Ann Arbor voters take a big step towards deciding the city's next mayor Tuesday with the Democratic Primary. Downtown is the heart of the city, but what's the vision for its future? And what role should the Downtown Development Authority play?
It's a question many voters will be considering as they head to the polls, especially those that live downtown.
For over 50 years Ray Detter has chosen the busy sights and sounds of downtown to call home over Ann Arbor's many quiet neighborhoods. The chair of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council believes the city-center belongs to everyone in the community and developments there encourage growth across Ann Arbor. Detter says this important aspect of the downtown warrants a special organization that guides changes to benefit the area and increase the tax base, "The DDA is the 1 group that can concentrate on those issues that specifically are involved in the downtown but none the less have an impact upon the whole city."
Streetscape and pedestrian improvements, quality housing options that protect historic elements of Ann Arbor's downtown, and a good parking system are some of the things Detter wants from the city and the DDA.
He says the downtown residents want to avoid adding surface parking lots, "The DDA has a program where they combine a direction which deals with transportation as well as parking to also avoid that. What can we do? We have to essentially provide other means of getting people to their work, and throughout the city."
Detter also wants to see the entire block around the library, including Liberty Plaza and the Blake Transit Center looked at together.
But what of the four city council members on the Democratic Mayoral ballot? They've all dealt with the DDA quite a bit in the last few years, with council approving a cap on the Tax Increment Financing revenue the organization can collect.
Stephen Kunselman was first elected to city council in 2006. Kunselman led the effort to address uncertainty around the TIF capture issue. He believes the cap will help build trust with the community, "Share the wealth with the rest of the city, certainly our neighborhoods. That's been my issue for many years is that we've been focusing all downtown, all the time and our neighborhoods have been neglected while the politicians speculate on how to build big buildings downtown."
Kunselman wants the D-D-A's development plan created annually to align with the city's capital improvement plan.
Sally Hart Petersen is also running for mayor. She's wrapping up her first term on council representing the second ward. While the plan will limit the growth of D-D-A funds, Petersen thinks it may help the organization plan future efforts, "It makes their budget more defined. Part of the problem with the TIF financing is that their never sure how much money they're going to get, and so now they know for sure what they can count on. So it makes their budgeting process a little easier as well."
Petersen is looking forward to the possible downtown ambassadors program the D-D-A has discussed.With Ann Arbor's DDA running the city's parking system, Petersen believes an important balance is needed to ensure the organization has funds to cover debt costs that would otherwise come to the city.
There are still two other candidates to consider in the Democratic Primary race and around the issue of the downtown and the DDA. First ward council representative Sabra Briere has been a political activist in the city since the late 1970's. Briere wants the parking system kept completely separate from other D-D-A funds. She says the DDA effectively leverages its funds, but need a clearer re-investment plan, "I want them to really be looking at how to put that money back into below ground and surface level efforts because I don't think the city should be spending money in the downtown any more than the bare minimum."
The fourth and final candidate in the Democratic primary race for mayor is Christopher Taylor. Taylor moved to Ann Arbor when he was 18 and opted to run for mayor over seeking re-election to his third ward council seat. He says the D-D-A has been a political punching bag for too long, "It's made up of volunteers who are there doing their best in good faith. I think that the solution to pull what's going to be truly millions of dollars out of the city's downtown, millions of tax dollars and send it to the county, and to the library, and the community college will hamper the D-D-A's ability to promote economic development."
Taylor believes businesses and residents have benefited from the DDA's work on streetscapes and parking.
Residents across Ann Arbor will get to say which candidate has the best vision for the DDA and the future of the downtown Tuesday.