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Posted on Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 6:04 a.m.

$50 million underground parking deck taking shape in downtown Ann Arbor

By Ryan J. Stanton


Crews work on the east leg of the South Fifth Avenue underground parking structure on Friday afternoon. The project is now about one-third of the way complete.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Fifty-five feet below ground in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor is another world — one where construction workers toil through these chilly months to put in place the steel and concrete bones of a new underground parking structure.

It's a first-of-its-kind project for Ann Arbor, and a bit of a logistical challenge for the Lansing-based Christman Co., the construction manager hired by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to complete the project.

But Christman has done this kind of work before.

"I feel really good about the fact that we have a really strong, experienced, knowledgable crew," said Patrick Podges, Christman's vice president, during a tour of the site on Friday. "We have a lot of great subcontractors out here all working hard to do the right thing."

Work on the $50 million parking structure — to be located between Fifth Avenue and Division Street, south of Liberty — began in earnest in January. Nearly a year into its construction, the project is about one-third of the way complete, Podges said.

"The big thing was to get the hole dug," he said. "Without the hole dug, we can't really be that productive. Now the hole's dug and you're going to see the deck start taking shape."

Signs around the site originally declared the 717-space deck would be open in August 2011, but those have been removed. It now is expected to be finished in December 2011 or January 2012 — a shift in schedule that officials attribute to a delay in securing easements at the start of the project. Christman originally wanted to start in October of last year.

But the project is steadily moving ahead now. Along the east leg of the hole, crews have started pouring concrete decks. Two are complete and a third is on the way.

"I'd say we're tracking fairly close to schedule," Podges said. "You know, we've had some obstacles to overcome — boulders that impacted the earth retention system, and dewatering that we've had to do to drop the water table. But I think we've been attacking those unforeseen conditions rather well, and we're fully anticipating that progress will really pick up."

The downtown Ann Arbor skyline seemed to change overnight in November when Christman erected a 150-foot-tall stationary crane that now towers over the site. It's so tall that it has air-traffic lights on top and required a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The crane's long arm can be seen swinging across the site on a daily basis, unloading construction materials into the massive pit, where crews remain hard at work excavating dirt, pouring concrete and bending steel reinforcing rods into place.

The amount of concrete being poured for the project is enough to construct a five-foot-wide sidewalk stretching for 133 miles. In fact, it's estimated it will take about 5,100 truckloads to deliver the entire 43,000 cubic yards of concrete over the course of the project.


Workers carry materials through one of the underground levels of the parking structure.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Another 9 million pounds of reinforcing steel are being embedded into that concrete. If they were laid out end to end, those bars would extend nearly 650 miles.

It's also estimated that the amount of dirt excavated and removed from the site will have taken about 6,250 truckloads when all is said and done.

"It's exciting," said Amy Sullivan, Christman's project manager overseeing the daily work. "This is what we do and we love to do it. And I couldn't do this with any better people."

Christman is handling the structural concrete portion of the project itself through its subsidiary company, with the help of three subcontractors: Ypsilanti-based Doan Companies, Livonia-based RAM Construction Services and Flint-based Eagle Excavation.

Most of the contractors working on the project are Michigan-based, and 100 percent of the work is being done by union laborers, Sullivan said.

Ludington-based Hardman Construction Inc. is overseeing the installation of the earth retention system around the perimeter of the site, and the Warren-based Angelo Iafrate Construction Co. has been overseeing the excavation work.

There was a scare about two weeks ago when a small breach in the southern earth retention wall created a sinkhole effect next to the Ann Arbor District Library. Sand began funneling through the wall, which sunk a few bike hoops and a portion of the concrete sidewalk along the northern edge of the library property.

Luckily, no one was hurt in the incident, Podges said. He noted that Christman now has clocked more than 70,000 man hours without a lost time accident.

Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library, gave credit to Christman for how it handled the situation.

"It was, from my understanding, a pretty minor incident," she said. "It was taken care of immediately and, from the library's point of view, Christman did a fabulous job of dealing with it and taking responsibility for it. There was no interruption of library services."

Fifth Avenue has been closed for several months while trucks continue to use the street as a loading zone. That has dealt a blow to nearby businesses, including Jerusalem Garden, a Middle Eastern restaurant, and Earthen Jar, a vegetarian Indian food joint.

"We are hurting. Business is down — no doubt about that," said Push Sethi, owner of Earthen Jar, who is looking forward to the end of the project.

Ali Ramlawi, owner of Jerusalem Garden, said the same. "Another year and I can have a normal business again," he said. "It's just been really stressful. We're down at least 10 percent."

Parker said she doesn't think there has been a negative impact on library operations. In fact, door counts show patron visits are up slightly, she said.


Sparks fly as a welder's flame touches a steel beam on Friday inside the pit.

Ryan J. Stanton |

However, books and other items checked out in the first three quarters of this year total 885,473 — down from 927,896 for the same period in 2009, records show.

"From the library perspective, it's going well," Parker said. "I know that people have to work a little harder to park, but other than that we aren't hearing anything about it negatively."

The parking structure project in its entirety — including three water mains, electrical work, a new alley and more — is estimated to cost about $50 million. Related work on South Fifth Avenue and Division Street is estimated to cost another $6 million.

The city issued a bond on behalf of the DDA last year for about $49.3 million, while the DDA committed to putting up $8.4 million in cash. The DDA reimbursed the city for its bond issuance costs of about $480,000 and also paid an overhead fee of about $1.5 million.

The DDA is expecting to pay off the debt using parking system revenues.

The parking deck has been designed to accommodate a large future development atop the city-owned site known as the Library Lot. City officials now are considering a private developer's proposal to build a new downtown hotel and conference center there.

The following aerial photos taken in November are courtesy of the Christman Co.

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



Wed, Dec 15, 2010 : 9:13 a.m.

Shadow Manager Look back to the previous posts from these same folks. Much different take. Just because it's on the internet doesn't make it absolute fact. Admit to the fact that you don't like growth and move on.


Tue, Dec 14, 2010 : 12:48 a.m.

Ah...but this one is UNDERGROUND! And they want to put a big fancy Convention Center that looks like a flip-phone on-top to attract all sorts of people to park in it and marvel at the engineering wonder of parking UNDERGROUND! Like hobbits, the DDA and City fathers like to keep warm and snug as a bug UNDERGROUND, but then again, hobbits sometimes stay too long underground, and turn into gollums... OH MY PRECIOUS, MY PRECIOUS parking lot... and so it goes.


Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 9:31 p.m.

The actual size of the new structure is ONLY around 550. So 550 minus original 193 equals a total net of 357. Wow nice 357 spaces @ $42 million. These decision makers wouldn't last 1 year in a real business

Steve Bean

Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 7:49 p.m.

The former surface lot had about 193 spaces. 717-193=524 net spaces. Have fun with the cost recalc on that.


Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 3:24 p.m.

@ actionjackson, Did you even read the article? Of course the construction hurt the Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden...the owners are QUOTED in the article saying so... ""We are hurting. Business is down no doubt about that," said Push Sethi, owner of Earthen Jar, who is looking forward to the end of the project. Ali Ramlawi, owner of Jerusalem Garden, said the same. "Another year and I can have a normal business again," he said. "It's just been really stressful. We're down at least 10 percent."


Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 10:18 a.m.

@ treetowncartel and nimbus123, unlike campus this Parking Deck will be loaded with Closed-circuit televisions (CCTV)! Happy Holidays!


Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 12:37 a.m.

@Shadow Manager: Both places of business have stated previously that nearly all of their business has been walk in customers who have not found any difficulty in entering or exiting the businesses that you mention. Claim it hasn't hurt their business. Probably an increase with the number of workers who get half hour lunch breaks for Jerusalem Garden!


Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 12:10 a.m.

@ frozenhotchocalate, based on most of the comments it might be better to turn it into a whine cellar. BTW, the mayor wants a major employer above is so they can lease out the spaces to that employer. That makes it look like the lot is being filed and meeting the demand. Yet, they will lose money since they can't charge hourly rates for those spaces. Smoke and mirrors. I for one still wish I was a young rebel rouser, because this sounds like one knarly place to do some shredding on my old Tony Hawk board. I have yet to meet a rent a cop who could catch me when I was up to my mischief.


Mon, Dec 13, 2010 : 12:09 a.m.

Dog guy: "muggatorium" LOL!


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 9:19 p.m.

Think about this, I think that if the parking structure doesn't work out we should convert it into a jam and preserves warehouse, what with there constant temperature and all it will be perfect, or mushrooms as they would thrive in such situations.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 7:33 p.m.

So great to see this project coming together! Underground anything lasts a lot longer than above ground structures (if built right), This parking deck is an elegant and economical way to bring 717 parking spaces into the downtown without destroying the landscape with additional parking structures. Bravo council.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 6:27 p.m.

It would be nice to see the DDA city chip off a little of that 50 million windfall to Christman and give some back to Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden...two local and popular pillars of the real Ann Arbor community.. unlike these out of town construction firms and consultants involved with this debacle of a project which has nearly destroyed their businesses.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 5:09 p.m.

From a Michigan Daily article from last week: The city of Ann Arbor is currently considering two development proposals for the space one by New York-based Valiant Partners LLC and the other by Acquest Realty Advisors Inc. of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Both schemes offer plans for a hotel and associated conference center. But Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje says he would like to see a proposal that centers around something other than a hotel and conference center. The three objectives for the Library Lot, as stated in the request for proposals for the site, are beneficial use of the site, environmental benefits and financial return. Hieftje, who said part of the development area would be put aside to build a park, said he wasnt convinced a hotel or conference center would constitute the best use of the space. I would really like to see a large employer come in, a business that wanted to use that as a headquarters or an office facility, he said in an interview.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 3:53 p.m.

"Valuable street level lots are wasted space when covered in cars, the same for above ground decks." This is not Europe, nor NYC; even in A2, land is not particularly expensive; the key metric is net cost per parking space. $80K = Bargain? "The cost per space is being overestimated here because the total project includes utility work that would have been needed anyway plus streetscape improvements." No, remarkably little utility work would have happened otherwise. "The parking is all paid for with parking receipts, not our property tax dollars." Let us hope this remains the case. It may not, especially at these prices.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 3:39 p.m.

"All had a chance to fight this before approval... Now too late." I need specifics on this. We went to every meeting possible to give our point of view, but the decisions were already made.

Tim Darton

Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 3:18 p.m.

Every smart city in Europe has their parking underground and many American cities are going in the same direction. This was absolutely needed and now the city will be free to redevelop the surface lots. Valuable street level lots are wasted space when covered in cars, the same for above ground decks. A2 is one of the nations leading cities in facilitating non-motorized and alternative transportation but they recognize you can't punish downtown by trying to starve them for parking. Again, as time goes on they can redevelop the surface lots. It was smart to do this in the recession too, lots of jobs and $$ pouring into the economy. The cost per space is being overestimated here because the total project includes utility work that would have been needed anyway plus streetscape improvements. The parking is all paid for with parking receipts, not our property tax dollars. Congrats on a good project.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 3:04 p.m.

Is anyone ever happy anymore?????? Sure seems we live in an absolute world/city of complainers and whiners. Nothing will ever be good enough will it?

John Alan

Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 2:59 p.m.

Very good comments..... BUT it is little too late.... why cry now? All had a chance to fight this before approval... Now too late... Can not stop the train... it has left the station.... so lets be patient and hope everything will workout..... For whatever reason, it alwasy does. And if this does not work, the city can always sell it to private entities and they will make it work (Chicago did it -- now the city is good... not too sure about the customers though who have to pay through their nose for parking). Anyway.... it is holiday time and lets be in good mood and think positive. Happy holiday to everyone.

Dog Guy

Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 2:16 p.m.

Sixty million dollars down a rathole! I will not be using the $80,000.00 place they have reserved for me in the muggatorium. The city hall politburo continues its war on cars with unused/unusable parking space. In ten years, downtown Ann Arbor will be a set for postapocalyptic movies.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 1:40 p.m.

At $78,103 per space, if we assume $2 per hour to park, and parking space occupancy of 2,000 hours per year, it requires a few weeks less than 20 years just to earn the $78,130. It's likely that the actual cost will be a bit higher; the operating expenses will be likely higher than estimated, and it's likely that maintenance costs will also be higher than expected. If usage is reduced for any reason, customer dissatisfaction due to any of the above comments, then payback is extended. All in all, it's probable this project will be paid for by about 2075. Assuming we use cars then...

The Watchman

Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 1:07 p.m.

It seems the only happy people in the article work for Christman. I guess if they were soaking the city for $50 million I would be happy also. Maybe the structure at 4th and William will only be 1/4 full instead of 1/2 full. That's worth 50 million. When the below ground homeless shelter is done the city will have a steady 58 degrees so the warming shelter can close. See, we can save money somewhere.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 12:05 p.m.

Having parked in underground structures daily in a "safe" area of a beautiful metropolitan area for years (less than 20 year old structures, by the way, for work and recreational pursuits), I can attest to the how much repair they need, even newer ones. There are cracked pipes (try having to duck cold water running on your head at 8am after parking), and concrete which cracks and needs repair, esp in this type of climate, The fans are noisy and blow around pollution. How much is alloted for maintenance and upkeep, and do the Main Street merchants, or the library, subsidize this? But have you ever been held up for money in an underground parking structure? It happens, which is why they have security cameras and patrols in many of them, or only allow valet parking. How much has been allotted yearly for this protection? No one may hear or see you underground, and escape is not easy. There is crime in Ann Arbor, especially rapes and robberies, and I hope that someone has allotted for security at all times. Rape is especially problematic in these situations. This parking structure is a big expenditure that was not needed and will suck money out of the taxpayers.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 11:51 a.m.

You have to remember this. UM owns over half the parking structures in Ann Arbor. The expense to cover this is going to be phenomenal and you as Ann Arbor citizens are going to pay for it thru hi parking fees. 8 bucks an hour is something I am not paying. I can go to Canton and get free parking. At least Ann Arbors rich can do its thing. Totally uncalled for and the money can be best spent elsewhere. O thats right, Ann Arbor is trying to keep up with UM. Good luck.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 11:35 a.m.

No matter how green we become, there will always be a need for parking. Any underground work is more expensive than above ground. But the life cycle costs and benefits are far better than above ground decks. I'd rather live in a city with with all transportation options and never see an ugly above ground parking deck or a surface lot. This underground deck will probably have a life of 200 years and our childrens children will use this structure when all other parking structures are torn down and replaced with attractive residential and commercial buildings as people move back into cities from outlaying areas.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 11:25 a.m.

how much did the city pay in the litigation suit from Jerusalem Garden? Just wondering if that 10 percent drop in business was mitigated for. In turn, if the parking structures temporary negative impact on JG's business in the end results in a permanent positive impact, can the city sue them for any increase in business they get from the adjoining parking structure?


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 10:47 a.m.

Well, annarbor28, if you like the new underground structure, you'll love the old YMCA building clone planned as a roof ornament...


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 10:30 a.m.

why is this being built? There always were places to park in the parking structures, cars were kept cool there in the summer, and we always found easy library parking. It doesn't get that hot here during most of the summer, so there seem to be no health concerns. This is a small city that is walkable. I worked in a large city where we had underground structures for parking, and they really are noxious to breathe in, and dangerous for cars, pedestrians, pollution, and crime. What security services will there be? At least in that city we had the choice of a clean subway and rail system. The air quality is much worse underground, and pollution in these types of structures is greater underground, plus the building materials and energy being used. It is a pollution pit. If there are fans underground, then they use energy. This all could have been avoided, by not funding underground parking. Money could have been used for public transportation projects, or needed city services, etc. Why did the city produce a bond, just for parking? And why do these "leaders" in City Council, and the Mayor keep getting reelected? What happened to Ann Arbor being a model city for the "green" economy, public transportation, and services? Why waste money? This is really appalling.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 10:27 a.m.

And Linux users can use Moonlight in place of Silverlight. Works well; nice images.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 10:24 a.m.

The number of parking spaces in this project has been somewhat of a moving target over the last two years. In all fairness, if you're doing math, the project includes (according to the most recent counts provided by Christman on Friday, which differ from other information out there) a total of 750 spaces 717 underground and 33 at the surface parking/plaza level. Granted, it remains to be seen how long the surface/plaza level lasts before it is replaced with vertical development. A neat part of the project that I'm not sure a lot of people realize is that an entrance ramp to the underground deck is being built into South Fifth Avenue so essentially you're driving along, you merge into the far right lane, and down you go into the structure without turning. You can see it in this picture:

Basic Bob

Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 9:43 a.m.

The live webcams work if you click the streaming video icon. Camera 1 also has still images stored. On camera 2, I saw them clearing snow in the post office parking lot this morning. The webcam app uses Microsoft Silverlight, but it runs on the Chrome and Firefox browsers if you have Silverlight installed.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 9:34 a.m.

I just hope that Mike Mulligan remembers to leave a way for Mary Ann to get out of the bottom of the pit.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 9:31 a.m.

Mr. Stanton - 1. Nice photos. Was their helicopter black? 2. Perhaps you could ask Christman to improve their webcam offering such that users don't need to install proprietary software (even assuming they run Windoze) to use the webcam feature? Their current arrangement is...quaint. 3. $56,000,000 into 717 spaces = $78,103 per space. Bargain? 4. Returning to a ~58 degree F parked car in mid summer's heat...priceless.


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 9:13 a.m.

This is a very impressive project that will serve Ann Arbor well for decades. Give the contractors credit for working safely on a diffcult project. I can't wait to park in it!


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 9:02 a.m.

"And 717 new parking spaces downtown will be sweet" At $50 mil / 717 = almost $70K per space, they should be. Should the taxpayers really be forced to subsidize the downtown like that?


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 9:01 a.m.

It's not a live camera. It takes pictures every so often. the web address is then you pick "Ann Arbor 5th Ave. Underground Parking Structure" from a drop down in the top middle of the page.

Will Warner

Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 8:47 a.m.

Sounds as if the construction management company, Xman Co., is doing a good job. And 717 new parking spaces downtown will be sweet.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 7:58 a.m.

There's supposed to be a live webcam at this URL but I've never gotten it to work:

Steve Burling

Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 7:23 a.m.

How about putting a web cam or two up for live viewing? That would be sweet!


Sun, Dec 12, 2010 : 7:20 a.m.

A year in and one third done equates to a $17 million hole in the ground, it sounds like. Hopefully the nearby businesses won't be ruined before they can fill in the hole with the remaining $33 mil. Now all they need to do is build an expensive and unnecessary building on top of it. Nah - who would be silly enough to do something like that?