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Posted on Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Plans, renderings submitted for 2 housing projects in downtown Ann Arbor

By Lizzy Alfs


A rendering shows the proposed plans for the building at 210-216 S. Fourth, which involves a building addition and makeover of the facade.

J Bradley Moore & Associates

The owners of two adjacent buildings in downtown Ann Arbor are moving forward with plans to construct rooftop additions for apartments or condos.

Brad Moore of J Bradley Moore & Associates Architects, the architect for both projects, submitted plans last week to Ann Arbor’s Historic District Commission for 121-123 E. Liberty and 210-216 S. Fourth. Moore hosted a citizen participation meeting for the projects in July. (Read more)


The existing one-story Running Fit building on the corner of East Liberty and South Fourth

Joseph Tobianski |

The submittal includes never-before-seen renderings of the projects — which together, would result in about 36 new downtown housing units. Both proposals also call to redesign or restore the buildings’ original facades.

“We’re hoping the combination of the two projects transforms Fourth Avenue, which has been so hard to pull back from where it was in the (1970s),” Moore told attendees at the public meeting in July.


This rendering shows the plans for the Running Fit building at 121-123 E. Liberty St., viewed from East Liberty.

J Bradley Moore & Associates

Plans for the one-story 121-123 E. Liberty St. building call to rebuild two upper floors that were destroyed by a fire in the 1950s, as well as an additional partial fourth floor that would be set back from the building’s facade. Running Fit owners Randy Step and Steve Angerman own the building and are proposing the project.

Six housing units would occupy the building addition, and those would be marketed for lease or for sale. Along with the building addition, Step and Angerman want to replace the building’s enameled steel panel siding with a brick veneer facade.


The new owner of the building at 210-216 S. Fourth wants to build residential units.

Courtney Sacco |

The second project, proposed for the adjacent building at 210-216 S. Fourth, calls to construct three additional floors on top of the existing two-story building. The addition would be set back from the front facade and contain roughly 30 housing units.

Building owners Joe Barbat and David Ebner of Barbat Holdings LLC also wants to restore the facade to resemble the former Montgomery Ward’s department store, which occupied the building until it suffered a fire in 1960. Barbat and Ebner are proposing to rebuild the storefront in mostly masonry/brick.

Both projects require approval from Ann Arbor’s Historic District Commission before the plans can move forward to Planning Commission and City Council.

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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, Aug 8, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

These are vast improvements over the existing facades. That old metal look just doesn't fit in with downtown Ann Arbor.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 1:29 p.m.

Love to see this and hope the project gets approved. Also loved to see the words "affordable housing" were not in this story.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 5:51 p.m.

What's wrong with "affordable housing"?! I WISH there was something half-decent and half-reasonably priced downtown, instead of the faux-luxury buildings that provide HALF of what you would get in Chicago (not to mention not BEING IN Chicago) for a ludicrous rent, all while being managed by companies that have pressured the "luxury" market to their own advantage ( has noted in several articles the convenient confluence, for example, of UM dormitory renovations and the completion of "luxury" multi-bedroom high rises).

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 5:04 p.m.

@johnnya2: No, I don't think it's just about the look of the buildings. But, 1) 30 or more people will be living there, which will drive pedestrian traffic. 2) An attractive building could draw good tenants there. Currently, there are two vacant street level spaces: eastern accents and blue lotus hookah. That's really what I meant.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 4:51 p.m.

@ Lizzy, Do you honestly think the look of a building will make a difference as to where you fo downtown? The only thing that makes people go to an area is having something to do in that area,. Whether it be a shop, or restaurant, or place to live. People will not walk on Fourth just o admire the buildings more than 1 time

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

I also wonder how these buildings could change the feel and liveliness of that Liberty/Fourth area. Fourth doesn't get nearly as much pedestrian traffic as other streets downtown. I hardly ever walk on it myself, even though I work a block away. Having an attractive/quality building could change that.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 1:26 p.m.

I think the labels in those drawings are incorrect - 174 feet tall?

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 4:52 p.m.

Thank you, @Gworty. Here's the link to the e-trakit site: Then you can search the addresses - 121 E Liberty, 210 S Fourth - to download the plans for the both projects.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 4:37 p.m.

by convention first floor elevation is 100.00 (see complete packet submited to the HDC on the city's e-trakit website) - dad was a civi engineer - so 174-100 = 74 feet tall.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

Those are lovely facades and great to see two small business owners investing back into downtown AA. These projects speak to quality of life and a love of AA. I hope they get through the approval process smoothly.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 1:14 p.m.

It would be nice to placard the building with Montgomery Ward for history buffs.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 5:05 p.m.

The owner of the building does want to put something on the exterior wall about the history of the's included in the plans submitted to HDC. As for the name of the building, they want to call it the "Montgomery Building."


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

Appparently they are still in business as an on-line retailer and I think a legal challenge would follow if the building owners used the full Montgomery Ward name on the building


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 12:43 p.m.

Related topic: I recently met a new A2 resident who moved here from Denver. He looked at a 111 N. Ashley condo renting for 2300./month (1 bdrm). Comparatively, his Denver condo was 2500./month (1 bdrm.) with many more features. It was downtown Denver to begin with and had spectacular views of the Rockies, solar panel roof making for $13/mo. utility bills, free concierge grocery shopping, all European appliances, marble countertops, floor to ceiling windows, very high end finishing all around. He's finding the rents downtown in A2 to be ridiculous (his word) for what one gets.

Lynn Liston

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 8:33 p.m.

I run into this a lot as I work with corporate transferees, all of whom want the glamour of a downtown condo, all the upscale finishes, right on Main Street. It's hard to deliver the bad news that availability is limited and prices are high, and I do hear that 'back home' we have lots of trend condos downtown. Well, the downtown area of Ann Arbor is much smaller than Denver or Chicago, which makes our limited market that much more desirable and costly. I welcome any new professional quality housing downtown because I do work with people who can afford it, but I don't expect more housing to make things less expensive.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 4:49 p.m.

Do you people understand economics at all? rents are not CONTROLLED in Ann Arbor in any way shape or form. If the MARKET says they are willing to pay X, they will. If not, those places will sit empty. The price in Chicago, Denver or Ypsi DO NOT MATTER. If enough people feel living in downtown Ann Arbor is worth more than living in Chicago, then the price will be higher. I will also point out that there are MANY things that people do not like about living in Chicago or Denver, including higher crime rates, and other variables that might not matter to YOU, but do to those who CHOOSE to live downtown AA. Of course if you do not want to live in downtown AA, there are PLENTY of other option in the world


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 4:37 p.m.

Cindy, what you describe is the reaction I get from every visitor we've had/met, from all over the country. People are completely taken aback by our rent/home proces and property taxes. It seems like everyone in Ann Arbor has convinced themselves that all this expense is worth it, and Ann Arbor is the nicest, most modern and at the same time most homey, cultured, etc. etc., whatever, of anyplace in the world. But it's really not. I love Ann Arbor, but the turnover cuased by the real estate companies with insane rents is the result. That and everyone kind of feeling sorry and embarrassed for us for paying so much to live a town that, let's face it, is right around the middle/low end of any normal town. Everyone has Main Streets and fancy restaurants. And a lot of the baubles you see in stores downtown are the same ones you see in most midsized airport shops. I wish Ann Arbor would get a little more realistic about what we are and aren't, and we could have an affordable, safe, nice city.

Victor Incognito

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

And of course more supply should accomplish that. And I like the choices of buildings to add onto, since there's not a lot of architectural charm already there, and the look of the street might be improved by the changes. And there was a grammar error in my previous post, just so you know that I know.

Victor Incognito

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 2:13 p.m.

Downtown condos for purchase and apartments for rent are more expensive in Ann Arbor than their equivalents in Chicago as well, even in sought after neighborhoods like Wicker Park or Lakeview, so yeah, I think there will be more interest in downtown A2 living if the prices weren't sky-high.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 1:15 p.m.

As supply remains limited in downtown Ann Arbor are you proposing that more condos are built to increase supply, thus concomitantly reducing rent prices?


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 12:43 p.m.

When I think of more density downtown, these are the projects that come to mind, not that looming monstrosity on Huron and Division.

Tex Treeder

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

Can I "thumbs up" this comment maybe 10 more times?


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 11:08 a.m.

Sounds like a good plan so far. Keep us posted!

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 11:03 a.m.

Kudos to all involved. These projects would be a major upgrade to both buildings and a needed addition to downtown housing options, preserving the scale and feel of the traditional downtown core. Having started the year with 30 condos for sale, currently there are only four condos listed for sale downtown: a small one bedroom on First Street in the converted factory loft building, and three units in Sloan Plaza (immediately next door to what will be a multi-year construction project to build the largest residential building ever built in the downtown core).

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

Interesting about the 30 to four listings. I believe the condos proposed for the Greek church site are already completely reserved, even though it's awaiting approval tonight. There is certainly demand for that kind of living downtown.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 10:32 a.m.

What I like about these is that they preserve the scale of the downtown and upgrade the appearance of the buildings (restoration of the fa├žades). Also, they bring in new housing units for (presumably) long-term downtown residents. It is heartening to see quality developments proposed for the downtown instead of those student luxury dorms. I hope there will be some discussion of where the residents will park.


Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

Forget about parking - people are finding they can do without cars! These buildings are only a half a block from the city's major public transportation hub with a new transit center under construction, are only blocks from Zip cars and have a walkability score of like 95! Get liberated and get free from cars!

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Aug 8, 2013 : 2:26 p.m.

Yes, good point about the parking. It's not included on-site.