The fight intensifies over Ann Arbor’s proposed “ambassador” program

“Does Ann Arbor’s downtown belong to the people of Ann Arbor, or to the City’s most influential and vocal business owners?”

It’s a question that’s been asked quite a bit this past week, in the wake of news surfacing about an Ann Arbor DDA plan to further the “mallification” of downtown by hiring a small army of paid “ambassadors” who would travel throughout the City opening doors for the well-to-do, removing flyers from light poles, and ensuring, among other things, that “street people” don’t interfere with commerce. (Street people” was the term used by DDA member Joan Lowenstein, who yesterday left a comment on this site explaining that most of the people downtown merchants find problematic are not in fact “homeless,” as had been inferred in our earlier discussion.) The idea has been roundly criticized by the citizens of Ann Arbor, who, it would seem, despite our gentle, good-natured mocking, still value authenticity and sense of place. In spite of this growing public pushback, however, it appears that plans are continuing to move forward.

During a meeting of the DDA’s Operations Committee this morning, approximately 20 members of the Ann Arbor community showed up to make their thoughts known on this increasingly divisive initiative. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’m told by those in attendance that, of those who spoke out about the ambassador program, only one was in favor of the program, which is projected to cost $900,000 over the next three years. (For what it’s worth, I’m also told this one person who saw merit in the idea used the remainder of his allotted time to rant about 9/11 and various other unrelated things.) The bottom line, it would seem, is that regular, everyday Annarbourites don’t much like the idea of outsourcing the “user experience” of their downtown to Block By Block, a “faith-based” private security company in Lexington, as is currently the plan. Following, with more of the argument against this proposed arrangement, is the statement made this morning by former Jefferson Market owner Jean Henry, who was the fist to address the crowd. (Jean was cut off about half-way through, so not all of the following was heard.)

My name is Jean Henry, Ann Arbor resident since 1984, past owner of Jefferson Market and Sustainability Agent at Zingerman’s, currently doing some consulting and working on opening a retail shop focused on high-quality, well-designed goods produced between Detroit and Grand Rapids, plus collaborative efforts between local artists and social mission producers worldwide.

I appreciate this opportunity to speak on behalf of a town I love. I am committed to Ann Arbor. I have always supported the DDA’s work. I remember the failing parking structures. I know that the DDA has done good work to improve our downtown vitality and economic viability. When I first heard of the proposed ambassador program, like many, via the M-Live article a week ago, my immediate thought was that the DDA has just jumped the shark. It just seemed embarrassing. A marketing fail. What kind of town needs to pay people to be friendly for their citizens.

As I discovered more program areas — everything from sanitation, to way-finding, to social work, to graffiti (removal), to bike and pedestrian accessibility, to public safety — I became more alarmed. No one agency can perform all these functions successfully, nor should they try. It seems the program is designed to convey a positive impression to outsiders who fear problems that are not really problems in our downtown — especially crime.

As I’ve talked to business owners downtown, I found they also think it’s a bad idea. They tend their own shops and can clean their own stoops, welcome guests, give directions, and manage pan handlers directly, and in their own unique style. They don’t need to pay outsiders to do the work of engaging their community. This initiative outsources what any well-run (and smart) business would do on their own. It’s a marketing effort that in its very existence denies the strongest characteristics of our community — progressive, open, creative, engaging and a little weird. We are taking it personally, because it is personal to us. Because we love this town.

Mark Hodesh specifically asked me to read this to you: “I fully support the DDA. They have helped us out whenever we needed them. But this is a terrible idea. It’s not the expense. It risks making our town look like a circus. I think we’re better than this. I’m heading off to the FLA Panhandle right now as a tourist, specifically to avoid anything resembling this program in that state.”

Lots of people have complained I know. I am here first and foremost to ask the DDA to table this initiative in order to gather more public input and assess alternatives. That seems only reasonable. My other pitch is for the DDA to expand its understanding of it’s constituency to all of us who fund the DDA, use downtown and help make this town what it is.

I have been asked to pose alternatives to address the same problems. This is almost impossible when it is unclear what critical problems you are trying to address with the ambassador program. Where there are demonstrated needs, I’m sure we could workshop better solutions within the community. It’s easier to suggest ways to support the DDA mission to encourage smart development and investment in downtown. I’d love to see a fund for low-cost/high impact grants to enhance our local mojo. I’d like to see some rent support for low investment/high impact/low profit margin businesses. There are great models for pedestrian and bike safety infrastructure (rather than enforcement). I think public restrooms make a lot of sense too. You could combine them with kiosks that our beautiful local people will plaster with posters.

Let’s talk about the posters and flyers that mark our downtown. Not because they are a critical issue, but because many, many people have expressed particular worry that they would disappear entirely. and they are an example of something we value that is unlikely to register in this room, or with Block by Block. These posters are not a nuisance; they are a sign that we still generate culture and community organically. They are way-finders to authentic Ann Arbor. When I arrived here at 18, I made great use of them, and the local culture I discovered is a big reason why I’m still here 30 years later. Let our downtown be a little messy and beautiful and heart-felt and sometimes angry. Let it be free to be itself. Maybe it will put some visitors outside their comfort zone, but that is what traveling is all about — exposure to new things. Let our downtown look like us and we will tend to it diligently out of love. You can’t import that. You can’t buy that. You CAN cultivate it.

I like seeing all kinds of people in A2. I want more buskers, more strangeness, more skaters and kids, more people just hanging out. I think that’s good for business too. How many people have you heard say they come to A2 to see the weirdos? Loitering is not a problem; it’s a sign of a commons — a gathering place. People of all kinds hanging out downtown together is a sign of community integrity. Our downtown does not exist solely for retail and office use — and that’s good for business… and property values. Our crime rate is very low, despite the homeless population, the graffiti, and the partying here. We should let visitors know that we are proud of our very safe, and progressive, and open, and ‘weird’ town.

I understand that this body has been under pressure to do something about essentially nothing. I would suggest that this is the point when the DDA needs to broaden its understanding of its mission to encompass a bigger swath of it’s constituency. You have really hit a nerve with this one. It looks like you are more interested (in many ways) in making a town comfortable for outsiders than for our own citizens — workers, crazies, weirdos, artists, buskers — who don’t have a wallet full o’ cash. I don’t believe that, but I do think you undervalue many of the people and things that create local character and community integrity. I’m here to ask you to change that right now.

As I said, I have supported most of your work. It seems that this initiative is simply classic evidence of a tunnel think — a conversation took place in a vacuum that should have taken place within the whole community. Because I think we can all help you meet your mission. But the DDA needs to reach out meaningfully to its workforce, its creative class, its small & mighty (if woefully underfunded) local businesses, its kids and its panhandlers, because we ARE Ann Arbor. We offer what people come to see. We grow this town in smart and fun ways. And we are your best investment.

jeanhenrydda

[File photo of Jean Henry courtesy our friends at the very much missed Ann Arbor Chronicle.]

As I understand it, in spite of the fact that Jean and approximately 18 others spoke out against this initiative, the members of the DDA Operations Committee, when the time came to cut off public comment, segued right back into a discussion of this program as though nothing had happened. There was some good news, however. It was apparently noted during the meeting that, even though the funding for this program has already been approved, there is not yet any contract in place with Block By Block… which means that this could still be stopped.

The question is, will the DDA listen to the people of Ann Arbor and stop this before it goes too far… before they complete the transformation of downtown Ann Arbor into a completely sterile open-air shopping mall for the wealthy?

“They assured us that they are considering our input,” said Jean in a message to myself and others after the meeting, “although I saw zero real evidence of that in the room today.”

Personally, I can’t imagine that this will go forward. There’s just too much momentum going the other way, and it doesn’t sound to me as though they’re even able to articulate what exactly the problem is that they’re hoping to solve, or what metrics they’ll be tracking to see whether or not the ambassador program is successful in dealing with said problem. I mean, I know that there are probably some very powerful business owners that want for the DDA to operate their own private security force in order to make Ann Arbor more welcoming to the well-off, but I can’t imagine that they can make this happen given the current level of scrutiny. Hell, I just read online that Ann Arbor City Councilman Stephen Kunselman has offered to bring a resolution to Council, asking the DDA to step back and reconsider. This isn’t, in other words, going to go away. It’s just going to intensify. And that, in my opinion, is an awesome thing. This is exactly the kind of broad, community-wide discussion the people of Ann Arbor should be having.

People need to decide, collectively, whether authenticity and sense of place actually have value? This shouldn’t just be the decision of a few people on the DDA, and those business owners who have their ear.

And, secondarily, if it is decided that there truly are problems that need to be addressed in downtown, people need to come together to figure out how to address them. I suppose I could be wrong, but my sense is that there may be more cost-effective local solutions to issues like panhandling that don’t require us to hire Walmart-like greeters and get into bed with a company like Block By Block that doesn’t know this community and what makes it unique.

For what it’s worth, here’s one last thing that I found interesting… It apparently came out during today’s meeting that the work of Block By Block first came to the attention of the DDA when several members of the group attended the International Downtown Association’s 2013 World Congress in New York, an event which was hosted in part by Block By Block. According to Mary Morgan, the former editor of the Ann Arbor Chronicle, this conference “was attended by several DDA board members, staff and others – including (recently-elected Ann Arbor Mayor) Christopher Taylor, who was one of the people reimbursed by the DDA for trip expenses.” I don’t think anyone is suggesting that anything untoward happened on this trip, but my sense is that a lot of folks, like me, find it troubling that we didn’t find Block By Block as a result of searching for a solution to a specific problem, but when they presented to members of our DDA, showing them how, by implementing an “ambassador” program, they could essentially turn their entire downtown area into a perfectly controlled mall-like environment, optimized for commerce. But you have to hand it to Block By Block. They’ve found an awesome niche, pitching their services to Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) flush with tax-payer cash, and looking for ways to spend it.

If you agree that this should be tabled, please take a moment and let the DDA know how you feel. They can be reached either through their website, by way of e-mail (dda@a2dda.org), or via Twitter (@A2DDA).

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72 Comments

  1. Posted January 21, 2015 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Excellent.

  2. Elf
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    I hope it happens as it will better highlight the differences between our two communities and hasten the downfall of Ann Arbor.

  3. West Wash Dude
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Did some governing body in Ann Arbor pass a decree that all public officials in city government would conduct themselves and enact policies that play perfectly to the negative stereotype of Ann Arborites that proceeds city residents throughout the out-county and beyond?

  4. Dan
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    your goals are noble and well reasoned, Elf

  5. Lisa Dengiz
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Mark for shining a bright, probing light on this misguided and very expensive effort to “sanitize” our formerly quirky and vibrant downtown. Imagine how far $300K could go to help support more staffing to PORT or to help bring back the very friendly downtown beat cops we used to have. These folks already know our community! Also, I can open my own door and am always more than happy to open doors for others and to give directions to out of towners and ANN ARBOURITES! Thanks Jean, Mark Hodesh, Linh and Dug Song and everyone else who for your passionate efforts to raise such valid and valuable concerns about the proposal.

    Lisa Dengiz

  6. mariah
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Thanks Mark. It’s worth noting the variety of folks that were there speaking against it, too – many were in fact downtown business owners and people who spend a good amount of time living/working downtown.

    There were a whole host of weird things about the dynamic (including no clear answer to “what is the problem you’re trying to solve?” despite many, many people asking – including at least 2 DDA board members!, and a response that BBB would tell them what problems it could work on -totally backwards!) but it does seem like there’s still room for folks to make their opinions known, so please – anyone reading this who cares about this – do take a minute to send a note to that DDA email addy.

  7. Rick Cronn
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Homogeneity (and Pasteurization) has long been Ann Arbor’s goal.

    It’s over. That tipping point has left the station.

  8. Anonymous
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Ann Arbor is clearly on the verge of splitting in half, like the rest of the country. It’s been coming on for a long while, big high rises with penthouses, recent arrivals of destination based businesses that come from other areas of Michigan (Traverse/Leelanau) resulting the loss of Ann Arbor iconic places like the Del Rio and others, the huge Brighton Ski Resort investment from Vale, multiple brand name hotel developments going up all over, continued UM expansions and pending transportation changes conveniently linking regions for work and commerce (I’m sure I missed something here, but you get the drift). Sadly, something has to give way to the tension. Seemingly, with the kind of transformation happening in Ann Arbor ( and many cities before A2) these changes have already changed the overall character of the A2 we know and love. Ann Arbor has become a destination or investment for many but to us it’s home. A home of an array of all kinds that live and love peacefully with no other expectation than to be cool with each other, not a controlled nanny state.

  9. josh
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    unclear how that plan would have any sort of longevity.

    it’s also weird to see people talking so much shit about ann arbor just because their newspaper is afraid of ypsi and some of them don’t have the same ideas. the two places are culturally related and essentially the same place in comparison with the rest of the world, or country, or state. in fact, this post describes how the overwhelming majority of people there are against homogenization.

    ann arbor is 99% as weird as ypsi. some people need to get off their fuckin weird high horses

  10. another anonymous
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    A friend just posed an interesting question to me. What would have become of Shaky Jake under this progrom?

  11. Jean Henry
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Peter Larsen: not ‘interesting?’

  12. Chaely
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Block by Block manages a property I’ve worked with in Ohio (an outdoor shopping plaza). The nice to deal with & not overtly religious but the effect is very sterile. I guess this makes Ypsi the new A2 & A2 is the new Birmingham?

  13. deleuzean
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I sure hope this gets transformed into something good, because right now it just looks stupid and bad.

    The concerns you raise in the penultimate paragraph point me in the direction of thinking that the folks who went to that conference two years ago may very well have simply been impressed by the possibilities for positive change that were presented to them there.

    Unfortunately it seems not to have occurred to any of them that we as a community could work toward some of those positive changes as a community more effectively, more sustainably and at lower cost.

  14. John Galt
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I think that the Ambassador program is a step in the right direction. What I’d ultimately like to see, though, is the poor being chased from Ann Arbor by remotely controlled drones.

  15. Posted January 22, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Great blog! Jean Henry’s speech was so eloquent that I have goose bumps! I am so glad there are so many people with reasonable thinking in this area. Thanks for putting the spotlight on this issue, Mark!

    Wow… I just read the comments and YEAH…. WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED TO SHAKY JAKE IF THE AMBASSADORS HAD GOTTEN HOLD OF HIM? I went to U of M in the early 90’s and hung out with Jake downtown all the time. He would always roll down State St. really slow in his convertible cadillac, blasting loud blues music. He would pull out his guitar and sing for us every day! He was always smiling and loved everyone, especially the soul of Ann Arbor. Jake is a LEGEND. Do they really want to end real legends like this?

  16. Bob Krzewinski
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Reading the link about SMS, the parent company of “Block By Block” is really enlightening. A “security” company that says it is “faith-based” but just using religion to make money and pursue a right wing agenda (i.e. keeping unions out, gutting worker wages, etc.). The DDA should run, not walk, away from SMS.

  17. Rick Cronn
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Just a single observation, but my new neighbors (after 28 years with the same one) who are retired with no children at home, have moved back into the city from their suburban township home in one of those no thru street communities. On the other side is a working class family who are struggling with two jobs and two teens who probably can’t afford to remain in the city after three kids are grown.

    It does not bode well for Ann Arbor if the trend is one of suburbanites and retirees (those able to pay for the privilege) moving into the city. I suspect that they’re Republicans.

  18. Convert
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    A2 has become boring and gentrified DESPITE the continued presence of weird, interesting people, because those people have no power to control or influence the decisions that effect the city. Only the rich and connected have a voice about zoning or rent control — issues that many other vibrant cities have taken on at the will of their citizens. It’s plain and simple: A2 is an oligarchy where the people who comprise the community simply have no voice. It’s a form of corruption.

    Even if this “ambassador” program has churned up too much PR stink for the DDA to move forward, it does not change the city’s overall trajectory in this direction. This is the direction it’s been moving in for over ten years. The sooner you mourn and accept that the A2 you love is gone, the sooner you can sell your home for so much $$$ that you can buy your new home in a beautiful ypsi neighborhood almost entirely with cash. I did it five years ago when I realized I would rather be continually celebrating the ways my community was improving and moving up than actively HATING the ways my community was continually disappointing me and becoming nothing like the place I loved when I moved there.

  19. facebook stalker
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    From someone on Facebook:

    “The problem in a nutshell… We’re reaching a critical mass of yuppie asswipes moving here, presumably to escape suburban blandness, only for them to set about trying to change Ann Arbor into a version of whatever bland suburb they escaped from.”

  20. Rick Cronn
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    The yuppie asswipes bypassed Ann Arbor and moved to Detroit.

    If CreateHarmony really knew Shakin’ Jake Woods (not Shaky Jake) he would have known that it wasn’t Jake who drove that Caddy around town. If you’re going to proclaim the disappearance of local history at least get it right. Not to say Jake didn’t drive or own a Caddy, but I’ve lived here since 1972 and never saw Jake Woods behind the wheel or heard tales of him driving. I don’t know who the other fellow (African American) was or is, but it was NOT Jake Woods.

  21. Forest Juziuk
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Rick is right, that bad ass was not Jake but he still RULES.

  22. Kit
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Susan Pollay of the A2DDA is responding to emails sent to her.

    “Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts with the DDA board about a downtown ambassador program. There is still a lot of discussion ahead for them before any kind of final decision is made, and it is very helpful to have you weigh in with this email. It’s very helpful and very appreciated.”

  23. Dan
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    “It does not bode well for Ann Arbor if the trend is one of suburbanites and retirees (those able to pay for the privilege) moving into the city. I suspect that they’re Republicans.”

    the xenophobes here are deliciously hypocritical.

  24. Rick Cronn
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Dan’s sarcasm bone is broken. And unless you know me and we’ve had a conversation about phobias, I’d suggest you express your clueless assumptions and baseless opinions to someone who gives more of a shit than I do.

  25. Dan
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    my opinions are based on your direct posts. That can not be baseless, by definition. And if you are being sarcastic about your “observation” and comments about others moving into Ann Arbor, then you need to get better at being sarcastic. You’ve made multiple posts here about AA’s homogeneity

  26. Rick Cronn
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    And is that push towards homogeneity not true, Dan?

    It’s obvious by your reply that you agree with the part about your clueless assumptions.

    Put a little picture up on the internet or write a few words here and there, then before you know it, someone thinks they know you. They’ve formulated some image of your personality based solely on tidbits and what their feeble imagination conjures. Never met. Never exchanged pleasantries, probably never been in the same room before and yet they think that they know something.

    Typical of anon commenters. You know less than nothing Dan.

  27. Dan
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    welcome to the internet Rick. Where you purposefully express your ideas to strangers. If you only intended to communicate your ideas to your friends and acquaintances, then there are other media much better suited for that.

    But you come to a public forum and spout your nonsense about people alien to you moving into and ruining AA for you, and you expect everyone to know your life story? smh

  28. Kitty B. Kahn
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Jean Henry’s comments describe perfectly my own thoughts about this misled ambassador program. We don’t need sterilization of our wonderful town. I must say I have never been a fan of the DDA and this is the last straw. Let’s disband the DDA!

  29. Posted January 22, 2015 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    I wrote an email to the DDA. Here is what I said:

    “Greetings,

    It is with some concern that I’ve watched the continued progress of a “Downtown Ambassador” program be promoted by the DDA. I work and play downtown, and frequently (several times a week) bring friends from out of town to enjoy many of the exciting, fun, and original activities available only in downtown Ann Arbor. A frequent comment I hear from friends and visitors — besides “when can I visit again?” — is that they feel Ann Arbor is a fun and safe place to “do your own thing”. That is, they frequently comment on how they can discover and enjoy original restaurants, art happenings, music events, and street festivals “at their own pace” and can determine their own schedules and level of activities. I feel if some phony “downtown ambassador” program was instituted, this valuable and original outlet for self exploration, and exploration of the city itself and all it offers, would be lost. Ann Arbor functions best as an original, unguided experience for all ages and experience levels, and the addition of ambassadors, guides, or intrusive quasi-docents, would detract from the experience, and make a visit downtown seem artificial and like visiting a theme park.

    I implore you to reconsider this program, and instead spend the money elsewhere.

    Thank you.
    Steve

  30. Rick Cronn
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry that you must work so hard to twist what you claim are my words to fit your premise, which seems to be based on your self serving narrow perspective. The perspective of a troll.

    Ever heard of a Procrustean Bed? Because that is indeed what you have constructed. Left things out, added a few of your own, then called it fact.

    I have no idea where you get that crazy assumption about anyone ruining Ann Arbor for me or anyone else. Please quote me sometime. And try to do it without the trollery.

  31. Posted January 22, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    P.S. I realize that me saying all these nice things about Ann Arbor in an email to that hated entity the DDA doesn’t play well to the general theme of promoting Ypsilanti in favor of a collapse and fall and the salting of the earth of Ann Arbor in this blog, but one has to lay it on THICK with these administrative types if they want to read the emails in the public commentary sections of their meetings.

  32. vicki honeyman
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    why doesn’t the DDA use money that’s burning in their pockets to help ann arbor’s homeless rather than treating these humans as lesser-beings?

    I’ve yet to find anyone I’ve discussed this with who is in favor of the ambassador program. it’s an embarrassment concept, DDA….and an embarrassing waste of valuable funds that should be used to improve our community, including our homeless community.

  33. Rick Cronn
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Hey Dan, two things then you can have the last word.

    This is not a public forum. Mark pays for it and it’s only available if you have internet access.

    If this were a public forum, like a Council meeting, we would be able to see and hear each other when we state our respective opinions, making the case for our personal pov.

    In the alternate reality where you claim that this is a public forum, some folks get to wear masks or hide behind curtains, while others, like Jean, Mark, me and a few others stand and speak our minds openly and honestly.

    On the other hand you and a few others are the ones hiding behind the curtain yet still believe they have a valid opinion. In my view, anonymity kind of kills that.

  34. Posted January 22, 2015 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    I electrobusk occasionally, not for money, more for acoustics and magic. I also create and place non-destructive public arts. I eagerly await the escalation of destruction of public property by persons not entirely unlike me, in the face of right wing segway-toted lanyard wearing polo clad rosy cheeked opressors. Our town’s steadfast graffiti artists shall rise up, and give them something to scrub. An army of hammers will provoke the formation of nails. Culture war on!

  35. Steve Pickard
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Rick and Dan you too should spar or collectively write a guest article or get an joint interview with Mark and resolve this.

  36. Paige Reader
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    This whole idea gives me the creeps. No “problem” other than “street people” has been defined. “Ambassadors?” What the hell does that even mean?

    I think it’s a smoke screen for gently herding “undesireables” off downtown streets. What, are we Stepford? Why am I reminded of the early days of Germany’s National Socialism party — otherwise known as the Nazis?

  37. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Rick, It seems pretty obvious to me that Dan was simply pointing out that you claim to dislike homogeneity and in the next breath you express the opinion that the fabric of the community is being threatened by outsiders ( older, wealthier, republican, suburbanites). We don’t need to read your diary to have insight into where you are coming from. You wrote those things….In this thread! Your responses to Dan are weird….

  38. Posted January 22, 2015 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    “P.S. I realize that me saying all these nice things about Ann Arbor in an email to that hated entity the DDA doesn’t play well to the general theme of promoting Ypsilanti in favor of a collapse and fall and the salting of the earth of Ann Arbor in this blog, but one has to lay it on THICK with these administrative types if they want to read the emails in the public commentary sections of their meetings.”

    It is interesting that you feel the need to publicly apologize.

  39. Posted January 22, 2015 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    I like it when people call for diversity, but only for a small, privileged and mostly uniform group of people.

  40. Posted January 22, 2015 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Jake was not the guy in the Caddy. That was another black guy.

    And Jake never really “sang” or “played guitar.” He stood on street corners and made unintelligible sounds to get money from college students, which is kind of cool in itself, but still.

    I heard that he could play at one time, but given how musically useless he was when I was around, I consider these reports dubious.

    As for retirees, suburbanites and Republicans, they are welcome. We need more old people in Ann Arbor and towns should be welcoming to people of all political views.

    Honestly,if the working class family can’t afford to live there, they could always move over to Ypsi unless it is that important to them (and it probably is). The market, however, has no obligation to accommodate them.

    All of the time I have lived in Ann Arbor, I couldn’t afford it. It has ALWAYS been expensive, but I bit the bullet and did it anyway because I liked to live in Ann Arbor. I refused to live in Ypsi. Too far away, no jobs and the bus takes way too long.

    What needs to happen is that Ann Arbor needs to annex Ypsilanti and Pittsfield and put it all under a single administration and provide services from a single tax base.

  41. kjc
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Interesting.

  42. CED
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m really curious about a couple, no maybe three, related things. First, where does DDA get its money from? Second, what obligations are they supposed to fulfill with their revenue? Third, who has oversight over this body, if anyone?

  43. Jean Henry
    Posted January 23, 2015 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    DDA Money comes from parking revenue (not tickets) in the downtown area in structures and on the streets. It also receives TIF funds for new development. Both revenue streams are quite substantial. They agreed to kick back dome parking revenue to the city in exchange for getting the street parking. When this deal was struck the DDA hope was the city would use the funds to hire some beat cops for the downtown area. Since the downtown area has almost not major crime (about 5 incidents a month–including all robberies, even attempted), the city manager (who has at least as much power as our mayor but is hired not elected and paid well) elected to use the DDa funds for other needs. So the DDA can not spend money of public safety issues or social services, but it has a lot of money it likes to control. So it’s doing this ambassador program to try to appease retailers who have enough time to pay attention to this crap because they are not tending their own damn stores, guests and pan-handlers as they see fit. Their mandate is to encourage liveliness and public investment in the downtown area. They also run the parking structures and do a lot of infrastructure work in their district. Almost everything they do relates to either promotion or parking or development in directly or indirectly. There is no oversight. They are appointed by the mayor I think.

  44. Jean Henry
    Posted January 23, 2015 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    I have to apologize for typos. It’s late…

  45. Posted January 23, 2015 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks for everyone’s work on this. Jean, your advocacy is spot-on and I am glad you are helping to advance an alternative vision for our downtown. Two points of information:

    1) DDA board members are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by council as a whole [mayor has a vote too]. For example: http://bit.ly/1t5kb1e

    2) This is nit-picky, I’ll be the first to admit it. In your prepared remarks you write “Our crime rate is very low, despite the homeless population…” which could be interpreted to equate criminals with homeless individuals. This is probably extra nit-picky in that I believe I have seen comments of yours elsewhere that recognize the crime rate among homeless individuals is no higher than the crime rate amongst those of us with houses.

    3) I know, I said “two points…” but this is not information. This is a question: Do you or others have any ideas about how we can get more than 20 people to show up in-person next time?

  46. Posted January 23, 2015 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Even though they are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by council, the DDA board operates independent of council decisions.

    Side notes of interest [at least interesting to me]:

    1) take a glance at the bond debt in their most recent budget:
    http://www.a2dda.org/wp-content/uploads/About/Financial%20Reports/AA-DDA-Annual-Report-2013-2014.pdf

    2) Check out the DDA district boundary map
    DDA boundary map: http://www.a2dda.org/wp-content/uploads/business/2.2.2DDAStreetMap.pdf

  47. Bear
    Posted January 23, 2015 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    One way to get more than twenty people at the next meeting I’d to flyer it around town. (the very ” problem” they wish to solve)

    Another might be have Ann arbor new do another article, cashing for people to attend! Also an article in the old west side newsletter may raise interest.

    I’m interested in attending, myself. When & where?

  48. Chris
    Posted January 23, 2015 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Sent them an email expressing my confusion over what problems they think they’re solving. I’m not opposed to the general idea of having happy faces out and about answering questions. I just think that should be A2 citizens themselves.

  49. alan haber
    Posted January 23, 2015 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    the dda meets the first wednesday of the month at noon at their office on 5th avenue between huron and washington, 3rd floor. usually only 4 speakers allowed unless a commotion is made to let people. february 4.

    cultural depression and isolation has gotten to the place where we ae told we have to pay for a happy face and helping hand.

    perhaps we can begin a volunteer brigade of ann arbor ambassadors, putting on a happy face, being friendly when down town, meeting eyes and keeping eyes open about what’s going on.

    no fixed hours, but perhaps we could have a happy face or outstretched hand button to wear when we chose to be on duty.

    all ann arborites would be welcome to join, to be ambassadors of ourselves, to ourselves, and visitors too. there could be a regular on-going program of ambassador orientation so ambassadors would would keep learning more about whats happening in our downtowns and around.

    i believe we could generate a lot more than 340 happy hours a week,

    if we lived in a culture of peace and non-violence, of partnership, caring and sharing, how would we be with one another?

    … maybe, “proactively” as people say, we could develop some momentum to try it in town, instead of outsourcing common humanity, and turning it into a commodity.

    the dda should have an alternative to consider.

    alan haber

  50. Mark Lee
    Posted January 23, 2015 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I ❤️ Ann Arbor !

  51. Jim
    Posted January 23, 2015 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    If the DDA wants to get more people downtown, they should contract for sidewalk snow removal. Many downtown sidewalks were almost impassible much of last winter. Or they could lower parking rates. The high price of parking discourages downtown shopping, when parking elsewhere is cheap (downtown Ypsi) or free (almost everywhere else in the area).

  52. Posted January 24, 2015 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    Thanks Alan. To sign up in advance for a time to speak, please call the DDA office at (734) 994-6697.

  53. I used to live downtown
    Posted January 24, 2015 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    The guy in the Cadillac is Cadillac Joe who at one time worked three jobs to support his Cadillac habit. He had at least three, his arrival is a sure sign of spring. As someone who lived on North Main street for 26 years til two months ago, I have to say I was initially shocked and depressed when I got my thirty days to move so my house could be torn down to build a “dance and massage” studio. At this point I am glad to be gone, there is not much interesting left in the downtown area which I grew up in, worked in and lived in. Looking back its been happening little by little for a long time and with the rebound in the real estate market has just accelerated. Learning to love being a westsider out near Jackson and Maple and wondering if it’s time to go even further west young man.

  54. mariah
    Posted January 24, 2015 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Greg, I have to say that 20 people made that room feel pretty packed. It would be great to have even more people there, but I know the meetings are at a time that’s super inconvenient for most people who work a daytime schedule (luckily I took my lunch then bc I’m only a few blocks away).

    It would be great to have even more than 20 people, but even if we could just keep it up to 20 *each* time, I think it would be a solid showing.

    Still, with how little responsibility the committee felt to answer *any* of our questions (and don’t even get me started on their sad lack of prior research on BbyB/SMS Holdings), I’m not sure that they feel that the public are truly the people they are to represent, which is a shame. A DDA (and I do believe from what I saw that at least 1/3-1/2 of this committee DO feel this way) should be representing many different stakeholders, not *only* specific biz owners who complain the loudest (and like Jean says, have the time TO complain loudest).

  55. Lisa Patrell
    Posted January 24, 2015 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Sent the DDA a long long comment. The points I covered were #1 Bemoaning what has been lost in downtown A2 since the mallification-restaurantizing of the 1980s forward. #2 Recognizing what still remains, gratefully. #3 Outlining how shopping downtown A2 is an experience (eg. Jean Henry’s praise of street people) and not merely an errand–otherwise the hassel and cost of parking is not worth it. #4 On account of what remains recounted how we spent $300 in two hours as a pedestrian. #5 Highlighting how tomorrow’s errands to restock Son going back to college will be done elsewhere, because of the demise of stores downtown no longer has, and how we lost out on having an engaging time together as oppose to just running errands. #6 A snarky comment how I would regard a sanitized Ann Arbor as purgatory and underscoring how the First Hill, Capitol Hill, and Denny Triangle, neighborhoods of downtown Seattle are wonderful. #7 The real danger that downtown A2 sole proprietors face is high rental rates…soon only big box stores can afford the sq ft rates. #8 I was on such a roll I cannot even recall what I wrote in the PSS. #9 Did not even touch the abhorence of engaging a “faith-base” group as ambassadors!

  56. Jason
    Posted January 24, 2015 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    “I’d love to see a fund for low-cost/high impact grants to enhance our local mojo. I’d like to see some rent support for low investment/high impact/low profit margin businesses. There are great models for pedestrian and bike safety infrastructure (rather than enforcement).”

    I second that!

  57. Francie
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Let’s put this in words that those who only look at the bottom line can understand: Who will be on the hook for damages when some DDA “ambassador” becomes overzealous in their role of removing some poor homeless person from a street corner and the city is slapped with a civil rights lawsuit?

  58. Karen St John
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Let the city be. Ann Arbor is already well on its way to a dilettante’s homogeneity, and doesn’t need ambassadors to accelerate the process. If the DDA insists, however…just so they know, I work in Ann Arbor Your ambassadors would do very well to be careful, as I may dress like a neo-hippy, but if one lays a hand on me there will be felony charges.

  59. Nica
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I really hate when community input is tokenized. In my experience, they can now officially report that they “consulted the community” because they had this little meeting. I doubt input was ever going to be taken seriously.

  60. Ben Ricciardi
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Why not take The 900 grand and pay the homeless to remove signs ?

  61. Jon H
    Posted January 25, 2015 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Check this out folks! From the MLive editorial comments
    SMS Holdings, a powerful, politically connected private corporation with a shady record of attacking unions and relentlessly hollowing out the pay and benefits of its employees.

    http://darwinbondgraham.blogspot.com/2012/01/sms-holdings-faith-based-anti-labor.html

  62. Posted January 26, 2015 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I read with interest your post on the proposed Ambassador program for Ann Arbor. I work for Easton Main Street Initiative, a revitalization program in Downtown Easton, PA. We are famed to be the home of Crayola Crayons and have a major tourist attraction, The Crayola Experience attracting 450,000 people a year to our Downtown. We’re also home to heavy weight champion, Larry Holmes and the location of the third public reading of the Declaration of Independence – quirky, I know. Easton was a major hub during the heyday of canals – we sit at the confluence of the Delaware & Lehigh Rivers and respective canals and the Morris Canal. Wow, you say, you’ve got a hoppin’ place! Actually, in the late 60’s and 70’s Urban Renewal hit and we lost parts of our Downtown. People moved out. Low income and section 8 moved in. No one wanted to be in our City. No one.

    In the 1996 Crayola came to Downtown to help with the revitalization and opened a tourist attraction. People came, and don’t get me wrong, it was great, but the perception was still there – Downtown Easton was scary! More than 10 years later we adopted an Ambassador program through Block by Block. I can not tell you what a difference this program has made to our Downtown. Our Downtown is clean and they clean more than our business owners could do (think powerwashing, weeding, etc.) and help care for areas of the City that not-so-great property owners neglect. They’re also a great set of eyes and ears for our police. Now, I also have to say it seems Ann Arbor and Easton have a common bond – weird people in our downtowns. And I say that in the kindest of ways. We have a saying in Easton…the full moon is always out here. :) But our Ambassadors have forged bonds with all those folks. They know the good ones, the down-on-their-luck ones, and the ones that are up to no good. They treat people equally, unless there’s reason not to. Then there’s the hospitality side of things. Amazing! My friend relays a story of arriving in a surface parking lot in the pouring down rain. As she opened her car door, there was one of our Ambassadors ready and waiting with an umbrella to walk her to her destination. She was blown away. And so are many of our City visitors. Visitors, who like all of us visiting a place for the first time, are looking for someone to ask them if they need directions or a restaurant suggestion.

    Our Ambassador program faced some cut backs three years ago and the public out-cry was staggering. Now, the residential neighborhood on the fringe of Downtown, and with a heavier crime & litter population, is begging for an Ambassador program. They have seen how it has helped with our Downtown.

    Block by Block has done an amazing job of training their employees. They’re kind, and easily feel like they belong in our City. They are always ready to lend a hand, whether it be toting chairs for an evening concert or helping to set up our Farmers’ Market (which incidentally is the oldest in the country). They were on scene at a possible heart attack during a festival, lost children, traffic situations, and the list goes on and on. Many in our City credit the Ambassadors with playing a major part in making our City what it is today.

    I can’t say I’ve ever visited your city, and I’m sure you’re not familiar with mine, but I implore you to give the Ambassadors a chance. It’s not a meek undertaking and the cost is there – so somehow, someway it looks to be needed. If you need more information on their impact in Easton, PA, please feel free to contact me. There are many of us who will share our experiences and recognition of this program.

  63. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the information, Amy. It sounds like Ann Arbor and Easton are very different places. Downtown Ann Arbor is a highly desirable place to live. It is not scary. It is clean. And I would like to think that everyone is invited to take part in downtown Ann Arbor–even the “weirdos” who may or not be able to spend a lot of money. Street life which I define as non commercial participation in public places should be embraced and encouraged!!!

  64. Posted January 26, 2015 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    @Frosted Flakes, actually Downtown Easton is a highly desirable place now to live. We may be small – 27,000 in the City, but in 2013/14 over 100 new market-rate apartments came online. And we’ll see more of that in this year and the following. Like I said, our City has now become desirable in part because of the Ambassadors. And, I have to point out, the Downtown was never scary. It was perceived as such by folks who have more in their wallets than others. Since we are probably the smallest city Block by Block has, you should look at other areas: Boston, Louisville, Deluth, Providence, Baltimore, Bridgeport, Heartford, Georgetown, Nashville, Pittsburgh…all have Ambassadors. So you could be in good company.

  65. Posted January 26, 2015 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Dang, Amy, thats a pretty long list of towns that it never would have occured to me to move. And yet, I sought out Ann Arbor. We don’t have a town that needs its image repaired. At least not with persons of means. Its us weirdo creatives that are getting unhappy with the state of things.

  66. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Amy, I really appreciate that you provided this list of cities using block by block because it just drives the point home how completely strange it would be to have block by block in Ann Arbor. Just looking at it from a crime rate angle, every single city on your list has a much higher crime rate than Ann Arbor. Also, I suspect that most of the cities on that list have higher crime neighborhoods adjacent to their Downtown areas. Downtown Ann Arbor is high income and safe, downtown is surround by a ring of low crime high income neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are surrounded by a ring of low crime upper middleclass neighborhoods. The ring of wealth and safety extends a good six miles out. I can only speak for the what I believe to be the needs of the community I live in and it is in my opinion completely weird and wildly inappropriate that “block by block” is being considered for Ann Arbor. Seriously, it is a weird idea….

  67. Posted January 26, 2015 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    @Dan, I’m sorry to hear that the creatives feel push from this. Easton is an artful town, too. We’re only an hour and a half from NYC and the same to Philly. Easton has become a home to the creatives who could no longer afford the rents in NYC. Check out Karl Stirner, you may have heard of him, besides being a well respected artist he was a founding father of bringing artists to Easton (and some very well-known ones live here!). As someone who makes little money (I do work for a non-profit), I can totally understand the feeling as those with more money start to call the shots. I admire your community for standing up for what it perceives as a negative for the city. One of the reasons Easton’s resurgence has been so successful is because there has been a ton of private investment and that investment has come in many forms – but it has truly come from the ground up. I’m also a big proponent of all walks of life living in harmony (cue Kumbaya). Easton needs our dive bar with fabulous jazz and an SRO hotel as much as the $1200/mo. apartments. My experience with Block by Block has in no way been a sterilization of our Downtown. Our business owners love them, our residents love them, our police love them, our city officials love them and our visitors are impressed by them. I was hoping that my experience with the Ambassadors would come as some first-person input to the program – it doesn’t seem like that side has been talked about here. All the best as you continue your discussion for the proposed program.

  68. Dan
    Posted January 27, 2015 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Amy,

    I think the point you keep missing here is that downtown Ann Arbor (or 95% of the rest of the city) does NOT need any revitalization. In fact, imo, most people here would suggest that it is “too nice” and desirable as it is, and needs some gritty-ing up. Ann Arbor is one of the nicest and most desirable places to live in Michigan, WITHOUT the sterilization and waste of money that BxB would create. Ann Arbor is not a community that people go to because they can’t afford other cities. New high end downtown condos are selling for a million dollars or more

  69. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 27, 2015 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Yep, our DDA is not considering block by block as a way to strategically spend money in an attempt to revitalize downtown or to make it more safe, they have money to burn, apparently, and this is their misguided attempt to foolishly spend a million dollars. Almost any idea would be better than block by block. Here is a random idea that is infinitely superior: buy a million dollars worth of bicycles that are free for people to use within the city. Really, almost any idea would be better than block by block…The block by block idea would be an embarrassing step backward.

  70. Jules
    Posted February 1, 2015 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Amy, I’m just curious. Have you any idea how much your Ambassadors are being paid? Sounds like they really do work their hineys off and I hope they’re making a living wage for all that effort.

  71. facebook stalker
    Posted February 3, 2015 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    The following was recently posted to Facebook by Mary Morgan.

    “For those of you who’ve been tracking the DDA’s ambassador program proposal, a reminder that the DDA board meets tomorrow (Wed.) at noon. There’s an agenda item for an update on the ambassador program, though no resolution to vote on it – at least not on the agenda that’s posted online. There are two opportunities to address the board during public commentary. Each speaker gets 4 minutes. The meeting is held at the 3rd floor DDA office, 150 S. Fifth Ave.”

  72. Meta
    Posted March 4, 2015 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    DDA votes to not fund the Ambassador program for the time being.

    The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s governing board voted Wednesday to take a step back from implementing a downtown ambassador program.

    The board isn’t entirely ruling out the idea just yet, but it’s also not ready to move forward with spending $300,000 annually to implement a program this summer that would have paid ambassadors patrolling the streets of downtown.

    DDA officials have been bombarded in recent weeks with public feedback on the proposal — some for it, some against it.

    The DDA board itself has been divided on the subject, and board members again expressed hesitations at Wednesday’s meeting.

    DDA officials said they’ve heard the public loud and clear. The board voted unanimously on a budget plan for the next two fiscal years that eliminates dedicated line item funding for a downtown ambassador program.

    Recognizing there’s opposition to the idea, DDA Vice Chairman Roger Hewitt, who has been supportive of the downtown ambassador concept, made the motion to strike the $300,000 line item proposed for each year for an ambassador program.

    The board decided to keep the money in the budget, but it’s now set aside as discretionary funding that could be used for ambassadors should the DDA later decide to move forward on the idea, or it could be spent on something else entirely.

    Read more:
    http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2015/03/ann_arbor_dda_takes_step_back.html

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