Stories indexed with the term ‘DDA’

DDA Parking Trends Continue

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (May 1, 2013): The DDA board’s meeting, which lasted under a half hour, included only public commentary and some updates from the board’s committees. No voting items were on the agenda.

DDA board member Sandi Smith (Photos by the writer)

DDA board member Sandi Smith. (Photos by the writer)

The meeting did not feature one of its typical highlights – discussion of the monthly parking report. However, the data was released to the public at the meeting, and it was mentioned that the data was now available to the public in draft form.

So this meeting report adds that provisional parking data to the data set that The Chronicle maintains – to chart the activity in Ann Arbor’s public parking system as the DDA measures it.

Highlights from public commentary included appreciation from representatives of the Neutral Zone for grants the organization has received from the DDA. The board also heard an update – during public commentary and in its committee reports – on a proposal to install an artificial ice rink on top of the new Library Lane underground parking garage.

Committee reports included updates on a possible economic development task force initiated by Ward 2 city councilmember Sally Petersen. Other updates included getDowntown’s commuter challenge, which takes place during the month of May, and the opening of the “Bike House” bicycle parking facility inside the Maynard parking structure.
[Full Story]

Column: A TIF with A2Y Chamber

At its April 15, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council likely will take a final vote on changes to the local ordinance governing the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. On April 1, by a 7-3 vote, the council gave initial approval to the changes.

A2Y Chamber Member Directory

Cover of the A2Y Chamber member directory. The Ann Arbor Chronicle is among the members listed.

In the interim, the city council has undoubtedly received communications lobbying for and against these changes. Among those communications was a letter sent on April 12 – with signatures from representatives of eight different entities that have significant specific interests in downtown Ann Arbor: “We write to oppose the proposed ordinance amendment … [P]aramount is the proposed change to the current ordinance procedure for calculating potential rebates of higher than anticipated TIF revenues back to taxing units …”

One of the eight signatories is unique – for two reasons.

First, the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber is the only one of which The Ann Arbor Chronicle is a member.

Second, the chamber is unique among the eight because it’s the one that has the legal and public policy resources to arrive at a position based on the legal and public policy merits of the issue. But in this case, the chamber has chosen a view that seems only half-informed by legal and public policy analysis.

With access to legal talent like Doug McClure, a recent candidate for 22nd Circuit Court judge who is chair of the chamber’s public policy committee, I’d expect this regional chamber to support the kind of clear, solid, forward-looking legal foundation that the proposed ordinance amendments would provide for us as a regional community. That’s especially true given that so many people – for and against the ordinance changes – agree that the current ordinance language lacks clarity.

And the idea that the chamber would support whatever interpretation the DDA chooses to give the ordinance – in the DDA’s sole judgment, with millions of regional tax dollars at stake – is bizarre from a public policy point of view. It’s especially bizarre given that this purportedly regional chamber has access to regional public policy talent like Andy LaBarre. He’s the chamber’s vice president of government relations who’s a former staffer for Congressman John Dingell. LaBarre is also an elected representative serving on a regional governing body that has tax dollars at stake in this debate – the Washtenaw County board of commissioners.

But the chamber chose to glance past the legal and public policy issues, opting instead to allow personal, petty mayoral politics to cloud its collective thinking.

What’s even more incredible is that the chamber has chosen wording for its letter – which it then recruited the other entities to sign – that would actually point an alert reader to the relevant legal and public policy issues. If the chamber itself had taken the words in its own letter more seriously, perhaps that would have guided the organization to take a position in favor of the ordinance changes.

In this column, I’ll lay out an analysis of the wording that the chamber has chosen – “… which the DDA calculates using its judgment within the standards set by the ordinance” – and explain why those words point the way to supporting the ordinance changes. [Full Story]

Kunselman Mulls Public Hearings for DDA

At the Ann Arbor city council’s Aug. 4, 2011 meeting, during communications at the conclusion of the meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated that he would eventually be bringing forward a number of possible revisions to Chapter 7, the city’s ordinance governing the operation of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Among the possible revisions, Kunselman indicated he would be suggesting that the appointments and reappointments to the DDA board include a public hearing.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Village Green Purchase Price Dips by $100K

At its June 6, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized a revision to the purchase option agreement with Village Green on the city-owned First and Washington site, where the developer plans to build a 9-story, 99-foot-tall building with 156 dwelling units. That revision reduces the price from $3.3 million to $3.2 million.

The break on the price is related to the “bathtub” design for the foundation of a 244-space parking deck, which makes up the first two stories of the development. The site of the development is near Allen Creek, and some kind of design strategy is required in order to deal with the possibility of water entering the parking structure. Rather than use a hybrid design that would entail pumping water out of the structure and into the city’s stormwater system on an ongoing basis, Village Green wants to use a complete bathtub-type design that will cost around $250,000. The city’s price break is thus a portion of that cost.

The parking deck is being developed in cooperation with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, which has pledged to make payments on around $9 million worth of bonds, after the structure is completed and has been issued a permit for occupancy.

The timeline put in place on Aug. 5, 2010 – when the city council most recently approved an extension of Village Green’s option to purchase the First and Washington city-owned parcel – called for Village Green to purchase the land by June 1, 2011. However, that deadline was subject to an extension of 90 days by the city administrator – an option which the interim administrator then exercised. That sets a new deadline of Aug. 30, 2011 for purchase of the parcel. The proceeds from the sale of the land were a part of the city’s financing plan for the new municipal center at Fifth and Huron, which is currently in the final stages of construction.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

DDA: Parking, Excess Taxes Still Not Done

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority special board meeting (May 20, 2011): A special meeting held by the board of the DDA on Friday was meant to give some final resolution to the DDA’s side of a new contract under which it would continue to operate the city’s public parking system.

Bob Guenzel, John Mouat, Sandi Smith, Russ Collins, DDA special board meeting

Left to right: DDA board members Bob Guenzel, John Mouat, Sandi Smith, and Russ Collins at the May 20 DDA special board meeting. Obscured from view between Guenzel and Mouat is John Hieftje. They were distributing the paper handouts with calculations of excess TIF revenues. (Photos by the writer.)

It was also intended to settle the matter of excess capture of TIF (tax increment finance) revenue in the DDA district – an issue raised by the city of Ann Arbor just before the DDA board had originally planned to vote on the new parking contract on May 2.

The board did vote on Friday to affirm a calculation by DDA staff that roughly $473,000 of excess TIF capture since 2004 would be divided among the following taxing authorities, which have a portion of their tax revenues captured in the DDA TIF district: Washtenaw County; Washtenaw Community College; and the Ann Arbor District Library.

Based on a representation at the special meeting by mayor John Hieftje – who has a statutory seat on the DDA board – the city of Ann Arbor is likely to agree to “forgive” the $711,767 in excess TIF capture that would be due to the city. More than that amount has effectively already been returned to the city, in the form of a roughly $0.5 million annual grant to the city to help make bond payments on its new municipal center, and a $1 million expenditure to demolish the old YMCA building, as well as other grants. In total, around $7.5 million has gone to the city, according to the DDA.

At Friday’s special meeting, the DDA board also voted to ratify its side of a new contract under which it would continue to operate the city’s public parking system. Among other features, the new contract would obligate the city of Ann Arbor to report regularly on how it is using public parking system revenues for street repair in the downtown, and how it is enforcing parking regulations downtown.

More controversially, the new contract would allow the DDA to set parking rates. Currently, the DDA forwards proposed rate changes to the city council, which can then veto the DDA’s proposal if it acts within 60 days. If the council does not act to block the rate change, the change is enacted. Although Hieftje said at the DDA board meeting he felt there was adequate support on the council to approve such a contract, there are currently at least five likely no votes on the 11-member council.

Also controversial is the exact percentage of gross revenues the city would receive from the public parking system. Before the issue of the excess TIF capture arose, the DDA board was poised to ratify a parking contract that would transfer 17% of gross parking revenues to the city of Ann Arbor’s general fund. At Friday’s special meeting, the resolution before the board dropped that number to 16%. Hieftje proposed an amendment to raise the figure to 17%. That amendment was attached to a contingency that the city council would provide a plan amendable to the DDA in which the city would “underwrite” the DDA’s fund balances. It was the 17% with a contingency that the DDA board passed.

So the special DDA board meeting did not settle with finality either the issue of the excess TIF capture or the DDA’s side of the parking contract. For the TIF capture issue, the relevant taxing authorities – especially the city of Ann Arbor – will need to affirm the solution that the DDA board approved.

For the parking contract issue, the DDA’s contingency means that the city council’s Monday, May 23 meeting – which is a continuation of its May 16 meeting, when it was supposed to approve the FY 2012 budget – will likely be recessed and continued again on May 31.

One possibility for how events would unfold is this: (1) May 23 – the city council ratifies the city’s side of the parking contract and provides the plan for underwriting DDA fund balances; city council also deliberates and amends FY 2012 budget but does not take a final vote on it; (2) May 24-27 – DDA schedules a special meeting to accept the parking contract contingency; and (3) May 31 – city council resumes the meeting started May 16 and previously continued on May 23, and approves FY 2012 budget. [.pdf of draft parking contract] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor DDA Calls Special Meeting

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board has called a special meeting for noon Friday, May 20, 2011 at the DDA offices at 150 S. Fifth Ave. At the board’s May 2 meeting, it had put off voting on a new contract with the city of Ann Arbor under which the DDA manages the city’s public parking system.

The board had been expected to vote on the measure at that meeting, but postponed it amid questions about the administration of the city’s ordinance on distribution of DDA TIF capture. [Chronicle coverage: "DDA Delays Parking Vote Amid TIF Questions"]

The delay in settling the parking contract has led to a delay in the Ann Arbor city council’s willingness to approve its fiscal … [Full Story]

DDA Delays Parking Vote Amid TIF Questions

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (May 2, 2011): At its Monday meeting, the DDA board was expected to ratify its side of a new contract under which the DDA would continue to operate the city of Ann Arbor’s public parking system.

John Hieftje Roger Hewitt

Mayor John Hieftje (left) and DDA board member Roger Hewitt (right) head to their seats to start the DDA's board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Instead, the board received this news from the chair of its bricks and money committee: The city has raised the possibility that the DDA might need to return money to various taxing entities – including the city of Ann Arbor – from the taxes captured through the DDA’s tax increment finance district. The city communicated its concern to the DDA on Monday morning, the day of the noon meeting.

The issue concerns the DDA’s TIF plan, which was renewed in 2003, and language in the city’s ordinance establishing the DDA under the state’s enabling legislation. The TIF plan contains projections for the growth in taxable value of property (both real and personal) in the district. The city’s ordinance stipulates that if the actual “captured assessed valuation” grows at a rate faster than the expectation expressed in the TIF plan, then at least 50% of the additional amount must be returned proportionately to the taxing authorities from which the taxes were captured.

The vagueness of the ordinance language leaves several open questions that will require further review by the city attorney’s office and the DDA’s own legal counsel, as well as the financial staff from both organizations.

Those questions include: (1) What’s the relevant time period? (2) Which set of TIF plan estimates are applicable – the one labeled pessimistic, optimistic or realistic? (3) Who is the responsible party for adherence to the ordinance? (4) Does the ordinance language refer to real property only or also to personal property? (5) Do payments already made by the DDA to the city of Ann Arbor out of the TIF for the new municipal center count towards any sum that might need to be returned?

After hearing the news, the board decided to table the resolution on its agenda that would have ratified the DDA’s side of a new parking contract under which it would continue to manage the city’s parking system. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Column: Ann Arbor Parking – Share THIS!"]

Board members recognized that it would likely be necessary to convene a special meeting of the board, given the city’s need to approve its budget on May 16. Later the same day, on the evening of May 2, the city council struck from its agenda the item that would have ratified the city’s side of the new parking contract. The city council has not yet weighed in on the text of the contract, but did express its view on the financial terms at its April 19 meeting.

As DDA board members absorbed the news about the TIF question, they heard their usual set of reports from their committees and wrapped up the meeting is less than an hour – they had no further business to transact. Board member Russ Collins, who was prepared to call in to the meeting from Detroit, where he’d been summoned for federal jury duty, did not need to do that.  [Full Story]

Brownfield Plan in Dexter Gets Final OK

At its May 4, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave final approval to a brownfield plan amendment for the BST Investments redevelopment project, located at 2810 Baker Road in Dexter. The project involves demolishing three buildings on the site and constructing a new commercial complex of three buildings. The $14 million project is estimated to retain 40 jobs and add 80 new jobs.

The revised plan was previously approved by the Washtenaw County brownfield redevelopment authority at its March 10, 2011 meeting, when the authority also approved an interlocal agreement to transfer tax increment financing (TIF) revenues from the Dexter Downtown Development Authority. The amended plan was approved on Feb. 28, 2011 by the Dexter Village Council.

An estimated total of $312,000 in local and state taxes will be captured for eligible activities, administrative costs, and the Washtenaw County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority Local Site Remediation Revolving Fund over a projected four-year period. Of this total, $24,000 will be used for the county brownfield program’s administrative fees, and $48,000 will go into the Local Site Remediation Revolving Fund. After the project is completed and all TIF activities are fulfilled, an estimated increase of $162,103 annually would be distributed among the Dexter DDA and other taxing jurisdictions. According to a memo accompanying the resolution, the Washtenaw County annual millage payment from the property would increase from roughly $5,397 to $14,222.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, 220 N. Main St., Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

City, DDA Continue to Talk Parking, Taxes

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (April 6, 2011): Since June 2010, the city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor DDA have been negotiating a new contract under which the DDA would continue to operate the city’s public parking system.

While the city and the DDA have achieved much agreement on the non-monetary details of the arrangement, Wednesday’s board meeting left the financial piece still unclear.

Keith Orr DDA Ann Arbor

Keith Orr pores over the figures under various scenarios for the new contract under which the DDA would operate the public parking system. (Photos by the writer.)

The board discussion included a focus on the contrast between the combined fund reserve of the DDA – which includes those funds it collects as a tax-increment finance authority – and the reserves of just the public parking fund. Sandi Smith, who’s a DDA board member and an Ann Arbor city councilmember, stressed throughout the conversation that it’s not just the overall fund balance, but the public parking fund balance itself that needs to be monitored.

Last week, the board had come to a consensus that the public parking system could absorb a payment to the city equal to 16% of gross parking revenues in every year of a 10-year contract, which represented a revision upward from its previous position of 14% in the first two years, followed by 15% in subsequent years.

After lengthy back-and-forth, the only consensus reached by DDA board members was that they were not prepared to revise their position upward (again) to meet the city’s request that the city be paid 16% of the public parking gross revenues in the first two years of the contract, but 17.5% in remaining years. Mayor John Hieftje, who serves on the DDA board, was the lone voice of support for that position.

The mayor also found himself somewhat isolated on another issue in front of the board at its Wednesday meeting – the only action item on the agenda. The board voted to sign a new, more favorable lease agreement for its roughly 3,000 feet of office space at 150 S. Fifth Ave. for a term of five years.

Although the mayor voted with the rest of the board in authorizing the lease agreement, he had announced at the city council’s Monday, April 4 meeting that he would be asking his fellow DDA members to consider moving into space that’s currently being renovated in the city hall building. Two days later, at Wednesday’s DDA board meeting, the mayor appeared to understand that there was little enthusiasm on the board for the move, based partly on the fact that it would cost the DDA more in the short term.

At the meeting, the board also heard its usual range of reports and communications, including an update from DTE on the addition of a new substation near the Broadway bridge, to meet increased demand for electricity. [Full Story]

DDA OKs Village Green Amendment

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Feb. 2, 2011): On a day when other government bodies scrubbed their schedules due to a blizzard forecast, the DDA board held firm to its regular first-Wednesday-of-the-month meeting time. The diminished activity downtown due to the snow led Roger Hewitt to quip during the meeting: “This will not be a particularly profitable day in the parking system, I think we can safely say.” The meeting achieved attendance of 10 out of 12 board members.

Gary Boren, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, Keith Orr

From left to right: DDA board members Gary Boren, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, and Keith Orr. (Photos by the writer.)

In their one business item, the board approved an amendment to the contract with Village Green to develop a 244-space parking deck as the first two stories of a 9-story, 99-foot-tall building, City Apartments – a 156-unit residential planned unit development (PUD) at First and Washington.

Once the parking deck portion of the building is completed and issued a certificate of occupancy, the city of Ann Arbor has agreed to issue $9 million worth of bonds to purchase the deck, and the DDA has agreed to make the payments on those bonds. The amendment to the contract provides DDA consultants access to the site during construction activities to check that construction methods conform to standards that will ensure a 75-year life for the deck.

On the city council’s agenda for Monday, Feb. 7, 2011 is their own approval of the same amendment to the Village Green contract. The contract amendment is part of a timeline put in place on Aug. 5, 2010, when the city council approved an extension of Village Green’s option to purchase the First and Washington city-owned parcel for $3 million. That timeline calls for Village Green to purchase the land by June 1, 2011.

The $3 million proceeds from the hoped-for Village Green deal were part of the financing plan for the city’s new municipal center, and would have no direct impact on the current general fund’s $2.4 million deficit that’s forecast for the FY 2012 budget. However, during deliberations some DDA board members accepted the point made by their colleague Newcombe Clark – that there are likely indirect connections between the completion of the Village Green transaction and the city’s overall budget picture, at least in terms of cash flow.

In reports and communications entertained by the board, highlights included: (1) a continued interest on the part of the University of Michigan to absorb a segment of Monroe Street into the UM Law School campus; (2) complaints from the property manager at 416 Huron St. about disrepair of an alley and adjoining sidewalks in the area, as well as a lack of maintenance on property owned by the railroad; and (3) an elaboration by the mayor on some remarks about Borders that he’d made and that had been reported in the media. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Delays DDA-led Plan

At its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council delayed action on a resolution that would have authorized the city’s downtown development authority to create a parcel-by-parcel plan for the development of downtown city-owned surface parking lots. The postponement was accomplished on a 6-4 vote – Margie Teall (Ward 4) was absent. Voting against postponement were: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), and Sabra Briere (Ward 1). Kunselman, Higgins, and Rapundalo were clear that they were prepared to vote against the resolution, if the motion to postpone had not passed.

At its Jan. 5 board meeting, the Ann Arbor DDA had passed a resolution urging passage of the council resolution, which had been circulated as early as the city council’s Dec. 20, 2010 meeting, when Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) attached a copy of the the draft resolution to the council’s meeting agenda, and alerted his council colleagues to it at that meeting.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

DDA Embraces Concept of Development Plan

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Jan. 5, 2011): The regular noon meeting of the DDA board on Wednesday afternoon lasted well under an hour. Its single piece of major business was passage of a resolution that expressed support for the concept of a DDA-led parcel-by-parcel development plan for downtown city-owned surface parking lots. The city council will likely be considering a resolution on Jan. 18 that articulates in some detail how the DDA would be authorized to implement the parcel-by-parcel plan.

Joan Lyke

Outgoing management assistant Joan Lyke was honored by the board with a resolution acknowledging her service to the DDA. She gave a few remarks on the subject of what she'd learned working at the DDA.

Following the regular board meeting was a board retreat that lasted until around 3 p.m. The board’s retreat focused on the contract under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system. It runs through 2015, but is being renegotiated so that the city receives more of the parking system’s revenue than is currently stipulated in the contract. The retreat will be left to a future Chronicle report.

Also left to a future report will be a third meeting held later Wednesday evening, which was tied to the DDA board meeting via the theme of surface parking lot development – though it was not a DDA meeting. It was hosted by First Hospitality Group Inc., a developer that’s proposing a new 9-story, 104-room hotel at the southeast corner of Division and Washington streets. Held at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, the gathering satisfied the city’s citizen participation ordinance for new site plans.

Besides The Chronicle, four others attended all three meetings – DDA board chair Joan Lowenstein, chair of the downtown citizens advisory council Ray Detter, newly elected Ann Arbor library board member Nancy Kaplan, and Ann Arbor city councilmember Sabra Briere.  [Full Story]

Transit Connector Study: Initial Analysis

Last summer, the final piece was put in place for a four-way partnership to fund a transportation feasibility study of the corridor from Plymouth Road down to South State Street. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board gave approval for its $320,000 share of the study’s $640,00 price tag.

The "boomerang map" showing the Ann Arbor corridors being studied for higher quality transit options like bus rapid transit, streetcars, and monorail. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Some early results of the “Ann Arbor Connector Feasibility Study” were presented last Tuesday evening at the Ann Arbor District Library in an open-house style format with boards and easels, complemented by a presentation from the consultant hired to perform the study, project manager Rick Nau of URS Corporation.

Nau reported that the study is currently in the needs analysis phase – traffic congestion was a phrase Nau sprinkled through his remarks during the evening. The initial needs analysis shows that the majority of the travel demand in the Plymouth-State corridors is accounted for by trips between different parts of the University of Michigan campus.

The study has not reached the point of drawing lines on maps for possible transportation routes. Instead, the representation of the area of study is a “boomerang map” stretching from US-23 near Plymouth Road to Briarwood Mall. The boomerang includes two of four “signature transit corridors” identified in the city of Ann Arbor’s Transportation Plan Update – Plymouth/Fuller roads and State Street.

Prompted by an audience question, Nau made clear that the study has not yet reached the dollars-and-cents analysis phase that will eventually come. The study is expected to be completed by December 2010 with the preliminary recommendations to be publicly presented in the fall.

Nau’s presentation focused on establishing the need for higher quality transit along the corridor and the range of technology choices available to meet that need. Those technology choices range from larger buses running along the regular roadway to elevated monorail trains. [Full Story]

City Accepts $2 Million, DDA to “Retreat”

At its May 5 board meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority approved a $2 million payment to the city of Ann Arbor. And about two weeks later, at its May 17 meeting, the city council used the additional revenue in the city’s FY 2011 budget to help reduce the number of planned layoffs in its police and fire departments from 35 to 5.

The $2 million payment was based on a term sheet that a “working group” of councilmembers and DDA board members had put together out of public view over the first four months of the year. The term sheet was adequate to convince a 7-member majority of the 12-member DDA board that the $2 million should be paid by the DDA to the city in advance of a long-term revision to the city-DDA contract, under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system.

The parking contract was most recently renegotiated in 2005 and provided for a maximum payment by the DDA to the city of $10 million over the period from 2005 to 2015. The city drew $10 million in the first five years and had requested in January 2009 that the DDA open discussions to renegotiate the contract.

With the term sheet now out in the open, it’s clear that its content is problematic for councilmembers and DDA board members who were not part of the working group that produced it. Several councilmembers and DDA board members alike have expressed strong opposition to one of the key ideas in the term sheet – that the DDA would assume responsibility for parking violations and other code enforcement.

But based on the term sheet discussion at the May 12 meeting of  DDA’s partnerships committee, the piece of the term sheet of most interest to DDA board members is one that is also the most politically controversial: The DDA would be acknowledged as the engine for developing city-owned land in the DDA district.

The DDA partnerships committee conversation on May 12 came against the backdrop of recent questions raised by the mayor and the city council about what kind of legal authority a DDA has in the context of the city’s system of governance.

And the outcome of the partnerships committee meeting was a decision to hold another full board retreat, this one on May 28 at 2 p.m. at the DDA board room. The general topic of the retreat, which is open to the public, will be the term sheet. The DDA already held its semi-annual retreat about two months ago, on March 16. [Full Story]

DDA OKs $2 Million Over Strong Dissent

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (May 5, 2010): During the DDA board’s monthly meeting, mayor John Hieftje and city councilmember Sandi Smith found themselves briefly sidelined from the board on which they sit.


As mayor John Hieftje looks on, Rene Greff addresses the DDA board at the beginning of Wednesdsay’s meeting, asking them not to approve the transfer of $2 million to the city of Ann Arbor. Greff is a former DDA board member, but addressed the board as a downtown business owner – of Arbor Brewing Company.  (Photos by the writer.)

They were at the table, however, for the final vote on whether to pay $2 million to the city, which the DDA is not obligated to pay under terms of its existing parking system agreement.

The 7-4 outcome of that vote on the 12-member body, of which 11 were present, was enough to write a $2 million check to the city. Voices of opposition to the fund transfer came not only from inside the board itself, but also from the business community during public commentary. Two former DDA board members were in the audience.

An initial opinion given at the meeting by DDA legal counsel Jerry Lax was that Hieftje and Smith could participate in the deliberations. But when an amendment was proposed, which had a side-effect of removing the basis for Lax’s earlier advice, Smith recused herself. As it became apparent that Hieftje intended to remain at the table, board member Jennifer Hall raised the point of order again, and Lax indicated Smith’s recusal was appropriate and that Hieftje should follow suit. Finally, Hieftje accepted the opinion of the DDA’s legal counsel and took a seat in the audience, but contended that he’d been given different advice from the city attorney’s office. When the amendment failed, Smith and Hieftje were back at the table.

Another board resolution that generated animated discussion, but was ultimately tabled, involved a systematic re-allocation of funds, in $60,000 increments, to a reserve to pay for the restoration of downtown police beat patrols. The re-allocation would have come from monies previously slated to fund the Howell-Ann Arbor commuter rail project (Washtenaw Livingston Rail Line – WALLY).

The committee reports to the board did not involve the kind of blunt talk that emerged during discussions of the two resolutions. But two topics reported out from the board’s transportation committee can be expected to receive wider visibility in the coming months: (i) Where will the two employees of the getDowntown program be housed? and (ii) Can there be an express Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti bus?

In this meeting report, we focus exclusively on the $2 million transfer from the DDA to the city of Ann Arbor. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Budget: Formal Commencement

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (April 19, 2010) Part 1: In the main business of the meeting, city administrator Roger Fraser delivered to Ann Arbor’s city council a presentation required by the city charter, which contained his proposed budget for FY 2011. That marks the formal start of councilmembers’ opportunity to modify the budget proposal.

Hieftje Higgins Fraser

From left to right: Mayor John Hieftje, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and city administrator Roger Fraser. The trio were basking in the blue glow of the slide projector before the start of the council meeting, which began with Fraser's budget presentation. (Photos by the writer.)

The council must adopt amendments to the budget by their second meeting in May – May 17 this year – or else see the administrator’s unamended budget enacted by default, as stipulated by a city charter provision.

The council also heard a summary of the parking plan that they had commissioned the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to produce.

Related to the city budget and the DDA board – but not reported during communications time at the council meeting – members of the DDA board and city council held a closed-door meeting last Friday afternoon with city administrator Roger Fraser to discuss a $2 million payment by the DDA to the city this year.

At Monday evening’s meeting, the council postponed a vote on a schedule of fine increases for parking violations. The estimated $635,000 in additional revenues that the increases would bring, said CFO Tom Crawford at the meeting, was not part of the FY 2011 budget assumptions.

The topic of the University of Michigan’s upcoming graduation exercises on May 1, which will feature an address by President Barack Obama, found its way into deliberations at various points in the meeting. The city approved road closures around the football stadium in conjunction with the UM commencement. Residents who live near Elbel Field will contend with floodlights and loudspeakers as early as 4 a.m. on commencement morning. And during public commentary, one resident expressed concern over the city’s denial of a permit to demonstrate – organizers of “Fulfilling the Dream” expect to draw hundreds on May 1, but as yet have nowhere to gather.

The city administrator’s report to the council featured an explanation of parking citations handed out during the previous Saturday’s UM spring football game, as well as an explanation of the closure of city hall last week due to elevated levels of carbon monoxide.

Public commentary was weighted towards an agenda item that allocated $313,000 from the Ann Arbor Housing Trust Fund for three different permanent housing projects. The council approved the allocation.

The council also satisfied an obligation it had under the settlement terms of a recent lawsuit by voting to remand consideration of an email rule to its rules committee.

In Part 1 of this report, we focus on the budget, parking and UM’s commencement. [Full Story]

Art Commission Plans Survey, Public Event

Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (Feb. 9, 2010): In a three-hour meeting that included some heated exchanges, members of AAPAC reviewed public art projects in various stages of development, including those for West Park, Fuller Road Station, Hanover Park and the new municipal building.

An update on Herbert Dreiseitl’s work for the municipal building revealed that two interior pieces – originally part of three pieces proposed for the site, but set aside because they came in over budget – are being reconsidered. Dreiseitl plans to resubmit a design and pricing for the two interior pieces later this month, and is expected to return to Ann Arbor in mid-April to work on the already-approved outdoor sculpture in the building’s front plaza.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, AAPAC members debated how best to get input from the public, with some members questioning the effectiveness of repeating an event that last year drew 30 people. [Full Story]

DDA Floats Idea for Fourth Avenue

Typically on the last Wednesday morning of the month, two committees of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority meet back to back – transportation and operations. This past Wednesday was no different.

Fourth Avenue Ann Arbor

At Fourth & William streets in downtown Ann Arbor. The view is looking to the north. At right is an AATA bus shelter – further in the background on the same side of the street is the Blake Transit Center. Opposite the AATA facilities is a parking deck. (Photos by the writer.)

At the transportation committee meeting, Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, floated an idea for partnering with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority on improvements to the South Fourth Avenue corridor, between William and Liberty streets. The partnership would include a grant to the AATA in connection with the reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center. No numbers are yet attached to the concept, which Pollay described as a possible “transit mall” – she was checking with the committee for their basic reaction to the idea. That reaction could fairly be described as warm, with some caution expressed by DDA board member Leah Gunn, when she arrived for the operations committee meeting.

Starting last month, the last half hour of the  transportation committee’s meeting has been configured to overlap with the operations committee’s meeting, so that the two groups can meet jointly to discuss a directive from the city council to the DDA to deliver a parking plan to the council by April. A preliminary outline of that plan was discussed on Wednesday. [Full Story]

DDA Invites City to Discuss Parking Fines

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Dec. 2, 2009): In a meeting dominated by status reports for ongoing DDA initiatives, a glimmer of a possibility emerged that a discussion about the parking system could begin between the DDA and the city of Ann Arbor.


View from the southwest. The Library Lot (construction crane) is immediately to the north of the Ann Arbor District Library (red brick with blue trim). In the foreground is the awning for the Blake Transit Center (bus turning in). (Photo by the writer links to higher resolution image).

That discussion would be focused on parking fines – a topic the Ann Arbor city council was briefed on at its Nov. 9 work session by city financial services staff. That session did not include the DDA, which manages the Ann Arbor’s parking system under a contract with the city. Republic Parking is the company contracted by the DDA for operation of the system. [See Chronicle coverage: "Parking Fines to Increase in Ann Arbor?"]

In the only board resolution considered at the meeting, executive director Susan Pollay was authorized to negotiate easements with property owners adjoining the construction site for the underground parking garage, which is now starting construction. [Full Story]

DDA Buys Shelter Beds; New Life for LINK?

two men standing facing each other

DDA board chair John Splitt (left) and Michael Ortlieb (right) of Carl Walker – the design firm that's handling the new Fifth Avenue underground parking structure. (Photo by the writer.)

Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Nov. 4, 2009): Measured in raw dollars, the major news coming out of the DDA‘s regular Wednesday meeting was the selection of The Christman Company as the construction manager for the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage.

Because the firm had already been awarded the pre-construction services contract, with the construction management contract to be contingent on performance during pre-construction, Christman’s probable selection was well known. The  dollar amount of Christman’s guaranteed maximum price is now also known to an exact figure: $44,381,573.

In other significant business, the board passed a resolution authorizing support of an initiative to increase the number of shelter spots for the homeless in the face of the coming winter – $20,000 for additional beds, to be paid for out of the DDA’s housing fund.

The board also passed a resolution that might resuscitate the LINK – the downtown circulator bus that did not resume service this fall after its usual summer hiatus. The resolution calls for a partnership with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to sort out what that service should look like. Michael Ford, AATA’s CEO, had alluded to these efforts in a side-remark during his presentation to the AATA board last week.  This resolution reflected those efforts. [Full Story]

Navigating Library Lane

This rendering of the proposed Fifth Avenue parking project, on a billboard next to the downtown library, shows the proposed Library Lane running between Fifth and Division. The large building on the right of the image is a new library building – a project that was called off late last year. (Photo by the writer.)

This rendering of the proposed Fifth Avenue parking project, on a billboard next to the downtown library, shows the proposed Library Lane running between Fifth and Division (from the bottom to the top of the image). The large building on the right is a new library building – a project that the library board called off late last year. (Photo by the writer.)

The Chronicle arrived about an hour late to the Oct. 19, 2009 board meeting for the Ann Arbor District Library, which began before the conclusion of an earlier meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

When we arrived, however, the board was not in the downtown library’s fourth-floor conference room where these meetings are held – they’d moved into a closed executive session. Waiting for their return were Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, and Adrian Iraola, project manager for the DDA’s Fifth Avenue underground parking project.

Pollay and Iraola were there to talk to the board about the city’s request for a utility easement on library property, to the east of the library’s downtown building. The easement is needed so that the DDA can install a new water main leading to a fire hydrant on Library Lane, a proposed east-west street that would lie between the library on the south and the DDA parking structure on the north.

When the board returned from their executive session, Pollay and Iraola got an unanticipated response – one that’s resulting in an adjustment of the DDA’s construction schedule on the project. [Full Story]

Approved: Earth Retention, Zipcars

ground breaking ceremony

Last week's groundbreaking ceremony for the new Fifth Avenue underground parking garage. Left to right: Susan Pollay, Leigh Greden, John Splitt, Newcombe Clark, Sandi Smith, Roger Hewitt. (Photo by the writer.)

Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Oct. 7, 2009): Last week’s groundbreaking ceremony for the new underground parking garage at the Library Lot included car-related songs from DJ Surfer Joe. And the theme of cars – and specifically the underground parking project, which the DDA is undertaking – echoed through the DDA board’s Wednesday meeting.

The board approved a $50,000 expenditure for an earth retention system design, as well as a commitment to support two additional Zipcars at $36,000 a year, for a total of six cars in the downtown area. The actual amount of the subsidy is expected to be zero, based on experience with the first four vehicles.

The board also heard a report from getDowntown director Nancy Shore about the results of a commuter survey. Board members also spent time discussing under what conditions they should call special meetings.

Mayor John Hieftje announced that Ann Arbor’s Main Street had earned a special designation from the American Planning Association. All that and who’s getting married, after the jump. [Full Story]

Downtown Design Guides: Must vs. Should

man sits at table with palms in up-turned gesture

Eric Mahler, city of Ann Arbor planning commissioner, questioned whether the downtown design guidelines, as currently drafted, would pass legal muster, if they were implemented in a mandatory-compliance system. (Photo by the writer.)

Almost every child learns in school that a haiku is a short poem with three lines – lines that adhere to a 5-7-5 syllable count pattern.
But only some children learn that not all poems conforming to that 5-7-5 rule are good haikus. For example:

I saw a tower/Looming, stretching really tall/
Is it ever high!

Many readers will recognize those lines as a generally failed poem. But what specifically makes it a bad haiku, even though it follows the rule? The first-person narrative, the lack of seasonal referent, the lack of any kind of “aha!” moment – there are any number of ways in which that poetic effort fails to meet basic haiku design guidelines.

Similarly, a proposed new downtown Ann Arbor building that follows a basic height rule of “180 feet maximum” – specified in the zoning regulations – might still be generally recognizable as a poorly-designed building.  [Full Story]

Ann Arbor DDA Shifts into Monitor Mode

cyclist locking bike to a pole

The new wayfinding signs have poles that are perfect for locking bikes. In all fairness to this cyclist, he's unlocking his bike – the bike hoop just to the right was fully subscribed at the time he locked up. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (Sept. 2, 2009): In the last year, Ann Arbor’s Downtown Development Authority has moved three major projects from planning and approval phases towards actual start of construction.

For starters, visitors to downtown Ann Arbor will likely have noticed some of the new wayfinding signs that have already been installed over the last couple of weeks.  They’ll also have encountered the lane closures along Division Street, that has Eastlund Concrete pouring bumpouts as part of the Fifth and Division streetscape improvement project. And in mid-October, The Christman Company expects to start digging the massive hole at the Library Lot for the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage.

The DDA board meeting on Wednesday reflected this shift from planning to execution and monitoring: It was heavy on updates on how projects were faring in the field.

But in addition to the project updates, there was still room for planning ahead. For example, the board received a preliminary briefing on the impact of a possible city income tax on the DDA’s revenue – a $700,000 hit. The board also put a bit of time into discussion of its role in transportation. Plus, the board completed some unfinished business from its annual meeting in July by selecting a treasurer (Russ Collins) and confirming its selection of a chair (John Splitt). [Full Story]

DDA Hires Christman, Bonds Delivered

Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Aug. 19, 2009): As expected, the DDA board approved spending $226,000 to replace 6-inch water mains with 12-inch pipes, and authorized hiring The Christman Company for $40,000 worth of construction management services – which are for now limited to the pre-construction phase of the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage.

The same day, the city of Ann Arbor delivered the roughly $49 million worth of bonds that had previously been sold to pay for the project, and received the funds. In response to the obvious Chronicle question, the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford told The Chronicle over the phone, “Yes, we have the money.” So far, then, the lawsuit that was filed last week by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, has not had a material effect on the forward progress of the underground parking garage project.

Wednesday’s special meeting of the DDA board – called to consider authorization of expenditures on water mains and to hire a pre-construction manager – was also John Splitt’s first opportunity to chair  a meeting since his somewhat controversial July 1 election as board president.

As Splitt caught sight of his place at the board table, he observed cheerfully, “It’s not pink!” [Full Story]

Parking Deck Pre-Tensioned with Lawsuit

View of construction sight for proposed underground parking garage looking east to west. Herb David Guitar Studios and Jerusalem Garden are located in the upper right corner of the block.

View of construction site (Ed. note: corrected from "sight") for proposed underground parking garage looking east to west. Herb David Guitar Studios and Jerusalem Garden are located in the upper right corner of the block. (Image links to Microsoft's Bing Maps for full interactive display.)

As The Chronicle previously reported, at last week’s city council meeting, Ann Arbor CFO Tom Crawford announced that bonds for the 677-space South Fifth Avenue underground parking garage had been sold on Aug. 5.

And on Friday, Aug. 7, the Downtown Development Authority’s capital improvements committee conducted interviews with four candidate companies for the job of construction manager of the garage.

Then, by Wednesday morning of this week, references and financials for the Christman Company had checked out to the satisfaction of the DDA staff and Carl Walker – the design firm that’s been hired for the project. DDA executive director Susan Pollay is working out a time for a special meeting of the whole board to award the job to Christman.

But the day before, on Aug. 11, a lawsuit in connection with the parking garage project – which had previously been threatened by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center – was actually filed. The complaint alleges violations of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the Michigan Open Meetings Act, as well as nuisance and trespass violations.  Herb David Guitar Studio and Jerusalem Garden restaurant are plaintiffs in the suit, along with GLELC. [Full Story]

Council Caucus: Near North PUD

Ann Arbor City Council caucus (Aug. 5, 2009): The city council caucus, which typically falls on the Sunday before council’s regular Monday meeting, was rescheduled for Wednesday this week to match the rescheduling of the council’s regular meeting to Thursday. That schedule change had been prompted by the Democratic primary elections held on Tuesday.

Four council members attended caucus – John Hieftje (mayor), Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). They heard from residents on a variety of issues, from a complaint about thaw-and-bake products at the farmers market, to the Near North PUD proposal that is on council’s agenda for Thursday night, to questions about the constitution of the council’s budget and labor committee.

Also on council’s agenda is a moratorium on new development in districts zoned R4C (multi-family dwelling), and councilmembers heard from one resident at caucus in support of that moratorium, which was postponed from council’s last meeting.

Rounding out caucus topics were two plant-related issues. There’s an oak tree in Wurster Park that councilmembers were advised could have its life prolonged considerably. Finally, a resident framed problems with foliage obscuring sight lines for vehicles as a bicyclist safety issue. [Full Story]

Color-Coded Construction


Utility workers marked up the sidewalk on the southwest corner of Liberty and Division, in preparation for the DDA's Fifth and Division streetscape project. CLR means there aren't any lines in that location for the utility corresponding to the color of the marking . (Photo by the writer.)

We began with a question: What do the new multi-colored letters and symbols along Division Street mean?

Yes, the stretch of Division between Madison and Detroit streets is getting an overhaul – as part  of an Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority project. And yes, utility workers have been marking up the sidewalks for weeks.

But how to decipher these urban hieroglyphics?

In the process of answering that question, we also learned the answer to this one: What’s the connection between deer hunting and asphalt?

And along the way, we got an update about the work, which started this week on South Division, between Packard and Liberty, as well as a more general overview of progress on the DDA’s Fifth and Division streetscape project.  [Full Story]

Art: Countdown to Dreiseitl

A button promoting public art, on the lapel of Cathy Gendron, a member of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

A button promoting public art, worn on the lapel of Cathy Gendron, a member of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission.

Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (July 14, 2009): A big chunk of Tuesday’s art commission meeting focused on the upcoming visit of German artist Herbert Dreitseitl, who’ll arrive in town this weekend. Where will he stay? When can the public see his designs for the municipal center? How can you score one of the buttons shown in this photo? Our report on Tuesday’s meeting will provide answers to all these questions, and more.

The meeting also introduced The Chronicle to a new vocabulary word – “scuppers” – and included a talk by Susan Pollay of the Downtown Development Authority. To find out which piece of public art she describes as a “sad little sculpture,” read on. [Full Story]

Split DDA Board Agrees on Splitt

Downtown Development Authority board meeting (July 1, 2009): The Ann Arbor DDA wound up its current fiscal year with a frank and transparent disagreement about its future governance as a body, both in terms of its officers and its appointments. The disagreement was also reflected in connection with the specific substantive issue of raising parking fees at the 415 W. Washington lot.

An expected controversy over variable parking fees elsewhere was avoided when a scheduled resolution to introduce new variable-rate on-street parking fees – which would have increased parking rates and generated around $250,000 in extra revenue – was postponed until September, the board’s next scheduled meeting.

September is also when the question of who will be the board’s treasurer will be decided, with the board unable to choose between Sandi Smith and Roger Hewitt for that position during board elections. The board did arrive at selections for its new chair (John Splitt), vice-chair (Joan Lowenstein) and secretary (Keith Orr).

In other business, the board granted nearly $400,000 to the getDowntown program for the go!pass, extended a $50,000 arts grant re-directing the money towards performing arts organizations, authorized $25,000 for additional recycling containers to be placed downtown, approved $16,000 in grants to merchant associations to encourage attractive window displays, and authorized sponsorship for travel to the International Downtown Association Conference.

In the course of the meeting, city councilmember Leigh Greden’s attendance and vote in place of Mayor John Hieftje, who is a member of the DDA board, generated discussion of interest to specialists in civics. [Full Story]