Ann Arbor DDA approves $50,000 to hire consultant for Library Lot proposal process
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Local real estate developer Peter Allen encouraged Ann Arbor leaders to consider a broad vision for the future of the entire area surrounding the so-called Library Lot as they decide what will be built on the downtown site.
Allen addressed the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority's governing board today before it approved providing $50,000 to the city to hire a consultant to help evaluate proposals for the lot, a 1.2-acre site on South Fifth Avenue.
"To me, the issues that you are going to discuss about hiring this consultant relate to a timeless, 100-year decision about what is it that makes a great, great city," Allen said, suggesting the site has the potential to be "the place for Ann Arbor that you always want to take your guests - you always want to go to and walk through, that you want to say is an emblem about what is really special about Ann Arbor."
City officials have been evaluating six proposals submitted in response to a request for proposals on the Library Lot. Allen said the conversations should include what could happen with the former YMCA site across the street, plans to redevelop the library headquarters next door and future plans of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which has a bus station across the street and is planning to expand.
Only one board member today objected to the $50,000 allocation, citing concerns that the roles between the DDA and the city in the RFP process are beginning to muddy. He argued the DDA should stay out of the process.
"I have to say, I'm not enamored with the city's RFP process for public sites," said board member John Mouat, a local architect. "I don't think there's been a whole lot of success in them up until now. ... I think that the overall process needs to be thought through more clearly."
Mayor John Hieftje, also a member of the DDA board, said he shared some of the same reluctance as other board members who cited past failed RFP processes in Ann Arbor. And that's why he said he believes it's important to hire a consultant.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
The city has been criticized for several recent RFP processes. The developer of the former YMCA lot filed a lawsuit against the city for backing out of an affordable housing project, no recommendation was ever made by the city's RFP committee for 415 W. Washington, and Village Green appears to have stalled due to the developer's financing troubles.
Hieftje said he's willing to accept the possibility that none of the six proposals for the Library Lot will reach fruition.
"If one of these projects isn't approved, I think that's a perfectly acceptable option," he said. "It's clear that this is an important site, so I have always said from the very beginning that if this process doesn't work out - we don't get from this what we hope to get - we'll try again sometime later."
DDA Chairman John Splitt said the city can spend the $50,000 as it sees fit, though the DDA is recommending tasks the consultant should complete.
"This money is going strictly toward whatever the city decides it's going toward, whatever they want the consultant to do," Splitt said. "I think that the city administrator ultimately will have to make the decision about who is hired. We are only offering the money, and we don't have any other say."
Recommended tasks for the Library Lot consultant, approved by the DDA board, include:
- Determine if the projects submitted to the city are financially feasible and make economic sense in the Ann Arbor marketplace.
- Determine if the developers who submitted proposals to the city are financially stable and have the capacity to construct and complete their projects as proposed.
- Determine what the likely timing for each proposed project might be following selection by Ann Arbor City Council, including design development, securing financing, and construction.
- Help the city determine which project will provide the maximum financial return to the city.
- Help the city determine which project will provide the greatest community benefits.
- Help the city determine which project will provide the greatest benefit to downtown.
- Help the city create and deliver a public process that encourages community input and involvement.
- Provide information on the impact of similarly scaled projects in similarly sized communities.
- Assist the city as needed in negotiations with the selected project team.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Splitt offered an update at today's meeting on the infrastructure work being done to make way for the four-story underground parking structure being built at the Library Lot. One of the six development proposals will be selected to go on top of the parking structure.
Splitt said officials expected to start earth retention work by now, but that's been pushed back again.
"Essentially we're running behind on utility relocation," he said. "Because at one time we were thinking that we were going to start the project on the west side. We pulled it to the east, so it's sort of rearranged our utility relocations and so we are racing. And DTE, AT&T and the other utilities are working very hard and being very cooperative in getting that work done, but we still aren't quite there yet."
Splitt said drilling for the earth retention system should begin no later than Jan. 25.
DDA board member Joan Lowenstein said some projects that came forward from RFP processes in the past were well-intended.
"Where some of them have gone awry has been in the whole financial, putting-everything-together stage," she said. "And so this is to try to stave off that occurrence where you might have a very good project - even something that has a lot of public support - but doesn't have the ability to get from beginning to end."
In a separate vote, the DDA board agreed today to spend $600,000 for new water mains under Division Street, South Fifth Avenue and Library Lane. In August, the board approved $226,000 for three new water mains under Division Street, South Fifth Avenue, and behind the library from William Street. But upon bidding, actual costs exceeded initial estimates, and a new plan was developed to place the third water main under Library Lane rather than off William Street.
Ann Arbor resident Alan Haber, who submitted a community commons proposal for the Library Lot, also addressed the DDA board today.
"Green will bring the green," Haber said, urging officials to capitalize on the chance to create a large open space downtown. "The community needs a place like this and the Library Lot is the only possible place in the foreseeable future."
Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529.