Library Lot: Open Space Option Dropped

The Library Lot advisory committee eliminated both open space options within the first few minutes of their meeting today (December 18).  The reason was that they would not make money for the city.

Details to follow in an update.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle has a very complete account of the meeting.

UPDATE: See the Chronicle story for a comprehensive account of the meeting.  But here are some important highlights:

1. The next meeting of the advisory committee is January 8.  At that time they will review the answers to questions sent the four developers (remember, the two open space proposals are off the table).  There was a hint that they might eliminate one or more development proposals.

2. The interviews will be during the day (starting at 9:00 a.m.) on January 20th.  The public is invited.  Location not yet certain.  With an apparent nod to public input, the proposers will be given 30 minutes for a presentation, 30 minutes for questions from the panel, and, remarkably, 30 minutes for public questions (to be taken League of Women Voters-style from index cards).

3. Meanwhile, the DDA Partnership committee (composed of DDA board members and council members) has proposed that the DDA should pay for a financial consultant to help the committee with the fine points of the financial aspects of the proposals.  (To my mind, a very good idea, since none of us wants to see the city sucked into a deal whereby we take all the risks and the developer gets all the cash.)  Susan Pollay, the DDA executive director,  listed four points (my paraphrases):

a. “Post-financial meltdown”: is the project feasible and does it make financial sense?  Would a bank give them money?

b. Are the project teams financially solvent?  Or are they overdrawn on other projects? Again, would a bank find them creditworthy?

c. What is a realistic timeline?  These are complex projects with other partners possibly involved.  So that the council can evaluate it, they need a realistic idea of a timeline.

d. Have similar projects been done in other cities similar to Ann Arbor?  What works in a medium-sized city?  Ann Arbor has not had a conference center so it is helpful to pull out some information.  (Ed. note: not all these proposals are for conference centers.)

Reaction to this proposal was first cautious, then enthusiastic, as it became apparent that DDA would provide the money and arrangements and leave the conclusions to the committee.  But Rapundalo muddled the charge to the consultant by insisting that they should also handle the public input problems (a very different task).  The actual responsibilities were left rather indefinite.

Also indefinite was the timeline for this consultant (possibly a firm with multiple talents) to do its task.  Problem: in order to hire a consultant, the  DDA board must act to authorize a Request for Quotations, or RFQ, but the committee wants to interview on the 20th of January – and the DDA board doesn’t meet until the first week of each month.    Pollay also stressed that the consultant should come from outside the community so that there was no whisper of conflict of interest (even through secondary connections).  Further, the firm chosen needs to be aware of the needs of municipalities.  The objective is to get the maximal benefit for the city.  But the question was left unresolved of how to reconcile the need for a careful selection process for the consultant and the ongoing rush by the committee to have recomnendations for council by February.

4. It was evident throughout the meeting that Rapundalo (who is chairing the committee) is very anxious to eliminate contenders.  He brought up this point over and over, including the idea of eliminating them on the basis of their questions and having the consultant eliminate some.  Also, he mentioned that perhaps the interview process will not be so lengthy because some will be eliminated by then.  At the first meeting on December 4 and at this one, he was the person who stated unequivocally that the project must be a moneymaker for the city, because of budget problems.  He moved rapidly to exclude any possibility of the open space proposals being considered.  It is hard to escape the conclusion that he has a particular outcome in mind.

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2 Comments on “Library Lot: Open Space Option Dropped”

  1. Tom Whitaker Says:

    At one point, there was a deadline discussed for having an “on top” proposal in hand so that the design and construction of the underground structure could be tailored for maximum efficiency and cost savings. Do recall what that deadline was?

    Why do you suppose the committee just now realized that they didn’t have the expertise to evaluate these complicated development proposals from private developers? That never occurred to anyone when the RFP was written and issued?

    • varmentrout Says:

      They are talking about the council making a decision by March 1. (Committee presentation to council February 15 or thereabouts.) I guess that the construction season begins in March.

      Regarding your second question, I think it was the DDA Partnerships committee that had the finance concerns. The committee was only recently assembled and has scarcely had time to think its mission through. The DDA has been planning the parking portion of the project for years and discussing the above-ground project at some level (there were communications between Valiant and DDA administration) for over a year.

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