Update on Woodward Bates project presented
The Birmingham City Commission and the public, at a special meeting workshop on Tuesday, March 26, saw a presentation of the N. Old Woodward and Bates Street parking and redevelopment project from both staff and Walbridge/Woodward Bates Partners, the development group chosen to do the project. In June 2018, following a request for proposal (RFP) process, the city commission chose Walbridge/Woodward Bates Partners to redevelop the N. Old Woodward parking lot with more parking, an extension of Bates Street, a liner of retail along the new street, a mixed use building comprising residential and office space, and a park. Woodward, Bates, LLC consists of Victor Saroki of Saroki Architecture in Birmingham; Paul Robertson of Robertson Brothers Homes in Bloomfield Hills; John Rakolta Jr., of Walbridge in Detroit, and Ron Boji of Boji Group. City manager Joe Valentine explained that “there is an ongoing and exhaustive process to get us to this point to provide more parking,” which began all the way back in 1996, with the 2016 Plan, which first proposed the Bates Street extension, to bring Bates Street around N. Old Woodward and Willits, “and in the interim we began to see a tremendous daytime parking demand increase.” The city conducted a survey of business and property owners, looked at how often the parking decks were full, and in 2014 created the ad hock parking study committee to look at current and future parking demands with the priorities of addressing shortfalls in the north and south ends of Birmingham. While at the time the city was 278 spaces short in the north end and 427 spaces short in the southern end, “the N. Old Woodward structure was coming closer to the end of its life,” planning director Jana Ecker said, versus adding onto the Pierce Street structure. At the same time, 2016 Plan designer Andres Duany “came to town and said, 'great master plan. You've done everything but the Bates Street extension.” Ecker said the extension adds a vehicular connection to the northern end of Birmingham; provides more parking; aids in stormwater management; and connects with the Booth Park Trail. The city then hired a consultant for redevelopment for a plan to gain a minimum of 1,150 spaces in a new parking structure; a new mixed use building adjacent to the structure; service drive access, a new mixed use building facing Willits Street; and residential units. A request for qualifications (RFQ) and then a request for proposal (RFP) were issued. 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 Waldbridge/Woodward, Bates, LLC. REDICO withdrew from consideration. After reviews, staff felt the proposal submitted by TIR Equities, a Birmingham-based limited liability company incorporated by Ara Darakjian, 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. City attorney Tim Currier explained that the city and the city manager, along with one commissioner, had been sued by TIR and Darakjian, asserting his constitutional rights to due process had been denied. Currier said the city, along with Woodward Bates LLC, had responded, and requested the court dismiss the amended complaint; deny the defendant's injunctive relief; issue a declaratory judgment for the defendants; deny the plaintiffs any sort of damages; and grant them all costs and attorney fees, stating that there is a 1983 civil rights case disproving Darakjian's claims. A first phase, to redevelop and rebuild the parking structure, create the new street and then the public plaza, is currently beginning the permit approval process. As for costs and financing, assistant city manager Tiffany Gunter said $7 million would come from parking system revenues; $3 million from a parking structure special assessment district; and the balance from bonding, which requires voter approval. The city would like to put it before the public at a special election in August. “No public funds are to be spent on the parking structure project,” Gunter said. In response to questions from the public, the special assessment district would only tax commercial and business properties, not residential. Bonds would be repaid from revenues from the parking system, not from residents. Victor Saroki, architect and partner with Saroki Architects, gave a presentation of the project, noting, “Overall, the site plan is similar to the concept of what we submitted. There are some small differences and refinements. We are in the early stages. We've been given approvals for schematics for the public structure.” They are currently designing the public components for the parking structure, which will have 1,250 parking spaces, with three floors underground, the public plaza, and a bridge over the Rouge River to Booth Park. Saroki said that Waldbridge will be the general contractor and Mike Dul and Associates will be the landscape contractor. “There will be all flat floors,” Saroki said. “Aesthetically, we like it and it's better for adaptive re-use.” There are also provisions for electric car chargers and bike rack storage. In addition, along the interior street, the first floor of the parking structure would be ringed with retail stores. Private components are a mixed-use five-story building fronting on N. Old Woodward in front of the parking structure, “which we've had a lot of interest in this building, a lot of national interest,” Saroki said. “This piece will fit in nicely with the Brookside Terrace and 325 (Fleming's) buildings.” To the rear of the site will also be a five-story mixed use building designed to have retail on the first floor, office users on the second and third floors, and residential on the fourth and fifth floors, as well as about 70 parking spaces underground. “We've had a lot of interest in this building also,” Saroki said. A five-story mixed use building with retail and residential would be the final piece built on the lot, currently a flat parking lot, would be utilized as a staging area for construction and a shuttle pick up location for parking mitigation while the Old Woodward lot is knocked down and under construction, which is still being worked out. “There has been this goal to have residential units that are accessible,” Saroki said, noting that over the years many units that have been built have been large and very expensive. “There haven't been rentals built in downtown since Birmingham Place, the 555 Building. It was the intent from the outset with our team that all of the units will be rentals,” running approximately $3,000 to $4,500 a month, at 1,000 to 2,500 square feet. “That's approachable for a lot of people.” “With these buildings, and I understand the request for more office over residential, how is this going to provide more parking?” asked commissioner Rackeline Hoff. Saroki noted that the city currently has 745 spots in the structure and surface lot; they will be providing between 1,364 to 1,370 when they are finished. Mayor Patty Bordman said the entire presentation is on the city's website and Next Door. The presentation will also be accessible at the website for Downtown newsmagazine.