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Posted on Mon, May 6, 2013 : 10 a.m.

A view of the Ann Arbor DDA from a downtown business owner

By Guest Column

I've been in business downtown since 1972: first, starting the Fleetwood Diner, and then buying Hertler Bros. (now Downtown Home & Garden). More recently, I've founded Mark's Carts and Bill's Beer Garden. Before that, I was hanging out in the bars and pool rooms. I've seen a lot of change.

When I arrived on the scene, the anchor stores like Sears and Montgomery Ward were fleeing to the malls, and soon retail stalwarts Muehlig's, Goodyear's, and Kline's would fail. At one time, there were 12 vacant store fronts, blowing newspapers, drunks lining up to get into the Union Bar at 7AM who were leaning on telephone poles by 10, and hookers working out of the Earle Hotel. Hookers! Add to this desperate picture crumbling parking structures, sidewalks waiting for slip-and-fall suits, rat-infested alleys, very few pedestrians by day and almost none at night. Downtown Ann Arbor, our beloved burbling hub, was a desperate hardscrabble mess.

Downtown was abandoned, and no one was willing to step up and take ownership until the Downtown Development Authority was created in 1982 and a long process of investment in infrastructure began. It would still be a failed downtown if the DDA over 30 years hadn't virtually rebuilt every parking structure, fixed sidewalks, put lights in alleys and repaved them. They created a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere by providing benches, flower boxes, intimate lighting, bike racks, and murals. Winos have been replaced with smiling families and children skipping ahead down the sidewalk, eager to take advantage of all downtown has to offer.

The reason Council let downtown fall apart decades ago is simple politics. Municipalities never have enough resources to satisfy all their constituents and the downtown area, while highly visible, doesn't have enough votes to wrestle money from other worthy entities like schools, parks, and neighborhoods. What the DDA has done is advocate for downtown and get us a fair share of the funding. And my view isn't merely self-serving. The robust culture, the hipness of downtown, is what attracts visitors from all over Michigan. High-tech businesses are also dependent on a hip local culture to attract the skilled employees they need in order to prosper.

As downtown goes, so goes the City.

Further, if playing a seminal roll in turning around the downtown isn't enough payback, remember that in flush times the DDA already sends back buckets of money to the City. In voting on the funding mechanism for the DDA, I hope Council gets beyond political gamesmanship and thinks hard about the long term interests of the City. As far as I can tell, the DDA is the golden goose that has transformed downtown Ann Arbor into a thriving small business hub, a destination for tourists, and an inspiring new high-tech corridor. Let's not strangle it.

Mark Hodesh



Wed, May 8, 2013 : 3:43 a.m.

My wife grew up here, an Ann Arbor native, and she says this picture of a decrepit and dying downtown filled with prostitutes is an exaggeration. If you wanted a prostitute, you went to Ypsi, like always. Saying the DDA is solely responsible for cleaning up the downtown is like saying Al Gore invented the Internet.

Kai Petainen

Wed, May 8, 2013 : 1:54 a.m.

We have one of the largest chamber of commerces in the country.... How does it fit into the dda topic?


Wed, May 8, 2013 : 12:57 a.m.

Just remember--if you diminish the dollars flowing to the DDA, nobody will ever--EVER--invest another dollar anywhere in Washtenaw County. Just like before the DDA, nobody ever invested a single dollar in downtown AA. Ask any board member in any DDA anywhere; they're unanimous and unambiguous: without them, no investment in their town would ever take place.

Jay Thomas

Tue, May 7, 2013 : 7:13 p.m.

You mean Mark is Bill? I'm so confused...


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 6:18 p.m.

All the Hookers joined the high-tech hub and can now be found roaming the newspaper blown streets of Craigslist and Backpage.


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 5:15 p.m.

Mmmm...seminal roll...

Bill Wilson

Tue, May 7, 2013 : 4:04 p.m.

Many contradictions in this piece, and oddly behaving 'johns' and hookers: despite working from a hotel, they seem to be entirely mobile, and then head home at night. They must... as the author claims there were "very few pedestrians by day and almost none at night." Must be the only city in the world where this type of crime does not take place under the cover of darkness. I don't think so, Mark.


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 3:58 p.m.

Can we get some public bathrooms somewhere in the city?


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 6:16 p.m.

There are some in the parks, Bandameer, Hunt have/had them, also Allmendinger I believe. I agree it would be nice downtown but the library is available. How about in the parking structures?


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 6:16 p.m.

bus station. dear god when will we get an edit button!


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 6:15 p.m.

Nm I was thinking the train station, but I knew of the Library ones. I imagine the new train station will have some too?


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 6:14 p.m.

Nice, I didn't know they had any bathrooms!

say it plain

Tue, May 7, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

I think they're located in the Downtown AADL...

Cendra Lynn

Tue, May 7, 2013 : 3:16 a.m.

You Lie! Your description of downtown is hyperbole riddled with inaccuracies. Feminism, women's rights, and the changes in men's attitudes brought gave the women you denigrate as hookers better ways to earn money. Individuals seeing promise in renovating existing buildings, including the Earl Hotel, is what led to the gentrification of downtown and that was long before there was a DDA. Hard work by advocates of social welfare is what began helping alcoholics. Blowing newspapers??? OK, and that is an issue how? (At least there were newspapers!) Crumbling parking structures and lawyer-ready sidewalks and rat infestation??? Are we exaggerating just a tad? We lived down there in apartments in better shape than the affordable ones are now in the student ghetto. Then somehow you credit the DDA with every improvement, despite the work of many individuals. The DDA did not convince people to create and move into refurbished buildings. They didn't create Peaceable Kingdom, Crazy Wisdom, Vault of Midnight, or any downtown business. They made parking prohibitively expensive and upgraded structures that are unsafe to walk in. They tried to get, heck they're still trying to get a monstrosity conference center built on the Library Lot. They think if we have a lot of tourists we're doing well. They care nothing for the thoughts and feelings of those who are long-time Ann Arbor residents. They use our money without our having a voice in how it is used. Hertler's was a great store. I miss them and all they provided. DH&G became a place for people with lots of extra money. All the items and good deals that made it special are long gone. The fact that you've been there a long time means you found a market and that's fine. But it does not make you an expert on what is wanted or needed downtown. And it certainly doesn't mean it's a good idea to give unelected people the right to use taxpayer's money as they wish.

Dave Koziol

Tue, May 7, 2013 : 12:20 a.m.

Well said Mark. As another downtown business owner, I agree with what you wrote. I can also add that the DDA was a factor in our decision to locate downtown, and we've had a number of positive interactions with the DDA. Dave Koziol Arbormoon Software, Inc.

Scott Rosencrans

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 10:42 p.m.

Well said, Mark. Few people are as knowledgeable on this issue as you.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 6:32 p.m.

Mr. Hodesh overstates the DDA's role in the success of Downtown A2. Irrespective of that, the proposal before the City Council does not abolish the DDA and barely dents its current budget. There is certainly no killing of the "golden goose" but, rather, limiting its fattening.


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 2:35 a.m.

Well said!


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 6:26 p.m.

Reading, studying and reflecting on the DDA issue, think there are several things that need to be done to gain the trust of the community overall: 1) Remove the overlap in the DDA board and the city government, no one should sit on both. 2) Provide a more transparent list of DDA income and expenses, websites are easy to setup and update these days with financial numbers, show the people where the money comes from and where it goes, including tax money that is sent to the schools, city, etc. 3) Explain any reserve funds, why do they exist and what will they be used for. 4) Put up an honest forum on "Connecting William Street" and other proposed DDA projects and open a dialog with the community at large, the same for the library lot. Let the DDA board explain why they want what they want in those locations let DDA members and other citizens respond to that information, publicizes the fact the site exists 5) Put some of the DDA meetings on CTV and invite the community to watch the meetings live or on re-runs. 6) During Art Fair put a DDA information booth and engage the public not with free water, but with an open discussion of what Ann Arbor's downtown should be. Much of the DDA's problem comes from lack of transparency, lack of independence, and lack of engagement with the community.

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, May 7, 2013 : 4:03 p.m.

There are videos online of DDA meetings going back into 2009. See here. BTW, I have attended committee meetings sporadically since 2005. They have always been open to the public and sometimes the staff has even made material available from the meeting. Committee members usually debate issues freely and candidly.


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 2:50 p.m.

By Law, the Mayor is on the Board ... If there were more volunteers to serve when vacancies become available, that would help. If you were involved Don, you would easily be able to get a copy of the DDA Budget, it has to be approved by both the DDA and the City..... Have you been to many DDA meetings? Reserve funds are necessary to all units of government, 10% reserves are not uncommon. They are used for emergencies and unanticipated shortfalls. Additionally, set up as a fund for replacement of necessary items, so that coming up with the money to pay a large expenditure can be readily handled. The DDA has a meeting agenda for each meeting. As they are Public meetings, finding out what is on the agenda, and getting an item placed on the agenda should not be a problem if you go through proper channels. Televising DDA metings has been debated for some time. I'm sure the Board wouldn't necessarily have a problem with it, if somebody wanted to pay for it..... I think your claim that the DDA has a problem with transparency is illconceived and sounds more like talking points than fact. It is not up to the DDA to engage the community, it is up to the community to engage the DDA...


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 9:37 p.m.

4Real - Some of the data is on the website, but much of the detail is missing. As to the DDA on CTV, yes the meeting is much of the time, though sound quality can be horrible, and it but seldom re-runs.

4 Real

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 7:29 p.m.

Many of those things already happen.... Data on the website, meetings broadcast, public forum's. That is why I dislike this forum so much. Just because someone types it, it must be true.

Jamie Pitts

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 5:35 p.m.

Good work must be acknowledged. However, when the job is done, it is time to wrap up the work crew. Just because a government instrument worked in the past does not mean that it should be automatically the entity to work the opportunities that we face today. The city government knows more now. The people of the city know more now. We might not need the DDA mechanism any more.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

I want a SESDA for the south east side of town. As we like to say down here at Packard and Platt , "as the southeast side goes, so goes the city."

Vivienne Armentrout

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 4:56 p.m.

The first great venture of the DDA in the 1980s was "Tally Hall" (since renamed Liberty Square). This was supposed to save downtown by creating a mixed-use (retail, office, parking) development near the Michigan Theater. Its first decade or so was a poster child for misdirected downtown redevelopment - the lower floor a somewhat scary retail market that soon collapsed, dirty hallway entrance to the elevator, etc. In that period, Jacobson's finally left the downtown. Borders somewhat rescued the development by making it part of their corporate offices. McKinley finally took it on and now - nearly 30 years later - it is integrated properly into the downtown fabric. I agree that sidewalks and pedestrian amenities have been helpful to the downtown, as have the parking structure rehabs. But let's not overstate the contribution of the DDA to a healthy downtown. To some degree, they were simply along for the ride while our historic Main Street area took off (because of eye appeal and the growth of the restaurant establishment) and State Street became a student-oriented chain store desert, with the loss of important anchors like Schoolkids Records, Jacobson's, Borders, and Shaman Drum. "Buckets of money"? That could bear some analysis.

Steve Bean

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 7:31 p.m.

Thanks for that context and objective perspective, Vivienne. To add to it, the DDA's first 18 years of existence coincided with the longest bull market in history. The preceding recession (referenced by Mark in this piece) was the longest since the Great Depression (until the sideways bear market that began in 2000). With the market poised for its largest drop ever, and the economy and property tax revenues to follow it down, DDA supporters might consider embracing the reasonable clarifications and adjustments of the proposed amendments—and maybe even some additional budget reductions—now rather than risk a larger takeaway (if not dissolution) in a few years.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 4:56 p.m.

I can agree with some of the points made in here, but there are some contradictiory statements. I always thought of the Fleetwood as a place to go to fill the belly after getting inebriated. It seems like we have drunks, and second class drunks from this article, with the latter being unacceptable and the former worth making a living off of.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 4:54 p.m.

But that's how it was in those days, you could say the same thing of New York City or Downtown LA , or Chicago; very unsafe in the early 80's but now experiencing a boom. The free market seems to be taking over so why not spend some of the parking money on needed services for the whole city (police, fire, streets) instead of close to 1 million $ on wayfinding signs?

say it plain

Tue, May 7, 2013 : 4:15 p.m.

very very important point...the observations Mr. Hodesh makes here are pretty much exclusively correlation (not causation). He gives us no evidence at all that without the DDA, these positive changes wouldn't have been made anyway, just due to larger social and economic factors (and of course, the influence of UM, which cannot be overestimated). If there's an argument to be made showing alternate universes with and without the DDA, Hodesh isn't presenting it here. That's in addition to all the troubling recent hijinx they've been responsible for, like the wayfinding signs you mention!


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:28 p.m.

The DDA members of thirty years ago earn plaudits for at least not impeding downtown progress if not facilitating it. The DDA did improve the parking structures and has improved the streets and lighting. However, in recent years the DDA has abdicated its fiduciary responsibilities by spending and borrowing poorly such that deficit budgets have been generated for years. Wasteful spending on excess construction of the library parking structure and a parking structure for Village Green City Apartments shift DDA revenue significantly from financing meaningful improvements downtown to debt servicing. Gifting to select private and public enterprises can be criticized as well. The Connecting William Street plan is further evidence of DDA misdirection. Profitable parking lots that are heavily used are proposed to be sites of 12-story and 14-story buildings which are to be designed for commercial, office and residential use. However, no urgent need for addition commercial, office or residential facilities has been identified. If built a significant risk of poor occupancy could undermine success and the TIF funds so desired by the DDA may never be realized. But the downtown skyline will be blighted and available parking will be problematic.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:21 p.m.

My favorite quotes from the guest columnist: "Downtown was abandoned. . . " "Winos have been replaced. . ." "DDA is the golden goose. . ." Selective recollection and odd interpretations . . .


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 12:13 p.m.

I arrived here in 1981, and the downtown core was certainly quite different from today. By the mid 80s, the major stores had closed along Main Street. I give Mark Hodesh full marks for being an astute businessman and coming up with novel (for Ann Arbor) ideas that have worked very well for him. Downtown Home and Garden is a destination store. Now, if Mark could resurrect AfterWords, I would have him sainted. A lot of small cities would like to have Ann Arbor's problems. We often don't realize how good we have it until we look elsewhere. By no means am I saying that the DDA is perfect, or that CIty Hall (ugliest bldg ever) knows everything. However, we sometimes feel the need to complain that our beer is too warm, or the guy across the road has 3 cars in his driveway... In other words, Ann Arborites like to complain when it's been sunny for 5 days straight, or because UM tore down a slumlord property to make way for residence hall. It's all the same for some folks.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 8:47 p.m.

I can remember buying children's clothes (Kleins), toys (southwest corner of Main and Washington), and books (in that same building and at Borders). I remember that nice restaurant on the second floor of the building at Division and Liberty. The DDA isn't the goddess of downtown Ann Arbor. There have been business failures recently, as well. They include the Parthenon, a long time Ann Arbor fixture. There are things we don't need and can't afford: a new library edifice (with space for Zingerman's to do business) is just one of the proposed changes that and continually added millages could price some long time Ann Arbor residents outside of their fully paid for houses. Ann Arbor is not Portland, Oregon, or Chicago, Illinois. The city has a low six figure population. Likewise, we can't afford to subsidize Amtrak travel daily for people who live nearer to the DMC or Oakwood Hospital, but desire to take the train here. Regional transportation to Ypsilanti is important and expanding such bus routes are in the interest of both communities. The longer train commutes to Detroit didn't work out years ago and won't work out now. People who work that far away can't chance being stranded if they miss the train. This is one of many issues we need to keep the DDA away from. Has anyone looked into the financial interests of DDA and public parking and how DDA benefits from parking, when many are more concerned with funding more police and fire protection?


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 7:47 p.m.

a2grateful - what then are your recollections and interpretations? I can remember a pretty dark and quiet Main Street on weekend nights in the early 80s.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 4:03 p.m.

How about when downtown was a desperate hardscrabble mess and nearly overrun by prostitutes and dope fiends?

Dirty Mouth

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

Well, I'm not so sure. For example, the Quality Bakery (which qualifies as small business) was replaced in the 80s by a huge tower (corner of Fifth and Liberty). Since that time (the early 80s) many small businesses have come and gone and I have difficult time believing it's all because of the formulation of the DDA? I would suggest that one of the reasons you were successful Mark, is because you recognized an opportunity and went for it, not because the DDA came knocking and gave you hand or flower boxes?

Tom Whitaker

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 6:11 p.m.

He's referring to the Sun Bakery at Liberty and Fifth Ave.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 4:51 p.m.

Quality Bakery was in the place where Palio's now is.

Larry Baird

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:14 p.m.

The fact that the DDA "already sends back buckets of money to the City", seems to indicate that the proposed, relatively small funding change should not threaten the DDA from continuing its mission. The sky is not falling and no one is proposing killing the golden goose. The DDA will continue to get their fair share if these proposed changes are approved. I hope the citizens and city council will look past this type of rhetoric. The change in funding formula will NOT jeopardize the DDA's core mission. The change in funding will provide additional funds for other government entities such as the Library and AATA.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:07 p.m.

Glad to hear that you think that the redirected tax dollars are the "fair share" for downtown businesses. No wonder you're such a big supporter. So is there anyone who *isn't* receiving direct benefit from the DDA willing to endorse them?


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:17 p.m.

I'm not receiving a "direct" benefit, i.e., the DDA isn't fixing my sidewalks. I'm receiving an indirect benefit - my property value is higher, I've got better schools to send my kids to, and I've got great things to see and do in this city because we have such a great downtown that people want to live here. Thank you DDA - here's my endorsement, though I'm all for making them elected officials for accountability purposes (I think they've been wonderfully accountable) and, politically, so we don't throw this wonderful and vital baby out with the naysayer's bathwater. BTW, if you didn't call the police this year, you didn't receive a direct benefit from your tax dollars that went there. Same thing with the fire department and a million other city services that I'm betting you don't use every year yet still fund with your taxes. Put another way, your "direct benefit" argument is all wet.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

During the same time, UM continues major rehab, redevelopment, expansion, and improvement, benefiting the entire city. Unlike the consumer-driven downtown, UM is an international economic engine that helps shape the future of the world. dda? Don't they help with the festifool parade, and manage parking? Maybe our current "great dda" should volunteer in downtown Ypsilanti, Inkster, and Detroit, where they can show their true abilities for revitalization and creation. Promise: If successful, I will join your talk about how great they are. While volunteering in the areas of greater need, current DDA incumbents can be replaced by downtown merchant members, term limited to five years. Major gratitude to amazing UM. Reality? As UM goes, so goes city a2.

Basic Bob

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 4 p.m.

I don't see the proof that U-M expansion is benefitting the entire city. They have taken a lot of taxable property off the market and pushed commercial and residential development to the margins. Of course there is a secondary effect to having the U here but continuous expansion does little to improve that effect.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 3 p.m.

I appreciate the perspective of someone with a relatively long history (and memory) of downtown involvement. While the DDA has been instrumental in improving the downtown area, greater accountability on their part should be embraced, not resisted. The greater the buy-in, the lesser the dissension. I did find humorous, though, the phrase "seminal roll" [in the hay?] in the same piece as one that talks about hookers. Unintentional, no doubt, but funny nonetheless.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

AA's political leadership focused on social issues and ignored the needs of the Downtown area for decades. They siphoned parking fees out of maintenance budgets to "solve world hunger" topics and the structures collapsed due to corrosion. Political correctness meant panhandlers set up camp at ATM's and hounded families off the sidewalks. Today's DDA led Downtown may not be perfect, but it is a heck of a lot better than the alternative.


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 10:45 a.m.

The city should have been doing their job all along. Why should tax payer dollars support an organization whose members are hand picked by the mayor. City, step up and do your job.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

If the DDA is going to be in control of as much taxpayer money as they are, they need to be elected officials.


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 2:35 p.m.

That's not the way the law was set up who.......

Eco Bruce

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 8:44 p.m.

But part of Kunselman's plan is to keep elected officials off of the DDA.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 6:45 p.m.

yes yes yes!


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 2:23 p.m.

There are some great points here. I have been very suspicious of the DDA. However, if you travel around Michigan it is clear our downtown is far more vital and welcoming than most. The opinion of a successful small business owner with a long history downtown carries more weight for me than any politician. Even the ones I originally agreed with.


Tue, May 7, 2013 : 10:44 a.m.

Love Ann Arbor, but in many travels around Michigan have found some really delightful cities with free parking. Hmmmmmmm.


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

What was needed in 1982 isn't necessarily what is needed now. A thorough review and community conversation about the DDA's role (and existence) is needed after 30+ years. Just because the DDA has done some good things in the past isn't a good enough reason to have them in control of tax payer funds. Conflict of interest concerns and crony-ism needs to be addressed in a transparent manner.