Redevelopment on West Cross signals tremendous change for Ypsilanti corridor
Some real estate deals turn into game-changers.
That’s one of the reasons that covering real estate and all of its moving dynamics keeps me both entertained and engaged. I get to come to work on a daily basis and find out what kinds of investment, opportunity and creativity happen behind the buildings and property in our community.
Among many of those successes, some deals immediately stand out. Last week, I had one of those experiences.
The deal is the purchase of the former “Campus Drugs” building on West Cross Street in Ypsilanti.
The seller was the family of Ted Tangalakis, who owned the property for decades and operated his pharmacy from it for most of that time.
The buyer is O’Neal Inc., the Ann Arbor construction company that also redeveloped Kerrytown, creating a retail hub for that interesting, historical district on the north edge of Ann Arbor’s downtown.
The plans for the building: Full restoration to capitalize on the historical feel but with new, updated fixtures. The result will create at least 3 storefronts - one likely with outdoor seating and more streetside visibility - and modern housing upstairs, replacing some dated efficiencies.
The plan suits the building, which sits at the edge of the Eastern Michigan University campus.
It also suits the market: With so many students nearby, the updated apartments will elevate its portion of the student housing stock.
And giving retailers new, high-profile space to find their niche adjacent to the campus-oriented area adds a new element to the city’s commercial real estate market.
Lastly, the O’Neal company has both the capital and experience to make the project valuable and viable to their portfolio and the community. That can’t always be said about new projects.
So while on the surface, this seems like a simple building restoration, the implications for what it will mean for this street are huge.
And the fact that Ypsilanti has struggled to find improvements on this stretch of road for some time adds to its importance.
This year, more than $1 million will be spent on the corridor, creating a “streetscape” that helps unify the blocks from the Water Tower to Depot Town. Trees, crosswalks and seasonal elements like holiday lighting all are coming to Cross Street this year.
Another $30,000 is available for faÃ§ade grants, including $10,000 already earmarked for O’Neal’s project.
And the city, Washtenaw County and Eastern Michigan University all have elevated the corridor’s place on their priority lists for attention and improvement.
O’Neal’s effort toward renovating the building fits perfectly into the plans for the Cross Street corridor, said Tim Colbeck, the city’s Downtown Development Authority director.
“This is going to be a big year for it,” Colbeck said of Cross Street.
There has been private and public investment in recent years toward that. Barnes & Barnes, a commercial real estate company, makes its home on the corridor and has fixed up multiple properties - especially after crime became a heightened concern there several years ago.
And EMU made improvements to the Pease Auditorium area, due in part to the belief that it’s an anchor for the street’s image as well as retailers.
Now, with O’Neal’s purchase in the mix, the building at 735 E. Cross stands ready to tip the entire corridor toward improvement.
That’s no small order for a street that for years has functioned well under its potential, considering its place next to one of the state’s largest universities.
Colbeck said the street’s stakeholders continue to aim for more improvements. One could be the restoration of two-way traffic to Cross Street, a proposal that hinges on state Department of Transportation approvals.
There’s also support for investors. But in the end, there’s really only so much that a municipality can do to spur private development.
That’s why the level of the O’Neal investment - about $530,000 for the property and an undetermined amount for the construction - stands out.
As Andrew O’Neal and his team forge their own goals for their new property, they’re also setting an example for what kinds of opportunities private investors can find outside of Washtenaw County’s established high-rent districts.
Their investments into these areas give the backers of these areas, like West Cross Street, tangible hopes for the future.
As Colbeck says, “There’s a lot of room for growth there By next fall, it’ll look a whole world different.”