Column: Ann Arbor’s Monroe (Street) Doctrine

Parking spaces, right-of-way, and the city-university relationship

On the northeast corner at the intersection of State and Hill streets in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan’s Weill Hall stands majestically as a landmark building, establishing the southwest corner of the UM campus.

Monroe Street University of Michigan Law School

Looking east down Monroe Street, across State Street. This section of Monroe Street is flanked by two University of Michigan law school buildings: Hutchins Hall to the north, and South Hall. (Photos by the writer. )

Following State Street north up the hill towards downtown will lead you to the intersection with Monroe Street. Turn right on Monroe, and you’ll wind up at Dominick’s, a local watering hole, majestic in its own right.

One parking option for patrons of Dominick’s is that first block of Monroe Street east of State. And what better topic to discuss over a pitcher of beer, sitting at a Dominick’s picnic table, than Ann Arbor parking rates. How much should it cost to use an on-street parking space on Monroe in that one block between State and Oakland?

Here’s a different question: How much for the whole damn block? I don’t mean just the parking spaces. I mean the whole right-of-way.

That question is part of a current conversation among public officials from the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. The university is not interested in parking cars on that block. In fact, it’s the university’s desire that the thoroughfare be blocked to vehicular traffic. Permanently.

By tackling this topic, I’d like to achieve a two-fold purpose. First, I’d like to promote the daylighting of conversations now taking place out of public view. Second, I’d like to provide a rational way to approach calculating the value of city right-of-way, specifically in the general context of city-university relations.

Otherwise put, I’d like to sketch out a kind of Monroe Doctrine for Ann Arbor, which might in some ways mirror the message in the original Monroe Doctrine, set forth by President James Monroe in his address to Congress, on Dec. 2, 1823.

I’m not going to suggest including the part that talks about when “our rights are invaded or seriously menaced …”

Monroe Street: Place, Time Not Random Coincidence  

It’s not a random accident that the university would like to see that block of Monroe Street essentially absorbed into its campus. Two university law school buildings now stand on opposites sides of Monroe Street. On the north is Hutchins Hall, which dates from 1933. On the south is the newly-constructed South Hall, which opened just this fall.

On a scenario closing that block of Monroe Street to automobile traffic, only a pedestrian-type corridor would separate South Hall from Hutchins Hall. Arguably, the university’s law school campus would have better physical coherence with that layout.

The university’s desire with respect to Monroe Street is not news. In fact, The Chronicle reported on a meeting hosted by university officials for residents in late 2008, when the proposal was floated. The idea was that the city of Ann Arbor would grant permanent use of the right-of-way to the university for one block of Monroe Street. The presentation was given by Jim Kosteva, UM’s director of community relations, and Sue Gott, the university’s head of planning. At that point, the plans for South Hall were still on the drawing board.

Residents did not give the proposal a warm reception. One argument against the proposal was based on civil liberties, public access to the space, and the substitution of the university’s police force for the city’s police department as a means to discourage expression of dissent. Another argument was based on the idea that one of the distinctive and valuable qualities of UM’s Ann Arbor campus is the degree to which it is integrated with the rest of the city. That contrasts with Michigan State University’s campus in East Lansing, which is more isolated and sharply delineated from the city. Closing down Monroe Street and turning over control of the right-of-way to UM was seen as counter to that positive quality.

A few months later, the university’s Monroe Street proposal was pitched to the city’s planning commission at a working session of the commission in early 2009. Planning commissioners also expressed little enthusiasm for the Monroe Street closure. Their concerns included the loss of on-street parking spaces. At that point, the university seemed to be contemplating bringing a formal proposal to the planning commission later in 2009. But that strategy was apparently re-thought in light of the lukewarm reception at the two public meetings.

However, based on email correspondence obtained by The Chronicle through a Freedom of Information Act request, it’s clear that conversations between the city and the university about Monroe Street have continued since early 2009. Unlike the two public pitches by the university from that timeframe, recent conversations have taken place out of public view.

It’s understandable, even reasonable, that the university would see now as an opportune moment in history. The current city council configuration is still ripe, just as it was back in 2009, for pitching that elected body a concept that would directly benefit the university’s law school. Then as now, two University of Michigan law school alums serve on the city council: Tony Derezinski and Christopher Taylor.

It’s time to daylight that conversation.

Private Conversation

Even while the university was pitching its Monroe Street proposal at public meetings in late 2008 and early 2009, not surprisingly, private conversations were taking place.

The following email from UM law alum and city councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) to then-city administrator Roger Fraser shows that UM law school dean, Evan Caminker, reached out to Taylor and then-councilmember Leigh Greden (an attorney, though not a UM law school graduate, who also represented Ward 3) on the Monroe Street issue.

From: Taylor, Christopher (Council)
Sent: Tuesday, February 03, 2009 11:10 AM
To: Fraser, Roger
Cc: Miller, Jayne; Dempkowski, Angela A; Greden, Leigh; Lloyd, Mark; Hieftje, John
Subject: Monroe St. Closure


The Dean of the Law School (and Third Ward resident) has contacted Leigh and me to meet regarding the proposed closure of Monroe Street. We hope to schedule this meeting for next week. To prepare, I would be grateful if you and Staff could provide for us by 2-9 am:

1) A description of the state of conversations between City and University on the subject.

2) Any technical information you believe relevant, including potential/likely harms/costs to the City that would result from such a closure.

Also too if you have any questions, thoughts or advice on matters that I may not have considered, I am, as ever, all ears.

Many thanks,


The non-public conversations between the university and the city have continued past the second public discussion in early 2009. Here’s an email exchange from the summer of 2010 involving UM law school alum and city councilmember Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and a UM project director in architectural and engineering services, Thomas Schlaff. It leads to setting up a meeting with UM director of community relations Jim Kosteva [emphasis added].

From: []
Sent: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 5:09 PM
To: Schlaff, Thomas
Cc: Caminker, Evan
Subject: Monroe Street

Dear Tom,

I attended a reception last night on the U Mall sponsored by the Law School, and engaged Dean Caminker in a conversation regarding the new building and the status of Monroe Street. In addition to being an alumn of the Law School, I also presently serve on the City Council. I was specifically interested in the timing regarding action of the proposal before the City to vacate a block of it, and also the relationship of that action to the timing, and expense, of construction of the whole project, and who I could talk to regarding these matters. He suggested you and Larry Bowman, and Jim Kosteva. I happened to see Jim at lunch today, and he was interested in doing so.

So I woulld like to get together with you, Jim and Larry some time, perhaps next week, for about an hour, and perhaps also at or near the site (Dominics?) [sic] to talk about it. Jim said he would be happy to facilitate it.

I will be gone from early tomorrow through Monday, but will be checking my email. I hope we can do so; perhaps you could also call Jim Kosteva re same.


Tony Derezinski


From: Thomas Schlaff”
To: “tderezinski” Cc: “Evan Caminker”
Sent: Thursday, June 24, 2010 10:26:49 PM
Subject: RE: Monroe Street


Thanks for messaging, and would love to gather with you and Jim. I’ll call Jim and make sure we get a date soon to chat. Next week would be great.

Again, thank you for your note, and especially for your support for our very special Law School Project.


Thomas G. Schlaff, P.E. – Project Director
Architecture, Engineering & Construction
The University of Michigan


From: “Alicia Boltach”
Sent: Monday, June 28, 2010 4:13:03 PM
Subject: Meeting w/Jim Kosteva

Tom and Tony,

Jim has requested to meet with both of you to discuss Monroe Street.

He has asked for the meeting to occur around the 4 p.m. hour and to
occur at Dominick’s. Please see below available dates and respond with your availability.

Thursday, July 1st: 4 p.m.
Friday, July 2nd: 4 p.m.
Tuesday, July 6th: 4 p.m.
Thursday, July 8th: 4 p.m.
Kind Regards,


Alicia Boltach
Office of the Vice President for Government Relations
University of Michigan

More recently, this past summer the university was interested in talking to councilmembers about two topics: Monroe Street and football stadium security.

By way of background, as a security measure the university has been interested in seeing the block of Main Street between Stadium Boulevard and Pauline Street closed during home football games. According to the city, the closure of Main Street for the Sept. 10 game between Notre Dame and UM this year stemmed from security concerns related specifically to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and was a one-time event. However, UM’s interest is in closing down Main Street for that block as a matter of standard operating procedure for home football games.

Closure of Main Street is related to the general issue of logistics on home football game days, which is a topic that includes both security (fire and police) and traffic controls. Historically, the university has reimbursed the city’s costs for extra staffing of fire and police on game days, but has refused to reimburse the city for costs related to traffic controls.

This year, the city council passed a resolution directing its city administrator not to provide traffic management services on football game days unless the city’s costs were reimbursed. And the university agreed to reimburse those costs, but at a much lower level of service.

In a phone interview with The Chronicle, UM’s Kosteva clarified that the clearly contemporaneous conversations about football stadium security and Monroe Street, indicated in the email below, were just that: contemporaneous but separate conversations that were part of the same meeting:

From: Robyn Snyder []
Sent: Monday, June 06, 2011 11 :22 AM
To: Robyn Snyder
Subject: Meeting with Jim Kosteva – University of Michigan

Good morning,

Jim Kosteva the University of Michigan, Director of Community Relations would like to request a half hour of your time to discuss
the universities [sic] interest in Monroe Street-Stadium security. We understand how busy you are, but if you can, please take a moment to complete this doodle poll for your availability. This can take place someplace for a coffee, or in your office.

Link to poll:

Once a date and time has been established, I will email you with a confirmation.

If you are unable to access this poll, or have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Thank you for your time.

Robyn Snyder
Administrative Assistant Intermediate
University of Michigan
Office of the Vice President for Government Relations


From: Teall, Margie
Sent: Tue 6/7/2011 4:12 PM
To: Higgins, Marcia; Hieftje, John; Taylor, Christopher (Council)
Subject: FW: Meeting with Jim Kosteva – University of Michigan

Did all of Council receive this request?


From: Taylor, Christopher (Council)
Sent: Tue 6/7/2011 4:57 PM
To: Teall, Margie; Higgins, Marcia; Hieftje, John
Subject: RE: Meeting with Jim Kosteva – University of Michigan

Yes. Met with the gentleman today.

Christopher Taylor
Member, Ann Arbor City Council (Third Ward)


From: Higgins, Marcia
Sent: Wed 6/8/2011 10:24 AM
To: Taylor, Christopher (Council); Teall, Margie; Hiefije, John
Subject: RE: Meeting with Jim Kosteva – University of Michigan

How did that go?


From: Taylor, Christopher (Council)
Sent: Wed 6/8/2011 2:59 PM
To: Higgins, Marcia; Teall, Margie; Hieftje, John
Subject: RE: Meeting with Jim Kosteva – University of Michigan

He said he’d give us everything we wanted. [Ed. note: Read on to see that Taylor is kidding.]

Christopher Taylor
Member, Ann Arbor City Council (Third Ward)


From: Higgins, Marcia
Sent: Thu 6/9/2011 12:54 PM
To: Taylor, Christopher (Council)
Subject: RE: Meeting with Jim Kosteva – University of Michigan

what do we want?


From: Taylor, Christopher (Council)
Sent: Thu 6/9/2011 12:55 PM
To: Higgins, Marcia
Subject: RE: Meeting with Jim Kosteva – University of Michigan

He didn’t say that.

Christopher Taylor
Member, Ann Arbor City Council (Third Ward)


From: Higgins, Marcia
Sent: Thu 6/9/2011 2:39 PM
To: Taylor, Christopher (Council)
Subject: RE: Meeting with Jim Kosteva – University of Michigan

are you pulling my leg here?

Public Conversations Between Public Bodies

Conversations about handing over control of a city block’s worth of public right-of-way to another entity should obviously take place in the public sphere.

UM director of community relations Jim Kosteva typically prefers to describe the city-university relationship as like “a marriage where divorce and separation aren’t an option.” That’s the analogy he drew for a group of visitors from Chapel Hill, North Carolina exactly three years ago last Friday. A member of that group Twittered out Kosteva’s remarks, which The Chronicle has preserved forever in its New Media Watch archives.

@orangepolitics is Twittering live the remarks of A2 and UM luminaries. Highlights: “Jim Kosteva, UofM: ‘town-gown relations are like a marriage wher divorce is not an option.’ Then he hands the city councilwmn some flowers!” Councilwoman in question is Briere.

I disagree with Kosteva that this is an appropriate analogy – although sometimes it might seem to residents in student neighborhoods like the university has a habit of leaving its underwear lying around the living room.

It’s not an appropriate analogy, because marriages are between private individuals, and topics of conversation in the context of a marriage are inherently not required or expected to happen in public view. But that is exactly the expectation for conversations between two public entities like the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan: They need to happen in public view.

I don’t think a colorful analogy is required to understand what the university’s relationship is to the city. What’s most useful is the straightforward factual description: The city and the university are two public landowners, whose property and activities are often proximate to each other.

The city and the university should thus behave like two landowners. If one landowner wishes to have control of the other landowner’s property, then what typically happens is that some kind of negotiation takes place between the two parties, and some consideration is offered in exchange for control of that property. The amount of consideration offered is based on some sort of standard prevailing practice.

An example of that is the kind of discussion taking place now between the city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA) in connection with a strip of city-owned land. The six-foot-wide strip is adjacent to the two downtown parcels occupied by the Blake Transit Center (BTC). As part of the planned reconstruction of the BTC, the AATA would like to align the parcel boundaries.

The city of Ann Arbor is not simply handing over the six-foot-wide strip to the AATA. Instead, it’s being appraised, and there’ll ultimately be a cash transaction based on that appraisal. The acquisition of the six-foot strip has been mentioned at several AATA board meetings during routine updates.

Some kind of compensation was pointedly not a part of the university’s proposal back in late 2009 and 2010, when the city was asked to cede control of its right-of-way for an entire block of Monroe Street.

But currently, the conversation between the city and the university about Monroe Street has reportedly evolved to include some kind of payment. The amount of the deal and its structure – a one-time payment or a series of payments in perpetuity – is still an open question.

That evolution reflects progress. A deal struck on its fair financial merits would help avoid the possibility that an agreement on Monroe Street was being played as a quid pro quo in connection with some other deal – like Fuller Road Station, for example, or payments for traffic controls on football game days.

At a budget retreat held in December 2010, former city administrator Roger Fraser cautioned councilmembers against playing a game of tit-for-tat on unrelated issues involving the city and the university. Fraser’s comments came in response to a councilmember suggestion that if the university continued to refuse reimbursement to the city for costs of traffic management on football game days, the city should be uncooperative in some other area – like Monroe Street.  Fraser cited the specific example of Fuller Road Station, where that tit-for-tat strategy could yield undesirable results. [Fuller Road Station is a large parking structure, bus depot and possible train station that's a joint city/UM project. Design is already underway, but a contract laying out financial terms and other aspects of the partnership hasn't been publicly announced.]

In Kosteva’s recent phone interview with The Chronicle, he also described how he did not think it was in the interest of the overall health of the city-university relationship to play one situation off against an unrelated one. He likened it to a negotiation between spouses in which one agreed to attend a concert with the other as a condition on the other coming along to visit an unpleasant relative.

The marriage analogy aside, Kosteva still arrives at essentially the same conclusion as Fraser, as reflected in Fraser’s comments at the budget retreat. Each situation should be handled on its own merits. I think that’s the right way to approach Monroe Street.

And that means two questions need answers. First, does the city even want to do a deal on Monroe Street? Second, what should the deal structure and dollar amount be? The answers to those questions should be worked out in public view. And now’s a good time to start.

I’d like to focus on the second of these questions, because it looks like that second question will need an answer fairly quickly for a different UM project.

Potential Precedent: Institute for Social Research Expansion

North of Jefferson Street, between Division and Thompson streets, UM is building an expansion to the Institute for Social Research.

Institute for Social Research Expansion

The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research expansion is indicated in reddish brown, to the northwest of the existing building. The project will result in the net loss of one metered parking space.

Constucting that project as currently planned will result in the elimination of two metered parking spaces on Thompson Street, which is partly balanced out by the addition of a parking space on Division Street.

So the ISR expansion will result in the net loss of one metered parking space.

The city of Ann Arbor completed its review of the ISR project this summer and signed off on it.

Although the university’s projects are not subject to site plan approval by the planning commission and the city council, city staff from various departments do review the plans and provide comments. Those documents are available through the city’s eTrakit system. [Projects aren't linkable, but the ISR project can be found by searching for address, project name, or by project number: UM10-014]

Among the city’s review materials for the ISR expansion are two memos from Joe Morehouse, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority deputy director, to Connie Pulcipher, a city of Ann Arbor systems planner. [Morehouse Memo 1] [Morehouse Memo 2]

The memos from Morehouse address specifically the issue of the net parking loss associated with the ISR expansion. Morehouse cites a March 4, 2009 DDA resolution that addresses the value of on-street parking spaces. The resolution adopts the policy recommendations of the DDA board’s operations committee and encourages the city council to do the same. Those policy recommendations include the following:

Thus it is recommended that when developments lead to the removal of on-street parking meter spaces, a cost of $45,000/parking meter space (with annual CPI increases) be assessed and provided to the DDA to set aside in a special fund that will be used to construct future parking spaces or other means to meet the goals above. [.pdf of meeting minutes with complete text of March 4, 2009 resolution]

The $45,000 figure is based on an average construction cost to build a new space in a structure, either above ground or below ground.

So the March 4, 2009 resolution essentially calls on the city council to adopt a policy on the elimination of metered parking spaces – which it has not done over the last two and a half years. However, a new contract signed between the city and the DDA this year, under which the DDA manages the city’s public parking system, gives some impetus for action on this issue and provides a role for the DDA to help determine what that policy will be for removal of on-street parking. [emphasis added]

2. Operational Powers and Responsibilities Within DDA Parking Area

The City shall work collaboratively with the DDA to develop and present for adoption by City Council a City policy regarding the permanent removal of on-street metered parking spaces. The purpose of this policy will be to identify whether a community benefit to the elimination of one or more metered parking spaces specific area(s) of the City exists, and the basis for such a determination. If no community benefit can be identified, it is understood and agreed by the parties that a replacement cost allocation methodology will need to be adopted concurrent with the approval of the City policy; which shall be used to make improvements to the public parking or transportation system.

The ISR expansion involves just one parking space. One friction-free option for UM would be to simply pay the $45,000 that the DDA is recommending as the value attached to an on-street space. In the context of a $23 million project, $45,000 doesn’t seem like a lot.

However, that would likely define expectations for the dollar figure attached to any Monroe Street deal. And with 22 parking spaces at stake on Monroe Street, UM could be looking at more than $1 million as the starting point of a conversation about how much more should be paid to account for the additional right-of-way control beyond the elimination of the parking spaces. [Back in 2009, the number of spaces was described as 22; a recent count of meter heads on the block by The Chronicle gave nine twin-head meters, or 18 spaces, plus a loading zone area.]

Price of a Parking Space

Part of the challenge in determining a fair way to do a deal on Monroe Street is that there’s not really a robust market for Ann Arbor city streets. How would you establish the comparables?

Price: Community Benefit

In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Kosteva did not argue for a specific dollar figure or a particular deal structure. But he did suggest some questions that the discussion should include.

One is the issue of “community benefit,” mentioned in the city-DDA parking contract. Kosteva is right in pointing out that this is somewhat vague.

Depending on how the council and the DDA wind up defining the phrase, it might turn out that elimination of parking spaces on Monroe Street meets the criteria of a “community benefit.” In that case, there’s no need to contemplate a parking space replacement cost methodology.

For example, it might be possible to construe “community benefit” in a way that translates any benefit enjoyed by the university, given its prominent role in the city’s economy, to a benefit enjoyed by the entire city. This would essentially formalize the idea that whatever is good for the university is also good for the city, and therefore a community benefit.

But that goes against the principle that each specific situation should be evaluated unto itself. It hardly makes sense to say that a Monroe Street closure will benefit the community economically because of the additional jobs that the university’s new children’s hospital will bring to the city. On the other hand, if the university could demonstrate that the Monroe Street closure would allow the enrollment of X additional law students, or the hiring of Y additional faculty, that could be part of a case that closing down Monroe Street brings an economic benefit to the community.

It’s not crazy to insist on that kind of specific accounting to claim a community economic benefit. It’s exactly the standard that’s used in evaluating the merits of a tax abatement, for example.

Economic benefits aren’t the only kind of benefit. If UM were proposing to close down Monroe Street so that a small skatepark could be built there and used by Ann Arbor’s skateboarding community, then that might conceivably meet a reasonable definition of “community benefit.” It would provide an amenity for city residents that they currently don’t have. [This is by way of a hypothetical example. As far as I know, no one is interested in seeing that location become a skatepark.]

But to sum up, I don’t see any reasonable way of defining “community benefit” that would encompass the closure of one block of Monroe Street. Indeed, I would point to the same considerable community detriment noted by attendees at the December 2009 public meeting and Ann Arbor city planning commissioners three months later.

Price: Who’s Asking?

Another question identified by Kosteva in his phone interview with The Chronicle is this: Should all parties be treated the same way?

Without arguing either side, Kosteva suggested that as the city and the DDA work to develop a policy, it’s worth considering whether a large multimillion-dollar private company seeking to build a large headquarters in downtown Ann Arbor should be treated the same way by the policy that a nonprofit organization – like a church – would be treated.

I think that’s a fair question.

But I think it’s clear that any difference in treatment should be based not on who the party is, but rather on the earlier notion of community benefit. If the large multimillion-dollar private company can demonstrate that X jobs will be created as a result of a project that eliminates the on-street parking spaces, then that’s relevant to the discussion. In the same way, if a church can demonstrate that its project will draw Y additional worshipers from outside the city every Saturday morning, some percentage of whom will stay for lunch in Ann Arbor restaurants, then that potential economic benefit is relevant to the discussion.

But I can’t see any reason to treat different parties differently based purely on who they are.

Price: Value Based on Parking Revenue

But even if we treat all parties equally, that doesn’t mean that we have to treat all parking spaces equally.

That’s an additional consideration suggested by Kosteva that should be part of the conversational mix as the city and the DDA develop the policy. Specifically, Kosteva suggested that the revenues generated by a metered parking space could factor into an assessment of the relative value of a parking space, compared with other spaces in the parking system. Some spaces generate more revenue than others, based on where they’re located.

Note that this is not equivalent to suggesting that replacement of a specific meter’s revenue would be appropriate compensation for eliminating that parking space. Rather, it’s a suggestion more like the following: If Meter A generates twice as much revenue as Meter B, then even if the starting point of a replacement cost allocation for a parking space is $45,000, surely it matters whether Meter A or Meter B is proposed for elimination.

Leaving aside the question of the absolute revenue, if a meter is generating so little revenue that the city and DDA don’t perceive a need to actually construct a parking space to replace it, it doesn’t make complete sense to insist that a payment be made to pay for the cost of replacing it. It’s possible to conceive of some kind of “discount” for low-revenue meters, or perhaps a surcharge for particularly high-revenue meters.

That’s all very well and good. But how much revenue do Monroe Street parking meters generate, and how does that compare to the rest of the parking meters in Ann Arbor’s public parking system?

Systemwide, here’s the distribution revenue annually by percentiles: bottom third generates 0-$960; middle third generates $961-$1,963; upper third generates more than $1,963. [The DDA is currently engaged in designing a tiered pricing structure for downtown parking meters – based on demand for the spaces, where demand is measured by revenue generated. So keeping track of this information is part of the DDA's current work plan.]

Taking the average of annual revenues generated by six of the meters for the Monroe Street block (those for which The Chronicle was able to identify data) yields $1,643 per year. So it appears that the Monroe Street meters are firmly in the mid-range for parking meter revenue systemwide.

In that case, at least for the Monroe Street meters, it’s hard to see how any “discount” that might be developed for the cost replacement allocation formula would apply to the Monroe Street spaces.

So based on a count of 22 spaces and the DDA-recommended $45,000 figure, the parking replacement cost would be $990,000 – a one-time cost. [The DDA's recommendation does not contemplate any additional payments.]

Of course, what the university hopes to achieve goes beyond the parking spaces, and includes control of the entire right-of-way.

Price: Based on Right-of-Way Rental

Rental of the right-of-way is another way to think about the Monroe Street proposal. For construction projects (requiring, for example, a temporary lane closure) the city applies a standard rate for the rental of public right-of-way: 1.5 cents per square foot per day.

Public right of way square footage

The aerial photo provided by the Washtenaw County online mapping system still shows the surface parking lot south of Monroe Street. South Hall now stands at that location. The rectangle is drawn based on the parcel boundaries displayed on Washtenaw County's mapping website. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Using 17,500 square feet as a figure for the amount of public right-of-way at stake (as measured using online mapping tools through the Washtenaw County website), that would work out to about $96,000 annually.

From the university’s point of view, it might be not be desirable to enter into an arrangement that’s based on an annual payment in perpetuity. And it’s possible to argue against the 1.5 cent rental rate on the grounds that right-of-way rental for construction purposes is not the same thing as permanent control of the right-of-way. Ordinarily, there’s some kind of discount for rental agreements where the tenant is willing to sign on to a longer lease.

But from the city’s point of view, a right-of-way rental at $96,000 annually needs to be the starting point for the negotiation. If there’s not a $96,000 annual payment to be made in perpetuity, and the deal is instead structured as a one-time payment, then that lump-sum should be based on something real, not just pulled out of thin air.

One possibility for a real number is the projected useful life of any new parking structure built by the DDA: 75 years. So one approach would be to say that after 75 years, the $96,000 annual payment from UM to the city would end. That would amount to a total of $7.2 million (75 × $96,000) paid over the course of 75 years. If UM wanted to negotiate a lump sum payment (to avoid writing a Monroe Street check every year), presumably the city should be willing to negotiate downward from $7.2 million.

Monroe Street Doctrine

To oversimplify it, the Monroe Doctrine, expressed by President James Monroe in 1823, said “hands off” the Western Hemisphere to future colonization by other countries:

We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.

Translating that to city-university terms would amount to a declaration that any attempt by the university to expand the campus would be considered as dangerous to the city’s peace and safety.

That seems overwrought and probably would lead to endless frustration – the university is free to purchase land from people who want to sell it. [In fact, UM regents just last week approved the purchase of a parcel that's currently the site of an apartment building, at 716 Oakland Ave., just around the corner from Monroe Street.]

But to my eye, there’s an obvious part of that Monroe Doctrine excerpt that could be adopted as a doctrine to help guide city-university relations on the side of the city. It’s the part about candor.

So in closing, I’d  suggest something along the following lines:

We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan that we should consider any land transfers between these two parties only in the context of public meetings between public officials.

There are multiple mechanisms through which this conversation can occur publicly. Those might include communications from councilmembers during their council meetings, or full-on working sessions attended by councilmembers and university officials.

Whatever the mechanism, it’s time to put the Monroe Street conversation in public view.

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  1. September 17, 2011 at 10:02 pm | permalink

    Dave -

    While I appreciate that valuing a parcel for its parking revenues is a reasonable exercise, I’m afraid that it’s a poor public policy to make the parking capacity of a piece of land the sole arbiter of its value to a community.

    Consider that if you did the math wrong, you’d conclude that the Ingalls Mall should be returned to its former glory as a parking lot as it was in the 1930s; all of that lovely grass could be more profitably be turned back into tarmac, and just think what premium prices you could command if you auctioned them off.

    Consider also that the DDA’s value of a parking space is not necessarily the University’s value of a parking space. The U was able to put up a new structure on Thompson and open it for use before the DDA’s downtown dig was completed, and the Thompson St project is described here


    as producing a net gain of 273 spaces for $15.7m, at a cost of $57,500 or so per space in capital costs.

    Correspondingly, you can look at the current U of Michigan permit schedule


    and note that a “Gold” space (which would be those Madison St spaces) are worth $1531/yr.

  2. September 17, 2011 at 10:06 pm | permalink

    Excellent, thoughtful exposition. I agree that this conversation should be held in the public view.

    My opinion: that if we are to cede a street to the UM, a couple of things should happen:

    1. Assurance that pedestrian and bicycle traffic should not be impeded;

    2. That the UM make some other concession of equal (qualitative) value to the city. Not just a little piddly rent, but a real concession that has some weight.

    One has to bargain carefully with the UM. The way a portion of Fuller Park has been subsumed in order to save a few burr oak trees is a case in point.

  3. September 17, 2011 at 10:07 pm | permalink

    actually, to amend my initial comment, the $57,500 per space is high, because the project also created 9,000 sq ft of “office and support space” which has some substantial value.

  4. By Ben
    September 17, 2011 at 11:08 pm | permalink

    Did the city get anything when U-M closed East U. or Ingalls? Just curious what the precedent may be.

    You can look at EMU, too, as an example of a closed campus. There are no through streets, and I think the campus suffers for it. It’s essentially a big blob you have to drive around – a big green blob with some very nice buildings.

  5. September 17, 2011 at 11:19 pm | permalink

    Re: [1] “I’m afraid that it’s a poor public policy to make the parking capacity of a piece of land the sole arbiter of its value to a community.”

    The discussion in the column is not based on that premise. See, for example, “Of course, what the university hopes to achieve goes beyond the parking spaces, and includes control of the entire right-of-way,” and the subsequent section on calculation of value based on right-of-way rental rates. See also the inclusion of the possibility in the DDA-recommended policy that some other community benefit, provided by alternate use of the land, could eliminate the need to undertake a calculation of the parking space replacement cost.

    As pointed out in the column, city control of the right-of-way has a value independent of the ability to park cars there. Specifically, the ability for automobiles to travel down that block, and the overall perception that Monroe is a city street, not a part of the UM campus, carries with it (at least for some people) the value that the university campus is incrementally more integrated into the rest of the city than it would be if Monroe street were closed off.

  6. By Alan Goldsmith
    September 18, 2011 at 7:00 am | permalink

    “Conversations about handing over control of a city block’s worth of public right-of-way to another entity should obviously take place in the public sphere.”

    Hopefully they will now. Thanks.

  7. By Dave (not Askins)
    September 18, 2011 at 9:45 am | permalink

    As a former service employee to a local company, I often used these parking spaces to service accounts at the U of M. Finding allowed parking for vehicles on campus was a never ending battle. I had to lug large amounts of equipment required to provide the services I performed. The boss was not willing to pay through the nose for those very expensive on-campus parking passes. These passes were only specifically for certain parking areas and often were spaced farther then on-street parking that I could locate closer. My boss opted to pay the expired meter tickets, which were cheaper over the year then the cost of the passes. If we allow the U of M to continue to close access to the public through road closures, we will see this trend repeat itself throughout the city, when the U of M deems it a necessity for their benefit. The back-door deals that go on in this town by our elected officials and anyone dangling the golden carrot, is in my opinion, not in the public’s interest in any form. Makes me wonder what other deals are already decided, but buried and yet to be discovered through a FOA request.

  8. By Walter
    September 19, 2011 at 8:35 am | permalink

    Your analysis seems a bit long. Having noted the City’s BTC deal with the AATA, and the square footage of the Monroe St. right-of-way, why didn’t you get an estimate of the private market value? Assuming that U of M wants, in effect, ownership, that figure might be a more reasonable starting point than extrapolation of the current short-term right-of-way rental rate. If the City wants to keep a right-of-way for foot and bicycle traffic, that might lower the price. Similar if the City expects U of M to provide replacement parking spaces, or address other concerns of the local residents and Dominick’s.

  9. By Rick Cronn
    September 19, 2011 at 11:56 am | permalink

    The names on the letters and emails are the usual cast of back room dealers making decisions for us plebes.

    Secret meeting and conversations? Conflict of interest? Why am I not surprised? Move along, nothing to see here…until the deal is done. Then all will be revealed.

    Great work, Dave.

  10. By Steve Bean
    September 19, 2011 at 1:37 pm | permalink

    “If the large multimillion-dollar private company can demonstrate that X jobs will be created as a result of a project that eliminates the on-street parking spaces, then that’s relevant to the discussion.”

    The widespread belief that jobs are a community benefit is a self-perpetuating myth. Not that that will ever be a topic of discussion (as opposed to dismissal or derision), not even here. So…

    If you’re going to try to value those on-street parking spaces, Dave, keep in mind that revenues don’t take into account their after-hours use.

    Ah, the ability to get back to the details when the big picture is simply beyond comprehension.

  11. By B Brown
    September 19, 2011 at 3:09 pm | permalink

    I agree with Dave(not askins) about service vehicles parking.
    After driving a U-M bus for almost 30 years, I’m aware but I’m not sure the decision-makers are aware, of the many charter bus trips to and from the Law School. Hutchins hall is one of the few places multiple buses can load and drop off passengers safely. Otherwise S. State St and/or S.University St. become single lanes, causing horrible traffic jams and irate drivers.
    I can’t imagine that the University wants to force their guests, the class of ’58,to walk 3 blocks in foul weather to hunt down their bus to get back to Weber’s.
    Each bus is 40 ft. long, please think about that.
    Another safety issue in winter time: State St. often becomes icy, or at least very slick, and Monroe St. has been a good option for those not willing to risk the hill there.

  12. By john floyd
    September 19, 2011 at 9:10 pm | permalink

    Why wouldn’t we use Issue A to gain leverage on Issue B? The U seems at least as unreasonable in its dealings with the city as it is arrogant. Without use of what pressue points we have, it seems hard to even get the attention of the U.

  13. September 20, 2011 at 1:09 am | permalink

    One more estimate of value comes from the appraisal of the 6-foot-wide piece of land that the city is going to sell to the AATA downtown. You reported that was $90,000 for 792-square-feet of land, or about $113/sq ft. At that price, this parcel would be worth nearly $2 million – more than the “parking replacement cost” measure, but less than the “75 times annual short-term rental” measure.

    I wonder what that parcel would fetch on the open market if the city decided to sell it to someone else other than the U. Is it wide enough to be buildable? Just think what the rents you could get from an apartment that was seconds from the Law School.

  14. By abc
    September 20, 2011 at 9:01 am | permalink

    “Is it wide enough to be buildable?”

    I see no reason for it to be considered unbuildable; there is roughly 100 feet between buildings. Granted, the style of the current buildings may not lend themselves to this but there is more than one example in town of buildings spanning roadways. Underground is also possible and we have examples of that too. The long and short of it being buildable is that it is a third of an acre unencumbered by zoning (setbacks, height limits, etc.). Note Tower Plaza is 60 feet by 125 feet.

    I am also aware that it has been reported that the university wants this space to be a pedestrian space which may mean that any development would be underground. David, has there been any discussion about the utilities that are most likely under this piece of real estate?

  15. September 20, 2011 at 9:11 am | permalink

    Re: “David, has there been any discussion about the utilities that are most likely under this piece of real estate?”

    Sorry, I don’t know.

  16. September 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm | permalink

    I disagree that there should be a clear change at the campus edges as one goes from the town to the gown and campus. We should encourage infilling the buildable areas around the edges, such as this street, and parking lots along the interface, whether U or city owned, especially if it encourages walkability. Infill with quality, mixed use places offering retail, restaurants, office and residential. Extend the walkable, place based characteristics of State and Main into “reaches”into the campus. Add life, people and density. All the land owned by the city would be offered on a long term (eg. 99 years) land lease based on the development. The U should do the same with their parking lots and unused open space. Economically, the fair market land rent would be 10% of the fair market sales value, which would be 15% of the value of the proposed development. All the private property development is on the tax roles. Everybody wins, including the budget woes of the city and University. Peter

  17. September 22, 2011 at 11:23 am | permalink

    Thank you for the analysis. This issue does deserve some public debate.

    I too would be interested to know what the terms of the Ingalls Mall deal were.

    And I kind of like the skatepark idea. Or some other public use beyond just a pedestrian link between two U buildings.

  18. By Jordan
    October 13, 2011 at 5:02 am | permalink

    That would be a good spot for a skatepark!

    But I can’t believe nobody has seen fit to mention the Monroe Street Fair. A primary aspect of this fair is that a certain sort of consumption is encouraged on the city side of the city/state jurisdictional line. Transferring this property, in its entirety, to the state eliminates the core activity (and urban landscape) of the fair and threatens the entire decade-long tradition.

    Obviously this would be another example of value beyond parking spaces.