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Posted on Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 1:47 p.m.

The Varsity: Demolition begins for 13-story high-rise in downtown Ann Arbor

By Lizzy Alfs


Demolition has started on East Washington Street where The Varsity apartment complex will be constructed in downtown Ann Arbor.

Melanie Maxwell |

Only half of the Ann Arbor Professional Building remains on East Washington Street since demolition began for the 13-story student high-rise development, The Varsity, this week.

The two-story office building at 425 E. Washington St., which housed the former Ann Arbor Prescription Shop is being replaced with a 177,180-square-foot building containing 181 apartments with 415 bedrooms. It’ll be tucked between Sterling 411 Lofts, another student high-rise to the west, and the First Baptist Church.

The project — which won approval from Ann Arbor City Council in November — includes 70 underground parking spaces, a fitness center, a management office and 121 bicycle parking spaces. There will be driveways off both Huron and Washington streets to different levels of the parking structure.

The developer is Potomac Holdings of Bethesda, Md., and Washington D.C.-based WDG Architecture is the senior architect. Brad Moore of Ann Arbor-based J Bradley Moore & Associates is the associate architect for the project. The contractor is Skanska.


An aerial view of the project known as The Varsity, shown in yellow, as viewed from the southeast on Washington Street in downtown Ann Arbor.

Image courtesy of developer

The projected opening date of the high-rise is fall 2013.

The Varsity joins several housing developments under construction or in the planning stages near downtown Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan campus. Among them:

  • Zaragon West on East William Street, City Place on Fifth Avenue and Landmark on South University Avenue all plan to open in fall 2012.
  • The Ann Arbor City Apartments on East Washington Street broke ground in January and is expected to open sometime in 2013.
  • 618 South Main on South Main Street received approval from Ann Arbor Planning Commission in January.
  • Another student development, The Grove, is being proposed off South Maple Road near Pauline Boulevard a few miles away from campus.

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



Thu, Mar 8, 2012 : 12:18 p.m.

Gee 181 units with 70 car parking spaces..the DDA will have a windfall renting off unit parking to the suckers...Oh I forgot we can park 121 bicycles how nice ...I hope it bombs....why not just rehab , for the nth time , the rat hole on the corner of 4th and huron...OZ is ( excuse me ..has ) become a nut case and then some...


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 5:14 p.m.

The sky is falling!


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 5:12 p.m.

I've seen this before; rentles will turn to single family housing like my house of 20 years.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 1:26 p.m.

That is an aerial illustration. A picture of how it exists today would be helpful.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 4:46 a.m.

Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan have been completely (almost insanely) successful in self promotion - plus, there's a new poll out every week showing Ann Arbor or the U of M to be "the top... something." So here's a gigantic success story - which a lot of people here are now complaining about. The rest of Michigan (save for Grand Rapids) is a wreck. What do you want: economic decay or economic success?! MUCH tearing of hair & lamenting over the lack of support for downtown businesses. Yet here are literally a couple thousand new residents downtown - who will need sundries, groceries, etc. Urban sprawl into the countryside is bad: yet some people now bemoan the high rise concentration taking place. WHAT do you want??! Come up with some answers - OR - just stop complaining like neurotics.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 11:56 p.m.

I have nothing against new construction in the proper place, but why does it have to be so ugly? This building will be a disgrace. City Place, now this ... Whatever happened to architecture as an art? We need out city leaders to require some aesthetic standards--this architectural garbage will be standing for decades and make everyone miserable. But then any group of people who could approve of and defend that silly sculpture that stands in front of the city building are capable of anything -- I take it back. There is no hope! So much for Ann Arbor as a sensitive and artistic city. Add to that all the chains that are moving in and soon we will look like Southfield....

Richard Wickboldt

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 11:08 p.m.

Didn't the Mayor and much of the city council indicate they want AA to be high density? So don't be so surprised when these high rise buildings go up. I moved away from NYC where I was born, to get away from high density and mad house living. Guess I made a mistake coming here. I'll just move out to the Green Belt area and get paid by AA not to build a high rise; but trees. Oh yeah and recoup some of my tax money.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 2:33 a.m.

it's not even high density for AA-that's a catch phrase. It's housing for well off college students who are in significant numbers NOT from Michigan or even the Midwest-this is not an Ann Arbor housing density paradigm thoughtfully and methodically improving the city. It remains to be seen what this is doing to"Ann Arbor". It is a gamble-heard that before?


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 10:54 p.m.

Is it just me or was I totally confused as to which 13 story building was being demolished? That's what I got from the headline. Oh, now I get it, but for a second I did wonder why they were going to tear down the building in the picture.

David Paris

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 : 5:47 p.m.

What's so confusing about demolishing a building that may be built in the future? Once they construct the two-story building in the picture, I'm sure everything will fall into place! Nice job,

Tom Joad

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 10:07 p.m.

There goes an entire wall of views from the adjacent building...just like living in Manhattan.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 10:43 p.m.

Ann Arbor is so progressive thinkng: the students are getting experience living densely/vertically/paying hugely. Good practice for living in large Asian cities where a job can be had. The locals here are left with ugly rectangular buildings, wind tunnels and coffee shops.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 9:37 p.m.

IF, (a big if) they have to lower the rent in the student ghetto. There will still be a good supply of smart students who will want to remain closer to the athletic facilities and would gladly take advantage of the lower rents to A.) reduce the amount of student loans they are receiving and/or B.) have more beer money


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8:52 p.m.

Where did the lab and Doctor's offices go, or where are they going? How did they keep this under wraps, do patients and residents have no say?


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

That building has been empty for about a year.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8:02 p.m.

more likely is that the historic homes in the Kerrytown neighborhood will revert back to single family occupancy.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

And....the rent will be paid on time....guaranteed. ( by govt.)


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

Not sure if they will become a ghetto, but these property owners of older housing stock will either have to lower the rent to compete ( Just check out the rates of on-campus area housing ) or up grade the buildings. After years of student abuse of the buildings, this may be not be economical. So what will they do........? Turn them into sec 8 housing, where the govt. will pay the market rate and tenants are not as vocal about the quality of housing stock. This is already happening as newer apartment community's/condo's are built and older communities have high vacancies. Perfect example: Westwood Apt's on Liberty, after condo were built next door it now allows sec 8 housing. NO WAY am I saying anything about sec 8 tenants, its just what may/will happen. So,there you go.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 2:31 a.m.

"NO WAY am I saying anything about sec 8 tenants." Well, I'll say something about sec8. Six years ago sec8 tenants destroyed the house across the street from me. And I mean totally destroyed. Also all night long a major racket came from the house and front porch such that the police had to be called almost every night. And I mean 3 or 4 in the morning!!!! This went on for several months until somehow or other they finally left leaving the house in a shambles virtually unlivable.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

had this happen in a house I lived in for many years - the landlord didn't even notify us he was doing this - nothing but problems with the section 8 tenants/neighbors - drugs, fights, hookers, lapsed mental illness treatment - good neighbors abandoned their leases months early and refused to pay the landlord - he managed to unload the house to a family who converted it back to a single family residence, but he complained all the way about the money he lost


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 7:32 p.m.

It is clear that a lot of old houses in A2 are in need of physical improvements--many houses just break down over time and the slumlords, er uh landlords just do not take care of the houses well (but in fairness, the student drunkenness and lack of concern contributes to a lot of premature house breakdown). The high rises are showing a need for new up-to-date and modern housing, but my fear is that the prices will continue to rise above the current barely affordable rates. The student population has risen in number so there is a demand, but I fear that New York type rents are shortly to follow.

Joe Kidd

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 10:08 p.m.

Right. And when landlords try to tear down old dilapidated houses they have to fight claims of "historic district" i.e. "Germantown."


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8:46 p.m.

When you bring in New York Type People you will attract New York Type rents. Woe to the Flyover Farmers stuck here in cowpoke AA.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 7:22 p.m.

Yeah. Having affordable housing in a city lets the riff-raff in. I like to think that Ann Arbor isn't the kind of place to adopt that kind of country club exclusionary attitude. I am really into that sort of self delusion.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 7:11 p.m.

when all of these new student housing buildings are up ; the student ghetto will be replaced by a real ghetto. The people who own these small student units will be forced to rent them to whoever is looking for space .Beware city council you will be looking to double the police department.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 9:35 p.m.

IF, (a big if) they have to lower the rent. There will still be a good supply of smart students who will want to remain closer to the athletic facilities and would gladly take advantage of the lower rents to A.) reduce the amount of student loans they are receiving and/or B.) have more beer money


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8:45 p.m.

I dunno. A lot of those houses have good bones and nice detailed work inside. They could be rehabbed and sold for a tidy sum to the landed gentry.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8:24 p.m.

Perhaps the homes will be sold.