University of Michigan's 'future transportation' vision carries real estate implications for Ann Arbor
The University of Michigan realized it had to invest heavily in Ann Arbor’s transportation infrastructure after completing its $108 million acquisition of Ann Arbor’s ex-Pfizer site in 2009.
Now that realization is turning into action.
For mass transit activists like real estate developerÂ Peter Allen, the university’s decision toÂ host a “future transportation” forum WednesdayÂ to discuss alternative transit options for Ann Arbor is encouraging. U-M plans to consider ways to better connect its north, central and medical campuses.
But investing in new transit options for Ann Arbor - perhaps trolleys, aerial tram or light rail - must coincide with a focused real estate development plan serving as a catalyst for economic growth in the region.
University of Michigan's "future transportation" forum
When: 7-9:30 p.m. March 10
Allen, whipping around Ann Arbor on Thursday in his Chrysler minivan while we talked, laid out his vision for using the university’s alternative transportation ambitions to inject life into local real estate development.
Imagine a trolley that runs through U-M’s medical campus, up to north campus, through the Pfizer site, down Plymouth Road and straight to downtown Ann Arbor. This is the tour Allen likes to give.
A system like that creates enormous opportunities for development projects - particularly in the immediate proximity around the transit stops.
“You’ve got to create density and mixed use for two reasons,” Allen said. “One, to pay for it. And two, it’s the right thing to do for Ann Arbor.”
You can hear the cynics already. The university will do what’s right for the university, they’ll say, and if that ultimately benefits Ann Arbor, that’s just a bonus.
Perhaps. But Allen believes the university can’t tackle an expansive transportation infrastructure project without the city’s endorsement. The university, he said, needs a tax increment financing plan to fund the project.
U-M Director of Community Relations Jim Kosteva, who will moderate the transportation panel, said the university is still gathering ideas and is not ready to talk about financing.
“This is an opportunity for the university and interested parties to explore with us and hear with us transportation modalities that are being applied elsewhere around the country and to consider whether or not they might have merit for consideration here in the Ann Arbor community,” Kosteva said.
The university would reap enormous benefits from a groundswell of modern real estate development around the stops associated with a future trolley, aerial tram or intracity rail system.
Imagine the wide eyes of prospective U-M students when they realize they could live in an apartment located directly adjacent to a stop on the university’s aerial tram network. That kind of system could turn an annoying, 20-minute drive-and-park trip from the medical campus to north campus into a 5-minute aerial breeze. (Need a visual? Google “Portland aerial tram.”)
The university needs the city’s cooperation, of course. The city, in turn, needs the university to stop hoarding land and lease it for private development tied to its new transportation system. The ancillary effect: Revenue to fund the transportation system.
“There’s enough density here to make it work,” Allen said. “The university does not have a culture of working with the private sector. Fortunately (U-M President) Mary Sue Coleman is determined to solve this problem in an enlightened way with key stakeholders.”
The university is taking the right steps by engaging national experts on future transportation options to speak at the forum Wednesday.
Will the university fully engage the private sector and local government before polishing its alternative transportation plan?
“How the city and other transportation partners will bring their goals and their objectives into the mix is something that we certainly would anticipate as part of this connector study,” Kosteva said.
Before Wednesday’s panel discussion, Allen wants the experts to hop into his Chrysler and take his tour, which he’s given about 10 times.
“They need to be briefed on the marketplace before they get up in front of that crowd Wednesday night,” Allen said.
Because transportation is a real estate initiative. And “future transportation” will define future real estate.
Contact AnnArbor.com’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter. You can also subscribe to AnnArbor.com Business Review's weekly e-newsletter or the upcoming breaking business news e-newsletter.