DDA OKs Capital Projects, Art Fair Trolley

Board leadership transitions from Leah Gunn to Sandi Smith as Ann Arbor city council, DDA work to resolve TIF issues by September

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority monthly board meeting and annual meeting (July 3, 2013): In its voting business, the DDA board allocated a total of $550,000 for capital projects – either planning for future work or actual current projects.

Sandi Smith was elected by her colleagues a chair of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board at its July 3, 2013 annual meeting. Here she's showing off the DDAs new website with her tablet.

Sandi Smith was elected by her colleagues as chair of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board at its July 3, 2013 annual meeting. Here she’s showing the DDA’s new website on her tablet. (Photos by the writer.)

The board also approved a $59,200 grant to support the formation of a business improvement zone in the South University area. A “trolley” for the upcoming art fairs also received $10,000 worth of support, in action taken by the board.

The capital projects included $50,000 for repair of sidewalk-related amenities that aren’t covered by the city’s sidewalk millage. In addition, the board allocated $200,000 for a streetscape framework planning project. Board action also included $300,000 for the replacement of light poles on Main Street.

The light pole replacement is one source of current friction between the city and the DDA – as the expectation of the city had been that the entire $516,000 project would be paid for by the DDA. But the result of wrangling over the DDA’s FY 2014 budget – given approval by the council on May 20 – was a transfer of $300,000 from the DDA’s TIF fund to the DDA’s housing fund. So the DDA’s position is that it can’t fund the entire light pole replacement project, because of that transfer to the housing fund.

The light pole question is related to the general issue of DDA finances and the revenue it receives through tax increment finance (TIF) capture of taxes – from entities that levy those taxes in the DDA district. Elected as chair at the annual meeting – which immediately followed the board’s monthly meeting – Sandi Smith will face the resolution of the TIF revenue issue as one of her first challenges.

The outstanding issue concerns the way that the DDA administers Chapter 7 of the city code of Ann Arbor – which regulates the DDA’s TIF capture. This spring the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to a revision to Chapter 7. The council’s action, if given final approval, would prevent the DDA from giving the code an interpretation that doesn’t recognize a cap on TIF revenue that is expressed in Chapter 7. The amendment to the ordinance would return several hundred thousand dollars a year to other taxing authorities from which the DDA captures taxes. Those entities include the Ann Arbor District Library, Washtenaw Community College, Washtenaw County and the city of Ann Arbor.

The council has postponed final action on the matter until Sept. 3, 2013. Between now and then, the council’s expectation is that a joint DDA-council committee will meet and make recommendations on the Chapter 7 issue.

At its July 1 meeting, the city council appointed four members to its committee: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Sally Petersen (Ward 2). And at the July 3 monthly meeting, outgoing DDA board chair Leah Gunn appointed the DDA’s committee: Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, Joan Lowenstein and Sandi Smith.

Another point of recent budgetary friction between the city and the DDA was raised briefly at the July 3 board meeting. In a formal resolution, the city council had encouraged the DDA to allocate money to fund downtown beat patrol police officers. For its part, the DDA has for a few years already been mulling the question of some kind of additional security – either in the form of ambassadors, community standards officers or police officers. At the July 3 meeting, DDA board members indicated they would continue to mull that range of options, but seemed disinclined to commit to funding police officers.

The board also heard a range of routine reports on July 3, including the monthly parking revenue report. The DDA manages the city’s public parking system under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor. In the future, it was announced, the report will be delivered only on a quarterly basis. Also related to parking policy, a tentative pilot project was announced that could change the basic approach the DDA takes to selling monthly parking permits. The idea would be to assign permit eligibility only to property owners in a defined geographic area. The number of permits would depend on the number of square feet of property – independent of uses such as office, residential, retail, etc. Currently, the DDA uses a first-come-first-served system for individuals, with a waiting list.

The DDA’s monthly meeting marked a transition on the board, as two board members were bid farewell. Newcombe Clark served one four-year term. He’s making an employment-related move to Chicago. Leah Gunn concluded nearly 22 years of service on the board. She finished out her time on the board as chair.

South University Area BIZ

The DDA board was asked to approve a $59,200 grant to support the establishment of a business improvement zone (BIZ) for the South University area of downtown. The money would be allocated only at specific milestone points.

A BIZ is a self-assessment district that can be established under Public Act 120 of 1961 by agreement of a sufficient number of property owners in the district – to generate funds to pay for additional services not provided by the city. If it’s established, the South University Area BIZ would be the second such district in downtown Ann Arbor. In 2010, a BIZ district was established for a three-block stretch of Main Street, between William and Huron streets – to provide sidewalk snow clearing, litter pickup and poster removal. [See Chronicle coverage from 2009: "Ann Arbor Main Street BIZ Clears Hurdle."]

The Ann Arbor DDA provided a grant to assist with the formation of the Main Street BIZ, voting on April 1, 2009 to award $83,270 to defray various costs associated with the formation of the BIZ. Those costs included accounting, auditing, operations and legal services.

At that time, DDA board members reflected on the fact that they did not necessarily want to be signaling – through their support of the Main Street BIZ – that the DDA would be inclined to support all other subsequent efforts to establish business improvement zones in other areas of the downtown. Partly to address that concern, the board asked that the Main Street BIZ produce a “blueprint” for the formation of a BIZ, which could be used by other groups to help navigate the lengthy required process.

At a May 29, 2013 meeting of the DDA’s operations committee, South University Area Association executive director Maggie Ladd and consultant Betsy Jackson pitched the grant to the committee. Jackson, president of The Urban Agenda Inc., told the committee that while the blueprint was a useful fill-in-the-blank document, it was important to have someone with sufficient expertise to fill in those blanks. Jackson was also the consultant hired for the Main Street BIZ.

According to the DDA board resolution, South University property owners are contributing a total of $25,000 toward the start-up costs.

South University Area BIZ: Board Deliberations

Joan Lowenstein introduced the resolution on the South University Area BIZ. Lowenstein reported that South University Area Association executive director Maggie Ladd had spoken to the partnerships committee about the grant. Lowenstein noted that something similar was already in place for an area along Main Street. In the South University area, Lowenstein said, there’s increased commercial activity, and along with that there was increased use of the sidewalks. It would be useful to take a more uniform approach to issues like cleanliness, visitor comfort, and snow removal. The initial support for the South University Area BIZ, Lowenstein said, was shown by the willingness of property owners to contribute $25,000 to the administrative start-up costs.

Lowenstein noted that one of the deliverables from the DDA’s funding of the administrative start-up costs for the Main Street BIZ was a template for creating additional business improvement zones. She reported that such a template had been created, but that creating a BIZ is not just a matter of filling in the blanks. The template or blueprint would save some legal costs – but there’s a log of legwork involved, she said. For example, the exact method of the assessment has to be calculated and its impact weighed. [For example, an assessment could be done based on lineal feet of street frontage or by square feet of property, which would give different burdens to property owners and possibly affect the willingness of a property owner to vote yes.]

Keith Orr indicated his willingness to support the resolution because a BIZ can do things that a DDA can’t do.

Russ Collins stressed that the DDA was responding to requests from businesses in the area, and that it was not a proposal about development. Businesses in the area decided they wanted additional services to make their area more appealing. Sometimes, Collin said, the general public feels the DDA’s primary purpose is to promote new building in the downtown – when the DDA doesn’t actually do much of that. But the DDA does try to support local businesses when they request support to fulfill a mission that fits with the DDA’s mission. And he felt the grant fits that dynamic.

Newcombe Clark wanted to know if there was definitely going to be a South University Area BIZ “at the end of this” or if the DDA’s grant would just support a study. Orr indicated that it’s unknown whether a BIZ would actually be established, but he said, “one hopes there’s a BIZ at the end.” It’s not a study to see if the property owners want it or not. But because it adds a new tax, the people who would be taxed have to vote on the proposal, Orr pointed out. And there are a number of milestones along the way that have to be completed, he noted. Lowenstein explained that there’s an initial vote, and if the proposal didn’t manage to get approval on the initial vote, then the DDA’s contribution would be minimal. After that initial vote, there’s additional administrative work that needs to be done.

Newcombe Clark

Newcombe Clark.

Clark indicated that his recollection was that when the organizers of the Main Street BIZ had approached the DDA, they had “enough ducks in a row” that they’d been able to say: Give us this money and there will be a BIZ at the end of this. Orr responded to Clark by saying that for the Main Street BIZ, the outcome had been unknown. Orr noted that you’d have to canvass to find out who the actual property owners are, which is not always obvious. Clark responded to Orr by saying, “In South U. it’s pretty easy to get 60% [the threshold for BIZ votes of approval] … Two or three people. That’s not a $90,000 project.” Clark said that as long as there are milestones for the DDA’s payments, he was inclined to support it. “If we’re out five grand for a vote,” he said, that would be fine, but he didn’t want to “be out 90 grand to look up numbers that are in my cell phone.”

In response to Clark’s concern, Sandi Smith noted that a “whereas” clause provided for disbursement of funds at key milestone points. She ventured that the language could be modified to say “up to $59,200″ so that if the process stalls along the way, the DDA would stall on its disbursement of funds. That language was added.

Outcome: The board voted unanimously to approve the $59,200 grant to help establish a BIZ for the South University area.


Art came up in several ways, in addition to the board’s resolution on funding for an art fair “trolley.”

Art: Art Fair Trolley

The board was asked to provide $10,000 worth of support for a “trolley” to operate during the upcoming art fairs. The shuttle service for the Ann Arbor art fairs – which take place from July 17-20, 2013 – would circulate to the four different fair areas. [.pdf of the "trolley" route]

The Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau is also contributing $10,000. The DDA board resolution described the annual operating cost of the art fair trolley as more than $25,000.

Art: Art Fair Trolley – Public Commentary

Max Clayton introduced herself as the executive director of the Guild of Artists and Artisans, but she was speaking on behalf of all four art fairs that make up the Ann Arbor art fairs. She characterized the art fairs as an economic driver, which had been its original mission. They had succeeded at that mission, she continued, for more than 50 years. The art fairs bring about $78 million of economic impact to the community each year, she said. But that $78 million is not revenue to the art fairs, she stressed. That’s money being spent by fairgoers, to shop in stores, eat in restaurants, park in lots and structures, and enjoy a hotel stay.

She described how the art fairs in the last few years are starting to face increased competition from fairs in other parts of the country. Ann Arbor’s art fairs can compete based on the quality of the artists and the art in the fairs, she said. A survey had been done of fairgoers to discover what they need and what they enjoy – to keep them coming back. What they’d heard from fairgoers was the importance of understanding where they were. They’d heard that the fair is too big and people don’t know how to get around. It was determined that fairgoers need to be helped to understand how to navigate the fairs better – so that the event could be enjoyed to its fullest.

So the organizers of the art fairs had decided to pay for an art fair trolley, which follows a route encircling all of the art fairs. The shuttle stops for the art fair trolley are the same as the stops for the shuttle service operated by the AAATA, she said. It costs about $25,000 a year. She pointed out that the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau had also contributed $10,000 to the effort. The support of the DDA would be recognized in various ways, including signage placed on the trolley, she said. The vehicle also has a wonderful trolley bell, she noted.

Art: Art Fair Trolley – Board Deliberations

Roger Hewitt introduced the item by saying that other organizations were also involved in supporting the trolley – the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

Outcome: Without further discussion, the board unanimously approved the $10,000 grant for the art fair trolley.

Art: East Stadium Bridges Public Art

During the public commentary segment at the start of the meeting, John Kotarski introduced himself as a member of the Ann Arbor public art commission. He updated the board on the status of the East Stadium bridges art project. He pointed board members to the art commission’s website, where they could view a 45-minute presentation on the four artist proposals for the site. He addressed two questions: Why had the East Stadium bridges location been chosen? And what had been done to include local artists?

East Stadium Boulevard as well as South State Street form a gateway into the city, Kotarski said. At the direction of the city, the public art commission had reached out to stakeholders in that general area. The money that has been allocated for the project originated with the Percent for Art program, he pointed out. And that means that the money has to be connected thematically to the funds of origin. The idea was to create a sense of place and to unify East Stadium Boulevard and South State Street, and to encourage multimodal transportation.

Ann Arbor public art commissioners Bob Miller (standing) and John Kotarski

Ann Arbor public art commissioners Bob Miller (standing) and John Kotarski at the July 3 DDA board meeting.

Addressing the idea of local artists, he said it was the desire of the public art commission to involve local artists. But the fact of the matter is, he explained, it’s not possible to have an exclusive competition for local artists – because the city attorney has said that would be illegal. So what the public art commission has done to encourage local artists, he continued, is to do extensive outreach. He named four organizations – the Ann Arbor Art Center, the Street Art Fair, the Arts Alliance, and the Ann Arbor Women Artists – along with 45 other organizations that had been encouraged to be engaged and to submit proposals. There had been 32 submissions for this project. Of those, 10 were Michigan artists and four were Ann Arbor residents. Those 32 have been winnowed down to four.

Kotarski encouraged DDA board members to check out the proposals and to take the survey. Their feedback, he said, is important and invaluable to the public art commission. He and art commission chair Bob Miller – who accompanied Kotarski at the DDA board meeting – have been presenting the information to various groups, including the park advisory commission, the Arts Alliance, and a Ward 2 public forum. The following week they’d be appearing before the planning commission, at its July 9 working session. The public art commission really wants the community to understand what the four proposals are, he said.

You don’t always hit home runs, Kotarski cautioned, though you hope for that. But he did feel there was one proposal of the four that would work very well. So he again encouraged board members to investigate the four proposals and to take the survey.

Art: Public Commentary

Ray Detter reported out from the downtown area citizens advisory council. He said that Marsha Chamberlin, from the public art commission, had filled in the CAC on projects currently in progress. Detter said that Chamberlin had reported that the city had approved the hiring of a full-time city administrator. [The conclusion of a city council committee on public art, which made recommendations that led to the elimination of the Percent for Art funding mechanism at the council's June 3, 2013 meeting, stated: "A full-time art administrator is preferable." Chronicle inquiries about the possibility that the city has moved forward with a decision to hire a full-time administrator have not yet been answered, because of the holiday break.

[Added Monday, July 8 at 8:45 a.m.: Responding to an emailed Chronicle inquiry, public services area administrator Craig Hupy indicated no decision has been made about how to implement the recommendation for a full-time administrator. There are, he wrote, "a couple of ways to deliver that desire: a FTE as a city employee, a contract employee or a contract for services. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages." Before a "vehicle" for providing that full-time effort can be determined, the scope of needs and desires must be drafted, he indicated. "Whatever is recommended will likely have to go to city council for approval," Hupy wrote.]

Pedestrian Issues

Pedestrian issues were the subject of two board resolutions.

First, the board was asked to consider a streetscape framework plan for downtown Ann Arbor at a cost of $200,000 over the next two years. The resolution allocating the funds states that “an enjoyable pedestrian experience is one of downtown’s principal attractions.”

The $200,000 cost would not cover construction. But according to the board’s resolution, it’s a realistic budget to cover “consultants, contingency, and other related costs.” The idea cited in the resolution is to shorten the planning phases and reduce the costs associated with future streetscape projects. The resolution directs the DDA’s operations committee to create a final project budget and timeframe.

The most recent streetscape project completed by the DDA related to improvements on Fifth and Division, which included a lane reduction and bump-outs.

The second agenda item on July 3 that affected the downtown Ann Arbor pedestrian environment was a $50,000 allocation for general sidewalk maintenance. The money would cover displaced bricks, uneven sidewalk flags, and missing, dead or overgrown trees.

Pedestrian Issues: Streetscape Framework

Roger Hewitt introduced the resolution on the streetscape framework plan by saying it had been discussed for several months now. He stressed that the DDA was not looking to plunge into a specific streetscape improvement project. But in the past, when the DDA has done streetscape improvements, it has looked at a single street or a few blocks of a street and decided what it might look like. Now, it would be appropriate, Hewitt said, to take a step back and look at how all downtown streets are used by cars and pedestrians. The idea was not to identify materials or locations of where every lamppost or sign or bench should go. The idea, he said, was to determine “what sort of streets those should be.”

For example, Hewitt said: Should parking be made available on a street? Should the sidewalks be wider or narrower? Where should loading zones go? Where should taxi stands go? The idea would be to identify four or five different types of streets and which streets should be in each category. The DDA would coordinate with the city staff, as well as the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority on the project. The project would provide a blueprint for where streetscapes should go in the future, Hewitt said – and provide guidelines for what a particular improvement on a particular street should look like. The proposed budget of $200,000 would be spent over the next two fiscal years, Hewitt said. The major cost would be the cost of the consultant, Hewitt concluded.

Sandi Smith said she hoped that the streetscape framework planning process wouldn’t preclude acting on opportunities that might arise in the shorter term. As an example, she gave the 618 S. Main project, noting that part of the brownfield grant would pay for streetscape improvements. John Splitt ventured that the 618 S. Main improvements would be done in the summer of 2014, so he assumed that the framework planning wouldn’t stand in the way. Keith Orr stressed that the framework planning was not a design guideline project, but would address issues like: On this type of street, what should signage look like? Which signs should be together? How far should one parking meter be from another parking meter? Russ Collins jokingly added to Orr’s questions: Should trees be removed that block beautiful theater marquees? [Collins is executive director of the Michigan Theater.]

Smith returned to her point that she wanted to make sure the DDA remained nimble enough to be responsive when needed. Newcombe Clark responded to Smith by saying: “We never stop dancing.” Hewitt ventured that the DDA had learned how to be nimble.

Outcome: The DDA board unanimously approved the $200,000 for a streetscape planning framework.

Pedestrian Issues: Sidewalks

DDA executive director Susan Pollay described the needed work on sidewalks as issues that had been identified during two walk-throughs of the downtown. While there’s a city sidewalk millage that can address slabs of concrete that show significant deterioration, it doesn’t cover issues like the following: bricks that are coming loose, tree pits, and pruning of trees. Those are details that add up to a walkable downtown, she said. She told board members that the money is in the approved budget.

Outcome: Without discussion, the board unanimously approved the $50,000 for sidewalk repairs.

Main Street Light Poles

The board was asked to approve a resolution allocating $300,000 for the replacement of decorative light poles on Main Street. The total estimated cost of the project is $516,000 for 81 light poles.

Downtown Ann Arbor Main Street light pole

Downtown Ann Arbor Main Street light pole on the northeast corner of Main & William. This photograph is from the city of Ann Arbor staff, taken in April 2012.

Based on the DDA board’s resolution, it’s the DDA’s expectation that the city of Ann Arbor will make up the difference of $216,000.

Responding to an emailed query from The Chronicle earlier this year, city of Ann Arbor staff indicated that in early 2012 two of the light poles fell – due to a structural failure at the base of the poles caused by rust. After inspection of all the poles, two additional light poles were deemed to be in immediate risk of falling and were also replaced.

The DDA’s resolution indicates that the city of Ann Arbor’s budget approval process this year had determined that the city would allocate $216,000 for the project. What the Ann Arbor city council actually did on May 20, 2013 was to alter the DDA’s budget by recognizing additional TIF revenues of more than $568,000, and shifting $300,000 of that revenue from the DDA’s TIF fund to the DDA’s housing fund.

The council’s resolution also recommended that the DDA spend $300,000 of its TIF fund on the Main Street light pole replacement. In response to an emailed query from The Chronicle, city administrator Steve Powers indicated that the city council will be asked to act on the matter either at its July 15 or Aug. 8 meeting. Public services area administrator Craig Hupy, responding to the same query, explained that it wasn’t yet clear if the council action would include an additional appropriation, or if it could be handled within the existing budget.

Main Street Light Poles: Public Comment

Reporting out from the downtown area citizens advisory council, Ray Detter indicated support for the DDA’s resolution. Combining city and DDA funds makes good sense, he said, and the light pole replacement provides an opportunity to do that. He indicated there could be an opportunity to use public art funds for that project.

Main Street Light Poles: Board Deliberations

DDA executive director Susan Pollay introduced the item by saying that there had been a problem “quietly brewing” on Main Street. One of the first installations of pedestrian-scale lighting in the DDA district, she said, was along Main Street between Huron and William. On the inside they’re rusting, she explained, because water has intruded. Last year, she said, four of them blew over in a storm. [In response to an emailed query from The Chronicle, city of Ann Arbor staff stated that two light poles had fallen down in the spring of 2012. After inspection of all the poles, it was determined that two additional poles were at immediate risk of falling and were also replaced.]

According to Pollay, the city staff have been trying to find a way to pay for the replacement. As part of the city council’s budgeting process, Pollay said, the DDA was supposed to provide $300,000 for the project. If the board approved the resolution, then Pollay would communicate to the city staff, so that a resolution could be prepared for the city council, and the council would need to approve the remaining amount. Newcombe Clark drew out the fact that the money would be drawn from the DDA’s TIF fund. He asked that the point be added to the resolution.

Pollay described how the replacement would need to be coordinated with banner replacement and holiday light plug-ins.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the $300,000 grant to the city of Ann Arbor for replacement of the light poles on Main Street.

City Council, DDA Relations

The light pole question is actually related to the general issue of DDA finances and the revenue it receives through tax increment finance (TIF) capture of taxes – from entities that levy those taxes in the DDA district. Elected as chair at the annual meeting – which immediately followed the board’s monthly meeting – Sandi Smith will face the resolution of the TIF revenue issue as one of her first challenges.

City Council, DDA Relations: Background

An effort led by Ann Arbor city councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) – which has taken different forms over the last year and a half – culminated earlier this spring in initial approval by the council of a revision to Chapter 7, which regulates the DDA’s TIF capture. The council’s action, if given final approval, would prevent the DDA from giving the city code an interpretation that doesn’t recognize a cap on TIF revenue expressed in Chapter 7. The amendment to the ordinance would return several hundred thousand dollars a year to the other taxing authorities from which the DDA captures taxes. Those entities include the Ann Arbor District Library, Washtenaw Community College, Washtenaw County and the city of Ann Arbor.

City Council, DDA Relations: Committee Not “Mutually Beneficial”

The council has postponed final action on the matter until Sept. 3, 2013. Between now and then, the council’s expectation is that a joint DDA-council committee will meet and make recommendations on the Chapter 7 issue.

Board chair Leah Gunn. One of her last acts as chair was to appoint the DDA-Council joint committee.

Board chair Leah Gunn. One of her last acts as chair was to appoint members to the DDA-council joint committee.

At its July 1 meeting, the city council appointed four members to its committee: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Sally Petersen (Ward 2).

In her remarks on the appointment of the DDA members to the committee, board chair Leah Gunn indicated that the understanding going into the city council meeting was that there would be three members. But the council had appointed four members. [During the council's July 1, 2013 meeting, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had proposed that Jane Lumm (Ward 2) be added to the list.]

The four DDA board members appointed to the committee by Gunn are: Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, Joan Lowenstein and Sandi Smith.

Newcombe Clark asked if it had to be called the “mutually beneficial” committee. He referred to the fact that history is “unfortunately … annotated and tagged with these names.”

At the council’s July 1 meeting, the council had also eschewed the label of “mutually beneficial” for the name of the committee – at the suggestion of Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Sabra Briere (Ward 1) was sitting in the audience of the July 3 DDA meeting and waved to board chair Leah Gunn, who then invited Briere to the podium to explain. Briere told the DDA board that the council had settled on the idea of calling it a joint DDA-council committee. The DDA board appear amendable to that as well.

City Council, DDA Relations: More Background

By way of background on the reluctance on the part of some to call the group a “mutually beneficial committee,” that phrase in connection with the sorting out of issues between the city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor DDA is not new.

The phrase was first mooted in a Jan. 20, 2009 council resolution. The main issue at that time was the contract under which the DDA administers the city’s public parking system. Subsequently, “mutually beneficial” committees for both entities were appointed, but they did not achieve any results. The following year, new committees were appointed and those committees met over the course of several months, culminating in a new parking agreement ratified in May 2011.

The council formally disbanded its “mutually beneficial” committee at the end of 2011.

City Council, DDA Relations: Housing, Light Poles

Pending the resolution of the Chapter 7 TIF issue, the city council had already altered the DDA’s FY 2014 budget in action taken at its May 20, 2013 meeting. The council’s resolution modifying the DDA’s budget involved housing and the Main Street light poles.

Touching implicitly on the housing issue at the July 3 DDA board meeting, Sandi Smith reported out from the recent meeting of the partnerships committee. The committee had received an update from representatives of various affordable housing advocates – Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC) executive director Jennifer Hall, Washtenaw County office of community & economic development director Mary Jo Callan and Washtenaw Housing Alliance executive director Julie Steiner. Smith reported that the three had been given an update on “where the moving parts fit together” and about ongoing funding reductions at the federal and state levels. The partnerships committee learned about the places the DDA can “plug in,” Smith said, and had agreed to continue to learn and talk to representatives of the affordable housing community.

By way of additional background, one place that housing advocates hope the DDA “plugs in” is with $300,000 of support for an initiative the AAHC is undertaking, which would convert the city’s public housing stock to project-based vouchers. The effort includes a requirement that significant renovations be made to many of the properties. The hope is that the DDA would provide $300,000 of support for a package of renovations that includes AAHC properties within 1/4 mile of the DDA district boundary. That’s the area the DDA currently uses as a policy guideline for allocating expenditures from its housing fund.

The $300,000 figure is significant, because it’s the amount the city council transferred from the DDA’s TIF fund to the DDA’s housing fund, in a budget action taken on at the council’s May 20, 2013 meeting. The DDA’s position is that it can’t fund the entire light pole replacement project – because of that transfer to the housing fund.

City Council, DDA Relations: Downtown Beat Cops

Reporting out from the DDA’s operations committee, Roger Hewitt noted that the city council had passed a resolution requesting that the DDA consider providing funding for police officers. [That resolution was passed at the council's June 3, 2013 meeting. At the DDA board's June 5, 2013 meeting, board chair Leah Gunn had referred the matter to the operations committee.]

Hewitt said the committee had a discussion about the matter of funding downtown police. There are a number of ways to approach it: with ambassadors, community standards officers, or police officers. Hewitt said the DDA would take a reasoned approach to determine what fits best.

Sandi Smith expressed a reluctance for the DDA to pay for an ongoing city operational expense. She felt, however, that it would be great to fund a start-up program to cover equipment needs – like uniforms. A light-hearted exchange unfolded based on the idea of Robocop as a depreciable asset.


The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority manages the city’s public parking system under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor. A report on monthly parking activity is a typical part of all board meeting reports.

Parking: Monthly Report

Roger Hewitt gave the monthly parking revenue update. [A recent Chronicle column includes the breakdown of the DDA parking numbers for nearly the last four years.]

Hewitt highlighted the revenues from the new Library Lane structure, which was completed in July of 2012. The structure showed revenues over $100,000 for May 2013. That is far more than projected, Hewitt said, and compares favorably with revenues from the Forest structure, which has been open for 20 years. The Library Lane structure has been accepted by patrons and is being adopted for use more rapidly than any other new structure, Hewitt said.

Hewitt also noted that this month’s report would be the last monthly report, and in the future quarterly reports will be given instead.

Commenting on the rationale for the move to quarterly reports, Newcombe Clark stated that “the painful convenience of data is that you can often torture it to tell you whatever you want it to say.” He’d been more and more concerned about the pressure that the DDA might feel to create policy based on monthly data. It might indicate a trend, but at this point the DDA is not running any kind of statistical analysis that would give any confidence or probability that “anything from the tides of March or the weather or what-have-you” might indicate revenue, he said.

At his self-described “polite and insistent poking,” Clark had proposed to move the reports to a quarterly review, so that the DDA could look at trends with a more objective eye. “The data will, of course, be collected daily as it [currently] is, and will be available for anybody that wants it,” he said. If board members just miss the monthly reports and it leaves a void in the monthly operations committee meeting, Clark quipped, he suspected they would restore the monthly reports. He thought it was a good policy to take a break from looking at data and getting lost in it without understanding it.

Parking: Permit Pilot Program

As part of his report from the operations committee, Roger Hewitt noted that the committee had focused on the high demand for parking in the area of the University of Michigan campus. Illustrating the overall demand was the number of monthly parking permits that had been sold for the new Library Lane structure. Over 600 monthly permits had been sold for Library Lane, Hewitt said, and there’s already a wait list for that new structure.

Hewitt said the operations committee had been discussing how to make the process for issuing permits “less subjective and more objective.” By way of background, the parking permit allocations are currently made on a first-come-first-served policy with a waiting list. So decisions about who may purchase them are objective. What could be considered subjective is the number of permits that can be sold for a particular structure. For some structures, the oversell margin seems to be maximized. For others, it is not.

That subjective component can make other DDA decisions also seem subjective – like determining whether monthly permits will be assigned to new developments under the contribution in lieu (CIL) program. That program can allow a new development to satisfy a parking requirement by purchasing monthly permits in the public parking system. Permits purchased through the CIL program are priced at a 20% premium. The DDA can exercise its discretion in determining whether there is capacity in the parking system to grant the permits. Whether there is capacity is the issue that could be subjective.

When the DDA granted 40 CIL permits in the Forest Street structure to the proposed 624 Church Street project – which is in the South University area – at least one owner of an existing residential building complained that this was unfair. That was the owner of the Zaragon building, located adjacent to the 624 Church Street development. Hewitt operates his revive + replenish business on the ground floor of Zaragon.

At the July 3 meeting, Hewitt reported that the operations committee had decided to start a pilot project for the Forest Street structure – to assign permits not based on the first-come-first-served basis as they currently are. Instead, permits would be issued to building owners in the South University area inside the DDA district, based on the square footage of those buildings.

That would provide an objective standard for determining who gets the parking permits instead of assigning them in a subjective manner, he said. It would be a pilot project, Hewitt stressed. No contract would be issued. Each building owner would be contacted and would be offered a chance to purchase permits at the going rate, based on how much square footage they owned. Hewitt indicated that roughly one parking space would be provided for every 2,500 square feet of building area, based on the data the DDA had collected.

Current permit holders would be “grandfathered in,” Hewitt said. He said there are very few examples where there are more permits in a building now than the proposed system would allow. If every building owner took up the DDA’s offer, about 280 permits would be sold for the Forest Street structure, compared against roughly 600 spaces in the structure, Hewitt reported. [However, half of the 600 spaces in the Forest structure are allotted to the University of Michigan. Currently, about 100 permits are sold for Forest.]

Hewitt indicated that at this point, the goal is to measure the level of interest. No one is going to lose their parking space, he stressed. If someone voluntarily decides not to renew their monthly parking permit, then the permit would go into the new system of allocation. Because the South University area is a separate geographic area from the rest of downtown, Hewitt said, it would be a better laboratory to experiment in.

Keith Orr asked about the timeframe for the project and the standards for evaluating success. What does success look like? Orr asked. Hewitt characterized the project at this point as “more informational gathering.” It’s not that the DDA is trying to achieve a specific goal beyond encouraging development in the South University area, Hewitt said. It gives current and future property owners the firm knowledge that: “If I build this many square feet, I’m going to get this number of parking spaces. It takes away a variable and puts in a known number,” Hewitt said.

It’s a question of whether there’s continued economic development and continued job growth, Hewitt said. The pilot project would be evaluated as it goes along, Hewitt said. It’s difficult to know what the reception is going to be and how successful it is. In the South University area, the DDA receives a large number of requests for monthly permits from students or parents of students who don’t live in the DDA district. That was a group that the DDA didn’t need to incentivize, Hewitt said. This proposal would use the parking system to benefit property owners in the area, Hewitt said. It would be up to the property owners to decide how those permits would be divided among their tenants.

Newcombe Clark indicated that he had been concerned about this. “Trying to answer the question of what is fair, is just going to give heartache for everybody,” Clark said. What he hoped would be released is something a bit more detailed – something that defines who the property owners are. With the exception of a limited number of reserved parking passes, the permits provide the ability for regular users of the system to save some money and have consistency with expectations for availability of parking. South University makes sense, Clark said, because of the geographic area – but also because of the contribution in lieu (CIL) approval of 40 parking spaces for the 624 Church Street development.

This approach to permits, Clark said, might allow the DDA to “get ahead of all these reactive pulling-out-of-the sky of who gets what, where, and why.” To him it was a big step to address demand management with monthly parking permits. There are long wait lists at large structures, and he didn’t want to get into the question of whether students or students’ parents deserve those spaces or not. That will be something the DDA continues to wrestle with, but the fact is, Clark stated: There will be more demand than supply. Getting away from the idea of “fairness” to the idea of an “objective standard” is a step forward, Clark said. If everyone hates it or no property owners take up the DDA on the offer, that would be helpful information, he said.

Hewitt wrapped up the conversation by saying that the CIL ordinance had pushed the DDA to address the issue, characterizing the CIL program as requiring the DDA to provide parking if there is room in the system.

Parking: Public Commentary

During public commentary time at the conclusion of the meeting, Alice Liberson indicated that she had no problem with cost and availability of parking in Ann Arbor. She said “it cracks me up” when she hears people say it costs too much and there’s no place to park. That’s because she compares the situation to Boston, where she lived previously. She was critical, however, of the new parking kiosks. She described them as very cumbersome. You have to wait for the screen to come up. And she felt she’s not the only one who’s had to go back and verify the number of the space where she’d parked – which has to be keyed into the kiosk. She’s also had her coins and credit card rejected.

Liberson also contended there’s a mean-spiritedness about the new parking kiosks, because they don’t show you the amount of time that’s still remaining from a previous patron, which makes it difficult to use the leftover time. She also complained about the way the meter bag program is handled. [Meter bags are placed over the meter heads to indicate that motorists are not allowed to park there.]

Board Transition

At the annual meeting, which immediately followed the regular monthly meeting on July 3, Sandi Smith was elected chair of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

Newcombe Clark reacts to a modification of his resolution of appreciation to include the phrase '"polite and insistent poking."

Newcombe Clark reacts to a modification of his resolution of appreciation to include the phrase ‘”polite and insistent poking.”

Smith’s election as chair followed the board’s custom of electing its vice chair to the position of chair for the next year.

Other board officers elected included John Mouat as vice chair, Keith Orr as secretary, and Roger Hewitt as treasurer. They were all made by separate unanimous votes.

Smith took over the role of chair from Leah Gunn, who’s concluding her service on the board. Gunn’s current term on the DDA board expires on July 31 this year.

At the board’s July 3 meeting, the board bid farewell to Gunn and Newcombe Clark, whose term is also expiring at the end of July. First appointed in 2009, Clark served one four-year term. He’s making an employment-related move to Chicago.

Gunn served for nearly 22 years on the board starting in 1991.

In 2011 she announced she would not to seek re-election in 2012 to a seat on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. She had first been elected as a county commissioner in 1996. After redistricting of the county board seats, she decided to support fellow Democrat Yousef Rabhi, who was re-elected and now serves as chair of the Washtenaw County board. In her professional life Gunn served as a librarian in the University of Michigan graduate and law libraries.

Bob Guenzel led the standing ovation given to Leah Gunn on concluding her DDA board service.

Bob Guenzel led the standing ovation given to Leah Gunn on concluding her DDA board service.

The second term for Russ Collins is set to expire on July 31, along with those of Gunn and Clark. However, Collins was nominated at the city council’s July 1 meeting by mayor John Hieftje for reappointment to the DDA board.

Resolutions of appreciation were read aloud by DDA executive director Susan Pollay for outgoing board members Clark and Gunn.

Clark took some good-natured ribbing from his board colleagues as Smith picked up on a phrase he’d used earlier in the meeting to describe his own behavior: “polite and insistent poking.” The phrase was incorporated into his resolution.

For her part, Gunn picked up on her resolution’s mention of her previous turn as chair of the board – in 1995-96. She took the opportunity to note that during that period Pollay had been hired as executive director, so Gunn wanted to take some credit for Pollay.

Communications, Committee Reports

The board’s meeting included the usual range of reports from its standing committees and the downtown citizens advisory council.

Comm/Comm: Connector Study

By way of background, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is currently conducting an alternatives analysis study for the corridor running from US-23 and Plymouth southward along Plymouth to State Street, then further south to I-94. The alternatives analysis phase will result in a preferred choice of transit mode (e.g., bus rapid transit, light rail, etc.) and identification of stations and stops.

A previous study established the feasibility of operating some kind of high-capacity transit in that corridor. A key finding of the feasibility study was that the demand for high-capacity transit is clear in the “core” of the corridor – primarily between the University of Michigan’s north campus, medical facilities and central campus. The demand was found to be less intense on the corridor’s “shoulders.”

In his report out from the operations committee at the DDA’s July 3 meeting, Roger Hewitt said that the connector study had held a public meeting a few weeks ago. It had not been overly well-attended, he allowed. The study is at this point in the process of looking at routes and modes. The option of the elevated guideway system had been eliminated from further consideration – due to cost, and difficulty of putting it through an historic district. It was five times more expensive than the next-most expensive option, he said.

Comm/Comm: DDA Website

Sandi Smith pointed out that the new DDA website is up. She thanked DDA management assistant Jada Hahlbrock for her hard work with Keystone Media to complete that project. Smith said the website includes an interactive map, where visitors can find out where charging stations, bike stations, and parking structures are, with details about each facility, including current vacancy rates. Vacancy rates are not all “hooked up” yet, she said, but that functionality is in progress.

Comm/Comm: Development, Planning

Issues of future downtown planning came up during public commentary at the start of the July 3 meeting and during Ray Detter’s report out from the downtown area citizens advisory council.

Alice Liberson introduced herself as a resident of Burns Park who owns a business on Fourth Avenue [Dogma Catmantoo]. She’d never attended a DDA board meeting, she said, but she’d just been reading an article in the media that she wanted to comment on. Whatever is going on in the South University area took her by surprise, she said. Some people want to make a high-density downtown – a regular, “grownup downtown.” Many times, she said, things happen under the radar and then all of a sudden it’s a fait accompli. What’s wrong with one- and two-story buildings? she wondered. Whatever you do, you’re not going to bring grownups to that South University area, she said.

She indicated skepticism that building high-density, fancy buildings would encourage specific demographics to move. The city can’t control who’s going to live where, and she didn’t think it should try. She suggested that there’s a great opportunity to establish a pedestrian, no-car zone. There are no such zones in Ann Arbor, she noted. She contended that most charming small towns have a car-free zone, where you can sit outside and enjoy a meal and not inhale car fumes. In such a car-free zone, people move slowly, and they wind up patronizing retail stores. She concluded her remarks by saying she hoped she didn’t sound strident, quipping that she has “tone issues.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Liberson clarified that she was not against development.

Reporting out from the downtown area citizens advisory council, Ray Detter updated the DDA board on the re-establishment of the R4C citizens advisory committee. He also updated the board on the D1/D2 zoning review process that the city council, on April 1, 2013, had directed the planning commission to undertake. Detter reported that the planning commission’s executive committee had met the previous day to begin interviews to hire a consultant to help with that process. Two large public meetings would be held, Detter reported, in addition to several smaller meetings – with the goal to report back to the city council by the end of September.

Detter also noted that a design review task force had been established [through council action on March 4, 2013] to review the downtown design guidelines. The first of four scheduled meetings would take place on July 24 from 4:30-6 p.m. in the ground floor south conference room at city hall. Detter hoped that public input would be allowed at the meetings. He called for “more teeth” for the design guidelines. There are ways to give them more teeth, Detter contended.

The developer of the 413 E. Huron project, Detter contended, had “scoffed” at the recommendations of the design review board. Detter mentioned two projects that would be coming forward located in the D1 zoning area: at 121 E. Liberty and 210 S. Fourth. The public participation meetings for those projects would be taking place on July 10, Detter said. Nothing higher than five stories is proposed, Detter said. The properties are in a historic district, he pointed out.

[The back-to-back meetings for those projects start at 6 p.m. on July 10 at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, 343 S. Fifth Ave. The first citizen participation forum, from 6-7:10 p.m., is for a proposal by the owners of the Running Fit building at 121 & 123 E. Liberty. They hope to add two stories of apartments to the existing one-story building, as well as a rooftop patio and penthouse occupying a partial fourth floor. The second forum, from 7:10-8:30 p.m., is for a project at the Towne Center – the former Montgomery Ward building at 210-216 S. Fourth Ave. The project would add up to three stories of apartments above portions of an existing two-story building. A new facade is planned for the building.]

Present: Newcombe Clark, Bob Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Leah Gunn, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein,

Absent: Nader Nassif, John Mouat.

Next board meeting: Noon on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.]

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  1. By Mark Koroi
    July 6, 2013 at 1:32 pm | permalink

    The DDA has been a lightning rod for criticism about its operation.

    One aspect I have seen is its members seemingly cozy relationship with City Council. Nader Nassif, a criminal defense attorney whose law firm is retained by City Council to provide indigent legal representation for District Court criminal defendants, relies upon City Council to approve his law firm’s six-figure compensation claims for services rendered. This creates a situation where there is at least potential for conflict of interest since Mr. Nassif may not likely want to vote on a certain matter as a DDA board representative which may offend the wishes of City Council members; this creates a possible impression that the independence of the DDA may be possibly compromised – or at least in a potential situation to be compromised.

    There are also former City Council members who sit on the DDA whom City Council and the Mayor likely have influence over due to a prior relationship as fellow council members.

    Ther is a public perception in some quarters that the DDA is neither independent nor representative as a cross-section of Ann Arbor citizens as a whole – but rather run by insiders with ties to the Mayor’s clique.

  2. By Bob Elton
    July 7, 2013 at 6:42 pm | permalink

    I greatly appreciate the Chronicle’s journalism. You are usually thorough, and make difficult issues understandable.

    But I think you missed a serious issue with the Main Street streetlights.

    1. Half a million dollars to replace streetlights that lasted less than a decade? (If memory serves me right). There are light poles in other cities, if not here, that have served a century, and, in fact, were replaced not because of structural failures but for aesthetic reasons. Beaux art lampposts went out of style.

    2. How do we know the replacement streetlights will be any more long-lived? Where’s the root-cause analysis, where’s the proposed solution? Judging by the picture, the cause appears to be oxidation corrosion, (rust, in layman’s terms). The usual cause is inadequate or improper coating or plating of the steel. But it could also be galvanic corrosion, caused by dissimilar metals, leaking electrical currents, or moisture-borne chemicals, like salt.

    If I was sitting on the DDA, or city council, or even as a taxpayer, I’d sure like some answers before laying out another half million for streetlights.

    Bob Elton

  3. July 7, 2013 at 7:46 pm | permalink

    Re: “Half a million dollars to replace streetlights that lasted less than a decade? (If memory serves me right).”

    The light poles in question seem to have been in place at least two decades based on some photos taken by Jim Rees of downtown Ann Arbor in 1993: [link]

  4. By Bob Elton
    July 7, 2013 at 8:34 pm | permalink

    Even if they last 25 years, that’s still only a fraction of the typical life span for a streetlight.

    Perhaps I’m remembering when the retro-fitted them with the LED lamps.

  5. July 7, 2013 at 9:07 pm | permalink

    Bob, in the earlier comment I meant to include an extract from some earlier reporting on the narrative about why the lamp posts rusted so dramatically. That was from a May 13 gathering of some DDA board members that was used as input into the city council’s May 20 budget deliberations: “At the May 13 gathering of the DDA board, Pollay had described how the light poles that are rusting sit flush on the concrete and may sit in water. A newer design has the base of the poles elevated on ‘fingers’.”

    The price for the city’s standard lighting solution (i.e., cobra heads) quoted at that gathering was around $50,000.

  6. July 17, 2013 at 8:39 am | permalink

    Those lamp posts were no more than a year or two old when I took those photos. Apparently lamp posts are normally expected to last 50 years, according to several sets of standards I found on the web.