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Posted on Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Ann Arbor officials narrow focus to hotel and conference center plans

By Ryan J. Stanton


This proposal for a hotel and conference center by Valiant Partners is one of two being given further consideration by city officials.

Ann Arbor officials narrowed the pool of development proposals for the Library Lot Thursday night, zeroing in on two hotel and conference center projects.

Members of the city's RFP advisory committee and a team of city staff members met for two and a half hours to discuss the five projects presented to them over the previous two days. They decided the next step will be to hire a real estate consultant to evaluate the two hotel proposals.


RFP advisory committee member Sam Offen questions why the city doesn't give more consideration to an urban park concept for the Library Lot.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"I think both have some merit," said John Splitt, a committee member and chairman of the Downtown Development Authority. "I'm interested in seeing financially how those would work out. There's potential positive return, but again, without going deeper into their cost proposals, it's really difficult for me to tell what's there."

A group of New York investors known as Valiant Partners LLC is proposing a project called Ann Arbor Town Plaza Hotel and Conference Center. It includes plans for a 150-room hotel, 32,000-square-foot conference center, condos, restaurants and retail shops - all on the Library Lot.

Valiant is asking the city to issue bonds for $8 million to build the conference center, promising to pay back the city over 20 years with proceeds from the hotel.

The other proposal chosen for further evaluation is a project by Acquest Realty Advisors of Bloomfield Hills called @ Hotel and Retail Center. It features a 190-room hotel with meeting spaces, restaurants and retail shops. Acquest is asking the city to partner on the project by building a 40,000-square-foot conference center on the former YMCA site across the street.

City officials acknowledged some hesitancy about getting involved in a project that requires the city to assume any financial risk. That's why they're gong to have a consultant conduct an independent analysis that will look at the feasibility of the two plans - and whether the developers behind them can pull off what they're promising.

Mike Pettigrew, the city's deputy treasurer, offered his own financial perspective during Thursday's meeting. He said he considered the Valiant proposal "the most complete." 

But he said said it still presents a risk because, if the hotel doesn't perform, the city will be on the hook for making payments.

A majority of committee members agreed they want to see vertical development on the 1.2-acre city lot on South Fifth Avenue. Jayne Miller, the city's community services administrator, said the city's efforts over the last five years have been working toward the goal of increased density downtown, and there's no reason to stop now.

"It comes back to the work that we've done around the A2D2 project. It seems to me counterintuitive for us not to go with a project that brings that density to downtown," she said.


Council Member Margie Teall voiced a favorable opinion for the Valiant Partners proposal Thursday night.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Susan Pollay, DDA executive director, agreed and said the committee should select a developer that had done similar projects before. She said the library is an important anchor in the downtown and whatever is selected to go next door should support the library's success and growth and bring new audiences and energy to the block.

"To my mind, there are only two legitimate projects on the table," Pollay said.

Only one committee member, Sam Offen, championed the concept of an urban park. Offen, a member of the city's Parks Advisory Commission, said he liked the proposal from Dahlmann Apartments Ltd. to construct a large town square of mostly green space. Other committee members said they thought the plan lacked a financial commitment to cover future operations and maintenance.

No committee members spoke in favor of the community commons proposal by Ann Arbor residents Alice Ralph and Alan Haber. Most agreed the duo lacked a clear plan and made unconvincing assumptions that an open space would somehow attract large crowds downtown.

Another project that was dismissed was an 84-room hotel called the Fifth a2 proposed by Jarratt Architecture. Committee members said they expected more substance, and it appeared to be a case of an architect looking for a developer to finance a project that wasn't well thought-out.

Other committee members said they had concerns about the Acquest proposal that could be a deal-breaker for them.

"It sounds like it's dependent on the city developing a conference center on the Y site, and I just don't see that moving forward," said City Council Member Margie Teall. "What we're looking for is a team to come in and produce something that's really going to be successful without as much dependence on the city."

Teall said she preferred the proposal by Valiant Partners, which she liked for several reasons - including the fact that it features a joint research facility for the library.

"I liked the unique, striking design," she added, noting that her 16-year-old daughter saw a picture of it in the print edition on Thursday and said, "I like it."

"I thought the architecture was imaginative, and I think that's what we need," Teall said. "It's something striking enough that people are going to come down and say 'wow.'"

Eric Mahler, a city planning commissioner and committee member, reiterated what he said earlier this week - he's still not impressed with the Valiant proposal. He described the contemporary design as a "monstrosity" and said it could end up being a "white elephant" should the project fail.


Acquest's proposal for a hotel on the Library Lot.

Offen cited a report put out earlier this week by City Council Member Sabra Briere, who suggested there might not be a strong enough demand for a hotel and conference center in downtown Ann Arbor.

Briere's report details a recent meeting she had with Ann Arbor-based consultant Chuck Skelton, who performs site hotel feasibility analyses all over the country. According to Briere's report, Skelton informed her the hotel market in Michigan is doing poorly and that, in Ann Arbor, occupancy rates have deteriorated to 55 percent. That's about 10 percent to 15 percent less than needed to break even, according to what Skelton told Briere.

Breire said she learned from Skelton that the addition of any new rooms in Ann Arbor likely would negatively impact existing hotels. Likewise, she was told the conference center proposed by Valiant wouldn't generate new demand, but would only further divide existing business.

Miller agreed there's a lot to be concerned about.

"That's why we're hiring a consultant to look at the nitty-gritty," she said. "To make sure we answer all the right questions or ask the right questions and then make decisions. I also believe that while financially we're going to be really concerned right now ... if the economy turns around, we have time to work through the logistics. And if the economy turns around, finances free up. We can come up with a different financing model that's going to work for us better."

Unlike the public interviews that drew dozens of citizens to the library earlier this week, only three residents attended Thursday's debriefing inside city hall. 

One of them was Barbara Kritt.

"I don't think that the interests of the public are represented by the process or by the decisions," Kritt said. "To not have, in some way, polled the public before choosing the designs and the particular projects seems a backwards way to go about it - if, in fact, it is an open public process."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Tue, Jan 26, 2010 : 4:38 p.m.

I find in interesting that the room price quoted in one of the comments for the valiant proposal matches the room price for Campus in this week ($200-$235). Most of the other hotels in the area are on the edge of town and range from $50 to $150+ (Marriott). I also find it interesting that the Campus Inn just requested a permit to replace their outdoor pool with...Conference rooms. I thought people just said conference space was not needed???? I like that the Valiant proposal contains a park, a conference center, a hotel and condos. This seems to me to be a comprehensive community enhancing sue of the space. I am not fond of the look of the tower, but I admire them for trying to let light continue to fall on Jerusalem Garden. Maybe if instead of cantilevering they made that area an atreum to reduce the apprehension that it wants to fall over? I understand the city planners want more vertical use of space to provide more density downtown, but I think the building would be better accepted if it was brick and glass instead of white and glass.


Tue, Jan 26, 2010 : 9:38 a.m.

If you loved the OLD YMCA building at the end of it's life, you'll just jump for joy when the Valiant Giant Flat Screen needs maintenance and updating (the design already looks dated) 20 years from now when Valiant "gives" the white elephant to to city after it's extracted all the profit profit from the taxpayer funded development.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 6:51 p.m.

So how do the residents of A2 get this through to the powers that be? They seem very dumb when it comes to city planning and budgeting. As to having major conferences here even during the summer, A2 is a nice place, but it still is not Disney World or even Disneyland or Mackinaw even when the weather is nice. It's a nice college town in the Midwest, no more, no less.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 5:33 p.m.

Points that have been made, but warrant repeating:...The Valiant Partners proposed conference center is incredibly ugly, disproportionate, and totally out of sync with the overall design of downtown Ann Arbor and our historic districts....Despite the draw of U/M, Ann Arbor is NOT a conference destination, particularly during our six months of frigid weather....In 20 years when Valiant "gives" their monolith to the city, significant and costly upgrades will be required to keep the structure viable and somewhat attractive for further use....Fix the city infrastructure, the roads, Stadium bridge; maintain the services that we, the citizens, pay for and need. Stop wasting time and tax dollars on unnecessary projects such as this conference center, the city hall fountain, and the new, poorly planned, city hall monument to Roger Fraser.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 4:16 p.m.

What is the market for coming to Ann Arbor for a conference in the winter? Ann Arbor would be competing with Disney World and other fun, warm destinations. Often people take their families to these places for a combined conference/vacation. The other big destination is Las Vegas, and obviously Ann Arbor can't compete with that. For smaller conferences that are connected to the U, there are venues already here. But to think that this city will be able to sell large conferences year round and compete with the fun places, that's out. Think Buffalo or other places that have these types of centers that one would not book over Vegas, Disney or New Orleans. Build up A2 to keep the U-M and other A2 residents happy. Unless you can put us on the ocean or change the weather to average 70 degrees year round, the City of A2 must not risk a penny on this. Instead, pay for essential services, make a downtown park and ice skating rink in the winter, and let's have more community-centered events. And please keep the Senior Center. Those folks deserve a nice place for the small amount it needs vis a vis this monstrosity pictured above. The City Council must have lost its collective brain.

David Cahill

Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 11:58 a.m.

Oop! I should have pointed out in my posting above that I did not interview Leslie Morris. Instead, I took the report of the interview from a new blog, which is well worth visiting:


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 11:05 a.m.

@Freemind. "Mr" Miller is a woman and she is a city bureaucrat, not an elected official.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 10:32 a.m.

"If the city is so concerned about money (which they should be) then forking over $8 million is ridiculous." I agree, but it is far more than $8 million. People may not realize, but there is already about $10 million going into this project in the form of infrastructure upgrades (water, sewer, storm sewer, etc.) and structural support built into the parking garage. These are items private developers would normally have to pay for themselves. Don't let anyone tell you that the City is "only" putting up $8 million for this boondoggle. We're being asked to finance all of this with general obligation bonds, rather than revenue bonds. If the DDA doesn't get the parking revenue they've projected or if the overly rosy projections for conference center/hotel/condo revenue doesn't materialize, the money to pay for all this speculation will come straight from the City's general fund.

David Cahill

Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 10:01 a.m.

There is a big difference in my mind between illegitimate and legitimate tactics in this poll. "Stuffing the ballot box" carried out by individuals voting multiple times is illegitimate. "Getting out the vote" by encouraging a bunch of individuals to vote who have not already voted, is legitimate. I am grateful that genericreg, as a white-hat hacker, has let know that there are ways of stuffing the ballot box. What I am seeing though, as the vote ebbs and flows, is a "get out the vote" campaign by proponents of the conference center. In both last fall's poll and this one, once the poll is open there is initially a plurality in opposition to the center. Then, later in that day during business hours, there is a burst of support for the center. After people leave work, the "no" voters gradually overtake the "yes" voters, and they keep their lead. My guess is that the business supporters of this project spread the word on the first day that their friends should get on line immediately and vote yes. Many do. Then, after work, the rest of the citizens start voting, and they generally vote no. With millions of dollars in public funds at stake, it is perfectly reasonable for both sides to attempt to get out their vote. We are involved in a typical political struggle, after all.


Mon, Jan 25, 2010 : 9:29 a.m.

"That's why we're hiring a consultant to look at the nitty-gritty," she said. "To make sure we answer all the right questions or ask the right questions and then make decisions" - Miller No, Mr. Miller, that's what you're elected for. Hotels don't bring people to town, they house the ones that are coming for other reasons. If the city is so concerned about money (which they should be) then forking over $8 million is ridiculous. Our city council has become completely uselss and out of touch with the residents.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 10:28 p.m.

@sBean - I agree with your suggestion to 'trade' Liberty Plaza for a better downtown community space and sent same in a letter to my Councilmembers and Rapundalo (selection chair). Parkland must be voted upon if sold (I think). Perfect - this is a good way to solicit the public's opinion (in my opinion). Frustrating to see that the Library Lot, Library, Y and AATA properties are being treated as individual properties. I imagine much better plans and more creative land uses if the area were viewed collectively (library lot is so valuable that RFP requires economic return to City; AATA proposed a 2-story new transit center with its own dedicated meeting space -- is this not low value directly across the street from a high-value area?) Finally, master plan does describe some goals for Library Block and desire for a convention center (search government site for this and other docs). Unfortunately, most citizens don't read the 100-pg+ doc and are only made aware of Council actions AFTER decisions are made. Incidentally, the master plan also has goals for pedestrian friendliness of downtown, etc. The laughable part of the master planning docs is the page that shows downtown open public space (parkland) and plazas. I've lived here for 15+ yrs and live a walking distance from downtown - I couldn't identify the 'plazas' marked on the map. I think that one was the small courtyard of the Library near William. Another was the Federal Building 'plaza.' Lovely places!

B. Corman

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 9:45 p.m.

Ryan, you should take down the poll. Obviously it is being tampered with as we speak.

B. Corman

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 9:43 p.m.

@genericreg- it sure appears to me that you and others on the pro-park side have known how to cheat the poll the entire time, which is why you were so quick to jump on the fact that this poll was going "yes" for pro-conference center. My guess is that if they actually traced IP's for both polls that the pro-parks people are the ones actually voting multiple times. This is probably why the poll is now changing over to the "No" side at a rampant pace when when this story is not current; why should there be this many additional votes 2 days after a story?. That is probably why there were so many more votes cast in the first poll; you had to overcome all the pro-conference center votes. Could it have been that the first poll was the one actually tampered with and this one showed the truth? (up until the past few hours now that you have learned how to vote multiple times yourself) Those who protest too much appear guilty of what they accuse others of.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 8:46 p.m.

This site has been a darling of architects and planners for decades- anyone have details of the late Rich Ahern's plans from the 60's or 70's? I remember seeing plans for underground parking with a residential/retail mix on top with public space included. It is a 20 year old memory though. Conference centers weren't such a hot topic back then.... Another wind tunnel effect building for the streets of A2? No thanks.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 5:26 p.m.

The Valiant building design is reminiscent of a giant Sanford Magic Rub eraser turned on its edge. The parallel here is great. Think of the Valiant building as the new symbol for the eraser of the magic of Ann Arbor. It magically erases all that enabled Ann Arbor to become the City that we once loved: 1) Public process in master planning. Where is the master plan that calls for a hotel and conference center in this location? There is no such thing. In one broad swipe, public process and master planning are erased. 2) Where is the component of economic development that is supposedly driving this development? What economy is created? Where is the new industry? Where is the unfulfilled need? We have ample conference space and hotel rooms in the city and region. Why should tax dollars fund this giant development? Common sense is erased. 3) What is the civic benefit? Is it new parking? No, parking is for the hotel. Greenway? No, the greenway is dead. Urban civic center and/or park? No, those ideas are dead. Besides, the City is closing civic centers and ending many park activities. Civic benefit is erased. Sadly, these three items are just the tip of the iceberg for effects of Ann Arbors magic eraser. The symbol for the giant eraser is the building. The people holding the eraser are the mayor, council, and DDA, with support of silent citizens. Get ready for the Magic Rub you are about to feel when you receive your next tax assessment. Although your assessed value is going down, your taxable value continues to increase, as it likely will for several years. Your taxes are going up. Your benefit of service is declining faster than your tax increase. Theres the rub!


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 12:54 p.m.

Has anyone heard whether council or the DDA has said anything about plans for Liberty Plaza in the aftermath of this process? I ventured in a comment elsewhere that a sufficiently large public space on this site might allow the city to sell the Liberty Plaza site and move the programmed activities from there to the new one, thus possibly providing the financial payback that the city is looking for from the sale of the land and the subsequent property taxes of retail and residential (i.e., mixed use) development on that corner lot. If such plans are being given consideration, now would be an appropriate time to inform us.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 12:37 p.m.

The $1mil Hieftje fountain of folly is a "minor" testament to Ann Arbor City Government stupidity and arrogance amidst crumbling bridges, infrastructure, and City services. The "Valiant proposal" for the Hieftje Conference Center and Hotel is a monument to the absolute psychosis that has displaced any idea of sanity for responsible governance emanating from City Hall. Several interesting design points of Hieftje Hotel include their impact on the existing businesses to the north. First, is the new creation of the garbage dumpster alley for SEVA, running next to Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden. This new amenity will be located in the perpetual shadow of the Hieftje monolith. Second, is the developers take on the Hieftje Hotel effect on these businesses. The current businesses will experience faade renovation, commensurate with Hieftje Hotel design. It will be an exciting upgrade for the area! Cool! These building are located in the East Liberty Historic District. Plans for the abolishment of this district will likely be announced any moment. Enjoy!

David Cahill

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 11:38 a.m.

For those concerned about whether or not the process has been biased, here is a January 18 report from Councilmember Sabra Briere: At our City Council retreat on January 10, 2009, Roger Fraser showed us some preliminary drawings for a conference center. We were not provided copies of these drawings. Later requests for copies or any further information was denied their very existence was denied by the FOIA officer at the City. On Sunday, June 14, 2009, at the end of Caucus, Mayor Hieftje asked me to come to his office so he could show me something. At that time, he loaned me a copy of a proposal titled Ann Arbor Town Center from Valiant Partners LLD, dated May, 2009. On its cover was a green and white sticky note stating Thanks, John. This is pretty interesting. Sandi. I returned the original document to him the next day. This is the same proposal that was later publicized as the secret plan for the conference center by Vivienne Armentrout on her blog, Local in Ann Arbor, in August, 2009. I heard nothing more about the cenference center until December 3rd, 2009. At the Holiday Breakfast of the Main Street Merchants Association, Jesse Bernstein, the former president of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, expressed his displeasure at the Library Lot RFP process and Councils inability to make up its mind. He said there he, the Mayor and Roger Fraser had worked hard to get the deal for the conference center proposal, and now we were sending mixed signals to the developers. He said that everyone agreed that this was what downtown needed. I said I didnt. We agreed to meet for breakfast. On December 11, 2009, at 7:30 am, we met at the Northside Grill. Among other discussed items, Bernstein said he, Fraser and Hieftje had met with people from Valiant. The Valiant people had asked what they could do for the City. The vision that had emerged from this meeting was that the City wanted a conference center. I do not know the date of that meeting, except that it had to have been prior to December, 2008. I also do not know if there was more than one meeting. At our meeting, Bernstein said he felt betrayed. He said that Valiants proposal for a conference center was a consensus project, and that it was not fair that Valiant should have to jump through all of these hoops. On Saturday, January 9, 2010, I spoke with Council member Stephen Rapundalo, who is the chair of the RFP advisory committee. I reported on all of the above. I also said that, as part of the mandatory RFP process, Valiant had signed a proposal statement which said, in part: The undersigned acknowledges that it has not received or relied upon any representations or warrants of any nature whatsoever from the City of Ann Arbor, its agents or employees, and that this Proposal is based solely upon the undersigneds own independent business judgement. I said to Rapundalo that I questioned the validity of this acknowledgment since Fraser had participated in the design of the plan. On Thursday, January 14, 2010, I met with Chuck Skelton, president of Hospitality Advisors Consulting Group, a firm that performs site analysis, feasibility and valuation of hotels all over the country. Peter Allen was also at our meeting. He had set up the meeting at my request. Skelton said that he had met with Valiant principals in January, 2009 to discuss a hotel/conference center larger than the one currently before the RFP committee. Skelton said that in a small market like Ann Arbor building a hotel/conference center would be impact on existing businesses. Typically, if the prospects were economically sound the City would not have to provide financing assistance. Near the end of the meeting, Peter Allen asked, You mean there is no way a hotel can be successful? How about a boutique hotel? Chuck responded by saying, It is doubtful at this time given these market conditions.


Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 10:29 a.m.

I attended the presentation and was quite surprised to see that the author of the Valiant proposal was not at the meeting to present his design to the selection committee. Mr. Luchenbach, their (very talented) local Ann Arbor architect, admitted that he was not the author of the design, and in my opinion, did not fully believe in the merits of such a stark design. He appeared to have a difficult time trying to defend the notion of such a massive rectangular design that will place Liberty Street in perpetual shade. The cantilevered portions over Library Lane and extending west to Fifth will also create large dark areas that will not fell very "parklike". The Valiant folks stated that the 32,000 SF cantilevered conference center is "sacrosanct", and can not be modified. Although I very much like much of the Valiant proposal, I believe that these massive cantilevers over public space will preclude the creation of any form of livable space. Once again, perhaps this amount of shade would be welcome in Mexico City, but alas Enrique Norton of Ten Architectos was not at the presentation to enlighten us. The Acquest folks on the other hand seemed to offer a less intense and much more flexible approach for the effective use of the air rights over the Library Lot. They stated several times that they are very willing to modify the design to help it fit in with our town. It looks like they have purposely separated the conference center from the hotel to make both projects more feasible and scaleable. I think there is a lot more work to make their design work at this site, and of course we have not seen any of their ideas for the YMCA site. I just think that this team offers the best balance of experience in similar public-private partnerships, and a willingness to work with the city to craft a great asset for the city, and Heaven forbid, make a few bucks for themselves.

David Cahill

Sun, Jan 24, 2010 : 8:56 a.m.

Here is a report by former City Council member Leslie Morris, conducted with Chuck Skelton on January 22, 2010. ("I" refers to Leslie.) Her account is presented verbatim with minor editing for typography. I asked if it would be normal in the hotel feasibility business for RFP's to exclude any firm with a local office, as it seemed to me that local experience would be valuable. He said he had had experience only in responding to RFP's, and not in writing them, but that he had not seen such an exclusion before. I said it seemed strange to me that only a week was allowed to respond to the RFP. He said it was an indication that the RFP was "wired". His firm would be unable to turn around to respond in such a short time, and he thought others would have difficulty also. (Ed. note: Leslie and Chuck are evidently referring here to the RFQ that the City of Ann Arbor issued for a financial consultant to help evaluate proposals from the RFP for the Library Lot.) He recounted an experience he had about twenty years ago. He was asked to serve on a citizen committee, which was formed to react to a study that the city (Ann Arbor) had commissioned to assess feasibility of a convention center. The study was done by a nationally known firm, but was so poorly executed, and included so many erroneous assumptions, that he refused to sign off on it. As an example, he said that the producers of the study had assembled a list of all the groups that meet at large midwestern conference centers, including McCormick Center in Chicago and other convention centers in cities like Cleveland (I didn't get down all the names). He said they then claimed that an Ann Arbor convention center would have access to 100% of these groups. He said his opinion was that Ann Arbor would be lucky to have access to 1% of the groups that meet at the McCormick Center, which is very large, and can accommodate big trade shows. He thought that Ann Arbor might have access to 10% of the groups that meet at the other larger midwestern convention centers. He thinks that this poorly-done study is the one that Jesse Bernstein is carrying around and citing currently. He brought up the Valiant proposal, which he said he was familiar with. He said the ADR (average daily rate) in Ann Arbor is about $100, that we are not a "high end" market. He had noticed that the Valiant proposal had indicated an ADR that was $80 above the Ann Arbor average, and that they had projected an 80% occupancy rate. He thinks this is unrealistic and impossible to achieve. He had talked earlier with some of the Valiant proposers, as indicated in Sabra Briere's memo on her meeting with him. They thought it was very difficult to get a room in Ann Arbor, and that the rate was $200 a night. He asked when they had this experience, and they said "homecoming and graduation". He said those were among the highest occupancy and highest rates of the entire year, and that the winter business was nothing like that. They did not believe him. I asked Chuck to react to the Acquest hotel proposal, which projected a $135 ADR, rising to $150 by 2016, with occupancy to begin at 55% and rising to 67%. He answered that this is noticeably above the $100 ADR of other Ann Arbor hotels. Faced with this competition, local hotels like Weber's would be likely to cut their rates to keep up their own occupancy, and that the new hotel would not be able to reach its projected occupancy figures. He described the Ann Arbor hotel season: May, June, July, August, September, and weekends in October. This is less than half the year, and hotels have to survive through the very meager and long Michigan winter. Another local problem is the University of Michigan's insistence on its $85 per night rate, which it can demand because it is the "gorilla". Much of the winter hotel occupancy is generated by the UM. They have refused to back any of the current proposals, and based on past history would refuse to pay the projected rates. (Ed. note: some individuals from the UM have written supportive letters attached to proposals, but according to Jim Kosteva, the UM's public spokesperson, the UM as an institution does not back any proposal.) He said another problem with the Valiant convention center is that it is too small. It is similar in size to other private or University-owned meeting spaces, and would not bring in new business in the form of larger groups, but would essentially move existing business around, causing other facilities to be under-utilized. The conundrum is that small conference facilities won't bring in much new business, and larger convention centers (60,000-80,000 sq. ft.) would be empty much of the year, during the long, unpleasant Michigan winter. Convention business across the country is down not only because of the poor economy, but because of the increasing popularity of video conferencing. This trend is expected to continue. All Michigan convention centers are subsidized. The Grand Rapids convention center could not survive without the generous private support from the Van Andel family. As a citizen, Chuck has major problems with the proposition that the city government should aid one commercial business venture at the expense of other existing businesses. In his view, this is simply not fair. And as a citizen, he does not want to have the city (and its taxpayers) involved in a risky, speculative business. The hotel and conference business is extraordinarily risky right now. The proposers could not do their projects without city aid. Chuck thinks anybody who wants to build a hotel on the library lot should get their own financing, buy or lease the land from the city at a fair price to the city, and take all the risk themselves. If this is not possible now, the city should wait until it is possible. In the meantime, the land could be a nice park, or even a surface parking lot, as it is now.

B. Corman

Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 11:28 p.m.

@David Cahill- Actually the previous poll is not all that different from this one statistically. Keep in mind the first poll did not have all the same options as this poll This poll asked yes, no and I dont like any of them/I dont care. The previous poll asked for votes on each project without a choice for none. So previously the votes fell in line with 55% for no building=park and 42% for a building=any of the projects (there is a missing 3% that I dont know where it should be attributed to) Since that time we have had more press, more discussion and more thoughtful analysis on the topic. We have had poor presentations put forth by the two projects that involved a park. All this new information can cause people to rethink their initial viewpoint. Isnt that what pubic input and discussion is all about? It makes sense that people would change their minds. So now this poll shows 57% for a hotel/conference center, 37% for the public commons and 10% for I dont like any. There is really only about a 5-7% difference between the two polls if you add in the assumptions for where the missing 3% should go or where the 10% I dont like any should be attributed. What is the most interesting number is the 10% that now say, I dont care. Obviously they come from the pro-park percentage with the remaining percentage that moved being people who changed their minds from all the new information. What puzzles me is why you and others insist that the numbers should stay the same? You are comparing apples to oranges due to different questions being asked and are making assumptions that people wont change their minds when given additional details and information. As time goes by you might even see more of a shift.

David Cahill

Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 9:49 p.m.

Tony, I'm glad you're checking on the validity of the poll. Only about 600 people have voted so far in it, compared to almost 1500 in the earlier one. This "turnout" difference could explain the different results so far. On the other hand, if there is a cluster of votes from institutions or from out of town - hmmm.... This may be a stupid question, but can you make a separate count of the votes from computer addresses within Ann Arbor City or its environs?


Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 5:55 p.m.

V: the people who would use the downtown park would be those who: have errands downtown -- maybe a mom who took her child to storytime at the downtown library and is waiting for the bus; downtown diners who'd like to chat under the stars with an ice cream cone; workers who would like to eat a sack lunch (for free) at someplace other than their office; people looking for the shortest route from Liberty and Division to Main and William; people attending an open-air concert. I know this park proposal is considered off the table at this point. That is a shame.


Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 4:48 p.m.

Both proposals fall far short of acceptable design quality. Time for a re-do. What mix of economic and creative activities are best suited for the Division-Main St. axis? What structures are needed to enable these activities? A big-box operation of any kind imposes homogeneity. A dynamic city enables a diversity of enterprises. These are ponderous and unimaginative, not worthy of what Ann Arbor can be.


Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 2:38 p.m.

So what are you saying A2Dude? Government should be allowed to subsidize competition for long-time, upstanding businesses? How would you like it if you had worked your whole life to build a successful business and contributed to your community in untold ways, only to have the local government subsidize a new competitor right down the street? I think we're lucky that Mr. Dahlmann has so far taken the high road. Some very good information here for those who aren't yet brainwashed about the value of a new conference center: Get educated. Get real.

A2 Dude

Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 12:01 p.m.

Of course Dahlmann Apartments wants a town square...they run the Campus Inn and Bell Tower and this would infringe on their long standing lack of competition.

B. Corman

Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 9:06 a.m.

Genericreg- How do you know the first poll was the correct result? When the first poll was taken there was not as much publicity around the subject. Now there have been more news articles on the subject and people are paying attention. Also, it seems that the presentations by the presenters of the parks RFP did not go all that well. Could it actually be that the people of Ann Arbor dont want a park in this location and want a hotel or conference center? I think a park in this location is a horrible idea. I am in full agreement with many of the previous posters on many different article at and other places that this would make this are a dead zone, a homeless hangout and brings nothing new or novel to the area. I think a hotel or conference center is a much better idea, however the design and financing still needs to be addressed and worked out. Just because you might not like the design of these specific two buildings, does not mean a park is the logical alternative. How about redesigning the building? I also agree with V who says: The beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Something that was considered ugly and hideous at conception sometimes becomes a national treasure (i.e. Eiffel Tower). One thing is for sure. The hotel/conference center has to be impressive and stunning. Nothing bland or ordinary. I would prefer the Valiant design (somewhat unique, clean and contemporary) over the Acquest design (too ordinary). We have one shot at this and it better be a work of art and very functional. We have a chance to do something unique. People should keep that in mind before they start with their I dont like change attitude.


Sat, Jan 23, 2010 : 12:17 a.m.

Is there a study that actually documents a consumer demand for this conference center? I have visited many cities that have half vacant downtown conference centers that the cities funded with good intentions, but which cost a lot to maintain, including increasing security in the area, paying back loans, and advertising and cutting special deals to try to fill it. A more logical location, if y'all really think A2 needs a conference center, would be by the medical center, to attract medical conferences. It is, by the way, the ugliest building I have ever seen. It may just tip over and solve this problem. Seriously, when is this city going to come to its senses and be financially responsible? The year 2010 is not the time for rampant development and million dollar sculptures. It is a time for regrouping and trying to save essential services. This whole idea of the city contributing to developers' pockets is a bit nauseating, in these times. Fiddle while Rome is burning.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 10:35 p.m.

It doesn't necessarily have to be just a "park". It could be a public square, with a fountain, and park benches...etc.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 10:23 p.m.

i think the valiant design is great but I remember the old ann arbor inns downfall and what a eyesore it has become. the developers have to take on the whole financial responsibility for this one.the city of ann arbor can clean up the mess If it fails. that will be our responsibility


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 10:16 p.m.

The Valiant Partners proposal shows the cars going the wrong direction on fifth street. That alone should disqualify them.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 9:38 p.m.

the Valiant building looks out of place:really incongruous with other styles of buildings. Even the newer building scattered around town are not as freaky as this.Really grating to look at.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 9:03 p.m.

The Valiant Partners Building design is so odd looking and I fear this building will become a joke- I don't mind the idea of a conference center- but make it tasteful and attractive. Check out something more like the Willits Complex in Birmingham... please consider aesthetics...

Mike D.

Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 8:57 p.m.

It's nice to see city council actually getting something done. I'm looking forward to a real hotel and conference center downtown. Now if they could just fix the roads, I'd be happy.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 7:50 p.m.

"What a HUGE variance in the poll results since I checked a couple hours ago. Either the folks who work 9-5 are heavily skewed toward hotels, or something funny's going on..." You can be sure that an email went out to the employees of several firms in and out of town, ordering them to vote for the conference center. They got their butts kicked in the last poll and I'm sure they don't want that to happen again.

Regular Voter

Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 7:30 p.m.

Haven't we seen this movie before? It doesn't end well. The officials pushing this development inspire no confidence in their abilities, their process or their motives. Or the project, for that matter. Stop. No. Halt. The party's over. Until we get leaders who aren't clearly in over their heads let's limit them to providing basic stuff like roads, bridges, etc. Times have changed and this crowd shouldn't be allowed to play their games with our money and our town. We need big stuff done, yes, to position Ann Arbor to be a success, if for no other reason than to make our property more valuable again. But this bunch doesn't have the maturity or vision to get us there and routinely squanders the very resources we need invested correctly to achieve anything like our potential. Ann Arbor ought to grow up just a little bit, heck, maybe even lead the renaissance of the state of Michigan. Imagine for a moment an Ann Arbor that got serious, what we could do. For ourselves and our fellow man. Set a better example for our kids. Isn't it time we try? First we need to send a message. Fix that bridge. And that pothole.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 7:23 p.m.

The proposed hotel shown in the photograph looks HIDEOUS. How could they even begin to consider this?


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 7:21 p.m.

It is unfortunate that they are not considering the public square option. This is the waste of a golden opportunity that will probably never materialize again. It would make for a wonderful public place for people to use, and simply hang out. Almost every well-designed city center should have a nice public square where people can mingle.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 7:14 p.m.

I agree with Alan Goldsmith...quite frankly I think the design is ugly. I am not 16 but i do pay taxes. If the city is going to fund anything it better be a little better looking than Valiant's design. Not to keen on Acquest's either. We need better streets, better bridges, stronger support to our police and firefighters not ugly buildings that will become eyesores and problems to the community (aka senior highrise apt. building). The economy stinks as does some of your recent cost cutting decisons...figure it out city or your tax base will continue to become smaller from the exodus of dissatisfied tax payers.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 6:36 p.m.

Small detail - I'm relieve that finally used a reasonable, factual headline. Who writes these headlines anyway? I was just getting to like Ryan... "Resonates with committee?" "Ideas for hotel popular" (print edition)? Loaded words. "Popular" implies "lotsa people like it" not "committee head talks it up." And if it "resonated" at least have something in the text support that word. End of small detail comment.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 6:01 p.m.

To Bill and all of those citizens who think tax dollars should support the high lives of big wigs and want us to be a thriving metropolis. For those of you who want an empty hotel and a dead block, I say move. Move to some other anonymous big city. Wake up. Ann Arbor is a sleepy college town and that is exactly why we love it. It's going to take a lot more than a poorly planned hotel conference center paid for by the taxpayers to be the shining star of economic recovery in southeast Mi. We are a quaint town that will hopefully continue to be home to a world class University. Where do you think the taxes to pay for all of the things you want in a city are going to come from? Not from developers who write up secret deals insuring that their profits come first, leaving residents with the unpaid bills.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 5:36 p.m.

An A2 conference center would be fantastic! I hate driving to Novi for tech/software conferences and's ugly, boring, nothing but fast-food, plus rush-hour traffic after 8-10 hours of sitting in an outdated hall. *sigh* However, that illustration in the photo is hideous...I like the idea of lots of light/glass, but the hotel stuck on the top looks horrific - some sort of 1970 throwback? Let's go more "Life Sciences Institute" than "Huge teetering glass refrigerator".


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 5:15 p.m.

Bill's comments make us sound provincial. If you wont't accept this bad idea then you are a NIMBY, whiner, or small town person. However, there is something dysfunctional here. I've gone to Austin many times, which has grown pretty rapidly. I marveled at all the new downtown housing for students, young professionals, and empty nesters. The first thought in my mind was there is no way Ann Arbor would have that much development going on because of all the grief the developers would get. I sure would like to see a happy medium. This particular development is not a good example of the city putting too many barriers in the way of a developer. It is sort of the opposite - sure, we'll take the risk. We'll even hire a consultant to help us figure out how to get this thing off the ground.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 5 p.m.

Bill, real cities have downtown parks...


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 4:56 p.m.

Hey Top Cat how much?


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 4:33 p.m.

If the hotel and conference center is full or busy, then the new parking structure would be allocated for them or most spaces would be taken up by them and that would leave few or no new spaces available for the general public who would stay and shop and eat downtown and support local business.

Top Cat

Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 4:18 p.m.

I believe that if a developer offered to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to the AA City Council that they would buy it.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 4:06 p.m.

To all of those citizens who are afraid of "fancy" buildings in the middle of the city and don't want us to be a thriving metropolis. For those of you who want a park for the homeless,I say move. Move to a Fowlerville or some other quaint small town. Wake up Ann Arbor is or is going to be the shining star for economic recovery in southeast Mi. We are a real city and will continue to grow with new projects like these. Where do you think the taxes to pay for all of the things you want in a city are going to come from? From business who pay taxes and and bring business to the city, not people who want everything and aren't willing to pay or see progress


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 4 p.m.

So, I guess turning this spot into a liberal and conservative free zone is now officially off the table.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 3:04 p.m.

Karen Sidney: "If the Valiant project is built, none of the taxes generated by the project will be available to fix the roads or pay for basic services like police, fire and solid waste. That is because all of the city tax money will go to the DDA." Sounds like we need two things to right the course of the rock-bound City of Ann Arbor Government ship: 1) Regime change: All of the Council nonsense begins and continues with mayoral leadership. It's time for a new mayor. 2) Charter change examples: a) The DDA has outgrown its useful. It has surpassed its level of expertise, and care for citizenry interests. Abolish it. b) Impose dollar limitations for non-maintenance, non-core-service bond issuance. In this instance new buildings would have to be voter approved. It's time for voter input for the major expenditures. c) Remove the ward restrictions for City Council, opening the vote to a non partisan City-wide candidate slate.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 2:42 p.m.

It's pretty modern looking and I for one don't really mind if it doesn't "fit the surronding architecture." that's somthing you think about in small towns like Dexter, not A2. First of all, this whole town is full of really old buildings from UofM next to building made over 100 years later, big deal. Second of all, Downtown librry is not the best looking building and I wouldn't want somthign new to have to look like the jeruselum garden and filthy little places like that.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 1:43 p.m.

I think Valiant's proposal is a sham to get everyone to settle on the other alternative, Acquest. The Valiant design looks like the aftermath of an earthquake. How did that building end up there? I know we have lots of boring buildings in Ann Arbor, but that design is a disaster.

delete this profile

Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 1:11 p.m.

I haven't read enough to comment on which proposal is best but I have to say that the Valiant building is ugly and looks out place with the surrounding structures. If they want to build this, the investors should be funding it and keeping their hands our of our pockets.

Karen Sidney

Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 12:29 p.m.

If the Valiant project is built, none of the taxes generated by the project will be available to fix the roads or pay for basic services like police, fire and solid waste. That is because all of the city tax money will go to the DDA. DDA tax money is not used for basic services. It is used to subsidize more development. The additional cost of basic services for this project will be picked up by the rest of the taxpayers.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 12:20 p.m.

Anecdotal remarks about the need for a conference center do not carry water. They should not be used as the basis for paying developers $1 million in fees to spend our money on speculative developments, with no risk to the developers themselves. A 1991 City-commissioned study of this site concluded that it should be a park, with buildings behind it, deeper in the lot. The report cited a number of potential uses for the developed part of the site. The only use they specifically ruled out was a conference/event center. This study is old and needs to be updated, but I present it in response to those who keep saying we've needed a conference center for 40-50 years. Where is your study?


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 12:17 p.m.

I'm all for vertical growth and high density occupancy. Just do it on the enormous blank slate of a lot across the street where there is traffic access from three roads and better parking access to two large structures now. Why restrict the architects by wedging this thing into such a tiny lot surrounded by other buildings? Ann Arbor can have a conference center, the fancy hotel, AND a town square. Even Detroit has Campus Martius and people actually skate there! Any urban planner that walked to this sight and took one look around would see THAT is the perfect layout. Make the owner of this new hotel chip in with Dahlmann to pay a guy to cut the grass for 6 months out of the year. Similar requirements for developers of property near the greenway have been floated. Why not do the same at Library Lot?


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 12:04 p.m.

I haven't done more than skim the proposals, but I think the Valiant one would be the nicest for the community if they can change the Hotel to not look like a domino anout to fall over. It provides the park space and community gathering space while allowing sunlight to shine on the businesses next door. Asthetically the Acquest proposal is much nicer, but the park space is greatly reduced. Both of these would bring money into the city which would be good for the city. Conference that now go to Novi, Livonia or Southfield would come to Ann Arbor and the attendees would spend money at Ann Arbor businesses. With the additional park space of the Valiant proposal the community would get more benefit. Hopefully I'll get time this weekend to puruse the proposals more to have a better opinion.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 11:47 a.m.

Phillip, If I told you Skelton is the primary consultant for the Dahlmann family, would it change your belief that he is "independent"?


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 11:45 a.m.

The design looks very modern and will make a nice future low income senior high rise..oh wait didn't we go thru this once before? Deja Vue all over again...fix the streets and take care of the basics of city goverment!!!

Phillip Farber

Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 11:39 a.m.

How is it possible to take the Valiant proposal seriously in the face of Briere's report, to wit: "... Skelton informed her the hotel market in Michigan is doing poorly and that, in Ann Arbor, occupancy rates have deteriorated to 55 percent. That's about 10 percent to 15 percent less than needed to break even, according to what Skelton told Briere.". I am glad to hear that, at the least, an independent consultant will be having a look at the numbers. Are supporters of the Valiant plan living in a fantasy land?


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 11:37 a.m.

I have mixed feelings about this project. My two main concerns are: 1) The validity of the rfp process -- has it really been transparent, or has it been tarnished as some commentators suggest more importantly, 2) I am opposed to the city risking tax dollars for this. If the developers want to put their money into the project -- fine, but the way things have gone down in the past, I foresee a loss of the requested $8 million bond.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 11:26 a.m.

If the Valiant plan is determined by a consultant that it will be feasible and provide financial benefit to the city, I don't really understand the outrage. Does it not not occur to people that if this project is successful, added tax revenue can be used to fix the roads and pay for other necessities? Is it really such a bad thing to have a modern building downtown? Obviously though, this project should only move forward if it is fiscally feasible. I don't understand how people can on one hand predict this plan not making enough money to survive, and on the other hand refer to the developer as greedy.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 11:22 a.m.

BTW this seems another case of left wing liberal thinking " we don't care what the voters want,we know whats best".Sorry it's none of my business I'm just putting my two cents in


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 11:15 a.m.

I don't live in A2 so I could care less. But looking at the poll the A2 city council apearently does'nt care about what you A2 tax payers think

David Cahill

Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 11:13 a.m.

I think this article should have the header WITH POLL. The earlier poll on this issue was quite useful in gauging public support for the various proposals.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 10:59 a.m.

Hey, we Arborites don't need some fancy-schmancy hotel and convention center going up in the middle of any empty city lot! Whadda think this is, a thriving metropolis? These developers just want to come in here and make money. They must think that we're just a bunch of rubes. We'll show them! We'll boot 'em outta town and let 'em know that we don't need their high-falootin ideas about vertical growth and high density occupancy. Really folks? Is building an infrastructure for a city of the future a bad idea?

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 10:58 a.m.

Here are some links to city documents related to this story: Sabra Briere's report on meeting with hotel consultant Public feedback received by e-mail on Library Lot Public feedback at Library Lot interviews


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 8:38 a.m.

Kudos to the committee/council for thinking long-term and about economic development. The Valiant plan and a conference center makes the most sense to objective viewers of this process.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 7:18 a.m.

As Jayne Miller said, this conference center was decided on a long time ago. The rest of it was just kabuki theater. Will there at least be a vote to let the people decide if they want to fund this project? Or does the city council already have the authority to pull the trigger on this? I'm looking forward to the next city council election where I'll vote for "anyone but" the incumbent.

Steve Hendel

Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 7:10 a.m.

Ms Kritt, the public is supposed to be represented in these and other matters by the Council members you and I elected. The public has had plenty of opportunity to review and comment on these plans, and indeed on many other aspects (A2D2, City Place, etc.) of downtown development. What we LACK are Council members who will place at least as much premium on actually making actual decisions as they do on "oiling all the squeaking wheels" in town.


Fri, Jan 22, 2010 : 6:37 a.m.

Fiduciary responsibility... transparent process... due diligence in protecting governed body... respect of citizenry... priceless! $50 mil city hall... $50 mil parking garage... $80 mil hotel / conference center... $1 mil designer artwork... history of failed development projects and agreements... blockage of private sector development that meets and follows standards of existing law... secret meetings, secret emails, secret City vision, and open FOI dogfights... disdain of citizenry... gutting of human resources and City service... corrupt, immoral, crooked, future bankrupt Ann Arbor City Government! As you think of folly, go for a drive and notice the quality of our streets. There is no money for bond initiatives for repair or maintenance. There is no money to repair the Stadium Bridge. In the midst of ample money for folly there is ample money to send your new 2010 tax assessment. Most people will receive and increases in taxable value and tax amount very shortly. Does any of this take your breath and speech away? Alas. Silent citizens are approving citizens.