DDA Elects Officers, Gets More Parking Data

Board also mulls absorbing getDowntown staff into DDA

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting and annual meeting (July 6, 2011): Other than the ritual cancellation of its monthly meeting for August, the DDA board did not have any items on its agenda for July that required a board vote.

Bag of Rocks

To honor her past year of service as chair of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board, Joan Lowenstein was presented with a plastic bag full of gravel. (That was only part of the token of appreciation.) To Lowenstein's left is Gary Boren, who was elected chair for the next year. (Photos by the writer.)

But during the meeting, parking issues were a focus, as they usually are.

First, board member Roger Hewitt reported to the board that additional data on usage of the city’s public parking system will now be available from Republic Parking. The DDA manages the city’s public parking system under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor – the DDA subcontracts out the day-to-day operations to Republic Parking. The new kind of data measures the number of total parking hours used by parkers against the total number of parking hours that are available in the system. Based on that measure, the parking system has seen a 1.72% increase in usage over the first five months of 2011, compared with the same five months of 2010.

Second, one of the major allocations of public parking revenue the DDA makes is to the getDowntown program, a partnership among the DDA, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and the city of Ann Arbor. As part of a three-year funding plan for the getDowntown program approved in June 2010 for fiscal years 2011-13, the program will receive roughly $500,000 from the DDA for FY 2012 and FY 2013, the bulk of which is to subsidize the cost of rides for holders of a go!pass. The go!pass is a card that allows employees of downtown businesses to board AATA buses on an unlimited basis without paying a fare.

The getDowntown program employs two people, including director Nancy Shore. At Wednesday’s meeting, Shore gave the full board the same presentation she’d given the board’s transportation committee earlier in the month. Part of the board discussion involved which of the three funding partners – the DDA, the city of Ann Arbor or the AATA – would employ the two getDowntown staffers in the future. One possibility, which based on Wednesday’s meeting seemed likely, would be for the DDA to add the two getDowntown staffers to its administrative payroll.

At its annual meeting, convened just after the monthly board meeting, the board elected new officers for the coming year, all with unanimous consent: Gary Boren, chair; Bob Guenzel, vice chair; Keith Orr, secretary; and Roger Hewitt, treasurer.

In recognition of her service, outgoing chair Joan Lowenstein was presented with a token of appreciation by the DDA staff: a plastic bag of gravel, and a necklace featuring a lump of gravel as its centerpiece.

The connection to gravel in Lowenstein’s gift was the underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue, which is currently under construction. The board got its regular update on the status of that project, as well as commentary from the owners of two immediately adjacent restaurants – Jerusalem Garden and Earthen Jar – which have seen their business drop by 30-50% during the construction. 

Underground Parking Garage

The ongoing construction on the underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue was a highlight during public commentary. The project also received its usual update out of the bricks and money committee.

Underground Parking Garage: Impact of  Construction on Businesses

Owners of two restaurants along Fifth Avenue, immediately north of the construction site of the new underground parking structure, addressed the board. Ali Ramlawi of Jerusalem Garden and Pushpinder Sethi from Earthen Jar expressed their frustration about the impact the project has had on their businesses.


Ali Ramlawi of Jerusalem Garden (left) and Pushpinder Sethi of Earthen Jar (right) listened to the rest of the board meeting after taking their turns during public commentary.

Ramlawi introduced himself as a resident of Ward 5 and reminded them that he’d addressed the DDA board previously [in October 2010]. He said that the four-minute time allotted for public commentary goes by fast, so he wanted to add to his previous comments.

He noted that his restaurant is located right next door to the construction site and the construction [which broke ground in late September 2009] had been going on for almost two years. He was not coming to the board for a handout, he said. He simply wanted to state a case. He said he did not feel that the DDA board fully considered the ramifications of its decisions on people and businesses.

Fifth Avenue has been closed for nearly a year and would be closed for another six months. The arrangement had not been fully explained at the outset, he said. [Ramlawi was one of the parties to a lawsuit over the parking garage, which was ultimately settled.] He’d been doing business for 18 years in Ann Arbor and the last 12 months have been the hardest. He reported that his customers often ask him about the construction: What is going on? And their followup question is this: What is the city doing for you? People are amazed, he said, that the answer is: nothing.

Ramlawi said he’s been told that it’s like any other project, like a bridge replacement. But it’s not the same, he said. As the DDA considers the future use of other city lots, he said, the DDA needs to take into account the impact of future projects on small businesses. His business has been down 30% for over a year. He pointed to other businesses besides his own in the immediate vicinity, like the Earthen Jar, Herb David’s Guitar Studio, and the Bead Gallery, and ventured that the community might lose one of them.

Ramlawi said when he hears about tax abatements being offered to companies to attract or retain them, he thinks it’s “fine and dandy” but also feels like the city needs to take care of mom-and-pop businesses – like Drake’s Sandwich Shop or The Del Rio. Those businesses disappeared and nobody replaced them. His own utilities – water, phone system, electricity – have been cut off at times due to the project and that has driven up the cost of doing business. He told the board he was upset with the “inaction of the DDA.”

Sethi said he didn’t need to repeat what Ramlawi had said. But he added that his own business was down more like 50% – it’s located immediately next to the project. The slump in business is not due to the recession, he said – that was 2008-2010. He said that the city should help by providing something like tax breaks.

Underground Parking Garage: Construction Update

John Splitt gave the update out of the bricks and money committee on the underground parking garage, which included the fact that mechanical work is starting on the dogleg of the east part of the structure. Some finishing work is also starting on the dogleg, and the top 2-3 feet of the earth retention system is being removed, as it’s no longer needed. In the middle portion, deck slabs are being poured and the structure is almost up to ground level on those pours.

For the third section of the garage, nearest to Fifth Avenue, the final foundation pours have been completed, Splitt said, with two pours of 2,200 cubic yards of concrete. That work has allowed Christman Company  – the contractor for the underground parking garage – to turn off the dewatering system.


The northeast corner of Liberty and Fifth as concrete work progresses on the Fifth & Division streetscape project.

John Mouat said that with the “shell” now done, he wondered if Christman is now looking at being able to “advance the schedule.” Splitt said that he meets weekly for breakfast with the Christman team, and he’s constantly trying to push the schedule. So it’s a weekly if not daily point of emphasis, he said. Obviously, he said, concrete only cures so fast.

Splitt also gave the report on the Fifth and Division streetscape improvement project. Eastlund Concrete Construction has done some work on Division Street, pouring some crosswalks. They are still doing some brick work too.

Work is progressing on the 200 block of Fifth Avenue – Eastlund was pouring curbs on the east side, and after the art fairs, which runs from July 20-23, they would move to the west side of street.

That will finish Eastlund’s part of the project, Splitt said. Christman will do the streetscape work on the 300 block of Fifth Avenue, after the underground parking garage – which is on that block – has finished construction.

Parking Revenue: go!pass Program

The DDA allocates revenue from the public parking system to support various projects. Some of those revenues support the go!pass program, which is administered by the getDowntown program.

Nancy Shore, director of the getDowntown program, was invited to give the same presentation to the full board on Wednesday that she’d made to the transportation committee at its June 8 meeting. The getDowntown program employs two people, including Shore.

By way of basic background, the getDowntown program is a partnership among the DDA, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and the city of Ann Arbor. As part of a three-year funding plan for the getDowntown program approved in June 2010 for fiscal years 2011-13, the program will receive roughly $500,000 from the DDA for FY 2012 and FY 2013, the bulk of which is to subsidize the cost of rides for holders of a go!pass.

The go!pass is a card that allows employees of downtown businesses to board AATA buses on an unlimited basis without paying a fare on boarding. Their rides are paid by the DDA out of public parking revenue it receives under its contract with the city of Ann Arbor for managing the public parking system.

By way of technical background, since early February 2009, the AATA has used fare boxes on its buses that allow for riders to swipe different kinds of cards as a way to validate their rides. Two kinds of cards that are now swiped are University of Michigan M-Cards and go!pass cards. Before the new fare boxes were installed, AATA drivers would record those rides with a button press, so some data was being collected about the total number of rides taken by University of Michigan affiliates or by holders of go!passes.

It’s possible, for example, to look at overall ridership on the AATA regular bus system as compared with the ridership of those two affiliate programs dating back at least to 2004. In Chart 1, the top group of lines are overall ridership numbers, the middle band are UM affiliate ridership numbers and the lower band reflect go!pass numbers.

Overall ridership on AATA buses, broken down by UM and gopass

Chart 1. Overall ridership on AATA buses, broken down by UM and go!pass rides by year. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Within each band in Chart 1, separate lines correspond to different years. Generally, ridership across all categories has gone up year over year.

Statistical highlights of Shore’s presentation included the continuing increase in the number of go!passes purchased by downtown employers for their employees, and the number of employers who participate in the program. In 2001-02, 3,913 go!passes were purchased by a total of 239 companies. That compares to 7,157 passes purchased by 506 companies so far this year.

The total number of rides also continues to climb each year, as Chart 2 shows.

Gopass Rides by Month Charted Year-small

Chart 2. go!pass rides by month, charted year by year. (Image links to higher resolution image.)

In the course of the board discussion after Shore’s presentation, board member Newcombe Clark drew out the fact that employers must purchase go!passes for all of their full-time employees in order to participate. The cost to the employer per pass is currently only $5, but Shore is recommending that it be increased to $10 next year.

Clark also drew out the fact that based on the new swipable cards, it’s possible to track the usage of individual cards, not just count the rides taken.

Keith Orr wanted to know if there are people who have go!passes who haven’t used them – yes, said Shore. Summarizing Shore’s data in ballpark form, Russ Collins said it looks like half the people who are given cards by their employers don’t use them at all, and about one-third use them actively. He felt that the cards warranted a larger charge to the consumer – those who use it clearly see the value, he said, and even if you quadrupled the price to $20, it would still be a great benefit to them.

[The cost charged to employers for purchasing the cards, even though many employees do not use the cards, still does not nearly cover the cost of the rides taken. That's why the DDA will be subsidizing the go!pass rides with payments to the AATA of $438,565 for FY 2012 and for $475,571 in FY 2013.]

At Collins’ suggestion to hike the per card cost to employers, Clark hesitated, noting the requirement that cards must be purchased for all full-time employees. That might discourage an employer who had a large number of employees: “I don’t want to knock an employer out who couldn’t afford it,” Clark said.

Orr noted that part of the success of the program is the requirement that you have to buy a card for all full-time employees. In the course of her presentation, Shore explained that the focus on employees [as opposed to other visitors to the downtown] was driven by the fact that employees have the most consistent patterns and when that pattern can be changed, then it changes consistently.

Another highlight of Shore’s presentation was the breakdown by company type for card usage. In terms of number of rides taken, restaurant employees took 46% of the go!pass rides, government workers took 9% of rides and retail employees took 8% of rides.

Exploded PieChart Go Pass usage

go!pass usage by industry (Image links to higher resolution file)

Board members were complimentary of the program and of Shore’s work. Mayor John Hieftje noted that the program had won an international award a few years ago and he encouraged Shore to apply for that award again. He pointed to the connection to the city’s affordable housing goals. Not owning a car puts $500 per month back into someone’s budget that they can spend on something else, he said.

Leah Gunn said that since Shore had taken over the getDowntown program, it had really started to soar. Joan Lowenstein said the program was good evidence of how the DDA works in partnership with other organizations.

Roger Hewitt noted that out of 7,000 passes, about 2,400 are used on a regular basis. He wondered if it was possible to find out what percentage of those cardholders who are heavy users also own cars. Shore indicated that she would work on getting that information.

Parking Revenues: Status of getDowntown Staff

As part of his report from the transportation committee, John Mouat noted that the getDowntown program needs to “find a home.” That’s still an ongoing conversation, he said.

By way of background, the getDowntown program was previously funded in a four-way partnership with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the city of Ann Arbor, the DDA and the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce (now the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber). In 2009, the chamber essentially withdrew from the partnership, which meant that the getDowntown program needed to find alternate quarters – part of the contribution made by the chamber had been to provide office space. The getDowntown program then moved to offices at 518 E. Washington, with the financial support of the DDA. Brief coverage of the issue is included in The Chronicle’s report on the Dec. 2, 2009 DDA board meeting.

At the Oct. 7, 2009 meeting, Mouat had mentioned the issue as part of his regular monthly committee report to the board. And it came up again at the board’s May 7, 2010 meeting.

A question from DDA board member Leah Gunn clarified that the issue being considered is not the physical location of getDowntown’s offices, but rather the administrative payroll issue: Which organization will formally employ the getDowntown program’s two staff?

Mouat explained that currently the two staff are employees of the AATA. The transportation committee is looking at the possibility of transferring the responsibility to the DDA. Mouat characterized it as a “nice fit” from a funding perspective – both getDowntown and the DDA have a focus on the downtown. The mission of getDowntown is also connected to the planned implementation of transportation demand management in the parking system, Mouat said.

Another advantage is that AATA’s contribution via a federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) grant is administratively easier, if getDowntown is separate from the AATA, Mouat said.

The impact on the DDA, Mouat said, would be that deputy DDA director Joe Morehouse would do the books, executive director Susan Pollay would do the employee evaluations, and the two staff would become employees of the DDA.

Shore indicated that there was no hard and fast deadline, but it would be preferable to have a decision made by year’s end. Bob Guenzel asked what the position of the getDowntown funding partners is on the question of merging getDowntown with the DDA. Citing the views of the getDowntown board, Shore said that everybody is comfortable with it.

Regular Parking Report

Roger Hewitt summarized the regular monthly parking report for his board colleagues.

Total public parking revenues for May 2011 were $1,218,442, based on permit holder fees plus fees paid by 170,471 hourly parkers in structures. That’s an increase from May 2010, which had $1,145,740 in total revenues and 169,466 hourly parkers.

Percentage-wise that’s a 6.35% increase in revenue and an 0.59% increase in the number of hourly parkers, with a total system parking space inventory of 19 additional spaces: 7,149 in May 2011 compared with 7,130 in May 2010.

The board has recognized for some time that this kind of measure for parking demand is somewhat coarse. The number of hourly parkers gives some insight, as does the total revenue, but these data do not provide a direct measure of how much of the system’s capacity is being used.

At the DDA board’s bricks and money committee meeting on Wednesday, June 29, Joe Morehouse – deputy director of the DDA – presented committee members with data showing the percentage of total parking hours sold for parking structures, with 100% corresponding to the (practically impossible) scenario of every spot in every space filled with a car 24/6 (structures are free on Sunday) and no time lost when one car pulls out and another pulls in. Like the standard parking report, the comparison for May 2011 against May 2010 using that metric also showed an increase in demand: 33.22% in May 2010 compared to 34.94% in May 2011. [Ann Arbor public parking efficiency chart]

At Wednesday’s board meeting, Hewitt said that the DDA spent a lot of effort and resources to upgrade software and IT with new equipment, which can now capture enormous amount of data. The board had asked Morehouse and Republic Parking staff to get an idea of total occupancy – the total “car hours.” To generate the percentages, they’d taken as the denominator all the spaces in attended structures and lots for the entire time they charge for spaces. Hewitt said the data was currently only for about a year and a half, but they were working on getting more. At the June 29 committee meeting, Hewitt had described part of the problem as related to a corrupted database.

By way of some additional background, parking data and its accessibility to the public has a contentious recent history. In early 2009, a demonstration application was developed by independent programmers, to use real-time parking space availability provided on the DDA’s website to develop a software application where a phone number could be called and the caller would hear an automated voice give the number of spaces available in a given structure. That led, for a time, to the blocking of access to the DDA website by automated applications, a move that was met with strenuous objections by the local IT community, some members of which attended DDA board meetings to express their concerns.

Objections to the blocking of the parking usage data were amplified by the fact that around that time, the city council was considering approval of bonds for the construction of a new 640-space underground parking garage. The council approved the bonds and the garage is currently under construction along Fifth Avenue, with completion now anticipated in early 2012.

Another part of the context of that time period was the DDA’s recommended series of parking rate increases, which were in part due to the construction of the new garage.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, Hewitt noted that the next parking rate increase is due to take effect Sept. 1, 2011. He characterized it as being in the range of 5%. [For metered spaces, it's an increase from $1.10 to $1.20 per hour. The hourly rate for parking in a structure will be increased from $1.30 to $1.40] That was part of a series of annual increases approved in connection with the construction of the underground parking structure, he said.

In the fall of 2011, Hewitt noted, the DDA will need to make a presentation to the city council on parking rates and will need to have some idea of what they plan to do with parking rates a year from now.

The Varsity at Ann Arbor

Ray Detter reported to the board with a summary of the previous night’s meeting of the Downtown Area Citizens’ Advisory Council. Board chair Joan Lowenstein invited Detter to the podium by teasing him to spiff up, because the cameras were back on. [The videotaping system had a glitch at the start of the meeting and were not recording, but they were restored to service.]

Detter said that the advisory council had devoted their entire discussion to The Varsity at Ann Arbor, a proposed residential project planned for 425 E. Washington St., next to the 411 Lofts building. [The site is currently the location of an office building, which formerly housed the Prescription Shop. The Varsity is planned to be a 13-story apartment building with 173 units that would house 418 people. It would include 77 parking spaces.]

Detter said the advisory council felt the project would be a learning experience – with respect to a newly established design review board. Detter noted that in addition to the developer’s meeting with the design review board, which had already taken place, a second required meeting – a citizen engagement meeting – would be held on July 7.

Detter said the design review board had provided feedback and that the advisory council agrees with its suggestions. But the project has a long way to go if it’s going to voluntarily comply with the design guidelines, he said. The building as proposed now is 143 feet tall now, but he would encourage the developer to go higher, if necessary, if it would allow the building to step back more from the property lines.

Detter told the DDA board that his group supported a project now under construction, Zaragon West, because the developer considered the design guidelines as they were emerging, but before they were given final approval by the city council. Fortunately, Detter said, The Varsity’s developer had hired a local architect [Bradley Moore]. The first principle of the design guidelines, Detter said, was to identify and reinforce characteristics of adjacent sites. But The Varsity doesn’t doesn’t do that, he contended. There was no consideration to east or west where two smaller historic properties are located.

Detter also noted the two entrances to parking garages under the building – one on Huron Street and the other off Washington Street. Both of them pose problems for pedestrians and traffic, he said. One possibility is combine them so that only one entrance would be used. The east side of the building, which faces the First Baptist Church, is difficult, he said. One person had described it as a “slab,” Detter said, and another as a “tsunami of uninteresting brick.” That wall could be improved, he said, by reshaping it. The developer has started consulting with stakeholders, like the First Baptist Church, and as a result has added a walkway. Now it’s only five feet wide, but Detter hoped it could be made wider.

Lowenstein indicated she was glad the city council had reduced the proposed design board review fee from $1,000 to $500.

Communications, Committee Reports

In addition to Detter’s report from the citizens’ advisory council, the board’s meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees, as well as public commentary.

Comm/Comm: Retail Recruitment

Joan Lowenstein reported for the economic development committee that they’d explored the possibility of a role for the DDA in retail recruitment by inviting Ed Shaffran [a former DDA board member and head of Shaffran Companies Ltd., which owns several downtown Ann Arbor properties] and Mike Giraud of Swisher Commercial.

Lowenstein reported that the committee learned the DDA has done a lot already: infrastructure improvements have an impact on the ability to recruit retail. However, as far as going out and helping with recruitment directly, she said, they’d heard from Shaffran and Giraud that there’s not a lot you can do without “stepping on toes.” Knowledgeable brokers are already involved, and offering incentives can be slippery slope, she reported.

Where the DDA could help is with the promotion of the downtown and getting Ann Arbor onto the broker map nationally. Shaffran and Giraud also mentioned the need for larger floorplates – something the committee had also heard from representatives of Ann Arbor SPARK, the local economic development agency. Another theme the committee had heard mentioned before, Lowenstein said, was that regulatory processes are an impediment for developers to get projects approved.

Lowenstein mentioned that the DDA’s annual report is forthcoming for the current year. She characterized it as a statistical analysis and also a promotional document for the downtown.

Comm/Comm: Energy Grants

Russ Collins reported out for the partnerships committee on the DDA’s energy saving grant program. Through the program, downtown business owners can get an energy audit paid for, with matching funds for any recommended improvements that are actually implemented, up to a cap. These steps of the program – audit and implementation – are referred to as Phase 1 and Phase 2 by the DDA. In the past, the per-project cap for Phase 2 has been $20,000 per project. But Collins said that cap has now been reduced to $5,000.

The total project budget for the coming year will be $100,000, compared with $200,000 in previous years, Collins said. A total of $20,000 will be for Phase 1 assessments – they’ll target larger buildings as a part of an attempt to coordinate with the city’s PACE program, which provides a funding mechanism for making energy improvements. The remaining $80,000 will be focused on improvements that are directed toward smaller projects, he said.

Comm/Comm: Future Use of City-Owned Lots

Reporting out from the partnerships committee, Russ Collins said the majority of the committee’s last meeting had been spent addressing how to meet the city council’s directive to establish a public process to figure out what to do with some of the city-owned parcels in the downtown: the Library Lot, the former YMCA Lot, Palio’s Lot and Kline’s Lot.

Collins summarized the contributions of several guests at the partnerships committee meeting, including local developer Peter Allen, real estate developer Albert Berriz, AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein, and two University of Michigan faculty members in the college of architecture and urban design – Doug Kelbaugh and Kit McCullough.

Collins’ summary was consistent with The Chronicle’s report from that meeting: “DDA Continues Planning Prep.”

At that meeting, Kelbaugh and McCullough pitched their services to lead the public engagement process that would begin this fall – they were looking for a decision from the DDA about that in July or August. But Collins said the committee had decided to take a step back.

The upcoming partnerships committee meeting on July 13 will be devoted exclusively to how to move forward with that process. Collins noted that Sandi Smith, who co-chairs the committee with Collins and who was absent from Wednesday’s board meeting, is unavailable. Collins added that he would be out of town for the July 13 meeting. However, board member John Mouat, who is an architect, would be there to run the meeting, Collins said.

Comm/Comm: Fruit, Vegetable Bike Racks

As part of his report from the transportation committee, John Mouat said that carrot, apple and cherry bike racks were currently being painted to get them ready for installation at the Farmers Market.

Comm/Comm: LED Lighting Company

Ted Williams and Jaspreet Sawhney, with Falcon Innovations Inc., attended the meeting and addressed the board by way of introducing their company to the board. Sawhney, alluding to Pushpinder Sethi’s turn at the podium just before his own, said he was amazed that two people wearing turbans were addressing the DDA that day.

Susan Pollay

Jaspreet Sawhney of Falcon Innovations talks with Susan Pollay, the DDA's executive director.

Falcon is an LED lighting manufacturer. They had decided to come address the board when mayor John Hieftje stopped by their booth at the recent Green Fair held on Main Street downtown. Sawhney said that he’d previously met Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, and Dave Konkle, former energy coordinator with the city of Ann Arbor and now consultant with the DDA. Sawhney demonstrated two different products for the board. He told them that the firm’s manufacturing facility is not in Michigan but they are looking to change that.

Board member Russ Collins wanted to know if the lights were dimmable – yes. Board member Newcombe Clark pointed out that Falcon’s offices are located on Main Street, above Conor O’Neill’s.

Annual Meeting: Officer Elections

The main task for the DDA board at its annual meeting was to elect its officers for the next year. Standard practice is for the current vice chair to be elected chair, with the expectation that whoever is elected vice chair will serve as chair the following year.

Gary Boren, Chair of the DDA board

Gary Boren, newly elected chair of the DDA board.

Roger Hewitt nominated current vice chair Gary Boren to serve as chair.

Newcombe Clark asked if Boren’s term was being renewed – that is, would he be reappointed by the mayor to serve on the board? By way of background, outgoing chair Joan Lowenstein’s term on the board ends on July 31, 2011, as do the terms for Gary Boren and John Mouat. Boren has been a vocal proponent of the idea that the DDA is an independent corporate body and not an arm of the city of Ann Arbor.

Last year, Clark had pointedly abstained from voting in the officer elections over the lack of information about reappointments to the board. From Chronicle coverage of the July 7, 2010 DDA annual meeting:

Abstaining from each of the officer votes was board member Newcombe Clark.

Clark explained to The Chronicle after the meeting that there’d been no indication from the mayor whether the two board members whose appointments are expiring July 31 – Jennifer S. Hall and John Splitt – would be reappointed. Clark said he could thus not be certain of the full range of choices for board officers.

Splitt was reappointed; Hall was not. Bob Guenzel was appointed instead of Hall.

In response to Clark’s question this year, Lowenstein said they did not know that yet. Mayor John Hieftje, sitting at the board table, did not offer any statement about whether he planned to nominate Boren for the city council’s approval for reappointment.

With little further discussion, the remaining officers were nominated and voted on. Leah Gunn, who serves on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, nominated former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel as vice chair. That vote was unanimous. John Splitt nominated Keith Orr as secretary, and that vote, too, was unanimous. Splitt then nominated Roger Hewitt to stay on as treasurer.

In sum, the officer election featured none of the drama of two years ago, when the board initially could not find a consensus about who the next chair would be.

Outcome: All officers were elected by unanimous voice votes: chair, Gary Boren; vice chair, Bob Guenzel; secretary, Keith Orr; treasurer, Roger Hewitt.

Annual Meeting: Committee Mergers

At last year’s annual meeting, the DDA merged its capital improvements and operations committee into a single “bricks and money” committee. At that time, the DDA also had two other committees: the partnerships committee and the transportation committee. The partnerships committee handles issues related to the collaboration of the DDA with other entities like the city council, which appoints two of its members to the DDA’s partnerships committee. Currently those council members are Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Margie Teall (Ward 4).

The transportation committee, formed two years ago, is a relatively new committee. At last year’s annual meeting, the board decided to add a new committee – the economic development and communications committee.

At Wednesday’s annual meeting, John Splitt led off discussion of the constitution of committees by suggesting that transportation be merged with the bricks and money committee. He reasoned that transportation would be dealing with issues like go!passes and with transportation demand management, which are both ultimately related to parking issues –the domain of the bricks and money committee. He suggested the merger based on overlapping subject matter.

John Mouat, who chairs the transportation committee, agreed that it was a good suggestion. The general consensus was that a new name for the committee was needed. Russ Collins suggested: “Let’s not find a name now, because that’s how we came up with ‘bricks and money.’” Keith Orr offered that the first task of the newly constituted committee should be to find a new name.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to merge the transportation committee with the bricks and money committee.

Mayor John Hieftje then suggested combining the partnerships with the economic development and communications committee. Leah Gunn supported that idea. Newcombe Clark cautioned that that intent of having a communications committee was to recognize that communications is not getting done effectively. It had been as a deficiency, he said, so he didn’t want to fold the subject matter back into another committee, just because it was a new committee.

It was briefly discussed that the motion to merge the committees formally needed a second before Clark could weigh in. With the motion officially seconded, Russ Collins quipped that, even though Clark’s comments were “totally rogue,” having been made before the motion received a second, he agreed with Clark.

Splitt agreed with the point made by Clark and Collins, but noted that participation was a bit lacking. Hieftje stressed that the intention was not that the issues would fall away. The question was whether communications needed a free-standing committee. Joan Lowenstein allowed that there has been sparse attendance at the committee’s meetings and it would be nice to bring everyone together.

Mouat asked for executive director Susan Pollay’s thoughts. Pollay agreed with everything the board was saying. She noted that the board members are volunteers. Having more people attend committee meetings is better, she said, but they can’t drop communications as a topic of concern, even if it’s not a separate committee. Keith Orr indicated he would like to leave it as is for the time being to see if reducing the number of committees from four to three will help improve attendance.

Outcome: The board voted to merge the partnerships committee with the economic development and communications committee, with dissent from Clark, Collins and Orr.

Annual Meeting: Tokens of Appreciation

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, presented outgoing board chair Joan Lowenstein with a token of appreciation.

Joan Lowenstein DDA board

Joan Lowenstein, outgoing chair of the DDA board, admires the token of appreciation she received from the DDA staff: a necklace featuring a construction pit piece of gravel.

Last year, outgoing chair John Splitt had been presented with a plaque that was fashioned from a piece of the earth retention system lagging. This year Lowenstein’s gift also consisted of artifacts from the construction site of the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage: a plastic bag of gravel. The serious part of the gift was a custom piece of jewelry crafted by Schlanderer & Sons and featuring a piece of construction site gravel in a sterling silver setting.

[According the staff of Schlanderer & Sons, it was one of the more unusual requests they've ever received, and they completed the piece with a budget of less than $200.]

Present: Gary Boren, Newcombe Clark, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.

Absent: Sandi Smith.

Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]

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  1. July 9, 2011 at 10:10 am | permalink

    We’re spending $40 million and ruining two local businesses to build the Fifth Ave structure, and we’re going to turn over park land to subsidize another structure for UM, all while occupancy hovers around 35%. I can see why DDA is reluctant to provide detailed structure occupancy data to the taxpayers who are footing the bill.

  2. July 9, 2011 at 10:50 am | permalink

    Re: [1] “… all while occupancy hovers around 35%”

    At the Wednesday committee meeting, some concern was expressed that when people see 35% or 40% or 50% on these graphs, they’ll conclude that the parking structures are vastly underused, because not everyone will reflect on what the denominator is for the calculation. I do think it’s worth taking seriously what the denominator is for that percentage: the total available hours in the structures, Monday-Saturday, 24-hours a day.

    So 100% occupancy would translate essentially to round the clock car storage. But there are large swaths of time when I don’t think we’re really expecting more than a handful of cars to be parked in a structure (e.g., 1 a.m.-7 a.m.). So I’m not sure that 35% is low for this metric.

    I think it will be interesting to see the eventual breakdown of occupancy during peak periods, say 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., and look at how different structures show different filling patterns during those times. This absolute measure of efficiency/occupancy is, I think, less interesting than the possible use of this metric as a benchmark for measuring the impact of different time/geography-based pricing schedules, which the DDA intends to deploy as part of its transportation demand management strategy. I think it’s reasonable that for each structure a “realistic” overall occupancy rate is calculated for that structure so that we can then check to see how much closer we’re getting to that realistic maximum occupancy rate.

    I also think it’s reasonable that these various transportation demand management strategies be scrutinized based on their actual statistical impact. If letting parking prices vary (by time of day and geographic location, or location within a structure) doesn’t have some measurable (positive) impact on the efficiency of the parking system, then it’s reasonable to expect that these various transportation demand management strategies should be revised for another try, or eventually eliminated — if we discover we can’t achieve what we want with respect to efficiency.

    One value of this metric is that it’s not tied to revenue. Transportation demand management is supposed to be about encouraging people to park in a pattern that’s best for everyone, not about squeezing as much possible revenue out of the system. But if transportation demand management strategies result in vastly more revenue, there will be some who point to that alone as sufficient evidence that “it’s working.” It’s not. You have to show that you’re able to accommodate a greater number of people in your parking system in order to claim success. I think this occupancy percentage measure that the DDA will now be receiving from Republic Parking is at least a step in that direction.

  3. July 9, 2011 at 11:41 am | permalink

    The story refers in passing to a corrupted database. I would like to understand more about the nature of that problem.

    Two years ago there were independent assessments of detailed time of day structure capacity prepared by multiple individuals. The system currently produces minute by minute accounting of space availability. I don’t see any impediment to the DDA reporting on that to the public, short of the political will to deal with the consequences of that knowledge being widely available for citizens to draw their own conclusions from it.

  4. July 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm | permalink

    Do you know if Tyler or anyone is still storing the parking data (self-reported by DDA)? I know I do not, however as of 10 min ago, the +1 (734) 272-0909 number is functional and reporting data self-reported by the DDA. Of course, I don’t know how accurate that data is.

  5. July 9, 2011 at 3:54 pm | permalink

    Tyler Erickson’s application here


    stopped collecting data about a year ago; he released the source code here


    and it has some amount of data from a year ago still visible, enough to illustrate what could be done.

  6. July 9, 2011 at 8:10 pm | permalink

    This zipped file is in .csv format, and contains Ann Arbor DDA parking data from the 2008-2009 era [a2dda-parking.csv.zip] column 1: date and time column 2: structure column 3: # of spots

    Some of that data was used in an interview with Republic Parking IT manager Stephen Smith, during which he was challenged to identify parking structures based on graphs of their fill patterns. And he did pretty well, especially considering he was balanced on the end of a teeter totter.

    Those graphs are available as a part of the introduction to that interview.

  7. July 13, 2011 at 4:54 pm | permalink

    I wanted to pass along a status update on another local business affected by the construction – the Mail Shoppe, which is located on the Division Street side of the project. When I did my regular drop-off there, owner Carolyn Hough told me her business has been down by 25% and walk-in business specifically was down 50%.