Skatepark, Liberty Plaza Waiver Go to Council

Park commissioners praise years-long effort by Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, express hope for addressing challenges at downtown park

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (June 18, 2013): Commissioners took action on two major projects in the city’s park system: A new skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park, and efforts to improve downtown’s Liberty Plaza.

Jen Geer, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jen Geer is the newest member of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. (Photos by the writer.)

PAC unanimously recommended approval of a $1,224,311 budget for the Ann Arbor skatepark, including a construction contract of $1,031,592 with Krull Construction of Ann Arbor. Also approved was an operating agreement between the city and the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. [.pdf of operating agreement] The project, which has been years in the works, will move to the city council for final approval, possibly at its July 15 meeting.

Parks staff and commissioners praised the project, specifically citing the work of the Friends for their tenacity and ability to overcome challenges as the skatepark was developed. Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, noted that people talk a lot about collaboration, but “you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of it than this.”

If the council approves the contract, construction could start in early August, with completion of the concrete portion of the skatepark by this November – weather permitting.

Also getting a recommendation of approval from PAC was a proposal to waive park rental fees for Liberty Plaza, a downtown park at the corner of Liberty and Division. The waiver, which requires city council approval, would be enacted on a one-year trial basis through July 1, 2014. It’s intended to help encourage more activity in what’s been described as a problem park. Several supporters of Camp Take Notice and Pizza in the Park – a weekly outreach effort to the homeless – attended the meeting, and advocated for broader fee waivers in other city parks, tied to humanitarian aid.

Commissioners also heard two presentations during the June 18 meeting. Jenna Bacolor, the director of Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, gave an update on that program, including collaborations with the city parks system. One of those collaborations is tied to the decision by the Ann Arbor Public Schools board to close middle school swimming pools, as part of broad budget cuts. Tim Berla, who serves on PAC as a liaison from the Rec & Ed recreational advisory commission, reported on discussions to explore the possibility of a new recreation millage or an enhancement millage – something that AAPS might consider putting on the ballot.

A second presentation was from two members of the city’s public art commission, seeking input on proposals for artwork at the East Stadium bridges. John Kotarski and Bob Miller highlighted proposals from four finalists: Rebar Group of San Francisco; Sheila Klein of Bow, Washington; Volkan Alkanoglu, based in Atlanta, Georgia; and Catherine Widgery of Cambridge, Mass. The project has a $400,000 budget and includes the possibility of artwork at Rose White Park, located east of the bridges.

In items of communication, PAC chair Julie Grand noted that parks and recreation manager Colin Smith had been named Do-Gooder of the Year in Current magazine’s 2013 Readers Choice Awards. He received a round of applause from commissioners.

It was the first meeting for PAC’s newest commissioner Jen Geer, whose appointment was confirmed by the city council on May 20, 2013 to replace Tim Doyle. Geer, a Burns Park resident, is the daughter of Kirk Profit, a lobbyist for the city with the Lansing firm Governmental Consultant Services Inc. (GCSI). She is married to Christopher Geer, who serves on the Ann Arbor housing commission board.

Ann Arbor Skatepark

A $1,224,311 budget for the Ann Arbor skatepark appeared on the June 18 agenda for consideration, including a construction contract of $1,031,592 with Krull Construction of Ann Arbor. PAC was also asked to recommend approval of an operating agreement between the city and the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. [.pdf of operating agreement] Trevor Staples, FAAS president, attended the meeting to field questions from commissioners.

Ann Arbor skatepark, Wally Hollyday, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, Veterans Memorial Park, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

This conceptual design by Wally Hollyday for the Ann Arbor skatepark at the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park was approved by the city council on Jan. 7, 2013.

The originally approved budget for the project, to be located at the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park, was $800,000 – though the expectation was that the project would cost about $1 million. That amount anticipated $100,000 for design and $900,000 for construction.

The total budget now – including the construction contract, 10% contingency and $89,560 design contract – is $1,224,311, or $424,311 higher than the originally budgeted $800,000.

The city had issued a request for proposals (RFP) to build the skatepark earlier this year. Krull had originally turned in the lowest of three bids, at $1,191,738. Other bids were from Bernco Inc. ($1,251,104) and Gerace Construction ($1,275,273). Because all bids were considerably higher than the anticipated budget, parks staff negotiated with Krull to lower the amount by changing elements of the project. Those changes, according to a staff memo, include “replacing decorative ground cover with grass, plant plugs with seed, replacing rebar with structural fibers, and eliminating some decorative boulders.” In addition, “soil spoils” will be left on site to save on hauling costs. Krull also offered to cut $10,000 from its contract. All of these adjustments reduced the contract to $1,031,592.

Funds to pay for the skatepark include a $400,000 grant from the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, $300,000 from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund, and $100,00 raised by the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, which paid for the skatepark’s design. According to a staff memo provided to PAC, additional revenues for the project have now been identified from these sources:

  • $155,463.60 from uncommitted funds available in the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage fund balance. It represents about a quarter of the total $600,000 in the uncommitted fund balance, which is used for emergencies. This is different from the millage’s committed fund balance, which stands at about $2.2 million and is already designated for specific projects.
  • $80,000 from the city’s stormwater capital budget for rain gardens, to be repaid as a loan to the State Revolving Fund (SRF). The city expects a 50% loan forgiveness on this amount.
  • $32,356 from the FY 2014 parks memorial and contributions fund (the Feldman Trust) for landscaping plantings. The trust currently has a balance of about $100,000.
  • $30,356 from the FY 2014 parks maintenance and capital improvements millage, from a line item in the budget designated for trails and pathways.
  • $22,977 from the FY 2014 parks and recreation services general fund operating budget – from the “parks fairness” funds resulting from other budget amendments made by the council when it approved the city’s budget on May 20, 2013. By policy, the general fund allocations to parks and recreation must not suffer any decrease beyond what other areas in the general fund do. So amendments to the other parts of the budget can have implications for adherence to this policy. At the end of all the budget amendments, financial services staff provide the council with an adjustment to the parks budget as an additional budget amendment, in order to comply with the policy.

In addition, up to $103,159.26 in uncommitted funds is available in the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage fund balance to cover a 10% construction contingency. Any unspent portion of this amount would be returned to the fund balance.

The Ann Arbor city council had approved the skatepark’s design at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting. It was designed by Wally Hollyday whose firm, Wally Hollyday Skateparks, also has construction oversight of the skatepark. The council had authorized a $89,560 contract with his firm at its July of 2012 meeting, paid for entirely by funds raised by the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. Hollyday – based in Aliso Viejo, California – had attended PAC’s Dec. 18, 2012 meeting, when commissioners recommended the design for approval.

The 30,000-square-foot skatepark will include a wide variety of skateboarding features – including bowls and pools; banked, Hubba and cantilevered ledges; and slappy curbs. Landscaped areas and rain gardens are located throughout the park, which will also serve as stormwater management elements. The design includes a small stage, which could be used for skateboarding demonstrations as well as other community performances.

An 11-page operating agreement – to run from Sept. 1, 2013 through Aug. 30, 2025 – outlines the responsibilities and scope of services to be provided by the city and the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. Regarding maintenance, for example, the agreement states:

Maintenance of the Ann Arbor Skatepark shall be provided by the City, a contracted service under the City’s control, or by volunteer groups that are programmed through the City’s volunteer program opportunities. City shall provide general oversight of the Skatepark infrastructure, such as making periodic inspections similar to neighborhood playground inspections. The City shall maintain records of staff costs, materials and supplies, and equipment costs related to the maintenance of the Ann Arbor Skatepark.

A later section on funding states: “The City, at its discretion, may decide to contribute to the payment of maintenance and operations for the Ann Arbor Skatepark.”

The skatepark will be guided by a new skatepark advisory committee, with members to be appointed by the city council and meetings held at least twice a year.

Although skatepark organizers have been working on the project for more than five years, formal city council action on the skatepark dates back to Dec. 1, 2008, when the council approved a memorandum of intent between the city and the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. [.pdf of memorandum of intent]

Ann Arbor Skatepark: Staff Comments

In briefing the commission, parks and recreation manager Colin Smith noted that the multi-year project has involved a lot of work from many people, including city staff and the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, as well as partnerships with Washtenaw County parks & recreation and the state. Although people talk a lot about collaboration, he said, “you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of it than this.” It started as a local grassroots effort, and then involved the government at several levels. “It’s really going to be an extraordinary asset to the community,” Smith noted. “It’s not just Ann Arbor – it’s a regional attraction.”

Trevor Staples, Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Trevor Staples, president of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark.

Park planner Amy Kuras reviewed aspects of the project, including why that site at Veterans Memorial Park had been chosen – in part for its high visibility, and proximity to public transit and major freeways. Trevor Staples, president of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, told commissioners that the skatepark’s design is intended to cover most aspects of skateboarding, including street skating and transition skating. The design also allows for varying difficulty levels, so that people of all skills can take advantage of it.

Kuras also talked about how the project is addressing stormwater management, in part through rain gardens and bioswales within the site, as well as an underground detention system. A pathway from the Dexter Avenue parking lot will provide barrier-free access to the site, she noted.

The plan is to seek city council approval at its July 15 meeting, and start construction in early August. Work will continue as long as weather permits, she said, with the hope of finishing up the concrete and asphalt portions of the site by November. The plantings will likely be installed next spring, she said – but everything depends on the weather.

Ann Arbor Skatepark: Commission Discussion – Design

Bob Galardi asked about the “multi-event area” designated in the design. Amy Kuras described it as a stage area for demonstrations and events. Trevor Staples explained that it’s not intended only for skateboarders, but also as a general community space. Kuras reported that she recently received a call from someone who wanted to hold a fundraising event there – and she had to inform the person that “it’s not built yet.”

Tim Berla wondered if the picnic tables currently in that area will remain. Kuras replied that all the trees and tables in that area will be undisturbed. The skatepark will be built on land that’s “just lawn,” she said.

Ingrid Ault referred to the staff memo, which listed adjustments that had been made to lower the budget. Most of the changes seem aesthetic, she noted, except for one – “replacing rebar with structural fibers.” That part of it “scares me,” she said.

Kuras reported that the contractor had made suggestions for bringing the costs down. The city consulted with a structural engineering firm to make sure that replacing rebar with structural fibers would not compromise the structural integrity of the concrete forms, she said. Colin Smith added that the designer, Wally Hollyday, also works with a structural engineer. The elements were “over-designed” in terms of the need, Smith said, and these kinds of changes are normal.

Kuras noted that the bottom line in making design changes was to not eliminate any skating elements. And some of the landscaping aspects might be added later, she said.

Karen Levin asked if the skatepark would be open all winter. Staples responded, saying that temperature isn’t as much of a factor as precipitation – much like other sports that you play on pavement. Salt can’t be used on the concrete because it degrades that material, but unless there’s snow and ice on the surface, skateboarders will use it.

Levin wondered whether parks staff would shovel snow there. Staples said that in other skateparks, skaters themselves will shovel it out and then skate after it dries off. Alan Jackson asked whether the bowls would accumulate ice, or are they drained? Kuras noted that the bowls are located at the highest part of the site, with drains for runoff. Smith reminded commissioners that part of the selection process required the designer and the construction firm to be experienced in working on skateparks in climates similar to Michigan. “We certainly have that,” he said.

Ault asked about the life expectancy of a skatepark. It’s roughly 20-30 years, Smith said.

Ann Arbor Skatepark: Commission Discussion – Operating Agreement

Smith noted the original memorandum of intent approved by the city council in 2008 had called for an operating agreement between the city and the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, which he and Staples had developed. It covers the management and operations of the skatepark. Overall, Smith said, the goal is to make sure there’s something in writing regarding the partnership as it matures, and to ensure the care for this asset. It’s better to address these issues proactively, he said, rather than having to react as situations emerge.

The agreement would take effect on Sept. 1, 2013 and run through Aug. 30, 2025 – unless terminated for reasons outlined in the document. [.pdf of operating agreement]

Colin Smith, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Colin Smith, Ann Arbor parks & recreation manager.

In general, the Friends will provide funding for maintenance and operations, with the city conducting a funding review process each year. There’s a requirement that the Friends hold at least one fundraising event at the skatepark annually, with proceeds used to fund ongoing maintenance or future improvements and amenities. Friends would also provide organized events and activities, working in conjunction with the city.

Smith noted that there will be no charge to use the skatepark, “which is kind of a big deal.” The only exception might be for groups that want to hold special events there.

A new skatepark advisory committee will be created, Smith said. He joked that the acronym SAC will now join a string of similar acronyms for city commissions: PAC, GAC (greenbelt advisory commission), LAC (land acquisition committee) and RAC (recreational advisory commission). SAC members would be appointed by the city council, and would include at least two Friends members, as well as members from city and county parks staff, among others.

Responsibilities of the committee include:

a. Providing advice to City staff regarding Skatepark operations.

b. Providing feedback to the City regarding Skatepark alterations or additional amenities.

c. Organizing and hosting educational and special events at the Skatepark.

d. Assisting the City in developing and distributing promotional materials and event advertising regarding the Skatepark.

e. Distributing Skatepark rules and other educational materials to Skatepark users.

f. Feedback regarding misuse of the Skatepark to the City.

g. Fundraising to support additional approved amenities, programs and improvements at the Skatepark.

h. Developing a robust volunteer base to assist the City with the maintenance and operations of the Skatepark, along with developing set volunteer work days where volunteers will work under the general supervision of the City.

Staples noted that Friends volunteers already were involved in a volunteer event earlier this year, organized by the city’s Give 365 program. More than a dozen people showed up on a Saturday morning to help clean up Veterans Memorial Park, he said. Staples suggested appointing someone from Give 365 to SAC.

The Friends board liked the idea of SAC meeting at the beginning and end of each season, to touch base on issues related to the skatepark, Staples said.

Smith noted that although the Friends will fundraise to support maintenance and operations, the city itself will be responsible for that. The parks staff has contacted other skateparks to find out what annual expenses might be incurred. Most are in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, he said – a cost that includes graffiti removal.

Bob Galardi asked about the hours of operation, and whether the skatepark would be lit. That’s part of the operations agreement, Smith said. There will be signs posted that give the skatepark rules. The skatepark will be open during the same hours as the rest of Veterans Memorial Park – from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. There aren’t lights specifically for the skatepark, but there are lights on the nearby ballfields, which stay on until 10 p.m.

Tim Berla asked about the rules for the skatepark, noting that obviously there won’t be a “skateboard cop” on site. Smith pointed out that the operating agreement includes a list of skatepark rules, which have been reviewed by the city attorney. Signs at the skatepark will include this statement: “The Ann Arbor Skatepark is unsupervised. Use of the facility is at your own risk. The City of Ann Arbor assumes no liability for any injury or damage to you or your property resulting from your voluntary use of the Skatepark.” [.pdf of skatepark rules]

The rules language is essentially the industry standard, Smith said. There has never been the expectation that the skatepark would be staffed, he added. Responding to another query from Berla, Staples confirmed that there’s no minimum or maximum requirement for age, height or other factors. “It’s all about ability,” Staples said. “You will know pretty quickly if you’re able to handle it, the first time you skate on it.”

Ann Arbor Skatepark: Commission Discussion – Budget

Smith noted that the operations agreement calls for a review of expenses each budget cycle. If staff feel that the parks system is in a position to cover the maintenance costs, “we would bring that recommendation to PAC.” Commissioners would then decide whether the city should contribute to maintenance costs that year. If the city did contribute, it would allow for the maintenance fund that the Friends is building to grow, Smith said, so that it would be available when needed.

Staples reported that the Friends will continue to add to an endowment for support of the skatepark. The goal is to build it to at least $100,000. Currently, the endowment – managed by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation – stands at about $24,000.

Ingrid Ault, Mike Anglin, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Park advisory commissioner Ingrid Ault talks with city councilmember Mike Anglin (Ward 5), an ex-officio member of PAC.

Smith reviewed the overall proposed budget. When the construction bids came back over budget, the city staff worked with the low bidder, Krull Construction, to lower the amount. The construction contract is now $1,031,592 – still over the $900,000 goal, but significantly lower than the initial bid, Smith noted. The budget reductions haven’t compromised the quality of the skatepark, he said. Smith also pointed out that Krull is excited about the project and made a $10,000 donation off the cost of the contract.

Regarding the 10% construction contingency, Smith noted that because the project doesn’t involve utilities or the demolition of existing structures, there’s a higher likelihood that the contingency won’t be used. If it’s not used, the money would be returned to the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage fund balance, as uncommitted funds.

Responding to a query from Alan Jackson, Smith said that if millage funds budgeted for maintenance aren’t spent in any given year, those remaining dollars are moved into the millage’s fund balance. The majority of the fund balance has been accumulated that way. As an example, perhaps a staff person retires and it takes six months to fill the vacancy, he said. That unspent money goes into the fund balance.

Staples spoke about the Friends’ continuing fundraising efforts. They’re proud to have raised $800,000 for a city project, he said, including $100,000 from the nonprofit’s fundraising as well as money from the county and state. The group has about $10,000 on hand to contribute to construction costs, as well as the roughly $24,000 endowment for ongoing maintenance. The skatepark’s booth at the art fairs typically raises between $3,000 and $5,000. [The art fairs this year run from July 17-20.] Another fundraising dinner is being planned like the one held last year at Sava’s, which raised about $18,000, Staples said.

Skatepark organizers continue to meet with potential donors to raise as much as possible, Staples reported. They’re also continuing to apply for grants, and to raise money by selling engraved bricks that will be incorporated into the skatepark paths.

Smith noted that if there were a generous gift between now and July 15, when the council is expected to vote on the skatepark budget, then the amount from the millage’s uncommitted fund balance would be reduced.

If more money does come in, Jackson said, could some of the elements that were taken out of the design be put back in? Smith’s reply was short: “Sure.”

Outcome: PAC unanimously recommended approval of the construction contract and budget modifications for the Ann Arbor skatepark. The item will be forwarded to city council for consideration.

After the vote, Julie Grand noted that the skatepark proposal had originally come at a time when the city was facing budget cuts every year, because of the economic downturn. This effort speaks to the creativity and passion in this community for making something like this happen, she said.

Alan Jackson thanked the Friends and Krull Construction for their contributions.

Fee Waiver for Liberty Plaza

A recommendation to waive park rental fees for Liberty Plaza was on the June 18 agenda. The waiver would be enacted on a one-year trial basis through July 1, 2014. The plaza is located on the southwest corner of Division and Liberty.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, briefed the commission on this proposal, noting that the city council and PAC had received feedback about the Pizza in the Park event at Liberty Plaza. At the May 20, 2013 city council meeting, several people spoke to oppose the fee that was apparently charged to the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor as part of its Friday evening homelessness ministry, which the church conducts at Liberty Plaza. At the council’s June 3 meeting, there was some follow-up during public commentary that included an interest in getting some kind of written commitment from the city that the fee would not be charged to the church. For a host of reasons, Smith said, Pizza in the Park had been suspended, and there’s a desire to see it reinstated.

Camp Take Notice, Pizza in the Park, Liberty Plaza, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Supporters of Camp Take Notice and Pizza in the Park attended the June 18, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission.

Parallel to that, Smith told PAC, the downtown park subcommittee has continued to look at what makes a successful space in the downtown. The result of these efforts was to look for something that would address the immediate issue of Pizza in the Park, while also providing other benefits to Liberty Plaza – which the staff memo for this resolution describes as a “problem park.”

The intent of waiving rental fees is to encourage activity there, such as the weekly Sonic Lunch series that’s sponsored by the Bank of Ann Arbor. That might include musicians, performers, and other social, cultural or recreational events. Smith said the more activities that take place in a downtown park, the more successful it is. The city hopes to market the fee waiver to encourage more activity, to “add to the energy of that area,” he said.

Fees have sometimes been waived in the past, Smith noted. But rather than putting staff in the position of having to determine which activities merit a fee waiver, the recommendation is to give a blanket waiver for Liberty Plaza for a year.

Smith also noted that the waiver doesn’t apply to “hard costs” associated with an event – like electricity or clean-up. Also, users will need to go through the parks permitting process, he said, even though it would be a zero-fee permit. That process is handled by the park customer service staff. The permit outlines all of the rules and responsibilities for using a park facility, such as the expectation that you’ll leave the park in the same or better condition as you found it, Smith said.

In general, the park use fee for parks with no shelter is $44 for up to six hours on weekdays for residents, or $82 for non-residents and corporations. On holidays and weekends, including Fridays, those rates are $110 for residents, $137 for non-residents, and $220 for corporations.

Fee Waiver for Liberty Plaza: Initial Public Commentary

Seth Best told commissioners that he’s with the Right to Receive Humanitarian Aid subcommittee of Camp Take Notice. He was there to talk about the fee waiver at Liberty Plaza. First, he thanked commissioners and staff, saying he used to be homeless and he often used Pizza in the Park. It was wonderful to go where barriers were broken down between socio-economic classes. He said he’s transgender, and Pizza in the Park was a chance for him to let people know who he was. “So it’s with great humility that I come here today to ask for just a little bit more,” he said.

Sometimes Liberty Plaza isn’t an ideal spot, Best noted. Maybe the targeted population that needs humanitarian aid is in other parts of town, so it might be more appropriate to use parkland nearer to those populations. Also when events like the art fairs are in town, it might not be appropriate to use that space. It might be shortsighted to extend a fee waiver to only one location, Best said.

Steve Sheiring also serves on the Right to Receive Humanitarian Aid subcommittee, and thanked the commission and staff for their work. He said that on June 3 the subcommittee had sent an email to the city, but hadn’t yet received an answer. [.pdf of June 3 email] It’s important for Camp Take Notice to be kept in the loop, he said, because they’re providing the manpower now for Pizza in the Park. He read the email aloud, stating that Camp Take Notice is taking a leadership role in Pizza in the Park now that the Vineyard Church is taking a break from that project. Because of that, it’s important for Camp Take Notice representatives to receive relevant email correspondence from the city in a timely manner. He asked that the city communicate with Camp Take Notice so that Pizza in the Park can continue.

Fee Waiver for Liberty Plaza: Commission Discussion

Julie Grand pointed out that the fee waiver is for a one-year trial period, after which it will be re-evaluated. She said she’s really excited about the idea.

Missy Stults, Alan Jackson, Bob Galardi, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor park advisory commissioners Missy Stults, Alan Jackson and Bob Galardi.

In response to questions from commissioners, Colin Smith explained that fees are not being waived in any other city park. There has been occasional interest in using Liberty Plaza for events, he said, but “by no means is it one that exactly causes the phone to ring off the hook.” That might change with the fee waiver, he added.

Alan Jackson supported the idea of “activating” Liberty Plaza, but one of his concerns is the capacity of the park and limiting the number of permits that are given out. He cautioned the staff, asking them to consider perhaps capping the number of permits that are issued to any one group or individual, for example.

Smith replied that each park has a map showing where rentals are available. Some parks have only one space, while others have multiple areas that can be rented.

Jessica Black, who supervises the park customer service office, explained that a few years ago, some food vendors – Silvio’s and Pilar’s Tamales – wanted to put food carts at Liberty Plaza during the art fairs. So the parks staff mapped out four areas of the plaza to rent out. That map would be used if multiple requests are received. Generally, the process is that if a second user makes a request after a permit has been issued to someone else, then the holder of that first permit is contacted to make sure that the uses are compatible.

Tim Berla clarified with Smith that this fee waiver would allow for the return of Pizza in the Park. He then asked if there were any limits to the types of activities that could take place – for example, if someone came in and started playing music at full volume, or if someone wanted to hold a free hemp rally. Similarly, he wondered if there was a constraint that would prevent someone from reserving blocks of time every day for the entire year.

Smith said that the purpose of requiring people to get permits is so that issues like these can be addressed. “We still have park rules,” he noted, and that would guide this process. One of the park rules prohibits the sale of goods or services in the parks, though that can be exempted. The purpose of the fee waiver is to focus on activities, Smith said – like music, art, performances, classes and humanitarian aid.

If food vendors like those at Mark’s Carts approached the staff and wanted to set up in Liberty Plaza, that would need to be a different conversation, Smith said. There are many things to consider, including the impact on nearby businesses, and whether it’s an appropriate use of the park. If staff decided to open Liberty Plaza for food carts, they would need to put in place a “robust” application process, Smith said, similar to the process for the farmers market. “That’s not something we’re looking to entertain right now.”

Alan Jackson wanted to distinguish between commercial entities and nonprofits that might want to sell things like T-shirts or other items as a fundraiser. Black noted that for situations like that, a special event permit would also be required, to allow for those kinds of sales.

Bob Galardi asked about the possibility of lengthy installations – like a pantomime group that wanted to spend a week in the plaza doing classes and demonstrations, or an art installation that’s interactive or educational. He recalled a sound installation at Madison Square Park in New York City that drew people to the park. Would that kind of thing be acceptable?

Black replied that last year, something like that took place – a two-day sukkah design competition held by the Jewish Community Center. Smith said that’s an entirely appropriate use, generating activity and interest while still allowing others to use the plaza.

Galardi felt the waiver could spur public engagement in new and unique ways, and possibly draw national attention to Ann Arbor. People might use the fee waiver as an opportunity to experiment with a new idea.

Grand agreed. “Given the concerns that we have with the space, it’s hard to imagine it going in the negative direction.”

Karen Levin wondered how the fee waiver would be publicized. In part through social media, Smith said, as well as other city communication channels. Black added that when people call to reserve rentals at other parks, the staff can mention the fee waiver at Liberty Plaza as an option.

Ingrid Ault asked about the hard costs, wondering how the electricity costs would be assessed, for example. Black replied that there’s a $14 hook-up fee, with an hourly rate of $3.

Berla asked for staff to consider some sort of expedited process for people who want to play music at Liberty Plaza. Black said she thought the process was already straightforward and relatively quick. As long as it doesn’t require a special event permit, the process takes about 10 minutes, she said. People can pay with a credit card over the phone, and submit their application via email. The staff emails the permit after it’s approved.

Christopher Taylor, Gwen Nystuen

City councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), an ex-officio member of the park advisory commission, talks with former PAC member Gwen Nystuen.

Berla – a musician who plays in several local bands – suggested putting an ad on craigslist, saying that would easily yield 50 responses in two days.

Missy Stults circled back to remarks made during public commentary, saying she wanted to acknowledge the need to break down socio-economic barriers and “meet people where they are, geographically.” She wanted to revisit fee waivers at other locations.

Smith noted that in the case of Liberty Plaza, there’s a specific problem that the staff is trying to find a solution for. It’s not a problem that’s come up in other parks. The larger question that Stults had mentioned is one that other city commissions, as well as the city council, could weigh in on, he said.

Christopher Taylor, who represents Ward 3 on the city council, said this proposal will certainly meet the initial need for making the Pizza in the Park program possible. But it’s important to acknowledge that it does not address the broader concern. That’s a larger conversation to have in the future, he said, adding that he’s delighted to move this proposal forward. A review of the fee waiver could be completed prior to next year’s budget cycle, Taylor said, so that the fee waiver would either become standard procedure for Liberty Plaza, or there would be some reason identified for eliminating the waiver.

As a final comment, Smith mentioned the concern expressed during public commentary that Liberty Plaza wouldn’t be available for Pizza in the Park during the art fairs. He’d spoken with one of the organizers at Vineyard Church, and they’d agreed to find an alternative park space that week – in or near the downtown area. The fee would be waived for that, too. [The art fairs this year run from July 17-20.]

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended approval of the fee waiver for Liberty Plaza. It will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Fee Waiver for Liberty Plaza: Follow-Up Public Commentary

After the vote, advocates for Pizza in the Park who attended PAC’s meeting gave a round of applause. Three people addressed the issue again during public commentary at the end of the meeting.

Nicholas Goodman, another member of the Right to Receive Humanitarian Aid subcommittee of Camp Take Notice, gave a brief history of the camp and its organizing efforts. He noted that camp members were evicted from a site near Wagner Road one year ago this month. They held two rallies that resulted in nearly $500,000 in aid for the Camp Take Notice community, he said. In the past month, supporters have spoken at city council three times, he said. The first meeting drew 10 people, followed by more than 20 at the next meeting. At the June 17 council meeting, more than 40 supporters attended, he reported. That doesn’t even include city councilmembers who support the effort, or members of 20 local churches, he said. Organizing on a humanitarian aid ordinance is gaining speed, Goodman concluded, and he hoped commissioners would collaborate on it with city council.

Greg Pratt introduced himself as vice president of M.I.S.S.I.O.N.A2: the Michigan Itinerant Shelter System – Independent Out of Necessity. The group works to support Camp Take Notice. He’s also a lecturer at Eastern Michigan University’s School of Social Work. He wanted to provide some broader context for the response that’s happening as a result of the fees for holding Pizza in the Park.

As the weather grew warmer this year, the rotational shelter closed, he said, as it does every year. That houses about 75 people – not counting others who are housed in the local shelter system. These people who used the rotational shelter had nowhere to go, he said, so they went to the fringes of the community – to public parks, bridges and other areas. Soon after, he said, there was a coordinated effort by law enforcement to evict people from these places.

“I realize that this doesn’t necessarily fall under the direct purview of the parks department,” Pratt said, but he hoped it would provide context for the response that’s occurring. The response could be perceived as a “forceful nudge” to the city’s decision-makers, he said, to meet the demands of fellow community members who often live under precarious socio-economic circumstances. “We prefer that route to the route of increasing public pressure in support of an ordinance that protects the provision of free humanitarian aid in our public spaces,” he concluded.

Caleb Poirer began by thanking everyone who’s been wrestling with the Liberty Plaza issue. He knows it’s a difficult issue, in part because of substance abusers who are sometimes part of the population that his group advocates for. He wished commissioners and staff well in their efforts to increase the activity and vibrancy of that space.

Unfortunately, he said, PAC’s resolution doesn’t meet either of his group’s parallel goals – the long-term protection of Pizza in the Park, and the protection of other organizations that might want to give humanitarian aid. Because of that, he said, they’ll continue to attempt “to move that football forward.” Commissioners probably have a lot of anxiety about what kind of semi-trailer truck could be driven through a loophole called humanitarian aid, Poirer noted. “I want you to know that we’re not attempting to make it possible to do scary things in public parks.” He indicated that it’s possible to use language that limits the definition of humanitarian aid to certain activities. He hoped commissioners would work with advocates to do something that meets both of their needs.

East Stadium Bridges Artwork

John Kotarski and Bob Miller of the Ann Arbor public art commission attended PAC’s June 18 meeting to present information about the four finalists for artwork at the East Stadium bridges, which has a $400,000 budget. The presentation is also available online.

Thirty-two submissions were received. A task force narrowed down that group to four finalists: Rebar Group of San Francisco; Sheila Klein of Bow, Washington; Volkan Alkanoglu, based in Atlanta, Georgia; and Catherine Widgery of Cambridge, Mass.

The artists were brought to town in early April to look at the site and attend an open house for the public at the Ann Arbor Senior Center. The finalists then developed formal proposals for the site. They subsequently returned to town earlier this month to make public presentations of their proposals. Links to videos of those presentations are on the public art commission’s website.

Here are some images from their four proposals:

Rebar Group, public art, East Stadium bridge, Ann Arbor public art commission, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

An image from Rebar Group’s “Dot Matrix” proposal, which would place 100 anodized aluminum “stalks” of  varying heights at four sites around the bridges. Each “stalk” is capped with a “Botts’ dot” – round non-reflective raised pavement markers.

Sheila Klein, public art, East Stadium bridge, Ann Arbor public art commission, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

One of Sheila Klein’s proposals for East Stadium bridge – an arrangement of tree planters called “Annie’s Arbor.” Klein has offered four conceptual ideas, and would work with the community to develop one, if selected.

Volkan Alkanoglu, public art, East Stadium bridge, Ann Arbor public art commission, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Volkan Alkanoglu’s “Lady Ann” proposal for East Stadium bridge, as seen from East Stadium Boulevard. One hundred multi-colored aluminum “cones” would be used to make a 55-foot wheel-shaped structure. Each cone would be engraved with text from residents, like “I Love Ann Arbor” or “Ann Arbor Means Home.”

Catherine Widgery, public art, East Stadium bridge, Ann Arbor public art commission, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Catherine Widgery’s “Arbor Winds” proposal for East Stadium bridge includes 12 four-by-six-foot acrylic/aluminum or glass banners etched with images of trees. There would also be etched granite panels on the South State underpass, lit with LED lights, as well as etched glass “windscreens” by Rose White Park.

Kotarski described each of the artists and their previous work. He also highlighted the four proposals for East Stadium bridges and showed images of the artists’ renderings for those artworks. The selection process so far has been long and involved, he noted. [Members of the volunteer task force/selection panel are Bob Miller, Wiltrud Simbuerger, Nancy Leff, David Huntoon and Joss Kiely.]

At the end of his remarks he apologized, saying that his presentation “does not do any of these artists justice.” He noted that this presentation was part of the art commission’s new outreach effort, saying that PAC was a guinea pig for it – explaining that this was the first presentation he’d made to another commission.

Kotarski concluded by asking for feedback, and encouraging PAC members as well as residents to give input via a survey on A2 Open City Hall, with a deadline of July 9 at 5 p.m.

East Stadium Bridges Artwork: Commission Discussion

Julie Grand began the discussion by noting that this kind of presentation will be similar to the one that the Argo Cascades artwork task force is planning. Grand serves on that task force, as does John Kotarski.

John Kotarski, Alan Jackson, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

John Kotarski, left, hands out information to Ann Arbor park advisory commissioners, including Alan Jackson, right. Kotarski is a member of the city’s public art commission, and made a presentation about proposed artwork for East Stadium bridges. In the background is Ann Arbor parks & rec manager Colin Smith.

Tim Berla asked for more information about where the artwork would be in Rose White Park. Bob Miller, chair of the public art commission, described the location near the intersection of Rose and White streets, on the east side of the bridge. The artist Catherine Widgery has proposed a 75-foot windscreen that Miller described as ideal for that location.

Miller said part of the challenge for this project is choosing appropriate city-owned property as possible sites for public art. Rose White Park is one of the sites, though not all artists proposed to locate artwork there. Other sites are the bridge itself, the underpass on South State, and the walkway from East Stadium down to South State. The west side of the bridge is mostly University of Michigan property.

Kotarski added that residents had reacted positively to the windscreen proposal, because it would also screen lights from traffic along East Stadium.

Responding to a query from parks and recreation manager Colin Smith, Miller described the outreach efforts so far, including an open house at the Ann Arbor Senior Center, a table at the Green Fair earlier this month, and public presentations by the artists that were videotaped.

Bob Galardi asked Miller to describe the decision-making process. It’s an arduous process, Miller replied. The task force will have two more meetings – first to review the feedback, then to make a recommendation to the full public art commission. Kotarski noted that the public art commission is just an advisory body that makes recommendations to the city council. Councilmembers will make the final decision about which artist to select.

In response to a question from Ingrid Ault, Miller reported that two task force members are residents of the Lower Burns Park neighborhood, located near East Stadium bridges and Rose White Park. Smith noted that a similar task force for the mural project at Allmendinger Park had worked well by including residents of that neighborhood.

Kotarski said the goal is to engage people who live nearby as well as those from the broader community. “We want to get as [many] people into the conversation as possible,” he said.

Outcome: This was not a voting item, and commissioners did not discuss their preferences for these proposals.

Ann Arbor Rec & Ed Update

Jenna Bacolor, the director of Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, gave an update on that program, which is part of the Ann Arbor Public Schools system. She noted that she’s been in this job for almost a year, and prior to that worked in Washtenaw County public health for 16 years. She lives on the west side of town, and her family is involved in a lot of activities in Ann Arbor, she said.

Jenna Bacolor, Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jenna Bacolor, director of Ann Arbor Rec & Ed.

Her presentation highlighted ways that the city and Rec & Ed are collaborating. Over the past year, Bacolor said she’s been learning about the history of the relationship between the city and the Rec & Ed program. The relationship formed in 1916, so there’s almost 100 years of collaboration, which is remarkable and something to be proud of, she said. “I think it hasn’t always been a smooth relationship, but I think it has been lately and I want to continue that – that’s important to me.”

She reported that the Rec & Ed program appreciates the city’s renovated ballfields. At a recent meeting, she said, the city’s parks staff and Rec & Ed staff talked through issues related to maintenance, which was helpful. Over 100 people attended the opening day “coach pitch” on June 15 at Veterans Memorial Park, and people there were excited about the new ballfields, she said.

Another collaboration is the new paddleboard yoga class at Argo, which Bacolor described as “totally awesome.”

Bacolor also mentioned an issue related to recent AAPS budget cuts, and the school board’s decision to cut funding for the middle school pools. The impact on Rec & Ed is that a long-running instructional swimming program will end after this summer’s season. Bacolor said she’s spoken with Colin Smith, the city’s parks & rec manager, to set up a referral process to the city’s swimming classes. Rec & Ed’s water aerobics classes were also held at middle school pools, and there’s the possibility of using Mack Pool instead.

Bacolor said she would be happy to answer questions, and to return to PAC any time for updates.

Ann Arbor Rec & Ed Update: Commission Discussion

Alan Jackson urged Bacolor to let the city know if any facilities are deteriorating. The more communication, the better, he said.

Ingrid Ault wondered how someone would do yoga on a stand-up paddleboard. Bacolor explained that classes are open to people of any skill level – regarding both yoga and using a paddleboard. There’s an anchoring system for the paddleboards, and the instructor leads participants through a series of yoga poses. It’s a great way to combine the enjoyment of nature with a physical activity, she said. It provides a good workout for your core, she noted, because you’re trying to balance on the paddleboard while doing the yoga pose.

Smith reported that both of the city’s canoe liveries – at Argo and Gallup – rent stand-up paddleboards, saying they are easier to use than it looks.

He praised the relationship between the city and Rec & Ed, saying that both entities are each trying to find recreational opportunities for residents. He cited the middle school swimming as a good example of collaboration, and he appreciated that Bacolor reached out to the city on that.

Tim Berla asked for more details about the swimming classes. Ten years ago, he noted, Rec & Ed offered both indoor and outdoor swimming lessons. But the city had raised the rent on its outdoor pools, Berla said, and Rec & Ed determined that the new rates weren’t feasible. [Berla is the Rec & Ed recreational advisory commission's liaison to PAC.]

Smith replied that the city has been offering lessons at its outdoor pools for at least 10 years. The schools are planning to close the middle school pools, which have been open during the school year. Mack Pool, an indoor pool that the city operates at Ann Arbor Open school, is also open during the school year, he said. The hope is to increase the number of lessons offered by the city at Mack Pool, or to partner with Rec & Ed for programming there.

Mike Anglin thanked Rec & Ed for making life easier for parents during the summer months. He asked how many volunteers work on Rec & Ed programs. Bacolor replied that there are hundreds of volunteers. She thanked Anglin for agreeing to appear on the cover of Rec & Ed’s summer program guide.

Later in the meeting, Berla gave a report from the Rec & Ed recreational advisory commission (RAC). Given the cutbacks at the Ann Arbor Public Schools, RAC has discussed the possibility of a new recreation millage or an enhancement millage – something that AAPS might put on the ballot. If that option is pursued, it would need to be coordinated with the city, he said. Extra revenues could be used to keep the middle school pools open, for example. It’s an ongoing discussion, he said, because the school district’s budget seems to be much worse than the city’s.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Communications & Commentary

There were several opportunities for communications from staff or commissioners during the April 16 meeting, as well as time for public commentary.

Communications & Commentary: Manager’s Report

Prior to the start of Colin Smith’s parks and recreation manager’s report, PAC chair Julie Grand reported that Smith had been named Do-Gooder of the Year in Current magazine’s 2013 Readers Choice Awards.

Julie Grand, Colin Smith, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

PAC chair Julie Grand and Colin Smith, parks & rec manager.

Usually, she said, you look at these kinds of polls and say “What are these people thinking?” But this time, Grand added, “I feel like the readers got it right.”

Commissioners gave Smith a round of applause. He said it was a surprise – as he found out about it after getting a call from his mother. Smith said he’s getting teased for it, but he hoped it reflected positively on the parks in general. “If people think the parks improve their quality of life, that’s great.”

Smith then provided several updates, including: (1) the grand opening of the Traver Creek streambank stabilization project on June 22, held at Leslie Park golf course; (2) the start of the Ann Arbor Civic Band‘s Wednesday night concerts in West Park, starting at 8 p.m. every week through July 24; and (3) phase 1 renovations at Gallup Park, which he encouraged commissioners to check out.

Communications & Commentary: Argo Cascades

Tim Berla asked about an article on the Argo Cascades that was published in a recent edition of the Ann Arbor Observer. He hoped to have a discussion about it at some point, saying that the article made the cascades seem really dangerous.

Colin Smith said the Observer reporter had interviewed him and Cheryl Saam, who supervises the city’s two canoe liveries. The two of them had provided a great deal of information, he said, though not all of it was incorporated into the article. He reiterated “very strongly” that the main thing Saam focuses on every day is risk management and safety. All seasonal staff for the liveries are trained in CPR, first aid, water safety and a range of related topics, he said.

Regarding the design of Argo Cascades, Smith said that any time there’s a new amenity, the staff works throughout the year to make it as enjoyable and safe as possible. Changes were made to the pool drops in the cascades during the winter, and the last drop into the Huron River is “smoother than it ever was to begin with.”

Of course there’s an element of risk in everything they do, Smith said. He pointed out that in order to rent a boat from the liveries, you have to sign a waiver that’s been vetted by the city attorney’s office. At the cascades, the staff also provides guidelines for who should or shouldn’t use it. And if you go to the city’s website for the liveries, it will indicate whether there’s a high water alert due to heavy rains. If an alert is in effect, you can’t rent a boat unless you’re an experienced kayaker and swimmer, and no children are allowed. There are certain levels of river flows that trigger these criteria, he said, and at those times, the staff won’t let you take a river trip. “That’s right up front in what we do,” he said.

Also related to Argo Cascades, Julie Grand reported that a task force continues to work on selecting public artwork for that area. The task force has selected three finalists who will be making site visits and meeting with the public. Other outreach efforts are also planned to get input from the public, Grand said. Members of the task force include Grand, John Kotarski, Malverne Winborne, Cheryl Saam, Margaret Parker, Cathy Fleisher and Bonnie Greenspoon.

AAPAC approved a $150,000 budget for that project on April 25, 2012.

Communications & Commentary: Committee Reports

Both the dog park and downtown park subcommittees are developing surveys for public input, which are expected to be released soon. Karen Levin is chair of the dog park subcommittee. Ingrid Ault chairs the downtown park subcommittee.

Communications & Commentary: Huron River Map

Ingrid Ault highlighted the Huron River Water Trail Traveler’s Companion, a waterproof guide with maps and other information related to the river. It costs $10 and can be purchased from the Huron River Watershed Council or Bivouac, Ault noted. Colin Smith also pointed out that the guides are for sale at each of the city’s canoe liveries.

Communications & Commentary: Public Commentary

In addition to the public commentary reported above, one other woman addressed commissioners, saying she is a former park planner with the city. She wanted to bring a pet peeve to their attention, she said. Like many Baby Boomers, she’s now a swimmer, because “running is too tough and biking is dangerous.” She expressed frustration that children were playing in the lap lanes at Veterans Memorial pool, saying the lifeguard didn’t take action to address it. She got kicked hard in the stomach, and later was smacked in the head. It’s a liability for the city, she said – it’s not safe. There are also a lot of times when the lanes are reserved for master swimmers. It would be nice if there were more availability of lanes for people who want to swim laps at both Veterans Memorial and Fuller pools, she said. With an aging population, there will be more demand for it, she said.

Present: Ingrid Ault, Tim Berla, Bob Galardi, Jen Geer, Julie Grand, Alan Jackson, Karen Levin, Missy Stults, Jen Geer and councilmembers Mike Anglin and Christopher Taylor (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks and recreation manager.

Absent: Graydon Krapohl.

Next PAC meeting: Tuesday, July 15, 2013 at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. PAC’s land acquisition committee meets on Tuesday, June 4 at 4 p.m. [Check Chronicle event listing to confirm date]

Next downtown park subcommittee meeting: Tuesday, June 25 from 5-6:30 p.m. at city hall’s first floor south conference room. More information about that group is on the subcommittee’s website.

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  1. By trevor
    June 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm | permalink

    “Although skatepark organizers have been working on the project for more than five years, formal city council action on the skatepark dates back to Dec. 1, 2008, when the council approved a memorandum of intent between the city and the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. [.pdf of memorandum of intent]”

    This may be nitpicking, but the above paragraph would be more accurate if it were to read, “BECAUSE skatepark organizers have been working on the project for more than five years, formal city council action on the skatepark dates back to Dec. 1, 2008…”

  2. By Jean Hoother
    June 24, 2013 at 3:16 pm | permalink

    Liberty Plaza needs to be filled in and made a street level park. There are many places to get out of view there and that encourages bad behavior.

  3. June 24, 2013 at 7:41 pm | permalink

    #2 is absolutely right. The idea of creating urban parks isolated from their surroundings to produce an “urban oasis” was thoroughly discredited by the early 1980s. It only works if the park is big enough to take on a life of its own, like Central Park in NYC. Examples of parks that used to be isolated and have since been fixed include Bryant Park in NYC (fixed in the early 1980s) and Copley Square in Boston (also fixed in the 1980s). This is Urban Planning 101 stuff, and I’m surprised the lesson hasn’t been learned here.

  4. By Rod Johnson
    June 25, 2013 at 10:36 am | permalink

    Jim, your comment sent me on a little googling expedition. You’re right, those are really interesting examples, thanks. Now the question is, how did Boston and NYC generate the political will to get it done in the face of governmental apathy?

  5. By C. Bultman
    June 25, 2013 at 2:21 pm | permalink

    WRT Bryant Park, when I was a kid my father worked up the block from there and he would never let his kids anywhere near that park. People called it ‘Needles Park’ at the time due to all of the drugs dealers. The site’s rich history and its proximity to the public library (adjacent) made it especially troubling. Then “the Bryant Park Corporation was founded in 1980 with a charge to reclaim Bryant Park for the people of New York City.” (from the BPC’s website). So to answer part of your question, Mr. Johnson, the ‘political will’ came from private citizens taking the situation into their own hands. I guess it also helps to have people with names like Rockefeller on your team.

    There is some history of Bryant Park here [link]

  6. By Rod Johnson
    June 25, 2013 at 3:30 pm | permalink

    Yep, I read all about that.I guess my question is predicated on a shortage of Rockefellers and a somewhat dysfunctional history of public-private partnerships hereabouts.

  7. By John Floyd
    June 25, 2013 at 9:41 pm | permalink

    “Geer, a Burns Park resident, is the daughter of Kirk Profit, a lobbyist for the city with the Lansing firm Governmental Consultant Services Inc. (GCSI). She is married to Christopher Geer, who serves on the Ann Arbor housing commission board.”

    Is it just me, or is this a bit incestuous?