DDA unveils 3 possible scenarios for downtown Ann Arbor at meeting with business leaders
Map courtesy of DDA
The three scenarios were put together by the DDA with the help of a land use economist, technical experts and feedback from surveys conducted by the organization. The scenarios laid out a range of options for the areas that included mixes of residential, office, retail, hotels, parks and performance center spaces.
Labeled “scenarios A, B, and C,” the ideas were progressively bolder in their use of the space, with most buildings proposed in scenario C reaching more than 10 stories in height. Proposals B and C included hotel space, while A kept building heights to a minimum and focused on increasing residential capacity, especially along Ashley Street in the Kline lot. Scenario C included space for an “anchor retail” store that could attract regional traffic to the downtown area.
DDA planning and research specialist Amber Miller, who made the presentation, called them “starting points for conversation.”
Miller showed a venn-diagram that she said illustrated the three major considerations the DDA had made in coming up with the scenarios, attempting to find solutions where all three intersect.
“We looked at community feedback, viability, and public benefit/cost analysis in putting together these scenarios,” she said.
Miller said the Connecting William Street project was worthwhile because the only way to meet all of the city's goals was to handle all five sites at once.
“One of the problems with previous efforts was that the city would try to solve all of its problems on one lot,” she said.
There appeared to be a consensus in the room that development would be good for the downtown area, but many seemed somewhat skeptical that the downtown area could absorb the additional 1,000 employees who would work downtown projected in plans B and C.
“The No. 1 thing we hear from our employees and from our customers is that there’s a lack of good affordable parking,” Caroline Caganov, general manager at Connor O’Neils, said.
“It’s great you brought in 700 new spaces [in the new underground lot] but if you bring in 1,000 more people, where will they park? It’s the same problem all over again.”
“We have a drive-alone rate of about 56 percent of downtown employees,” she said. “And you can add all the parking you want, but if people can’t afford it, it won’t matter.”
The Connecting William Street initiative was launched when the DDA asked for, and received, the blessing of the city council to craft a strategy for developing five city-owned parking areas into integral parts of a new, more vibrant, downtown. The process is currently still in the public input phase, and this meeting was one of many meetings that are intended to supplement the surveys the DDA has conducted to assess public opinion on uses for the lots.
“We want to tease your opinions out of you today,” DDA executive director Susan Pollay said at the beginning of the meeting.
“We want to find out your thoughts about things so we can use them as we move forward with this project.”
The “teasing out” of thoughts mostly happened through written surveys that all participants filled out as they ruminated on the scenarios placed before them. The surveys asked which scenarios the business leaders thought would be best for the area in a number of categories including helping small businesses/startups and making sidewalk spaces more pedestrian friendly.
At the end of the meeting, Pollay said that the next step was to distill the opinions of everyone involved in the process into a tentative proposal.
“We will then come back, probably sometime in mid-September, and see how that resonates with the different groups we’ve talked to,” she said.
Once the proposal has been re-vetted by community members and approved by the DDA board, it will be presented to the city council for vote. If the council approves the plan, it can then start to ask developers for proposals that fit the guidelines established.
The next public meeting for the Connecting William Street initiative is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 28, at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. More information about public DDA meetings and webinars, as well as videos of past meetings can be found on the DDA’s website for the project.