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  • By Lisa Brody

Parking, development plan moves to commission

The Birmingham Ad Hoc Parking Development Committee on Wednesday, May 2, after debating two competing proposals, recommended to the city commission that the city continue discussion with the Woodward Bates group for development of the site at N. Old Woodward and Bates for a variety of uses, including a new parking structure, either as a complete development or on an incremental basis, and suggested the commission retain a development consultant to help with negotiations with the development group.

Woodward Bates comprises Saroki Architecture (Victor Saroki) of Birmingham, Walbridge (John Rakolta, Jr.) of Detroit, Boji Group (Ron Boji), Lansing, and Robertson Bros. Homes (Paul C. Robertson Jr.), of Bloomfield.

The parcel of land, approximately four acres in the city’s central business district, consists of the current N. Old Woodward parking garage and an adjacent parking lot and other parcels. The city’s objective had been to solicit creative and innovative development plans from qualified developers that will extend Bates Street from Willits to N. Old Woodward, connecting the north and south parts of Birmingham, to redevelop the remainder of the site by constructing a new parking structure that will provide a gain of 380 parking spaces over the 770 parking spaces currently on the N. Old Woodward / Bates Street site, plus adding residential, commercial and/or mixed uses to create an activated, pedestrian-oriented urban streetscape while also providing public access to the Rouge River and Booth Park to the north.

The RFP stated, in part, that the city was seeking a new parking structure with a minimum of 1,150 parking spaces; new mixed use building adjacent to a parking structure facing N. Old Woodward Avenue; a service drive access to the adjacent buildings both north and south of the parking structure; new mixed use building facing Willits Street; public park property and connection between a new city street and the existing Rouge River to the north; and a residential building on the north end of the site, which can take advantage of the existing views in the area.

The city initially had four development groups submit proposals, which included parking consultants, developers, architects, designers and consultants, but only three ultimately submitted completed proposals to the city by the January 3, 2018 deadline: REDICO, TIR Equities and Woodward, Bates, LLC. REDICO withdrew from consideration.

At the May 2 meeting, assistant city manager Tiffany Gunter explained that city staff had been asked to more thoroughly review the details of both proposals after they were presented at previous meetings to the committee in February and March.

After reviews, staff felt the proposal submitted by TIR Equities, a Birmingham-based limited liability company incorporated by Ara Darakjian of Darakjian Jewelers on Willits Street, did not comply with the RFP, as it has a 15-story building as its centerpiece, and the group has requested a tax increment finance (TIF) district to help finance the development, which staff labeled, in essence, a subsidy by the city, which the RFP specifically said would not be part of this development. Staff also questioned some of the financial data presented by TIR relative to cost and revenue projections tied to the parking portion of the project.

“The RFP...makes clear that no city subsidies will be made available for a potential development. The TIR Equities team indicated during their interview process that the proposal they submitted would not cost the city.. Staff inquired further, and learned that as part of the proposal, TIR Equities anticipated the use of a Tax Increment Finance district and revenues from the parking structures that the city could use to pay for the development,” stated the staff evaluation. “Additionally, the parking revenue assumed $3.5 million in annual revenue to support this payback. The current structure with half of the proposed spaces is expected to generate $1.2 million in revenue. At best, staff projects a doubling of revenue (approximately $2.6 million).”

Members of the ad hoc committee felt the TIR proposal, overall, was possibly too ambitious for the site.

Committee member Scott Clein, who chairs the city's planning board, stated the TIR proposal was “unlikely to ever come to fruition,” a sentiment echoed by other committee members.

Darakjian disagreed. “It meets every criteria of the RFP and significantly exceeds every criteria,” he said. “The city was seeking creative and innovative responses. We gave them one.”

Paul Robertson of Robertson Homes, with Woodward Bates, disagreed, telling the committee, “We have the best proposal,” that their proposal was the only one which followed the RFP and that all of the individuals involved in theirs were local, so they understand the city better.

Further complicating the decision making by the ad hoc parking committee was a concern on the part of the committee that they were not qualified to make a recommendation on proposals that were so involved and detailed and focused on development, not just on parking.

“It's beyond our expertise. It's a very complicated process,” said committee member and Birmingham retailer Richard Astrein. “There are a lot of hurdles to overcome. Let the city commission make the decision. We determined the parking needs were satisfied.”

The committee voted 6-0, with member Judy Paskiewicz absent, to recommend to the city commission that the city continue discussions with the Woodward Bates team to determine if there there is further benefit to the city to look at its full development, or to just do the parking improvement. The committee also felt the commission should be aware of the TIR proposal.

In addition, the committee recommended the city commission consider retaining a development consultant to represent the city in negotiations.

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