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Posted on Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 3:50 p.m.

Ann Arbor DDA takes two steps forward on Fifth Avenue underground parking structure project

By Ryan J. Stanton

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is taking swift action to move forward with development of an underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue, despite a lawsuit filed last week in opposition to the project.

The DDA's governing board voted 9-0 at a special meeting today to approve two resolutions related to the project. The first authorizes spending $226,000 for new water mains under South Fifth Avenue, South Division Street and East William Street. The second approves selection of The Christman Co. of Lansing as the construction manager during the pre-construction phase of the parking structure project.

Tom Crawford, the city's chief financial officer, said the city also is moving forward on its end of the project as the bond issuer. He said the city closed on the sale of bonds for the project today, receiving a transfer of about $49.3 million, which the DDA will draw from to finance the project.

Crawford said the $49.3 million being borrowed is only part of the total project cost of nearly $59 million. The DDA will put up the remaining balance in cash. 

The parking decks will be owned by the city and managed by the DDA.

There was no mention of the pending lawsuit against the city and the parking garage project at today's meeting.

"For obvious reasons, I can't discuss the lawsuit, but I can tell you that this is a really important project for the city," said Mayor John Hieftje, a DDA board member.

"Most folks aren't aware of the fact that we've already lost close to 200 parking spaces in the last few years just due to street changes, and we're slated to lose several hundred more in the upcoming years," Hieftje said. "I look at this structure as a replacement for spaces that are going to be lost, and we cannot afford to leave our downtown minus hundreds and hundreds of spaces."

Hieftje noted city tax dollars aren't paying for the underground parking structure.

"This is paid for by parking revenues, so it won't even be all Ann Arborites' money," he said. "It's the folks who come in from out of town, the commuters, people who come in for dinner, as well as everyone else in the city who uses the parking system."

DDA Executive Director Susan Pollay said she couldn't speak to the lawsuit, but can say the DDA has made a commitment to see the project through.

She said the project is about a vision for the future of downtown that's more than an ocean of surface parking lots.

"It allows us to realize, as a community, an opportunity to see that southern edge of the core area as more than it looks today with a bunch of surface parking lots," she said. "Thank goodness for the library. It's an extraordinarily valuable community asset - over 600,000 people a year go to the library - but if you look at that block, it's a bunch of surface parking lots. If we're going to do anything in this community that's going to be better than where we are, we've got to put the infrastructure in."

Pollay noted that although the plans call for a parking structure with 677 spaces, it will replace an existing surface parking lot with about 200 spaces, so it's not a net addition of 677.

When planning for the project began several years ago, before the current economic crisis, Pollay said the DDA's parking system was operating most days with most structures filling up. She said though the project is being labeled a parking structure project, it's much more.

"We're also adding a new mid-block street, we're adding an alley, we're adding all new electrical capacity, we're adding new water mains, and we are designing the footprint of the library lot to bear something, whatever it is," she said. "Whatever the community comes up with on top, we're ready for it so our hands are not tied when that opportunity comes."

DDA officials said today they went with Christman as construction manager for the pre-construction phase because of its experience building a similar underground parking structure in downtown Grand Rapids. At the end of the pre-construction phase in early October, the DDA will consider entering a second contract with Christman as construction manager for the entire project.

The DDA's action today authorizes replacing two existing 6-inch water mains under the 300 block of South Fifth Avenue and South Division Street with new 12-inch water mains. To provide fire protection coverage to the block, an additional main between East William Street and Library Lane also is required.

DDA officials say the improvements will greatly enhance water flows to the center city area. Plans have been submitted to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, with the work expected to be done this fall.

The DDA's design team for the parking structure project completed its work earlier this summer and distributed a request for qualifications in June, receiving 14 responses from construction firms. The Christman firm was one of four companies interviewed.

Christman's fees for the pre-construction period are not to exceed $40,000, according to the resolution approved today.


Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Aug 21, 2009 : 6:31 p.m.

Just for clarification, I have talked with the city attorney now and the citys bond counsel is Bowden Brown of the Dykema law firm. Stauder, Barch & Associates Inc. is the bond consultant.


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 10:50 p.m.

The bond issuance says quite clearly that this project is backed by the full faith and credit of the City.... Yes, and the City with the DDA has allocated future parking revenue toward payment of those bonds. If you believe that the city/DDA doesn't have a dependable stream of revenue from parking meters, garages, and the ever-popular expired meter tickets, you haven't lived here very long. The city has regularly "borrowed" parking revenue from the DDA to fund other projects. This is a more appropriate use of parking revenue.... I ride the bus downtown from outside the city limits. Most people don't, and if they can't find a parking spot downtown, they won't go. Limited downtown parking may please the enviro-puritans, but it will kill downtown entertainment businesses.... Actually, the parking structures are usually well-populated during regular business hours and/or special events. Large numbers of the spaces are permanently reserved for use by businesses and downtown residents. No one is going to build office space or non-student residences downtown without adequate parking, and more intensive development downtown will provide a better tax base.


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 10:41 p.m.

I am mystified with the lack of public outrage over this matter & other matters concerning real estate devolpement in the downtown Ann Arbor area over the last 5 years. The DDA & city government are downright incompetent of creating a "vibrant" downtown, their recent actions clearly demonstrate this. Can someone identify a real estate develpoment in the downtown area that is considered a success in the last half dozen years? (Liberty Lofts doesn't count, it was an existing building). All this talk of fostering a "vibrant" downtown & all we get are hideous half vacant buildings, increased parking rates, the "link", "art" bike hoops, and now a 40 million dollar parking structure. That translates to almost A HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS PER SPACE!!! Dollar for dollar this might be the dumbest project the city has proposed. I am extremely bothered with this " build it & they will come theory", this is nothing but speculation. Ann Arbor resides in the state of Michigan; a state that has lost over a half million jobs in the last 6 years with no signs of recovering soon. Time to wake up people and take back our city from greedy out-of-state developers and lousy city officals. If this "group think" continues Ann Arbor will look like every other city in America, boring and broke.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 10:32 p.m.

Our friends over at the Ann Arbor Chronicle have now posted their version of this story, along with the text of the city's official statement in delivering the bonds. I have been unsuccessful getting the city attorney on the line, but this official statement dated Aug. 19 reads, "Counsel to the City has advised that the count is without legal merit on various grounds. Bond counsel to the City has advised that it is able to render its approving opinion with respect to the validity and enforceability of the Bonds, without any qualification as to the pending action." The citys bond counsel is Stauder, Barch & Associates Inc.


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 9:56 p.m.

More parking structures either above or below the surface allows for a "better use" of the land on top of or surrounding lots. There could be more "venues" instead of just a huge asphalt parking area. As far as bus service - the nearby residents have all the opportunity to not have to use the garages by just hoping on a bus. However, "guests" or tourists of this fine area will more than likely drive and park in the downtown area.

Jon Saalberg

Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 8:11 p.m.

""For obvious reasons, I can't discuss the lawsuit, but I can tell you that this is a really important project for the city," said Mayor John Hieftje, a DDA board member." Really important, why? Ann Arbor has several garages that are almost never full, or close to full. Why did the city put a surface lot where the old Y was? I don't feel city policy makers are providing its residents with sound reasons for building more garages - it sounds like it's just being done because there is money to do it, disregarding residents' concerns.

Patricia Lesko

Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 8:10 p.m.

That our elected officials make any effort to say this project will not be funded by "tax dollars" is simply misleading. The bond issuance says quite clearly that this project is backed by the full faith and credit of the City. These are GO Municipal Bonds, and should parking revenues fall short, these bonds will (and must, in fact) be repaid through the City's power to levy taxes on property owners. GO Ask Voters (www.GO is, at the moment, collecting signatures from registered voters in Ann Arbor to amend the City Charter so that all such future projects would be subject to voter approval prior to City Council issuing such bonds. In fact, this is a perfect example of exactly how the proposed Charter amendment would impact our elected officials' ability to spend on projects funded with GO Municipal Bonds funded by our tax dollars. Had there already been the Charter amendment GO Ask Voters proposes, our elected officials would have had to make it crystal clear that the $49 million is, in fact, backed by taxation and not parking fees. They would have made their case for the project, and we would have voted on it.


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 7:28 p.m.

@Julie @Moose agreed, there's far too much contradiction and hypocrisy with this whole project. As UPSman just pointed out, there's no reason we can't enjoy our vibrant downtown arriving by bus. And I don't think I've seen this mentioned yet, but does anyone SERIOUSLY think that this underground parking structure will be anything other than a NIGHTMARE to navigate? The structure over on Washington is already cramped enough, and they're expecting to cram nearly 700 spots below ground. Enjoy parking your SUV in our constricted labyrinthine dungeon, visitors of Ann Arbor!

Steve Pepple

Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 7:28 p.m.

A comment was taken down because of a personal attack.


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 7:16 p.m.

Being new to the city I see projects like this as exciting? To have more parking access - which is reasonable priced and "safe" is a big win to a vibrant downtown area. A vibrant downtown area should be exciting for all residents! Exciting because - typically there's something for everyone to do and this is something that sets most downtown's apart. The charm I enjoyed of simply walking around during the recent fair - within the shadow of one of the country's top universities - just had me excited - I just couldn't prevent being creatively inspired. Five years ago I lived in a suburb city of Phoenix - a rather major city and it was offered a huge bundle of cash both public and private to build the new Cardinal professional football stadium. Well the leaders in my town were so scared to "vote" on it so it went to the polls. As usual the election turnout was low and people that basically lived in upper low income level homes (not that there's anything wrong with that) held the city hostage and the project went to another city about 50 miles west. The city that craved the project became a flourishing city in many ways. The city that was scared to see a project as a good idea, couldn't "vision" the benefits, continues at a rate of decay that is sad. I guess the point I've come to learn is that we elect people to decide things for the benefit of all (hopefully with no "personal gain" involved) and any compliment to such a wonderful downtown area - or vision into what could be better down the road is a positive thing. The voters that live in this wonderful city are the ones who voted in representatives to decide things - and not all things are easy and cut and dry. But I feel a "vibrancy" in this city that is unmistakable and I hope to make it my permanent home soon. Not only will I enjoy the benefits of a "vibrant" downtown - but I'll even take the bus to do it! That puts a smile on my face!


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 6:21 p.m.

Can anyone tell me why there is now a surface lot at the old YMCA site? Since we are very against surface lots? And since that was supposed to be low income housing???


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 5:12 p.m.

I wonder how many parking spaces will accomodate plug in electricity for the electric cars that are coming??


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 4:58 p.m.

The city's making some rosy predictions about increasing not only the number of new downtown residents and new commuters to downtown businesses that don't exist. These projections don't jibe with projected growth for the cityThe structure will not be funded by tax dollars, if and only if there are enough NEW parkers coming into the structures. If there aren't enough new parkers how will the structure pay for itself? If the new structure cannibalizes parkers from other structures, the city and/or the DDA will have to make up the difference. And all this is still coming from the folks who want fewer cars downtown and use tax dollars to promote alternatives so fewer people park downtown. That makes no sense.


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 4:44 p.m.

"This is paid for by parking revenues, so it won't even be all Ann Arborites' money," he said. "It's the folks who come in from out of town, the commuters, people who come in for dinner, as well as everyone else in the city who uses the parking system."... Hooray for rational public policy--parking revenue applied to parking services, and not diverted to the Cause Du Jour. Now if we could get the golfers to pay for the municipal golf courses...


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 3:53 p.m.

linuxtuxguy--Do you seriously believe that!?


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 3:52 p.m.

Couldn't they have done Stadium Bridge that fast?


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 3:52 p.m.

ResidentAnvil, did you read the article? They specifically state that the project is not being funded by tax dollars.


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 3:43 p.m.

Of course they are moving quickly! The more money they can spend before they get to court, the more they can cry to the courts about how much tax-payer money will be lost if the project is killed. Also, they would have to fill that huge hole in the middle of downtown!


Wed, Aug 19, 2009 : 3:30 p.m.

I want to know, what street changes were made and are planned that are removing so many parking spaces? Around State and Liberty got converted to 2-way, but I thought if anything that added parking.