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Posted on Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 6:02 a.m.

Kerrytown owners invest in Ypsilanti retail building on edge of EMU campus, plan major renovations

By Paula Gardner


Renovations at 729-735 W. Cross in Ypsilanti will start this winter, giving new looks to the long-time retail spaces.

Tom Perkins | For

A landmark Ypsilanti retail building will undergo a major transformation at the hands of new owner O’Neal Construction, which also developed Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown Market & Shops.

O’Neal Inc. bought the former Campus Drugs building from the late Ted Tangalakis at the end of December, starting plans to overhaul the property that serves Ypsilanti’s gateway to Eastern Michigan University’s main campus.

The vision, said Andrew O’Neal, is to renovate the building while retaining its historic feel, along with modernizing the upper level apartments. At the same time, it’ll create a new retail hub on that end of campus.

“This is a cool, old building,” O’Neal said. “With a little fixing up, it could go another 60 years.”

By the time construction is completed, three new retail spaces will take shape in the building at 729-735 W. Cross, with the potential for outside seating and west-side windows in the anchor position on the northwest corner of the building.

“You can’t beat this location next to EMU,” O’Neal said.

The building had been in the Tangalakis family for decades, though it was listed for sale - along with Theo Doors Inc. bar, just east of Campus Drugs - during the summer.

Tangalakis died Jan. 13, a few weeks after the deal for the building closed. But he appreciated the vision for the building that O’Neal brought to the deal, participants said.

“He’ll be a good steward of the legacy of all that Ted created on the corner,” said Tony Caprarese of Swisher Commercial, who still has Theo’s for sale.


Renderings show the vision for the storefronts, including the addition of windows on the west side of the building and outdoor dining.

Quinn Evans Architects

It’s also the first significant renovation project along West Cross, which will undergo construction this spring as the city spends about $770,000 in grant funds to enhance the corridor from Depot Town west to the edge of EMU’s campus.

The corridor also is attracting improvement efforts via the Downtown Development Authority and Washtenaw County, including $30,000 in building façade and renovation grants that will be awarded this year.

For O’Neal, the location fulfils a year-long search for a renovation project. O’Neal Inc. - primarily a commercial construction firm - redeveloped Kerrytown in Ann Arbor several years ago, and Andrew O’Neal spent much of the past year searching for a new redevelopment opportunity.

He considered multiple locations across the region, but the Ypsilanti building seemed to have tremendous potential, he said.

“This one excited us the most from the beginning,” O’Neal said.

However, as he developed the vision for the property, he also wanted to own the entire building: Tangalakis’ portion covered ¾ of the building, so he approached the other owner about buying out that share.

The transaction, which closed on Dec. 20, totaled $530,000 for both portions of the building, according to city assessor records.

So far, O’Neal has removed remaining equipment from the retail spaces and has been working to relocate the 10 apartment tenants. He expects to file permits to begin construction in coming weeks, with construction to fully modernize the upper level starting this spring.

The efficiency apartments will be reconfigured into 3- or 4-bedroom units, he said, by removing the warren of hallways and underutilized spaces on the 2nd floor. Doing that will allow up to 15 bedrooms, according to early estimates.

He’s also working from designs by architect Lis Knibbe of Quinn Evans Architects to restore the exterior with expansive windows, while aiming for a more open, level feel to both the retail and residential spaces.

One of his early goals is to find a way to retain the look of the vintage tin ceiling in the storefronts while also creating a more expansive, open interior feel.

He’s also listing the retail space for lease, anticipating a fall opening.

EMU students, O’Neal said, have few off-campus areas to hang out. He’s hoping a coffee shop operator will anchor the 2,200-square-foot west corner space, which is listed at $25 per square foot.

O’Neal said his company’s track record with Kerrytown shows its long-term commitment to projects - and he expects to own the Ypsilanti property for decades.

Bob Andrus of Michigan Commercial Realty, who now has the retail space listed for rent, describes the transition as “a contribution to the community.”

The building, said O’Neal CFO Bob Fesmire, “will be done right … It will be quite a bit different.”

Paula Gardner is Business News Director of Contact her at 734-623-2586 or by email. Sign up for the weekly Business Review newsletter, distributed every Thursday, here.


joe golder

Fri, Jan 28, 2011 : 7:30 p.m.

Does EMU pay any taxes on the profits from their franchises in the student center? I know they don't pay any city taxes. It wasn't accidental that the student center was put far away from the city business districts. (Sneaky, Sneaky EMU) This has greatly contributed to the decline of growth for all ypsilanti small businesses. Its about time someone takes advantage of the great wealth that passes through ypsilanti on its way to EMU's main campus. It should be a major driver for biz in ypsi and not a major contributor to congestion.


Fri, Jan 28, 2011 : 5:56 a.m.

I certainly wish O'Neal the best and, given the track record, assume they know what they're doing. But I'm curious to see what establishments will lure students off campus. EMU seems to do its best to offer students everything they might want/need on campus, and there's not a lot a classroom courses offered in this location's neighboring buildings (maybe the businesses will focus on faculty/staff?). EMU gets income from the multiple coffee shops all over campus, and the new Student Center (a great building) is the hub for student activity. It's also about as far from competing off-campus businesses as you can get. I just don't see why students would walk past three (or more) good campus coffee shops to buy a cup at this location and then turn around and trek back. But, I'm probably missing something (wouldn't be the first time). Here's hoping I'm wrong and O'Neal finds good, profitable tenants!


Fri, Jan 28, 2011 : 12:01 p.m.

Many student and Ypsi citizens already walk that few blocks to the Ugly Mug for great world class coffee...they will come to East Cross for something new and exciting too


Fri, Jan 28, 2011 : 3:53 a.m.

Yes, this is very good news. Ypsilanti is in SO much better shape than it was 20 years ago. I just wonder why some people have to take every opportunity, including the presentation of great news, to insult the City of Ypsilanti and the City Council.


Fri, Jan 28, 2011 : 12:02 p.m.



Fri, Jan 28, 2011 : 12:23 a.m.

Yeah, I hope this will start a trend for improving the campus area in Ypsilanti!! Sad as it may be, the Thompson Building needs to be torn down! Anything that happens there as it is will have to be new construction inside the dangerous crumbling shell that remains. Time to say goodbye to a building that has been more of an eyesore for most the last 50 years that I've been in the area!


Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 11:11 p.m.

Wonderful news!


Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 8:49 p.m.

Great news, glad to hear it! Good luck.


Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 8:46 p.m.

Great news. I believe that block will really flourish with this renovation. I hope that the City government will work with the developer in every way possible and that the EMU BOR will take the lead in pressing for this area to be a safe and secure zone for students and staff to frequent. Good luck to developers and to the future businesses.


Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

So much "vision" for the city, but so little "improvement" equates to making Ypsilanti a better place to live. Once the focus changes, maybe the city will follow.


Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 3:13 p.m.

Maybe the city should give the brownfield downtown to them as well. Maybe then we can get some business back into the area. City of Ypsilanti council. Are you listening?


Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 2:54 p.m.

Certainly better Oneal than Beal, an no mention of special tax treatment for him, wonder why? I heard nothing but high regard for this developer / contractor. Yes, why not have him take over the Thompson Building otherwise it might never get done.

Go Blue

Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 2:17 p.m.

Very interesting - this will be a fantastic evolution of an old tradition. No one better than O'Neal to take on something in town that has such a great history. Their track record shows it will be a winner - they will get the job done, it will be done in a timely fashion without a lot of nonsense and it will be a wonderful improvement for the community. Not hard to make the comparison - say what you do and then do what you say and get it done. Now if they could take on that other historic building in town................................................


Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 1:54 p.m.

Could y'all buy the Thompson building too? Please!?


Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 1:53 p.m.

This is a very smart idea. Way to go!!!


Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 1:15 p.m.

That building holds fond memories of Ted and my college days. I would go over to get a cup of coffee after class and sit in one of the wood booths and study. It would be great to see the building updated and have the present day college students have the same opportunity. If they put in a coffeehouse, I might go over, get a cup of coffee and study my retirement options.

Chase Ingersoll

Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 1:06 p.m.

I really hope the City of Ypsilanti doesn't find a way to mess this up. This is a rising tide that will lift all boats. I would also point out Jimmy Johns to the East on Cross (I've never eaten there) as an example of development that was a significant improvement despite the fact that some would have complained about the chain nature of the business.

joe golder

Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 4:32 p.m.

Lets hope the agenda driven politics stay out of this. This is such a good thing.

John Fingerle

Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 12:45 p.m.

O'Neal Construction's high quality work is a matter of record. Andrew and the rest of the O'Neal team will produce another winner!


Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 12:14 p.m.

Great news! A quality local developer/builder chances a site in Ypsilanti. I hope this is the start of more good news for a city that needs it. Good-luck with your project, O'Neal Construction!

dading dont delete me bro

Thu, Jan 27, 2011 : 11:51 a.m.

"dading likes this" rip mr. tangalakis