What the Thompson Block fire means to Depot Town
When any building catches fire, people feel it. A building can hold memories, treasured items and bring a sense of stability. Buildings can be landmarks, and be the visual icon of a community.
There was nothing of value inside the Thompson Block building. It was abandoned and cleaned out for the construction that was scheduled to take place. There weren't many treasured memories of the building, other than it being empty, eroding and the cause of a lot of city headaches over the past ten years. So what exactly burned down when the building caught fire in the early hours of Wednesday morning?
Hope for a community on the rebound.
For as long as I've lived here in Ypsilanti, I've loved going down to Depot Town. Many people and entrepreneurs have seen Michigan Avenue as the piece of Ypsilanti where business would grow and revitalize the city, but personally, Depot Town always seemed like the promised land. Iconic buildings, tons of history, and a layout that lends itself to the type of niche businesses and restaurants that draw people into a downtown area.
In the past few years, things were starting to happen. The failing economic climate was a blessing in disguise in some ways. It forced some of the businesses out that were taking up valuable space and hadn't been drawing anyone downtown. The low prices on real estate allowed for the new, younger, artists and entrepreneurs that were moving into Ypsi to have a place to land.
New businesses like tattoo parlors, sandwich shops and even a vintage motorcycle shop moved in. People came back to Ypsi, and they came back to Depot Town. All the while, everyone in the area knew that something bigger was coming, because the Thompson Block project was finally happening. Add that to the announcement that the railroad would once again be stopping in Depot Town, and local businesses had a lot to look forward to in the coming years.
There was the hope. There was the feeling of optimism that you got from every business owner you spoke to. Some business owners that I talked to were already planning their move to the Thompson Block. The idea of having office space, bars, and store fronts in an area that is blossoming is exciting. The idea of those spaces being started by the emerging young population of the city was even more exciting. This meant that the businesses would be in Depot Town for the long haul.
Where does that leave us now? Will the Thompson Block be able to be repaired by the time the railway runs again? Will this put a stop to the growth of the Depot Town region? We'll start to sort through the pieces in the next few weeks and the picture will hopefully get a little clearer. There is one thing that I do know though, Ypsilanti is town that is growing and building, and I don't think that a fire will hold it down. Stewart Beal has put a lot of work into this project, and I have faith that he and his investors will keep working until this project is done.
There's still hope on the Thompson Block.
Kyle Stuef is a marketing consultant who blogs on Internet/technology trends, and being a young professional in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor for The Deuce and AnnArbor.com
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