Library lot to close next week for start of underground parking structure project in downtown Ann Arbor
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.
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 AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529.