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Posted on Wed, May 1, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Outdoor skating rink proposal for Library Lot stalls as Ann Arbor DDA asks for more details

By Amy Biolchini

Progress on a proposed outdoor skating rink that would use a portion of the Library Lot in downtown Ann Arbor has stalled after officials have called for more concrete details before considering funding approval.

Community activist Alan Haber, working with the grass-roots group Library Green Conservancy, announced his vision for the surface of the Library Lane Underground Parking Garage in February.


The Library Lot in October, which is bordered by a row of restaurants, Fifth Avenue, the Downtown Branch of the Ann Arbor District Library and Division Street.

Ryan J. Stanton | file photo

Haber sees the lot as an opportunity to create a space in the public domain where people can gather and enjoy themselves.

“It’s about a public purpose - the skating rink seems like a good idea. There’s a need for a central civic space,” Haber said.

Haber has asked the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority for a $25,000 grant and the use of about 15 parking spaces on top of the Library Lane parking lot. The grant would be used to match pledges Haber has already raised to create a synthetic ice rink.

In an effort to gain the approval of the DDA, Haber has visited the DDA’s partnerships committee twice.

“We are proceeding through the labyrinth of committees and subcommittees and councils and authorities,” Haber said. “We’ve been to the DDA because we were looking for a partnership for financing.”

Sandi Smith, board member of the DDA and on the DDA’s partnerships committee, said the parking spaces Haber and his group are asking for are also governed by a parking agreement with the city of Ann Arbor.

The DDA is concerned about the time frame of Haber’s idea and the lack of concrete details in Haber’s proposal when he was asking for funding - specifically regarding security, staffing, skate rentals and insurance, Smith said.

“We’ve asked for more data; more clarification,” Smith said.

The synthetic ice surface made of plastic pieces that interlock like a puzzle don’t seem as though they’d be alluring to ice skaters, Smith said.

“Everything we’ve found is that it’s a horrible experience,” Smith said.

Smith said Haber has been invited to return to a DDA meeting, but the DDA has requested Haber first schedule a pre-meeting to make sure his proposal is together.

“He’s not yet called for that pre-meeting,” Smith said.

Haber said he’s pursing the creation of a business entity to manage the contract with the city for the parking spaces, and has altered his timeline for beginning his public use project in the Library Lane lot in the fall as the weather begins to cool down.

Skate rental would not be a part of the initial operation, but could be added later, Haber said. Many conversations have been had about adequately staffing the operation, Haber said.

“These due-diligence questions are appropriate … in spirit they feel like various ways to say ‘no’ without saying ‘no,’” Haber said. “The DDA is looking to an Ann Arbor future with people that don’t yet live here, and we’re looking for an Ann Arbor future from people that do live here.”

The surface of the Library Lane underground parking garage could soon be targeted for re-purposing in another manner as well.

“There are several council people working on a resolution to re-purpose some portion of the surface of the Library Lane lot to public land, non-parking,” Haber said.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.


Tom Teague

Thu, May 2, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

Whether you like the decision to build the Library Lot structure, its ours now and we should be pulling for a solution that won't result in additional financial mess. I hope that can help us understand the financial risks associated with three cost-recovery scenarios: parking only; adding a public space; or leasing/selling the air rights to a commercial developer. Mostly, I'm interested in ensuring that we don't some day have to pay a special millage to retire the LL debt. Maybe the risk is low, but I'd love to see a plain-English explanation of it. By the way, I use the structure pretty often and it's clean, spacious, and well-lit even on the lower levels. It's not at all the realm of Wellsian Morlocks that some people seem to fear.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 10:15 p.m.

A public space is a great idea. Skating rink? Not so much. Focus Focus Focus!

Lisa D

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 10:04 p.m.

To those who need more some timely information about the value, utility and growth of synthetic rinks, please read the recent article in Forbes. Of course, we'd all all prefer real ice, but IF synthetic is good enough for NHL players and teams, then hopefully it's good enough for the DDA and will be far less expensive to build and maintain. I concur with the others that Campus Martius is a wonderful gathering area and a model to emulate!


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 9:53 p.m.

Using a "standard" parking space size of 9x18 feet, 15 spaces would be 4050 square feet. In comparison an average hockey rink is about 17,000 square feet, so we are not talking about a large rink (maybe a 72-foot diameter circle). Given that and the surface quality relative to ice, it sounds like more of a kiddie/novelty attraction than anything else. Not that there's anything wrong with that. If there were a way to have a larger, refrigerated surface (a la Campus Martius) there then that could be a signficant draw. They can keep ice up to an ambient of 50 degrees which covers a number of months here. I'd definitely go downtown to skate on outdoor ice, but definitely not for the other. Of course that is probably many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

T Wall

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 8:20 p.m.

I am glad to see that a skating rink is being considered for the area above the parking lot. A few years ago, when I was running for mayor, I proposed that an ice rink, with some local food shops around it would be a great use in the winter and in the summer a green park with trees would surround a stage where high schools and other civic groups could perform. I can understand the DDA wanting more information before spending any money or losing parking revenue but I hope that the hesitation is based on the fact that Mr. Haber does not have a complete proposal yet and is not because the DDA wants to build a conference center there. I am all for something that will be a magnet for the citizens of Ann Arbor to enjoy but vehemently oppose any type of structure that would be used for meetings or conferences.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 8:08 p.m.

How about fixing north main and south state before we let the borders have their fun.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 7:12 p.m.

I see the value of a conference center downtown. When groups come to Ann Arbor for conventions or meetings, where do they stay? The Briarwood area seems to be a hotbed of hotels & conference centers. But after dark, there's not much to do or see, except drive or take a cab downtown. I know if I had to stay in a hotel in Ann Arbor I'd much rather be downtown where the concerts, restaurants, bars and other entertainment is. Imagine the boon to the local economy if people could park their cars in the lot while they stay here and not have to drive anywhere.

Jamie Pitts

Thu, May 2, 2013 : 4:33 a.m.

This hotel and conference center does not have to go next to the library, though. If it is feasible at all. There are other areas that can be developed closer to the stadium, or closer to Depot -- walkable to the amenities of downtown -- that won't disrupt the center of civic life.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 7:10 p.m.

The top of the parking lot ice skating rink isn't really about skating. It is a community gathering spot where folks can skate for 30 minutes and have a hot chocolate. Serious skaters will go skate at the multiple places in town where there is relatively cheap and fast ice. This is also not really a permanent installation. So, if it is a disaster, it is a pretty cheap disaster. For the ice skate folks, it might be better to have the Library Green spokesman, Hathaway, help out with the presentation. He is a bit more organized. A creative idea can die if the presentation of the idea isn't information and to the point. On the other hand, it can also die if it doesn't involve a hotel or conference center.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 6:30 p.m.

My family loves skating at the temporary rink at Campus Martius in Detroit during the winter, and I really enjoy having lunch there on a sunny afternoon during the summer. I could see a park space that transitions with the seasons being very popular there.

Kyle Mattson

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 6:43 p.m.

Hi Bak- To note, the Campus Martius rink is real ice whereas the proposed rink here is synthetic.

Peter Adamczyk

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 3:54 p.m.

Only once have I skated on an artificial ice rink - at this year's Plymouth Ice Festival. That was a terrible experience - it was not slippery, so if you tried to glide on your skates, you just kind of tripped. But I don't know if that's the same kind of surface proposed here. Has anyone had a good experience with "artificial ice"? It is a question well worth asking before spending money to put a rink in place.

Kyle Mattson

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 4:19 p.m.

Hi Peter I was just about to post a very similar comment. I was at the Ice Fest this year as well and watched mostly children attempt to skate on the small synthetic surface they had set up, which is similar to the one being proposed here and it did not look like something I would pay to use. I've actually never been on such a surface so I would like to hear from those who have as maybe they can give a little more first hand knowledge of what it is like.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

Is using water to make the ice feasible? Plastic pieces, for me, would take away from the experience.

Pete Cunningham

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 8:31 p.m.

Maybe fake ice when it's warm, and flood the rink in the winter? I think it's a cool idea either way and would love to see the rink whether the ice is real or not. From the videos I've seen on Youtube, it seems synthetic ice takes some getting used to, just as skating on a pond vs. skating indoors does, but can be a positive experience once you get used to it.

Kyle Mattson

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 3:49 p.m.

I wondered the same Kate, in fact the idea in downtown Detroit with having a real ice rink in the winter and sand volleyball in the summer in Campus Martius is one alternative option that I could see worth considering (if sticking with the idea to have a downtown rink)

Chris Blackstone

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

Here's an article from the New York Times about synthetic ice. Doesn't sound very good


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 2:33 p.m.

a waste of money. fix the roads. you got a bunch of parks that have rinks. do you really think people will come downtown? parking etc. falls in the same boat as art projects.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 8:08 p.m.

Right on golfer!


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

I'm downtown on Sunday anyway, and parking is free then. That's when I'd go.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

A downtown skating rink/intown park is a great idea and long past due for A2. It seems to have overwhelming support from all but a small minority of naysayers. The DDA's questions to Haber indicate to me it is already planning on not supporting this, and why would they, it takes from their coffers, in their minds. A2 Parks should be at the front and center of this and should be helping Mr. Haber - and the rest of us - with money and help on presenting it to the city/DDA. We can fund, assist and allow a skate park for a couple dozen metal heads, but A2 can't have an intown/outdoor ice rink/park for families????


Thu, May 2, 2013 : 2:59 a.m.

Actually, there is no real evidence anyone said that. The quote is often attributed to Pauline Kael, film critic of the New Yorker (not reporter for the NY TImes), but there is no actual published quote. She was once quoted as saying " I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them". Most likely this was mangled intentionally by political types who had an agenda.


Thu, May 2, 2013 : 12:17 a.m.

"...because of what i read here and because everyone i know supports it." A bright future in journalism--a la the NY Times writer who couldn't believe Nixon got elected: "Not one person I know voted for him!"


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 10:25 p.m.

@Townspeak The comments section here at is highly unrepresentative of the views of the citizens of Ann Arbor. One merely needs to compare the political comments here with the results of actual elections where all the citizens can vote in order to see that. The contrast is even greater between "overwhelming support" and "overwhelming support from the people I know" not only for you, but for anyone. Maybe you should have a bit more respect for the notion of a diversity of opinion. A skatepark on prime downtown real estate seems to me to be a case of special-interest advocacy of the most blatant type. Either use that site to enhance the economic vitality of downtown (and the tax coffers of the city), or, if you want to use it for some public good, come up with a compelling plan that everyone could agree would be worth the lost revenue.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 9:11 p.m.

because of what i read here and because everyone i know supports it. Who could not support using unused parking spaces for an intown park, skate rink? Oh yeah, the mayor and DDA.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 8:35 p.m.

Excellent question, @Tano.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 8:05 p.m.

What evidence do you have that this proposal has "overwhelming support"? From whom?

Eco Bruce

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 5:20 p.m.

A2 Parks hates the idea and won't support it, and as you said, they should be front and center on this.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 1:59 p.m.

have you been in that parking structure? it's mostly empty, so the "much needed parking spaces" on the top level, will hardly be felt as a loss.... Multiple times weekend evenings I've found the Washington & Forth and structure and the surface lot on Ashley to be full, but I drive around the block to Library Lane only to fine it has 500+ (literally, the number available is illuminated) empty spaces. I don't know if a synthetic surface ice rink is the draw that they think, but I do think it would be nice to make the top of the struture a "greened" public park; maybe with a small gazebo for small concerts?


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

Yea, like Dexter! If its good for so many other progressive cities, why is this idea Soo BAD for A2?


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

If it's a horrible experience and not something people will use in numbers then the DDA is doing its job here, hate them or not.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 4:34 p.m.



Wed, May 1, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

Alan Haber made several mistakes with his proposal to the DDA. 1. He forgot to mention that skating is a non-polluting method of travel similar to bicycles. 2. The cost needed to be over a milliion dollars 3. He needs to be an un-elected DDA official with no real experience in the area he is appointed to by his crony, the mayor (for example being a former City council member and part time attorney with no background in development) 4. His proposal would not lead to increased sales or taxes.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 1:53 p.m.

@interesteda2 - in your sarcasm are you saying that you support Haber's idea but think it will fail because he doesn't do lunch 'n bike with Heiftje and Lowenstein and is suggesting something that would help people want to go downtown ? I like the idea of an ice rink or open space. It would be like a diag for the rest of us. I would like to have a special bench with bike racks next to it with VIP spots for Heiftje and Lowenstein. They have to pay $20 and hour to park their bikes. The rest of us can park bikes, walk and sit for free.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

"The DDA is looking to an Ann Arbor future with people that don't yet live here, and we're looking for an Ann Arbor future from people that do live here." Truer words were never spoken. Still not sure on the synthetic ice thing. One thing we know for sure - the top of the Garage Mahal will definitely support the weight of any number of skaters. Or an unwanted conference center.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 12:58 p.m.

I like Alan Haber's initiative. But make it a park where you can eat your lunch.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 12:53 p.m.

Ann Arbor has many gathering areas please just build something. Anything. Please.

Jamie Pitts

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

Alan Haber has a great idea here, and this is helping turn the tide so that it is the community that decides what happens next to the library. Kind of sad though how the notion of families using a patch of artificial ice in conjunction with a visit to the library is quibbled over and even positioned as a "horrible experience". This shows bent priorities and a lack of imagination, a perspective that led to the construction of that vast parking lot and unfriendly streets-cape -- with plans to cater to big developers -- all next to our most central and lively public resource. Business is important, but it can't be everything downtown. That spot is owned by us, the people of Ann Arbor. We can integrate it with the library, we can fix Liberty Plaza with it. If we put a plaza and park there, host ice skating and food carts, connect it to Liberty Park with a bridge, put in a community center for activities, we could have something really great for ourselves. And I don't think that the business-set would mind having more happy people shopping and even living downtown.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 4:50 p.m.

Well said!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.

We need more public space downtown where people, families, etc can experience the downtown without having to be a paying customer of a bar or restaurant...unless you like the comfort of concrete planters :)

Matt Lang

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 4:37 p.m.

i guess a downtown skeet shooting range is probably out of the question


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 12:08 p.m.

While I don't have an alternative idea, the notion of an outdoor skating rink here just strikes me as a particularly bad one. Is this the best we can come up with? What were the alternative suggestions?


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

funny how the DDA is always so meticulous regarding the details of ideas put forth by the public, yet when some private company that they have friends at gets their blessing for godawful ideas like a conference center to be paid for with public funds. Once again the DDA shows that they care little about the city and it's people, and mostly about lining their, and their friends pockets with public funds.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 2:17 p.m.

Got any facts to back this up or are you just going with a baseless assertion?


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 1:34 p.m.

yes, yes, yes. if I could vote you up a million times I would.

Nicholas Urfe

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 12:57 p.m.

That is the comment I came to make. Thank you.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

A skating rink is not a bad idea as long as it is not another excuse to blast pop music in the area. We have enough of that in every store, bar, even on some sidewalks ... Enough!


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 12:46 p.m.

PersonX: Thanks for finally saying this. I couldn't agree more. (Finding a quiet restaurant where one can have a conversation has become almost impossible in this town.)


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

I'm not super enthusiastic about the whole plastic rink thing, but I have to say it sounds a lot better than, oh, hundreds of thousands of dollars to Avalon and then more to demolish the properties they bought with it and then they still own it. Way to pick your battles, DDA. You're doing a great job. I really like your debt too. And what you've accomplished with that Y lot. Maybe this guy can approach SPARK for funding. SPARK does...stuff.

Dr. Fate

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 10:45 a.m.

An outdoor rink just seems like a waste especially if you're going to get rid of much needed parking space. There are already plenty of cheap-priced ice rinks in Ann Arbor. Plus you'd need lockers or staff to house your shoes while you skate. No skate rental would mean the rink is mostly for serious skaters (since your casual skaters usually don't buy their own skates), which is hardly a "for the public good" deal. I don't get why this is even on the table.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 4:43 p.m.

I passed by at 12:21PM today and there were almost 200 empty spaces.

Are you serious?

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 1 p.m.

Much needed parking space? Have you been downtown and seen the number of available spaces signs at the entrances to the structure and underground lot? The numbers are often in the hundreds all day long.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 10:42 a.m.

When will a resident propose building a conference center there so the DDA can say GREAT IDEA!?!!!!


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 10:12 p.m.

How about a new library? See "Ann Arbor Inn" for a history of the last attempt at a new hotel.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 5:25 p.m.

Actually, I am in favor of a downtown conference center. I see a real and valid need for this sort of facility. As a downtown business owner and an A2 resident, I feel a conference center, with an auditorium and smaller meeting rooms, is exactly what we need here.


Wed, May 1, 2013 : 10:37 a.m.

Library " parking lot " ..." concrete " details ...nice wordsmanship

Alan Goldsmith

Wed, May 1, 2013 : 10:34 a.m.

Sandi Smith was appointed by the Mayor to the DDA. Yet another good reason for term limits.