Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Keeping the big boys downtown

27. January 2008 • Nancy Shore
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Some of you might have seen Arbor Networks in the news lately. Arbor Networks is a global network security firm with their Research and Development arm based in downtown Ann Arbor.

They are a home grown, rapidly expanding company with 72 employees. Their offices are in the at the City Center Building on Huron Street.

They have well-paid workers, just received a tax break from Michigan Economic Growth Authority board, and are going to be adding 56 more jobs to the area.

On all accounts they are a great company that deserves press and all the love are currently getting

And they’re moving . . . to South State Street over by Wolverine Tower.

They are not moving because they don’t like downtown. I went over to visit Arbor Networks last year. The Office Manager did an informal poll of workers and found that many of them eat lunch at a downtown restaurant 3-4 times a week. Many, many of the employees love being downtown because it’s a great place to work, with close proximity to shops, places to eat and . . . public transportation. More on that in a moment.

The big challenge for growing companies like Arbor Networks is that there are just not enough downtown spaces that will accommodate them. So they look for larger spaces elsewhere, often outside of the downtown, which I am sure are often cheaper.

This usually means these companies move to locations that have limited access to public transportation compared to the downtown.

This is definitely the case with Arbor Networks. In the downtown, Arbor Networks has access to 16 bus routes and the Link. In their State Street Location, they have access to one route (the 36).

From a downtown location, Arbor Networks employees have access to a variety of bike lanes (like the ones on Packard and Liberty) and many employees can potentially walk to work because there are many houses within easy and safe walking distance to the downtown. While I’ve biked on State Street to places like Howard Cooper, I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable going all the way to Wolverine Tower by bike and I’m not sure how walkable it is.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that I want companies like Arbor Networks to stay in the downtown because being downtown allows workers to take advantage of all sorts of commuting options, reduce carbon footprints by not having to drive, etc. The downtown is truly a great place because you don’t have to drive to get there.

But the reality is our downtown has a hard time accommodating these large companies, so they sometimes move out.

So what is a downtown to do?

  1. “The big challenge for growing companies like Arbor Networks is that there are just not enough downtown spaces that will accommodate them.”

    Welcome to the club, Nancy. We can now count two people who believe that demand for commercial space in Ann Arbor outstrips supply.

    If you believe those cited in the News and Arbor Update, the market is saturated. That explains all those bargain-basement prices, I’m sure.

    I’ve already given my opinion on this subject, Nancy, but I’m happy and thankful that you’re tackling the issue.

       —todd    Jan. 27 '08 - 05:00AM    #
  2. Todd,

    I think it’s more complex than that. There seems to be plenty of commercial space downtown, but it is broken up into spaces too small for the likes of Arbor Networks.

    I wonder what Google’s next move will be.

       —Tom Brandt    Jan. 27 '08 - 05:54AM    #
  3. “I think it’s more complex than that. There seems to be plenty of commercial space downtown, but it is broken up into spaces too small for the likes of Arbor Networks.”

    Right. So there’s still a demand, and the supply isn’t there. What size, how much, and with what amenities all come into play. And (I think we are all hoping for this) will Google finish the drill, fill the buildings, grow, and attract other similar businesses? We’ll see.

       —todd    Jan. 27 '08 - 07:17AM    #
  4. It is a problem that very few developers seem interested in putting big commercial space downtown. It is expensive, requires a lot of land and they think they can make more money from the UM student “cash cow.” The only two proposals I remember that had significant office space are the current McKinley buildings (geared toward Google) and the Old Y proposal. Parking is always an issue for an office building, regardless of ample public transportation. The land and buildings outside of downtown are far cheaper and there are seas of parking, which most people value more than any other amenity. I spoke with people from Detroit Edison a year or so ago and they said parking was their employees’ number one concern. Sad to say, public transportation rarely figures into the equation.

       —Juliew    Jan. 27 '08 - 09:25AM    #
  5. Parking.

    Sorry. I wish it weren’t about parking, but it is.

       —Cooler Heads    Jan. 27 '08 - 03:29PM    #
  6. The Ann Arbor Business Review’s annual realtor roundtable is always a good read…

       —Murph    Jan. 27 '08 - 08:19PM    #
  7. Yes, that is an interesting read, isn’t it, Murph? Quite a few market rules and axioms were discussed that I’ve been carping about, and I’ve been getting made fun of for stating them here at AU over the years.

    Just a couple:

    1. Those who were at the talk with the Mayor and Greden a few years back at my place will recall that I said step one for helping small business downtown would be for the Mayor/or Council to pick up the phone and call firms like Nordstroms or Target or similar stores that would provide an anchor for downtown retail. I got laughed at.

    What did Chaconas say in the piece that relates to this point? First, “Unanchored Retail is in Trouble”. And second, hidden at the bottom next to McMullen’s photo under the category “what worries you”, he says “Michigan’s passive role in promoting small business and its lack of proactive attraction of larger businesses from outside our region.”

    Ann Arbor, and MI (save Flint), doesn’t think that this is the function of government. They feel that they should take a passive role, and stick to saying “no, we don’t want that”, rather than getting out there and saying “this is what we want”, and then picking up the phone and executing. Julie says, rightly, that AA lacks the political will to do this. I suspect that if I were on Council and worked full steam to get Nordstroms, et. al., downtown with a comprehensive transportation plan (including parking), I’d get submarined by other Council members, and run out of town. Anchors are critical for helping small retail get stable, volume foot traffic. It’s like rule #1 in retail.

    Meanwhile, local retail is on the ropes…

    2. I’ve stated several times that when there are fewer players on the market (because of difficulties in adding new space), they will tolerate the vacancies that Tom alludes to, and wait it out….that it’s better to wait for a “good” tenant at a higher price.

    ...and here we have Aldrich explaining, “Aldrich: We don’t want a food use (in 350 S. Main). And we’re holding our rent. What a lot of people don’t understand is that when your market is at 85 percent, you’re 15 percent vacant – most people are still making money. Unless you’re substantially below that level of vacancy, there’s no reason to drop to what the market perceives to be the value of the space. So you wait – that’s what we’re doing. We’re not going to play the game with B tenants who want to look at A space.”

    And what is this comment followed by? Grant, stating “the worst thing we could do now is overbuild”. Now why do you suppose a guy who works on commission would say that? I don’t have to tell you, do I?

       —todd    Jan. 27 '08 - 11:26PM    #
  8. Thanks for the analysis, Todd. Apparently, the rest of us sometimes forget that you’re one of the few (or the only?) small-retail business owners who contributes here regularly, and that as such you have a unique perspective. (Bob Dascola must be off enjoying his retirement.) Here’s another axiom for you: judgment is rooted in ignorance. Try not to take our ignorance personally. Keep educating us.

       —Steve Bean    Jan. 28 '08 - 03:37AM    #
  9. Unfortunately we have very few people in this area who are able to look at transportation and development issues with a comprehensive and interconnected view. If we did, our city would most likely have more than one full-time transportation staff person devoted to non-road engineering matters (the county government would have a more extensive transport planning staff as well).

    Cities that are serious about offering a broad spectrum of transport options build up the personnel and funding infrastructure to make it happen (see Boulder, Cambridge, Portland, Eugene, etc.).

    Businesses may perceive parking as their primary challenge, but the reality is that there will never be enough parking available in the downtown area (or any other area with density) to provide everyone with a space…unless we want to devote a huge amount land to building decks.

    Parking decks/lots are the least cost-effective option available for dealing with parking issues (studied and proven over and over and over and over again). The last parking study conducted for the downtown area concluded that the amount of parking available in the downtown area wasn’t the problem…the usage patterns were (i.e. we need to more effectively use what we have before building more).

    That study found that during the day, certain decks had capacity issues, but there were a few places that were still open. On-street parking wasn’t over-capacity for the most part during the day. Night was a different issue: on-street parking had many over-capacity problems, while the decks all had parking available.

    That study did not recommend the creation of any new parking capacity, yet that continues to be a large focus by council and businesses in the downtown area.

    Cities which have really successful transportation systems offer people CHOICES...and those choices aren’t just limited to bus, bike, and train. Those options just don’t work for many people. There is a whole palette of options that really aren’t currently on the radar screen in this area. I’ll list some of them: ridesharing (carpooling, vanpooling, and vansharing), car sharing, walking, alternative work schedules, teleworking, provision of real-time commuting info., shuttles (employer provided or other), and so forth.

    There is also a whole range of parking and road management strategies that we don’t really talk about here. Usually we study them and then move forward by making some minor tweaks to the status quo.

    I am heartened to see that the DDA, getDowntown, AATA, and Eli Cooper are beginning to introduce some of these types of options into the transportation discussions within the community. However, the reason why the other communities mentioned above have such a large head start on us is that they also have strong support for a broader pallet of options from the community at large.

    I realize that Ann Arbor is still located within Michigan, but at some point we have to start seriously exploring and offering other transport options if we ever hope to drag this area and the rest of the state out of their economic doldrums. This state’s over-built car-centric transport system is helping to collapse its economy. There is no more expensive mode of transport than a privately-owned vehicle. Michiganians spend the largest percentage of personal budget on transportation in comparison to the rest of the states in the nation (if we don’t have that honor in a particular year, we’re always right near the top). Since most of that transport-related money goes to car-related industries and those corporations largely funnel most of that money out of the state, i can’t see how pouring even more money into their coffers is going to benefit us in the long run. I’d rather have that money in my own pocket.

    The key to moving people away from SOV travel is CHOICES...we have to make people see the alternatives as positives (rather than putative measures which impede their freedom). We should’ve been making the change away from ‘cars-only’ back in the late 1970s along with many other cities, but it’s never too late to start.

       —Ken    Jan. 28 '08 - 04:01AM    #
  10. Ken,
    I appreciate your comments.
    Just a couple of things:

    “That study did not recommend the creation of any new parking capacity, yet that continues to be a large focus by council and businesses in the downtown area.”

    You know, I also thought the recent parking study did not recommend any more parking, but time and time again when I raise this question (to City Staff, to DDA, to some AATA staff, etc.) I am told that yes indeed that was part of the study. So somewhere, something is getting lost in translation.

    I think some of the issue that I see is that adding more parking often seems like the easiest solution. Trying to figure out how to create carpooling and vanpooling infrastructure doesn’t seem to be on the radar screen for most decision-makers. So those options are left to us small time folks to figure out.

    But yes, I think progress is being made in terms of continuing to create options to get people around that doesn’t necessarily involve more parking.

    But the solution is going to need to involve more business people like todd, because those folks are often not part of the conversation. We need them to be.

       —Nancy    Jan. 28 '08 - 04:39AM    #
  11. Thanks, Steve….I don’t take it personally. I get frustrated because, to me, the patterns of the market in Ann Arbor are so easy to see…and the frustrating part for me is that I know damn well I’m not the smartest guy in the world. It’s one of my favorite parts about living in the Ann Arbor/Ypsi area: no matter where you are, or who you’re talking with, you’re likely the dumbest guy in the room.

    Rene Greff does a fine job of communicating the needs (and, yes, at times, our frustrations) of a small businessperson in Ann Arbor. Not much point in listening to what I have to say anymore…it’s all right here on Arbor Update and AAIO. I haven’t said anything new in quite a long time (much to people’s chagrin, I’m sure…I can be a bit of a broken record).

    Nancy, if you read Murph’s cited article you’ll see that uses like ours in town are going for ~$35 a square foot. At that price (or anywhere near there, acutally), sadly, we aren’t going to be around long enough to have much of a conversation….well, other then “it was nice knowin’ ya’, and we enjoyed Ann Arbor while we were here”.

       —todd    Jan. 28 '08 - 05:32AM    #
  12. This is somewhat OT but for small business owners or business in general, when you have city-related questions or problems that you need to resolve, who do you call? Is there anyone at the city specifically responsible for economic development or small business-related issues? Or do you have to call around to various departments and hope that someone can assist you? I’ve been reading about some suburban Detroit communities developing proactive business retention models in local government where specific staff are identified for fielding these kinds of questions even if the person who actually answers the question is in planning or public works. They also do proactive site and retention visits where they call up local businesses and ask them what their current needs are, do they have expansion plans and what can the city do to help facilitate them? This isn’t just for the big hitters but for small businesses as well, recognizing that helping a small business to expand makes it more likely that they’ll grow and grow in town, versus looking elsewhere for expansion. Who in Ann Arbor is charged with doing that? Todd – has anyone from the city ever contacted you to ask about your future plans and offered to assist in making that happen?

       —John Q.    Jan. 28 '08 - 05:35AM    #
  13. “Todd – has anyone from the city ever contacted you to ask about your future plans and offered to assist in making that happen?”

    Nope. Outside of Councilman Greden being nice enough to tell us to call him if we ever need anything on the day we applied for our distilling license.

    I think we’re kind of off the radar down here. I think that most people in Ann Arbor don’t even know we’re distilling spirits.

       —todd    Jan. 28 '08 - 10:05AM    #
  14. I’m sorry Nancy, I should’ve qualified my statement: the A2D2 report does not call for any increases in parking capacity in the “short-term.”

    There are about 30 measures recommended as “short-term” actions, and they don’t include building new parking capacity.

    If there are so many other options to explore in the “short-term”, why is the general community discussion on transportation still focused primarily on parking capacity? Where is the leadership from our decision-makers?

    I personally can verify that about a quarter of those “short-term” actions are being actively put into place…there may be more that i don’t know about. I personally do not find that percentage to be acceptable, especially when the other actions are much cheaper than capacity expansion.

    I also fail to see why recommendations like these can’t be implemented or tested:
    5. Maintain All-Season Sidewalk Access
    (There is ALOT of improvement to be had here. A few days after the last snow storm i gave up on taking the bus because i was tired of slipping on snow and ice. I’m also tired of calling community standards – they don’t seem to pay much attention to some non-downtown areas of the city.)

    6. Prohibit “Right Turns on Red”
    Probably would require a code change (and would impact some traffic patterns), but it seems like we could at least test this out for awhile.

    We’re not ever going to be able to expand alternative options in this area in a meaningful way without more buy-in from decision makers. Case in point: there has been a carpool and vanpool program in this county for decades, and it hasn’t done as well as it could because it has a hard time getting the resources that are needed to move it beyond basic functionality. As a result, I’ll bet that many people who read this blog have no idea what program i’m referring to.

    We’re at a point where the “small-time folks” can no longer push these issues by themselves. They need help from the larger community and its decision makers.

       —Ken    Jan. 28 '08 - 10:48AM    #
  15. “Nope. Outside of Councilman Greden being nice enough to tell us to call him if we ever need anything on the day we applied for our distilling license.”

    The Mayor, the Council and the city administration should read this and ask themselves what’s wrong with this picture? Who’s job is it in city administration to reach out to the business community and ask “Are you planning to grow? How can we help?” or “Anything we can assist with from the city?” or even “Is there something we’re doing that we could do better?” This shouldn’t just be the Google’s or the McKinley’s or whichever business or project is big enough or throwing around enough money to get everyone’s attention. There should be an effort to reach out to businesses at all levels to see what the city can do to help them grow or in this economy, keep their head above water. How many more potential “Arbor Networks”-like companies are out there that the city doesn’t even have a clue about because no one at the city has asked and no one in the city is responsible for asking?

       —John Q.    Jan. 28 '08 - 04:27PM    #
  16. I’ve been wondering the same things for a while, John Q. Several years back I commented on it to Susan Pollay. Maybe I should have followed up with my council reps and the mayor. I noted at the time how the Washtenaw Development Council seemed focused on attracting new businesses (and residents) to the county, whereas there didn’t seem to be enough (any?) effort to assist those already here. Now that WDC has merged into Ann Arbor SPARK, I don’t see much difference. (Admittedly, I haven’t followed it closely. Feel free to correct my perception, anyone.) Are the merchant associations assumed to fill that role? I don’t think that would be a realistic expectation, given how much time it takes to successfully run a small business.

    Sounds like you perceive this ‘gap’, Todd. How would you suggest filling it? Any knowledge of what other communities do/have in place?

       —Steve Bean    Jan. 28 '08 - 09:10PM    #
  17. “Are the merchant associations assumed to fill that role? I don’t think that would be a realistic expectation, given how much time it takes to successfully run a small business.”

    Everyone has a role. There are things that groups like the Chamber or Merchant Assocs. can do that are best left to them. SPARK fills a niche and need that SPARK is probably better positioned to address than the city. The DDA also has a role but their focus isn’t across the entire city. U-M also plays a huge role in certain areas. But there’s a lot of things that the city can and should be doing (and is the only entity that can do) and I’m not hearing that the city is meeting that need.

    Look at the city web page for business interests:

    No economic development, no business assistance, no resources for small businesses, nothing that says to businesses in the city, here’s where you get started, here’s who you talk to, here’s who can help you with your city-related questions. It’s a huge hole and a city that doesn’t reach out to its business community, large and small, is missing out on a lot of opportunities.

       —John Q.    Jan. 28 '08 - 10:20PM    #
  18. I’m admittedly new to Council, and clearly not a business person. In my efforts to understand the issues related to the businesses I represent, I’ve contacted owners of businesses in Traver mall to introduce myself, gone to regular business meetings of the Main Street area merchants (not just the happy parties), met with business owners & representatives from the State Street area (just a few), met with several DDA members as well as Susan Pollay, and a representative from the Chamber of Commerce.
    I was surprised that most of these folks thought I’d want something. Or that I’d just want to come to a social event. Some seemed to feel that they really didn’t have any issues to discuss with a council member. Others have been very eager to tell me their on-going needs and to help me understand the complexities of the business environment.
    At each meeting, I’ve explained that I represent their neighborhood, and that I have to understand their needs. I also explain that I may not always agree with them, and that I don’t expect them to agree with me. I can’t expect to represent them, however, if we don’t talk.
    I’m learning a lot.
    If Todd — whose business is in the FIFTH WARD, not mine — isn’t being heard on Council, I’d be delighted to talk with him, as well.

       —Sabra Briere    Jan. 29 '08 - 02:33AM    #
  19. “If Todd — whose business is in the FIFTH WARD, not mine — isn’t being heard on Council, I’d be delighted to talk with him, as well.”

    I appreciate the offer, Mrs. Briere, really. But as I stated, Mr. Greden already made it known that his door was always open to us. I feel like any Council person would take the time to talk to me if I asked for a meeting. They’ve got enough crazies to deal with, though. I don’t want to add to their headaches.

    And, really, I’ve already stated what I think Ann Arbor needs to do to help small, local businesses. It just doesn’t want to do it. And that’s ok.

       —todd    Jan. 29 '08 - 04:05AM    #
  20. I think it’s good that Councilpeople want to talk to business owners. They should, just like they should talk to any of their constituents. But I think it misses the point.

    If business owners have to rely on Councilmembers to help them navigate their way through city hall, something is wrong. Councilwoman Briere should be able to direct todd or any business person to someone (not the city manager) who can field their question or concern at city hall. For some problems, they’ll take ownership of the problem. For others, they’ll direct them to the appropriate department. In either case, this person/department should have the authority and responsibility to make sure that those questions and concerns are addressed and if necessary, resolved.

    Ideally, that person or department (and you really need more than one person so that you can handle everyone from Google to Arbor Brewing to 16 Hands) would be reaching out proactively as Councilwoman Briere is so that when she talks to the owners of these businesses, they can tell her “We’ve already been contacted by the city’s business retention office and we know if we have a question or a problem we contact this person”. Even the ones who don’t need assistance from city hall are going to appreciate the effort by the city to see what they need. I bet most of the people that Ms. Briere don’t know who to contact at the city.

       —John Q.    Jan. 29 '08 - 04:25AM    #
  21. The Mayor and other members of Council already saw how this is done when they visited Denver, John Q.

    Business Services in Denver:

    Scroll down to the section marked “Concierge Services”, in particular.

    When you’ve done that, pick up the phone and call the guys at Big Ten Burrito (BTB), and ask them how the expansion of their business is coming along. They had projected that they would open their new bar/taqueria in August of 07. Have a look at your calendars, folks….then ask them about getting the run-around at City Hall. Wanna take a stab at how much hard earned capital they’ve lost in the last six months? Or how about the lost revenue? Or hey, how about the lost tax dollars….and worse still, the lost jobs.

    In Denver, they’ve got 30 days to get you your approval, or the approval is granted automatically. And the City, somehow, hasn’t burned to the ground.

    As I’ve stated many times, I wouldn’t open another business in Ann Arbor if you paid me several hundred thousand dollars. Dead, dead, serious.

       —todd    Jan. 29 '08 - 04:56AM    #
  22. Todd, every elected official ought to take your last post seriously.

       —Cooler Heads    Jan. 29 '08 - 05:14AM    #
  23. “Todd, every elected official ought to take your last post seriously.”

    None of this is news to them, CH. It’s been like this since long before we arrived.

       —todd    Jan. 29 '08 - 07:19PM    #
  24. There is one solution that would keep them in a downtown location, and allow them to grow, Nancy. It’s just not in Ann Arbor. Arbor Networks could move to Ypsi and build on the Water Street site. We’ve got 38 acres right on Michigan Avenue ready for development… The same offer goes for Google…

       —Mark    Jan. 29 '08 - 07:33PM    #
  25. I know, Todd, but I keep thinking that eventually, if we say it enough, someone will hear.

       —Cooler Heads    Jan. 30 '08 - 08:07PM    #
  26. I am Stewart Nelson and I will be running in Ward 2 for City Council this fall. I have been meeting with local businessmen, government officials and citizen trying to ferret out problems or opportunities that the City faces to help formulate a platform for my campaign. (I don’t want to start offering solutions without and understanding of the problems.) Most of the businessmen and women that I have spoken with have mentioned the need for more parking downtown.

    Interestingly enough, today I spoke with the CEO of small technology company (125 employees) that said they were having a difficult time finding qualified programmers. Sort of like running out of coal in Newcastle!

    Another common theme has been that Michigan and Ann Arbor do not do an adequate job of promoting our local businesses. There is a myopia with the problems of the auto industry and the good things that are happening in other areas are not being covered in the news. I think that local government can do a lot more to help our businesses get the recognition they deserve.

    Ann Arbor is no longer immune to economic malady that the rest of the state is mired in. We must advertise our City as being “Open for Business” to the world and fight to attract high paying jobs like Madison Wisconsin and Columbus, Ohio are doing. The state is looking to us our City to help lead them out of the headwinds that are holding us back. We need leaders with a clear vision of how to do that. I hope I can help in some small way.


       —Stewart Nelson    Jan. 31 '08 - 06:12AM    #
  27. When we started Arbor Networks, we made a pact to stay downtown in order to attract and retain top talent. Downtown life was an integral part of our culture. I brought friends from Canada, California, Chicago, Columbus, and Cleveland (and that’s just the C’s) to work at Arbor, and it would have been much harder if our work environment – where we spend the majority of our waking lives – hadn’t been as vital and exciting as possible. We did succeed in recruiting here (although our Canadian did eventually repatriate to work remotely!) – and if we hadn’t, we would have likely joined our corporate HQ in Boston.

    At Zattoo, I’m facing the same situation all over again (UM spinoff doubling headcount in 6 months, securing world-class talent, corporate HQ in Zurich, etc.) in a very different location – the historic Northern Brewery near North Campus and “Lower Town”, where we trade off bus routes (and access to the AATA go!pass), lunch options (we love the Northside, but still) and the energy of downtown / central campus in exchange for ample, free parking (!) and proximity to the Engineering school.

    We’ll see how Arbor and Zattoo do away from downtown, but I can’t help but imagine how much better it would be if downtown were still an option. Sorry Mark – when all of our employees live in A2, Ypsi is just out of the question. Although Ypsi landlords might be more willing to let us fly the Jolly Roger over downtown…

    p.s. Support the Ann Arbor Skatepark!

       —dugsong    Feb. 2 '08 - 10:35AM    #
  28. “ exchange for ample, free parking (!) and proximity to the Engineering school.”

    Are these deal-breaker requirements? I can understand the lure of free parking if you’re commuting to work by car. On the other hand, if a company was choosing between Ann Arbor and Boston or a similar city, I can’t imagine that Ann Arbor is ever more expensive or more stingy when it comes to parking in a downtown area. Just curious about that aspect of it.

       —John Q.    Feb. 2 '08 - 08:01PM    #
  29. dugsong,
    Thanks so much for adding your comments. I really appreciate hearing from someone who is experiencing this issue.

       —Nancy    Feb. 3 '08 - 01:26AM    #
  30. dugsong –

    Out of curiosity, since parking’s been mentioned, how much a part of the problem is downtown parking, vs. simple availability of office space? You mention to Mark that all of Arbor’s employees live in A2, which would seem to put everyone within walk/bike/bus distance of a downtown office. Acknowledging that, yes, there are reasons people drive other than distance, do you have a feel for how many people are driving, and what their reasons tend to be?

    I don’t ask to be challenging – I’m mostly wondering if it’s a case of “a big enough office space would make the parking not a big deal” or a case of “enough parking would make finding office space not a big deal”. And, considering that you’ve got Nancy as a voluntarily captive audience here, whatever criticisms you’ve got on the transportation side can at least be useful “exit interview” data for her…

       —Murph    Feb. 3 '08 - 08:47PM    #
  31. Murph –

    Not all arbor employees live in Ann Arbor. Some commute from as far as the east side of the Detroit metro area. That said, there is ample parking through the many parking structures downtown and arbor pays for part of the monthly passes.

    The problem is that downtown Ann Arbor lacks available high grade office space that can accommodate 100+ employees and a medium to large machine room. The few available locations that are big enough do not have the infrastructure in place for a tech company. They would require significant investment by the company just to get near what is provided initially in many locations outside of downtown.

       —dros    Feb. 13 '08 - 11:06PM    #
  32. I also work for Arbor Networks.

    We were actually able to find enough parking to meet our needs downtown. The problem was solely one of finding enough contiguous office space.

    There simply isn’t much office space with a 10,000 sq. ft. floor plan or greater in downtown Ann Arbor. We were looking for 20-25,000 sq. ft. and there simply wasn’t anything available in that size.

    The few property owners who had buildings with that much available space (and I think there were only 3 total in all of downtown) were either more interested in subdividing the space for smaller tenants, or were unable to provide that space in a reasonably contiguous floor plan (such as on 2 adjacent floors, as opposed to parts of 3-4 floors).

    That really turned out to be the limiting factor in staying downtown. It seems that Ann Arbor’s policy of discouraging development of large buildings is coming back to haunt it. I think Ann Arbor would be much better served by encouraging development of appropriate large buildings for larger tenants.

       —Scott IJ    Feb. 13 '08 - 11:24PM    #
  33. there used to be a data center downtown in the Key Bank building when Cisco was there. that building is being rehabbed by JC Beal, I don’t know the plans for that space.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Feb. 13 '08 - 11:51PM    #
  34. dros and Scott IJ, thanks so much for your comments.

    First of all it’s great to hear that parking wasn’t the main issue for you.

    Second, it’s sobering to get a sense of the reason the downtown couldn’t meet your needs.

       —Nancy Shore    Feb. 13 '08 - 11:52PM    #
  35. I also now work for Arbor Networks and can second Scott’s comments.

    In the 90’s, I started a small tech company, and had to move twice. Both times the big issues were proximity to downtown, followed by access/cost to parking. Secondary issues related to machine room power and cooling.

    The problem for small tech businesses is that parking is a deal breaker if it isn’t there, and downtown costs for parking can approach half the lease cost, which is already a high cost for a small tech business.

    There were very few places near downtown that had more than a spot or two available, the rest had to be leased at relatively high cost.

    We considered south state at the time, but the flip problem exists there – relatively few smaller rental locations, with lots of parking, but also relatively poor access to downtown.

    To get balance, I’d say that doing three things would be useful:

    Creating a few more larger downtown AA business sites (build up if you have to).

    Creating a few more flex-size sites down State street area (for the 1000-5000sq ft companies).

    Improve traffic flow between State Street and downtown (one example – put a left turn arrow on northbound state street at state and hoover so you have fast access to northbound division).

       —paul    Feb. 13 '08 - 11:53PM    #
  36. Paul—you seem to be disagreeing with Scott and dros about parking—do you think that’s because parking is a particular problem for small businesses, or that there’s more parking available now, or something else?

       —Bruce Fields    Feb. 14 '08 - 12:08AM    #
  37. Paul may not be aware that we were able to find more parking spaces after it had been an issue for a while. Though I think we did have to call and cajole the DDA to get them… :-)

    But by the end of our location search the parking space issue had dropped off the list.

       —Scott IJ    Feb. 14 '08 - 02:15AM    #
  38. I have a small business on the south side of town on Eisenhower. I have been going back and forth with opening a second location downtown. The problem is that there is not enough foot traffic to support the high rents downtown. Campus area is almost the same rent and you get much more foot traffic. It would be hard to pick downtown over campus.
    A few good department stores would be great for business to help increase the foot traffic. I think Kawanis is the only one right now. I don’t know why a big store would want to go down there right now, but there is opportunity for it. Most people I talk to, think the Brairwood Mall is one of the worst malls in the state. This leaves an opportunity for growth downtown. Maybe downtown could be a new shopping center like downtowns used to be. It would just take time because the shopping and business districts are too mixed, making walks between stores too long.
    Also most of the landlords I have talked to are too controlling downtown. It is pretty ridiculous on how they want to control a small business owner. It is as if you are working for the landlord. I do not know if they would treat a bigger business like this but it might be keeping them out. Where I am at, they just collect the rent and if you stay out of their hair, they will stay out of yours…the way it should be

       —Jimbo    Feb. 14 '08 - 06:54AM    #