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Posted on Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 12:58 p.m.

6 proposals: Ann Arbor leaders must decide between development and open space

By Ryan J. Stanton

Ann Arbor officials will have their pick between polar opposites - a new high-rise development or an urban park - when they decide the fate of the Library Lot downtown.

Six competing proposals have emerged in response to a request for proposals for a 1.2-acre city-owned lot in the heart of downtown.

Three of them are hotel-related. Another envisions a senior citizen apartment complex. And two propose urban park concepts.


The City Council ultimately will decide what will go on top of the underground parking structure being built by the Downtown Development Authority at 319 S. Fifth Ave.

Dahlmann Apartments Ltd. of Ann Arbor is proposing a project called Ann Arbor Town Square. It would be an urban park with open space, an outdoor ice rink, water features and a pavilion with retail and dining. The one-story structure would measure 7,000 square feet.

Ann Arbor residents Alan Haber and Alice Ralph are proposing a similar idea, but with no physical structure. They're the leaders of a grassroots push for a project called the Ann Arbor Community Commons, which also calls for an urban park with open space.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a group from White Plains, New York, called Valiant Partners LLC is proposing a project called Ann Arbor Town Plaza Hotel and Conference Center. It would be a mixed-use development with a 150-room hotel, 32,000-square-foot conference center, 12 condos and 5,000 square feet of restaurant and retail shops.

Closer to home, Jarratt Architecture of Ann Arbor is proposing a mixed-use development called "the Fifth a2." It would include an 84-room hotel with meeting rooms, 50 to 60 condo units, affordable housing, outdoor market and retail and restaurant space.

Acquest Realty Advisors Inc. of Bloomfield Hills is proposing a mixed-use project called "@ Hotel and Retail Center." It would include a 190-room hotel, 5,340 square feet of meeting spaces and 8,850 square feet of restaurant and retail.

Lastly, Beztak Land Co. of Farmington Hills is proposing a mixed-use development called All Seasons of Ann Arbor. It would include a 148-unit senior citizen apartment complex and 12,500 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space. obtained a one-page summary today of the six proposals prepared by city staff. A Freedom of Information Act request for more information, including complete copies of the six proposals, is pending.

The city has formed an advisory committee that plans to meet Dec. 4 to review the proposals. A recommendation to the City Council is expected in January, with final approval of one of the projects by March 1.

The city also has formed a review committee of city staff to conduct a technical review of the proposals and assist throughout the process. The committee is evaluating each bid and is providing information to the advisory committee.

"We're beginning the review process and I think we're all excited to go through that process and see what the specifics of the proposals are," said Jayne Miller, the city's community services administrator. "Our hope is that one of them will come to fruition and we'll be able to move forward and do a development on the site."

The technical review committee includes:

  • Administrator Lead - Jayne Miller
  • Project Lead - Matt Kulhanek
  • Attorney’s Office - Kevin McDonald
  • Planning and Development - Wendy Rampson
  • Systems Planning - Cresson Slotten
  • Project Management - Alison Heatley
  • Finance - Mike Pettigrew
  • Parks and Recreation - Jessica Black
  • DDA - Susan Pollay

The advisory committee includes:

  • Margie Teall - Council Member, Ward 4
  • Stephen Rapundalo - Council Member, Ward 2
  • Eric Mahler - Planning Commission
  • John Splitt - DDA
  • Sam Offen - Resident & PAC Member
  • Roger Fraser - City Administrator
  • Jayne Miller - City Staff
  • Matt Kulhanek - Manager, Ann Arbor Airport
  • Susan Pollay - DDA

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



Tue, Nov 24, 2009 : 4:09 p.m.

I believe the plaza hotel/conference center proposal to be the best one for the space. After reviewing the proposals, the plaza hotel/conference center has the most to offer. The tax base and business it would bring is definetly the best choice. The plan even has a park area, ice skating rink and rooftop garden. The only thing it doesn't have is chicken coops.


Sun, Nov 22, 2009 : 9:21 p.m.

This site should be the most dynamic, progressive and exciting project to come to Ann Arbor. It should be the place of entertainment and learning. The place to be. A progressive environmentally progressive landmark that symbolizes Ann Arbor and U of M. Stay at the hotel, shop at the market, go to the library and be Greeen.


Sun, Nov 22, 2009 : 3:26 p.m.

Why would anyone want to put a park on top of a 4 (below-grade) story parking structure? Why not put parks on top of pervious surfaces (where it is affordable)? Under ground parking is enough of a waste, but to then have it designed to handle a high-rise and only put no or one story buildings on it would make it a complete waste of time. Best to stop construction of the parking structure right now to see if a park is required. If so, then leave the site surface parking.


Sun, Nov 22, 2009 : 2:08 p.m.

Say yes to open space!


Sun, Nov 22, 2009 : 11:27 a.m.

No sense in getting worked up about this now, by the time this thing even hits planning commission we will probably go through about 2 more economic changes. Then a few more shifts after the years it sits before the PC. This city takes so much time wasting money and time, the layers of bureaucracy are exhausting to watch!


Sat, Nov 21, 2009 : 10:05 p.m.

@Michael - Bravo! My thoughts exactly. There's no substitute for a good urban space (even the river parks or nearby neighborhood parks). In 20, 50, 100 years will the people of Ann Arbor be thankful for a hotel/conference center or for a usable plaza? The land belongs to the people and I believe that developing it is short-sighted for a very, very marginal increase in the overall tax revenue that it may bring (I'd be curious to estimate the impact). I'd also suggest a *trade* of Liberty Plaza for development if the Library Lot becomes an urban community space.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sat, Nov 21, 2009 : 12:04 p.m.

Here's the link to @varmentrout's blog:

Vivienne Armentrout

Sat, Nov 21, 2009 : 11:01 a.m.

As I commented on my blog, the city does not have a good track record on public/private projects on city land. Also, is the project going to soak up all that expensive underground parking? If so, we have provided an immense subsidy to a developer and will not be making money at all. History: The "little park for a little while" was at the corner of Ann and Main. It was vacant land left from demolishing the old Salvation Army building. For a time it was the site of an encampment protesting homelessness. Then the county (who owned it) made it into the "little park for a little while". The new county administration building (housing the Treasurer and Clerk, among others) was built there around 1998 (I am not consulting any records, just my memory).


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 9:59 p.m.

wanna buy a condo across the street from the transit center? With all the other places to pick from are you nuts? If I were a buyer it would be the last option on my list. Fast


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 9:28 p.m.

@EdV, The "a little park for a little" while reference was the beginning of the popular Allen Creek "full" Greenway movement. It was a homegrown protest held on the surface parking lot behind Schlenkers. It was organized and held in favor of preserving the importance of Allen Creek over a proposed DDA parking structure at 1st and William, part of the infamous DDA "three part plan". Ray Detter was there distributing a tract in favor of the DDA parking structure and decrying the Greenway support as being a "mile wide and an inch deep". A couple of months later, about 250 people packed council chambers to express their feelings about a 5 story parking structure to be built in the floodplain of a creek named after one of the white people who discovered "Ann Arbor". The rest is history.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 5:37 p.m.

To add to my comment above, there is absolutely no way a park should go in that space. Because one of the stated goals of this plan is to actually provide revenue to the city, I can confidently say that there is a 0% chance of a park going on the property. Anyone who advocates the idea of an "Urban Park" on a very valuable piece of downtown real estate obviously is not a city of Ann Arbor taxpayer. People need some relief.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 5:32 p.m.

I would say that the best plan out of this slate of options is "The Fifth A2". It gives a good amount of condo housing downtown without adding a massive amount of hotel space to market where the future demand is uncertain. People need to remember that whatever project is chosen, it will not be completed until 2012 or 2013. By this time, it is projected that the economy in Michigan will be growing by 3%, with likely larger growth in the Ann Arbor area. I do think that whatever is built should be very modern and futuristic looking. I guess it would be best to wait until architectural drawings are out before making a final decision.

Michael K.

Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 5:17 p.m.

"1) provide a more strongly defined street edge, forming inviting pedestrian ways and provide open spaces; 2) enhance links to adjacent areas; 3) design sites to allow for pedestrian access to sun, air and views; " Those criteria argue pretty strongly for a park! As we build taller buildings with faceless facades that block the sun, downtown AA becomes less and less appealing. The play of light, breezes, small views are what makes that section of street pleasant. No-one will want to go downtown to scuttle from one big, bland, corporate building to the next. That little open space next to Seva was delightful, before the condos went in that replace the old carpet store. Once we give up open space we will **never** be able to afford to buy it back! If folks want to build large complexes, they can buy the old, under-utilized houses right there and build. Whatever happened to free markets and capitalism? Why do the developers need the city to help them walk away with millions, at the cost of our quality of life? Why are we artificalluy subsidizing building that can't be justified on it's own? Liberty Plaza is a unique case. Poor design, multiple levels and hidden, dead end spaces. No real cross traffic, etc. allows the homeless to take it over. Right now there are bands every Thursday in summer outside the Federal Building. The park would be perfect for that type of energizing activity in that part of downtown. Even library events outdoors, art compettions, etc. Wake up that little area outside the library. The Federal Building "side" facade with the parking and blank walls, and the library protecgted walkway are both cold and off-putting, isol;ating, as is the transit station across the street there. Bland, boring, dead space except as a pass-through corridor.

David Cahill

Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 4:52 p.m.

When I clicked on the one-page summary, all I got was a grid with blank spaces in it.

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 4:51 p.m.

An RFP page has been set up on the city's Web site:


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 4:47 p.m.

You like urban parks? Go to Liberty Plaza, what a dump. These places become havens for the multitude of homeless who have nothing else to do.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 4:28 p.m.

Anyone remember the Ann Arbor Inn?. Located at 100 South Fourth Avenue, an eleven-story hotel containing 189 guest rooms in approximately 148,000 square feet on.48 acre. Purchased from Vyquest, Inc. by Ann Arbor Inn Partners, Ltd for about $9,000,000, in the mid-to-late 1980s, during a time of gushing S&L cash. Purchase was followed by mortgage default, owner bankruptcy, tax auction, etc. Not a rosy picture for downtown Ann Arbor's largest hotel.. The Ann Arbor Inn sat vacant while being vandalized, looted, and stripped. It was later redeveloped as senior housing.. Did Ann Arbor economics support the Ann Arbor Inn? No. Is the economic climate supportive now?. Your emotion might say yes.. The numbers say no.. A little park for a long while, anyone?


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 4:17 p.m.

As someone who usually cringes when she sees more and more sprawls of housing developments around the county, I must say, residents are the key to a thriving and long-lasting, safer downtown. When people only come downtown to go to work, or to shop and eat, and then leave when it gets late, you end up with a city that is deserted for hours each night. And Heaven help us if disaster strikes and many of our buisnesses decide to leave, we'd be left with an empty shell of abandoned buildings (worst case scenario, yes, but still, it's something to think about these days.) Our downtown needs plenty of permanent residents to keep its pulse thriving 24/7, with no room for downtime. Come, Sit, Stay!


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 4:11 p.m.

The Ann Arbor Inn, at 4th & Huron, was a hotel for many years until it became a senior apartment house. 4 of 5 different firms owned it but none could make it work. Some thought it would be the start of a big conference business, but it never happened. I guess we just don't have enough brothels and gambling joints.

Marvin Face

Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 3:59 p.m.

Bam! And Dahlman throws the monkey wrench! Well played.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 3:58 p.m.

Those of you who think there is insufficient hotel space in downtown Ann Arbor should talk to the managers of the existing hotels. Their vacancy rates (except football weekends and graduation) are fairly high and the conference business is flat, too. Building more residences won't automatically increase density either. Where are these people supposed to work? How about we create a few jobs before we create hundreds more empty units? Just a guess, but there's probably a pretty good reason all those other downtown projects, already approved, have not been built.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 3:28 p.m.

I think a conference center is a good idea for the City. It can increase the business networking opportunities for this little podunk town.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 3:26 p.m.

There is so little hotel space downtown it's not funny. Try to schedule visitors for a conference or something and you'll quickly learn how little space there is. A hotel is actually a great idea.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 3 p.m.

OK. How about the Hieftje Conference Center, with a $1 mil statue of the mayor out front?


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 2:58 p.m.

Having worked on 5th Ave for 20 years and walking this block regularly, I question the safety of a park. I also agree with Mr Shackelford that there are many parks in this area including Liberty Plaza which was not mentioned. Also, Ann Arbor has more parks than it has the money to take care of. I would support investigating any source of increased tax revenue and while the scale would need to be analyzed, I like the idea of increased use through a hotel/housing/conference center.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 2:57 p.m.

@Edward Vielmetti: My info source in my first post, first paragraph was Fitch Ratings, an agency that provides credit markets with credit opinions, research, and data..


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 2:52 p.m.

Hey! Great shot of the side of Joe's. Any pics of the large mural that was once on the side of the building?


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 2:50 p.m.

Not sure where I stand on this quite yet, but one of the commentators said there is a good amount of hotel space in downtown Ann Arbor. Maybe I'm crazy but where? The Dahlmann Campus Inn, Bell Tower and that one Bed and Breakfast, maybe... but all of those are really more in the campus area. Aren't most hotels near the mall and north campus, far from being walkable to downtown?

Patricia Lesko

Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 2:39 p.m.

That should have been: Sorry for the link issue.

Patricia Lesko

Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 2:37 p.m.

I'm enjoying the polls embedded in the stories. Well done. There's some interesting background information about the library lot RFP process at http://www.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 2:36 p.m.

Sidebar question: Anyone remember, "A little park for a little while?"

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 2:28 p.m.

It's also worth noting that the Library Lot is located within the Midtown Character Area overlay zone. The RFP states that key objectives of this area are to: 1) provide a more strongly defined street edge, forming inviting pedestrian ways and provide open spaces; 2) enhance links to adjacent areas; 3) design sites to allow for pedestrian access to sun, air and views; 4) provide a sense of visual continuity in building massing and building height transitions; and 5) provide for active street fronts.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 2:26 p.m.

The US hotel industry is in a precarious position. The default rate (60 days delinquent or in foreclosure) of commercial-mortgage-backed securities for hotel properties has increased ten-fold from a year ago.. There is a hotel supply-demand disconnect, with declines in occupancy and average daily rates, and record declines in NOI.. Hotel bankruptcies have already begun. Look at Detroit, for example. There will be tremendous opportunities for investors to acquire properties for pennies on the dollar.. And in the berg of insanity known as Ann Arbor City government, they entertain hotel and conference center proposals.. Who is surprised?

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 2:21 p.m.

City officials told me today they're measuring the six proposals against the requirements detailed in the RFP, which can be downloaded here. The RFP states, "The successful proposal will be consistent with the community character of Ann Arbor and make positive contributions to the immediate neighborhood, and the larger community by incorporating elements such as publicly accessible open space, green building design, public art, and a nancial return to the city while adding to the vibrancy of the citys central downtown. " The RFP lists three site development objectives that must be met: 1. Beneficial use of the site. Any proposal for this site must demonstrate a clear benefit to the community and be consistent with the recommendations of the Downtown Plan, and A2D2 initiative. Preference will be given to proposals that incorporate a use (or uses) that provides a publicly available service to the community, for instance, building or open space that may be used for public meetings, recreation, or civic/ cultural events. 2. Environmental benefits. The development proposal should incorporate to the greatest extent possible environmentally sensitive design and energy efficiency features that follow Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. In addition, the project should propose innovative and environmentally friendly runoff water management and seek to improve water quality. 3. Financial return. The proposal must provide a positive financial return to the City. In the absence of other considerations, the City has a fiduciary responsibility to obtain fair market value upon the sale of City assets. Long-term lease or other property arrangements will be considered, but must meet this financial return criterion.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 2:20 p.m.

At this point, I hope "officials" pick which ever project will provide the most tax revenue for the city.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 1:55 p.m.

Even if you live there you still need a place to park your car. I commute to the area for school and I have to take a bus into campus because there is no parking to be found. I don't mind riding a bus but it does add more time that I don't really have.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 1:40 p.m.

Well, put more parking on top of the parking garage. Parking seems to be a big enough problem without adding more residences so more people can move to the area, further exacerbating the issue.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 1:39 p.m.

I think we ought to be very wary of large density hotel-retail buildups. They did something like this in downtown East Lansing (which I admit is not as much of a draw) and its been a dog ever since. The reality of it is that downtown Ann Arbor has a good amount of hotel space (at least on the high-end), and if there is constant worries about ownership turning over, as in the case of the Renaissance Center, it can become a big public headache.


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 1:36 p.m.

What few remaining people who are left living in Michigan after this 11 year bleed maybe it would be wise to make it the community space with ice rink etc.....conference center idea is a joke!!


Fri, Nov 20, 2009 : 1:30 p.m.

How about more parking?