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Posted on Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 3:36 p.m.

Library lot to close next week for start of underground parking structure project in downtown Ann Arbor

By Ryan J. Stanton

The parking lot next to Ann Arbor's downtown library will close at midnight next Wednesday for the beginning of a $59 million underground parking structure project.

Neighbors are bracing for the start of a construction season that's expected to last through August 2011, promising to bring some inconvenience for the next two years.


The parking lot next to the downtown Ann Arbor District LIbrary on Fifth Avenue is the site of a planned underground parking garage. A group of investors wants to build a hotel and convention center atop of the parking garage. Steve Pepple | Ann

Librarians are getting the word out to patrons that they'll need to seek alternate parking during the project. Meanwhile, two businesses continue to fight the city of Ann Arbor and the Downtown Development Authority, claiming the construction will have a devastating impact on their businesses and the surrounding environment.

"This is definitely going to put a crimp in business, there's no doubt," said restaurateur Ali Ramlawi, owner of Jerusalem Garden at 307 S. Fifth Ave. "And there's nothing we can do now but brace for the storm that's going to come."

Ramlawi and owners of the Herb David Guitar Studio, 302 E. Liberty St., filed a lawsuit against the city last month over the project. They claim the construction activities - which include heavy equipment moving thousands of cubic yards of soil and pilings being driven deep into the ground - will cause strong damaging vibrations to surrounding historic buildings, huge dust clouds and deafening noise levels.

"Everybody that I've talked to who's been around projects of this magnitude always say that it's a nightmare," Ramlawi said. "We could be facing five to six years worth of construction with the two years of the parking structure and another two or three years with what goes on top. It could feel like a lifetime."

The city approved the underground parking project in February, allowing the DDA to build a garage with 677 spaces under the current surface parking lot north of the library on South Fifth Avenue. The structure will extend four stories underground and require significant excavation work.

The DDA issued a statement this week, acknowledging it is well aware of neighbors' concerns.

"The project team is aware that construction will take place near the library, existing businesses and residents, and planning is being done to minimize negative impacts to adjacent properties and the general public," the statement reads. "The DDA has instructed its contractors that construction is not to begin before 7 a.m. and construction activities will be required to comply with the city's noise control ordinance."

According to the DDA, sound, air, and vibration monitoring devices will be installed on the site, and dust controls will be used, including fencing, water sprays and a truck wash to remove excess soils before trucks leave the site. The DDA also said it has agreed to assist with temporary trash access and food service delivery for commercial neighbors.

DDA executive director Susan Pollay said the project will begin with the installation of new water mains on South Division Street and South Fifth Avenue, in addition to burying overhead communication and electrical lines. The parking lot is being closed to provide a staging area for that work.

As water mains are being installed, one or two traffic lanes may be closed as well, Pollay said.

The actual excavation of the underground structure is anticipated to begin in mid- to late-October and will start at the South Division side of the site. Pollay said that phase of work will take many months, and work on the actual garage likely won't take place until December 2010. At that time, the 300 block of South Fifth will close for about six months.

In addition to the parking structure, the project includes installing a mid-block alley, a mid-block street called Library Lane, water mains and electrical improvements. The parking structure will be fully paid for with revenues generated by users of the public parking system; no tax dollars will be used.

Nearby public parking will remain available on the Fifth and William surface parking lot, the Fourth and William parking structure, and at nearby street meter spaces.

The DDA, which is managing all aspects of the construction process, said a construction site manager and two senior project managers will be on site during scheduled work hours and available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to answer questions or address concerns.

Pollay said project officials have been out talking to residents and businesses.

"We don't lose sight of the fact that we're in the middle of a very important block," Pollay said, noting the DDA has taken every measure it could to minimize the impact on the neighborhood.

Pollay said the DDA is still looking for a place to put the excavated soil. The city turned down an offer to have it relocated to the airport property, citing future plans for development around the airport that will require stormwater retention basins.

Pollay said a groundbreaking ceremony for the project is scheduled for 4 p.m. next Thursday, Oct. 1.

"For us, it's exciting because the project involves a lot of infrastructure," Pollay said. "Infrastructure is what you build a downtown on. We're going to be installing extra water main capacity. I'm very excited that the project is going to help us build a new mid-block street. There are a number of elements."

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


Concerned Citizen

Mon, Sep 28, 2009 : 9:07 p.m.

Thanks again,...:-), So, based on the answer supplied by the DDA, would it be correct to infer that there is to be NO impact on the very large neighboring trees that shade the neighboring properties (and would OBVIOUSLY be impossible to transplant.)? Is that what one would glean from their response to your question?

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, Sep 28, 2009 : 8:08 p.m.

Believe me, I asked specifically about your trees and that is the broad answer I was provided by the DDA. It would seem that "landscaping" includes what you specifically asked about.

Concerned Citizen

Mon, Sep 28, 2009 : 8:01 p.m.

Thank you, Mr.Stanton, for following-up,:-),I'm guessing, however, that my specific question about the TREES and HEDGE ROWS, somehow, was turned into a question about "landscaping" plants (referred to in your response by the representative of Republic Parking). The heritage trees bordering the "Big Dig" to which I was referring are enormous, and although they are located on the edge of BORDERING properties, it seems that this dig will destroy their supporting root systems. The hedge rows to which I refer were NOT planted by Republic Parking (I DO wish to acknowlege the fine efforts Republic Parking makes to landscape and adorn with lovely planters the parking lots that they manage, :-)!) and are also on the borders of NEIGHBORING properties. Nothing has been mentioned regarding these plantings, and as they are not identified on the architect's mock-up,(and there has been no mock-up of the construction "fencing",:-),) seems as though they (without concern for their IMPORTANT multiple functions) will at some point simply (and perhaps abruptly and without warning!) become "collateral damage" and be destroyed, forever. It is information regarding the preservation of those trees and hedge rows that I sought and continue to seek,:-). Thank you. :-)!


Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 10:37 p.m.

With 59 million dollars the city could have bought several more wonderful buildings like the old "Y". When will our leaders use some common sense when spending money.


Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 8:18 p.m.

This is so unnecessary. I have yet to be in downtown a2 and not find a spot to park. Are there studies showing the necessity of this?

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 10:26 a.m.

Somebody asked what's to happen to some of the existing landscaping that's there. Here's the answer: Republic's landscaper will be removing these plants after the lot closes and relocating them to other downtown parking lots & structure locations. That's what I was told by the DDA.


Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 9:55 a.m.

Countrycat - I agree with you about the library. My thoughts are this - the library does need to be replaced. It's an old hodge-podge of buildings and additions mixed together, that is long since run out of space and can't feasibly be updated or added on to. It needs to be torn down and rebuilt as a 21st century library / community center. Obviously no one is going to vote to fund that right now, and with good reason. Since it's rebuilding should be targeted at some point in the next 5-10 years though (assuming our economy recovers), would it have been unfeasible to plan on coordinating the construction of the parking with the planned rebuilding of the library? Maybe it would have, I don't know. Now we have two years of construction there though, which may be followed by a brief period of calm, but almost certain to be thrown back in to a construction mess with the library project and/or whatever building is going to go on top of the parking structure. Add to that whatever is going to happen to the old YMCA site, and any changes to the bus station, and I'd say we might as well just plan on closing that stretch of S. Fifth for at least the next 5 or 6 years. I know you can't coordinate all the construction projects in one spot at one time, but as it is, it seems like the businesses in that area should be planning for a long, long period of disruption.


Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 8:49 a.m.

Well, whether we need a big underground parking structure or not, being without the library parking lot for two years WILL be a hardship and we'll all be so happy when this project is completed and we have the parking spaces the new lot brings us (back).

ann arbor girl

Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 8:34 a.m.

sh1 - "The supposed need for parking places has been a ruse all along. The city is laying the groundwork for an up-to-25-foot convention center." A 25-foot convention center will be inviting to very, very small groups - I can see your concerns about this.

ann arbor girl

Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 8:29 a.m.

Please check & correct - I understand that the parking structure project is $50 million (not $59 M as stated in the story).


Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 8:19 a.m.

@Scott Beal: That's $60 million... not billion. Yikes! no wonder you were upset. p.s. nice mohawk.


Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 7:41 a.m.

AtlantaM, for people here who honestly want to debate the necessity of this particular investment at this particular time, the latter half of your argument does little more than dilute their voice. An honest, reasonable, fiscal conservative at a protest is not well served when people at their rallies start shouting "death panels" and "show us a birth certificate". An honest liberal marching at an anti-war rally is given a bad name by those marching with "legalize pot" signs, or shouting "anarchy now". Likewise, people who don't feel this construction is currently necessary don't all want their arguments clouded with spouts of "big government is always evil", and "Government fails at everything it tries", which aside from not being true, does little to address the direct concerns here. To be honest, I think a lot of people, perhaps even the majority in this town are excited and in favor of this project. It's an honest debate, and I don't think it's all bad myself. I just think it's not so urgent a need to do right now. The counter-argument to this project is generally one of wrong investment at the wrong time, not one of big government forcing anything down our throats.The first points in your post were well stated, and valuable insight from your your experience in Atlanta. Comparing the local DDA's desire to expand parking and set infrastructure for future investment is hardly comparable to disagreements about health care politics though.

Scott Beal

Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 7:16 a.m.

So, for only $60 billion dollars and 2+ years of serious community disruption, we get to add hundreds of extra parking spaces that nobody needs. What's not to love?


Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 6:18 a.m.

I sincerely hope that all the surrounding building owners have taken the required steps to protect their investments with photos and stress/strain gages. As a witness to the disaster that is called Ellis Square Parking Garage in Savannah, Georgia, this type of "Big Dig" seriously damaged the surrounding businesses. Large storefronts settled and cracked, facades fell and in general, an underground structure was built that left the remaining businesses and residences in far worse shape. It will probably take a class action lawsuit at the end since the city has refused to listen to anyone on this nightmare. They are jamming this down the throats of the citizens - probably for some developer - and as citizens, we are just having to accept it. Kind of like Washington DC and their ill-fated health care plans - cannot manage medicare or medicaid but now coming up with an even larger nightmare for us to foot the bill. Between governement and big business, the average citizen is just being force fed bad decisions by our leaders.


Fri, Sep 25, 2009 : 5:37 a.m.

Isn't most of the business in that area foot-traffic? I'll still frequent Earthen Jar and J.Gardens...I would worry about Herb David if the construction is loud - hard to teach lessons and repair instruments with rumbles, banging, etc. However, I welcome development DOWNTOWN where it belongs - instead of more sprawl at the outskirts of town. There is too much un/under-utilized space in downtown A2 and the sooner that's mended, the better!

Concerned Citizen

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 9:49 p.m.

"Pollay said project officials have been out talking to residents and businesses." What exactly does that mean? Will the DDA provide temporary alternative residences for those who currently reside next to this project and will be horrifically impacted by the noise, pollution, jarring, and heavy equipment traffic?


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 9:45 p.m.

Concerned Citizen- I have saved the time for ANNARBOR.COM precious staff time in finding out what is to become of the heritage trees and hedge rows that surround this "Big DiG"...The heritage trees will be transplanted in the old west side where they will be decorated with 19th century library books, sorta like a christmas tree ornament. The hedge rows will be transplanted along the railroad corridor within the DDA district in order to prohibit railroad crossing culprits from crossing the tracks and getting a hefty fine.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 9:02 p.m.

They are going to build something in downtown Ann Arbor? AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! The sky is falling!


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 8:51 p.m.

What a waste of money! We need more public transportation, not parking! Encourage people to leave their cars at home, or sell them! Disaster in the making!!!!

Concerned Citizen

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 8:48 p.m.

Would please find out what is to become of the heritage trees and hedge rows that surround this "Big DiG"?...Who is responsible for them?

Laura Bien

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 7:08 p.m.

We'll be in AA this weekend, and will be sure to have a meal at JG--wonderful lentil soup and kibbeh wrap...nom!


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 5:59 p.m.

The supposed need for parking places has been a ruse all along. The city is laying the groundwork for an up-to-25-foot convention center.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 5:23 p.m.

I agree with amlive. That has been my objection to this project all along. The city just added two levels to the top of the parking structure on Fourth and William. I have never seen that garage full, other than Art Fair. And sure, on weekend evenings I may have to drive around the block once or twice to find the "perfect" spot, but I always find a parking spot within five minutes. Why should we, as drivers, expect that there will always be a readily available spot in front of the business that you want to go to? No driver in any mid- to large-sized city expects this. Since when did walking two block become such a tremendous hassle? I am not against the idea of building another parking garage, but I think building one in anticipation that a building may be built on top of the site at some point in the future, which may or may not necessitate 600+ parking spots, is ridiculous. Is anybody looking forward to the constant stream of dump trucks and heavy equipment that will be navigating the downtown streets for this project? Two years worth?


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 5:13 p.m.

Don't worry Jerusalem Gardens, I am so addicted to your hummus, neither rain, nor sleet, nor obnoxious contruction can keep me away! (also, I have been successful in getting my friends and family addicted, so we'll all be there!) It will be okay! Really fantastic things can come from the weirdest circumstances! :) See you soon!!

Jon Saalberg

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 5:07 p.m.

However you slice it, $59M is an awful lot of money for something Ann Arbor does not need. I would be interested in seeing data that supports the need for this gargantuan structure - data not compiled by the DDA.

Ryan J. Stanton

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 4:52 p.m.

It seems the price of this project has been a moving target for a while, and one reader questioned the $59 million figure we used today. Let me attempt to pin it down. There are two related projects that have been lumped together that, combined, total close to $59 million. There's the DDA's parking structure project budget of $50 million, which also includes soft costs such as engineering fees, design, concrete testing, as well as water mains, electric work, etc. The city recently sold bonds for $49.3 million, with an interest rate of 3.9 percent. But to clarify, the bonds will pay for both the parking structure project and related improvements along Fifth/Division, which includes $6 million in streetscape upgrades, new LED lights, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, etc. The DDA is putting down $8.4 million in cash in addition to the amount being borrowed, according to the DDA. Additionally, the DDA is paying a $1.4 million municipal service charge to the city for bond issuance costs. The DDA also plans to reimburse the city for incidental costs such as permits and attorney fees. So, this might be where the figure (which originally got from the city) came from: $49.3 million (bond proceeds) + $8.4 million (DDA cash) + $1.4 million (bond issuance cost) = $59.1 million.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 3:25 p.m.

You know, as much as people complain about Ann Arbor needing more parking, aside from Art Fair week I still have never gone downtown and been unable to find a parking spot. Not once. Maybe I just miss the busiest hours, or maybe I've just been lucky. I dunno... I do feel bad for Ramlawi during this construction. This is going to be especially hard on Jerusalem Garden and the Earthen Jar. Maybe the construction workers' lunches will make for a slight consolation prize, but not much. I'll still try to make a point of going down there regularly - I would hate to see a place like that get put under by a construction project. I hope property owners around there have had the foresight to cover their tails by getting formal building inspections on record in advance. Work like this can be traumatic to nearby buildings, especially old ones, and I and hope the city can be held liable for any repairs or foundation work which could be linked to the construction as cause of the damage. Paying a hundred or two dollars to have a building inspector formally appraise the condition of the foundation pre-construction, could certainly be worth it if they have to make a future claim against the city or their own insurance.