public in this process).

  4. By jenkins
    January 11, 2011 at 2:50 pm | permalink

    @ Tom Whitaker:

    Weather will have an effect on parking usage from year to year. If Nov 2010 was colder or snowier than Nov 2009 more people will have stayed home and not have gone out as much.

    Analyzing a one year increase/decrease in numbers without looking at other parameters really tells you nothing statistically. You can’t really gather any true information from it.

    A more accurate way of looking at this is to look at quarterly or yearly numbers over a wide range of years, say 5 years or so. That will tell you the trend and the direction of the parking demand.

  5. By Tom Whitaker
    January 11, 2011 at 4:15 pm | permalink

    DDA data shows hourly parking demand down 4.73% in the first half of 2010, so if anything, there was a slight improvement in November. (So much for the weather spin.) This decrease was brushed off as being due to the library lot closing, but that makes no sense. Demand is demand, and there were plenty of available spots within a block to absorb those who were displaced by the construction. When the rate increases kicked in during early 2010, demand slipped from being above 2009 levels, to being below 2009 levels, and has remained there.

    It seems clear to me that the increased parking rates have resulted in decreased demand. Decreased demand means fewer customers for downtown businesses, unless they are finding other ways to get downtown. Unfortunately, the data also shows a decrease in AATA ridership over the same period.

    The point remains that the City and DDA are betting heavily on parking demand and revenue remaining high in order to fund the City as well as substantial amounts of debt. Rather than glossing over the data (and comparing months with different numbers of business days), they should be taking a very concerted and critical look at these numbers. The DDA has already had to resort to TIF revenues to fund this debt. It’s a serious issue.

    I am also interested in seeing data on how much revenue has been generated by the City’s installation of parking meters outside of the DDA boundary. The staff projections were deemed to be quite overly optimistic by the Mayor and Council, yet they supported limited installations anyway. I wonder if anyone has bothered to track this. Anecdotally, the several dozen meters installed on S. Division seem to be largely unused, except for a few at William and a few at Packard.

  6. By Junior
    January 15, 2011 at 4:31 pm | permalink

    Boy, do I miss jennifer Santi’s Hall’s presence on the DDA.

  7. February 3, 2011 at 6:54 pm | permalink

    Tom, demand isn’t demand when there are alternatives. I’ve heard of a few people avoiding coming downtown due to the construction & road closure. Granted, this is likely a small number, as I’ve also heard that Main Branch Library numbers are steady.

    The other piece of info here is that I’ve also heard of downtown businesses that REALLY want parking passes, but can’t get them. So, there is apparently some level of demand in the system for parking, at least for monthly parking passes, if not for hourly parking.

  8. By Rod Johnson
    February 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm | permalink

    I often have coffee or shop out on Plymouth or Jackson or Ann Arbor-Saline instead of downtown, and it is almost purely because of the cost (and hassle) of parking. And Tom’s right, some psychological threshold was crossed for me at the last round of increases.

    I love downtown, but it’s not a good place if you’re encumbered with a car. Suburbia, or whatever those places are, is not my favorites place, but the abundant and free parking is pretty beguiling. For some reason, this makes less difference to me in summer than in winter–I guess walking a few blocks in cold, slushy downtown makes it even less attractive.

  9. By Tom Whitaker
    February 4, 2011 at 11:57 am | permalink

    @7: Yes, there are alternative modes of transportation, but again, AATA ridership was down over the same period, as well. I do appreciate the discussion and the act of discussion is precisely my point. We all have a lot riding on the financial performance of the parking system (and are about to add $9 million of additional debt load from the City Apartments parking structure). It is not a topic that should be swept under the rug.

    I’ve been a big fan of the DDA’s management of parking over the years, but lately, perhaps due to pressure from the City for more and more money, it seems their eyes have grown bigger than their stomachs.

    Making downtown attractive to customers, particularly year-round county residents, for shopping and eating ought to be the number one priority. The food and retail customers are the folks that use hourly parking and a drop in that demand to me, is an important indicator of downtown health.

    I’m also concerned that a hotel and convention center, built for sporadic use by out-of-town guests, and putting yet more public money at risk, will make things worse, not better. Downtown should be building on its status as a regional draw, not trying to become a national draw, which it never will be.