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Posted on Fri, May 17, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Ownership change could bring new life to troubled downtown Ann Arbor building

By Lizzy Alfs


The building at 210-216 S. Fourth sold this week to investor Joe Barbat.

Courtney Sacco |

A recent ownership change at a downtown Ann Arbor building on South Fourth Avenue could bring new life to the troubled property.

After a foreclosure, the building at 210-216 S. Fourth Ave., just north of East Liberty Street, was sold to local investor Joe Barbat this week for a price that hasn’t yet been disclosed. Barbat, who has been silent about his plans for the property so far, is also the CEO of the Wireless Toyz franchise chain and real estate firm Barbat Holdings LLC.

As Barbat looks at how to redevelop, lease and possibly expand the Town Center Plaza building, here are some things he should consider:

  • The building is in a prime location and it has potential.

When Carol Sun closed her 17-year-old Eastern Accents bakery at 214 S. Fourth in March, she said she had extensive issues with the way the building was managed by its former landlord, Dale Newman. She said it was plagued with maintenance issues that were often ignored.

But under new ownership, that could change, and the building could provide opportunity for businesses looking for space in downtown’s tight real estate market.


At one point, the building at 210-216 S. Fourth was known as the "Fourth Main Arcade" and it had a pedestrian walkway in the middle, but Thacher said that wasn't part of the original building's design.

Lizzy Alfs |

Tenants in Town Center Plaza include Bandito’s Mexican Restaurant, Salon Vertigo, Easy Pay Direct, Arbormoon Software and Ann Arbor Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy. It has several first and second floor vacancies that are now being marketed for lease with Colliers International’s Ann Arbor office, including two street-level spaces.

The building could play a key role in activating Fourth Avenue, which acts as a connector between downtown and the Kerrytown district. The block also has a number of independent restaurants and retailers.

“We think the building has tremendous potential,” said Arbormoon Software founder Dave Koziol. “It’s in a fabulous location.”

Added Bandito’s owner Ken Sing: “I’m just hoping (the ownership change) is for the best.” He said hopes to keep his Mexican restaurant in the building under the new owners.

  • The facade needs a makeover.

Constructed in the 1920s, the roughly 20,000-square-foot Town Center Plaza building is considered a non-contributing building in the Main Street Historic District, said City Planner Jill Thacher.

She said the current aluminum facade was installed after a fire in the 1950s caused significant damage to the building. Although Barbat would need Historic District Commission approval to replace the facade, Thacher said the commission would “probably appreciate” an improvement.

  • Expansion is possible, but limited.

Colliers’ Jim Chaconas said Barbat is considering how to give new life to the building. Architect Brad Moore of J Bradley Moore & Associates is in the process of evaluating the site.

Because the building is non-contributing, Thacher said the new owner has some leeway when it comes to redevelopment or expansion. She said it also might be possible to demolish and reconstruct the building, although Chaconas said it’s structurally intact.


It would be possible to construct some sort of addition on the Town Center Plaza building, which is currently two stories.

Kyle Mattson |

“They’d need commission approval to demolish the building, but yes, it’s likely that could happen,” Thacher said. “They’d still need to rebuild it to historic district guidelines.”

The property is located in the city’s D1 zoning, but because it’s in the Main Street Historic District, there are limitations on a building expansion. The historic guidelines say the addition’s footprint should not exceed half of the original building’s footprint, or half of the original building’s total floor area, but Thacher said that rule applies most often to standalone structures.

“This is a pretty deep building, so it might be possible to add some height on the back, but of course it all depends on the size and design. The impact on surrounding historic resources would also be taken into consideration,” Thacher said.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Sat, May 18, 2013 : 2:24 a.m.

"This is a pretty deep building, so it might be possible to add some height on the back, but of course it all depends on the size and design. The impact on surrounding historic resources would also be taken into consideration," Thacher said. All of a sudden, the impact of the height of a building on surrounding historic resources will be taken into consideration? Funny how the mayor and city council did not take that into consideration with their approval of the 413 Huron monstrosity. Hope this "developer" does a better job than the Georgia guys.

Lizzy Alfs

Sat, May 18, 2013 : 4:17 p.m.

@JRW: The impact on surrounding historic resources has to be taken into consideration because the building on Fourth is in the Main Street Historic District. The site on Huron isn't historic.

Jay Thomas

Sat, May 18, 2013 : 1 a.m.

So I take it a Wireless Toyz store will be going in.

Lizzy Alfs

Sat, May 18, 2013 : 4:16 p.m.

There is a Wireless Toyz franchise across the street on Washington and Fourth.

Wystan Stevens

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 6:45 p.m.

The fire was on August 30, 1960:

Lizzy Alfs

Sat, May 18, 2013 : 4:16 p.m.

Thank you for posting!! Also a picture worth checking out.

Lizzy Alfs

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 4:46 p.m.

FYI, the following is from the building's new owner, Joe Barbat: "Although I cannot share much at this time, I can share that we are definitely going to work very closely with the city and the historic municipalities to further develop the building and bring back some really cool history."


Fri, May 17, 2013 : 3:07 p.m.

This seems like good news, but it would be nice if council did something about zoning rather quickly. I hope that there is no one is considering tearing it down and replacing it with something horrible like the Varsity.


Fri, May 17, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

Another reason why City Council and the Planning Commission must move fast to change the D1 zoning ordinance. Somewhere in this country (and they all seem to be out-of-state) more than one developer is monitoring what is happening in Ann Arbor and drooling at the prospects of constructing a 150 foot tall highrise building. And what would such a large building hold? Outside of receiving a big fee the developer certainly will not care.


Sat, May 18, 2013 : 2:25 a.m.

Yup. You are absolutely correct. This guy sells out to an out of state fat cat and it's another monster student warehouse.....


Fri, May 17, 2013 : 12:15 p.m.

Let just build that 100 story building for all the "density" people to live in and get it over with. Then we'll all be happy.


Fri, May 17, 2013 : 12:11 p.m.

Fantastic news. The building was always depressing. This will be so good for the area. This would actually be a great spot to go up as it is not adjacent to a residential neighborhood . The building is one of the ugliest in town so can't wait for the changes.

Linda Peck

Fri, May 17, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

I was just in the building yesterday, visiting Salon Vertigo, and thought the entry was much cleaner. In fact, when I walked in and looked at the big glass doors to the salon, it looked elegant. I am looking forward to what will happen here. I agree, the building has great potential. Walking out to the alley is handy, too. You can come out on Liberty, and just to the right is Kilwin's.