You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Ann Arbor needs to keep options open for space atop new underground parking ramp

By Tony Dearing


Construction workers this past week continue to put the finishing touches on the new underground parking structure, next to the downtown library, off Fifth Avenue. The debate is on again over what should sit atop the nearly completed city-owned ramp.

Steve Pepple |

Two years ago, when City Council was trying to decide what to build on top of the new $50 million underground parking ramp in downtown Ann Arbor, among the first ideas to get shot down were ones that would turn the space into a park.

Now that the ramp is about to open, that concept is back yet again. A citizen group is proposing “Library Green’’ - a downtown central park - on top of the 700-space parking structure located on South Fifth Avenue, next to the Ann Arbor Public Library.

The group received a decidedly unenthusiastic response when it presented the concept to the Downtown Development Authority earlier this month, and City Council Member Sandi Smith, who serves on the DDA, says the Library Green concept is “just not possible on that block’’ because there’s not enough density to support it.

We do think there’s a need and desire for some kind of outdoor ‘public commons’ space downtown, as long as it’s the right concept and the right location. Unfortunately, we’re not convinced that the Library Green proposal represents either.

We do think there’s a need and desire for some kind of outdoor “public commons’’ space downtown, as long as it’s the right concept and the right location.

Unfortunately, we’re not convinced that the Library Green proposal represents either.

The Library Lot, as the location of the underground ramp is commonly called, is not a natural gathering place. It falls in something of a no man’s land between the State Street and Main Street business districts. We fear that park, by itself, would be sorely underutilized in that location and generate little activity.

Both the city and the DDA clearly see the site as a strategic piece of property that, if developed properly, could help invigorate this lagging part of downtown and help it attract more of the foot traffic and economic activity that is seen along State and Main.

That was the intention of a proposed hotel and conference center that City Council considered for the site, but ultimately rejected in an 8-2 vote last year.

We have no interest in reigniting a community argument over whether a hotel/conference center should be built on that location. City Council's decision to reject the proposal was correct, and we seriously question whether the site is large enough to accommodate a financially viable combination of hotel rooms and meeting space that our region doesn't already have.

What we would like to see is a discussion about the future use of the Library Lot that doesn't lock Ann Arbor into the perpetual debate it seems to have over development versus open spaces.

Should the space over the underground ramp be a park? Should we drop some kind of multiple-story commercial or housing project on top if it? In fact, the best future use of the property could well be some smart combination of public, open space and private development that could play off of each other to create foot traffic and increased vitality.

For now, the top of the parking will be used as surface parking. That’s a utilitarian, if unattractive choice, but it keeps the city’s options open. A better economy down the road could generate better options for the Library Lot. In fact, that site is one of five city-owned parcels between Fifth Avenue and Ashley Street that are being considered for future development. It would make the most sense to understand the possible future direction of the other parcels before making final decisions on the Library Lot.

Ann Arbor loves its parks, so we understand why there’d be support in the community for the Library Green concept. But no one would argue that the nearby Liberty Plaza has been any urban oasis. It’s a public space that’s lightly used and suffers with issues of vagrancy at times. To develop the space over the parking ramp as a public park and have it experience a similar fate would not benefit downtown.

At some point in the future, if the city isn’t able to secure any viable development proposal of the Library Lot that includes a public-space component, then perhaps the idea of converting it to a park should be reconsidered. But committing the site to such use now would be premature. Let’s not lock ourselves into something that could preclude better options later on.


alan haber

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

come to picnic potluck on the green roof to be, atop the underground parking, "imagine a park." bring your ideas, vision and good energy. July 14, Saturday. help the planning. 734 761 7967. noon to 5, and on into the evening.

Stuart Brown

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 7:53 a.m.

Put a new Library on top of the site and add an amphitheater where the current Library is. If it takes a few years before the Library is ready to spend the money on a new Library, the city can wait. The point would be to have a central place to hold events that would draw crowds from small to large. Ann Arbor needs something like Hart Plaza in Detroit. The space should remain a public place.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 12:19 p.m.

Great idea Stuart!

Milo Jones

Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 2:24 a.m.

A roller coaster! Think about it! It would be so great! And the tourism business would jump, we'd get media attention, there would be a way for the city to make money. We shouldn't make a park. It would turn into another shady homeless person hangout that no one else uses.


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 12:10 a.m.

Tony you are indeed correct. We MUST see what evolves once the underground structure is operational. Perhaps the park idea will prove to be our best option but like the DDA, I have my doubts. Liberty & Divison is embarrassing and if it were not for Bill Martin cleaning it up, it would be another financial liability for our city. Lets park cars (make money) for a year or two and then resume the discussion. After all we did such a fabulous job with the old YMCA property.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 6:07 p.m.

Unfortunately there are numerous assumptions made by the DDA, the Mayor, and the opinion piece, and most of them are self-serving and self-proving. They arise from a studied disinclination to even consider the possibility that green space could, in fact, be not only attractive, but economically viable, as well. The arguments that there is not enough density, that Liberty Square is an ugly, little-used (except by transients) space, or that open space generates no financial benefit to the city are all disingenuous, and ignore the realities of what other small and medium- sized cities have done with similar properties. On the surface (no pun intended), the library lot has a clear economic context that appears to speak strongly against large commercial or residential development. For example, the growing number of vacant retail properties, the huge increase in nearby housing units, and the continued absence of developers' interest in the area all add up to a vote against convention centers, hotels, and the like. On the other hand, the aforementioned factors, when joined to the fact that there are other properties available for business or residential use (Y lot, and so on), lead me to the conclusion that an attractive open space, mixed-use proposal would make the most sense for the long-term aesthetic and economic well-being of the downtown. I would also agree with other comments regarding the increase in traffic around Liberty/Division, and note that, with the re-opening of 5th Ave. and the coming of new housing on-line, I would expect even more interest in using a central park.

Will Hathaway

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:10 p.m.

I am glad that has engaged in the debate about what should happen with the surface of the nearly completed Library Lot underground structure. I would like to address a couple of points that Mr. Dearing raised in his editorial. First, nobody could argue that the parks proposals rejected during the 2009-2010 RFP process received a fair hearing. They were peremptorily rejected because they weren't viewed as producing an economic benefit. On the contrary, this is precisely the argument that our group is making - that a downtown park can serve as an economic stimulus. That is one reason for looking at parks in other cities as models. Second, the Library Lot is not that big by itself, but when viewed as part of the larger block, there are possibilities for establishing new open space (a plaza on Fifth Avenue for example) and linking it with existing public space and new private development to create a synergy. We can overcome the sense of "no man's land" conveyed by surface parking lots. Third, we're not insisting on making the entire space a green lawn. Indeed, we think that there are many ways that this space could be designed that would create a wonderful, attractive public plaza. We'd like to engage the community in a real, open conversation about what is the best use of that space. We are holding a "Block Party" on July 14 where we invite everyone to come and share their ideas about how this valuable public property might best serve the public interest. The presentation to the DDA Board earlier this month which drew some critical comments has been updated in response and is accessible for viewing on youtube: We welcome further constructive criticism from elected officials, journalists and anyone interested in the future of Ann Arbor's downtown. Our website is:

Stupid Hick

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:05 p.m.

Maybe City Council could ask Miles of Golf if they would like to put their driving range there?

Kara H

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:04 p.m.

I do think it ironic that the council kicked the can down the road by not forming a plan or showing leadership about what to do with the surface level of this area and now we've gone down that road and reached the can and they're going to have to kick it again. But, given the economy, Border's closing, and the disruption these streets have seen for the past several years because of the construction, I really do agree with this editorial. It's better to wait and look for the best use of this property. Nevertheless, I think the editorial should also have called on the city leadership to provide some leadership and visioning around this and other potential development that would allow us to have some confidence that when the can is kicked down the road again, it won't land on a big box store or something equally loathsome for this prime downtown space. (Note: am relatively supportive of big boxes in outlying areas, but it was just a handy example, pick your own thing you don't want to see here.)


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 4:59 p.m.

How about a tent city?


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 4:56 p.m.

Ann Arbor lacks a good mid-sized club where national touring acts can play. The Blind Pig is too small; The Ark is great but not ideal for the kind of late-night shows such clubs tend to have; the Michigan is too large. I think a lot of bands would love to come to Ann Arbor instead of playing in Detroit, and you have a whole university full of potential ticket-buyers just a few blocks away. This lot strikes me as about the right size to build a venue with facilities and amenities to attract those bands who are too big for the Blind Pig but not big enough for the Michigan Theatre. I may be a bit old to attend shows regularly these days, but I would love the opportunity to catch some of my favorite bands here in town rather than Detroit.

Jon Wax

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 4:32 p.m.

This is probably not going to be very popular but: Amphitheatre. Take the band shell from West Park(?i think?) and plop it down here. Build an amphitheatre as the focal point for live music, live stage plays, public speaking/lecturing, etc. Allow small venues to open up to support the flow but make most of it a walking area. I could see it be a hot spot in all seasons from art fair concerts to caroling in the snow. make it the type of live venue that bands look forward to. Peace


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 4:20 p.m.

This may be the first time I've ever agreed with, or the city planners, let alone both at the same time! Downtown needed a good underground parking structure. Real estate in this town is valuable, and surface lots are not a good use for it; it's not a good long-term use of this land, either. But with Borders still vacant and several residential high rises just opened or about to open, it doesn't make sense for private companies or the city to commit that lot to any particular use until we see what the city needs after things settle down in a few years.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

This issue never ceases to amaze me. First, we spend $50 million to destroy a perfectly good ground level parking lot. Then, we have absolutely no idea about what we're going to do next. This is a classic case of politicians spending "OTHER PEOPLES MONEY".


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

The first Whole Foods, in Austin TX, is built on top of a parking structure. It also has landscaped rooftop seating for dining and people watching. The Trader Joe's in Grosse Pointe is linked to a parking structure, and that TJs validates parking. It doesn't have to be one of those, of course, but a grocery store could make sense with the parking options. If that corridor is truly low density/traffic like city council claims, supply deliveries could be made, especially overnight, and perhaps the grocery store itself could have a local delivery service. A park or park integration would be really nice, too, imho.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

@Brad I said that corridor meaning that street. One complaint about putting a grocery store in ex-Borders downtown space is there is too much traffic for supply deliveries to made. Which I don't necessarily believe since many big cities with more traffic have grocery stores, too. I personally think downtown A2 can support something like Trader Joe's. Question is if a grocery store would want that place anyway. And we do have some fine small grocery stores and the Fqrmer's Market seasonally already so maybe not enough need/demand in that sense. A place like TJs somewhere in downtown could offer walkable-to, more reasonable prices. I pretty much agree with commenters that say A2 should wait to approve more high rises until these other places are built, since we don't yet have all the amenities (full grocery store, transit other than buses) to support a huge downtown-living demand.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 3:53 p.m.

If the density is really that low what makes you think it would support a grocery?

Macabre Sunset

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 3:03 p.m.

It should remain a surface parking lot, and the underground parking should be sealed off like a time capsule, within which we could place other monuments to public spending run amok, such as the giant urinal outside of the new city hall (and city hall itself, if it would fit).

Tom Whitaker

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:44 p.m.

"...It falls in something of a no man's land...." Precisely why developers (and the Library Green folks have spoken with several local developers) aren't beating down the doors of City Hall to develop this site either--especially now that they've been locked into a floor plan dictated by $5 million worth of speculative structural supports integrated into the underground structure. ...Or the challenge and expense of trying to build on top of a public parking garage that will be open and operating! Put a wonderful public amenity there, and it could spur tremendous interest in something happening on the Y lot, the old Fifth Quarter bar site on Fifth Ave., the Dream Night Club site on Fourth Ave., etc. This block has the potential of being a great central mixing bowl, with campus and State Street to the east, the library and neighborhood to the south, the transit center and post office to the west and the shops and restaurants along Liberty to the north-- Not to mention the successful businesses right next to it, like Earthen Jar, Jerusalem Garden, and Herb David. Perhaps the public amenity could be a new library, with a bigger plaza built on the old library site, as others have suggested. Ellis Square in Savannah, GA, Campus Martius in Detroit, the new town square in Baton Rouge, LA, are just a few examples of public spaces being created with the full cooperation and support of their local governments and DDAs. These spaces are drawing people in and inspiring surrounding property owners to improve their properties, because they know employers want to locate where their employees and visitors can enjoy these amenities. What potential exists for private property investment around the Diag, or West Park? Are you listening, DDA?

Toby BenDor

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 10:31 p.m.

Tom, I like your idea about adding a public amenity, to compliment the library. What about the city building a world-class, high-tech, all-the-amenities community center above the new downtown structure there?


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:43 p.m.

The options are plenty, as there really is no plan. Which underlines the whole reason why those in charge should not make the final decision. These people decided it was a good idea to spend $50 million for 700 parking spaces. This means, in order to get a profit return of 4%, the garage needs to make $2 million a year in profit. This means each of the $700 spaces needs to bring in about $3000 in yearly profit, or over $200 per month. Well, didn't I just read they are trying to sell monthly permits at $95? That is less than $800k in yearly revenue. When maintenance and personnel are taken into account, I wonder what profit will be left for the public coffers? This decision making is right up their with what goes on in Detroit. I wonder how much interest we are paying on the $50 million? Even if it is 3%, or $1.5 million per year, this garage is losing big time. The options may be open. But, I don't think those in charge should make the final decision, as their first decision is a major mistake.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 6:08 p.m.

Yes, we shall see what it actually makes for the hourly meters. But, I don't think they sell more permits than there are spaces.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

I think a grocery store should be built there. If you want people to live downtown there needs to be a place to easily shop for food without driving, taking a bus, or a taxi (thinking of elderly people). Plus, with some new apts. being built for students, a grocery store within walking distance would be ideal. If people want to drive, they can park in the underground lot.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

Actually not a bad idea. But, you have to question whether there would be enough business to make it profitable. It's got to be a lot better than another restaurant, that's for sure.

Kara H

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

@a2susan--I apologize because at first I rolled my eyes at the grocery store suggestion, but it's a fair point. All of the most vital cities I've visited and lived in have still had (or created again) downtown or near downtown based grocery shopping. You can tell when a place has become a tourist town when the grocery store, hardware store, and pharmacies leave downtown. Not sure this is the ideal site for a grocery, but it wouldn't be a bad one either... esp. if there's some other mixed uses associated with it.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

The Valiant Partners hotel/convention center concept for the top of the library underground parking lot was rejected by City Council only after an independent and authoritative feasibility study by Chuck Skelton lambasted the plan and a ground swell of local citizen opposition rose against it. The fact that Ann Arbor has no extraordinary need for additional commercial and residential development is reflected by the speculative nature of recent and planned construction. No Costco-like commercial enterprise is actively identifying property within downtown Ann Arbor to establish a commercial presence. New residential properties under construction or proposed for Huron Street, East Williams Street, Packard Street and South Main Street expect to attract renters when completed but their success is not guaranteed. Ann Arbor is a mature middle-sized city with many attributes that are loved by its citizenry. Hopefully, the beauty and character that so endears Ann Arbor with its residents will not be destroyed by thoughtless over development disguised as progress.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 10:08 p.m.

"No Costco-like commercial enterprise is actively identifying property within downtown Ann Arbor..." Of course not. If it did, it would face endless obfuscation from the Planning Commission and then the City Council, contradictory signals, changes in the rules in midstream,etc. Costco had protracted approval negotiations with Pittsfield Twp. Before that, it walked away from a prolonged ambush in Scio Twp. (undoubtedly organized by the competition). Within the city limits, there was no chance.

Will Warner

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

How about a band shell and outdoor stage? Boulder, Co., has one. I'm just sayin'

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

Isn't there already one at West Park about a half mile away? How many does a city of Ann Arbors size need?


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 1:36 p.m.

"Both the city and the DDA clearly see the site as a strategic piece of property that, if developed properly, could help invigorate this lagging part of downtown and help it attract more of the foot traffic and economic activity that is seen along State and Main" DDA: did you consider that the reason that it is "lagging" and needs "invigoration" and is lacking "foot traffic" is because you shut down its main thoroughfare for two years? Might that be a factor?


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 1:30 p.m.

Also look at the last poll...park support won 60% of the poll...

Will Warner

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

Dear city fathers: Please do not be overly influenced by "polls." We elected you to lead, not follow.

Tony Dearing

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

Yes, as we say in the editorial, Ann Arbor loves its parks, and I wasn't surprised to see strong support in our reader poll for the Library Green concept. For people who would like to see the results of the poll, you'll find it here:


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 1:29 p.m.

Absent from downtown is a space that is NOT hardscape, that will draw more people thus bring more people downtown (food carts, picnics, public events, festivals, etc). If we are not lacking in this type of space, then why must we rely on U of M for the Summer Festival?


Mon, Jun 25, 2012 : 2:37 a.m.

Ok Marvin - can you suggest an alternative site, immediately downtown that could be used? I think our options are running out as most space has been utilized.

Marvin Face

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:51 p.m.

We do not "rely" on UM for the summer festival. The festival, from the very beginning was a 50/50 split between the City and University. A true partnership. Even today the board membership is split exactly evenly between the university and City. It currently occurs partially on UM land and partially on city property (Washington St.) FWIW, I agree that this is a poor place for a civic space, park, or plaza for Ann Arbor. I agree that we need a space downtown that is central. This is not the space.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

Why duplicate resources that can easily be shared? I believe you would call that "sustainable", right? And we LOVE everything sustainable.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

@ Craig- UM is technically private property...they "tolerate" the public...

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:02 p.m.

we the tax payers own the University too. So in essence we are relying on our space when we rely on the University.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 1:28 p.m.

Have you been to this area lately? It's HOPPING! There is once again talk of a library expansion/rebuild so why not a lovely park to compliment this symbol of peace and quiet? It's "just not possible on that block" ! Why not ask a realtor for their opinion? Hee Haw!


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 4:52 p.m.

Foot traffic low on William or Washington? Maybe it's because the sidewalks are blocked by construction barriers? I also work in this area and think the exact opposite, it is very active.


Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

You're joking right? Try Liberty & Division. Mani? Google? Bar Louie? Foot traffic up the yazoo! If food carts are allowed then blammo - DESTINATION! William? Washington? Are William and Washington going to border this park?

Tony Dearing

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

For what it's worth, I work in this area and see it every day. Personally, I would not describe it as hopping, compared to Main Street or State Street. Mostly what I see is people walking along Liberty Street, going either toward Main Street or toward State Street. The foot traffic on William or Washington along this stretch is virtually nil. Certain things do attract people, such as Sonic Lunch or our own outdoor music series on Fridays, but those are both event-based. I just don't have a lot of optimism that a park would be very active in that area without something else to attract people.

Will Warner

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

"But no one would argue that the nearby Liberty Plaza has been any urban oasis." You have a way with words, Tony .

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

"For now, the top of the parking will be used as surface parking. That's a utilitarian, if unattractive choice, but it keeps the city's options open. A better economy down the road could generate better options for the Library Lot. " Two thumbs up from me on that. Hopefully it can be a job generating, revenue generating space some day. A park doesn't fill that bill. There is no shortage of available "greenery" within a mile of that place.

Mr. Ed

Sun, Jun 24, 2012 : 12:42 p.m.

Food Carts, Coffee Carts and Craft Carts has my vote.