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Posted on Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 10:38 a.m.

What the Thompson Block fire means to Depot Town

By Kyle Stuef


What the Thompson Block Project was intended to look like upon completion.

Thompson Block Project

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

He can be reached at:



Kyle Stuef

Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 6:55 a.m.

@GlimmerTwin: I know how you feel, I've seen proposals and plans come in and out of this building more times than I could count, and I haven't been here as long as you have. Beal seemed to really be the one to take charge and make things happen this time. I wish I had an answer on the loft situation, but I don't have any idea, sorry.


Thu, Sep 24, 2009 : 4:07 a.m.

I've been in the area 14 years - just how long is a project supposed to be in the planning stage? What happened to the lofts planned in that building? We know of a couple that put a deposit down for one of the lofts long, long ago. Nothing. Too bad the building burned, but one has to wonder if anything positive really was going to ever happen to it.

The Picker

Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 6:52 p.m.

The last few times I've driven by, someone had pried the boards off of a few windows. With poor security and a low activity level, it was bound to happen


Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 6:46 p.m.

The link in this story that is supposed to lead to the original fire story is pointing to the wrong page or article. It is connecting to a post about racism in the schools. Someone needs to correct the information imbedded in the link. Thanks.

Mike Ambs

Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 3:47 p.m.

Great post Kyle - I always love reading your stuff here.

Kyle Stuef

Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 3:03 p.m.

Thanks for the update Cindy


Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 2:16 p.m.

T-Block will rise again!!

Pat Mueller

Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 1:43 p.m.

I'm left wondering if this building burned just this morning? Is this a news story? There seems to be information that is missing from the story or should I know where the Thompson Block is? Can you fill in the gaps with a future story? Ypsilanti's Depot Town is very familiar to me, but I have NO idea where the Thompson Block is located.. a map maybe? Thanks.

Kyle Stuef

Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 1:38 p.m.

@Michael Combs: Totally agreed. The financial crisis, in most cases, did more harm then good. I just like to focus on the positive :)

Mike Combs

Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 1:34 p.m.

Sounds like someone could have been an Urban Planner...;-) Ypsi will rise again! The financial crisis however did cause much more harm than help. There were a lot of great development projects in the pipeline for Depot Town that lost capital funding as a result of the mortgage meltdown. Not to mention the Real Estate market killed a lot of leasing opportunities and pushed a lot of would be residents out of downtown. Sad story, but with time those opportunities will come again.

Ric the Ruler

Wed, Sep 23, 2009 : 12:22 p.m.

It seems like that building is in perpetual renovation! It is/was a cool old building, that will hopefully see a new day.