And Why Are We Worried About It? (Valiant LOI)

Sometimes events move faster than blogs.  When this draft was begun, it was intended to be a point-by-point dissection of the Valiant Partners’ Letter of Intent.  (Instead, it was published here.) As we previously explained, this was forwarded to the Ann Arbor City Council after the March 8 RFP advisory committee meeting and then discussed at a March 14 working session.  With strong support from outgoing City Administrator Roger Fraser, the Council was scheduled to act on the proposal on April 18 (shifted to the 19th in recognition of the first day of Passover).

The inexorable progress of this really appalling proposal inspired a grassroots effort that has resulted in (only two weeks after the working session) a website, a Facebook page, over 700 yard signs, and a growing list of supporters (see the home page of the website), many of whom have been working hard to lobby councilmembers, place yard signs, comment in the media, make campaign buttons, and plan for the public hearing that was to precede the council’s vote.

Composite showing the proposed hotel and the breach in the wall of the excavation that caused a sinkhole. Graphic by the Ann Arbor Chronicle

Meanwhile, the proposal was receiving critical news coverage, beginning with a very fine summary by Ryan Stanton of AnnArbor.com.  It was followed by a stunning analysis of the question by Dave Askins of the Ann Arbor Chronicle.

Both of these journalists were picking up signals that support on Council for the project was waning.  It didn’t help, as we say in politics these days, the “optics” of the situation that a sinkhole opened up behind the Earthen Jar restaurant, joining several other such incidents and allowing the Chronicle to reflect on the accuracy of the original soil analysis used in the engineering of the structure.

Line drawing of the hotel from the Valiant proposal used as icon on button

The design itself was very unpopular with the public.  While a tall slab-like hotel was apparently necessary to use the space efficiently and to achieve all objectives, it unwittingly provided some great graphics for the opposition campaign.

Now it looks as though this unlovely chapter may be coming to an end.  A resolution, apparently prepared with direct involvement of Mayor Hieftje, has appeared on the April 4 council agenda.  It would terminate the RFP and reject the letter of intent.  (Note that a final LOI was never seen; only the draft presented earlier.)  According to the Chronicle’s breaking news story,  the resolution is sponsored by not only the mayor, CM Christopher Taylor and CM Sabra Briere, but also by proposal supporters CM Stephen Rapundalo and CM Sandi Smith.  Since several other councilmembers have expressed open opposition to the proposal, the chances that this resolution will pass seem good (though I never celebrate till the vote is over).

So the undead will be buried.  Autopsy to follow.  But here is a thought.  Imagine that all this staff time, money on various levels, hours and hours of meetings, citizen engagement and most of all, psychic energy, could have been spent on a positive civic direction for the City of Ann Arbor.  At a time when our city is facing so many challenges (as is our state, and indeed our country) and there are so many questions for us to answer, it is a shame and a waste that it was allowed to come to this point.

UPDATE: For some ancient history on this issue, read our post “The Old Y, the Conference Center, and the Inside Track” in which we relate evidence that Fraser was discussing this project with the developers long before council ever heard of it.

SECOND UPDATE: At the City Council meeting on April 4, 2011, the resolution terminating both the Valiant proposal and the Library Lot RFP was passed 8-2 (Stephen Rapundalo, the chair of the committee, was a co-sponsor but was absent).  One of the highlights of the discussion was when CM Sandi Smith tried to amend the clause calling for a “robust public discussion” by deleting the word “robust”.  (She failed.) Apparently she found that word to be threatening.  This is disheartening, since she is a prime mover on the Council and the DDA behind the assumption by the DDA of planning and RFP generation for the same area (report by AnnArbor.com); that responsibility was awarded by the Council at the same meeting.

A report of the action terminating the RFP from AnnArbor.com is here.

Explore posts in the same categories: Business, civic finance, politics

5 Comments on “And Why Are We Worried About It? (Valiant LOI)”

  1. Vince Caruso Says:

    Thanks for all your research and write ups on this subject. It has proved to be one of the best sources of information on this attempt to do an end run around the public and common sense.

    Unfortunately this is only one in a number of efforts to spend tax dollars in a less than open manner.

    Why hasn’t anyone gone after Mr. Fraser and the majority on council for having the plans drawn up in a back room deal that kept them from being FOIA’able? They even quickly hid them from a un-supportive council member as they entered the room.

  2. Sandi Smith Says:

    Point of clarification: I objected to the insertion of the word “robust”, which occured after I signed onto the resolution. I do not at all object to the public process which is not only important but mandatory. My objection was to the subjective nature of the word “robust”.

    • varmentrout Says:

      Point taken. The word “robust” has been used around here lately in the negative, as in “there was never a robust public process in that case”. It is indeed figurative rather than descriptive. But then, so is the “clear benefit to the community” called for in the RFP.

      Thanks for commenting! It takes courage to comment after being criticized.


  3. […] presumably adopted, on April 19, 2011.   But a coalition of citizens rose up in opposition.  As I described at the time, Campaign button for the community fight against the conference center, […]


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