5 reasons why Ann Arbor shouldn't bother to create new development process
City officials and Ann Arbor’s Downtown Development Authority said this week they are considering giving control of the “RFP process” to the DDA.
The move would let the DDA determine how the “requests for proposals” to develop city-owned land are sought and evaluated, instead of City Council.
Here are my top 5 reasons why this suggestion - while obviously done with good intentions for the city’s downtown - just gives me a headache.
1. Market forces need to guide private development. At some point it doesn’t matter how much a community wants to see something on a property if the owner cannot make it a viable development project.
2. Market forces need to guide public development, too. Building something that fulfills a community vision is important - but if the community is going to end up subsidizing it because there is no market for the end product, there may be no net gain.
3. The city doesn’t really want development. If it did, wouldn’t we have seen more of it from 2000-2006? We do want to argue about it, regulate it, keep every special interest group happy when we consider it and make money from it. But unless the city - as a whole, not just a special-interest subset - is ready to encourage a degree of compromise, we don’t need a new process. The old one will keep things frozen in time just as well.
4. More “master planning” and consultant-hiring is part of the goal. Do we really not know enough about downtown yet to make informed decisions? Or are we just afraid to hear something contrary to what we want to hear? It feels like we’ve been talking about this for a long time. (And we really don’t need more consultant-driven rumors about Nordstrom opening a downtown store.)
5. Does the city really belong in the development business? So far, we’ve seen RFPs stall, forced partnerships with no results and a lot of time and money wasted. This process may be an improvement. But it may be time to ask: Is this really the right way for a local municipality to dispose of excess property? Maybe the underlying premise - that the city can set a price for the land and retain control of it - won’t ever be productive for Ann Arbor.