Dems Forum Part 4: Downtown Ann Arbor

Candidate forum addresses density, DDA, hotel/conference center, balancing investments in downtown and neighborhoods

Editor’s note: A forum hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party on June 8, 2013 drew six of seven total city council candidates who’ve qualified for the primary ballot.

From left: Julie Grand (Ward 3 challenger), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3 incumbent), Jack Eaton (Ward 3 challenger), Mike Anglin (Ward 5 incumbent), Kirk Westphal (Ward 2 challenger), Sabra Briere (Ward 1 incumbent).

From left: Julie Grand (Ward 3 challenger), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3 incumbent), Jack Eaton (Ward 4 challenger), Mike Anglin (Ward 5 incumbent), Kirk Westphal (Ward 2 candidate), and Sabra Briere (Ward 1 incumbent).

In the Aug. 6 Democratic primary, only two wards offer contested races. In Ward 3, Democratic voters will choose between incumbent Stephen Kunselman and Julie Grand. Ward 4 voters will have a choice between incumbent Marcia Higgins and Jack Eaton. Higgins was reported to have been sick and was unable to attend.

The format of the event eventually allowed other candidates who are unopposed in the Democratic primary to participate: Mike Anglin (Ward 5 incumbent), Sabra Briere (Ward 1 incumbent), and Kirk Westphal, who’s challenging incumbent Jane Lumm in Ward 2. Lumm, who was elected to the council as an independent, was in the audience at the forum but didn’t participate. The event was held at the Ann Arbor Community Center on North Main Street. The Chronicle’s coverage is presented in a multiple-part series, based on common threads that formed directly in response to questions posed to the candidates, or that cut across multiple responses.

More than one question posed to candidates was explicitly designed to elicit views on downtown Ann Arbor. Taken as a group, the questions prompted responses that formed several discrete subtopics related to land use and planning: planning in general; planning specifically for city-owned properties; and planning for a hotel/conference center.

Another general theme covered the role of the downtown in the life of the city of Ann Arbor, with additional subtopics that included: the appropriate balance of investment between downtown and non-downtown neighborhoods; who should and does benefit from the downtown; and the role of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

This report includes candidate responses on these issues.

Part 1 of this series focused on the candidates’ concept of and connection to Ann Arbor, while Part 2 looked at their personal styles of engagement and views of how the council interacts. Part 3 reported on the theme of connections, including physical connections like transportation, as well as how people are connected to local government. Chronicle election coverage is tagged with “2013 primary election.”


Several of the candidates’ remarks related to themes that could be grouped together under the notion of planning.

Planning: Zoning, Density

Julie Grand noted that people have concerns about changes in the downtown landscape. And the 413 E. Huron development really seems to be the building that represents those concerns the best, she said – due to its proximity to a residential neighborhood. She attributed part of the concern to a sense that this change has been very rapid, and “very jarring.” “We wanted density in the downtown,” she said, but it wasn’t anticipated that it would involve adding mostly students in the downtown. “Those who supported density didn’t think it was going to be blocky buildings and students,” she said. Rather, they thought density was going to bring boomers and young professionals – and they were going to live in architecturally interesting buildings.

Grand indicated she was pleased that the city’s planning commission is now reviewing the D1-zoned properties – especially those parcels that are close to residential neighborhoods. [D1 is the zoning that allows for the highest density development.] She remains in favor of density in the downtown, and feels that there are now some opportunities, especially with the city-owned properties downtown, to “get it right” and to build buildings that are really consistent with what the community wants.

Jack Eaton thought the 413 E. Huron project needs to be considered in the broader perspective of the A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) zoning. Radical, broad changes to downtown zoning were made, he contended, that didn’t comply with the city’s master plan. He agreed with the idea of creating an area in the core of the city that is dense. But the master plan calls for buffers – between that density and the nearby neighborhoods. And on that, he continued, “we failed miserably.” He had opposed the A2D2 plan at the time for that reason. When the 413 E. Huron site plan came forward, there was a proposal to impose a moratorium so that the city could go back and make the zoning compliant with the master plan requirement for buffer zones.

Eaton characterized his opponent in the Ward 4 race, Marcia Higgins, as one of the driving forces behind the A2D2 zoning that was flawed with respect to its incorporation of buffers, he said.

Stephen Kunselman said the 413 E. Huron project had resulted in a distrust of the whole planning process. He’d participated in the Calthorpe process back in 2004 when mayor John Hieftje appointed him to the planning commission, he said. He was very supportive of downtown density and efforts to bring residential living downtown. But he said it’s been a little discouraging that recent projects had all been geared toward student housing. He added, “You know, we’ll see how it plays out.” Kunselman called for cleaning up the periphery so that the example of 413 E. Huron is not repeated.

Mike Anglin said the hardest topic the council has addressed has been development. Every time a big, contentious development has come before the council, it’s taken an “inordinate amount of time,” Anglin said. He indicated some frustration about the fact that planning staff and the city attorney’s office should be directing the council on zoning issues. He characterized the long A2D2 zoning process as not being very effective. He observed that the council obviously was not unanimous about the 413 E. Huron building. [The project had been approved on a 6-5 vote at the council's May 13, 2013 session.]

Planning: Hotel/Conference Center

Jack Eaton stated that he’s not opposed to a downtown hotel or a downtown conference center. But he’s opposed to the city subsidizing either of those kinds of projects. He thought if there’s a market for a downtown hotel, a hotel company will come in and build one. As for a downtown conference center, he expressed confidence that there is no market for one. And any community that has engaged in subsidizing a downtown conference center has found itself throwing money into a hole for decades, Eaton contended: “It just doesn’t work.”

The Valiant Partners, who had proposed a downtown hotel and conference center, expected the city to pay for building it and expected the city to operate it forever, Eaton contended. He said we shouldn’t spend our tax money in that fashion. If there’s a market for those things, we should let it happen, he allowed. Certainly in the D1 zoning district downtown, somebody can come downtown and buy a parcel and do those things. But the city government should not involve itself financially in those opportunities, he concluded.

Julie Grand agreed that if there is going to be a downtown hotel and convention center, then the city should not pay for it. When the city had solicited proposals, it had been “a learning process,” she said. But she felt the city council had heard loud and clear from residents that they did not want to pay for a downtown conference center. If there is such a center, and it’s successful, then that’s great, she said. Grand was definitely not opposed to a new hotel space being built downtown. She’d heard over and over again that there’s a lack of hotel space downtown. A downtown hotel could bring more people to the downtown and help with positive activation of downtown space.

Grand said she’s interested in the question: How do we make our downtown spaces more active, safer, and in line with the community needs? If there is a hotel and conference center that someone wants to build, then she thought that needed to be considered carefully – adding that the city should not be using tax dollars to pay for it.

Stephen Kunselman said it’s great to know that other candidates at the forum agreed that public subsidies shouldn’t be used to promote a downtown conference center or hotel. He counted himself in the same camp. He pointed out that during all the discussions of the last couple of years, two new hotels have been built out at Briarwood. That showed that the private sector knows when it needs to build a hotel and knows where to put it. Briarwood had been chosen because that’s where parking is available, he said, and it provides easy access to the expressways.

“We can pontificate all we want about the need for a hotel downtown, but those of us who grew up in Ann Arbor remember the story of the Ann Arbor Inn which sat empty for many, many years,” Kunselman cautioned. If there was truly a market for it, somebody else would have taken that risk. And obviously they are not choosing to do so at this time, he concluded.

Planning: City-Owned Properties

On the subject of balancing development, Julie Grand questioned the idea that people want development throughout the city. That’s not necessarily what she’s hearing out in the neighborhoods, she said. There are some very dense neighborhoods in Ward 3, where she lives. Residents don’t want dense development – they feel it’s already dense enough as it is, she said. Grand noted that it’s important to build density in those places where people want density. And one of the ways that can be done – an approach over which the city council has a lot of control – is by using the downtown city-owned properties as an example.

By way of background, five of those downtown city-owned properties were the subject of the Ann Arbor DDA’s Connecting William Street project: (1) the Kline parking lot (on the east side of Ashley, north of William), (2) the parking lot next to Palio restaurant (northeast corner of Main & William), (3) the ground floor of the Fourth & William parking structure, (4) the former YMCA lot (on William between Fourth and Fifth), which is now a surface parking lot, and (5) the top of the Library Lane underground parking garage on South Fifth, north of the downtown library.

Grand described herself as a big believer in education through success, saying, “success breeds success.” If the city wants to show a good example of successful development – one that’s consistent with the values of this community – then the city-owned properties are a place where the city has to take charge and make sure that happens. If we want a building that’s not boxy, she said, that might mean we have to be “a little forward thinking as leaders in this community and not just necessarily accept the highest bid for a city property.” But Grand cautioned that it’s important to make sure that the debt is covered.

Commenting on the redevelopment of city-owned properties downtown, Stephen Kunselman said, “we have a horrible, horrible track record of participating in the development arena.” The former Y project [an allusion to William Street Station] was a good example of failure by a local government that came about because it was trying to do something it wasn’t capable of doing, he said. A local government is supposed to provide for public safety, health and welfare. When you engage in speculative development, by partnering with a developer, all they want to do is “suck on that public dollar,” Kunselman said. That’s not going to work.

Kunselman gave the previously proposed Lower Town development as one where the city started participating in that project – but now it’s going to be a blight on the community for years, he said, because it is so over-leveraged in debt that the owners aren’t going to be able to sell it. He ventured that nothing would happen to that property unless the University of Michigan bought the land, which he hoped would not happen. He said the city needs to do everything it can to prevent the university from purchasing it, but he wasn’t sure that was possible.

“We need to step back and understand what the limits are of what we can do as a local government, and focus on those core issues and on those core services and on public safety, health and welfare – and let the private sector take care of development,” Kunselman said. Good development can be encouraged by having a good site plan process and a good planning commission, he said, and by adhering to the city’s master plans and enforcing the city’s zoning ordinances. That’s what our neighbors expect of the city council, Kunselman added, and that’s what he thought would breed a better community and redevelopment in our community.

Grand responded to Kunselman’s negative assessment of the city’s past involvement in development projects. Just because the city council made mistakes in the past about how to spur successful development, doesn’t mean that they can’t get it right in the future, she ventured. She didn’t think that city councilmembers have been perfect in the past, but thought, “we can actually learn from our mistakes.” One of the things she thought she’d done fairly well as chair of the park advisory commission was to work toward public engagement. It’s something that she does as a volunteer, it’s part of what she teaches, and she thinks we can learn from the mistakes of the past.

For the city-owned properties, Grand said, the community should not be left out of those decisions, but “we just have to be smarter about how we involve the community.”

About the old Y site, Kunselman said it’s obvious that it would not be sold until the prospective buyer has a site plan approved by the city council. Nobody’s going to buy on speculation – not with that kind of money involved, he concluded.

Role of Downtown

Another theme that emerged during the candidate forum could be grouped under the notion of the role of the downtown in the community.

Role of Downtown: Balance with Neighborhoods

Stephen Kunselman allowed that investment in the downtown is great. And downtown Ann Arbor is the wealthiest area in the community, he said. But out in the deeper areas of Ward 3, property values have decreased by 30%. There is no investment, and those areas are not getting the kind of needed investments it takes to raise the value of those neighborhoods. How important is that? To illustrate the kind of positive impact that city investments can have, Kunselman gave the example of a Ward 3 neighborhood – Arbor Oaks. When you look at their brand-new roads and brand-new water mains and sidewalks – their neighborhood looks fine, Kunselman said. And if you talk to the people out there, crime is down and the perception of their neighborhood has improved dramatically. And that’s what the city needs to do for all neighborhoods, Kunselman said. He’s tired of walking along the street with potholes and listening to people complain that they are not getting services, when the local government talks about cutting services.

Julie Grand said she wanted to point out that she does care about investment in the city’s neighborhoods. She felt that she and Kunselman disagreed about whether there’s more of a symbiotic relationship between downtown and the neighborhoods. She believes that development in the city’s neighborhoods actually does contribute to the downtown. She acknowledged the fact that property values went down in some neighborhoods. But she didn’t think that has anything to do with the DDA, or a focus on the downtown. She thinks that people want to come to the city and want to move into the neighborhoods, because they want to have a downtown. A downtown actually supports core services and the value of our neighborhoods, she concluded.

Kunselman stressed the idea that infrastructure is what keeps property values stable and improving. But there’s been a lack of infrastructure improvements over the last decades, he said – because the city had been saving money for the East Stadium bridge, or the DDA is capturing tax revenue that could also be used to spread out to the neighborhoods. That’s the kind of thing he’s been talking about. It’s his purpose as a representative of Ward 3 on the city council to distribute the wealth to those that are more in need, he said.

In its neighborhoods, Ward 3 has some of the highest concentrations of low-to-moderate-income families, Kunselman said. There are abandoned homes, he said, giving as an example Platt Road, where there are at least three homes where the properties aren’t being mowed, and it looks bad. That translates into no investment, he said. Property values are not coming up, and there’s no infill development. A lot of housing is being built downtown, Kunselman said. But there aren’t single-family homes being built in the neighborhoods. And that’s what we need, he contended. That would be his purpose for the next two years, Kunselman stated – to help reestablish priority back on our neighborhoods and not downtown.

Jack Eaton allowed that the roads in Ward 4 are a mess. But in the Lawton neighborhood and in some of the Dicken neighborhoods – and everywhere downstream, apparently – there have been significant flooding problems. Eaton attributed that to the fact that the city’s stormwater system has been neglected for decades. Fifteen years ago, the city had hired a consultant to study the flooding problems, he noted. The city received a report but did not act upon it – because it was simply too expensive, Eaton said. Another study process has been started, which is going to take a year and a half or more just to come to some recommendations.

So Eaton didn’t really think that the most pressing issue in Ward 4 could be resolved in the next two years. But he would certainly try to push it along – to get some relief for the people who live in neighborhoods that get flooded every time a heavy rain falls. One of the things that the current study is not addressing is the harm that the city has done in houses through its requirement that they disconnect footing drains and install sump pumps, he said. In houses where there’s never been a problem before, they now flood every time it rains, Eaton said. While the city is studying its water systems, nothing is being done to alleviate the harm that has already been done to the homeowners – and he thought that’s just outrageous.

Eaton pointed out that the DDA received about $4 million in TIF (tax increment finance) revenues last year, but it also receives several million dollars from the public parking system. So there’s a lot of money in the downtown area that could be used for other purposes – additional police, additional attention to the city’s infrastructure. But because it’s the DDA that is contracting with Republic Parking rather than the city, the money first goes to the DDA, he said, and then the city gets a little bit of a return on that. [The city receives 17% of gross parking revenues.] Eaton thought more of the money that the DDA takes in should be spent on the general welfare of the whole city, especially the neighborhoods. At every door he knocks on, people complain about the city’s roads. At every door he knocks on, people are concerned about safety services. Those are appropriate spending priorities, Eaton said, and if it means that the DDA’s revenues need to be constrained, that’s fine with him.

Kunselman took the liberty of rephrasing one of the questions from the moderator as follows: What can we do as a local government to encourage redevelopment in our neighborhoods? The first thing, Kunselman said, is that we need to start pushing back on some of the policies that were put in place by [former city administrator] Roger Fraser and [former public services area administrator] Sue McCormick – which raised the cost of utilities, improvement charges and connection charges. Some of these things were just outrageous, he said. Those polices stymie and stifle infill development in our neighborhoods. A new house won’t get built in a vacant lot in his neighborhood when the lot itself costs less than $20,000, but the improvement charge is $40,000. “It’s not going to happen – the economics don’t work,” he said.

So those kinds of policies have created a stifling effect on neighborhood development, Kunselman said. But downtown is seeing lots of development, he noted. That’s why there’s such a disparity between downtown wealth and the lack of wealth in the city’s neighborhoods. So the council is now taking a new direction by starting to repeal some of those policies that Sue McCormick and Roger Fraser had put in place, he said. Those policies would never have been imposed in a place like Detroit, Kunselman ventured. But it had been assumed that Ann Arbor is so wealthy that people would be able to pay those $40,000 improvement charges. That had been an attempt to use the utility system to generate revenue – which was the wrong direction to go and we need to repeal that, Kunselman said.

Jack Eaton said that when there’s talk about expanding the tax base, it’s important to consider where development is taking place. If it takes place in the DDA TIF capture district, then the tax base is not actually adding to the municipal tax base by an appreciable amount. TIF districts capture taxes and divert them from the local government, Eaton said. The increased population will create new demands for police and other services, but the new tax revenues are diverted to the DDA, he said. So Eaton would take a close look at how much money is diverted to the DDA. Eaton said he would be especially skeptical about forming new TIF districts on the State Street corridor, on the North Main corridor, or the Washtenaw Corridor. [This is an allusion to the possibility of forming a corridor improvement authority (CIA), made possible by relatively new legislation.] We shouldn’t be skimming money off the general tax revenues, Eaton said, when we are trying to improve the city at large, and not just these districts.

About the idea of a corridor improvement authority (CIA), Grand didn’t want to comment on State Street. But she noted that she serves on the North Main Huron River corridor task force. And a CIA is something that the task force has considered as a way to develop properties along the river. But she characterized that as a long-term approach. She also stated that new development does contribute to the tax base, even if some of the additional taxes go to a TIF authority. All of that money goes toward schools, she contended, and a lot of that money goes to pay for core services.

Role of Downtown: Who’s the Downtown For?

The question that prompted comments along the lines of who the downtown is for seemed to include the premise that downtown Ann Arbor had become a tourist trap. Julie Grand began by saying she disagreed with the premise of the question. Ann Arbor has for a long time had events that have brought people to the community. Part of providing amenities for residents is having places that draw people from the outside, too, she said. “That’s what successful cities do, and what successful downtowns do,” she said. Grand reported spending a lot of Saturdays with a lot of people “in a big bowl” – at football games. When 112,000 attend a football game, they are coming from the outside, and it’s nice to be able to recapture those dollars and have them stay at hotels and have places to eat – that provide jobs and taxes, and that fund core services in our community.

So Grand doesn’t mind that Ann Arbor has a vibrant downtown that attracts people from the outside. She attributed that to the fact that the DDA is doing its job. She hears that some residents feel that “the downtown is not for me.” She didn’t agree with that perspective, but she did hear people who have that perspective. She felt it was important to talk about development in downtown that is for the people who live in the downtown. The downtown park subcommittee of the park advisory commission had taken a walk recently, to look at some of the development as well as existing parks and open space, she reported. And the idea had been discussed that maybe Main Street is for people who come from the outside. But there are some really great things that are happening in other parts of downtown – like South Ashley – that might be described as a “townie corridor.” Grand liked the fact that “people want to come in from the outside and see what a great community we have.”

Stephen Kunselman gave his perspective on Ann Arbor, having grown up here. He’s seen the changes to the downtown from the 1970s. In the 1960s, as a toddler, he and his mom lived where Liberty Plaza is today, at Liberty and Division. In the 1970s, as a young teenager, he came downtown frequently because that’s where everybody used to come and hang out. There’s been a significant change, he said. Retail businesses have gone out to Briarwood, and it seems like nothing but restaurants are back-filling those spaces. Borders bookstore has been lost, along with all kinds of flagship stores that previously brought the older residents into the downtown. That’s not happening as much anymore, he ventured.

About himself, Kunselman said, he’s not coming into downtown to hang out with a bunch of 20-year-olds anymore. He just turned 50 and – as much as he wanted to maintain his youth – he indicated he wasn’t going to be visiting downtown in the way he did when he was younger. He didn’t think we should be trying to change the downtown back to the way it used to be, with department stores like Jacobson’s: “I don’t think that’s within our ability and I don’t think that’s something we should worry about.”

The dynamic of downtown is bringing in outside dollars, Kunselman said, and it is supporting our economy. And people are coming to town to cultural events, primarily that the university provides. He thinks that’s great – as Ann Arbor does have an older citizenry that still loves culture. It’s those people who are going to come downtown in the evenings to go to Hill Auditorium and go to Michigan Theater, and to go to the Power Center and then go to some restaurants.

But if downtown Ann Arbor becomes nothing but a food court, that’s not going to be sustainable, he cautioned. Kunselman pointed out there’s always been a tension between residents and outsiders. Back in the 1980s, there had been a banner on Division Street on somebody’s front porch during the art fairs, which stated: “U.S. suburbanites out of Ann Arbor.” That tension between townies and those that come in and participate in Ann Arbor’s great cultural events has been there for a long time, and we are not going to solve that, Kunselman concluded.

As far as Ann Arbor being a tourist trap, Jack Eaton allowed that it might seem that way – because there are a lot of restaurants and bars. But he felt that’s part of any college town. About the DDA’s possible role in that, he thought the DDA does have the intent to diversify downtown, by bringing in empty-nesters and young professionals to live there. They want to attract new businesses downtown so that the downtown area has jobs. But Eaton expressed some doubt about whether the DDA had been successful at that yet. Still, the goals of the DDA are pointed in the right direction, Eaton said. We should be making efforts toward a good diverse economy downtown – so that it isn’t just a series of coffee shops, bars and restaurants.

Unfortunately, Eaton said, a lot of that effort has resulted in student high-rises, which he characterized as counter to the purpose of the goal. If you get too many students living in a neighborhood, Eaton cautioned, you’re not getting the empty-nester or young professional to live there, too. Eaton didn’t think there’s anything the DDA has done right or wrong to cause downtown to just be bars and restaurants. It’s a reflection of where the economy is right now. As retail has moved out, other things replace it. Because rents are so high in the downtown, Eaton ventured, the replacements will be chain stores like CVS or expensive coffee shops with high prices. If we can develop some new office buildings, and if new residents can be added to downtown, we might see some other changes, Eaton concluded.

Role of Downtown: Downtown Development Authority

Jack Eaton said he believes Ann Arbor has a good downtown development authority, and the DDA serves an important function. But the parameters for funding the DDA are laid out in the city’s ordinance. What disappoints him about the Ann Arbor DDA, Easton said, is that the DDA has interpreted the city ordinance related to TIF capture that is at odds with the interpretation that the city had provided. And the city council has just allowed a subordinate body to tell the city council how to interpret its own ordinance, Eaton said. “I think that’s outrageous.” He attributed the unusual assertion of that kind of authority to the fact that people have been allowed to serve for so long on the DDA board that they believe they know better about public policy than the city council does. Eaton would support Stephen Kunselman’s effort to rein in the amount of TIF capture the DDA receives and to impose reasonable term limits on service on the DDA board.

Julie Grand allowed that she’s heard concerns about the DDA out in the community. But regardless of your opinion about the DDA or the downtown, “we all benefit from what the DDA does,” she said. Everyone benefits from a vibrant downtown that attracts new residents – that supports our local businesses and helps our economy, Grand said. As someone who grew up in a small town that witnessed emptying storefronts, and as someone who has witnessed efforts that have not always been successful because that town didn’t have a strong organization like the DDA to rebuild the downtown, she appreciated the DDA’s efforts.

Grand feels that the current system of funding actually works pretty well. The fact that the DDA is receiving more money is a reflection of the DDA’s success, she said. The DDA’s purpose is to encourage investment in the downtown, and the fact that more money is being generated shows that the DDA is doing its job. She thought the council had exercised its right to ask questions of and communicate with the DDA about how some of that additional money is spent. Overall, Grand appreciated the DDA’s efforts that contributed to the city’s tax base.

Acknowledging that there were a number of DDA board members in the forum audience, Kunselman ventured that everybody knows there’s been some tension between himself and the DDA board over the interpretation of the city ordinances – about how the DDA operates and its responsiveness to the community as a whole, not just downtown. That had been a big issue in his 2011 election. He’d heard from the neighborhoods – the voters that put him in office – that there needs to be accountability. And Kunselman contended that there’s been a significant change in how the DDA operates since he’d raised those issues over the years.

As an example of that, he gave the fact that this year the DDA had adopted its budget after the city council had approved it [with changes made by the city council, compared to the budget previously adopted by the DDA board] – according to state law. That had never happened before, he said. He felt that the DDA provides a significant benefit to the community. But he also contended that because of the leadership he’d shown on DDA-related issues – despite the political intimidation, he said, and the character assassination that the DDA orchestrates against him – it was apparent that the DDA board members are not the leaders of this community: “We, the elected officials, are [the leaders].” Kunselman said it’s important that the relationship between the city and the DDA works for the community as a whole.

In discussing improvements of infrastructure in the neighborhoods, Kunselman took the opportunity to criticize the DDA – by saying the DDA doesn’t know how to spend its money. He pointed out that the DDA is not contributing to the Fourth Avenue project downtown, which includes installing new water mains and a new road surface. Now the DDA is talking about replacing light poles on Main Street, Kunselman said – which the DDA had the whole past year to plan for, but didn’t. He stressed that no one has ever called for the dissolution of the DDA. Kunselman ventured that the DDA is now being responsive to the community needs, whether they like it or not.

Grand said the city is fortunate to have volunteers in the community [DDA board members] who help formulate policy on downtown issues. As someone who serves on a commission herself as a volunteer [the park advisory commission] and who spends a lot of time at that, she appreciated the efforts of those volunteers who are working to better our community and who are doing it because they really care about the community. That’s why she serves on the park advisory commission.

Responding to Grand’s description of the DDA as successful, Kunselman allowed that since its establishment in the 1980s, the DDA has been tremendously successful. Our downtown is thriving, he said. He stressed that he’s not talking about dissolving the DDA. But the intent of the law that was drafted in 1981 was that when you’re successful, when the time is up, then dissolve the DDA and move on. That’s never happened, he said. Out of the roughly 200 TIF districts across the state, only four have been dissolved, he thought. So he was not calling for the dissolution of the Ann Arbor DDA.

However, he was saying that the DDA really needs to focus. The 2003 TIF plan gives the DDA a lot of different directions to choose from – and the DDA is “all over the place.” Kunselman pointed out that the city council had changed the DDA’s budget to put more money in the DDA’s housing fund, but the DDA was now complaining there are no affordable housing projects it can support with that money. He said that Miller Manor – an Ann Arbor Housing Commission property – would be a good project. “We’re trying to get the DDA to be more focused.” Any project the DDA wants to undertake should be in the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP), Kunselman said. That way, the community would also get to participate in that discussion.

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