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Posted on Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 2:46 p.m.

Ann Arbor DDA willing to help finance redevelopment of city-owned properties downtown

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority's governing board finalized a plan on Wednesday for future redevelopment of five city-owned properties along William Street.

The board also adopted a new grant policy indicating the DDA is willing to provide financial assistance to help facilitate private redevelopment efforts on those properties.

The policy outlines a plan for the DDA to support elements of proposed projects that offer public benefits, including streetscape, sidewalk and bicycle facility improvements.


A sketch showing what future redevelopment could look like along William Street in downtown Ann Arbor, looking east and slightly north from the intersection of Ashley and William. The buildings are only hypothetical and not actual designs.


The grants also could help pay for environmental design features such as green roofs and rain gardens, and significant architecture and design investments. For example, an exterior feature or overall design that improves walkability on adjacent sidewalks or brings "design prestige."

Additionally, the grants could help pay for landscaping, plazas and urban open spaces that are designed for public use but maintained and managed privately.

"Park development is one thing — that's expensive — but park maintenance is another," said Mayor John Hieftje, who serves on and appoints the DDA board. "So one of the answers may be that as a plaza is developed on one of these sites, then the developer will be responsible for maintaining it, and that would take a lot of the burden off the parks system."

The grants also could pay for infrastructure upgrades such as upsizing underground water, storm or sewer pipes, and adding electrical, trash and fire hydrant capacity to serve a larger area.

If awarded, the grants would be paid out by the DDA over time, and the amounts would never be greater than the amount of new taxes captured by the DDA from the projects.

"At no time will TIF (tax-increment financing) money be paid out unless it's been paid in, so we'll never be in arrears on this," said DDA board member Sandi Smith.

Smith said the grants will be at the DDA's discretion and the DDA would be unlikely to facilitate a high-rise with six-bedroom apartments, but maybe a proposal that included a large office building.

The policy suggests the DDA might be interested in a corporate headquarters that brings a significant number of jobs. The DDA also is interested in mixed-use development that encourages more activity downtown, as well as cultural venues such as museums and performance space.

"The DDA is particularly interest in supporting eligible projects that have the clear potential to encourage or trigger other private tax-generating new development in the immediate vicinity and strengthen William Street and the DDA district," the policy further states.

The so-called Connecting William Street plan has been in the works since the City Council directed the DDA to undertake the planning process in April 2011. The DDA is expected to present its recommendations at a working session of the City Council on Jan. 14.

A final version of the plan wasn't available at Wednesday's meeting, but Amber Miller, the DDA's planning and research specialist, said there are no significant changes from the draft version that was presented to the DDA's board back in December.

The plan relies on private developers investing in new building projects with a primary focus on office and residential uses. The DDA envisions a mix of medium- and high-density development, with public plaza spaces integrated into the developments.

The five properties studied were the Library Lot atop the city's new underground parking garage off Fifth Avenue, the Y Lot across the street at the corner of Fifth and William, the ground floor of the Fourth and William parking garage (the DDA thinks it could be retrofitted for office space), the smaller Palio Lot at Main and William, and the larger Kline Lot at Ashley and William.

All five of the sites are currently used as public parking facilities, but the DDA believes there's potential for reeling in private investments in new restaurant, retail, office, residential, lodging and open space uses, as well as some type of cultural or performance arts venue.

Ann Arbor resident Alan Haber, who has been pushing for a new downtown central park on the Library Lot, showed up to Wednesday's meeting. As he was leaving, he expressed regrets that the DDA doesn't seem interested in his group's vision for a larger open space.

"I think we just need more representation of the other view that has systematically not had a chance to make its presentation, not been heard or reported through any of the public comment meetings, and is not reflected except in the sort of footnote that there are differences of views," he said.

DDA Chairwoman Leah Gunn called the DDA's approved plan a "snapshot in time" and Hieftje acknowledged there is more work to be done.

"Through no fault of the DDA, there's other input to be had," Hieftje said. "They've done a great job of outreach. They've had thousands of comments into the program. But it's obvious that the parks commission was here today to talk about the subcommittee they have that's looking at parks and open space opportunities in the downtown, and that's going to take them a little while."

Ingrid Ault, a member of the city's Park Advisory Commission, told DDA officials that PAC is aware there's support in the community for more open space downtown.

Ault said PAC has formed a subcommittee to study the issue and she's one of the members. She said the plan is to look carefully at what works and what doesn't work when it comes to downtown open space before considering what else could be added.

"If we're going to add some space, how is it going to be used?" she said. "Because we don't want to add space that's just going to sit empty."

Ault said the subcommittee will continue to work on the issue and provide the city and the DDA with input so it can move forward in a thoughtful manner.

Frances Todoro, executive director State Street Area Association, told DDA officials her group wants the city to focus first on making Liberty Plaza a success before bringing more parks online downtown. She said it's been a struggle for years to make the park successful on a consistent basis.

Solving the problems at Liberty Plaza first, she said, could help identify best practices for making sure future downtown open spaces are successful. Hieftje said recently it's possible that a redesign of Liberty Plaza could break ground later this year.

Hieftje also said the city's Energy Commission wants to have more dialogue about the kinds of development the DDA might help facilitate downtown, with hopes that any new buildings will meet or exceed national standards for energy efficiency — possibly LEED Gold or LEED Platinum.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 9:36 p.m.

Let's hope the DDA does not continue their past practices of giving outside executives large "tips" just for... Being executives.


Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 7:53 p.m.

Notice how fast they shoved this story back to page 3? I guess the comments weren't going the way the mayor had hoped...

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 3:29 p.m.

There are no shortage of developers willing to invest in ugly ann arbor high rise developments. I do not see why the DDA should be financing them with our tax dollars. The design features mentioned should be mandatory under city code.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 11:31 a.m.

Again, this is what happens when you have a Mayor who gets to appoint his political puppets (Gunn, Lowenstein, et. al.) to the DDA and doesn't reappoint anyone in lock step with his 'vision' for Ann Arbor. Nice touch quoting one of the Mayor-backed candidates for City Council (who failed to be elected) Ingrid Ault who bables Zen-like statements like "If we're going to add some space, how is it going to be used?" she said. "Because we don't want to add space that's just going to sit empty." The City needs to seriously look at what steps can be taken to abolish the DDA.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 11:26 a.m.

"The board also adopted a new grant policy indicating the DDA is willing to provide financial assistance to help facilitate private redevelopment efforts on those properties." It's nice to be so generous with OUR money--you know the tax dollars skimmed off the top by the DDA to give Ann Arbor municipal welfare to millionaire out-of-state developers. Sort of Robin Hood in reverse. Explain to me the difference between Democrats and Republicans again?


Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 9:03 a.m.

So far, the comments from readers are unanimously against these DDA plans. The DDA is not doing Ann Arbor any favors and apparently doesn't pay any attention to whatever input the people try to give it. Put this on a ballot as a referendum and I will bet that the existence of the DDA would be voted down by a large margin. Get rid of the DDA--it does not represent the best for our city.


Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 2:26 a.m.

Just sell off the land to developers and use the money to build a space to hold the Summer Festival, the Sonic Lunch, etc. When Mitch Ryder was here they had to block off Liberty to make the concert work. The DDA needs to stay out of the development of these properties and use the money for streetscapes and things like that. Think Water Street!


Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 1:58 a.m.

"While we're on the subject Could we change the subject now? I was knocking on your ear's door but you were always out Looking towards the future We were begging for the past Well we knew we had the good things But those never seemed to last Oh please just last Everyone's unhappy Everyone's ashamed Well we all just got caught looking At somebody else's page Well nothing ever went Quite exactly as we planned Our ideas held no water But we used them like a dam" From "Missed The Boat" by Modest Mouse.


Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 1:08 a.m.

WHAT MONEY FOR GRANTS? I do not understand how the DDA plans to provide grants based on TIF payments that are only received after property has been improved, such as upon completion of a newly constructed highrise. If the buildings constructed on these five properties are not profitable then no money will be available for the owners to make TIF payments. Of course, such situations will cause the properties to declare bankruptcy. The DDA is being oblivious to their own financial problems reflected by several consecutive years of deficit budgets and a rapidly disappearing reserve fund. TIF payments are an important source of revenue and to return these payments to the owners as grants will not improve the DDA's finances. City Council needs to reign in the DDA which is committed to filling every open space downtown with speculative construction. The DDA has no idea what actual buildings will be developed on each of the five properties. They can not name one tenant or even specify the need for any specific type of business. And while the DDA can not guarantee receiving TIF payments from any newly constructed enterprises, it is willing to sacrifice significant revenue from parking fees presently collected at all five Connecting Williams Street properties.

Ellis Sams

Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 12:09 a.m.

DDA should buy these properties and develop them as they see fit. They can go on the tax rolls, and the mayor can direct the projects as he sees fit. End the tax payers' involvement with them.


Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 12:56 a.m. can DDA buy/develop the properties AND tax payer involvement be ended? DDA is a public entity.


Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 12:01 a.m.

"Through no fault of the DDA..." Hieftje says. Of course, the DDA is completely faultless, and successful in all of their endeavors. The narcissism and incompetence of this group is incredible, especially from Leah Gunn and Joan Lowenstein


Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 10:34 p.m.

Why does the DDA have to bribe developers to build profitable boxes on "free" public land? Is there a doubt among their determined league? A fear among their faithful friends?... Stay tuned for the shocking conclusion right after these messages from our sponsor.. Instead of the DDA begging in so many creative ways (aka Gollum) opposing A2 resident desire as if it were unimportant, why doesn't City Hall just put the poor creature out of its cyclical misery once and for all? How about a $million worth of educational "Whirlydoodles" in the Library Lot to keep the lounging sun worshipers cool? Or goblue minigolf? Or skyscraper-high Ferris Wheel? Or permanent "top of the underground" outdoor entertainment complex with skatepark-terraced green seating? Complete with 3-D laser show advertising overhead. How about an award winning Ann Arbor Wax History Museum in the AATA lot across the street? Funded by the ex-DDA friends and adorned with local art no less renowned than the Guggenheim structure? Is that vibrant or what?


Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 10:08 p.m.

The DDA is making the city of Ann Arbor into "Ann Arbor Inc.". What happens if those investments turn out bad? Why is the DDA or the city taking on financial risk that should be left to developers? Disband the DDA and let the planning department do its job. Let the developers pay all the costs of developing plans, financing cosntruction and taking risks. This is big government running out of control!

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 9:54 p.m.

The DDA is completely ignoring the expressed will of the taxpayers. That is not surprising, since they mainly serve out of town development and business interests. Picket city hall meetings to raise awareness, and abolish it.


Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 9:52 p.m.

Private "open space" (hardscape) is not the same as public "green" space...


Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 9:49 p.m.

Parkland on top of a four story underground parking structure is an expensive waste. You can't grow large, healthy trees and have to worry about damaging the roof of the structure. I could support the library moving on top of the parking structure, and it's old lot on the corner becoming a park, though. Parks in a small community should be on the ground, and not on top of a building.

Jamie Pitts

Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 9:37 p.m.

1. These grants -- not sure if they have been employed before in Ann Arbor -- could do a lot for improving the aesthetics of what is built. Too many developers are happy to go with the bare minimum when it comes to the charming of buildings. I hope that local artisans are consulted for grants involving matters of form, as odd as that sounds. 2. As for feedback from the community, brief Q&As and walkabout surveying performed by the DDA and (by extension of their granting authority to the DDA) City Council aren't going to cut it for a project this big. This isn't even one project. This is a set of large projects being railroaded through here. And the prime real estate for a central civic space (next to our library) is on the train. As Alan Haber pointed out, there is no real process for the public to organize around ideas and submit them for review. We do organize in groups but what will it take to get a seat at the table? We're well into the information age -- witness how Obama got elected -- and we deserve a process by which we can work with our local government in order to develop the commons.


Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 8:45 p.m.

Beware of the DDA.

Paul Wiener

Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 8:33 p.m.

Another exercise in how to construct a town out of building blocks. New boxes for the townspeople to think inside of.


Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 8:26 p.m.

Disband the DDA


Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 8:24 p.m.

Despite all of the supposed "outreach" to the community, the committee ignored, downplayed, and discounted the input it did not want to receive (park or plaza at the library lot) and injected the opinions of the committee that had little public support (hotel, conference center). Unfortunately this has proven to be another sham process, and unfortunately, it will suffer the same fate as other processes that ignore the public. The calls for downtown open space have been significant at every level of the process: In the 2000+ survey responses; in the public meetings, in previous studies where there was genuine public input (see Calthorpe 2006). But instead of incorporating this input, we are told that public space is too expensive, not supported by density, not enough eyes on it, already been tried and failed at Liberty Plaza. The plaza on the library lot exists. A few chairs, tables, a drinking fountain and amenities and you have a public space at little incremental cost. Re-aim the windows of the library there and you have eyes on it. Allow people who buy food at Seva, Afternoon delight, Earthen Jar, and Jerusalem garden to eat lunch there. We spent $750,000 on that laughable sculpture at city hall. We can afford a modest new park downtown. What's the harm in trying? 20 lost parking spaces? Parks attract development and pedestrians. and increase property values. Let's not sacrifice the long-term good for short term gains.


Thu, Jan 10, 2013 : 1:51 a.m.

Gosh, a large park on top of the parking structure would make it possible to hold the Summer Festival there. Bringing all those people down among the restaurants and businesses downtown makes no sense!

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 9:52 p.m.

Well said.


Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 8:24 p.m.

Please don't mess with the Kline lot and the Fourth & William structure. Those are vital parking options downtown. The Palio and Y lots are small and their redevelopment wouldn't be devastating to the parking situation downtown. As for the library lot ... oy, not this again.

Peter Eckstein

Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 8:09 p.m.

It's good that no one ever uses those 5 parking lots any more. Otherwise, taking all those spaces off the board and adding more buildings whose occupants will want to park could make it hard to find a parking place downtown and hurt retail and restaurant business.