Meeting Notes for December 13, 2017 – Featuring Peter Allen

Harpoon Notes for December 13, 2017
By Ed Hoffman

A soothing musical prelude wafted through the Anderson Room as members and guests amiably discussed the current news, politics, our speaker’s topic, or nothing in particular. One thing was certain, though: everybody was happy in such company.

Jody Tull deSalis came forward for the Inspiration. “There’s something about home,” she began. “I’ve dedicated myself to healing investments…Please sit on the edge of your seat, and hum.” What’s this, the assembly seemed to say in unison. Clearly this was to be no passive Inspiration. “Now, take a big, gorgeous inhale! Imagine that you’re a bass violin or cello and breathe in.” All at once the room seemed to shake off its concerns as those present found themselves…meditating! Jody’s voice could be heard calmly above the murmur, “Can I have a show of hands if you feel more tuned-in?” Those who could lift their arms did so. Steve Schram’s tie was seen by several to literally unravel, like an unseen Houdini, and deftly detach the top button of his Oxford. Jody continued: “I’d like to invoke gratitude for — health; true wealth – to invest wisely; and for this amazing, awesome Ann Arbor, Michigan. We’ve been given a precious gift…protect our green spaces for future generations. Be in awe of Ann Arbor!”

The hum continued.

Clawing himself back from his reverie atop a spung tree at Angkor Wat, your reporter came to his senses in time to see the ovation. Yes, he saw the ovation, for it was given with batting eyelids.

President John then thanked Jody, his circulation obviously restored. “Our Rotary Welcomer today is Sally Hart Petersen.” Sally acknowledged this with a wave. Then, after members’ introductions of their many guests, John announced that the Union management had asked that the room be emptied as soon as possible after our meetings. It seems that another event follows our own in quick succession.

Past President Ingrid Sheldon then led us in singing “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and “The Sidewalks of New York.”

Andy Dahlmann then came up to commend the STRIVE Committee for assisting “students looking for that opportunity. Pathways [for Success School] does that. Classes are small, where they sometimes get lost in the big schools.” He asked Committee members to stand; they were acknowledged by hearty applause. “I’ve never worked with Committee members like these,” he declared.

Past President Ashish Sarkar came to the podium to emphasize “it’s a giving month. Please be generous to the Rotary International Foundation. Last week you heard from Norm Herbert about how the Endowment benefits kids around the world. We take that money and try to ‘leverage up,’ This opens up other grants [and matching].” Ashish then explained the value of the Rotary dollar: “On average, we get 5X leverage on every dollar you have given. We need $100 per capita from this Club [the new matching requirement from RI]. December through March is the window for giving, in case you’re budgeted-out this year. This is very important. Thank you for your generosity.”

John then pointed out, in support of Ashish’s message, that “we’ve received the Rotary award from John Germ for attracting [quality new members], level of giving, and humanitarian acts.” Referring to the requirements for the award, John declared “we blew through the majority of the goals right away.”

Reminder: Next week is the holiday concert in the Union ballroom. John asked for a show of hands from those planning to attend.


Sally Hart Petersen came to the podium to introduce our speaker, Peter Allen: “Our fellow-member, UM professor, and founder of his real estate development firm, Peter Allen & Associates, Peter is always positive. He’s always the one who says, ‘that was the BEST movie I’ve ever seen,’ or ‘this is the BEST weather ever!’” Indeed, Sally described two aspects of Peter’s personality — “Peter the Professional and Peter the Person. He has an infectious enthusiasm for all things Ann Arbor. I’m delighted to introduce our speaker, my friend, Peter Allen.”

No lie, Peter fairly leaped twenty feet to the front of the room, close to the screen. He got right to it: “Today houses are selling for $200-300 per square foot. Build new and it’s twice that.” He described a city and community rolling in desirability among “the 70,000 people who commute here every day.” With great success, of course, come challenges: “What are the problems, though – [traffic] congestion. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Building design: We have built a lot of high-rises. Some are less than attractive.” [Audience sighs as tokens of agreement.] Peter then highlighted his friend, “Ed Schaffran, a local developer; he’s not as active now, but he did so much to make the parking decks work.” Another challenge – “the disappearing small college-town skyline. The reason this has happened – we’re the #1college town in surveys; the best place to raise kids, etc.” Not surprising to him, perhaps, Peter admitted to Ann Arbor’s “chocking on success” as a result “of its great ‘town and gown’ [ambiance]. It’s created a vicious positive spiral.”

Peter was adamant, however, in his praise of the Downtown Development Authority: “We have [because of DDA] an amazing quality of life that other towns would love to have: great restaurants, parks, easy to walk around, etc.” He then showed a chart showcasing the strong AA economy: “4,209 new UM jobs in 2012-16, and 2,292 new students enrolled in 2013-17.” A big factor is the City’s retention rate. “Students are living in Ann Arbor – and also at Wayne State. Students are living near campus,” he asserted. Add to that the historic pull Ann Arbor has over its alumni, who often return with their new families, and you have a situation where “supply is way off compared to demand.” Clearly the challenge will be to balance demand/growth with the golden egg – livability. “How do we grow, and bring the best of Ann Arbor to the [outlying] neighborhoods?” Peter’s answer: an ambitious pedestrian-biking project called the Treeline Trail Proposal. As the brochure Peter distributed to the audience explains, “The Treeline – [is] a planned urban trail through the heart of Ann Arbor – is a transformative idea connecting people and places. The Treeline will connect the Huron River to surrounding neighborhoods, the core of downtown Ann Arbor, and University of Michigan athletic facilities….” The proposed project would be built in stages, beginning “from Argo Pond to Kingsley,” and eventually circumnavigate much of the City, traveling “along the railroad tracks from Argo to Washtenaw, then Washtenaw to Huron Parkway, then up to Plymouth Road,”[etc.]. Peter noted that the development of the trail, “which might take twenty years” to reach completion, is expected “not to be a taxable event” to Ann Arbor property owners.

As a futurist, Peter shared his views on the shape of things to come in Ann Arbor. The transition will not be smooth. All this investment, growth, and attraction of the more affluent commuters will stress the existing infrastructure, particularly downtown parking availability and our major roads, and likely displace the less financially secure. Affordability across the board will erode, a result of that “vicious positive spiral.” Housing costs for consumers (and building requirements) will only increase. People will gravitate more and more to public transportation — “Have you taken The Ride recently?” Peter asked. “Yes, the object is to get people out of their cars. I know, we love them.”

And with everything becoming more precious, downsizing with dignity will apparently develop into a lifestyle. “Your parents can retire into a smaller house” (an image of one of the new Tiny Houses appeared on the screen). “Some of you have second houses up North,” he declared by way of consolation. Until now, one might have aspired to an urban pied-a-terre in places like New York or Paris; now they’re coming to an Ann Arbor near you. A glorious future for many, indeed, though not without deep societal issues that will require consistent attention from the majority of citizens, advisory committees and surveys notwithstanding. In conclusion, Peter said simply, hands raised, “take advantage of all this growth!”

Resounding applause rang through the room. John thanked Peter warmly for his electrifying presentation. He then reminded everybody about the holiday concert next Wednesday (in Union Ballroom), and JET:

Join leaders; Exchange ideas; Take action!

Weekly Meeting Statistics:

A total of 86 hardy Rotarians braved the snow to hear fellow Rotarian Peter Allen share his insights on the future of real estate in Ann Arbor. In addition, we had five U-M Rotaractors (President Sam Ozminkowski, Peter Chen, Abby Edwards, Savannah Demil and Michael Koch). We also had seven guests. In advance of the lunch, seven members of the STRIVE Committee met while five members of the Membership Committee gathered. That evening, nine hardy persons (five of them Rotarians) braved the continuing blizzard to share hot toddies and lively conversation at the Session Room.

Makeup Cards for Roving Rotarians:

Ian Bund (Honolulu on December 5). Ian made up with his old club. He was a member there from 1974-1976 before moving to Michigan. He learned that their upcoming Centennial Project will be a park project very similar to ours and has gathered up some background information on our project to send them

This week’s birthdays

  • 12/20 ‐ Paul Wright
  • 12/23 ‐ Paul Webb
  • 12/25 ‐ Brooks Sitterley
  • 12/25 ‐ Jim Egerdal
  • 12/26 ‐ Bob Holmes
  • 12/27 ‐ Wendy Correll
  • 12/27 ‐ Rick Taylor
  • 12/28 ‐ Ken Fischer
  • 12/28 ‐ Jennifer Schwartz
  • 12/30 ‐ Bob Ause
  • 12/31 ‐ Chris Conlin