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Posted on Thu, May 24, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

Ann Arbor: What would you like to see at the downtown Borders store?

By Paula Gardner

Previous story: Deal signed for redevelopment of downtown Ann Arbor's ex-Borders store

A southeast Michigan real estate investor just took the first giant step toward redevelopment of the former Borders flagship store in downtown Ann Arbor.

While we can presume that Ron Hughes signed his deal for a long-term lease of the property on East Liberty among some plans — or at least a vision — for what he wants to do, there's still room for the rest of us to chime in on what we'd like to see there.


Steve Pepple |

It's a key piece of downtown property, once serving as a downtown retail anchor as Jacobson's and then as Borders. The loss of the store, retailers said, fed into a decline of East Liberty over the last year as the once-hot street near the University of Michigan suffered a wave of retail closings and concerns about panhandling.

So, then, what should be there? What would satisfy Ann Arbor on that property? And what would the developer find commercially viable?

Here are my top 5 possibilities:

1. Student housing. I'm not endorsing this one — I want to see how the student rental market nets out by about mid-September after the current wave of building subsides and opens new luxury apartments near downtown. But it's pretty clear that Hughes has a track record with a high-rise (The Landmark, formerly 601 Forest) and existing partners who might consider another deal in Ann Arbor. The terms of the deal aren't clear — but it is possible that they include a ground lease that could make vertical construction on the existing building possible.

2. A large-scale national retailer. That "Crate and Barrel" rumor just wouldn't die about six years ago, and suddenly it seems like a store like that just might — maybe — work in Ann Arbor. Retail is rebounding and siting experts love Ann Arbor, and there could be more nationals coming downtown. Urban Outfitters has made it work for years; now corporate sister Anthropologie is one new possibility for downtown that I've been hearing lately.

3. Multi-tenant retail. Breaking up the space and giving it a fresher look would fit another recent trend: Smaller spaces, which also suit the types of restaurants we're seeing coming to the campus area. (Yes, I mean fast-casual chains). That raises questions about ventilation and what a restaurant would mean for the adjoining offices that First Martin Corp. recently bought. The work would be expensive, but possibly worth it if Hughes could line up a critical mass of prospective tenants. And if one or more space could be priced for an independent or two, all the better.

4. A full-service grocery. It's the other perennial rumor, this time just a bit more viable because we're talking about a larger (44,000-square-foot) building. Many in Ann Arbor maintain that they really, really need this. Others say you can find what you need, just not in a name-brand superstore. And this option raises the question: What happens to the second level?

5. A B.O.B? A Big Old Borders along the line of the Big Old Building in Grand Rapids could be a fun addition to campus. Hey, we know students like to drink — they've put a few downtown bars into the state's top-sellers. A multi-themed concept that would draw from a bigger pool — like downtown workers or locals — could be a game-changer for downtown. The downside: The wrong concept could result in a "Super-Dooleys" trouble spot. (Sorry, I know I date myself by referring to the former student bar on Maynard).



Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 1:12 a.m.

Level the whole area: install a Grand Prix race track. (off season: race horses there). Just kidding. I think the poll responses tell us something: no one knows! There's no really compelling "business plan" which stirs people enough to say that there would be support for any kind of business there. In its time, Jacobson's seemed as permanent as could be, and so did Borders Books. Right now, in this consumer driven economy, internet retail replaces all the old timey retail conventions - except maybe for grocery operations.


Wed, May 30, 2012 : 5:59 p.m.

ugh, this country needs more bookstores, NOT more Targets and Walmarts. Certainly not student housing. Students are just fine in tall, clean, basic non-fancy buildings without AC. I did it for 4 years back in 1994-1998 and I came out nicely. I saw the fancier non-university housing and it was overrated. This country's priorities need to be on family and education.

David Paris

Tue, May 29, 2012 : 2:53 a.m.

I'd like to see it turned into a Border's!

Matt Lang

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 11:59 a.m.

At first I thought that such places as a House of Blues or ESPN Cafe, Dave and Busters, etc., should be considered, but i agree with the other poster who suggested that an Apple store open there. The Apple store in downtown Chicago has concerts and other presentations that are too big and/or noisy for the Apple stores to have. This would work, Borders used to have musical acts play there frequently.

Lynn Glazewski

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 9:14 p.m.

I forgot that Village Corner needs a new home! That would cover the studnets who need sundries, the wine afficionados, the people who miss a place to buy newspapers and magazines (please no more coffeeshops - you can walk across the street to read your newly acquired paper....). If there is space, a decent chain restaurant that doesn't exist in "suburban" Ann Arbor - the Cheesecake Factory might be the one.......We have enough bars, and not enough parking for a big box store like Crate and Barrel.... Galleries and art/photo stores are too esoteric and don't need that large of a space. The students will make the most frequent trips, but the townies will spend more $$ in fewr trips if it's open all the time and they can stop in while they are on campus having dinner, going to the Michigan Theater, or after work on campus. If not Village Corner, then I vote for the city buying it for the library systen as Campus Branch.....


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 5:47 p.m.

I would vote for most anything to help ensure those businesses that have been down there for years continue to do well and thrive instead of more of them closing shop. I personally would love to see an art co-op/gallery space with a great art/photo supply store - something missing in Ann Arbor. But another bookstore, Crate and Barrel, The Container Store or as mentioned in a previous post something similar to Kerrytown would be great too. Whatever it ends up being - it needs to give people a reason to head downtown!


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 5:04 p.m.

Any kind of retail store would be good IMO. No more restaurants, bars, or student housing please!


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

Free parking. I would like to see an ordinance that any new retail establishment be required to validate parking if you do business there. That is about the only reason I will shop in DT A2 again.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

Trader Joes!


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

How about moving the residents of Camp Take Notice there?

Lynn Liston

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

What is that area lacking that would be an enhancement to other businesses around it? There is a grocery market, a dry cleaners, numerous coffee shops and restaurants, drug store, retailers. What it really lacks is a bookstore/gifts store- a place to buy papers and magazines and sip coffee, sort of a general meeting and hang out place. Like Borders used to be? And it also seriously lacks upscale housing for professionals- so squeeze in some luxury lofts upstairs.

Will Warner

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 12:22 p.m.

Red's Rite Spot, Mr. Flood's Party, Drakes, Millers Ice Cream, The Campus Theater, Klines, Quality Bakery, Montgomery Wards, Kresge, Woolworths, Middle Earth, The Best Steakhouse, The Old German, Cunninghams with a soda fountain, Dunkin Donuts, the Campus Smoke Shoppe....

Will Warner

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 11:59 a.m.

A rod and gun shop, or a tobacco store.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:02 p.m.

@alex First there are already at least 3 places to buy firearms in Ann Arbor. One is in Briarwood Mall. Another is Dunhams on Maple. And the coin shop by Trader Joes.IF you include the new Dicks on Lohr that would make 4. Second, so it seems Ann Arborites already "approve" of several gun shops by keeping them in business. Lovely thing about free markets... Third, just what business sector has been growing in the last decades despite the economic downturns again?? Seems to me, if you want to make the area safer and have a thriving business at this location, you could hardly make a better choice. Wish I had the money to do it.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 12:12 p.m.

there's already a tobacco store about a block away and i highly doubt the residents of ann arbor would approve a gun shop.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 11:41 a.m.

It should remain a book store.... a conservative book store with a coffee shop, hdq space for Romney, office space for the College young Republicans, home to the Mackinac Center and perhaps other conservative think tanks. A meeting room with ample seating for guest speakers. Yes, right in the belly of the beast this is exactly what we need to promote diverse views in Ann Arbor!


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 11:15 a.m.

city art commission . might as well waste more money

Robert Hughes

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 10:45 a.m.

A park.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 10:21 a.m.

pf chang's!


Sat, May 26, 2012 : 5:02 p.m.

Y'know, the good stuff ;)


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 11:21 a.m.

I know most people living in AA Are against "Chain" restaurants but I don't think this would be a big deal if it were to happen. I hate driving to Novi >.<

Dug Song

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 6:10 a.m.

Mixed-use arts complex / community, with performance space, bar / food space, residential studios, free culture - pretty much AS220 (see their Empire St. complex in Providence: ). If we were a community with real vision, we could make this happen. I often think the Towne Center block of 4th Avenue would be perfect for this, except for its troubled owner.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 3:35 a.m.

Why has no one mention Hard Rock?! I miss Borders and don't want it, but I am just saying...


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 3:02 a.m.

I think it should be a combo of lots of stores. A grocery store. A pharmacy. A bookstore. Something that caters to the students. Affordable. Maybe a little restaurant. Maybe a game place.

Katie P

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 2:29 a.m.

Please, no more student high-rises or "luxury" apartments! I'd like to see more independent stores and/or restaurants that would add to Ann Arbor's quirky character.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 2:04 a.m.

Gun shop and range

Mike S

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:57 a.m.

A greatly expanded Village Corner.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:50 a.m.

Some ideas: 1) Book/gift shop (let's admit it, we all miss that) 2) Urgent Care center (we have too few in this city, and UHS is eliminating their equivalent) 3) Housing for graduate students with and without families 4) Start-up space for non-UM affiliated non-profits 5) Experimental smaller IKEA store geared toward student living and small space/affordable furnishings 6) Center for Alternative Health Care - acupuncture, massage, health and wellness


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:51 a.m.

Oops - forgot the most important: 7) Satellite Police Station - staffed 24/7

Kara Marie

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 12:15 a.m.

I wanna see Borders down there!


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 11:48 p.m.

"the once-hot street near the University of Michigan " Really? This seems to be a bit of an over-exageration given that Detroit is 45 minutes away, and compared to many cities in Michigan, and even nationally, Liberty street still seems quite vibrant and successful. If you want to see what excessive panhandling actually looks like, go to any major city. We should be fortunate that Ann Arbor remains a very successful and appealing place to live.


Sat, May 26, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

The best remedy for the wrong kind of people downtown is more of the right kind of people downtown. Add more downtown residents, they will circulate at all hours of the day, and as they do the unsavory element will no longer feel at liberty to harass and intimidate the great majority of ordinary people.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:16 p.m.

I agree. It can be easy to take our downtown for granted.

Steve Beisheim

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 2:28 a.m.

Yes, Thank You... People who comment make it seem like A2 is a ghost town or something... I'm grateful this place is so vibrant and alive at all times of the day and at night... Have you actually lived in other cities of this size? Nothing compares to the quality and vibrancy of this amazing city...


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 11:34 p.m.

Ask people who have lived in town for a while and know the market better than the out-of-town developers. We can predict with remarkable accuracy how long new businesses will last and always feel bad that the optimistic new owners didn't do better market research before opening--and then closing. Jacobson's as department store and Borders were strong draws to the area. I don't think that a discount-type store will draw the numbers of people needed to revitalize the area. Chain restaurants won't either. People can get those on any commercial strip in the U.S. without the parking challenges. I have seen Crate and Barrel close in other markets so not sure that would last for long. For example, that new pie store opening up: I don't predict long-term success. Have you walked by the national burger place (with the peanuts) on State St. that entered the city with a lot of hype ? Where are the lines that exisited its first few days? I see it empty at noon and during dinner hour. Maybe they get a lot of student business at 11 p.m., if they're opened that late. If developers want success, choose a destination name that will draw a mix of ages and incomes and has quality and durability. The move 'em in, move 'em out places we have seen during many years here don't work. Paint them, decorate them, install equipment, put up sign, then they're goine within a year a two.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:27 p.m.

Problem with the peanut burger place (at least that location) is the quality of the product was not as high as it should be. Gave it a try twice and both times was not as good as previously had in other locations. If there is a quality product people will come but no one will come for subpar. And it's terrible to park there so that is also a problem

Marvin Face

Thu, May 24, 2012 : 11:16 p.m.

TGIF Friday's, Applebee's, Olive Garden, Max & Erma's, Chili's, Longhorn, Cheddar's, BW3, Outback, Hooters, Cracker Barrel, Ruby Tuesday, Chipotle, Damon's, or Cheesecake Factory would be great. Did I miss one?

David Paris

Tue, May 29, 2012 : 3 a.m.

"TGIF Friday's, Applebee's, Olive Garden, Max & Erma's, Chili's, Longhorn, Cheddar's, BW3, Outback, Hooters, Cracker Barrel, Ruby Tuesday, Chipotle, Damon's, or Cheesecake Factory... " Yea, that'd be great, in fact, just mix them all together and call it "Dumpster Juice a la Mode"!


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

Hooters, Coyote Ugly, Benihana, Golden Coral, Waffle House...


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:24 p.m.

42 pieces GoNavy!

Marvin Face

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 11:55 a.m.

Thank you Alex for playing it straight.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 10:24 a.m.

Ann Arbor isn't huge on franchises... a local restaurant would suit the people here better.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 11:28 p.m.

Chotchkie's. People can get a cheeseburger anywhere, ok? They come to Chotchkie's for the atmosphere and the attitude. That's what the flair's about.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 9:37 p.m.

How about another coffee shop with free wifi and we get to bring in our own coffee, snacks, meals and hang out all day surfing the web? The business wouldn't make any money, but who cares. Neither would most of the suggestions I've read so far.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

Tractor Supply Co.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 9:54 p.m.



Thu, May 24, 2012 : 8:46 p.m.

To be practical you will need to build up. Cool and Hip Hotel like Ace or Aloft or Indigo would be great and are not super pricey. These will need a bar/restaurant on first floor but a great developer would also save some space for an independent bookstore with coffee bar. With the higher rents from hotel/bar/restaurant then they could afford reduced rent for part of it. Would even make the hotel seem cooler. Man, I want to do it- ughghghg not enough cash for me to do it.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 8:35 p.m.



Thu, May 24, 2012 : 9:53 p.m.

I meant I stand by it. Stupid stomach flu is making me flaky.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 9:53 p.m.

I said that last time they asked this question, and I stand by. Ann Arbor seriously needs a footwear education, not to mention a place closer than Novi or Troy to find well-made, fashionable, professional clothing.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 8:25 p.m.

A nice big full service bookstore would be a really good thing. I can't imagine a top-ten college town without a good book store.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 5:29 p.m.

With a really great art/photo supply dept!


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:57 p.m.

dude, keep tripping


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 8:23 p.m.

For the lower two floors, something like the Kerrytown building, but catering to a younger crowd. Multiple retailers, food, etc. in an open market floor plan. Above, a hotel. I really think we need another hotel in the area to give Dahlmann (Campus Inn, Belltower) some competition - it's very hard to get a block of rooms at peak time, and, let's be frank, Campus Inn is outdated and overpriced for what it is.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 8:20 p.m.

I worked for Schuler Books for years (before working for Borders for 10+ years) and have suggested to everyone there that I still know that Schuler's should move into the old Borders location.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 8:02 p.m.

A local newspaper!!


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 10:23 a.m.

so they can have riveting articles such as this one?


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:59 p.m.

Container Store!


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 11:04 p.m.

BOOYAH! Love that store!


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:57 p.m.

A heavily taxed Casino so my taxes can get some rest.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:54 p.m.

I'm sure the developer already has plans in place, or he wouldn't have bought the building. Nothing anyone says on this forum will make any difference, unfortunately. Developers only care about money in THEIR pockets, nothing else matters to them. It's going to be a challenging situation given the oversaturation of overpriced stores and restaurants, and the high rents, and it will need to cater to the student market. Why not ask them?


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:53 p.m.

Harry's Army Surplus. Oh wait......


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:46 p.m.

Whole Foods. Could the parking be any worse than the store on Washtenaw?


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 3 p.m.

Lighten up, y'all. I was kidding.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 2:25 p.m.

*where (No idea what possessed me to type "whether")


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 2:24 p.m.

Could the parking be any worse? Well, YES it could. You could, for example, put a Whole Foods downtown, say on the corner of Liberty and Maynard, whether there is only a smattering of street parking (which you'd have to pay for) or the Maynard/Thompson structure which you'd also have to pay for and is frequently jammed to the hilt when there are big events downtown. Yes, the parking at the Washtenaw store is terrible. But it's cake compared to what you'd have downtown.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:07 p.m.

A WF or Trader Joe's would definitely help bring people downtown. I miss having a space like Borders though.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 10:22 a.m.

ugh, at least make it not so pretentious and turn it into a Trader Joe's or something...


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 11:26 p.m.

We have two already. Sorry they're not convenient enough for you.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:39 p.m.

A new homeless shelter would be nice.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

Move the people of Camp Take Notice in. The citizens of Scio Township will be happy to be rid of them and Ann Arborites can feel all warm and fuzzy about saving the world.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 10:22 a.m.

sad to see so many "dislikes" towards this comment, shame on you Ann Arbor.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 11:03 p.m.

You have one - on 5th


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:36 p.m.

P-L-E-A-S-E, P-L-E-A-S-E, not another hi-rise or housing of any kind.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:32 p.m.

ooh, a crate and barrel would be awesome!


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.



Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:05 p.m.

Two story Targets & a Trader Joes also in Brooklyn/Manhattan :)

Ryan Daly

Fri, May 25, 2012 : 6:24 a.m.

They have a two story one in Minneapolis as well


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 10:15 p.m.

Actually a two story Target does exist in San Diego. This includes a grocery store too. So whoever gave this person a negative? Shame. This is a great idea for students who really have no place to shop frugally.

Henry Ruger

Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

I'd like to see Jacobson's move back in.

Bertha Venation

Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:44 p.m.

I was thinking the same thing, Henry... but I guess it'll never happen, since they're out of business... just like Goodyear's on Main St.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:29 p.m.

Apple Store!


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:27 p.m.

A CityLoft in minature, please!

Paula Gardner

Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

When Borders closed, many people brought up the name familiar in other areas of Michigan: Schuler Books & Music.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:19 p.m.

Borders-like bookstore

Matt Lang

Sun, May 27, 2012 : 11:53 a.m.

A Borders-like bookstore was there for 30 years, they are no longer commercially viable. Amazon and used book stores are the only book stores that can survive in this new world of iPads and Kindles, the exception is Barnes and Noble, and they are able to keep their retail stores open due to the revenue they get from all of the student book stores that they own.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:15 p.m.

Why isn't a large, first-class bookstore on the list?


Sun, May 27, 2012 : 4:16 p.m.

Does suggesting the same business that just went under in the exact same location make any sense?


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Go Navy is correct I think. Bookstores will go the way that record/CD/DVD stores went.


Fri, May 25, 2012 : 1:21 a.m.



Thu, May 24, 2012 : 11:24 p.m.

That can be found at