Georgetown neighborhood association wants foreclosed mall demolished
Tear down Georgetown Mall.
That was the consensus of members at tonight's annual meeting of the Georgetown of Ann Arbor Condominium Association. The vacant Georgetown Mall complex, which has been empty since Kroger closed its doors Sept. 12, has been in foreclosure since June 2008. Its lender, however, has delayed attempts by the county sheriff's department to auction the property.
Ann Arbor City Councilwoman Marcia Higgins, D-4th Ward, was the guest of honor and the sounding board for residents concerned that the dilapidated, abandoned mall will hurt their property values.
"I don't want this to become a white whale, like the Michigan Inn," said Jeannine Galetti, an association member.
The Michigan Inn on Jackson Road, standing empty for years, was a target for vandals before being demolished by the city earlier this year.
Before and during the meeting, association members expressed concerns that Georgetown Mall could fall into similar disrepair. Already, the grassy knoll on Packard Street overlooking the mall area is overgrown with weeds and shrubs.
"But the Michigan Inn was a one-off," said Larry Horvath, the association's social chair. "It was one building off Jackson Road - not a complex that backs up into a neighborhood."
The 83,000-square-foot Georgetown Mall sits on six acres at Packard and Page roads. Becky Lyons, a community resident, said just five years ago, the mall contained a Kroger, a Rite-Aid, a U.S. Post Office, and two dry cleaners. She saw each one of them leave, one by one, until the facility was abandoned.
While association members had a variety of ideas about what should happen to the facility - some wanted a community garden, others wanted a redeveloped retail presence - they were united on one point: Georgetown Mall needs to be torn down as soon as possible.
"It's blight, and Ann Arbor can't be afford to be associated with blight," Horvath said. "That's heading into Detroit and Flint territory."
Higgins gave a short update on the condition of the empty facility. Aside from a broken window and some abandoned trailers behind Kroger, the Georgetown Mall remains relatively empty and quiet, patrolled by city police, especially at night.
Higgins laid out several short-term options for the property, including barricades and a chain-link fence. Police would prefer the chain-link fence not go up so the property can be accessed in case of emergencies. Residents didn't like either option.
Higgins said once a property has reached the foreclosure stage, its owners typically cut off all contact, leaving the city to maintain the property. The city's nuisance committee can ticket the property owner, Harbor Georgetown LLC, for failure to maintain the land. But fines likely mean little to a company that is $15 million in debt and $300,000 behind on its property taxes.
Higgins also made it clear any demolition wouldn't happen quickly. Whether by litigation or navigating the city's demolition process, it could take years to raze the facility - and even then it's unclear whether the city could recoup the expense.
When asked by residents whether the city requested that Harbor Georgetown to tear down the mall on its own accord, Higgins said she wasn't sure. Failing that, residents expressed a desire for the city to encourage Harbor Georgetown to be a "good citizen" and maintain the property as it seeks a buyer.
But residents won't have to rely on the city to convey that message. At the Oct. 5 Ann Arbor City Council meeting, Higgins plans to propose a resolution to form a citizens committee to discuss how the Georgetown Mall issue should be handled.
That will give residents and stakeholders a voice in the process and, possibly, a chance to work with Harbor Georgetown to assure that the property doesn't become blighted, she said.