Washtenaw Avenue retail center near Arborland, US-23 eyed for $3M in upgrades
Damian Farrell Design Group| For AnnArbor.com
The first phase of the work calls for adding two storefronts to the former Frank’s Nursery outdoor sales center on the far east side of the property, while redoing the exterior of the Dollar Tree, which now occupies the existing adjacent building.
One retailer is negotiating to open in one space, and the other will be available for lease, said Damian Farrell, the architect who represents owner Duane Renken in the effort. The space totals 8,977 square feet.
Phase 2 will include adding nearly 14,000 square feet of retail space to “join” the gaps between other buildings in the center, located on the south side of Washtenaw between Pittsfield and Yost boulevards, across from Arborland Mall and about a quarter mile from the US-23 intersection.
Tenants in those stores include Casual Male Big & Tall, Mattress World and destination specialty stores. Work on Phase 2 has no timetable yet, Farrell said.
“Hopefully, at the end of the day, we’ll end up with a more cohesive looking building,” Farrell said of the structures built separately in the 1950s or 1960s, according to city records. “ That’s going to enhance the corridor.”
The property is among the last significant retail holdings on the corridor to escape upgrades since Arborland’s redevelopment a decade ago drove rental rates into the top tier of the city’s retail locations.
Since 2003, the corridor has seen Huron Village built at the corner of Huron Parkway, and smaller infill projects - both multi-tenant and single occupants, like McDonalds - on both the north and south sides of Washtenaw. The latest is the rebuilding of a Marathon gas station directly north of the center.
At the same time, traffic counts remain high - in part due to the corridor’s role as a connector between US-23 and downtown Ann Arbor - and county officials are finalizing a study called “Reimagining Washtenaw Avenue” that could end up promoting a corridor improvement authority for the road from Ann Arbor into Ypsilanti.
Properties like Renken’s retail center have been cited as examples of redevelopment opportunities to make the corridor more inviting with higher-density uses and friendly to more transportation options.
Other properties on the south side of Washtenaw to the west also have not been a part of the wave of significant upgrades in recent years, and a 7.2 acre parcel once planned for Huron Village South recently was purchased out of foreclosure, but the new owners haven’t disclosed plans for it.
Meanwhile, Renken’s center also abuts a city-owned paved right of way located between the parking lot and Washtenaw, which adds to what many describe as a “sea of asphalt” in front of the retail stores.
The improvements proposed to the center seek to trim the number of parking spaces by adding new storm water management in the form of “bioswales,” or treed islands at multiple intervals in the existing parking lot.
“It will be a very well-treed site and a very green site,” Farrell said.
The treed parking islands will be 15 feet wide and will include four to six trees on each, as well as additional shrubbery and other landscaping, Farrell said.
The bioswales also will perform a function: storm water retention without the need for underground tanks.
“(They) basically will act as basins,” said Matt Kowalski, city planner assigned to the project.
The extra room in the parking lot allows for the space for the bioswales while still retaining 255 parking space - 16 of which are barrier-free - compared to the 227 now required under city ordinance.
In addition to the parking lot reconfiguration to add the green “islands” amid the parking spaces, Renken also is seeking to remove the asphalt paving from the city’s right-of -way next to Washtenaw, replacing it with grass.
“It’s a big upgrade,” Kowalski said, nothing that the parking lot has no landscaping today, and there’s no storm water management on the site.
The property totals just under 6 acres. Today it’s made up of five separate tax parcels with a combined assessed value of $3,253,400.
Renken purchased the property from the Oscar Haab Trust in 1990, according to city records. The sale price was not recorded.
However, the property has an estimated market value of about $6.5 million, based on the assessments.
Kowalski said the site plans are likely to go in front of the city’s Planning Commission in November, then will head to City Council.