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Posted on Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 2:14 p.m.

Large turnout as Ann Arbor officials hold first meeting with prospective developers of Library Lot

By Ryan J. Stanton

An air of excitement filled city hall this morning as Ann Arbor officials met with prospective developers and architects interested in the downtown "Library Lot."

"I expect there are some of you here who are curious and some of you who desire to submit proposals, and some more of you who are curious," City Administrator Roger Fraser told a crowd of more than 50 people gathered for a mandatory pre-proposal meeting.


More than 50 people turned out for today's pre-proposal meeting to discuss the opportunity of developing on the Library Lot in downtown Ann Arbor.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Fraser and his staff discussed the city's vision for development atop the underground parking structure being built along South Fifth Avenue. The city recently sent out a request for proposals, and today's meeting was mandatory for any developers who plan to submit a project by the city's 2 p.m. Nov. 13 deadline.

Many of those in attendance were architects who just wanted to hear the latest talks, hoping they might get in on some of the work.

"We would love to be the design and production arm of this team," said Tom Pallos, an architect from Birmingham who drove in for the meeting to scope out the scene. "It's a fabulous project and it demands a top-notch team, and a lot of attention to detail."

Also in the crowd was Ann Arbor business consultant Fritz Seyferth, who is representing a group of investors proposing a hotel and conference center plan city officials have been considering. A building as tall as 15 stories has been discussed as part of that plan.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a grassroots group of citizens calling themselves the Ann Arbor Committee for the Commons, or A2C2, also showed up at today's meeting. They're considering submitting a proposal for designating the area a public commons with open park space. They said it could include a garden and some type of building, but mostly a community gathering place where outdoor music and other public events could take place.

"I'm an activist that believes this community suffers for not having a central gathering place," said group member Alan Haber, a local cabinet maker.

Haber was joined by fellow group members Alice Ralph, a local architect, and Dana Barton, a Realtor with Edward Surovell Realtors.

"It's one of the few major sites in town that is up for a major transformation," Ralph said of the Library Lot. "So we're all interested in what happens there."


Members of the Ann Arbor Committee for the Commons, from left, Dana Barton, Alan Haber and Alice Ralph, talk about their idea for creating a community gathering place above the underground parking structure being built by the DDA.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Jayne Miller, the city's community services administrator, said the city plans to conduct interviews the week of Dec. 7 and have completed evaluations done by the week of Jan. 25. City staff plans to make a recommendation to the City Council by Feb. 15 with the anticipated selection of a project by March 1.

"Through this process, there will be a review committee that will be working on technical review of proposals that come through, and there will be more of an oversight committee that's looking at the broader picture," Miller said.

Fraser and Miller fielded several questions about design guidelines and a proposed mid-block street called Library Lane in the plans. Some in today's audience wondered if the street needed to be included.

City officials encouraged developers to use their imagination and creativity. They said no plans for the site are set in stone, though they would like to provide some kind of connection between Division Street and Fifth Avenue.

Miller also said the city's A2D2 zoning amendments and design guidelines are expected to come before the City Council for approval on Oct. 19. Those will have a significant impact on the project, she said.

Susan Pollay, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, announced today that the DDA is exploring the idea of installing geothermal wells at the site. She said a preliminary analysis shows 190 wells could be installed, and the DDA wants to know if developers are interested.

Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library, said today she hopes whatever projects are proposed take into consideration that more than 800,000 people a year visit the library downtown. Parker told the audience the library had plans of its own for a complete reconstruction, but those plans were put on hold last November. A new library would have required a capital millage, and library officials decided the economic conditions weren't right.

"Hopefully we will be able to bring the project back when the economy is better," Parker said.

Fraser told developers today economic conditions also are the reason the city isn't actively seeking proposals for the "blank slate" across the street from the Library Lot, on the old YMCA site where a surface parking lot currently exists. He said the city decided there may not be enough energy in this economy for developing both sites right now.

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


Juliet Pressel

Sat, Sep 26, 2009 : 12:27 p.m.

As always, left to planners devices, Ann Arbor would become another Birmingham. Why? Is there demand for the types of mile-high commercial buildings these folks envision? Do we really want an Oakland County skyline? Is this what we want Ann Arbor to be? Or is it just that John Hiefje and his buddies think that the cost of having a greenbelt is to pander to outside developers, and that Ann Arborites made that deal with that devil when they voted against endless suburbia? And why is it that, after brooming away the Y, paying big bucks to house the residents elsewhere, and telling the AATA that no, that space wasnt available to them because they wouldnt promise to use it to re-house the un-housed, the City has now made that site into a parking lot which no one needs, with NO plans to reuse that site for the affordable housing the Y tenants were promised? (And instead, the City is discussing building that affordable housing on a different parking lot elsewhere, despite the fact that both County employees and commercial visitors rely on those lots for parking for work and/or to do business?) I wish I could figure out the rationale here. Is there one?

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 8:16 p.m.

Vivienne Armentrout offered her perspective on today's meeting on her blog. Go check it out:

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 2:47 p.m.

I'm writing another story on who was there.


Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 2:38 p.m.

@Bonsai: Yahh, that substantial garage structure could house an amazing skate park! Start writing that proposal. Skate on...


Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 2:08 p.m.

perfect location for a skate park


Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 2:06 p.m.

I hope that the developers think about some form of covered walkway idea for these new buildings. Maybe something at the 2nd story level that would at some point in the future be a network to connect major buildings in the downtown area ala Minneapolis. I can see a 10-15 story building there, and a 10 story across the street with the AATA transit station could be connected by a walkway. Extend that to the parking garage to the west, and federal building to the north. Then keep building off. It would promote walking to and from in the rain and snow, and promote the use of parking garages and bus transit. It will take years but you have to start somewhere...


Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 1:57 p.m.

Seyferths speculative hotel project has received much press. Is there economic need for another downtown hotel? Look at recent history. Remember when there were three major hotels downtown? They were the Campus Inn, Bell Tower, and Ann Arbor Inn. Two thankfully survive and continue their vital presences in the area.. The third hotel, Ann Arbor Inn, went bankrupt. Following this, no one even wanted to purchase it for its meager back tax amount, of less than $200,000. The building was empty for years, and a major black eye for the City.. The longstanding pattern of development in the hotel industry is for newcomers to displace existing properties. In a non-growth market such as Ann Arbor, new hotels merely commandeer business from existing hotels. None typically do well in this scenario. The newcomer believes that it can outlast the existing businesses, forcing them into closure, and capturing the market. It's anyone's gamble as to who survives.. The City is excited to become a speculating co-developer exactly at the time that banks are not lending for major projects in Michigan. The timing is dismal.. The City is risking precious and diminishing tax dollars in this venture. It also places existing business at risk during economic downturn. If the City joint ventures a property use that displaces existing business, leaving vacant buildings in the aftermath, how does this exactly benefit the City of Ann Arbor, its citizens, and its business owners?. The joint venture carries far more risk than the City being involved with constructing a shiny new building! First, it will be interesting to see the written proposals. More importantly it will be interesting to monitor the City's ability to analyze proposals in relation to their impact on the existing business community. Their review needs to be far more comprehensive than just a technical review of a proposed building's "nuts and bolts.". Instead of saying, "Lets build something," the City could commission a needs assessment, identifying ways to promote growth in the City, as benefited by development of this essence, part of the Citys plan for growth! What does the City need at the site? Once identified, the City could invite targeted development for the site, based on actual City need. Does this sound like the Citys process, or are they engaged in something better?

David Cahill

Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 1:45 p.m.

So who were the people there who will be submitting a proposal, other than the two mentioned?