Archive for July, 2012

In the Archives: On Keeping Your Pants Up

Offered at Ypsilanti clothing store Sullivan and Cook almost exactly 100 years ago – in July of 1912 – were invisible suspenders.

Invisible suspenders

Invisible suspenders were patented in 1900.

On absorbing this tidbit of information, the perplexed reader may justly wonder how on earth one could pick out a particular style of said accessory – or would style even matter? At a 2-for-1 invisible suspender sale, how would a buyer know he’d received both pairs? What if the invisible suspenders were mislaid around the house, never to be found again?

Such questions are justified, if slightly surreal, for anyone unacquainted with this clothing item once widely available in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and across the nation.

From obscure elastic hangs a tale of changing worlds.

Far from being a passing fad, invisible suspenders were a tiny signifier of vast inexorable social change in early 20th century America, and as iconic in their humble way as the Model T. [Full Story]

Library Bond Moves Toward Nov. 6 Ballot

Ann Arbor District Library special board meeting (July 30, 2012): Setting language for a $65 million bond proposal was the focus of Monday’s special meeting, when the board voted unanimously to approve text for the Nov. 6 ballot. Board member Ed Surovell was absent.

Jan Barney Newman

AADL board member Jan Barney Newman reads the resolution regarding bond language for the Nov. 6 ballot. (Photos by the writer.)

Earlier this month, the board had voted to move forward on this bond initiative. If approved by voters, it would fund a new downtown building at the current site. At Monday’s meeting, AADL director Josie Parker stressed that the $65 million covers the cost of the entire project, not just the building itself. Other costs include demolition of the existing structure, moving costs and leases for temporary locations.

Passage of the bond proposal on Nov. 6 would result in an initial bond millage levy in July of 2013. It’s estimated that 0.56 mills would be levied in the first year, with an average annual rate of 0.47 mills over the 30-year period.

The new building would be on the downtown library’s current site at 343 S. Fifth Ave., on the northeast corner of Fifth and William. Parker gave a brief history of the site, to explain why that location is preferred. One major factor relates to the site’s previous ownership by the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Until 1995, the library was part of the AAPS.

A separation agreement with the school system gives AAPS the right of first refusal if AADL decides to sell the site. If the school system decides to buy it, AAPS would pay only 65% of the market value. If AAPS doesn’t buy the property and AADL sells it to another entity, AAPS gets 35% of the net sale proceeds. All of that factored in to the board’s decision to stay on the site, Parker noted.

Two advisors to AADL on this bond issue – James P. Kiefer of Dykema and Paul R. Stauder of Stauder, Barch & Associates – attended the July 30 meeting and answered questions from the board. Board members asked only a few clarificational questions, including some related to the millage rate, use of bond proceeds, and the possibility of local downtown development authorities capturing a small portion of the bond millage.

After the meeting, the library immediately posted a six-page information sheet with frequently asked questions about the project. The FAQ includes a chart showing estimates of how much individual property owners will pay. For example, the owner of a house with a market value of $200,000 is expected to pay $56 annually, based on a levy of 0.56 mills.

For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: “AADL Board: Renovation Not the Best Option” and “Campaign Launches for Library Bond.” [Full Story]

A2: Environmental Cleanup

A Michigan Radio report looks at cleanup efforts of the MichCon site along the Huron River in Ann Arbor, where manufactured gas was made in the late 1800s and early 1900s by burning coal. The report quotes Kevin Lund, a senior geologist with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality’s remediation division, regarding contamination in the river bed: “We were just collecting samples along the way and were finding exactly this all the way through here. And one of the locations that we dug, a hole in the bank, it filled with oil.” [Source]

West Park

Two players enjoying a morning match on the recently completed tennis court.

Bond Ballot Language OK’d for New Library

The Ann Arbor District Library board approved ballot language for placing a $65 million bond proposal on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot for a new downtown library. The board took the unanimous vote at a July 30 special meeting. Board member Ed Surovell was absent.

Two attorneys who are advising the AADL on this bond issue – James P. Kiefer of Dykema Gossett and Paul R. Stauder of Stauder, Barch & Associates – attended the meeting and answered questions from the board.

The ballot language states: “Shall the Ann Arbor District Library, formed by the Ann Arbor Public Schools and the City of Ann Arbor, County of Washtenaw, State of Michigan, borrow the sum of not to exceed sixty-five million dollars ($65,000,000) and … [Full Story]

W. Washington

Big Blue University of Michigan bus labeled “South Hotels” transporting trainers of National Electrical Contractors Association.

W. Stadium & Arbordale

A daily market stand in the parking lot of Dimo’s Deli is selling sweet corn, peaches, tomatoes and other produce. [photo]

Push to Make Art Commission More Accessible

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (July 25, 2012): A push for greater public engagement was a theme throughout the July AAPAC meeting, with John Kotarski – one of the newer commissioners – proposing several ways to get more public input.

John Kotarski

Ann Arbor public art commissioner John Kotarski at AAPAC's July 25, 2012 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At Kotarski’s suggestion, commissioners considered three items related to AAPAC meetings: (1) adding a second opportunity for public commentary; (2) changing its meeting times; and (3) alternating the locations of its meetings. Kotarski also raised the possibility of recording the proceedings to be broadcast on Community Television Network (CTN).

The additional public commentary – offering speakers a second three-minute slot at the end of each meeting – was ultimately approved. Less enthusiasm was expressed for pushing back meeting times to later in the day. AAPAC meetings currently start at 4:30 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month, and are held in the basement conference room at city hall. Kotarski proposed moving the meetings to different locations throughout the city, such as schools or other public sites, to make it easier for more people to attend. Commissioners had reservations about that idea too, nor was there much support voiced for a suggestion to record the meetings for broadcast by CTN. Kotarski plans to bring a specific proposal on these items to an upcoming meeting.

Another proposal by Kotarski – to include support for local sourcing as part of AAPAC’s strategic plan – was rejected by other commissioners. Some commissioners felt the idea didn’t fit into a strategic plan, because it was not an action item. Others questioned whether local sourcing of art projects was within AAPAC’s purview, because the commission doesn’t have authority over the city’s purchasing policies. They’ve also been advised that they can’t put geographic constraints on their selection of artists, and felt this would apply to sourcing, too.

Ultimately a four-year strategic plan was approved without Kotarski’s revision. The plan’s goals, in summary form, are: (1) increasing the number of public art pieces throughout the city; (2) diversifying the public engagement and participation in selecting public art; (3) increasing the public’s support and appreciation for public art through PR efforts; and (5) pursuing private funding for public art. More detailed objectives are provided for each of the goals.

Kotarski also was unsuccessful in convincing other commissioners to support an endorsement policy for non-city-funded art projects. AAPAC passed a resolution stating that the commission would not make endorsements – and Kotarski cast the lone dissenting vote. In a separate item, Kotarski joined his colleagues in a unanimous vote to establish an SOQ (statement of qualifications) process that creates an artist registry/database. The intent is to streamline the selection of artists for future projects.

During the July 25 meeting, commissioners were updated on several ongoing projects, including a follow-up on concerns raised last month about the Dreiseitl installation in front of city hall, artwork at a planned rain garden at Kingsley & First, and the status of security checkpoints allowing access to a hanging sculpture in the Justice Center lobby.

There were no updates for some projects because those projects are still being reviewed by the city attorney’s office. Several commissioners expressed frustration at the length of time these reviews are taking. One commissioner wondered what tools AAPAC can use to influence the process, perhaps by appealing to another level within the city administration. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin agreed to draft a letter on the issue, and to discuss it with city councilmember Tony Derezinski, who serves on the commission but has not attended its June or July monthly meetings.

Action was deferred on proposed projects for public art at two locations: (1) a plaza next to the Forest Avenue parking structure near South University; and (2) a future roundabout at Ellsworth and South State. Commissioners wanted more time to visit those sites. They also debated whether to postpone action until task forces are formed to represent four quadrants of the city – it’s part of a new approach they’re planning to take to help guide the selection of projects and ensure that all parts of the city are represented.

The commission is likely to get more advance notice of possible projects, as Aaron Seagraves – the city’s public art administrator – will now be attending meetings of the capital improvements plan (CIP) team. The CIP is relevant to the art commission because funding for the Percent for Art program comes from the city’s capital projects –  with 1% of each capital project, up to a cap of $250,000 per project, being set aside for public art. The CIP also indicates which major projects are on the horizon that might incorporate public art. By identifying such projects, AAPAC can start planning the public art component as early as possible, as part of the project’s design, rather than as an add-on. [Full Story]

A2: Economy

The Detroit Free Press reports on the health of Ann Arbor’s economy, focusing on its low unemployment rate – the lowest in Michigan. The article quotes experts like economist Richard Florida, who states that “Ann Arbor is the new growth engine of the greater Detroit region.” Other experts cite the area’s highly educated workforce, the University of Michigan, and industries like technology and health care. But the only actual job seekers quoted in the article are Tyler Mettie, who found a part-time job washing dishes at Tios restaurant, and Keely Ann Kaleski, a software training manager who’s still out of work. [Source]

East Kingsley

“There, I fixed it!” – an ingenious (or at least unique) installation of a window air conditioner. [photo]

City Council Campaign Finance Crosses Wards

A preliminary analysis of pre-primary campaign finance reports for the four contested races in the Aug. 7 Ann Arbor city council Democratic primary shows a total of $53,050.25 in cash was raised by the eight candidates combined, with the average donor contributing a bit over $100.

Which Ward is this

Shaded areas indicate Ann Arbor’s five wards. Colored dots denote the address of a donor to a campaign – brown for one candidate and orange for the other candidate. Which ward’s race does this map show? Details below.

The two candidates in Ward 5 raised a combined total greater than any other ward – with Chuck Warpehoski raising $9,558 and Vivienne Armentrout receiving about $2,000 more, at $11,350. Warpehoski’s total came from a significantly greater number of donors than Armentrout’s contributions, but were on average much smaller. Armentrout and Warpehoski are competing for the Democratic nomination and will face Republican Stuart Berry in November. Sitting Ward 5 Democrat Carsten Hohnke decided not to seek re-election.

Raising slightly less than Ward 5 candidates were incumbent Ward 2 councilmember Tony Derezinski ($8,475) and challenger Sally Petersen ($7,947). The distribution of donation sizes was similar for the Ward 2 candidates, and both showed a much higher per-donor average than the citywide figure – $163 for Derezinski and $139 for Petersen.

In Ward 4, Democratic primary voters will have the same choice they had in 2010 – between incumbent Margie Teall and challenger Jack Eaton. This year, they have raised roughly the same amount of money – Teall with $4,685 and Eaton with $4,305.

Ward 1 showed the greatest difference in the amounts raised by the two candidates, as Sumi Kailasapathy raised about 70% more than Eric Sturgis – $4,220 compared to $2,510 for Sturgis. The seat will be open because Sandi Smith is not seeking re-election.

A common theme across all the campaign finance reports is the significant support candidates receive from outside the ward they’re seeking to represent. That’s a trend visible in the maps we present after the jump.

Part of that trend can be explained by the number of city residents who donate money to more than one campaign. Out of the nearly 500 different donors across the eight campaigns, 58 donated to two or more campaigns, and 23 donated to three or more. The Chronicle counted nine donors who contributed to four different city council campaigns.

Many observers perceive a grouping of candidates based on shared basic philosophies – Kailasapathy, Petersen, Eaton and Armentrout on the one hand, contrasted with Sturgis, Derezinski, Teall and Warpehoski. While there’s likely considerable room for disagreement about what the common thread is that ties those candidates together, the multiple-campaign donors bear out a perception of some commonality: Of the 58 multiple-campaign donors, all but three squared up with that candidate grouping.

The three donors identified by The Chronicle as flouting that grouping included 22nd circuit court judge candidate Carol Kuhnke, who gave money to both Ward 2 candidates (Derezinski and Petersen) as well as Sturgis and Teall. Past Ward 2 candidate Stew Nelson gave money to Petersen and to Sturgis. And former Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member Ed Shaffran donated to Teall and to Armentrout.

Which group had more multiple-campaign donors? There the nod goes to the group with no incumbents – Kailasapathy, Petersen, Eaton and Armentrout – with 39 of the 58 multiple-campaign donors. [Full Story]

Main Street

The National Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, a collaborative labor management training partnership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association, is welcomed to town for the National Training Institute. Nearly 3,000 electrical instructors from the The US and Canada will participate in training. [photo]

First & Washington

Line around the corner at 6 p.m. for Blind Pig. One of the younger people in line says they are waiting for Logic.

Access, Security, and Art at Justice Center

The balance between access and security at the city’s newly constructed Justice Center was part of the agenda for a July 16, 2012 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council’s building committee.

Possible alternate security configuration for Ann Arbor Justice Center. The orientation is with east at the top. Fifth Avenue is at the bottom of the diagram.

Possible alternate security configuration for Ann Arbor Justice Center. (The orientation of the diagram is with east at the top. Fifth Avenue is at the bottom of the diagram.) Estimated cost of changing to this configuration is about $225,000.

At the meeting, held in the hour before the regular city council meeting at 7 p.m., committee members were briefed on different options for modifying security at the building to improve public access. Currently, visitors to the Justice Center go through a security checkpoint very near the entrance to the building, off the Huron Street plaza. The building houses the 15th District Court as well as the city’s police department.

Among the options committee members were presented is the possible relocation of the airport-style screening station to a position closer to the elevators, on the Fifth Avenue side of the building. Estimated cost for the different options ranges from $30,000 to $225,000.

The work of generating different options came in the wake of concern by some city councilmembers about adequate access to a piece of art they had approved for purchase and installation in the lobby. Councilmembers weren’t content that visitors who wished merely to view the art would have to undergo security screening, and were skeptical that the art would be adequately visible from outside the building through the horizontal bands of etched glass on the Justice Center windows.

That piece of art is a suspended sculpture called “Radius,” by Ed Carpenter. It’s funded through the city’s Percent for Art public art program. Part of the council’s discussion on the artwork back in early May had included a desire to look at options for relocating the security screening checkpoint – and there was an indication that the council’s building committee would convene a meeting to address that possibility. For some councilmembers, there’s a desire to see better public access to the Justice Center lobby independent of the installation of public art there.

At the council’s July 2, 2012 meeting, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) had inquired about the status of the building committee’s meeting. She’d been told by city administrator Steve Powers that the security screening was on the committee’s July 16 agenda.

The committee did not deliberate in depth on the different options – partly because the final invoices and costs for the municipal center building project aren’t final, so it’s not clear if money might remain in the project budget to handle alterations of the security screening station. [The municipal center refers to the Justice Center and adjacent city hall.] Any change to the current security configuration would first be recommended to the full city council by its building committee, with necessary expenditures approved by the city council before implementation by the city administrator.

Councilmembers who attended the July 16 committee meeting included Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Margie Teall (Ward 4), and mayor John Hieftje. Staff included city administrator Steve Powers, facilities service unit manager Matt Kulhanek, chief of police John Seto, and CFO Tom Crawford.

After the jump, this article includes more detail on the different security configuration options and the cost breakdown. [Full Story]

UM: Olympics

“Maize and Blue Go for the Gold” – a website highlighting the University of Michigan’s connections to the 2012 London Olympics – has launched with a photo gallery, roster of current UM students competing in the Games, and stories about past and present UM Olympians. The university has also created a Twitter hashtag – #MGoLondon – for tweets about UM at the Olympics. Opening ceremonies will kick off tonight. [Source]

Column: Time to Reconsider Olympics Custom

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Tonight, the U.S. Olympic team will enter London’s Olympic Stadium, led by Mariel Zagunis, the American flag bearer. What you probably won’t see, however, is Zagunis dip the American flag, unlike every other nation’s flagbearer.

Last week, I mentioned the origins of this unique custom in passing, but it deserves its own story.

At the fourth Olympiad in London 104 years ago, the American team was the only one that refused to dip its flag to the host nation during the opening ceremonies. A tradition was born.

The question is: Is this a tradition we should keep?

Before you answer, it might help to consider how it started. [Full Story]

Main Street

A caravan of about 12-15 vans with insignia saying DOT seen cruising along in a northerly direction.

Montgomery & Bemidji

New six-unit condo development called Montgomery Woods – evocative of Old West Side two-story homes – is nearing completion. [photo] Price on real estate brochure: $419,000. Sign in front states starting price at $386,000. [photo]

Burrowing Under Railroad Berm: Feasible?

On Wednesday, Ann Arbor city staff led a tour of property starting from the city-owned 721 N. Main site, northwards to the entrance ramp of M-14. On the tour were some members of a recently established North Main-Huron River corridor task force.

BirdsEye view of railroad berm

View of Depot Street from the south. The railroad track curves northward as it passes by Argo Dam, visible at the top of this image.

They were briefed on the status of the 721 N. Main property’s status with respect to potential environmental contamination – which is apparently less certain than what’s been portrayed recently by elected officials.

Task force members were also briefed on a related project that’s in its initial stages: a feasibility study for opening up the railroad berm separating the area south of Depot Street (including 721 N. Main) from the Huron River. The railroad tracks run along the top of the berm. The idea is to study the possible impact of replacing the solid berm – which acts as a dam for stormwater flow from the Allen Creek creekshed – with a culvert or a trestled system for suspending the tracks.

The primary impetus behind the berm project is stormwater management and flood mitigation. That’s reflected by the fact that the source of funds for the roughly $50,000 feasibility study would be from the city’s stormwater utility. The feasibility study would move ahead only if it’s approved by the city council, which will likely have the item on its agenda in about two months.

But the railroad berm study also has implications for pedestrian connections and riverside access – which the task force is supposed to study. The task force is asked to create a vision that, among other things, improves pedestrian and bicycle connections to Bandemer Park and increases public access to riverside parks.

So the railroad berm feasibility study has been coordinated with the goal of pedestrian accessibility. The RFP (request for proposals) for the study includes among its tasks a study of the potential for non-motorized access through the railroad berm.

The problematic character of pedestrian movement on the North Main corridor was evident during the July 25 tour. As the tour group made its way northward toward the M-14 entrance ramp, it repeated a pattern of fracturing into smaller clusters and re-grouping. That was partly a function of the size of the group (about 10 people), but also the corridor itself.

The relatively narrow walkable space – between the road to the left, and fences, buildings or vegetation on the right – features sidewalk slabs in need of repair and sections of dirt path that require single-file passage. Noise from rush hour traffic made conversation difficult along the way.

A year from now, on July 31, 2013, the task force is supposed to deliver its report on a vision for the corridor. Earlier than that, by the end of 2012, the task force has been asked to provide a recommendation on the use of 721 N. Main.

For task force members and members of the public, the same tour will be repeated on Aug. 1, starting at 5 p.m. from 721 N. Main. [Full Story]

WCC: Rose Bellanca

The Washtenaw Community College board of trustees has given WCC’s president, Rose Bellanca, a one-year contract extension and 2% raise, according to a report in the Washtenaw Voice. Her annual salary after the raise is $198,900 and her contract now runs to 2015. Bellanca was hired in 2011 to replace long-time WCC president Larry Whitworth. [Source]