AAATA to Appoint Subcommittee on Y Lot

The board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has voted to establish a subcommittee to meet with whatever party might make a successful purchase proposal for the city-owned parcel on William between Fourth and Fifth avenues in downtown Ann Arbor, known as the old Y lot. The action took place at the board’s Oct. 17, 2013 meeting.

The resolution to form a subcommittee – whose members aren’t yet identified – is an alternative to simply purchasing the property, which board member Roger Kerson described as not practical right now. Kerson chairs the AAATA’s performance monitoring and external relations committee.

The AAATA has historically been interested in the property, which is immediately south of the AAATA’s downtown Blake Transit Center. The city’s purchase of the land in 2003 followed an attempt by the AAATA to acquire and develop the parcel. The AAATA continues to envision the block as a center of transit activity.

The property was listed at $4.2 million with purchase offers due by Friday, Oct. 18. The AAATA board resolution indicates in a “whereas” clause that any offers are expected to be brought to the Ann Arbor city council’s Oct. 21 meeting. The resolution is based on the idea that the AAATA wants to establish good relations with any potential developer of the site.

The subcommittee of the board is supposed to meet with developers and take part in future negotiations.

Even though making a successful bid for the property would give the AAATA complete control, Kerson said, it’s not practical for the AAATA to make a bid at this time – as it would deplete the AAATA’s financial reserves. So instead, Kerson said, the AAATA should be proactive and engage with whomever the city selects as the successful bidder. The AAATA could make its needs known to the developer with respect to providing transit. The idea would be possibly to help the developers meet their needs and simply be a good neighbor. Kerson said it would be best to engage early, instead of waiting to review something that a developer might come up with, without the AAATA’s input. The subcommittee would actively engage that process, Kerson concluded.

The city council is exploring whether to sell that property, which is also across from the downtown Ann Arbor District Library. Earlier this year, the city selected Colliers International and local broker Jim Chaconas to handle the possible sale, as the city faces a $3.5 million balloon payment this year from the purchase loan it holds on that property. The city has owned the land for a decade.

Now a surface parking lot, the site was zoned D1 as part of the original A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) zoning process. The site was also one of five parcels that was the focus of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project, and was part of a more recent evaluation by the city’s park advisory commission as a potential downtown park.

Two months ago, at its Aug. 20, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor city planning commission made recommendations on the development of the former Y lot. Among others, those recommendations included: a building that generates foot traffic, provides a human scale at the ground floor and creates visual appeal; a “mixed use” development; and a building with vehicular access and parking that are accessed via the city’s new Library Lane underground parking structure.

The AAATA board resolution was approved after a closed session that lasted about an hour and a half. Land acquisition is one of the reasons that a public body can enter into a closed session under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

Also at its Oct. 17 meeting, the AAATA board was updated regarding progress on construction of a new transit facility at that location. Completion of the new Blake Transit Center building, located on the Fifth Avenue side of the lot, is now expected toward the end of January 2014, which is about six weeks later than originally planned. The old building, which stands on the Fourth Avenue side of the lot, was originally not planned for demolition until the new building was complete. However, because the construction schedule has slipped and AAATA staff are concerned about a hard winter arriving and stalling the demolition schedule, the AAATA is planning to demolish the old building sooner than that.

The strategy will be to use trailers as a temporary substitute for the building. Terry Black, AAATA manager of maintenance who’s supervising the construction, explained that the target date for transitioning from the old building to trailers is Oct. 28. During the week of Oct. 28, the move will be made out of the old building, and then on the weekend of Nov. 2-3 the building will be torn down.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AAATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]