You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

13-story student housing project 'The Varsity' proposed to rival 411 Lofts in downtown Ann Arbor

By Ryan J. Stanton


The Ann Arbor Professional Building, which used to house a pharmacy, has stood at 425 E. Washington St. in downtown Ann Arbor for five decades. It's now the site of a proposed 13-story student housing project called The Varsity. The project would rival 411 Lofts, another project shown at left.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The first downtown development to face the scrutiny of Ann Arbor's new design review process will be a student high-rise proposed for 425 E. Washington St.

Wendy Rampson, the city's planning manager, announced the news at Tuesday night's Planning Commission meeting. She said the city's planning department received preliminary design plans on Friday from a firm based out of Maryland.

"It's called The Varsity and it is a 13-story, 173-unit student housing proposal that would go on a site that fronts on Washington and also on Huron," she said. "The Design Review Board just got approved at council, and so this would be the very first project they take on."

The project is expected to go before the Design Review Board on June 22 where the newly formed board will provide suggestions about design features, relying on the city's new downtown design guidelines. The Ann Arbor City Council took action this week to establish the new process for reviewing the design of proposed downtown developments.

Under the new process, developers are required to submit preliminary design plans to the seven-member Design Review Board, along with an application and fee, prior to applying for site plan approval. The ordinance requires a meeting with the Design Review Board, but implementation of the board's suggestions is merely voluntary.

The ordinance applies to downtown projects that propose to add floor area, are zoned D1, D2 or PUD, and are not in a historic district.

Mayor John Hieftje unveiled the names of the seven members expected to serve on the Design Review Board during Monday's City Council meeting: Tamara Burns, Paul Fontaine, Chester Hill, Mary Jukari, Bill Kinley, Richard Mitchell and Geoffrey Perkins.

The project being called The Varsity would stand next to the Sterling 411 Lofts, another upscale student high-rise built in recent years on Washington Street. The plans for the 0.59-acre site call for a 178,550-square-foot building rising 143 feet tall.

A two-story office building known as the Ann Arbor Professional Building has stood on the site for the past five decades. Rampson said there are a few tenants left in the building but it's mostly vacant. There used to be a pharmacy, but it's gone now.

Records show the project is being proposed by Potomac Holdings of Bethesda, Md., which has an option to purchase on the property. According to media reports, Potomac Holdings currently is working on a 323-bed student apartment project at the University of Baltimore.

Developer and lawyer Michael Concannon of the Concannon Co., 1785 W. Stadium Boulevard, purchased the property at 425 E. Washington in October 2007 for $3.2 million.

By February 2008, Concannon was publicly talking about building an 18-story student housing project on the site, but those plans never came to fruition. It's unclear at this point whether Concannon has any involvement in the latest proposal for the site.

The plans include 77 parking spaces. The developer is proposing a configuration that includes driveways off Huron and Washington to different levels of a parking structure.

Rampson said the city has been dealing with an architect based out of Washington, D.C., but Ann Arbor architect Brad Moore also is representing the developer locally.

Moore could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

"They've provided a full package of renderings and a preliminary layout," Rampson said. "We haven't reviewed any of it yet, so it'll be interesting to see how this all works."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 7:53 p.m.

Within the last couple of years Ann Arbor has had an explosion in new student residential buildings including the Quad, Zaragon 1, Zaragon 2 (under construction) and the proposed 230 unit Packard Mall. The University of Michigan is not increasing enrollment and most of the recent construction have premium leases. When will Ann Arbor achieve saturation for student housing? When will the wealthy student pool that can afford high price rent be exhausted? What happens when a newly constructed residence hall can not fill enough to be profitable? Also as Ann Arbor fills its downtown with towers expect the quaint small town feeling to disappear.... forever.

say it plain

Thu, Jun 9, 2011 : 1:21 a.m.

yep, you got that right, sigh... It will be interesting to see what happens when this newest hot investment/ development vehicle--student housing in university towns, probably one of the last bits of 'easy money' scenes there is, until we finally see the bursting of the college-costs bubble!--ends its run. I think so long as there is developer money chasing ridiculous rents, towns like Ann Arbor will remain appealing. It will change the 'quaint small town' feeling, and it will affect the larger Ann Arbor housing scene, and if all that gets built is housing that only students would live in, it will negatively affect quality of life in the town. But, hey, there will be some new jobs at burger joints, sub shops, and seven-elevens! Let's hope the college kids won't be driving out to the excellent happy hour at Red Robin ;-) and clogging the downtown streets with all their vehicles! And maybe some of those ratty student rental houses will revert back to single-family dwellings and certain neighborhoods will experience a Renaissance of sorts.

Bob Martel

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 7:39 p.m.

It would appear that the fact that 411 Lofts was a financial disaster was not sufficient to prove the point. Now, yet another out of town, starry-eyed developer comes to town to lose his shirt!


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 10:43 p.m.

Not sure how you gathered that. Here's the latest article: <a href=""></a>


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 10:10 p.m.

I had heard it was mostly rented, and also that it was recently sold. Based on that , I thought it was doing ok. Did I miss something here. Please enlighten me.


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 5:16 p.m.

I would think that if you are building 173 units there should be more than 77 parking spaces. Even if these are students many of them have cars. Doesn't the city have minimum requirements for occupied units to have parking spaces? Or is the city hoping to make money by selling monthly parking permits?


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 3:07 p.m.

There was a limit on building height ever since the Tower Plaza (26 floors, 265 ft) blackened our skies and blocked our trees we take such pride in. 180 ft, roughly 16 stories,but still 13 stories is pretty damn tall for so close to beautifully restored Main Street (The Campus Inn is 14 stories). BTW - driveways off Huron and Washington? I can't even figure out how they are going to do that. To give you an idea of height, the tallest downtown structures are 1 North Main at 157 feet and the First National Bank building at 141 feet. North Main, for those who don't know it, is on Main and Huron in a block with no particular historic appearance, it is also a wonderful unique piece of architecture making it interesting to look at. And The First National Building is that beautiful historic piece that they've maintained all these years without plastering a facade over it. It's the one with the clock on the corner. Many of us have looked up at it in the early morning watching the sunrise from behind it. Both The Campus Inn and 1 North Main are located on Huron, a wider street with 4 lanes and the ability to handle heavy traffic flows and as such, don't stand out as unattractive and out of place. Can these architects promise us the same? 173 apartments and 77 parking spots WILL add substantial traffic I think. These are students, so they will be coming and going at all hours. The hotel doesn't fill every spot all the time and very few cars are able to park there. And I feel the condos are more professionals with 9-5 jobs so traffic is mostly during commuter hours. I'm very concerned about some ugly box being thrown up here.


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 2:25 p.m.

On a lighter note, not sure if it's the time of day or the post-production, but this is a rather nice picture to accompany the story, Ryan. Not sure why they have you sitting through those shiftless Commissioner meetings when they could have you out there taking photos.

fight hunger

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

they get anything they want its not fair we need public housing more than they do

David Paris

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 1:38 p.m.

Like djm12652, I too am interested in the DRB's qualifications. I would hope that they are a mix of Architects, Civil Engineers, and Art Historians, because we need to set a course of beautification in this town. Not that they haven't been trying to improve things, but when I go to towns like Plymouth, for example, I have to shake my head while thinking that someone here just doesn't get it. Please DRB, set a new course for the future, one that we can all be proud of!


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 8:51 p.m.

Too bad these experts weren't on hand before the design of Ugly Hall was approved. Had there been at least one diligent architect on hand, perhaps we wouldn't have the muddled mess I look at every day out my window...reminds me of the tin housing you see in 3rd world nations...


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 1:36 p.m.

&quot;Mayor John Hieftje unveiled the names of the seven members expected to serve on the Design Review Board &quot; So what makes these people qualified for this position? Is the Review board a way for the city council to avoid making the tough decisions? Why are the boards suggestions only voluntary? What about the Downtown Development Agency? Why do we have the Ann Arbor Planning Commission? Why do we have soooo many review boards or agency's? Is this business FRIENDLY?


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 1:26 p.m.

Quoting from the article: &quot;Records show the project is being prosed by Potomac Holdings of Bethesda, Md., which has an option to purchase on the property. According to media reports, Potomac Holdings currently is working on a 323-bed student apartment project at the University of Baltimore.&quot; The prose here is first-rate, but I think that's a typo.

Cindy Heflin

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 3:16 p.m.

That's been corrected. Thanks


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

The architectural bar is set pretty low there, isn't it, jammed in next to the Tall-Mall Style Sterling 411 building, and looking across the street at the rear end of jolly old Tally Hall.


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 2:18 p.m.

While the rear end of Tally Hall is just plain ugly, my biggest pet peeve regarding Tally Hall is the bank of elevators jutting out toward Liberty St. which partially blocks views of the iconic Bell Tower and Michigan Theatre sign for pedestrians and drivers headed east on Liberty. Apparently there were no set back rules back then.

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 11:51 a.m.

Tamara Burns, Paul Fontaine, Chester Hill, Mary Jukari, Bill Kinley, Richard Mitchell and Geoffrey Perkins have a grave responsibility to make sure that the new design will lend itself to a Dollars Store.


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 11:36 a.m.

Can the author please give the fields of expertise of the DRB appointees? Will the Village Green project also have to submit to the DRB?


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 8:52 p.m. most humble apologies...I momentarily forgot my place and dared to question the throne...

Wolf's Bane

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 11:53 a.m.

They were appointed by King Hieftje, you do not need to concern yourself with their qualifications... In fact, supply and demand doesn't matter as well.


Wed, Jun 8, 2011 : 10:46 a.m.

To the DRB: The city sure could have used your expertise for their recent construction. Regardless, integrating the Varsity's design with westerly 411 Lofts property should prove interesting. Even more interesting is how long DRB &quot;suggestions&quot; will remain voluntary. . .