Large turnout as Ann Arbor officials hold first meeting with prospective developers of Library Lot
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.
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 planÂ 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."
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 AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529.