Thursday, January 22, 2015

The DDA at a turning point?

There are a contingent of Ann Arborites (or at least commentors on MLive) who despise Ann Arbor's Downtown Development Authority and think it should be dissolved. A larger group of people think the DDA has grown too large and powerful and think it would benefit from more direct control either form the city council or through popular election of (some) board members. I don't have hard numbers on this, but my sense is that most Ann Arborites support the DDA, though they may not be particularly vocal about their support. This makes sense. Downtown Ann Arbor is nice and business seem to be thriving. The most visible DDA projects are parking, infrastructure and the go!pass.

If I were on the DDA, I would be very worried about the general discontent being expressed by folks about the proposed Downtown Ambassador Program. The fact that the most vocal opponents of the program are coming from people who have been supporters of the DDA would be very worrisome. Remember the Citizen's Filibusterer of April 15th 2013? That night, 45 people spoke at a public hearing about proposed revisions to the DDA Ordinance. The majority of people that night voiced support for the DDA.

If the proposed Downtown Ambassador Program comes to fruition, it will surpass parking, infrastructure and the go!pass as the most visible thing the DDA is doing. If this happens, I think the DDA will lose a lot of support from the people who make up its large, if somewhat apathetic, base. If the DDA decides to go forward with the Downtown Ambassador Program, I don't think it will be able to count on as many people coming to a city council meeting to voice their support for it.

So, given the staunch opposition to the Ambassador Program from folks who are traditional DDA supporters, why hasn't the DDA backed away from the proposal? A clue to that comes from a comment DDA board member and /aut/ bar owner, Keith Orr, left on MarkMaynard.Com's post about the Ambassador Program:

I am on the DDA and in your network… and a business owner… and I voted against it for a variety of reasons. The main two were (1) cost, and (2) the relationship to the mission was too tangential.

And seeing the mention of Al, I believe there were four of us who voted against…Al, Rishi, Sandi, and me. I believe a move to reconsider would be useless without heavy, broad-based lobbying. It would be most effective from stakeholders. Three of the four neighborhood associations all spoke strongly in favor. Get State Street (especially) to reconsider their endorsement and you might see a shift.

Where Keith says "neighborhood associations" I think he is referring to the Commercial Associations within the DDA boundary. These are the Kerrytown District Association, the Main Street Area Association, the State Street Association and the South University Area Association.

So the DDA is getting pressure for the Ambassador Program from three out of the four Commercial Associations within its boundary, especially the State Street Association. If you, gentle reader, are opposed to the proposed Ambassador Program then contact the DDA. Also, let your friends know that they should contact the DDA. If you own a business within the DDA boundary or any one of the Commercial Association boundaries (especially State Street) let these organizations know what you think.

Finally, if you support the Ambassador Program, I welcome your comments. I would really like to know how you think the Ambassador Program would help Ann Arbor's downtown.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your perspective and advocacy.

    Is the ambassador program only a “cool” solution in search of an Ann Arbor problem? Are the supporters motivated by a “me too” attitude? It is reported in a blog that DDA members learned of the program while attending the International Downtown Association’s 2013 World Congress in New York where Block on Block was one of the sponsors.

    How many of those voting for the Ambassador program attended the New York Congress?