Council to Pull Plug on Conference Center?

Added on Friday, April 1 to the Ann Arbor city council’s April 4, 2011 agenda is a resolution that would end discussion on the Valiant Partners proposal to build a hotel and conference center on the so-called Library Lot. The parcel is located just north of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown location on South Fifth Avenue, but is owned by the city of Ann Arbor.

The resolution – sponsored by mayor John Hieftje and councilmembers Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Sandi Smith (Ward 1) – would reject the letter of intent that was being prepared for consideration by the council at its April 19 meeting. From the resolution: “… City Council has decided not to select any of the proposals made in response to RFP #743, and that the RFP review process for the building site on top of the new parking structure at 319 S. Fifth Avenue that began in August of 2009 is hereby concluded;”

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is currently constructing a roughly 640-space underground parking garage on the parcel. In 2009, the city of Ann Arbor issued a request for proposals for the use of the space above the underground garage. The process of evaluating the six proposals yielded the Valiant Partners proposal as the preferred one.

At a work session on March 14, 2011, the council was presented with a draft letter of intent (LOI) that would have set a four-month timeframe for working out a development agreement with Valiant Partners. A vote on a final draft of the LOI was scheduled for the council’s April 19 meeting, along with a public hearing.

The public hearing and the vote on the LOI would not take place, if the resolution on the council’s Monday, April 4 agenda passes. [Previous Chronicle coverage "Library Lot from Top to Bottom"]

At a meeting of the DDA’s bricks and money committee on Wednesday, March 30, Hieftje hinted that he felt the Valiant proposal would not get approval from the council, when he told Sandi Smith (Ward 1), a councilmember and DDA board member, that he thought the space above the underground garage would be used as surface parking for at least the next few years. He was responding to Smith’s concern about the limited net gain of parking spaces that will result from the construction of the underground garage.

Also on the council’s Monday, April 4 agenda is an item that would establish a process under which the Ann Arbor DDA would facilitate the development of downtown city-owned surface parking lots, which would not now presumably include the top of the underground parking structure. That so-called parcel-by-parcel plan – somewhat of a misnomer because it envisions the master planning of districts of the downtown, not individual parcels – has been considered by the city council at two previous meetings, but postponed.