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Posted on Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Ann Arbor's shifting corner: Is Papa John's closure on East Huron Street making room for a development?

By Lizzy Alfs


Following the closing of Papa John's last week, a Connecticut developer is negotiating the purchase of the two neighboring properties on the corner of East Huron Street and Division Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

Joseph Tobianski |

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify details on the negotiations between Greenfield Partners and Zahn family trust.

A major property shift on a prominent corner of downtown Ann Arbor could pave the way for the area’s next high-rise development.

After purchasing a vacant building on East Huron Street in June, Connecticut-based real estate firm Greenfield Partners is quietly negotiating a deal to purchase two neighboring properties on the northeast corner of East Huron and North Division streets.

Meanwhile, the Papa John’s pizza store on that corner closed last week and plans to relocate, according to signs in the windows.

The Papa John’s franchise owner could not be reached for comment regarding the plans, but it appears the store closure is related to the potential property sale.

David Zahn, whose family has owned the Papa John's property and an adjacent house on North Division for decades, confirmed that his family is in negotiations with Greenfield Partners to sell those two properties.

“When someone gives you an offer, then you’re willing to take it, I guess,” he said.

Zahn declined to comment further about the negotiations.

Greenfield Partners — which is operating under the name Ann Arbor Green Property Owner LLCpurchased the vacant 10,300-square-foot building and parking lot at 413 E. Huron St. in June for $4.5 million. It’s situated between Sloan Plaza condominiums and the Papa John’s property.

Bruce Thomson, the former longtime owner of the building, told in June that the company likely plans to build a high-rise development.

The property is in the D1 zoning district, which allows for mixed residential and commercial development. The maximum building height for the East Huron segment is 150 feet.

“I assume it will end up a high-rise of some kind, but I don’t know what they will do,” Thomson said. “It’s zoned for high-density development, which is what makes sense, so I’m sure it will end up some kind of high-density development.”

Representatives from Greenfield did not return multiple requests for comment and no site plans have been submitted to the city of Ann Arbor.

But combining the three neighboring properties would increase the footprint of a potential development and give the company more flexibility in planning.

Ray Detter, chairman of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council, said it could also “spread out” the impact of a development.

Detter, who also lives steps away from the site, said he’s concerned about the effect a development could have on Sloan Plaza residents and their view, but he also supports a new use for the downtown corner.

“This is the wrong place to have a drive-in pizza place in terms of the future of downtown,” he said. “It doesn’t fit in….we’re hoping something better can come out of this to better downtown.”

He added: “We all want to work for something that works for the developers as well as for the neighborhood, and we’re hoping we can make that happen. We’re hoping the sale of the Zahn property will make it more possible to do something creative.”

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



Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.

I'd like to see a Tim Hortons put in with Section 8 housing above it

Jay Thomas

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 6:58 p.m.

So they are going to tear down that orange brick building that used to be a computer store and was vacant for some time? In order to make that pay it will have to be a very tall building. Really sucks if you are in Sloan Plaza facing that way. :(


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

Hear that sound? It's the sound of the condos on the west side of Sloan halving in value.

Linda Peck

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 6:13 p.m.

One plus to this is that real prices may go down if there are so many condos available, including Sloan, especially if their view is cut off. This may make some of that affordable housing some people on city council are promoting.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 4:29 p.m.

Downtown devolution. Beyond the NY city mentality where a little sunshine means its time for lunch and the drier cement is your friend, Ann Arbor will be known for its hospital, school, and, uh, and uh...hmmm. Parks! At some point there will just be a "worktown" ,a "suburbia", and "dragmalls" up the street. Without the coming crash , suburbia would eventually be swallowed up by downtown development as no "naturalist" wants that carbon copyville AND carry A2 city taxes. Nor entertain in worktown. Mr. Thomson is obviously a brilliant investor - watch what he does next.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

"When someone gives you an offer, then you're willing to take it, I guess," he said. Ingenious quote. Must've been a great interview.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

Another bloated high rise is sure to follow on this property by an out of state developer, who cashes in, collects the fat profits and walks away if it fails. Does A2 need another overpriced high density high rise? No. Good luck to Sloan Plaza residents who will have a very different view in a few years and see their condo values plummet for those affected. A2 continues to turn into Disneyland for students, pushing out anyone who is not in the 1%.

rusty shackelford

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 2 p.m.

Development can't proceed there, it's a historic site. In fact, city council needs to act now to protect this last vestige of Ann Arbor's historic Little Italy neighborhood.

Marvin Face

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 7:20 p.m.

These two comments are perfect and perfectly hilarious.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 3:22 p.m.

I see "Pizza Town" in the future, it worked for German Town..LOL


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.

Not sad to see this particular Papa John's go. In a city full of great pizza options, this place consistently served up sub-standard fare. As for high-rise developments, go for it. I was just noting to my wife this morning, while walking our dog, that fully 2/3 of Ann Arbor's buildings must have been built in 1907.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

I'm certainly not thrilled with Yet Another High-Rise. Much of the appeal of Ann Arbor was its "city with a small-town feel". It's being turned into Little Chicago, complete with big-city problems. Enough already.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:23 p.m.

Certainly Chicago's problem isn't that they have too many tall if some sort of height or building restriction will fix everything that's happened there since 1968 -


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:02 p.m.

Ann Arbor, we don't want a "drive in pizza" place in OUR town!


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.

Will Greenfield Partners let their vacant building rot into the ground? Seems to be the hot development model these days.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

Ann Arbor will not tolerate right wing pizza from Columbus!


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 3 p.m.

Maybe, but that was funny.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:05 p.m.

Huh? Papa John's is based out of Lul'ville, KY


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.

That Papa John's sucked it's no wonder they closed

Jaime Magiera

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

Also, the chain is owned by a guy who doesn't want to pay for healthcare for his workers.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 3:45 p.m.

Agreed CS


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:43 p.m.

All Papa John's suck.

Tom Wieder

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:26 p.m.

This story is very confusingly written and presented, and a key quote makes no sense. The headline and photo focus on the Papa John's parcel, but the second sentence starts talking about an unidentified "vacant building on Huron St.," which is actually the property adjacent. The operator of the restaurant, who isn't the owner of the property, can't be reached for comment, the owner won't talk about any negotiations, but "it appears the store closure is related to the potential property sale." Appears to whom, based on what? It's probably true, but that seems more like the reporter's speculations or assumptions than facts that should be reported in a news story. Then, the owner of the subject parcel says nothing has been signed of which he's aware, and "they're in negotiations on those sites." If he's the owner, how could anything be signed that he isn't aware of? And who is the "they" that are in negotiations? This just doesn't make any sense. The lack of sense may created be the property owner, who doesn't want to talk about this, but presenting it in this way is very confusing to the reader.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 1:52 p.m.

Thanks for pointing out the confusion. There was an oversight on my part, and I tried to clarifiy it. The current owner of the Papa John's site and the adjacent house on North Division confirmed his family is in negotiations with Greenfield Partners. Hope that helps!


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:51 p.m.

My guess is Ms. Alfs got a hot tip and built a story around it. It's an internet story. I doubt it would have survived the cut at an old 'paper' newspaper.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:16 p.m.

If you play your cards right and get a condo on the west side you just might have a view of the City Hall artwork. Where do I sign up?


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 2:54 p.m.

He does seem to have terrible taste in "art", but then again he just does what the Hieftje tells him to do.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:28 p.m.

Which, of course, we have Mr. Detter to partially thank for (the 'artwork').

mike gatti

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 11:40 a.m.

Build baby build. Make A2 the biggest best city in the state.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 11:21 a.m.

Probably not "quietly" negotiating anymore! And Sloan Plaza residents should talk to the 101 N.Main people about what it's like to have a new high rise go up right next to you. Enjoy the views while you can. BTW it was a great sunset last night.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 11:18 a.m.

Another one bites the in this city is CUTTHROAT.... Glad I left that schtick. Pretty sure we have more pizza shops per capita in this city than ANYWHERE else in the country. Might actually just be SE Michigan though, cause we have the majority of the nationwide chains established HERE. Cottage Inn, Dominoes, Howie's, and Little Caesars come to mind right away.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 11:14 a.m.

Not a surprise. That is a perfect location for high density development. Most people are probably not aware that the condos next door used to be a car dealership and before that, a supermarket. Things change, get over it you naysayers. The taxes paid by a high rise development will be far greater than an unused building and a small pizza shop.


Fri, Sep 7, 2012 : 1:54 a.m.

I remember all the way back to the A &P store that was there in the sixties, the only "large" supermarket in Ann Arbor proper at the time!


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 11:19 a.m.

I remember the brick building next to it being a computer store that specialized in Apple.....they didn't last long....


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 10:40 a.m.

We have enough ugly tall buildings in Ann Arbor -- I opt for the smaller buildings with good stores and restuarants.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 6:47 p.m.

except a city has soe more dining choices that change over time, stores that arent just for students, etc the real issue was all the aoartnent buldings and rental housing that deteriorated

Jaime Magiera

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 5:23 p.m.

This "town" is turning into a "city". Folks are going to have to accept that. The university continues to add more students. More students means more infrastructure. More infrastructure means more people living and working in Ann Arbor to support that infrastructure. Things are going to continue growing.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:31 p.m.

agree. tall buildings are out of place with the size of this town and the nature if the town. no cohesion or style

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 10:11 a.m.

"Detter, who also lives steps away from the site, said he's concerned about the effect a development could have on Sloan Plaza residents and their view..." "This is the wrong place to have a drive-in pizza place in terms of the future of downtown," he said. "It doesn't fit in….we're hoping something better can come out of this to better downtown." Yep, we can't have PIZZA in our neighbor, it's just not what this neighborhood is ALL ABOUT and the big concern is the view for the 1% in Sloan Plaza. Got it.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

Alan: Yes and No, and No as well; Yes- The edge of a residential area actually happens to be a great place for a delivery/takeaway convenience food place. No- It's silly to think that it would not be a concern for dozens of residents that are living in the building directly next door to where the high rise is supposed to go. If you lived there, you wouldn't want to trade a nice view of the city for a nice view of your new neighbor's living room. No- You have a strange definition of what it takes to be "the 1%"

Jaime Magiera

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 5:21 p.m.

Ray Detter has done a lot to help downtown Ann Arbor. Most importantly, he gets involved. Before you attack him, consider getting involved.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.

Maybe Ray Detter will sell the developer HIS digs for a big profit. As I recall, the properties adjacent to Papa John's are all ramshackle old Victorian rentals, ripe for redevelopment anyway.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:27 p.m.

"One would be hard pressed to find anyone that has done more for responsible downtown development that Mr. Detter." LOVED his work as a 'citizen' member of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commsion Team that rammed through the Giant Urinal City Center Water Fountain. LOVED it. Lol.


Thu, Sep 6, 2012 : 12:12 p.m.

There's plenty of pizza in the neighborhood. And of course there is concern over the impact of any proposed development on neighboring properties. One would be hard pressed to find anyone that has done more for responsible downtown development that Mr. Detter.