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Posted on Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 1:41 p.m.

Downtown conference center proposal may make sense for Ann Arbor, consultant says

By Ryan J. Stanton


The Valiant Partners proposal for a hotel and conference center to be built on the city-owned Library Lot in downtown Ann Arbor makes economic sense, according to a consultant's report.

Artist rendering

(This story has been updated to include additional information from the Roxbury Group's report, as well as to clarify statements about the project's perceived economic viability.)

A consultant hired by the city of Ann Arbor has determined a downtown hotel and conference center project proposed by New York-based Valiant Partners may be viable and could fill an unmet need in the downtown market, but further study is still needed.

The outcome of the Detroit-based Roxbury Group's study was announced today at a meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

DDA board member John Splitt said the consultant met with both Valiant Partners and Acquest Realty Advisors of Bloomfield Hills to review their competing development proposals for the city-owned Library Lot on South Fifth Avenue, just north of William Street.

The city, in cooperation with the DDA, has been looking for a private developer to build atop an underground parking structure now under way at the site.

Splitt said the Roxbury Group has concluded a need exists for a downtown conference center, and the Valiant proposal is the better of the two proposals being considered.

Today's announcement marks the first major news in the Library Lot proposal review process in more than 10 months — since Valiant and Acquest were chosen as finalists.

"Finally, after all this time, we have something," DDA Chairwoman Joan Lowenstein said today.

A year ago, Valiant and Acquest both proposed building a hotel on the Library Lot site and asked the city to make a financial commitment to fund a conference center that would drive the success of the hotel.

The two projects were selected for further review in January from a pool of six proposals. After months of delays by the city, city officials agreed to hire a consultant using grant money from the DDA to determine whether the projects make sense economically.

Valiant drafted a vision for a project called Ann Arbor Town Plaza Hotel and Conference Center. It proposed a 150-room hotel, 32,000-square-foot conference center, 12 two-bedroom condos, restaurants and retail shops — all on the Library Lot. It has since scaled back the size of the conference center to 26,000 square feet and has reduced the number of condos to six.

Acquest proposed a potentially 190-room hotel with meeting spaces, restaurants and retail aspects. Acquest asked the city to partner on the project by building a 40,000-square-foot conference center on the former Y site across the street from the Library Lot.

Splitt said the consultant found Valiant's proposal was "much clearer" and "much more capable of moving forward."

"They felt that a conference center had greater community benefit than a hotel standing alone," Splitt said of the preference for the Valiant proposal. "They felt that the conference center was essentially a game changer, which brought much benefit to downtown."

The actual report states the Valiant proposal is "clearly preferable from a financial perspective" and that "Valiant appears to have presented a mixed-use proposal that is inherently more capable of reinforcing its own uses to achieve greater viability, and remains flexible enough to adjust to market conditions."

Michael Bailkin, a representative of Valiant Partners, said earlier this year his firm's project would cost $54 million — $40 million for the hotel and retail aspects, $5 million for the condos and $9 million for the conference center, which the city would help fund.

Valiant originally asked the city to issue $8 million worth of tax-exempt bonds to be paid back over 20 years from hotel proceeds. At the end, the city would own the conference center debt-free, Bailkin said during a public interview in January.

However, Splitt said today that Valiant has revised its proposal and has removed the request for the city to hold a bond, eliminating the risk to the city of a publicly guaranteed debt.

DDA board member Newcombe Clark, a commercial real estate professional, said it's good the bond has been eliminated, but it appears Valiant is banking on revenue from the commercial aspects of its project, and rent prices right now are about half what is needed to justify new construction of office space. That doesn't seem to add up, he said.

Splitt said it's uncertain when the Library Lot advisory committee, which has been reviewing the proposals, will meet again to move the process forward.

Lowenstein said the proposal eventually will come before the DDA's Partnerships Committee. City Council approval is required before Valiant could move forward.

Members of the development team for Valiant Partners have been in close talks with Ann Arbor community leaders dating back nearly three years.

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



Fri, Jan 28, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

Along with aesthetic objections to the design of this (it looks like the beginning of a house of cards, and quite menacing at the same time!) I continue to be disturbed that the most popular of the six proposals for the lot, a central city park, was completely disregarded by *elected* officials. That proposal would have received a big donation from a local developer/building owner, too. A recent visit to Kalamazoo that included a few moments in Bronson Park underlined this feeling. I couldn't help regretting that an opportunity to create something like it is probably being passed up. Bronson Park is central, green and beautifully landscaped, has a performance area, fountains with sculptures, and a lot of grace. It is a natural gathering place, and growing up in that city I remember finding that it felt quite safe, too.


Sun, Dec 5, 2010 : 11:10 a.m.

Remember that big ole hotel that sat for years downtown until it turned into senior citizens housing? Lesson learned yet?


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 1:41 p.m.

I recommend a look at a thought-provoking piece about the questionable economic, social and architectural impact of convention centers that appeared last summer in Next American City's online magazine:


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 1:17 p.m.

There are a dozen or so events that local groups now take to Dearborne, the airport, and other out of town locations because of lack of hotel function space. Weber's and the Old Holiday Inn West are both too small for a 500-800 person event, EMU's Eagle Crest (or whatever they are calling it now) has enough function space, if they allow you to use it all, but not enough hotel rooms. If someone were to build a convention hotel in Ann Arbor, I would like to see 60,000 to 70,000 square feet of function space, enough so folks like IEEE, and the various local groups would consider it a realistic hotel to use. But then comes the rub, in the wintertime, no one wants to walk several blocks between an indoor meeting and their sleeping space, so more hotel rooms would be needed. Ann Arbor is already overbuilt with hotel rooms overall. Best choice would be to rethink the site plan for the Old Holiday Inn West and rebuild that, then link it with an elevated walk to Weber's. That would provide a wonderful convention location and drive more business to two long time Ann Arbor businesses. There is enough free parking, almost enough hotel rooms, and with some work on the function space - enough function space. With the enclosed walk, it would provide a place for kids to decompress too. AATA could add a bus during large events to bring people downtown for dinner and shopping, if more downtown traffic was desired. This design is (1) ugly (2) requires paid parking (3) has too few on-site rooms (4) is too far from much of the interesting food locations for much of the year (5) does not have the function space to support a mid-size convention.

Dog Guy

Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 10 a.m.

Groucho told us at the start that "viable" was the secret word. Now the Ann Arbor politburo may divide our money. The plan is, obviously, to have a high rise homeless shelter when the hotel/conference center goes broke (within a year of opening): the world at large has no interest in holding conferences in Ann Arbor.


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 9:43 a.m.

People in A2 city council must have screw loose. You can't even fill the hotels you have. And if this is such a great idea let the "free market decide". As for the design? This building is absolutely ugly. It reminds me of some of the so called modern office buildings from the sixties. As for the ugliest building in Washtenaw County. If this thing gets built it would a three way tie between Mark Jefferson Hall at Eastern the new city hall or, this thing if it ever gets built.


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 6:59 a.m.

Mr. Ranzini - Thank you. Yours is likely the most significant question of the year. It deserves it's own forum; perhaps an opinion column here is one way to begin. You are quite correct: we need products and services which draw customers and thus money from around the world, not just here. How to do this? Answers will vary depending upon profession and industry; we seem to have a knowledge base; what we may lack is conditions conducive to new business incubation, development, and growth. Those conditions are likely much better locally than elsewhere in the state, but they are not optimal locally. 'Conditions' is a broad phrase; and varies by industry, but some common themes would be having low costs associated with new business starts; and having VC close and accessible. Enhanced business incubator facilities; higher rewards for successful risk taking; substantially streamlined business start regulations; perhaps tax incentives for organizations which support new business starts; the Enterprise Zone concept is one which never really got a fair try for reasons you likely know-this concept could be huge if given a fair try; etc., etc. These are just a few ideas. It is lamentable that, for many reasons, many in society don't know how to best encourage new business growth or have chosen not to; perhaps the current economic environment, which historical analogies suggest will be longer lasting and worse than most recessions, will at last create an environment conducive to the social, psychological, legal, regulatory, and other changes needed to once again allow the proper care and feeding of golden geese.


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 12:44 a.m.

Also, nice to see that after closing the street for a YEAR they've come up with a purpose & reason for actually doing so after just 10 months. Is that coming in under the deadline...or what? That's accountability and intelligence, people. I'm glad they were able to hire some out of town consultants to figure all this complex stuff out for the rest of us. DDA, hey, it's ok. Thanks for closing our street down and coming up with this cool plan to build a giant windowed flip-phone in our downtown!


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 12:37 a.m.

At this rate, 5th avenue won't be open again until better way to bring business into the city by choking off all the oneway streets in such a way that it becomes actually so miserable to drive downtown that nobody comes at all. Win! Win!


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 12:37 a.m.

At this rate, 5th avenue won't be open again until better way to bring business into the city by choking off all the oneway streets in such a way that it becomes actually so miserable to drive downtown that nobody comes at all. Win! Win!


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 12:35 a.m.

I just want to point out something I think is obvious. Conventions happen in more vacation like destinations. Who wants to go to Michigan for a convention when you can go somewhere with white sand beaches, I think most men want the chance to golf or go to the beach to look at barely there bikini girls or 24 hour entertainment like Vegas which has got to have the best PR slogan for conventions, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" and as others have pointed out the design pictured is an ugly fugly building. Whoever came up with that design should be fired or hit in the head, hard.


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 12:32 a.m.

I think it would only work if right after the awful Library Lot is done, they can go right to work on this and close down another important street for a full year for a pointless project.


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 12:26 a.m.

@jay thomas, OMG the street lights already go off. Everyday I leave work at 7pm only to walk a block and like clockwork the lights go off! Then I get to walk another block and a half in near pitch black which is oh so fun. Tonight I had a drunk man ask me for money, I didn't even see him!


Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 12:16 a.m.

GOOD GRIEF. (Thumbs down.)

Stuart Brown

Thu, Dec 2, 2010 : 12:09 a.m.

When people hear about the Commons proposal, they should think about Hart Plaza in Detroit not another city park. This town needs a space to hold major events downtown that bring people together and form a sense of community. Top of the Park does this very well, why not have a space where events like Top of the Park could happen more often?

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 11:24 p.m.

@AlphaAlpha wrote "What exactly are you seeking input on? Most of the questions you posed above seem rhetorical, and it's likely most here agree with you on the answers. Hence the question: what input do you seek?" Assuming you and other readers agree with my assertion that merely building buildings does not create jobs (other than temporary construction jobs), then *what* should we do *instead* to nurture our local employers and grow our "base economic jobs"? Imagine for the purposes of this thought exercise that we didn't spend $36 million on the Big Dig or that another $36 million is lying around somewhere in a "bucket", unspent. What should we do? Of course, I'd also like to hear from those who believe that building buildings creates real economic growth if any of you actually believe that and can explain why. If I am wrong, I'd like to learn why.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 11:17 p.m.

Thank you Mr. Nanney. Yes-the resemblance is uncanny. Kweepy, in fact. Looking at this proposal, one wonders whether the design firm might have been playing a joke on the client, by seeing how ridiculous of a design the firm could convince the city to buy or build. One could even do a comedic skit along these lines; start with something odd, then edit-paste some other utt-bugly building right on top, then label it avant-garde and voila. Maybe the same firm proposing this building built the old YMCA building? Much like Mr. Brady reflecting his home's lines in every building he designed... Perhaps an unbiased second opinion would be the city's appropriate next move.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 11:05 p.m.

Mr. Ranzini - Excellent commentary, as usual. One question: What exactly are you seeking input on? Most of the questions you posed above seem rhetorical, and it's likely most here agree with you on the answers. Hence the question: what input do you seek? Thank you very much for asking. It's more than most of our misleaders have asked for...

Rodney Nanney

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 10:56 p.m.

Great comments. This concept design reminded me of something, but I couldn't put my finger on it until now: The proposed conference center looks like a levitating homage to the old YMCA building that not so long ago held the title of ugliest Ann Arbor building! Apparently the power elites of A2 are hungry for more of that post-Stalinist late-50's's all the rage again.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 10:37 p.m.

The debate over the merits of convention centers begs the fundamental question of what is our goal as a city? Is is economic development, or the pursuit of adding big tall beautiful buildings? To date, many of the buildings built are not pretty, but I digress. I get the feeling that many believe that building buildings brings jobs. Economic development is not adding a third gas station to a busy street corner where there are two profitable successful gas stations (or hotels). All you accomplish doing that is to impoverish two gas station (or hotel) owners and maybe one or two go bankrupt and end up being boarded up (think Woodward Avenue in Detroit). The only kind of jobs that add to economic wealth are those that sell a product or service to people and firms located outside of our economic area that we are trying to grow. The goal of economic growth ought to be ways to increase these "base economic jobs", especially high paying ones. Think Pfizer, which sold its products globally. In a county where we have lost 30,500 jobs since 2000 (see, in my opinion what we need are more "base economic jobs" in Ann Arbor. If we have those jobs, much additional development will be possible? What is our strategy to add jobs? We do have tax free bonding authority available at the Ann Arbor EDC (where I am a director and the past President) and the Washtenaw County EDC (where I am Vice Chair). This low cost funding can be used for economic development to build non-profit facilities such as the proposed convention center but only when the private sector takes ALL the risk (the EDC does not take any risk when these tax free bonds are issued). Do we actually have an insufficient supply of office space and other "infrastructure" downtown (e.g. rail access, conference center and hotel rooms) to attract the right kind of jobs? Should we spend that money building tall buildings (or low rise buildings) or underground parking which costs 5x regular above ground parking (we taxpayers are out of pocket about $36 million extra on the Big Dig), a conference center, rail stations - in other words build additional "infrastructure" in the hope that we can attract businesses to Ann Arbor to use and occupy this new space or should we instead figure out ways to back additional local firms that will directly add real "base economic jobs"? Or, should we do something else? Could we have used that $35 million buried in the Big Dig to create "base economic jobs" more efficiently? I for one would like your feedback and ideas.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 10:37 p.m.

The water slide could feature small green faux dollar bills in the water; upon their arrival at the Hurinal, they would represent the community's tax dollars, wasted, down the drain.

Peter Eckstein

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 10:03 p.m.

Clan points out that Ann Arbor has an inadequate supply of streetwalkers to make a conference center sufficiently attractive. This is not a real problem. I can assure him: If we build it, they will come.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 10:01 p.m.

Suggested enhancement for this new project: A water slide. Beginning atop this new building, a thrilling ride down, toward city hall, ending with a splash in the new Hurinal.

Vince Caruso

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 9:44 p.m.

This is a clear loser for the city. It will never pay for itself. The neighborhood will be blighted because convention centers have little activity the vast majority of the time making the area unoccupied the vast majority of the time. The only folks who want this is the few who want the city to provide them a meeting space at great cost to the many, right next door to all the 'uberspace' at the UM. Privatize the profits socialize the cost. A public commons makes the most sense with lots of folks around all the time and a green pubic meeting location in the downtown which we are sorely lacking.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 9:36 p.m.

This is a doubly ridiculous story. The author, after I do not know how many comments, finally admits that he wrote it without reading the report, and the report, it would seem, does not independently make any judgment, but only cites supporters who claim it would work. Is this any way to run a blog and is this any way to run a city?

jacquelyn wright

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:39 p.m.

The building material, of course, is Legos, in many bright colors. At least it will be easy to put together. It's going to be difficult to award a prize for the most dreadful new building in Ann Arbor - there are so many to choose from.

Bob Martel

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:39 p.m.

This would appear to be another ill conceived downtown project. I wonder why it is being so heavily promoted by otherwise intelligent people? If it fails, the City will be left holding a big piece of the bag as it to be built on top of a City-owned piece of real estate. In the case of the apparently ignored (by the City and DDA) "worst case scenario," the City would need to take possession of the mess if for no other reason than to protect its interest in the underlying City-owned real estate and parking structure.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 8:05 p.m.

"Valiant has offered to guarantee the amount of financing necessary so that any shortfall is covered by the developer, not the city" Except that the developer can always file bankruptcy if things go wrong, and then we're stuck with a big, ugly, empty hotel/conference center on top of an underground parking garage that the majority of citizens didn't want in the first place. I'm glad there will be a follow-up story. I'd like to know how other conference centers have done in other nearby cities (Lansing, Detroit, etc.).

vicki honeyman

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 7:53 p.m.

I agree with "speechless" and "bear" comments...and am relieved to read all the negative and realistic comments to this horrible proposal. Wouldn't it be interesting if we, the voters, were given a the polls? I wonder how many people would vote for a public park/art space next to the main library rather than a hotel/conference center that is not intended for local use.

Lets Get Real

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 7:53 p.m.

Let's Get Real about the proposed hotel/conference center/condos/retail apace project for the library lot: First and foremost - This is not NY, so why are we entertaining suggestions for our town from outsiders who want to promote thier style in AA with their outrageously ugly and non-conforming architectural design? Is there no one, anywhere in Michigan, that can bring a project designed to compliment the building styles here? Even the University has returned to more classic designs in keeping with its architectural flavor (after a few horrible attempts at avante garde, ultra modern bombs, i.e. the pringle can and the orange business school) Michigan made please - it should be a high scoring criteria of the RFP. But then why are we surprised? The city looks outside for its providers: A German artist, an Indiana concrete contractor, Ohio license plates on contractor trucks at city projects, etc. With all the people out of work in this state, you'd be hard pressed to convince me that we don't have skilled people anxious to be considered higher on the totem pole than outsiders. Anyone tried to bid a project in Indiana? The scoring heavily favors bidders located inside the state - and IN is not alone. Michigan? We consistently leave our own go begging in favor of the "experts from more than 50 miles away" Let's Get Real about occupancy rates for current lodging establishments in Ann Arbor. Has anyone looked at occupancy lately? It has fallen steadily for the past few years. My bet is occupancy is somewhere around 60%. Travel purchases are made with disposable dollars. In case no one has noticed, fewer people are working;, unemployment is high, and dollars that are available are allocated for necessities: food on the table, roof over the head, gas in the car, shoes on the baby or the kids education, NOT high priced hotel rooms and expensive condos. It's a matter of supply and demand: build a hotel and conference and meeting space when current capacity is strained. In that environment, a private firm would jump at the chance to invest the millions of dollars without the city's dollars being tapped. Building now - glutting the maket with rooms and space - will drive down room prices because of the surplus. Lower revenues will cause operators to do with fewer staff and/or pay lower salaries (likely to not meet the living wage requirement the city demands be paid) OR it will drive small operators out of business, i.e. the city's 14 bed and breakfast inns. Who cares - it's just 14 businesses affected, 14 more families out of work. And what about the city's current supply of hotel rooms and meeting spaces? Do we care? And lastaly, Let's Get Real about money tht suddenly appears when a pet project comes along. So we don't need the firefighters, police, and other workers whose jobs were cut, but we do need a boondoggle, project like this? The reason no developer will do this on their own is because the feasibility for projected profit is not so definite; much more speculative than a private investor will take on his/her own. When they want tax dollars, I'm always suspicious. I agree the track record is not good: invest tax dollars in the old Y - turned into low income houseing and now torn down - what a great investment that was. I agree with the observation, "within five years of being built and under used, the city will have a nice "low income" housing project to replace the old Y building, and patience will pay off for the UM - buy it for new student housing and take another chunk of real estate off the tax roles. (How much more of that can we stand? Wolverine Towers, Pfizer, Schlumberg Bldg, etc.) Let's Get Real - this is a terrible design by an out of state group of developers who want nothing more than to come in, borrow money, get state and local tax abatement, use city tax dollars to build the project, and take the margins out of the state. Will we never learn?


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 7:51 p.m.

Of course the consultant determined it is a great idea - they are being PAID to reach this conclusion! Vanity projects for the City Council and DDA must be good ideas. I'm no fan of a city park here - personally thought it was a great parking lot - but something can get private financing and maybe continues the retail corridor along to the library would be fantastic! Not this ugly, overbuilt facility. Why not work with the College Inn to expand existing conference facilties instead? It would cost less, support existing resources - but oh yeah, no vanity building. Also, from the inquiring minds want to know department; did the report recommnet recommend some over priced public art??


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 7:39 p.m.

Yes, the proposed building design is extraordinarily ugly. It never fails to make me imagine an outsized, '90s-era VHS video cabinet balancing precariously over the edge of a rec room table. Quoted from further above:  "... In a decade or two, this building will be simply another piece of the puzzle, and the "old crusties" who long to keep Ann Arbor trapped in the 1960's will no longer be around to scream loudly at every corner...." Um... the idea of a conference center is itself an example of being stuck in the '60s. Over the next decade or two, internet videoconferencing will gradually reduce the number and scale of in-person conferences and large meetings. Why travel across the country when you can 'interface' with groups via 100mb internet connections or faster? The big conference centers will slowly become social and economic anachronisms. A later comment includes what I think will be a more accurate guess: "... within five years of being built and underused the city will have a nice 'low income' housing project to replace the old Y building... or they will sell it to the U as new student housing."


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 7:27 p.m.

this monstrosity should not be built! It will not generate more business, it will be a white elephant. It will forever mar our skyline. Look at the big largely unused building already in existence on first st. & huron. Yeah, it's in receivership. Build a nice park for patrons of the library and the local businesses that already exist. The people need a break from getting screwed by developers who only see dollar signs. Shame on city council for even entertaining the idea of a convention center on this location.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 6:40 p.m.

This is a lazy and irresponsible piece of reporting--nothing should have been written without reading the report carefully and critically. Vivienne Armentrout is correct. Journalism--at least as it's being practiced here--is in a death spiral.

Jay Thomas

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 6:28 p.m.

I suppose we could always turn off the streetlights again... and find other spending cuts to come up with the city's share for this development. :|

Stuart Brown

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 6:23 p.m.

There is already excess and underused hotel capacity in Ann Arbor; this is a major bonehead idea. Does the jobs estimate subtract the jobs lost from the hotels that are currently operating that will be forced into bankruptcy? Gotta love the cost estimate of $5 million for 12 2 bedroom condos; how long will those lemons be on the market? Conference Centers are a proven bad use of public funds!


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 6:22 p.m.

Ted Annis & Clan are the ones that have it right. It does not matter what it looks like it will NOT be economically viable. As usual the powers that be in this town have their collective heads in the sand! Once they get something in their head its full speed ahead dang the torpedoes!

Vivienne Armentrout

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 5:52 p.m.

Regarding the developers taking on the liability: the matrix supplied by the consultant says that financing will be obtained from "EDC bonds". This presumably refers either to the Washtenaw County or the Ann Arbor Economic Development Corporation. Neither of these entities actually possesses a capital fund, to the best of my knowledge. I'm not sure who is left holding the bag if a developer defaults on bonds issued by them.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 5:42 p.m.

two things, first can you just imagine how much the water fountain for this place would cost!? and two, within five years of being built and under used the city will have a nice "low income" housing project to replace the old Y building, patience will pay off for them or they will sell it to the U as new student housing


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 5:32 p.m.

two things, first can you just imagine how much the water fountain for this place would cost!? and two, within five years of being built and under used the city will have a nice "low income" housing project to replace the old Y building, patience will pay off for them or they will sell it to the U as new student housing


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 5:31 p.m.

If this was revenue neutral for the city, the developer would have built the parking structure, too. Is the city being reimbursed for the part of the structure that the development will use?


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 5:19 p.m.

What was the basis for determining that a conference center is needed, would be utilized and would be an asset for the city? We have two huge buildings in down town Ann Arbor that were built for hotel/conference centers that totally flopped; one is now the "senior housing" building, the other a parking garage. The archetecture of the proposed center is also problematic in that it bears no relationship to the surrounding buildings or landscape. This doesn't seem to be a worthwhile proposal.

Long Time No See

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 5:13 p.m.

btw - in case anyone wants to read something that was written by someone who checked the report prior to writing something about it:


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 5:09 p.m.

Mr. Stanton - Why such a misleading headline? Your good story deserves better...

Marshall Applewhite

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 5 p.m.

I agree with others that this project isn't the most aesthetically pleasing thing I've ever seen, but I also don't agree with the anti-development stance of many posters on this site. Since it appears that the company is prepared to take responsibility for financing (according to Mr. Stanton), there seems to be a reasonable amount of mutual benefit here. In a decade or two, this building will be simply another piece of the puzzle, and the "old crusties" who long to keep Ann Arbor trapped in the 1960's will no longer be around to scream loudly at every corner.

Jeff Crockett

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:51 p.m.

With this design, the city hall design and the apartment building on the southeast corner of State and Washington, Ann Arbor would move into first place in the national ugly building contest by a wide margin.

Pam Wilson

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:49 p.m.

It is amazing to me that no one on our planning commission or city council would even consider this design. They clearly have not thought to have a new building that fits in with the city or university around it (just take a look at the new City Hall)! This design is so out of place and I can only think that these folks think it is the new, hip design of the future. Do we really need more hodge podge architecture? Come on folks! Let's think about the overall future design of our wonderfuly city and the people who live and work in this here! Then plan new buildings/facilities that will enhance Ann Arbor and it's lifestyle!


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:45 p.m.

Ann Arbor is not Detroit. We don't need another building/hotel in town. I can't drive downtown now in less that 10 mins.

Bertha Venation

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:39 p.m.

Thank you, Andy!!


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:34 p.m.

Consulting - If you're not a part of the solution, there's good money to be made in prolonging the problem. - Trend demand for conference space and room nights is DOWN and futures are DOWN. This effort would simply take business from surrounding, and ample, facilities. In a word, no.

cara burghardt

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:33 p.m.

The idea is ok, but I think the architecture is quite awful. I think it's a fine design but it really doesn't suit the town's style at all. Ann Arbor is originally known for it's cozy, low brick buildings and I think this building would look terrible next to the current architectures styles...

Bertha Venation

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:32 p.m.

I agree with other folks. This is an UGLY bulidng, though not quite as ugly as the big silver dishwasher they put on the corner of Fifth Ave. and Huron. What's with all the stainless steel? I know it's the style inside, but this is not Manhattan.

John of Saline

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:28 p.m.

The rooms with their floors over the overhang will have frigid floors in the winter unless well-insulated. Old Haven Hall had that problem with several offices. And projections of economic viability tend to be similar to sales projections, in that, while some actual data is in them, most of the results could have been obtained by a doctor with a flashlight.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:24 p.m.

Let's move Miles of Golf to the Library Lot.

Long Time No See

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:12 p.m.

This headline seems to be extremely misleading. As Vivienne Armentrout points out, the consultants specifically say that the report is not actually an evaluation of the economic viability of the proposals (even though that's what the consultants were paid for!). What a surprise it is that the consultants concluded that the people who are proposing that the city build a conference center actually think that a conference center is a good idea! So, basically, the city wasted our money by paying Roxbury to regurgitate the the assumptions that the city fed them so that the city can justify wasting even more money by building an ugly monstrosity on top of the underground structure. Quoting the Ann Arbor Chronicle: "The RFQ (request for qualifications) issued by the city of Ann Arbor, which led to the engagement of The Roxbury Groups services, stated that the consultant should be able to determine if the projects submitted to the City are economically viable and make financial sense in the Ann Arbor marketplace. However, Roxburys report indicates that it does not include and is not intended to serve as a feasibility study for the concepts included in the two proposals it is generally assumed that the overall concepts included in the uses for the Library Lot contained in each proposal are valid and supportable from a market and demand standpoint."


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:12 p.m.

I fully agree with Rodney Nanney. This is without a doubt the ugliest design I've ever seen. Looks like the parts cabinet on my workbench. Only the parts cabinet does not look like it's ready to fall over in a second. This looks like a 3 year old put a big box on top of a smaller one and said "Look Mom!" Followed immediately by Mom dashing in and saving the contents. Do we REALLY need an eyesore that's asking for a catastrophe?


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:11 p.m.

Are Weber's, Eagle Crest (Ypsi/Ann Arbor Marriott) and other smaller Briarwood area hotels / conference centers completely booked and bursting at the seems? Probably not. If it is such a great idea, let some private development group fund it and move on. Not a dime of taxpayer money should even be considered for someone's pipe dream. Either that, or build it with some tax payer dollars and once it fails in 15 years let the U-M buy at a steal (even if they don't need the space) and get it off the tax rolls (as sometimes has been known to happen 'round here)


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 4:05 p.m.

Like a fish needs a bicycle...

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:58 p.m.

I now have a copy of the report and am working on a story for tomorrow. The executive summary says Valiant "was able to strengthen the development's potential for revenue generation, eliminating the need for any publicly-guaranteed debt. To ensure that this is the case, Valiant has offered to guarantee the amount of financing necessary so that any shortfall is covered by the developer, not the city." The consultant concludes: "In summary, subject to necessary follow-on negotiation and due diligence, the Valiant proposal is clearly preferable from a financial perspective."


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:51 p.m.

This has to be one of the worst buildings I've ever seen. I've seen blown out rubble shells of buildings that are more attractive than this. I hope this design is seriously taken under consideration, and then scrapped. Every time I see this drawing, I throw up a little bit in my mouth.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:50 p.m.

"Michael Bailkin, a representative of Valiant Partners, said earlier this year his firm's project would cost $54 million $40 million for the hotel and retail aspects, $5 million for the condos and $9 million for the conference center, which the city would help fund." And how exactly is the City of Ann Arbor going to "help fund" this project? And what happens if it loses money? Tax payers beware...


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:43 p.m.

Ted Annis has it right. AA fell for a conference center once before, and the Ann Arbor Inn, at Huron & 4th was built. Several owners tried to make it work but it didn't. There is too much competition from U of M facilities, no gambling joints, and an insufficient supply of street walkers.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:37 p.m.

Well I won't be the first to analyze this as the overt abomination that it is. If the a2 politians are paid in full get ready for the Washtenaw Avenue and State St parking lots to congest further. What happened to the comitment to public interest?

vicki honeyman

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:28 p.m.

This awful design adds to Ann Arbor's recent history of building butt-ugly unnecessary structures...this one being utterly ridiculous looking a city of our scale. Besides that, many Amn Arbor residents would like that property to be allocated for park and art use..d'uh, remember that city administrators?


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:27 p.m.

If it makes economic sense.... then the developer should not need one penny of Ann Arbor tax payer money.... Another scam in the making to get tax payer dollars!!


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:26 p.m.

There are 3 colors in the Valiant building photo - dark/light gray, blue and green. Ann Arbor has so many sunless days, so this photo should show a gray sky, too. The green trees and greenery on top of the building will only show green 3 months of the year. So this dreary gray building will just add more gloom to the many sunless days in Ann Arbor. A realistic photo would show the gray buildings, gray sky, gray sidewalk, gray everything.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:23 p.m.

@Forever27: I think there are actually 3 scenarios. 1) It's a terrible idea financially for the builder and the city. 2) It's a mediocre idea finacially for the builder, but a great idea financially for the city, in that it spurs general economic activity and hence brings in more tax dollars from visitors and profits for other area businesses (e.g restaurants). 3) It's great idea for the builder and the city. If it's scenario #1, it shouldn't be built. If it's scenario #3, then private capital should do the trick, assuming the private capital markets get unfrozen. If it's scenario #2, then it might make sense for the city to push it over the hump, even if private capital won't. The working assumption seems to be that it's scenario #2. The question is if the relative risk / relative reward to the city and to the builder makes it worthwhile for both to agree to proceed.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:09 p.m.

If this building is such a terrific idea financially, why haven't the developers been able to find private financing? This is nothing but a exercise in nepotism between contractors and city government. All of us in this city will be left on the hook paying for a wasteful building for the next 20 years.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:09 p.m.

Will there be weight restrictions on the people who can rent on the front side of the building. I'd hate to see it tip over from an imbalance!


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:07 p.m.

The city has invested a lot of time and money in getting ready to have a conference center / hotel built on this site. There are clearly folks who believe we shouldn't have a conference center / hotel built on the site, either because they think we need something else (a downtown park) or because they think it's a bad investment (exposing the city to risk) or because they think it's unlikely to succeed (due to the economic environment). It's unfortunate that the design is apparently so unappealing to a sizeable fraction of the community, as the design might have the effect of tipping the consensus against doing this, even if the majority of the community (via their elected representatives) would otherwise favor going forward. In other words, the design seems like an unnecessary self-inflicted wound on a non-slam-dunk proposal.

Ted Annis

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:03 p.m.

Folks, One more time... there are no data or studies that support the concept of a downtown convention center as an economic engine. The DDA has none, the Visitors and Convention Bureau has none, the City has none, the Chamber has none. Studies have shown just the opposite. The following is from the US Congress Domestic Policy Subcommittee Hearing on Taxpayer Financed Stadiums, Convention Centers and Hotels: "The public justification for public financing, including construction financing with tax exempt bonds, is that it is an investment that brings jobs and consumers to a City's downtown. Academic research on the value to downtown development, however, has universally concluded that stadiums, convention centers, and hotels do not increase economic activity in downtown areas." The report from the "Consultant" is not even good window dressing; it suggests that an economic case with sound data cannot be made. Why do the same members of the DDA, the City, and City Council keep this flawed idea alive? Something smells.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 3:02 p.m.

Ryan -- can you confirm whether or not the developer would be required to build the structure according to the plans submitted? From my standpoint, this is an abuse of architecture and planning that only Stalin could be proud of. It represents the last century's failed model of design where plans are sold to clients via the "Wow factor" with zero regard to how a building appeals to the average person on the street. It's an arrogant design that turns its back to locals and caters only to the handful of people staying in the hotel or visiting the conference center every couple of weeks (if that). The promised retail stores will be an utter failure and kill any prospects for a resurgent section of town. The DDA would be best off giving a grant to Valiant for the services of an urban designer who could fix this monstrosity in 30 minutes flat!


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 2:44 p.m.

I hope they approve this plan and so we can get on to other projects to be built in Ann Arbor.


Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 2:33 p.m.

I hope that, if they go through with the conference center idea, they abandon the building plan that looks like a drawered unit that I use to sort my screws and nails.....Look at the picture. Ick!

rusty shackelford

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 2:26 p.m.

This seems like a pretty good deal for the city. It would bring in lots of tourists to local businesses, and hopefully the rental space in the new development could include some kind of preference for small local businesses. Not to mention shuttles, taxis to and from airport getting more fees. I also think downtown Ann Arbor would be a pretty appealing destination for conferences: it's 25 minutes from a major airport, and has a reputation around the country as a safe and "hip" town (though the latter designation is mildly undeserved).

Vivienne Armentrout

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 2:22 p.m. readers should read the report for themselves. I have attached it to a recent blog post where I also recount the history of this project. It is not accurate, in my view, to say that the report or the consultant states that "it makes economic sense". The consultant mostly bases his (their) recommendation on "stakeholder" interviews - he met with people who have always supported a conference center and they still do! Here is what he says about financial feasibility: it is generally assumed that the overall concepts included in the uses for the Library Lot contained in each proposal are valid and supportable from a market and demand standpoint. - so he doesn't examine them. The report does appear to contain a revised proposal from Valiant. It seems that the consultant is acting somewhat in the role of a real estate broker, which is what Roxbury is.

Rodney Nanney

Wed, Dec 1, 2010 : 2:07 p.m.

I'm all for this project. If built per the concept drawing, it would easily beat out the recently "improved" Mark Jefferson Hall at Eastern Michigan University to become the ugliest building in Washtenaw County! Kudos to the Ann Arbor DDA for even considering this feat of architectural abomination.