Sports Illustrated Resorts will “bring the notoriety that Ann Arbor deserves”

Jan 20, 2024 | City Council

A meeting has been announced for residents to learn more about a proposal for a Sports Illustrated Resorts Hotel and Conference center on the Kline lot at William/Ashley.

Sports Illustrated Resorts Information Session
Monday January 29, 2024 7:00PM

City Council Chambers, Ann Arbor City Hall (2nd Floor)

The meeting will be broadcast live on CTN and Zoom. More information is available in the City’s press release:

In advance of this public engagement meeting, promoters of the SI Resort have launched a website with explanation of the project:

https://sia2.siresorts.com

In case the website becomes unavailable, this is a link to a PDF of the website downloaded on January 18, 2024.

Some information on this website is quite surprising. For example, the Kline lot is repeatedly referred to as a brownfield:

“For starters, the existing site is a long-time brownfield site, which means it contains contaminates [sic] that are considered hazardous, and this project will include cleaning up and transforming a long-standing environmental issue”

and

“The site is currently a brownfield site, requiring a lot of environmental cleanup.”

The Kline lot was appraised in 2019. Explanation of that appraisal includes the assumption that there are not contaminants. Environmental hazards are referenced only as a hypothetical:

“Valuation is predicated upon the assumption that the subject property is free and clear of any environmental hazards or contamination. If such is not the case, the value conclusion could be impacted”

https://www.a2gov.org/departments/Housing/Documents/S Ashley surface lot Appraisal 1.2019.pdf

Calling this lot a brownfield in need of cleanup also directly contradicts information presented to Ann Arbor City Council in 2020 (yellow highlighting added)

Analysis of the Financial Feasibility of Developing Affordable Housing on Under-utilized City-owned Property (page 2)
Updated May 2020

https://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=8643648&GUID=B99B0D4A-D4DA-48A4-9A4F-B0740EB1894A

If this location is a “long-time brownfield site”, somehow that escaped the attention of appraisers in 2019 as well as Jennifer Hall, director of the City’s Housing Commission, when she assessed the property’s suitability for the development of affordable housing in 2020.

Promoters of SI Resorts are eager for this site to be declared a brownfield because that would make its cleanup and redevelopment eligible for public subsidy. Private emails between promoters and City Administrator Milton Dohoney confirm that the development depends on significant public subsidy, including brownfield funds. Just one month ago, promoters were on site taking soil samples in the hope that they might find contamination.

Email from Ann Arbor City Administrator Milton Dohoney Jr dated Dec 11 2023

There are also conflicting explanations of where the idea for this particular development started. This week’s new website includes a quote from Chris Schroeder, Chairman/CEO of SI Resorts:

“I realized one day when I was walking around downtown Ann Arbor, that there is no convention center in Ann Arbor. I actually drove around and then did research and realized that a place like this has no convention/Community center that could hold significant events.”

In last month’s Ann Arbor Observer, City Administrator Milton Dohoney explains it differently:

Sports Illustrated’s offer started as a suggestion from Odis Jones’s son. “He played football for Coach Harbaugh,” explains Dohoney. “I had never met him before, but in one of the initial conversations they mentioned that he had brought up in their meetings, ‘Well, why aren’t we looking at Ann Arbor?’”

https://annarborobserver.com/si-on-s-ashley/

The Sports Illustrated Resorts website includes some interesting characterizations of this part of downtown and how their hotel/conference center would “enhance” it:

“ this project will include cleaning up and transforming a long-standing environmental issue and convert an eyesore parking lot into something that will extend the historic downtown district and create continuity within that block.“

and

“Right now, there is no activity, no pedestrians, no sense of neighborhood or place, just a big parking lot looking into an alley and the backside of the buildings.”

Elected leaders regularly refer to a housing crisis and repeat talking points about the number of people who commute into Ann Arbor for jobs. A previous Council supported the use of City resources to develop more affordable housing and specifically on the City-owned Kline lot. A previous Council funded staff assessment and consultant-led public engagement around the development of housing on the Kline lot. Now, instead of more housing for the abundance of people who already commute into Ann Arbor for jobs, promoters of SI Resorts promise:

(The) Creation of hundreds of direct jobs with the project, in addition to additional jobs within the community.

SI Resorts promoter Chris Schroeder explains:

“As a citizen, I cannot imagine the community not wanting this project given the almost unlimited benefits it will provide the city now and well into the future.”

The developers suggest that public subsidy of a sport-themed hotel attached to a failing national brand will elevate the City’s profile and visibility:

“We have a lot to be proud of in Ann Arbor, but the State of Michigan and Ann Arbor are fighting to be more recognized and this project is a significant game changer to continue to bring the notoriety that Ann Arbor deserves.”