Parking, Money and the Conference Center

The city took its first step in the RFP process for a development over the Library Lot parking structure today with the pre-proposal meeting.  (Highlights of the RFP and a link to the full document are here.) The rest of the schedule for the RFP has slipped somewhat; though proposals are still due on November 13 and interviews for proposers are still on December 7, the city now expects evaluation to be complete on January 25, 2010, with a February 15 recommendation to the council and a March 1 council award to the winning proposal.  The two committees that will review the proposals, a technical committee and an “oversight committee,” have not yet been appointed.

The council chambers had about 50 people, including journalists and “the public” as well as presumed developers and their staffs.  Jayne Miller provided a set of written answers to questions already received.  I’ve noticed in the past that developers in these meetings are very close-mouthed and don’t actually ask very many questions, and the same was true here.  A couple of questions came from Alan Haber, who has long pleaded for a Community Commons.  He responded with such a proposal to the original RFP for housing on the old Y lot. Unfortunately, part of Haber’s vision is often that the community or the city will provide the funds necessary for a commons, which was presumably behind his question about the weighting of criteria on the RFP.  (Administrator Roger Fraser replied that financial return to the city was worth 10% of the score.)

Other questions were about the importance of A2D2 zoning and the design guidelines, both of which are not yet final.  Miller responded that the A2D2 zoning would be (hopefully) passed by council on October 19, and the staff was also hoping to put the design guidelines on the agenda by then.  Fraser made a point of saying that these are just guidelines (i.e. not fixed in stone) — “in order to achieve things desirable for our community,”  he implied that there might be some flexibility and said that proposers could ask for interpretations.  Alice Ralph, who was on the committee that produced the guidelines, sprang to the point to ask whether these interpretations would be available to the public as well.  Fraser said yes, any general interpretations, but nothing that could reveal details of a specific proposal.

Money on the table

A revelation with potential cost implications was that the DDA was considering installing up to 190 geothermal wells and needed feedback early.  (Susan Pollay, its executive director, explained that the DDA would be excavating in three phases and all design aspects would be fixed in place by early spring.)  The announcement left people apparently a bit stunned; someone finally said, of course most developers would like to have geothermal capability (it would add significant value), but was that paid for by the DDA?  Pollay said that it could be dealt with as part of the overall proposal; but Fraser jumped in to say that  “we are willing to make that investment upfront” and then enlarged on the fact that the city and DDA are already improving the utilities, adding electric capacity and water in order to serve that part of 5th Avenue “and points south”.  (Note that “south” is the Germantown neighborhood that is trying to avoid extensive development.)  In addition, in answer to questions, Pollay said that the DDA would accommodate all stormwater retention on site plus maybe some more.  (This would ordinarily be a cost of the above-ground development.)  Fraser further enlarged in response to another question about the old Y lot, to say that the lot is a “blank slate—one that is available to write on” and that one motivation for developing the Library Lot is to support development on the Y lot.  He said that the economy is such that “not a lot of energy” is around both sites but that it was hoped that what happens on the Library Lot will serve as a stimulus to develop the Y lot.

Parking and its uses

One of the continuing mysteries about the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure is that the parking spaces being created are being cited as solving many different problems, some of which are mutually exclusive.  In a recent story in the Ann Arbor Chronicle, the mayor was quoted thus:  “They’ll be losing at least 700 parking spaces in the coming years, he said, and the new underground parking structure on Fifth Avenue—a project which will be breaking ground next week— is only replacing the parking they’re losing.”  But then he went on to reference Google and the benefit of (business) parking downtown.  Comment threads on the Chronicle and elsewhere indicate that many hope these parking places will serve casual visitors to the downtown, shoppers and the like.  In a written answer to one of the questions about the RFP, the city implied that up to 460 spaces might be reserved for use of the RFP project.  Of 660 spaces below ground, the DDA had set forth the intention that 200 would be reserved for users of the library.  “This can be done with signage that indicates where hourly parking and permit parking should take place.”

So whatever project does get the city’s nod—whether it is a conference center or not—looks to have utilities and parking in place.  We’ll see whether the “financial benefit to the city” will match the cost of paying for all this development assistance.

UPDATE: has published a list of the attendees. Among them are Valiant Partners, who submitted the “secret plan”.

SECOND UPDATE: The text and one attachment of the “clarifying questions” are attached.

THIRD UPDATE: interviewed Jayne Miller at the Library Lot.  Caution: some of her statements are incorrect or not current (for example, she speaks as though the Library expansion is still on track, but it was postponed indefinitely nearly a year ago).

FOURTH UPDATE: The city has released a transcript of Q&A at the pre-proposal meeting, as well as a list of attendees with contact information.

FIFTH UPDATE: The city has now established a web page for the RFP.

SIXTH UPDATE: A figure has been stated as the cost for the parking structure, but there is controversy over fees the city is charging the DDA.

SEVENTH UPDATE: The November 13 deadline has passed with six proposals being submitted. reports that they have a FOIA pending review by the city to see the proposals.  It seems clear from here that the city is out of line trying to keep the substance of these proposals secret during review.

EIGHTH UPDATE: The AATA plans to rebuild its Blake Transit Center, according to This could have an impact on the use of the Y lot.

Explore posts in the same categories: Business, civic finance

10 Comments on “Parking, Money and the Conference Center”

  1. nancy k. Says:

    Thanks for a great job of putting all the information together.

  2. David Cahill Says:

    Another great article!

    Oh – I think your “clock” at least an hour fast. I’m writing this at 2:05 p.m. and the earlier post is time-stamped at 3:00 p.m. Just a quibble.

    • varmentrout Says:

      Actually, that is WordPress’s clock. They have a weird system where rather than setting a clock you have to subtract time from their native clock. I need to fix again.

  3. SBean Says:

    Vivienne, by “points south” might Roger have been referring to the library and/or the old Y site?

    Part of the confusion (obfuscation?) over the future use of the new spaces arises from a lack of distinction between the demand source — commuters/long-term vs. visitors/short-term — not to mention time of day, day of week, and season of year (i.e., whether most students are in town or not.) The term “parking” is too vague to be of much use, but it gets thrown around readily. If those factors were examined more closely, we might be able to find a variety of management options to provide more parking where and when it’s needed. By not doing that analysis, we’re likely missing opportunities, regardless of the addition of the underground structure.

    • varmentrout Says:

      The “points south” was vague but he seemed to indicate that it was to support development in that direction. You could be correct that he was referring to the library (whose expansion plans are on hold) and/or the Y site.

      Your points about parking management are good.

  4. justintime Says:

    Not sure where Fraser gets this “our community” stuff since he lives in a McMansion in the township.

  5. John Floyd Says:

    In which township does Mr. Fraser live?

    • varmentrout Says:

      I haven’t verified this recently but I recall that he moved to the Loch Alpine subdivision some years ago. It straddles the line between Scio and Webster townships.

  6. Karen Sidney Says:

    The City evaded giving an answer to the question on the number of parking spaces available. Saying that DDA planned to reserve 200 for Library users (presumably by making them off limits to permit holders) is not an answer on what happens to the rest of them.

    One wonders if any of the potential developers get better information in private conversations. That’s not supposed to happen but I was told by one attendee that city officials and developers talked in small groups after the formal presentation. I’ll bet they were not talking about the weather.

  7. SBean Says:

    So library patrons and other short-term parkers will get 200 spaces (7 more than the current 193 in the surface lot), and the development will get some or possibly all of the rest. First it was about bringing businesses and jobs downtown, then it was about replacing parking spaces that would be lost, and now it’s about providing parking for this particular development. Almost seems like we’re moving backward in time, passing through the next best option after the previous one had fallen through.

    At least they’ve finally arrived at a potentially favorable destination (one in which the parking would partially serve residents at that site would be best), though the route there was convoluted. I wonder if the lawsuit had any influence on their thinking. I also wonder why a residential component wasn’t specifically called for in the RFP. Maybe the various plans referenced make that obvious.

    With downtown still poised to lose 700 spaces (someday?), or even if not, I hope the DDA renews its parking demand management efforts now and doesn’t wait for this development to be completed.

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