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Posted on Sun, Nov 13, 2011 : 6:34 p.m.

Ann Arbor needs to do away with its Downtown Development Authority

By Letters to the Editor

Who is this DDA and why are they being allowed to trample over the wishes of the citizens and business owners of Ann Arbor?

Why, in a city of this size with an elected mayor, elected council and a city administrator, is an unelected body of this sort needed? All parking issues including revenue should be returned to the council where the citizens can have some say.

Musomi Kimanthi
Ann Arbor



Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 10:28 p.m.

I should add that most towns around here have DDA's. Saline, ypsi, canton, brighton. The major difference is those towns don't have the parking revenue in the equation. The promotial material that the Canton DDA puts out for businesses is 100 times better than A2's DDA. The biggest gripe customers and businesses have with the DDA involves parking, the entire scope of it, not just the rates, enforcement, etc, but that the DDA is in charge of it. It's a lot of "public" money that no one is held accountable for. The DDA shouldn't be holding the purse strings from parking revenue. The DDA should be given an "allowence" to opperate to promote the downtown and businesses. Their main reason for exsistanting shouldn't be to handles parking.


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 10:03 p.m.

I don't disagree but do propose to take it's place knowing sooner or later politics and politicians are going to get involved?


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 5:18 p.m.

The "unelected" straw man is misleading. The only elected City of Ann Arbor officials are the Mayor and City Council. These are part-time positions. Ann Arbor is not a little hamlet where they can directly run everything hands-on. Instead, the detailed operations are run by a professional staff, headed by a city manager who is hired by the elected officials and can be fired by them; these professionals are accountable to the elected officials, but they are not supposed to be micromanaged by them. Similarly, the elected officials appoint (and can dismiss) members of commissions to whom they delegate some functions of city government. The DDA is one of those, distinguished by the fact that there are provisions of state law that govern its operation. The DDA is part of city government, with membership appointed and removed by elected city officials. The ultimate responsibility remains with the elected officials.If you are unhappy with the way the city is run, your quarrel is with the elected officials, not with those who are deputized by them. Of course, vying in an election is much harder work than demonizing unpaid appointees.


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 5:14 p.m.

agree, but... it would take some doing to disband the dda as it has issued debt that is presumably backed not only by parking revenue and the city taxes it receives, but also from school and county taxes that it, by law, has the ability to capture ... it would mean that the city would take on this debt, minus some of the revenue to repay it ... doesn't seem like a great thing to do in this fiscal environment, although I definitely believe it would be a good thing in the long term... here's an example of what I hate about the dda: as our city runs out of money to fund basic services, the dda spends $ on wayfinding signs that are not only completely useless, but were even pointing people in the wrong direction...


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 3:34 p.m.

As a downtown business owner that has been in meetings with the DDA I can tell you that most of the businesses, well all of which I know are very unhappy with the DDA. We have no idea what their goals are even when they say "this is our goal" because their actions seem counterproductive to those "goals". THe meetings are frustrating. Susan Polley spins everything you say into where employees should be parking or into something completely backwards that someone said, it's like she took a management course on "How to Spin". She is also rude to speakers, granted this is probably due to her feeling attacked at meetings (because really we are always mad, go figure). But simple questions are answered in a negative defensive tone and spun to answer a different question. It's not just her, it's the others that work with her as well. I don't dislike her as a person at all. I just want the DDA held more accountable, I want to see how the money is spent and I want some say as to how the money is spent. As far as I and others think the DDA is drunk with parking revenue, the DDA and the city is. This is an additional detriment to downtown.

Mike D.

Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 12:34 p.m.

Special committees like this exist so long-term, high-dollar projects can move forward without the constantly shifting winds of political change. It makes sense that the DDA focuses on parking because the financing, planning, and construction of parking facilities takes far longer than a single elected administration. It's curious to me how all the anti-development/NIMBY types direct their rage at the DDA because they see it as the cause of Ann Arbor's change. I see initiatives like more garages as the welcome *product* of Ann Arbor's change. I'll point out two more things: 1. Appointed committees like this exist at every level of government to provide continuity and balance to elected bodies; 2. I don't know anyone on the DDA or have any vested interest in it.

Chip Reed

Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 11:45 a.m.

When Briarwood opened in the 1970's, downtown stores took a big hit. DDA was formed to save downtown. Over the years, "mission creep" has set in, and the lack of accountability has become a problem for citizens and a windfall for elected politicians. People didn't want an empty shell in the middle of town, but coffee shops, galleries, and gift shops may not of been what the citizens had in mind when DDA was established.

Hot Sam

Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 12:54 p.m.

"""Over the years, "mission creep" has set in, and the lack of accountability has become a problem""" Sounds like government in general :-)


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 11:43 a.m.

If you do a quick web search, you'll find that DDAs are fairly common. The first page of hits on Yahoo include Fort Collins CO, Miami FL, and Shreveport LA. I'd bet most major cities in the country, and most cities in Michigan (though not necessarily villages), have DDAs, though they may be called something different in other states. People who don't like them usually either don't understand what they're supposed to do and why, or aren't happy with the effects. Neither of those mean the DDA is doing something wrong. could help a lot if they would take a paragraph on major stories and provide some background.

Attempted Voice of Reason

Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 6:08 a.m.

Agreed. Merge the DDA back into city government. Make it accountable to the voters. Yes we need somebody looking after downtown planning, but they should be the city council and the staff working under them. Not an unelected body.


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 2:32 a.m.

I am glad this question has been raised.... Since moving to MIchigan I have never had resolved two questions in SE Michigan... The FIrst: Why is there this DDA that has a lot of money, seems to control that money within AA, and does nothing with it outside the 6 square blocks of downtown ann arbor, yet effects the entire city on a daily basis. AA is no longer the few blocks of downtown. And what actually gets accomplished since it seems the Council and the DDA hate each other. The Second: Why does Detroit have a City Council of which the Mayor is not a part of, hence creating two governing bodies in Detroit both of whom hate each other. It's no wonder that nothing is going anywhere fast in SE Michigan.

Peter Baker

Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 2:09 a.m.

Who approved this as a letter to the editor? This would barely pass as a worthwhile comment, let alone a full fledged post in this "newspaper".


Fri, Nov 18, 2011 : 7:43 p.m.

There are lots of opinions expressed here. And I must have missed it if you complained about previous opinions. Or is it just those you do not agree with? I think it was to the point and correct. As a matter of fact YOU could have done a better job in your post. What about it do you disagree with? What was missing?


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 1:35 p.m.

Does one poster determine who may or may not post online now? Has one poster been elected judge of what is a worthwhile comment and what is not? I missed that on the ballot last week, I believe.


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 5:15 a.m.

Your point would be well taken if this were a serious journalistic enterprise. Its is not; it is a watered down version of a very bad incarnation of what was once a fairly good local newspaper. This city does not need the current version of the DDA, and it needs a better blog.


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 1:14 a.m.

I am so happy to see this question raised! I have been wondering about this for YEARS! Thank you Musomi Kimanthi.... hopefully we can get an answer and more awareness from all Ann Arborites!


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 1:31 a.m.

With a two sentence letter to the editor rant? lol I don't think so darlin.


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 1:01 a.m.

I agree with Betty, the DDA has no accountablity and a lack of hubris, that has set them on a course far different than what most AA people and business want.


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 2:21 p.m.

Make that "excessive hubris" or "lack of humility" Sorry, sometimes type faster than think!


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 2:03 a.m.

I don't think you mean "lack of hubris."


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 12:58 a.m.

The problem, as I see it, is the DDA itself. The concept of a DDA seems fine, but the current DDA has adopted a strategy espoused by Dr. Shoup (zigziggityzoo is a member of the DDA). They seem to follow this professor without any consideration for the community, AA's uniqueness, or even questioning this "guru's" (as they refer to him) assertions. They believe that more parking revenue is good and will enlist community support. They believe AA should have 15% vacancy on every street, and that this is a fact beyond question. They do not give any consideration to making AA a friendly, welcoming destination. They shun any idea that is not from Dr Shoup and refuse to study Dr Shoup's claims to support the validity of his statements. They refuse to pick the 'low hanging fruit' to make AA more parking friendly that have little or no cost. For example a campaign to get business's to open their parking in off hours, getting the new meters to refuse payment in non-enforcement hours, encouraging the city to reign in the aggressive enforcement etc... The list is long and tiresome. The DDA believes that If Dr Shoup didn't say it then it is NOT a good idea & to question his authority is ignorant and uniformed. I believe the DDA's unelected status has allowed them to set their own personal agenda's to exact their power as they see fit.

Sabra Briere

Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 6:07 p.m.

Who is Dr. Shoup? The members of the DDA are: Newcombe Clark, Russ Collins, Leah Gunn, Robert Guenzel, Roger Hewitt, John Hieftje, Joan Lowenstein, John Mouat, Nader Nassif, Keith Orr, Sandi Smith, and John Splitt. None have an email 'zigziggityzoo' as far as I know.

The Picker

Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 12:53 p.m.

Hey, He's a professor! This makes the "Dr" so much smarter than all the rest of us in everything! My experience with professors is their brilliance in their narrow field of expertise, and dolts in all the rest. But maybe I'm wrong

Marilyn Wilkie

Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 12:09 a.m.

I could be wrong but I think it was created way back when to promote the downtown (and uptown) businesses when they felt threatened by the creation of shopping centers. Again, I could be wrong. :)

Stuart Brown

Sun, Nov 13, 2011 : 11:56 p.m.

Musomi, You have hit the nail on the head. The whole purpose is to insulate the spineless council from the dirty work of the DDA. Hieftje does not raise taxes, he raises fees and cuts service; the idea is to make people pay who have no say-so.


Mon, Nov 14, 2011 : 3:34 a.m.

On the contrary, the purpose is stated in the the Michigan DDA Act of 1975: "An ACT to provide for the establishment of a downtown development authority; to prescribe its powers and duties; to correct and prevent deterioration in business districts; to encourage historic preservation; to authorize the acquisition and disposal of interests in real and personal property; to authorize the creation and implementation of development plans in the districts; to promote the economic growth of the districts; to create a board; to prescribe its powers and duties; to authorize the levy and collection of taxes; to authorize the issuance of bonds and other evidences of indebtedness; to authorize the use of tax increment financing; to reimburse downtown development authorities for certain losses of tax increment revenues; and to prescribe the powers and duties of certain state officials."