DDA Mulls Role: Events, Marketing?

Board to continue retreat on Feb. 26. City administrator Steve Powers: "You can do visioning and trending and all that, but we need to bring in the financials here pretty soon."

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Feb. 5, 2014): Highlights of the board’s hour and a quarter meeting were communications and transportation, on an agenda that featured no substantive voting items. The meeting consisted of various reports and discussion points.


A poster generated at the Jan. 30, 2014 Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board retreat. (Photos by the writer.)

A communications and marketing strategy for the downtown was the focus of Rishi Narayan’s report from the board’s partnerships committee, which had invited representatives from the four downtown area merchant associations to it most recent meeting. The message from those groups, Narayan reported, was a desire to see more events take place downtown.

A desire to see more signature events take place, especially during the winter, had been one of several items identified by board members at a recent retreat, held on Jan. 30, 2014 in the jury assembly room of the Justice Center, from noon to about 3:30 p.m. At its Feb. 5 monthly meeting, the follow-up discussion about the retreat also focused heavily on the idea of events and the possible role the DDA might play in facilitating more frequent events downtown. An initial reaction that appeared to be shared by several board members was this: The DDA should not necessarily be in the event-hosting business, but rather provide assistance to those organizations that are already hosting various events.

Board chair Sandi Smith also floated the idea of hiring an additional staff member to focus on marketing. City administrator Steve Powers stressed the importance of having a clear idea of the financial basis for the DDA’s capacity to undertake various projects on the list of its five-year plan. That five-year project plan, which Smith characterized as always in draft form, will be a focus of discussion when the board continues its retreat on Feb. 19. In addition to the five-year project plan, the board will focus on its 10-year financial projections at the Feb. 19 session. [Updated: The board has decided to continue its retreat on Feb. 26 at 1 p.m. at the DDA offices.]

Transportation was a topic addressed by the sole speaker during public commentary at the Feb. 5 monthly meeting, as Martha Valadez, an organizer with Partners for Transit, asked the DDA board to support a millage proposal that’s expected to be placed on the ballot by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. Late last month, the board’s operations committee had been briefed by AAATA staff on the five-year transit improvement plan – the set of service increases that are driving the likely request that voters approve an additional 0.7 mill tax.

Also related to transportation was a report from the board’s operations committee that included an update on the go!pass program, which the DDA has funded historically. Last year, the DDA granted the AAATA about $560,000 to pay for rides taken by downtown employees through the go!pass program. A request will be coming up soon for this next year’s funding.

In another transportation-related topic, the board also received an update on a possible part-time conversion of downtown on-street loading zones into taxi stands. Somewhat related to on-street right-of-way, the board was briefed on city council action to impose a fee on developers who cause the removal of on-street parking meters – unless the development has a more general public benefit. It will be up to the DDA to define what constitutes a public benefit – a task the board will now take up.

Related specifically to the public parking system, which the DDA manages under a contract with the city, the board reviewed the parking revenues for the second quarter of the fiscal year, compared to last year. It was the first full quarter for which the year-over-year comparison was for periods that did not include any parking rate increases. Revenue was essentially flat, showing just a 0.7% increase.

It’s not clear how much longer the former Y lot – located on William between Fourth and Fifth avenues – will continue to be used as a surface parking lot. Not mentioned at the Feb. 5 board meeting, but discussed at the Jan. 29 operations committee meeting, was a proposal from Dennis Dahlmann about leasing the lot back to the DDA after he completes the purchase of the city-owned land. The idea would be for the DDA to lease the property and continue to operate a surface parking lot on the parcel until Dahlmann is able to move a site plan forward. At the operations committee meeting, the idea was not warmly embraced.

Other updates included the regular report from the downtown area citizens advisory council. Chair of the group, Ray Detter, reported that the CAC was generally supportive of an effort now being made by Will and Mary Hathaway to work with some city councilmembers on a resolution about the future of the surface level of the Library Lane underground parking structure. The resolution would establish a significant part of that level – but not all of it – as an urban public space.

DDA Board Retreat Review

Board members used their communications time toward the start of the Feb. 5 meeting to review their retreat, which was held from roughly noon to 3:30 p.m. in the jury assembly room of the Justice Center on Jan. 30, 2014.

In condensed and summarized form, the substantive part of the retreat was organized under three main headings.

  • Trends: What local, regional, and national trends might influence downtown Ann Arbor? What have you observed about the evolving social, physical and economic fabric of downtown Ann Arbor?
  • Looking forward: What are your hopes and dreams for downtown? What would you like to see more of or less of by 2024?
  • DDA’s role: How can the DDA help downtown advance toward a preferred future?

At the board’s Feb. 5 meeting, board chair Sandi Smith indicated that she wanted to review the retreat’s discussion and to put a bit more flesh on the bones of the discussion so that the DDA staff would have a clearer direction. Smith indicated that board members had a draft version of its five-year project plan in front of them and stressed that “it is always in draft form.” She called the plan an “organic, living breathing document.” To frame the discussion, Smith asked: “How do we direct the staff to be able to begin [refining the document] and have that in line with our priorities here?”

John Mouat ventured that it would be useful to ask what ideas generated during the retreat were not on the five-year plan, that needed to be added to the plan. He asked if the five-year project plan and the 10-year financial projections would be a good basis for the conversation going forward. [.pdf of draft five-year plan from Sept. 4, 2013]

City administrator Steve Powers sat between John Splitt and Rishi Narayan.

City administrator Steve Powers sat between John Splitt, far left, and Rishi Narayan at the Feb. 5 DDA board meeting.

City administrator Steve Powers, who sits on the DDA board, told Mouat that he did think it was very important for the DDA to have a five-year plan of projects. “Very selfishly from the city’s perspective,” Powers continued, “that then allows for better incorporation and coordination with the city’s planned projects, and we have a very robust capital improvements plan.” It’s important that the DDA have some indication of what it’s thinking about doing, Powers said.

Some of the items in the five-year plan are capital projects and some are not, Smith noted. For example, repairing the bricks on North Fifth Avenue is an expensive and capital-intensive project to be carried out. But hiring downtown ambassadors was not on the five-year project list and would take staff time to implement, Smith said.

Another question is marketing, Smith said: “Are we hiring somebody? Does that belong in this plan?” [Subsequently, Keith Orr drew out the fact that an updated five-year plan now included both ambassadors and a marketing position. It was reported later in the meeting that an RFQ (request for proposals) is being developed for the ambassador program.] Smith also said it was important to tell DDA staff how to move the projects forward. [.pdf of background on ambassadors]

Bob Guenzel asked DDA executive director Susan Pollay how the finances fit into the plan. Some of the projects could require a lot of money, while others would be more affordable. But he cautioned: “We haven’t been very successful in projecting our revenue.”

Pollay allowed that “we need to get real.” She reported that DDA staff is now working with city staff on next year’s budget. It’s not likely there will be a lot of money in the next couple of years for a lot of big projects, she said. But that should not prevent the board from continuing to work on the plan. She asked if the board would like the staff to tackle one or two larger projects or rather focus on several smaller projects that would not cost as much. “We can’t just write a big check for big projects,” Pollay said. An approach of taking smaller bite-sized chunks over a multi-year span would be needed.

Pollay pointed out that there are immediate, pressing needs. Ten years ago, she said, retail was a “different kind of animal” with the increased availability of online options like Amazon.com. “What role can we play?” Pollay asked, adding that’s why marketing is a question to explore.

A few years ago, downtown was also a bit more “free standing” Pollay said. Regionalism is now something that is much more front and center. So she asked what the role of the DDA is in a regionally centered downtown, which is a center of prosperity for a larger area. The DDA wants to encourage vitality and quality of life. A vision of that would be helpful, she said, before the DDA gets to the actual dollars and cents.

Bob Guenzel asked about housing. He asked if DDA staff could draft a proposal for how to work with the DDA’s partners, now that the economy is a little past the recession. There’s an idea the DDA could influence progress in development of more housing, he said. Pollay reported that the previous day she’d met with Mary Jo Callan, director of Washtenaw County’s office of community and economic development. Callan and her staff are creating an RFP for housing needs assessment. Post-recession, it’s important to have a clearer idea of what the needs for housing are. [Later in the meeting, the board was briefed on an upcoming request from the Ann Arbor housing commission for $600,000 of support for two of its largest properties: Baker Commons and Miller Manor. The item had been discussed at the AAHC board's Jan. 15, 2014 meeting.]

Mouat suggested that the consultant who’d been hired by the DDA to work on the streetscape framework plan might find it useful for the board to “pluck off” some of the relevant items from the board’s retreat work and provide that information to the consultant.

Smith said she wanted to make sure the final point on the retreat agenda was to transform what the board had done at the retreat into something concrete – because the retreat could be just a waste of time if the board doesn’t take its work and leverage it into some kind of action.

The DDA board will be holding a follow-up to the Jan. 30 retreat on Wednesday, Feb. 19.  [Updated: The board has decided to continue its retreat on Feb. 26 at 1 p.m. at the DDA offices.]

Pollay indicated that the five-year project plan and the 10-year financial plan would be documents provided at the continuation of the retreat. Powers weighed in, saying: “Personally, I think we’re at a point where some of that financial grounding is going to be very important. You can do visioning and trending and all that, but we need to bring in the financials here pretty soon.”

Mouat asked for an indication of when the revenue picture would be clearer. Pollay responded by saying that deputy DDA director Joe Morehouse was working on that at the moment. Pollay felt that by the time of the continuation of the retreat the necessary information would be in place.

Al McWilliams asked that for the purposes of the continued retreat, each item could be provided on notecards, categorized by cost: inexpensive, medium and huge. He felt it would be easier to prioritize the items in the plan. Mouat added that categorization of projects by construction versus planning would be useful.


The idea of causing more downtown events to take place came up during the board’s review of the Jan. 30 retreat, as well as during a report from the partnerships committee.

Events: Retreat Review

During the discussion about the Jan. 30 retreat, Joan Lowenstein said she didn’t think the board had talked much about events. The DDA doesn’t sponsor events, she said, because the merchant associations handle events. The DDA board had, however, been batting around the idea of events after returning from the International Downtown Association conference in New York City last year. One specific idea she’d mentioned was a “Geeks Night Out” to encourage technology districts. She gave the East Liberty Street corridor of an example of where that’s happening in downtown Ann Arbor. Lowenstein called events relatively inexpensive compared to re-bricking a whole street.

Sandi Smith said the idea of a “Geeks Night Out” is not far from her thought of getting a regular group of residents together who live downtown, who are new to downtown, to find out what their needs are. In thinking about whether a downtown residential go!pass program would be useful, Smith cautioned that such a transportation program might be irrelevant. Downtown residents might already have one from their downtown employer or their affiliation with the University of Michigan. Without data, making a guess about what downtown residents might want seems foolish, Smith ventured.

Circling back to the topic of events, Smith said that perhaps smaller “seed events” could be hosted to touch base with people in different sectors. Responding to Smith’s mention of smaller events, Russ Collins quipped: “Or a big-ass film festival!” [Collins is executive director of the Michigan Theater on East Liberty.]

Events: Partnerships Committee Discussion

Rishi Narayan reported out from the previous month’s partnerships committee meeting. The four area merchant associations of downtown Ann Arbor had been invited to come and talk to the committee about what they do. Each association has different resources, staff and budgets, he said. By way of background those four groups are: Main Street Area Association, State Street Area Association, South University Area Association and Kerrytown District Association.

Rishi Narayan is one of the newer members of the DDA board  – appointed in August 2013. At the Jan. 30, 2014 board retreat, a game of Two Truths and a Lie revealed that he has never worn a pair of jeans. (Photo from Jan. 30, 2014 DDA board retreat.)

Rishi Narayan is one of the newer members of the DDA board – appointed in August 2013. At the Jan. 30, 2014 board retreat, a game of Two Truths and a Lie revealed that he has never worn a pair of jeans. (Photo by the writer from Jan. 30, 2014 DDA board retreat.)

The committee wanted input from those associations as the DDA tries to figure out what to do to market the downtown – and reaching out to them was a first step. Narayan stressed that the DDA did not want to duplicate the efforts that are already in place. The committee had approached the conversation by asking: What do you do and what do you need help with? Narayan characterized the conversation with the representatives from the merchant associations as “very enlightening.”

What the committee heard from the associations is that they want more events because that’s what brings people downtown and that’s what creates a culture for making things happen. The question is how the DDA might help facilitate additional or more diverse events taking place downtown

Narayan also reported that the merchant associations felt like they knew how to market to the local Ann Arbor community: “They felt like they have that down. That’s not something they felt was out of their wheelhouse.” Marketing to the nation and the farther reaches of the state was something the merchant associations felt the Pure Michigan campaign was doing pretty well.

Marketing to the nebulous “outside local” area – nearby locations like Plymouth and Novi – so that people can come as repeat customers is a gap, he reported. For businesses who need repeat customers, that’s important, he said. The other big partner for marketing is the Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. So the committee is thinking about inviting the CVB to its next meeting.

Russ Collins encouraged the committee members to remember The Ark, the University Musical Society, the Kerrytown Concert House and a “plethora of student groups” that host events. Sometimes these events that are already happening are thought of as simply part of the “background.” Collins ventured that a little application of resources could result in an acceleration of events that are already happening. Collins gave as an example the idea of asking The Ark what it would take to expand the Folk Festival by a few extra nights.

Narayan agreed with the point that Collins was making, saying that the DDA does not want to go into the business of producing events. Narayan said the question is how to tie events into the downtown and unify them.


DDA board member Russ Collins is executive director of the Michigan Theater.

Prompted by Smith, Collins talked about the role of events in the State Street area. Collins explained that several years ago, the State Street Area Association realized that UMS and the Michigan Theater were driving traffic to the area, and they provided institutional support. The reasoning was that it was better to invest in the stability of those organizations, instead of investing in creating new events. State Street merchants look down at Main Street and see car festivals and food festivals. Collins talked about the idea of expanding existing events. Sometimes people look at going from zero to something big, when they could instead pour gasoline on a fire that’s already burning to add that extra “skosh” more.

Collins spoke of what he perceived as governmental reluctance to get involved in arts activities. He didn’t think that reluctance reflected community values. But some people feel there’s no appropriate role for funding of the arts in the Ann Arbor community. Collins felt that it’s a vocal minority.

Public art had come up at the start of the meeting, during the time the board allocates for a report from the downtown area citizens advisory council. Ray Detter reported that at the previous evening’s meeting of the CAC, members asked him to express the CAC’s continued support for public art in downtown Ann Arbor as well as throughout the city. Long before the city’s public art program existed, it was one of the CAC’s major goals to support art, he said.

The CAC had played a role in setting up a public art committee. [CAC's members include Marsha Chamberlin, a member of the Ann Arbor public art commission, and her husband John Chamberlin, as well as former AAPAC member Jim Kern.] Some of the decisions of the city council recently might stall some projects in the works, Detter said. The CAC appreciated the efforts of the public art commissioners over the years,  he said – they had made valuable contributions to the community. The CAC would continue to support efforts of the city and individuals, groups and organizations to make sure that a commitment to more public art remains an important community goal.


Transportation was a major theme of the DDA board’s Feb. 5 regular meeting.

Transportation: Public Commentary

During public commentary at the start of the Feb. 5 DDA board meeting, Martha Valadez introduced herself as a transit organizer for the Ecology Center, working with Partners for Transit. She described Partners for Transit as a coalition of grassroots organizations advocating for expanded and improved bus services countywide, but focused on urban core communities – the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township. She thanked DDA executive director Susan Pollay for inviting her to speak. She told the board she was hoping for support from the DDA. Her understanding was that the DDA is very supportive of transit. As an example, she cited the DDA’s funding of the go!pass.

Transit supports getting workers to the community – back and forth between their homes, she said. Her group’s focus last year had been about raising awareness and participating in community meetings, she said, pointing out that those meetings included the planning effort for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s five-year improvement plan. She said her group saw that comments they’d made had affected how the final plan looked. She stressed that the five-year improvement plan would need additional funding. She encouraged people to attend the Feb. 20 meeting of the AAATA board, when it’s expected to take a vote on the question of putting a millage on the ballot. She said it was imperative that the millage question be placed on the ballot and be approved by voters in May.

Board chair Sandi Smith ventured that it was the operations committee of the DDA board that focused on transportation, and that Valadez should attend the next meeting of that committee.

Keith Orr summarized AAATA financial analyst and planner Bill De Groot’s presentation of the five-year plan to the operations committee at its monthly meeting. It’s an ambitious plan that resulted from a lot of community input, Orr said. It would expand service on weekends and during peak hours. It would expand the reach of public transit, because of the way the feeder routes are being redesigned. Orr, who manages the \aut\ BAR, said he hears from his employees that with the already implemented frequency of service on Routes #4 and #5, they have an easier time getting from city center to city center between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, but it’s not as easy to get around within each city. The improvement plan would need an additional millage, he noted. It’s expected that at its next meeting, the AAATA board will vote to place a question on the ballot – likely in May. [For recent Chronicle coverage, see: "Survey: Majority Favorable on Transit Tax."]

Bob Guenzel added to Orr’s remarks by noting he’d been part of a financial task force that had formed during an effort in 2012 to expand the AAATA to a countywide authority – and a subset of that task force has continued to meet. That subset has concluded that a 0.7 mill tax would be adequate to fund the planned additional services. That morning, Guenzel said, the group had forwarded its finding on the currently contemplated 0.7 millage to the AAATA. [.pdf of Feb. 5, 2014 financial task force memo]

Besides Guenzel, who is former Washtenaw County administrator, the current configuration of that group mentioned in the memo includes Mary Jo Callan (director of the Washtenaw County office of community and economic development), Norman Herbert (former treasurer of the University of Michigan), Paul Krutko (CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK), and Mark Perry (president of Perry & Co.).

Transportation: go!pass

Reporting out from the operations committee, Keith Orr noted that getDowntown director Nancy Shore had given the operations committee its annual update on the go!pass, which is administered by getDowntown.

By way of background, the two getDowntown program staff members are employees of the AAATA. Last year, the DDA granted the AAATA about $560,000 to pay for rides taken by downtown employees through the go!pass program. So a request will be coming up soon for this next year’s funding. The previous approval for funding came at the March 6, 2013 DDA board meeting.

The slight dip in ridership from two years ago to last year was analyzed by Orr as attributable to the increased cost to employers for participating in the go!pass program. [It had increased from $5 per employee to $10 employee.] Ridership had bounced back for the most recent year, Orr said.

Orr noted that one of the highlights of the report is that the profile of go!pass users had changed over time. In the last few years, it’s been mostly service and restaurant workers, but over the last year it has evened out more, he said. Part of the goal of the program is for it to be a community-wide program, not just for one job sector.

Fixed-route AAATA ridership by year for rides taken under the getDowntown go!pass program (red). (Data from AAATA charted by The Chronicle.)

Fixed-route AAATA ridership by year for rides taken under the getDowntown go!pass program (red). (Data from AAATA, charted by The Chronicle.)

At its February meeting, the operations committee will be looking at next year’s go!pass costs and the funding ramifications, Orr said. Board chair Sandi Smith was particularly struck by the report that the people who would be driving alone to downtown if not for the go!pass: That’s more than 1,000 cars, she said. If you think about the number of parking spaces in the Library Lane parking structure that had been built at great expense – nearly $50 million – Smith indicated that the expense of the go!pass program didn’t come close to the cost of building the parking structure.

Orr agreed that funding the go!pass makes economic and ecological sense. The go!pass is also something that has been touted by downtown businesses as a program that makes it possible for them to locate downtown.

Al McWilliams added that 20% of decision makers said the go!pass was a significant factor in their decision to locate or stay downtown. Orr noted that stat was up from 14% last year.

Transportation: Taxi Stands

Reporting out from the operations committee, John Splitt told the board that a draft policy is being developed on the use of loading zones as taxi stands during certain times. [.pdf of draft policy on use of loading zones as taxi stands] The initial recommendation is that in some locations, loading zones could be used as taxi stands as follows:

  • 6 a.m-6 p.m.: Commercial plates required, or passenger loading and unloading.
  • 6 p.m.-3 a.m.: Taxis only.
  • 3 a.m.-6 p.m.: No parking/Street maintenance.

[The idea stemmed from an inquiry made by city councilmember Stephen Kunselman at a fall 2013 work session. Kunselman is the city council appointee to the taxicab licensing board.] Splitt said DDA staff would be attending a future meeting of the taxicab board to discuss the proposal.

Transportation: Meter Removal

Reporting out from the operations committee, John Splitt told the board that the city council had approved a meter removal policy for on-street parking meters at its Jan. 6, 2014 meeting. [The fee amounts to $45,000 per space plus added payment to compensate for the projected revenue over the next 10 years, generated by the space to be eliminated. For an average space that would work out to around $20,000 in addition to the $45,000. The revenue portion of the payment to the city will be passed through to the DDA, but reduced by 17% – in conformance with the contract under which the DDA manages the public parking system for the city.]

Part of the policy is that the fees would be imposed unless a public benefit were determined. So it’s important that a clear public benefit be defined. That work will go forward now, Splitt said. [.pdf of draft public benefit policy for on-street meter removal]

Transportation: Bike Share

Keith Orr reported that the bike share program is planning a June rollout. By way of background, the bike share initiative is also supported by the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor-based Clean Energy Coalition (CEC).

The program would include 12-14 bike share stations with an anticipated total of 120-140 bicycles. The contract to provide the service was won by B-Cycle.

In a bike share program, users get access to bicycles parked at a station by swiping their credit card or membership card. Users can then return the bicycle to another station location near their destination.

A recent press release from CEC announced that a name for the program has been chosen: ArborBike.


The Ann Arbor DDA manages the public parking system under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor. So parking is a point of discussion at most meetings.

Parking: Board Discussion

Reporting out from the operations committee on parking activity, John Splitt noted that for the second quarter of the fiscal year, hourly patrons were down slightly (by 1.12%) and revenues were up slightly (0.73%). The current fiscal year runs from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014, so the second-quarter figures were for October through December of 2013.

The first half of fiscal year – from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2013 – showed hourly patrons up by 1.38% and revenues up by 4.28%, Splitt said.

The number of monthly permits sold per structure will in the future be provided with standard parking reports, Splitt said.

Sandi Smith ventured that the quarterly numbers might be influenced by the additional precipitation from October to December in 2013 compared to 2012. Splitt indicated that based on a report from a recent meeting of the downtown marketing task force, crime was probably down for the same reason. Weather affects everything, including parking numbers, Splitt ventured.

Al McWilliams asked about the fact that the number of monthly permits sold at the First and Washington structure showed that the structure had filled up quickly. DDA deputy director Joe Morehouse told McWilliams that anyone who had a monthly permit in that location prior to the construction project was offered first opportunity to purchase a monthly permit – and most of them are taking advantage of that. [Below, the chart of monthly permits sold by structure shows declines in permits for other structures, as the First and Washington structure has come on line. Public parking is included as part of the City Apartments project.]

Splitt also noted that Republic Parking manager Art Low had given an update on parking activity for the NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, held at Michigan Stadium. At the most recent downtown marketing task force meeting, Ann Arbor Area CVB director Mary Kerr had said the NHL was complimentary of Republic Parking’s performance during the event, he said.

Parking: Charts

For several years, The Chronicle has been regularly charting activity and finances within the city’s public parking system, based on data from the DDA via Republic Parking, which manages the system for the DDA. These charts reflect the most recent data available.

Year over year for the last four and a half years, the number of hourly patrons – those paying by the hour, not with monthly permits, has been essentially flat.(Data from the DDA, chart by The Chronicle.)

Year over year for the last four and a half years, the number of hourly patrons – those paying by the hour, not with monthly permits – has been essentially flat. (Data from the DDA, chart by The Chronicle.)

The second quarter of the FY 2014 fiscal year, from October through December 2013 was a period when rates were identical to the corresponding period in the previous year. (Data from the DDA, chart by The Chronicle.)

The second quarter of the FY 2014 fiscal year, from October through December 2013, was a period when rates were identical to the corresponding period in the previous year. (Data from the DDA, chart by The Chronicle.)

The two large surface lots downtown show the highest revenue per space of any of the facilities. (Data from the DDA, chart by The Chronicle.)

The two large surface lots downtown show the highest revenue per space of any of the facilities. (Data from the DDA, chart by The Chronicle.)

The Library Lane parking structure revenue per space has started to settle in at a level that is slightly above the average revenue per on-street metered space. (Data from the DDA, chart by The Chronicle.)

The Library Lane parking structure revenue per space has started to settle in at a level that’s slightly above the average revenue per on-street metered space. (Data from the DDA, chart by The Chronicle.)

The number of monthly parking permits sold continues a generally upward trend. (Data from the DDA, chart by The Chronicle.)

The number of monthly parking permits sold continues a generally upward trend. (Data from the DDA, chart by The Chronicle.)

Parking: Former Y Lot

At the Jan. 29, 2014 meeting of the DDA operations committee, a proposal from Dennis Dahlmann was discussed: Would the DDA lease the former Y lot for $150,000 a year? By way of background, the former Y lot – located on William between Fourth and Fifth avenues – is currently used as a 141-space surface parking lot in the public parking system. Right now 54 of those spaces are being used by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority as construction staging for the Blake Transit Center.

The Ann Arbor city council approved a purchase agreement with Dahlmann for the city-owned land, for $5.25 million, at its Nov. 18, 2013 meeting. One of the terms of the agreement is that Dahlmann must complete construction and receive a certificate of occupancy for the project on the site by Jan. 1, 2018.

The proposal from Dahlmann is for the DDA to lease the property from him for $150,000 a year – so that the DDA could continue to provide public parking spaces there until construction of Dahlmann’s project could begin. The response from DDA operations committee members on Jan. 29 was unenthusiastic. They felt it would provide an incentive for Dahlmann to delay developing the land. They also felt that in the immediate vicinity of that lot, there was adequate parking – at the Fourth and William and the Library Lane structures. Finally, the DDA had calculated that with the $150,000 rent payment to Dahlmann, the net annual income to the parking system – assuming all 141 spaces in use – would be just $12,333 a year. [.pdf of DDA financial analysis of Dahlmann's proposal]


Joan Lowenstein reported out from the partnerships committee on a request that would be coming from the Ann Arbor housing commission. AAHC executive director Jennifer L. Hall had indicated that the AAHC would be making an additional request from the DDA for $600,000 for improvements to Baker Commons and Miller Manor – which are the two largest AAHC properties.

Hall will be returning to the February partnerships meeting to provide more information. A decision will be needed from the DDA by April so that a tax credit application by the AAHC can be made. Lowenstein said she felt the best use of the DDA’s housing fund money is to leverage it – by conditioning it on a match by the city of Ann Arbor. [For additional recent Chronicle coverage of the AAHC, see: "Public Housing Conversion Takes Next Step"]

Quarterly Financial Statements

In Roger Hewitt’s absence, John Splitt gave the summary of the second quarter’s financial statements. The TIF (tax increment financing) revenue is “right on track” in terms of revenue, he said. The parking fund is over on its expenses – and that was related to the timing of the First and Washington parking structure construction.

Parking maintenance is under on expenses, compared to the budgeted amount. DDA deputy director Joe Morehouse clarified that the bids for some work came in under budget by a total of $150,000. Elevator repair work had come in at $100,000 less, he said.

Library Lot

Reporting out from the downtown area citizens advisory council’s meeting, Ray Detter said the group had received a presentation from Will and Mary Hathaway. The Hathaways have been working with some councilmembers in support of a resolution to approve designating urban public space on the ground level of the Library Lane parking structure. Detter recounted how, over the last several years, a number of people and groups have lobbied CAC to establish the ground level of Library Lane as a public park. Detter told the DDA board that the CAC had refused to give support to that idea, but allowed that the CAC did support establishing a significantly-sized public plaza on the Fifth Avenue side of the site, that is as green as it can possibly be. Detter indicated that the green element might be potted rather than planted.

The CAC also supported using the pedestrian cut-through of the lot for scheduled community activities. Development of the site, Detter continued, should be sensitive to needs of the Ann Arbor District Library, the Blake Transit Center and nearby historic districts. Detter said the CAC also believed that planning for the Library Lane site should include the possibility of a major new, tax-producing private development on the major portion of the property. Any future private developer should be encouraged to work collaboratively to integrate with and complement the adjoining public plaza.

There are still some people in the community who would like to turn the entire Library Lot into a public park, but Detter stated, “We don’t.” So Detter indicated the CAC was pleased that the Hathaways don’t want to transform the entire surface into a public park. The resolution that the Hathaways are working on with members of the city council, Detter said, is moving in a direction that significantly agrees with that of the CAC and, he hoped, eventually with the DDA. The CAC had provided some input on the resolution, he said.

Contacted by The Chronicle via email, Will Hathaway confirmed that he was working with Jack Eaton and several other members of city council. A draft resolution has been circulated to relevant staff by city administrator Steve Powers, Hathaway wrote. Hathaway hopes that a new draft resolution would be ready for a city council meeting in March.

Present: Al McWilliams, Bob Guenzel, Steve Powers, John Splitt, Sandi Smith, Rishi Narayan, Russ Collins, Keith Orr, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat.

Absent: Cyndi Clark, Roger Hewitt.

Next board meeting: The DDA’s next regular monthly meeting is at noon on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, at the DDA offices, 150 S. Fifth Ave., Suite 301. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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  1. February 11, 2014 at 9:47 am | permalink

    I appreciate Ray Detter giving my mother and me so much credit for the effort to create a public urban park on part of the surface of the Library Lane Parking Structure (aka The Library Lot). We are members of group of people working that has been working on this issue for several years. We hope that we can work together with supportive members of City Council to craft a proposal that will acknowledge all the of the various interests. We have had many conversations to solicit input and we are continuing to gather ideas and suggestions.

    On another, unrelated topic, I couldn’t help noticing that it sounds like the DDA is contemplating taking the “Y Lot” surface parking spaces out of circulation in an effort to apply pressure to Mr. Dahlmann to move forward quickly with his construction plans. Can I just raise the obvious question? Isn’t the DDA’s primary mission to provide parking spaces for people who want to come downtown to shop and eat at restaurants. How does closing an operational parking lot help to accomplish that goal? So what if the net profit from that lot is diminished to only $12,000? It is still operating in the black and the additional parking spaces are available to the public. Even if there were some reason to think that Mr. Dahlmann is delaying his plans (is there a basis for this assumption?), it seems misguided to decrease the supply of downtown parking merely to send some kind of “hurry up” message to a developer.

  2. By Joan Lowenstein
    February 11, 2014 at 11:39 am | permalink

    Will, the DDA’s primary mission is actually to promote private development downtown. Parking is one tool the DDA uses towards that mission.

  3. February 11, 2014 at 2:12 pm | permalink

    Joan, Thanks for your response. Your comment sent me to the DDA website where I found this statement:

    “The mission of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is to undertake public improvements that have the greatest impact in strengthening the downtown area and attracting new private investments.”

    That mission is a little bit more than promoting private development downtown. The implication is that the DDA feels the best way to strengthen the downtown area is to preemptively remove surface parking spaces a block from Main Street? This seems counter-intuitive.

    Perhaps the DDA staff analysis of the Dahlmann proposal would help clarify the reasoning. Unfortunately the link in the article took me to a memo about taxi stands.

    When I look at figures in a DDA parking fund inventory from a few years ago, the projected revenue for the Fifth and William lot in FY 2011/12 was over $270,000 for 88 parking spaces. Unless the annual revenue has dropped by over $100,000 since then, the net should be much higher than $12,000. It should be more like ten times that amount.

    Regardless, I don’t think the decision should be based on how much revenue above expense the lot would return. That is not the only financial consideration with regard to those parking spaces because they represent ease of access for visitors to the downtown, the customers for downtown merchants.

    If you asked a business owner on Main Street or anyone trying to park their car downtown, I bet they would say that the DDA would serve the needs of the public and accomplish its own mission by helping to keep those parking spaces available during the period prior to construction.

    Maybe you can help me understand how this furthers the DDA’s mission.

  4. February 11, 2014 at 2:46 pm | permalink

    Will, the botched link was my fault. Here’s the correct link: [link] I’ve also fixed it in the article.

  5. February 11, 2014 at 3:46 pm | permalink

    Thanks Dave.

    I am still puzzled by some of the numbers. For example, the variance in the number of parking spaces, but I can see that the net revenue is lower once operating costs are factored in. Even so, my understanding is that the DDA doesn’t look at the finances of its parking structures/lots in isolation. The DDA plans on a system-wide basis. So the logic for unnecessarily removing these 88 or 144 (or however many) spaces from circulation is still not apparent to me.

    If the DDA feels the need to push a particular developer to move forward, there must be other means besides penalizing the people the DDA was created to help.

  6. February 11, 2014 at 3:56 pm | permalink

    Re: [5] variance in the number of spaces

    54 of the total spaces are being used right now by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority as construction staging for the Blake Transit Center.

  7. February 11, 2014 at 4:13 pm | permalink

    Will, the balance board weighed at the committee meeting was the fact that on either side of the block where the 141 spaces are offered, there are two facilities with 994 (Fourth & William) and 738 (Library Lane) spaces, respectively. So the board’s conclusion was that people who needed parking spaces in that area would not be “penalized” but rather would still have their needs served. But to test how crucial that 141-space lot is to the system, I think it would be useful to look at the peak periods for those three facilities and check what the total availability of spaces is during peak. [Otherwise put, if you track the sum of available spaces in those three facilities, does that sum typically dip below 141 spaces and if so for how long and how frequently?] If that number were more than 141 spaces, I’d say the board would have some data to support that aspect of its rationale. I didn’t hear a data request like that made at the committee meeting.

  8. February 11, 2014 at 6:08 pm | permalink

    I guess it is good to know that the DDA has so much surplus parking capacity in that area that they can easily spare 141 spaces to make a point.

  9. By Tom Hollyer
    February 11, 2014 at 6:55 pm | permalink

    Will, do you park downtown very often? I do at all times of day and evening, weekday and weekend, and while my experience is admittedly a sample of one, I have never had a problem finding a space. I am sensing that you have had trouble. If so, when?

  10. February 11, 2014 at 8:38 pm | permalink

    Ann Arbor needs less surface parking, not more. Michigan is littered with cities that have plenty of parking, places like Detroit, Flint, Warren, Benton Harbor, and Battle Creek. I don’t want Ann Arbor to be like those places.

  11. February 11, 2014 at 8:48 pm | permalink

    Tom, Since you ask, I do frequent the downtown. As a life-long Ann Arborite, I can usually find a space without too much trouble. I don’t mind walking a few blocks so that makes it easier.

    However, I am not thinking about this from a selfish perspective. I am empathizing with visitors to Ann Arbor who may be less knowledgeable, or perhaps less able to walk from a distant parking space. We also know that there are many people who are fearful about parking in a structure – whether above or below ground. The 141 surface spaces on the Y Lot would be ideal for those people. They might find them as they circle the block after giving up on the lines waiting to enter either of the surface lots on Ashley Street (where there is often a “full” sign on weekend nights).

    I am honestly surprised that the DDA has apparently taken a position that it would rather not be bothered to run a 141 space surface parking lot as long as it can. I used to work for the Chamber of Commerce years ago and there was a saying that it was the sign of a healthy downtown to have a parking shortage. I think that Ann Arbor is thriving in many ways. I credit the DDA in part for this success. While I can see the good things the DDA has done, it isn’t immune from error. I think that this decision by the DDA is a mistake.

  12. February 12, 2014 at 7:45 pm | permalink

    Mr. Hathaway, thanks for your concern about the removal of the surface parking. It seems strange to suggest that the DDA can force a developer to act. Of course, at this point, the DDA is working so far beyond reason it is anybody’s guess why they would would remove that parking prematurely. Look at the Bizzarro world the DDA lives in. Ms. Lowenstein responds to your question not with an answer, but with a Republican-style talking-point. “Parking as a tool” is a DDA talking point, which we have heard from Ms. Pollay on many occasions. Ms. Smith says a five year plan is “always in draft form” – so basically, they reserve the right to do whatever they want with our money, without having to seek approval or even commit to any project. Is that half-million dollars still in there to re-do two alleys, including Mr. Dahlmann’s Bell Tower alley? Just curious. Thanks to Mr. Powers for suggesting that the plan should become more concrete, so as to be useful to the rest of us. Hire a marketing staff member to promote the downtown? More unnecessary spending. Mr. Detter speaks as chair of an advisory committee that is supposed to have 12 members, but recent reports say as few as three people are present at their meetings, and his comments are accepted by the DDA as representative of all downtown citizens. The DDA goals, funded by our money, are out line with most people’s vision of Ann Arbor. Zero cars downtown? Less on-street parking? I never hear anyone ask for that when I ask people what they want from their city. And I spoke to over 2000 people last fall. Transit in the form of Light Rail/Connector – paid for no doubt by the upcoming AAATA millage – which was recommended by Mr. Guenzel, in his dual role as DDA Board member and AAATA advisor. Are these the values of the majority of Ann Arbor citizens, or the wishes of the well-connected few?