The Two-Track Solution

To no one’s great surprise, the advisory committee for the Library Lot RFP decided to continue with the two conference center proposals.  (See the very complete account by the Ann Arbor Chronicle.)  This, in the face of some very pointed criticism of the finances of the two proposals by two staff members, who accurately pointed out that both proposals bore a great deal of risk and what assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald referred to as “contingencies”.  I’ll go into some detail on those in a future post, but meanwhile I want to point out that the makers of both of these proposals have made some effort to secure the “inside track”.

As today’s article on relates, and as we have repeatedly reported,  Valiant Partners LLC have been “working with” city officials for two years, much of it very privately.  It is clear that they were relying on a sense of acceptance and partnership to secure this deal, though they weren’t dropping any names after all the scrutiny they have been getting from us and other sources.  In their proposal, they included two letters from UM deans, though according to a post in A2Politico one of them is a former employer of Fritz Seyferth, a Valiant principal.

But they are not the only group that has connections.   As a second article from reports, the Acquest group also claims a close connection – with county administrator Bob Guenzel.  This might be expected in some ways; Guenzel has been very active in economic development issues.  He was long instrumental in the Washtenaw Development Council and was a founding board member of SPARK, which formed as the result of a merger between WDC and the SmartZone (the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti LDFA).  He was also mentioned in the Ann Arbor News as a supporter of the concept of a conference center.

Acquest gets right into name-dropping in the second paragraph of their proposal, where they say, “based upon a recent meeting with Bob Guenzel, Washtenaw County Administrator, and subsequent discussions with Hank Baier and Jim Kosteva of the University of Michigan…” (Henry (Hank) Baier is the head of facilities at UM, and James (Jim) Kosteva is its director of community relations; presumably they would have been willing to make appointments but not commitments.)  At the interviews on January 20, I sat straight up when I heard David Ong, the president of Acquest Realty Advisors, say that “Bob Guenzel initiated the idea of county participation in a conference center”, and later heard him make reference to an authority that was a partnership between the county and city.  As a former county commissioner, I am very aware of the county’s budget problems, and there had been no whisper of such a plan coming from the sitting commissioners.

But when reached by email today (January 28, 2010), Guenzel had this to say:

“Dave Ong came to see me to give me a courtesy presentation of the Acquest proposal. He asked me whether the County might be willing to be part of an authority that operated a conference center. I said we might. Nothing else has been said or done about this. I made no promises. Of course, I do not have the authority to make any promises to the group. Anyway, there is nothing going on at the county on this issue.”

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