The controversial library lot
As an Ann Arborite returning home after a few years, I'm finding the debate surrounding the Library Lot, and more importantly what exactly should be placed above the underground lot a little difficult to disentangle. Maybe though, that's because I'm spending too much time looking for answers in annarbor.com's comments. In general it seems like there is a lot of shouting and hand-waving, but very little substance.
Last week annarbor.com had two articles about the lot. The first covered City Council's reaction to a report by the Roxbury Group's report that a conference center may make sense in Down Town Ann Arbor. The second was an overly simplistic analysis of why a conference center may not make sense. While it is tempting to pick apart the authors arguments, that is ultimately unproductive.
In all the debate about what to do with the library lot it is difficult for me to find solid information and draw my own conclusions. Here are my thoughts:
Ann Arbor has a strong economy and a low unemployment rate (especially for Michigan). It is also a desirable place to live. We can expect that Ann Arbor, or more accurately the Ann Arbor area will experience some degree of population growth. Growth seems to come as either an increase in density, or an increase in area (sprawl). I would rather see a denser city than a more sprawling city for both environmental and aesthetic reasons. A denser and larger Down Town Ann Arbor seems much better than a sprawling suburban wasteland. Ann Arbor seems to struggle with development. Instead of gradually increasing density we have sporadic bursts of rapid development that result in the dreaded "tall buildings."
As I understand it, the current plan for the library lot calls for the construction of a conference center and hotel. What I haven't seen though, is a lot of objective analysis concerning the proposal. Is there a market for conference centers in small/medium sized cities? How many conferences per year would the proposed venue be vying for, and how many similar facilities would we be competing with? What are the successes and failures similar cities have faced when building conference centers? What were the factors that contributed to those successes/failures? Finally, are there better proposals for what to do with the site? I feel like I need to know answers to these questions before I can come to a conclusion about the project.
At this point I am left sympathizing with Arbor Brewing Company co-owner Rene Greff. In October's Ann Magazine article "Concrete Plans" she is quoted saying this about development in Ann Arbor:
“I’d like to see decisions being driven by data and not politics,” said Greff, “so that it’s not the loudest voices that get heard, but the most rational. That doesn’t happen now, and it leads to really bad decisions and thwarts moreintelligent, long-term planning. There’s a sense of futility. It’s not a rational process, so people figure, why put effort in?”
For more information on the library lot check out Local in Ann Arbor's post.