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Posted on Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 6:04 a.m.

Ann Arbor officials planning to take second look at conference center proposals for Library Lot

By Ryan J. Stanton

It's been several months without word out of Ann Arbor city hall on the status of the Library Lot development process, but talks may be picking up soon.

City Council Member Stephen Rapundalo, D-2nd Ward, said this week the city still is hoping to hire a consultant to examine the financial aspects of two development proposals that survived a committee selection process back in January.


The Valiant Partners proposal for a hotel and conference center was a favorite in committee discussions back in January.

Ryan J. Stanton |

New York-based Valiant Partners LLC and Acquest Realty Advisors of Bloomfield Hills remain in the competition to develop a hotel and conference center on the city-owned lot at 319 S. Fifth Ave. in downtown Ann Arbor.

"We have not moved any further on any consideration of the Library Lot proposals," Rapundalo said, "because we have not identified and engaged an outside consultant who could advise the city on the specific details of each of the remaining two proposals — as well as sort of the overarching economics of developing that site for those stated purposes."

Both proposals ask the city to front millions of dollars to develop a publicly owned conference center that would drive the success of a new hotel on the site next to the downtown library. But there still doesn't appear to be political will among council members to take on the financial risk at this time.

"I think the RFP was pretty plain that it has to be a financial benefit to the city and I don't see how either one of them met that criteria," said Council Member Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward.

The Downtown Development Authority has been busy building a four-story underground parking deck on the Library Lot site. But talks of what's going to happen on top have all but stalled, and the RFP Advisory Committee that Rapundalo chairs hasn't been meeting.

"I haven't given it much thought lately," Mayor John Hieftje admitted. "I'm not sure the interest is there from the people who responded to the RFP. I haven't heard anything from them in a while. And I just know they haven't met for a while, and that's fine. It was put out there to see if somebody wanted to build something on top of it, but there's plenty of time to talk about that."

The DDA's governing board voted in January to provide $50,000 to the city to hire a real estate consultant to help evaluate proposals for the Library Lot. The consultant was expected to help determine if the projects submitted to the city are financially feasible and make economic sense in the Ann Arbor marketplace.

Thumbnail image for Acquest1.jpeg

The Acquest Realty Advisors proposal shows a hotel on the Library Lot. The firm asks that the city build a conference center across the street.

Rapundalo said DDA Executive Susan Pollay and City Administrator Roger Fraser ran into problems when trying to find an appropriate consultant to hire.

"We had, in fact, identified a consultant and then an unanticipated complication arose right in the middle of our budget deliberations this spring and basically it got back-burnered," he said. "We have just recently begun reconsideration to see how best to approach the identification of a suitable consultant and that's the only reason that we haven't moved any more on it."

Rapundalo declined to offer details, but said the city experienced an unforeseen situation with the consulting firm it originally chose.

"There were some unanticipated changes to some of the principal personnel within that identified consultant organization and it was cause for some reevaluation," he said.

A representative from Valiant Partners could not be reached for comment to confirm the firm's interest in the Library Lot project at this point.

David Ong, president of Acquest Realty Advisors, said his firm still is interested in pursuing its proposed project, but the city hasn't communicated well.

"We're sitting and waiting — the communication has been virtually nonexistent," he said on Wednesday. "We put enough time and effort and work in as the other team did, and we're interested in at least taking this to a logical conclusion."

Ong said he understands the City Council is dealing with both economic and political forces, but the hesitancy of the mayor and council is a concern.

"It does give pause for concern because, in the other cities in which we've worked, success has always been related to some level of passion to get it done, and we haven't seen that passion yet," Ong said.

Ong said the city already has taken the biggest risk it could by partnering with the DDA to build a $50 million underground parking structure. He said the money being asked to complete a public conference center that would help fill up the 677 spaces would cost much less.

Valiant is asking the city to issue $8 million worth of tax-exempt bonds to be paid back over 20 years from hotel proceeds to build the conference center it envisions along with its hotel on the Library Lot. Acquest is asking the city — in partnership with Washtenaw County — to build a 40,000-square-foot conference center on the former YMCA site across the street from the Library Lot at a price to be determined by the city and county.

Either way, some council members say, it's hard to swallow.

"I'm not going to put the city at risk to fund anything there," said Hieftje, who acknowledges he's open to an alternate idea proposed by some residents to turn the ground-level portion of the Library Lot into a green urban park setting.

"I'm open to talking about anything there," he said. "I think that the city needs to be open to talking about a number of options for it. There was always going to be a park there. That was in the RFP and it's just a determination of how big it was."

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



Sat, Jun 12, 2010 : 10:58 a.m.

Pat Lesko would put a stop to this madness. Oh, but she is not a uniter and is divisive (she doesn't play well with the GOBS--Good Old Boys); guess we'll have to rely on our current Mayor, Steven Rapundalo and Sandy Smith to make the call. Never mind that they are the ones who brought us into this mess in the first place; there is no proof this idea was rammed through the approval process using back room quid pro quo's as though there was a preordained outcome! The people have been clamoring for an underground parking deck/hotel conference center for years! That's right, we don't care about our crumbling roads, bridges and cuts to our Fire Department staff! You see, we are getting a shiny new Police Courts building and that new metered parking until 10pm will let us find on street parking when we shop downtown (why are we building underground parking again?)


Sat, Jun 12, 2010 : 10:02 a.m.

That awful picture. Will the building rotate?


Sat, Jun 12, 2010 : 8:04 a.m.

Be calm. This project will not be built. The project will appear on the 2013 Council Agenda and will be rejected. Mayor H will state that it did not fit with the surrounding neighborhood. They will take it up again in 2016 just after they reject the plan for the Stadium bridge repair.

Jay Thomas

Fri, Jun 11, 2010 : 6:13 p.m.

Oh dear God not the Valiant...


Fri, Jun 11, 2010 : 4:06 p.m.

I have heard that homeless crow But I did not see it go To the place you've said it's drawn Waking others before the dawn... May we all see the light!

rusty shackelford

Fri, Jun 11, 2010 : 3:27 p.m.

Park proponents are doorknobs. It's downtown and right next to the public library and the bus, which already draws the homeless crow. It will just become a homeless convention center if you put a park there.


Fri, Jun 11, 2010 : 10:41 a.m.

Hey Ryan, when do we get more of "whose at each other's throats" with the Mayor?


Fri, Jun 11, 2010 : 9:21 a.m.

Like it or not, parking revenues ($2 mil from DDA, etc.) for now, are allowing the city to avoid the nasty service cuts other cities are experiencing. So who can blame them for keeping the revenue game plan simple.... build parking structures. Besides, all those new North Quad students are going to need a place to park their BMW's.


Fri, Jun 11, 2010 : 12:37 a.m.

Good grief. City planning? Dumb and dumber.

Inspector 57

Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 11:01 p.m.

1) I do think that a downtown hotel/convention center could be commercially successful. Ann Arbor has the reputation of being a cool, interesting place, and it DOES have enough attractive features to make it marketable. There would be bookings; people would come. The reason we don't get more convention biz now is that our only hotel with a half-decent-sized conference space is in the Briarwood area. Briarwood is extremely pedestrian unfriendly, offers no nightlife, and is miles from everything that is "cool" about Ann Arbor. Why schedule a conference there as opposed to, say, the similarly personality-less Metro Airport area, which is at least closer to Detroit's casinos? 2) A successful conference center in downtown would be a wonderful boon to Ann Arbor businesses. 3) It is shameful that the mayor and city council (and whoever else was involved) invited serious proposals from developers with the promise of a big contract but are now casually saying, "Eh, it was just a thought. We're not sure we really want to do anything." How backward and how inconsiderate. And how damaging to Ann Arbor's ability to attract serious bids for future projects.

Basic Bob

Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 8:09 p.m.

Well, I hope the park doesn't have any grass since the city doesn't mow the parks they already have. I think they should use the underground parking as a nuclear waste storage bunker. Then it would at least have a purpose.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 8:02 p.m.

"Building" on Gill's quip up above, a great compromise concept to unite the city's political factions would be to construct a Greenway Casino on the site. Designed similar to Valiant's base building, the glass structure would house an interior much like a year-round botanical garden, but with slot machines and game tables nestled among small trees, gardens, and parkland grass. Run by the nearby "Allen Creek Tribe," the joint would raise healthy tax revenues. In addition, it would supply the 'tribe' with a steady load of cash they can use to purchase real estate in downtown-area floodway zones in order to advance their future greenway. That is, you can lose all your green gambling at the casino, but the 'tribe' will altruistically recycle it by greening the center of the city along a two-mile stretch. A true single-stream approach.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 7:55 p.m.

The Valiant complex looks like it's delicately trying to balance Godzilla's aluminum VHS tape storage on top of a flat glass building. Sweet. How many of these have been built in the Bay Area? My best guess is that the mayor will remain favorable to a park-dominated concept for the surface of the library lot until at least one of the developers suddenly discovers that they don't really need any public subsidies to move ahead on their proposed project. Meanwhile, the game of chicken between city and developer will continue, with or without fowl permits.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 7:19 p.m.

Every convention center I've ever been in is a creepy, sterile, and ill-maintained place. What a bad idea! We cannot afford this. The taxpayers do not want anymore tax dollars to go for projects like this. Keep the police, fire, and schools funded with our diminishing tax dollars. Stop the nonsense please!


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 2:54 p.m.

The Valiant proposal drawing is just plain hideous, therefore I'm certain that is what we will see there someday.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 2:52 p.m.

Put a casino on top of the parking structure if the goal is to draw people here 24/7 and make money.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 12:51 p.m.

How about this... since Google's in town... Why not develop a teleconference center... a virtual center... Don't need a train... don't need a parking structure... don't need more hotel rooms... don't even need a Stadium Bridge... We can live-feed the folly fountain 24-7... We'll use the under-utilized infrastructure around us... To support what we have already have... (instead of building more) A giantly shrinking economy and revenue stream... the economic Sanford Magic Rub erasure... (looks like the (in)Valiant Building) In 2010, we can conference the world via PC, with no new bricks and mortar... Hotels and Conference Centers are so 1960... The failures of same are so right now... everywhere around us... Big ideas... no new jobs... no money... that's us!


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 12:41 p.m.

"The final solution for this location should be neither a park nor a publicly subsidized convention center." Thank you. THis has always been my opinion as well. I don't know where this "central park" garbage idea came from, but it doens't make any sense to me.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 12:33 p.m.

The final solution for this location should be neither a park nor a publicly subsidized convention center. First, the city already can not afford to maintain it's existing parkland, so let's not add to this problem. Instead the focus should be on maintaining and improving the existing parkland (ie: border-to-border trail,etc.). Secondly, now is not the time for the city to go further into debt to finance yet another development. The new city hall's development budget prematurely included the sale of another city owned property (Washington and First). So if that sale can not be finalized soon, they will need to sell one of their other parcels eventually to fill this budget hole. Of all the city owned properties, the Library Lot should "eventually" draw top dollar from developers. So why grass it over and keep a prime downtown location off the tax rolls? I am not saying we have to accept either of the two existing proposals, but we also do not have to give in to the special interests that feel the city's parks dept. deserves such a valuable property.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 11:10 a.m.

What? Corporations aren't rushing in? Probably couldn't extort as much from us as they wanted. Green space, please.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 10:56 a.m.

is that a water sculpture in the second drawing? GREAT


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 10:14 a.m.

Reasonable officials would have thought this whole plan out better before they launched into construction. Myself, I thought the Library Lot was just fine the way it was and it did not cost the taxpayers any more money. Now, we have no plan, the risk of having to redo completed construction based on whatever the final structure turns out to be AND the officials tell us we need yet another consultant to figure it all out. I give up.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 10:03 a.m.

LT. I agree with your opinion.Funny how the city has laws on the books that they are not even inforcing. It time for the City to stop building things they can't afford and do not need.E.M

Top Cat

Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 10:02 a.m.

Mr. Annis states, "I have been to many conventions and can attest that a hotel/convention center this close to our vibrant downtown will damage its vibrancy. I have expamples." How will it do this damage and what are the examples? I've heard of these projects falling far short of their lofty projections and wasting money but not damaging vibrancy.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 9:22 a.m.

So there is no money to fix the Stadium bridges and these jokers want the city to front the money? They and anyone supporting this should be run out of town on a rail. No consultant needed, just say no.

Ted Annis

Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 9:03 a.m.

I have been to many conventions and can attest that a hotel/convention center this close to our vibrant downtown will damage its vibrancy. I have expamples. It is remakable to me that the DDA and many downtown businesses cannot see this. This spot deserves something that downtown needs, a focal point in the form of a plaza. I have examples of why this works. The case for a hotel/convention center has not been made (there are no data and no recent studies). If a case can be made, put it further away from downtown. Just last night, I asked a retired university VP why the university, which seems to want one, does not build one. The answer was "We are not in that business."


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 8:57 a.m.

Sigh. Another consultant. Why do we need another consultant? Better yet, I want to apply. I think we could use another hotel with conference space. The downtown hotels are not suitable, and the U does not host a lot of non-university related conferences.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 8:43 a.m.

I disagree with the notion that we already have plenty of hotels in downtown - it is often quite hard to get a larger block of rooms. Availability seems to vary, but diffifulties are not just tied to a few special days a year like graduation or Art Fair. Besides, I find the Campus Inn and the Belltower to be rather poor value, so I'd like to see more competition in that segment downtown. when it comes to the Convention Center, however, I'm not so sure we need it. UM generally has excess capacity and could probably do more to make some of their space available for rent to the general public when they don't need it all. That would also help to even out hotel demand, as UMs usage of their own convention-type space is highest during hotel peak times, i.e., when they're already hosting academic conferences etc. So I support a new hotel downtown, together with a better city / UM partnership to increase the use of UM space for conventions.

Marshall Applewhite

Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 8:24 a.m.

I will not sleep until a park is built above the parking structure. We cannot allow this valuable forest land to be converted into a hotel/conference center. How about we reserve the property for something with societal sustainability? What about a giant outdoor art studio? What about making this into a recess area for the Bob J. Delonis center? Heck, I would even be happy with an outdoor nudist colony in this location. Any of this would be better than a giant legoland.


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 8:09 a.m.

Ann Arbor already has quite a few hotels and conference centers. The only time that they are at full capacity is during football games, graduation, and during the pipefitters convention. Why oversaturate the market and waste the money? The overhead to run these operations will cause these projects to be under immense debt for years to come. Anyone can count the hotels in Ann Arbor, there is a greater need in this economy for AFFORDABLE housing, i.e. $400 a month for a one unit apartment. This kind of makes sense like the burger article today. People want more burgers, let's bring more burgers to Ann Arbor! We need more rooms 20 days of the year, lets build more rooms! From a business sense, this is illogical. The only people who benefit from this project are the planners, consultants, lawyers, architects, and builders. This idea is not the best solution for this space. Let's just put in a WalMart! //sarcasm


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 7:53 a.m.

This is process and stubbornness gone amok. Someone needs to sit back and think. It is clear to everyone that neither of these projects will ever see the light of day; there is no political or fiscal support for either, no matter what any consultant might say. It is a disgrace to waste money in this manner. Someone with some practical sense has to put a stop to it and not allow these people to throw funds at an unnecessary cunsultant. After that, the City needs to review this process and find out how we ended up with two projects that could never be realized, thus wasting time, energy, and money. As a final comment I would like to now why Mr. Rupundalo has so much faith in consultants when he is so willing to trample the various city plans such as the Downtown plan, which was well supported by paid consultants, to support inappropriate development in residential areas.

Richard C

Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 6:58 a.m.

One criticism of any hotel or conference center proposal is that it would result in more people who are likely to be unfamiliar, tired, and frustrated driving near the library (and the AATA bus route hub) mixing with kids using the library and the buses. And by the way, the Valiant Partners image looks like a broken video game or a particularily unstable Lego construction. I don't know why that overhang bothers me but similar structures elsewhere don't (such as the South Stacks of the Graduate Library.) What does the city building a "converence center" entail? Is there any value to us citizens, or is it just corporate welfare?


Thu, Jun 10, 2010 : 6:33 a.m.

Too many iffys:unsre officials,unsure prospecters,no money,no money,no money!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!What r u thinking?