Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Oct. 5, 2011): At its regular monthly meeting, the DDA board had no voting items on its agenda, but received the usual set of reports from its committees and the public.
Those included the monthly parking report, which showed use of the city’s public parking trending upward compared to last year, as well as an annual report on the structure-by-structure breakdown of the parking system.
The reports presented to the DDA board at their meeting – together with a recent report delivered to the city’s environmental commission about parking trends dating back to the mid-2000s – provide reason for some cautious optimism. The number of people getting access to downtown Ann Arbor by driving there and parking suggests an overall slight upward trend, despite a reduced number of number of hourly patrons earlier this year.
Also related to parking, the board received a presentation on a communications plan that the DDA is developing, targeted at downtown evening employees. That communications plan is meant to make sure those employees are aware of low cost alternatives to using on-street parking spaces. The communications strategy would be part of a possible plan to extend enforcement hours for on-street parking meetings past 6 p.m. The DDA will present its tentative proposal for revisions to parking policies to the city council at a joint working session of the board and the council to be held on Nov. 14.
In response to some of the individual success stories that were presented in connection with parking alternatives, DDA board member Russ Collins said, “I wonder how this positive message will play in the media.”
Collins’ remark could have applied to much of the rest of the meeting as well. The board took the report on the basic current financial health of the parking system as an occasion to talk about the overall economic strength of the downtown. Despite the recent closing of some smaller stores, board members gave reports of strong performances by other businesses.
That positive report contrasted with public commentary about ongoing problems with aggressive panhandling and drug dealing and other fringe behavior exhibited downtown. Mayor John Hieftje, who sits on the DDA board, described how some response is being developed by the Ann Arbor police department.
The construction updates on the Fifth and Division streetscape improvement project and the underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue converged on the Ann Arbor District Library. The projects will result in modifying the downtown library building’s front porch, to facilitate access from the new east-west mid-block street – Library Lane – into the library.
As the underground parking garage nears expected completion in the spring of 2012, brief discussion unfolded among DDA board members on the near-term use of the top of that garage. Also related to potential development in the “midtown area” was a report from the partnerships committee. A steering committee comprising DDA board members and community members will be leading the effort to explore alternative uses of specific city-owned parcels downtown, including the top of the underground parking structure (aka the Library Lot).
It was the first board meeting chaired by Bob Guenzel, who was elected to that position at the DDA’s last meeting, which he was unable to attend.
Roger Hewitt gave the regular report on the parking system. [.pdf of monthly parking report and annual structure-by-structure analysis] He highlighted the annual profit-and-loss statements for each structure for the past year.
Hewitt noted that those parking structures that have paid off their debt service are profitable, and those that still have outstanding debt are less profitable. For example, he said, Liberty Square has no debt service as well as less labor expense, because it’s unattended. Liberty Square has an annual net income of $1,852/space.
From the report, the structures with bond payments still associated with them have the lowest net annual income: Fourth & Washington (-$610/space), Fourth & William ($53/space) and Maynard ($517/space). Last year, the public parking system as a whole showed a net annual income of $3,452,389, which worked out to $508/per space.
Hewitt note that the new underground parking structure is planned to be unattended – but that doesn’t mean there will be no staff on site. There’ll be maintenance people on site, for example, he said. For a parking structure to be “unattended” means that there won’t be cashiers, he explained.
Hewitt said the DDA is also looking at converting other specific parking structures to operation without cashiers. The DDA is looking at various ways to decrease operating expenses. Hewitt noted that on-street meters are profitable because there is no labor attached to them. Overall, Hewitt said, the revenue is quite good.
Although revenues in the public parking system have continued to show increases since the national economic downturn in 2008, Hewitt has often noted on the occasion of his regular updates to the board over the last couple of years, and in a presentation to the city council, that the increase in revenue is either steady or only sightly more than what would be expected, given the rate increases that have been implemented with city council approval over the last three years.
In August 2011, revenues were up by 11.93% and the number of hourly patrons (as contrasted with those who have monthly permits) were up 4.86% as compared to August 2010. That was a bright point for board members at the Oct. 5 meeting.
In August 2010, the basic rates for structures, surface lots and meters were: $0.90, $1.10 and $1.20 respectively. In August 2011, the rates were $1.00, $1.20, and $1.20, respectively. So the August increase of nearly 12% in revenues outpaced the rate increase.
By way of background on the rate increases, the DDA sent the proposed rate increase to the city council in February 2009, which the city council did not choose to veto. That schedule has been implemented starting in September of each year, after the start of the fiscal year, which begins in July.
STRUC LOT YEAR HRLY PERMIT HRLY METER FY 2009 $0.80 $125 $1.00 $1.00 FY 2010 $0.90 $130 $1.10 $1.20 FY 2011 $1.00 $135 $1.20 $1.20 FY 2012 $1.10 $140 $1.30 $1.40
To provide additional perspective on demand for access to downtown Ann Arbor, as measured by use of the parking system, a compilation of monthly year-over-year comparisons from last year’s DDA board meeting information packets yields the following charts:
In addition to the last two years’ worth of DDA revenue and hourly patron data, it’s useful to look at a report that city environmental coordinator Matt Naud recently completed and presented to the city’s environmental commission. The report was conducted as a condition of the settlement of an environmental lawsuit filed against the city in connection with the underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue, which is currently under construction. ["City Settles Lawsuit, Must Conduct Study"]
It’s important to note that the report compiled by Naud focuses on “garage parking events,” which are not the same as the statistic the DDA tracks called “hourly patrons.” Naud’s study was confined to parking structures, and counted the entry into a garage by a permit holder as a “parking event.” Use of a surface lot was not counted in Naud’s study as a “parking event.” The focus of that study was on the question of how the construction of additional parking structures impact the number of parking events.
The result of the study on its central question could fairly be described as indeterminate. However, the report shows a steady increase from 2005 to 2009 of parking events in downtown Ann Arbor, despite any number of mitigating factors, such as increased bus ridership:
The demand for access to downtown Ann Arbor as measured by the use of the public parking system is likely to be a point of discussion in connection with two current development projects in and near downtown: The Varsity Ann Arbor and Heritage Row.
Heritage Row is a planned unit development (PUD) located one block south of the underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue and outside the DDA district. In connection with Heritage Row, one possibility the city council may be asked to contemplate – at its Oct. 17 meeting – is approval of that project without any on-site parking requirement.
At the Oct. 5 meeting of the DDA board, Roger Hewitt noted that bond costs for the new underground garage will change the revenue and expenditure picture. The underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue between Liberty and William is one of two major construction projects currently managed by the DDA.
Construction Convergence: Library Lane
John Splitt reported on the two major construction projects currently being managed by the DDA: Fifth and Division streetscape improvements; and the underground parking garage. Light poles have been installed on the 200 block of South Fifth, Splitt said. That finishes everything connected to the streetscape improvements except for the block of Fifth Avenue between William and Liberty. That will need to wait until the underground parking garage is complete, he said.
For the parking garage, the east leg is now waterproofed and back-filled with pea gravel. For that east leg section, form work is starting for the surface concrete pouring. [The deck is being constructed from east to west.] For the middle of the garage, more concrete will be poured next week. Splitt said that for the phase under Fifth Avenue, it was hoped to be done as soon as possible. The DDA is pushing Christman Company, the construction manager for the parking garage, to complete that phase by Dec. 31 to get the street opened back up, but Splitt said it could be into January.
John Mouat said he felt that the new Library Lane (a newly constructed east-west mid-block connector between Division Street and Fifth Avenue) always gets forgotten in all of the discussion about the parking garage. He noted that the DDA is now involved in a discussion with the Ann Arbor District Library about the connection from the library to Library Lane. Russ Collins quipped that it should be called “Parker Place,” alluding to AADL director Josie Parker, who was in the audience.
Parker was asked to come to the podium to update the board on the Library Lane and library building connection. For the moment, she said, because there’s not a new library being built, they’re simply working on redesigning the existing front of the building – which has its public entrance on Fifth Avenue – to get patrons easily from Library Lane to the existing entrance of the building as it is currently located. Part of the plan includes tearing off some elements at the front of the building and redoing them, Parker said. The idea is to reconfigure some of the existing porch area, she said.
When people talk about the Fifth and Division streetscape improvements and finishing up the 300 block of South Fifth Avenue, the library frontage is included in that, Parker said. [The DDA's streetscape project will be paying for this work.] She expressed that the library appreciated very much the library’s inclusion in the planning. The library was grateful for the attention that’s been given, and the effort to accomodate the libary has been tremendous, she said.
The construction work has had a great impact on library workers and patrons, Parker said, but she added that use of the library has not declined during construction on the underground parking garage. Alluding to the downturn in business suffered by nearby businesses like Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden – about which their owners have been vocal – Parker allowed that other neighbors have had a different impact.
John Splitt noted that it might not be possible to finish the sidewalk on both sides of Fifth Avenue before spring, but completion of the east side first – the library side – is the goal.
During the discussion of the underground parking structure, Sandi Smith asked what the plan was currently for the surface of the deck. Would it be surface parking? Splitt clarified that surface parking on top of the underground garage would be located primarily in the center section of the deck [viewed from east to west, not top to bottom] and that section would not be finished until the spring.
The top of the underground parking garage is one of five city-owned parcels that the DDA is currently considering for alternative uses – under the direction of the city council given in April 2011. The others are the former YMCA lot, the Palio lot, the Kline lot, and the bottom floor of the parking structure at Fourth and William.
Future Use of Midtown City-Owned Parcels
Joan Lowenstein reported on the the planning process to frame the redevelopment of five city-owned parcels in the downtown that the DDA will be considering.
The partnerships committee had worked on a goals statement for the midtown planning project, she said. [Midtown is the name of one of downtown's zoning overlay character districts, which includes Fifth Avenue as a civic corridor.] Committee members had discussed the idea of forming a leadership steering committee to shepherd the project. That committee would work directly with DDA staff.
Members of the committee who’d agreed to serve in that capacity include: Brittany Affolter-Caine (Ann Arbor SPARK director of talent enhancement); Ron Dankert (former DDA board member and broker with Swisher Commercial); Bob Galardi (retired Ann Arbor Public Schools administrator); Stas’ Kazmierski (managing parter at ZingTrain); Kirk Westphal (film producer, founder of Westphal Associates and member of the Ann Arbor planning commission); Tony Lupo (formerly director of sales and marketing at Salon Vox, now brand manager at New York-based Oribe Hair Care); Nancy Shore (director of Ann Arbor’s getDowntown program); Hillary Murt (member of Michigan Theater board, and former owner of Pen in Hand); and Bonnie Valentine (director of sales and marketing with the Whole Brain Group).
The first meeting of the steering committee will take place on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 3 p.m. at the DDA’s offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave. Lowenstein said the meeting will be open to the public. Serving on the committee for the DDA will be Lowenstein, Sandi Smith and John Mouat.
Lowenstein described how the partnerships committee had discussed what the deliverables will be for the planning project, which included a defined role for the area, a framework plan and a set of future goals, and a decision-making matrix, all in one document. The idea is also to look at alternative scenarios for achieving development, Lowenstein said – RFPs (requests for proposals) in addition to other options.
Lowenstein also reported that a communications subcommittee of the partnerships committee had been created, consisting of Russ Collins and Newcombe Clark. The goal of the communications subcommittee is to develop a toolbox of resources to communicate with the public and with each other.
Clark reported out that the communications subcommittee will aim to increase DDA visibility and public awareness of what the DDA does and how it adds value. The approach will be both reactive and proactive, he said. The plan is to involve professionals who know how to do public relations and communications. The initial work plan will be to bring in professionals and see what they think the DDA should do. The subcommittee will report out every month. Once the subcommittee has created a toolbox, staff will use it, he said. Collins said he felt that the subcommittee could make good progress for the benefit of the board and the downtown.
Commenting on the midtown development plan, Sandi Smith allowed that it seemed like it was taking a long time, but she saw no reason to rush. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Downtown Planning Poised to Pause"]
Downtown Behavioral Issues
During public commentary John Teeter, manager at First Martin Corp., introduced himself by saying that First Martin managed 10 different properties in the DDA district. He wanted to share with the board some of issues the real estate company has been suffering thorough with respect to crime and panhandling. He stressed the importance of separating perceptions from the reality – perception is actually a separate issue from the actual problem, he said. The problem, he said, is not homelessness. It’s things like urinating and defecating in elevators. He said that compared to the past 13 years, the problem is worse now than it’s ever been.
The problem is not the local homeless population, Teeter said. Rather, the problem is aggressive panhandling and drug dealing. He described the Ann Arbor community as having been generous with its resources for this part of the population. But just because the community offers more robust support services, he cautioned, doesn’t mean this behavior should be tolerated downtown. He said that one solution would be to apply pressure with police, but he recognized the challenge of doing that in the current fiscal climate. The police force needed to be given sufficient tools and manpower. He ventured that maybe some stronger ordinance language would help.
Teeter told the board that he was not there just to complain. First Martin is trying to help things, he said. First Martin takes care of picking up trash at Liberty Plaza six days a week. [The park is immediately adjacent to a First Martin property]. He said that First Martin also takes care of some upkeep at Wheeler Park and the corner at Depot and Main. Because much of the problem is drug- and alcohol-related, Teeter said, First Martin will be donating $1,000 to the Dawn Farm outreach program.
Diana Neering, chief development officer at the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, addressed the board to present the DDA with the annual Robert J. Delonis Community Service award. Neering thanked the DDA for its recent support in the form of a grant. [At the DDA board's Oct. 6, 2010 meeting, a year earlier, a $218,050 grant from the DDA's housing fund was awarded for improvements at the association's Delonis Center on Huron Street. The money was to pay for new washers and dryers, lockers and chairs, an emergency generator, energy conservation measures, medical equipment and software.]
Neering then shared a shelter success story about a man who had come to the Delonis Center shelter and how the shelter staff had helped him.
Also realated to the shelter, in his report out from the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, Ray Detter began by saying that the construction of the Delonis Center would not have happened without Bob Guenzel (then Washtenaw County administrator and now chair of the DDA board) and the strong support of Leah Gunn (currently a Washtenaw County commissioner and DDA board member).
As newly elected chair, Guenzel was prepared to proceed with the agenda after public commentary. But mayor John Hieftje interjected that he’d previously suggested adding an agenda item to allow board members to respond to public commentary, and he felt that this was very good time to do that. With Guenzel’s indulgence, Hieftje then reviewed a meeting the day before held by the downtown marketing task force, when Teeter had expressed many of the same sentiments he’d expressed during public commentary.
Chief of police Barnett Jones had been there, Hieftje said, as well as representatives of the downtown merchant associations. He had then met later with the chief and deputy chief of police, and he felt that they’d come up with some good ideas. He indicated that some new things will be announced in the next few weeks.
One strategy will be that community standards officers will be issuing tickets in alleys for dumpster violations. They’ve sent out notice to merchants saying that they’ll be looking for violations starting in November. Also being considered is stepped up enforcement of the city’s graffiti ordinance. Hieftje said he figured that businesses will push back, but that the merchant associations have said they’ll support the city’s efforts at enforcement. Hieftje said he wanted to make sure everybody gets adequate warning of the stepped up enforcement.
Hieftje said the perception is worse than the problem itself, but is equally meaningful. He went on to describe Ann Arbor’s issues as relatively minor compared with other cities. Other than the unsolved sexual assaults, it’s been a good year with respect to crime stats, Hieftje contended.
Guenzel asked Hieftje if the downtown marketing task force was again meeting monthly. Hieftje indicated it was and that they had a schedule of nine times a year with no meetings in the months of July, August, and December. He said it was nice to have city council members (Sandi Smith and Sabra Briere) and DDA members present for the most recent meeting.
Business Climate Downtown
Russ Collins offered a comment on the relative downtown vitality in Liberty-State area. [Collins is executive director of the Michigan Theater, located near the intersection of Liberty and State.] In August, Collins noted, systemwide parking use was up significantly over a year ago – revenue was up 12% and the number of hourly patrons was up 5%. Collins added that the Michigan Theater had had an unusually strong August. Roger Hewitt, who owns the Red Hawk Bar & Grill and Revive + Replenish downtown, said his two businesses had also had a strong September. He allowed that five University of Michigan home football games can affect things – positively.
Adding to the positive message, Hieftje reported that during the downtown marketing task force meeting the previous day, South State Area Association president Tom Heywood had said that despite the challenges faced by some smaller establishments, business is booming. Hieftje said Heywood had contended at the meeting that the new CVS pharmacy on South State had generated the highest amount of sales per square foot in that chain.
Collins continued with the theme that the right business can succeed in downtown Ann Arbor, by noting that when the John Leidy Shop closed, the Michigan Theater had looked to put a penny candy store in the space – as an extension of something the theater already did, which is to sell concessions. But his organization’s business and market analysis found that such an enterprise was not supportable. He was therefore not surprised when the candy store that set up shop there found it difficult – the Michigan Theater’s business planning would have forecast that outcome, concluded Collins.
Sidewalk, Street Repair Millage
Guenzel asked DDA executive director Susan Pollay if there was an update on the situation with the sidewalk millage. Pollay reviewed how there’d been a general discussion at the operations committee meeting about the two millages on the November ballot: 2 mills for street, and 0.125 mills for sidewalk repair. The DDA’s understanding is that the city will take over repairs previously assigned to property owners, except inside the DDA district, where there will be restrictions. Millage money would be spent on sidewalks inside the DDA district, only if they are adjacent to single-family houses or duplexes. Guenzel confirmed with Pollay that the city’s expectations of the DDA are still being checked out.
Hieftje then commented that he did not feel city councilmembers are out in the community saying that the city absolutely needs the millage or that it’s essential. The sidewalk millage merely offers residents a choice, he contended, of having the city take over the responsibility for sidewalk repair. Everybody who was given notice under the last five-year cycle of the sidewalk repair program will have to pay, Hieftje contended – no one gets a free ride. He reported that the city council’s resolution of intent on the use of the sidewalk and street repair millage funds was still pending before the council.
Public Art, Design
The previous night’s meeting of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, said Detter, had begun with the group’s attendance at the dedication of the new fountain designed by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl. Detter described how more than 200 people attended to celebrate the water sculpture, where mayor John Hieftje gave a speech. Former chair of the city’s public art commission, Margaret Parker, as well as the current chair, Marsha Chamberlin, had also made remarks, he said. He said the CAC had for years supported the city’s Percent for Art program.
Detter recounted how in the 1990s, three CAC members had worked with Jan Onder and Parker on the downtown public art committee. With guidance from local architect Dick Mitchell, they had injected art into the Fourth and Washington parking structure, he said. Detter described how one of the meetings took place in Espresso Royale, and how a man who’d overheard their conversation about what they wanted to do had come over to say he wanted to give the group $25,000. Detter identified the man as the owner of the Amadeus building. When former DDA chair Reuben Bergman had passed away, Detter said, another $13,000 had been donated. Within a matter of a few month, Detter said, Onder had raised another $85,000.
After the dedication ceremony for the fountain on the municipal center plaza, Detter said, the CAC discussed The Varsity at Ann Arbor project. [The same evening as the dedication, the city planning commission voted to recommend approval of The Varsity; it will now be forwarded to the city council. Detter spoke during public commentary at that meeting.] Detter noted that it was the first project to be reviewed by the newly-established design guidelines board. The board had identified design elements that were present and lacking in the project. The board did a good job, he said. He noted that the review by the design guidelines board is mandatory, but compliance is voluntary. He said the developer did a good job in making improvements to the design.
Detter concluded by saying that the city’s commitment to good building design and public art will make the pedestrian experience better.
Bob Guenzel, former Washtenaw County administrator, opened the meeting by saying, “I went away and got elected chair of this group!” He was absent from the board’s Sept. 7, 2011 meeting. Roger Hewitt responded to Guenzel by saying, “That’s how it works, Bob!”
The board had been without a chair because board member Gary Boren, who had been elected to that post by his board colleagues at their July 6, 2011 meeting, was not nominated by mayor John Hieftje for reappointment to the board after his term expired on July 31. Boren was replaced on the board by local attorney Nader Nassif.
Adopting a more serious tone, Guenzel said it’s a great honor to chair the DDA board and said he felt it would be a good year.
On the Horizon
The board’s Oct. 5 meeting included a presentation from DDA planning and research specialist Amber Miller and getDowntown director Nancy Shore on low cost alternatives for evening employees to use on-street parking spaces. At a Nov. 14 joint working session with the Ann Arbor city council, the DDA board will be presenting a proposal to the council for changes to parking rates and policies, which could include extension of enforcement hours past 6 p.m.
The board also received an update on the status of the getDowntown program and the go!pass, which had been presented to the DDA’s transportation, operations and communications committe the previous week. [See Chronicle coverage: "Also Discussed by DDA: getDowntown, Parking"]
Present: Nader Nassif, Newcombe Clark, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.
Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Nov. 2, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [confirm date]
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