But What is the True Intent of the Valiant LOI?

The continuing saga of the Ann Arbor Library Lot and the effort to build a hotel and conference center there.  For more, see this page.

As was ably reported by the Ann Arbor Chronicle,  the March 8 RFP Advisory Committee meeting resulted in the committee’s transmittal of the Letter of Intent produced by the consultant to the City Council for its consideration.  The consultant, David Di Rita, who looked remarkably lizardlike in his olive-green suit and French cuffs (sorry, I stared at him for two hours and the room was overheated) showed the value of a legal education as he threaded his way through the explication of what is after all a very vague and troublesome document.  The committee looked and sounded a bit troubled by it and had some fairly pointed questions.  The chair, CM Stephen Rapundalo,  even used the subjunctive “were we to approve this…”, but in the end, with vigorous advocacy by DDA director Susan Pollay and outgoing City Administrator Roger Fraser, the committee sent the Letter of Intent on to Council.  (Here are the minutes of the meeting.)  The room was crowded – a small conference room with no chairs left and people left in mostly stunned silence after learning that there would be a City Council working session the next week (March 14).  (The urgency of the proposal was made clear by an aside from Pollay, who said “we thought this would be decided on Monday” [the Council meeting on March 7]).

At the March 14 working session (also very well attended and televised), there was another rehearsal of the LOI by Di Rita (who has been criticized by a local attorney, Tom Wieder, for his history and qualifications).  Ryan Stanton of AnnArbor.com reported that “Ann Arbor City Council members will be asked in the coming months to make one of the most difficult decisions of their political careers.”  Stanton accurately captured both the tension among council members and the intense interest of the audience.  Note: the meeting was chaired by Mayor Pro Tem Marcia Higgins.  Mayor John Hieftje and CM Christopher Taylor were absent.

The outcome of the meeting, announced by Man in Charge Roger Fraser  (didn’t council and the mayor used to set the agenda?), was that there would be a vote of the Council on April 18 to approve a revised version of the Letter of Intent.  If approved by Council, it would commit the City to serious negotiation and a decision on a development agreement within four months.  While the development agreement (similar to a sales agreement for real estate) would be the final commitment by the City, the LOI binds it in many ways.  But CM Stephen Rapundalo showed real determination and courage (though it earned him a scowl from Fraser) by insisting that the April 18 meeting would include a public hearing.  This was not a given – technically, a public hearing is only required under certain circumstances, usually an ordinance change or property disposition.  So CM Rapundalo deserves, in my opinion, kisses and roses for this stand.  (Or chocolates, whatever.)

Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of the two meetings was that many members of the public left with heightened feelings of outrage about the way the Valiant proposal has succeeded in besting all tests of reason to make it this far.  (My name for it is the “undead”.)

This feeling of outrage has resulted in the beginning of a full-blown campaign.  One outcome is a website hosted by Citizens Against The Downtown Conference Center.  (As of this writing, still in embryonic condition.)

The next post will examine the LOI in detail and its implications.

UPDATE: The Council meeting date has been changed to April 19, to avoid the first day of Passover.

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