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Posted on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 : 1:18 p.m.

Ann Arbor officials debate details of having DDA take lead in city RFP process

By Ryan J. Stanton

A proposal to have the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority take the lead on redeveloping downtown city-owned properties faced strong criticism Tuesday night, with multiple City Council members saying they weren't in favor of the idea as presented.

The council ultimately voted to postpone considering the proposal until March 7, though some council members wanted to instead vote it down at Tuesday's meeting.

"I think there needs to be a statement from council that we don't agree with this," said Marcia HIggins, D-4th Ward.

The resolution before council members would have authorized the DDA to develop an implementation plan and take responsibility for facilitating a redevelopment process for an unspecified number of properties downtown. No properties were identified.


Council Member Christopher Taylor (right) said the resolution would apply to surface parking lots and possibly other sites.

Under the new process, the DDA would write and distribute requests for proposals to developers and facilitate bringing proposed development projects to the City Council for approval. But some questioned the details of the proposal as outlined Tuesday night.

The resolution was sponsored by Council Members Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall and Carsten Hohnke, all of whom sit on the City Council's Mutually Beneficial Committee, which has been in discussions with DDA officials for the last several months.

Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, said one of her concerns is there's no definition of which city properties the resolution would apply to — and she'd like to see a map.

"I don't like assumptions," she said. "I'd like to know what we're really talking about."

Taylor agreed the properties could be better defined. As it stands now, he said, it's generally understood the resolution would apply to surface parking lots and possibly other sites.

Some council members took exception with a provision in the resolution that would put the city on the hook for costs incurred by the DDA if it goes through an RFP process and the City Council decides not to approve a project for reasons other than zoning compliance.

"There's many things that concern me about this particular resolution," Higgins said, adding that's one of them. "If we don't approve something, we don't reimburse other developers."

Council Member Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, called the reimbursement clause — as well as another about duties of the city administrator — "poison pills" for the resolution. He said he was concerned the city would be writing a "blank check" to the DDA.

Kunselman also expressed general concerns that the resolution asks the DDA to finalize a "parcel-by-parcel plan" that would spell out desired land uses for specific city properties. He said the city shouldn't be deciding which industries to favor and should instead sell the properties with certain deed restrictions and let the free market take over.

"We do not control the marketplace," he said.

Kunselman added there's nothing to stop the DDA from hiring a consultant, as the resolution states, and developing a plan for downtown parcels on its own.

"Those parcels have been there all my life, so I'm not feeling rushed by any means," he said, giving his reasons for preferring not to move forward Tuesday night.

Council Member Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, said he has several concerns with the proposal, one of them being that he doesn't see enough community input in the process.

Hohnke, D-5th Ward, said he thinks the resolution as it's drafted is "not that far off" and should be able to come back to council with some revisions in March.

Higgins said she'd like the City Council to consider the parcel-by-parcel plan at the same time it considers a new parking agreement with the DDA, and not have them come up separately.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 3:35 a.m.

Quoting from the article: "Kunselman added there's nothing to stop the DDA from hiring a consultant ... and developing a plan for downtown parcels on its own." While not entirely sharing Kunselman's faith in the 'free market' on this one, he deserves credit for very concisely stating the obvious. The DDA can already do a lot of this work, with no special powers necessary. City council doesn't need to hand over special authority, but should look harder at utilizing DDA resources and skills in helping put together workable plans.

Christopher Taylor

Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 3:35 a.m. does consistently excellent work, but I respectfully disagree with the headline's characterization of the contemplated process as a "takeover". The proposed resolution would not grant DDA control over Plan approval, RFP approval, bid approval, purchase/sale approval, or site plan approval. The authority for these all things would remain with the City. Period. Under the proposed resolution, the DDA would perform a valuable service for the City, one for which they are well suited: to compile and articulate the consensus vision of citizens, planners and professionals for how to optimize City-owned downtown parcels, and then to deploy its considerable expertise, enthusiasm and resources to help bring the Plan (the Council-approved Plan!) into effect. All members of the DDA and City Mutually Beneficial Committees whole heartedly agree that if the resultant Parcel-by-Parcel Plan does not successfully reflect the community consensus, then the whole endeavor will have been for naught. Best, Christopher Taylor

Tom Whitaker

Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 1:55 a.m.

The City and DDA have a very poor track record with development RFPs. Clearly they aren't good at it and should quit trying. The library lot RFP should be declared dead so something productive can rise from the ashes of yet another failed attempt. On the positive side, I'm glad to see the intention to actually put the horse in FRONT of the cart this time by doing research, planning, and public engagement FIRST. But why drill down to individual parcels right off the bat? Why not work with the City, County, SPARK, UM, and most importantly, the public, to create a full-blown economic development plan for downtown? A portion of the economic development plan could be devoted to collating data for the city-owned parcels or even under-utilized private parcels. When joined with the Downtown Plan, the new D1/D2 zoning, and the design guidelines, developers will have a complete road map to what is needed, expected and desired of them. But please, no more RFPs. No more public-private partnerships. No more subsidies for private developments. No more installing heavy foundations on speculation. If a City-owned lot would best serve the downtown economy as a park or a parking lot, let it stay in City hands. If it will best serve our goals as more housing, more retail, more office space, or some combination, then let's figure out how to meet those needs while also getting the property into private hands asap—preferably by sale. In fact, it could be that many of Downtown's needs are met without any new buildings in the immediate future. As DDA board member John Mouat eloquently stated at the DDA retreat in May, buildings are simply an outcome of what people want to do. He said the DDA should be more people-centric and less infrastructure-centric. (Ann Arbor Chronicle) Some needs could be met in the rehabilitation of existing buildings (like 415 W. Washington), or simply better utilization of existing spaces (like the parking lot next to Palio).

Michael Christie

Thu, Jan 20, 2011 : 1:39 a.m.

I still don't understand why the DDA exists and the only conclusion I can come up with is that the city is so poorly run that they needed a smarter (not smart) group to make the decisions without public intervention. These are the same groups of people that want a conference center with no actual business proposal on how to pay without city funding/backing.


Wed, Jan 19, 2011 : 11:52 p.m.

I can't recall electing any of the members of the DDA. How in the world can the council even consider giving them this kind of power? It's bad enough that they control the money from PUBLIC parking.


Wed, Jan 19, 2011 : 10:13 p.m.

This undercuts are political process. Alan is correct. We cannot have an unelected council making fiscal decisions. They need to be responsible to the public


Wed, Jan 19, 2011 : 7:19 p.m.

Sell the property to DDA or a private developer... problem solved.

Eileen Peck

Wed, Jan 19, 2011 : 6:58 p.m.

The entity that's responsible for paying the bills should always have control over the specification and purchasing processes. Contracting the DDA to develop an RFP is one thing; turning over the RFP process without direct oversight is quite another. I don't have a problem with the DDA (as a contractor) expecting to get paid for its work on an RFP. RFPs are a lot of work, and the City's decision not to buy does not negate the work that went into creating the RFP.

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, Jan 19, 2011 : 6:53 p.m.

So the Mayor was out riding his bike during the meeting? Not one word or comment from him? This plan is just an attempt to have unelected political hacks appointed by the Mayor and with little to zero public input, cut secret back room deals for public owned land and development sites. It's because the Mayor and some on Council, though this uprising by several members is an encouraging event, don't want to take the political heat and are too gutless to take responsibility. Oh, sure, they'll slam dunk a quick 'vote' after all the underground dealing has taken place and have the extra layer of the DDA to 'blame' when things go wrong. No, the city needs to develop CITY land, and not farm it out to ex-members of Council, Mayoral campaign workers, et. al. because they don't want to take the blame. Good lord, are you so tired of 'leaders' who pass the buck unto everyone else but themselves? Kudos to my Council rep Marcia Higgins for standing up to this.