Stories indexed with the term ‘underground parking garage’

South Fifth Avenue

South Fifth Avenue, from Liberty to Library Lane, was closed to traffic as several fire engines and emergency vehicles responded to a car fire in the underground parking structure. Shot taken from the roof of the Fourth & William parking garage shows people milling around, waiting for the all-clear sign so that they can get to their cars. [photo] [photo]

DDA OKs Development Grant, Parking Leases

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (June 6, 2012): The board’s action items this month covered both of the DDA’s functions – as the administrator of tax increment finance (TIF) revenues within its geographic district, as well as the manager of the city’s parking system.

Ann Arbor Public Parking System

Excerpt from a Chronicle chart constructed with DDA parking data from the Ann Arbor public parking system. The vertical scale represents hourly patrons per parking space in a given parking facility. The lines correspond to four facilities in the system: Maynard, Liberty Square, Fourth & Washington, and Huron/Ashley. Pop quiz: Which line corresponds to which facility? Answer in the full report.

On the TIF side, the board first adopted a formal policy to guide its allocation of grants to new private developments. The board then acted to authorize a $650,000 TIF-capture-based grant to the 618 S. Main project. The policy applies to developments that are seeking to leverage support from the state’s brownfield and Community Revitalization Program, or other matching programs.

Highlights of that policy include a priority ranking of benefits that a development must offer. At the top of that list: A requirement that the project fills a gap in the existing market. The DDA board concluded that the 618 S. Main project filled such a gap – by targeting residential space for young professionals. The $650,000 would be distributed over four years, with the amount in any one year not to exceed the estimated $250,000 in TIF capture that would ordinarily be retained by the DDA as a result of the completed construction.

The board was interested in achieving a unanimous vote of support for the 618 S. Main grant, and not all board members agreed with covering bank carrying costs and the full amount of streetscape improvements. So the $650,000 reflected a reduction from a $725,000 grant in the original resolution before the board.

On the parking side of the DDA’s responsibilities, routine business was mixed with issues involving the imminent opening of a new underground parking garage on South Fifth Avenue. In the routine category was the board’s authorization of three-year leases for two properties from companies controlled by First Martin Corp., which the DDA manages as surface parking lots – at Huron/Ashley and Huron/First. Per space, the Huron/Ashley lot generates more revenue per month than any of the other public parking facilities in the city.

The board was also presented with a demand-management strategy for encouraging the use of the new underground parking garage on South Fifth Avenue, which is scheduled to open in mid-July. Highlights of that strategy include a reduced rate for monthly permits of $95/month – a $50/month savings over the $145/month rate set to take effect in September this year, and a $60 savings over the extra increase that the DDA is planning for two structures. The special $95/month permits are available only to current holders of permits in two other parking structures in the system: Liberty Square and Maynard Street. The DDA wants to free up spaces in those two structures for people who do not hold permits, and pay the hourly rate instead.

The DDA board also heard public commentary from advocates for some kind of public park to be constructed on top of the new underground parking structure – instead of using the space for additional surface parking, with the eventual possibility of allowing development of a significantly-sized building there.

In the board’s final action item, routine adjustments were made to the current fiscal year’s budget in order to assure that actual expenses did not exceed budgeted revenues for any of the DDA’s four funds. Last year, the routine adjustment did not adequately cover construction invoices that arrived after the final budget adjustment, something that was pointed out in the DDA’s audit for that year. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor DDA Adjusts Annual Budget

At its June 6, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Authority board authorized amendments to its previously approved fiscal year FY 2012 budget (ending in three weeks, on June 30), which is an annual exercise undertaken to ensure that the actual expenses incurred are allowed for in the budget.

An example of a major difference between the already authorized budget and the amended version is an adjustment upward from $1,017,847 – for capital construction costs from the TIF fund – to $3,480,701. Those costs are construction invoices related to the new South Fifth Avenue underground parking garage, which is expected to open in mid-July. The budget adjustments are conservative, in that it assumes the parking garage will be completed and invoices … [Full Story]

Monthly Parking: Tweaked to Manage Demand?

At its May 2, 2012 meeting, the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Authority approved a resolution that authorizes its operations committee (aka bricks & money and transportation committee) to use demand management strategies to price monthly parking permits in Ann Arbor’s public parking system. The goal of adjusting monthly parking permit rates is to expand campus-area parking to structures other than those immediately adjacent to the University of Michigan campus. In broad strokes, “demand managent strategies” means pricing the most desirable parking options higher than those that are less desirable.

The move comes as the opening of the new underground parking structure on South Fifth Avenue, offering around 700 additional total spaces, is set to open by the start of the Ann … [Full Story]

DDA Updated: Parking, Panhandling, Parcels

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Oct. 5, 2011): At its regular monthly meeting, the DDA board had no voting items on its agenda, but received the usual set of reports from its committees and the public.

Bob Guenzel chair of DDA board

Bob Guenzel chaired his first meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board on Wednesday. (Photos by the writer.)

Those included the monthly parking report, which showed use of the city’s public parking trending upward compared to last year, as well as an annual report on the structure-by-structure breakdown of the parking system.

The reports presented to the DDA board at their meeting – together with a recent report delivered to the city’s environmental commission about parking trends dating back to the mid-2000s – provide reason for some cautious optimism. The number of people getting access to downtown Ann Arbor by driving there and parking suggests an overall slight upward trend, despite a reduced number of number of hourly patrons earlier this year.

Also related to parking, the board received a presentation on a communications plan that the DDA is developing, targeted at downtown evening employees. That communications plan is meant to make sure those employees are aware of low cost alternatives to using on-street parking spaces. The communications strategy would be part of a possible plan to extend enforcement hours for on-street parking meetings past 6 p.m. The DDA will present its tentative proposal for revisions to parking policies to the city council at a joint working session of the board and the council to be held on Nov. 14.

In response to some of the individual success stories that were presented in connection with parking alternatives, DDA board member Russ Collins said, “I wonder how this positive message will play in the media.”

Collins’ remark could have applied to much of the rest of the meeting as well. The board took the report on the basic current financial health of the parking system as an occasion to talk about the overall economic strength of the downtown. Despite the recent closing of some smaller stores, board members gave reports of strong performances by other businesses.

That positive report contrasted with public commentary about ongoing problems with aggressive panhandling and drug dealing and other fringe behavior exhibited downtown. Mayor John Hieftje, who sits on the DDA board, described how some response is being developed by the Ann Arbor police department.

The construction updates on the Fifth and Division streetscape improvement project and the underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue converged on the Ann Arbor District Library. The projects will result in modifying the downtown library building’s front porch, to facilitate access from the new east-west mid-block street – Library Lane – into the library.

As the underground parking garage nears expected completion in the spring of 2012, brief discussion unfolded among DDA board members on the near-term use of the top of that garage. Also related to potential development in the “midtown area” was a report from the partnerships committee. A steering committee comprising DDA board members and community members will be leading the effort to explore alternative uses of specific city-owned parcels downtown, including the top of the underground parking structure (aka the Library Lot).

It was the first board meeting chaired by Bob Guenzel, who was elected to that position at the DDA’s last meeting, which he was unable to attend. [Full Story]

DDA Elects Officers, Gets More Parking Data

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting and annual meeting (July 6, 2011): Other than the ritual cancellation of its monthly meeting for August, the DDA board did not have any items on its agenda for July that required a board vote.

Bag of Rocks

To honor her past year of service as chair of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board, Joan Lowenstein was presented with a plastic bag full of gravel. (That was only part of the token of appreciation.) To Lowenstein's left is Gary Boren, who was elected chair for the next year. (Photos by the writer.)

But during the meeting, parking issues were a focus, as they usually are.

First, board member Roger Hewitt reported to the board that additional data on usage of the city’s public parking system will now be available from Republic Parking. The DDA manages the city’s public parking system under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor – the DDA subcontracts out the day-to-day operations to Republic Parking. The new kind of data measures the number of total parking hours used by parkers against the total number of parking hours that are available in the system. Based on that measure, the parking system has seen a 1.72% increase in usage over the first five months of 2011, compared with the same five months of 2010.

Second, one of the major allocations of public parking revenue the DDA makes is to the getDowntown program, a partnership among the DDA, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and the city of Ann Arbor. As part of a three-year funding plan for the getDowntown program approved in June 2010 for fiscal years 2011-13, the program will receive roughly $500,000 from the DDA for FY 2012 and FY 2013, the bulk of which is to subsidize the cost of rides for holders of a go!pass. The go!pass is a card that allows employees of downtown businesses to board AATA buses on an unlimited basis without paying a fare.

The getDowntown program employs two people, including director Nancy Shore. At Wednesday’s meeting, Shore gave the full board the same presentation she’d given the board’s transportation committee earlier in the month. Part of the board discussion involved which of the three funding partners – the DDA, the city of Ann Arbor or the AATA – would employ the two getDowntown staffers in the future. One possibility, which based on Wednesday’s meeting seemed likely, would be for the DDA to add the two getDowntown staffers to its administrative payroll.

At its annual meeting, convened just after the monthly board meeting, the board elected new officers for the coming year, all with unanimous consent: Gary Boren, chair; Bob Guenzel, vice chair; Keith Orr, secretary; and Roger Hewitt, treasurer.

In recognition of her service, outgoing chair Joan Lowenstein was presented with a token of appreciation by the DDA staff: a plastic bag of gravel, and a necklace featuring a lump of gravel as its centerpiece.

The connection to gravel in Lowenstein’s gift was the underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue, which is currently under construction. The board got its regular update on the status of that project, as well as commentary from the owners of two immediately adjacent restaurants – Jerusalem Garden and Earthen Jar – which have seen their business drop by 30-50% during the construction.  [Full Story]

Column: Library Lot – Bottom to Top

Editor’s note: Although the parcel immediately north of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown location is known as the Library Lot, it does not belong to the library, but rather to the city of Ann Arbor.

Last Thursday, news of a breach in the earth-retention system of a downtown Ann Arbor construction site had reached all the way to Detroit’s Channel 4 News. Channel 4 sent a crew Friday evening to file a report. It was tagged on the Channel 4 website with the summary: “An Ann Arbor construction project is sinking, literally.” Chalk that up to the hyperbole of television news.

Library Lot conference center schematic, retaining wall

Top: View to the northeast along Fifth Avenue from Valiant Partners' concept for a conference center and hotel, proposed for the top of the Library Lot underground parking garage. Bottom: Breach in the earth retention system for the underground parking garage currently under construction on the Library Lot.

While the roughly 640-space underground parking garage, being built by Ann Arbor’s Downtown Development Authority, is not sinking in any way, a conference center and hotel proposal for the top of the underground structure might be sinking.

At first glance, the 190,000-square-foot project proposed by Valiant Partners Inc. seems like it’s on a path to approval by the city council. In November 2010, an advisory committee – charged with evaluating responses to a city of Ann Arbor request for proposals issued in late 2009 – finally settled on the Valiant proposal as the best of the six the city had received.

That decision came with the aid of Roxbury Group, a consultant hired to help evaluate the proposals and to negotiate an agreement with a developer. At an early March meeting of the advisory committee, a Roxbury representative presented a draft letter of intent, which had been worked out by Valiant and Roxbury, to be signed by the city of Ann Arbor and Valiant. The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the city council consider the letter of intent.

Then, on March 14, the city council held a work session on the proposed conference center. The council heard essentially the same presentation about the letter of intent that Roxbury had made to the advisory committee. The council is scheduled to consider the letter formally at its second meeting in April, which is now scheduled for Tuesday, April 19, to accommodate the first night of Passover. The letter of intent calls for a development agreement to be presented to the city council within four months of signing the letter of intent – which would mean sometime near the end of August 2011.

But I think it’s clear at this point that a development agreement between Valiant and the city of Ann Arbor to develop the Library Lot would not achieve the necessary eight-vote majority for an actual real estate deal. That’s why I think the city council might vote down the letter of intent – even if there are at least six councilmembers who would support going forward with the letter, which is all it would take for the letter’s approval.

I base that conclusion on remarks made by councilmembers at the March 14 work session, and regular politics as reflected in the council’s history – both recent and ancient. But before considering politics, let’s dig into some really ancient history – the kind measured in geological time – to gain some additional insight into why a pile of dirt spilled unintentionally into the underground parking garage construction pit. [Full Story]

AATA Board Fails to Achieve Quorum

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Aug. 19, 2010): On the occasion of its first meeting scheduled at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library – which is to become its usual meeting place – the AATA board failed to achieve a quorum.

Bernstein, Kerson, Dale

Left to right: AATA board members Jesse Bernstein, Roger Kerson and Anya Dale. The group fell one short of the four needed to constitute a quorum. (Photos by the writer.)

A quorum – the minimum number of board members needed in order to conduct business – consists of four members for the seven-member AATA board.

In attendance were Roger Kerson, Anya Dale – who were both recently appointed to the board – plus board chair Jesse Bernstein. The usually cheerful Bernstein seemed a bit glum, when he announced  that no quorum would be achieved.

Bernstein told the handful of people assembled in the room – members of the public and the AATA staff – that he was “sorry and disappointed” and offered his apologies. He noted that it was the first occasion of a meeting scheduled at the library, and that the CTN staff were on hand to ensure the proceedings were videotaped. “See you next month!” he concluded. [Full Story]

Know Your DDA Board: John Splitt

As John Splitt walked in to greet me at the Espresso Royale on State Street, his familiarity with the shop and street was immediately apparent.


John Splitt holds the commemorative plaque he received last month as outgoing chair of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development board. It's fashioned from earth retention lumber from the underground parking structure currently under construction along Fifth Avenue.

Splitt strolled into the cafe, having walked from his dry-cleaning business, Gold Bond Cleaners. “It’s located on Maynard Street, just on the other side of the arcade,” he said, motioning toward Nickels Arcade, a covered passage connecting Maynard and State.

State Street holds a special significance for Splitt as the gateway to his community involvement. In 2004, Splitt joined the board of the State Street Area Association, an experience he described as an educational process, that “opens your eyes to some of the larger downtown issues.” Once on the association’s board, his interest in community service continued, and in 2006 he was appointed to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA). [Full Story]

DDA Gives 3-Year Grant to getDowntown

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (June 2, 2010): At its regular monthly meeting, the DDA board voted to approve three years worth of funding for the getDowntown program and the go!pass bus passes, which getDowntown administers for downtown employees.


Before the meeting of the DDA board: Russ Collins and Keith Orr. Collins is not demonstrating to Orr how to snag a foul ball at a baseball game. (Photo by the writer.)

The program is currently in a transition year as the four-way partnership that supports it was reduced to three partners when the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce dropped out last year, citing financial pressures. That leaves the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, and the Ann Arbor DDA as getDowntown funding partners.

In other business, the board approved the application of LEED certification for its underground parking garage on South Fifth Avenue, currently under construction.

The board began a discussion on a payment-in-lieu program for required onsite parking (PILOP) for downtown developments.

The board also heard a pitch from Tamara Real for additional support for a web portal currently under development by the Arts Alliance. [Full Story]

Parking Report Portends DDA-City Tension

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (April 7, 2010): At its regular Wednesday meeting, the full board of the DDA endorsed a draft of the parking report it has been asked to submit to the city council by April 19, when the council next meets. Before it’s sent to the city council, the report will possibly undergo some minor tweaking at the DDA’s partnerships committee meeting next Wednesday, April 14.

Granger Construction Company

David Olson, vice president of Granger Construction Co., delivered a letter to the DDA board during public commentary, which questioned the way concrete bids were handled for the DDA's underground parking garage. The garage is currently under construction along Fifth Avenue. (Photos by the writer.)

Though not addressed by the board as business items, two areas of controversy emerged during public commentary.

One involves the award of a bid as part of the DDA’s construction of the underground parking garage along Fifth Avenue. The contract for construction management for the entire project was awarded to The Christman Co. However, under the terms of the contract, Christman must bid out various components of the project, like the concrete work – even though Christman has the capability of doing that work itself.

The low bid for the concrete work was submitted by Granger Construction Co., at $21.5 million. But Christman awarded the contract to Christman Constructors Inc., which had submitted a bid of $22 million. Christman’s selection as construction manager of the project had been finalized at the DDA board’s Nov. 4, 2009 meeting with a guaranteed maximum price of $44,381,573. Representatives of Christman and Granger aired their differing points of view on the concrete bid at Wednesday’s meeting, with DDA board chair John Splitt concluding that he was satisfied the process had been fair.

The other point of controversy arising during public commentary is the probable $2 million payment this year by the DDA to the city of Ann Arbor – which it has no obligation to make under its current parking agreement with the city. The city’s budget book for FY 2011, released on Monday, does not factor in a payment from the DDA. Instead, it shows a $1.5 million shortfall for the year. The DDA’s parking report to the city council hints at the possibility that the DDA would take responsibility for the ticketing of parking violations. That change in enforcement could be included in the renegotiation of the parking agreement.

Other business transacted by the board on Wednesday included a resolution calling on the city council to revise its sign ordinance so that downtown merchants could use sandwich board signs legally. A recent attempt to revise the ordinance by the council was voted down at its Feb. 16, 2010 meeting. [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]

More to Meeting than Downtown Planning

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting (Nov. 16, 2009) Part II: The length of Monday’s city council meeting, which did not adjourn until nearly 1 a.m., might be blamed on the lengthy public commentary and deliberations on downtown zoning and design guidelines.

people standing taking the oath of office

Left to right: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) getting ceremonially sworn in at the start of council's Nov. 16, 2009 meeting. Standing to the left out of frame are Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). (Photo by the writer.)

But it would have been a long meeting even without the downtown planning content, which we’ve summarized in a separate report: “Downtown Planning Process Forges Ahead.”

Before postponing the acceptance of the Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan (HRIMP), the council got a detailed update on how things stand on the city’s dispute with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) over Argo Dam.

An agenda item authorizing capital improvements in West Park prompted a lengthy discussion of how the Percent for Art program works.

Some public commentary calling abstractly for greater support for inventors and entrepreneurs was followed later in the meeting by an appropriation from the city’s LDFA to Ann Arbor SPARK to fund more business acceleration services.

A consent agenda item on the purchase of parking meters was pulled out and postponed.

The council also heard a detailed report from the city administrator, which covered emergency response time to a recent house fire, ADA-compliant sidewalk ramps, responses to the library lot Request for Proposals, updates on the task forces for Mack Pool and Ann Arbor’s senior center, staff reductions in planning and development, the East Stadium bridges, as well as the upcoming budget retreat on Dec. 5.

Stephen Kunselman’s (Ward 3) use of attachments to the agenda to document questions for city staff received some critique.

Also worth noting, the five winners of recent council elections were sworn in, and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) was elected as mayor pro tem. Those topics in more detail below. [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 “Library Lot” to Close Sept. 30

Librarians are passing out these informational flyers to patrons, giving details about the closure of the city-owned lot next to the downtown branch. The lot will be closed on Sept. 30 at 4 p.m., as construction begins on the underground parking structure.

Librarians are passing out these informational flyers to patrons, giving details about the closure of the city-owned lot next to the downtown branch. The lot will be closed on Sept. 30, as construction begins on the underground parking structure. A groundbreaking ceremony is set for Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Sept. 21, 2009): The sentiment expressed by a Huron High School student at Monday night’s library board meeting – “I just want to get it over with” – might also reflect how board members feel as they brace for construction of the Fifth Avenue parking structure, a project to begin in earnest next week at what’s known as the Library Lot.

The student was attending the meeting as a requirement for a civics class – he said he chose the library board because it was a meeting held early in the semester, compared to his other choices. In contrast, library officials have no menu of choices regarding the parking structure. Though heavily used by library patrons, it’s a city-owned lot –  the new structure being built by the Downtown Development Authority. AADL director Josie Parker told board members they’re trying to make sure that patrons know it’s not a library project.

Parker also gave the board some good news: Stimulus funding has been secured to hire a coordinator for the Washtenaw County Literacy Coalition. Parker is co-chair of that group, which is working to end illiteracy. [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]

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]

DDA Retreat: Who’s on The Committee?

organ in foreground stage of Michigan Theater in background with people sitting on it

When Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater and a DDA board member, described downtown areas as "organic beings – they're either growing or dying," this is not what he meant by organ-ic.

During the most recent regular monthly meeting of the Downtown Development Authority board, its treasurer, Rene Greff had asked Mayor John Hieftje, “When are you seating the committee?” At that regular board meeting, a clear answer was not forthcoming.

But at the board’s mid-year retreat, held on Wednesday morning from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Michigan Theater stage, Hieftje was more candid about why city council has not yet formed a committee.

What committee were Greff and Hieftje talking about?

The committee in question is a city council ad hoc committee that would  begin discussions with its already-formed counterpart from the DDA board. The discussions between the two bodies would focus on establishing “a mutually beneficial” financial arrangement – one that is already reflected in the DDA’s recently adopted budget as a $2 million contingency.

The DDA board voted to place that contingency in its budget in response to a city of Ann Arbor FY 2011 budget plan that assumes a $2 million payment from the DDA to the city – a payment that the DDA is not (yet) contractually obligated to make.

In the course of the retreat, Hieftje explained that the city council’s delay in seating a committee of its own was partly related to pending litigation – a topic addressed during a nearly 50-minute long closed session that began the board’s retreat.   [Full Story]

Senior Center Could Be Cut as Population Ages

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (May 17, 2009): At its Sunday night caucus, city council heard from several residents, many of them opposed to the closing of the senior center in FY 2011. They also heard from the chair of the city’s market advisory commission, expressing that body’s opposition to proposed fee increases for farmers market stall rental. Opposition to the plan to introduce parking meters in residential areas close to the downtown was also well represented.

Also related to parking, the author of a recent letter from the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, which raised the possibility of an environmental lawsuit based on the planned underground parking structure, came to caucus to respond to any questions councilmembers might have. And the developer for City Apartments, a residential and parking project approved for the First and Washington site, attended caucus to ask for an extension to the option agreement.

In the course of the evening’s conversation, council heard again the criticism from a resident that the focus on smaller budget items costing as little as $7,000 distracted from the focus on the bigger picture.

Councilmembers had no issues among themselves they wanted to discuss publicly at caucus. [Full Story]

DDA Sends Parking Increase to Council

When all you've got's a hammer, everything looks like a drill, er, nail.

When all you've got's a hammer, everything looks like a nail, er, drill. The drilling operation was a soil bore to test bearing capacity in connection with the underground parking structure to be built under Fifth Avenue and the library lot. Parking rate increases will help fund the project.

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (Feb. 4, 2009): “Let’s plunge into the most controversial part,” declared Roger Hewitt, chair of the DDA board’s operations committee, at Wednesday’s meeting of the full board. The controversial part was a resolution to increase parking rates in downtown Ann Arbor, starting July 1, 2009, which represented a delay compared with the originally planned schedule. After plunging in, the board voted to approve the rate increase schedule and sent it along to city council. Council will review it at its Feb. 17 meeting – along with the site plan for the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage, which the parking rate increase will help fund.

In other business, the DDA board approved its 2009-10 and 2010-11 budgets, approved a management incentive for Republic Parking, and received updates on a variety of ongoing projects and initiatives. As part of his monthly update from the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, Ray Detter alerted the DDA board to an apparently downward trend in the quality of the property management for residents of Courthouse Square. [Full Story]