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Posted on Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Conceptual plan emerges for greenway park at 721 N. Main in Ann Arbor

By Ryan J. Stanton

A conceptual vision is emerging for how the city of Ann Arbor might transform a blighted property it owns at 721 N. Main into a greenway anchor park.

The city's North Main-Huron River Corridor Vision Task Force, which was formed by the Ann Arbor City Council back in May, has been meeting regularly for months and is getting ready to offer its recommendations for future reuse of the former city maintenance yard as public open space.

"It's been a lot of hard work," said Sumedh Bahl, the city's community services administrator, who is working with the task force on the project. "This thing has moved really fast."

At a community meeting this past week, the fruits of the task force's labor — including a detailed site plan — were presented to interested residents. The site plan shows a mix of trails and open space designed to link with the nearby Border-to-Border Trail and the future Allen Creek Greenway.


This conceptual site plan has emerged for the blighted 721 N. Main site in Ann Arbor, which the city hopes to transform into a greenway anchor park.

City of Ann Arbor

The property rests behind the Ann Arbor Community Center on the west side of North Main between Felch and Summit streets.

About half the 5.1-acre site is in a floodway. Two buildings on the flood-prone half of the site would be demolished to create a stormwater zone surrounded by lawn and prairie areas.

The city's large fleet services garage on the other half of the site would remain in place for the near term while the city explores the building's future re-use. A compressed natural gas fueling station near the back corner of the site along Summit would be removed.

The plans also show a spot where some kind of amenity could go. Suggested ideas include a dog park, community garden, a sustainability demonstration or some kind of performance stage venue or shared art space.

The bigger-picture plan shows the site, including a 22-space parking lot, integrated with the nearby Water Hill neighborhood via Summit Street and both Bluffs Park and Argo Park.

And if the Allen Creek Greenway is developed as planned, likely years into the future, there could be a green walking and biking pathway along the Ann Arbor Railroad right-of-way connecting the 721 N. Main site to two other greenway anchor parks at 415 W. Washington and First and William.

The city is considering applying for two grants to help fund the vision for 721 N. Main. Applications for grant funding through the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission's Connecting Communities program are due by the end of December, and applications for grant funding from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund are due in April.

Those funds would be in addition to Federal Emergency Management Agency grant funds city officials hope to use to pay for demolition of the two buildings in the floodway.

Bahl stressed the site plan is merely a concept and more work remains to determine if there's consensus. The task force will meet Wednesday and must submit its recommendations for 721 N. Main to the City Council by Dec. 31.

As for how to create a safe option for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross Main Street to get to Argo Park and the Border-To-Border Trail, Bahl said that needs to be explored further. The task force has until July 31 to deliver its broader recommendations for the corridor to the City Council.


About half the 721 N. Main site is in the floodway.

City of Ann Arbor

Julie Grand, chair of the city's Park Advisory Commission, has served on both the task force and the 721 N. Main Technical Committee that worked out the details of those plans. She said there have been positive talks about integrating the site with the adjacent Community Center.

"I think the one thing I'm happy about is the neighborhood seems pretty enthusiastic about the plans the way it's shaping up," Grand said. "The other piece that has made me personally more enthusiastic about the project is the potential for involvement with the Community Center."

Grand said it will be important to activate the site and have more eyes on it, and partnering with the Community Center will help with that. She said the Community Center, which has children at its summer camp all summer long, might be able to put in some garden spaces.

"I like that potential for partnership," she said. "They would just be so happy to have anything other than a parking lot adjacent to their property."

Grand said she's not sure how much the 721 N. Main vision might cost. She said the city could apply for as much as $300,000 from the Natural Resources Trust Fund, but that would require another $300,000 in matching funds, and a county parks grant could count toward that.

Jerry Hancock, Ann Arbor's stormwater and floodplain programs coordinator, said a $116,000 project to demolish the large vehicle storage and salt storage buildings on the site could happen in the spring, and the city's share of the cost is expected to be about $29,000.

He said FEMA has not issued the grant paperwork yet, so he didn't have a certain timeframe for the demolition, but he's hopeful it can happen sometime between April and June.

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 email newsletters.


Roger Kuhlman

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 9:53 p.m.

Okay let's get real about the basically very mediocre environmental benefits of these plans to redevelop the City 721 North Main property. There are no natural habitats and natural areas on this site to conserve and the area's natural environnment was obliterated years and years ago. Why waste scarce environmental dollars and Ann Arbor taxpayer money here on what is sure to be a very expensive redevelopment project. The City should secure the site for safety reasons and do no more.


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 1:41 p.m.

Mr. Glen Thompson's observations below are partially correct. As the former Land Development Coordinator (Jerry Hancock's old job) and Park Planner with the city, I agree that moving stormwater out of the floodway might be more appropriate, but given the trend toward more frequent and intensive storm events, the entire watershed needs to be carefully studied to determine what the best approach would be. If nothing else, replacing impervious surface here would help infiltration rates. Unfortunately, this location is not a good site for the skate park as it needs good access and parking, plus additional amenities to serve kids and families, which are already available at Vets. The additional imprevious surface area at Vets should be compensated for with additional stormwater detention on site - if not, then the city is not folowing its own regulations, which is totally inappropriate.

Unusual Suspect

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

Will there be giant carp in the ponds?

Seasoned Cit

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 5:18 a.m.

I expect all the folks who complain about the UM not paying any property tax, will also complain about this plan for another park which will only require more park maintenance funds as well as dollars to buy property (which is generating tax income) . Hey I like to dream. but I know you're not allowed to say anything bad about parks, after all.. that's what you ask the city to do with property that might be developed in your back yard.

Basic Bob

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 4:54 a.m.

The environmental assessment for the property sheds some light on this project. For beginners: 2.1 Previous Property Owners There are no property transfer records for the subject property. As stated in the City Directory, the City of Ann Arbor Fleet Services and city garage has occupied the buildings on the subject property since they were built in the 1920s. From 1932 to 2011 the subject property was listed as the following: - Ann Arbor City Municipal Garage; - City Street Department Fleet Services; - City Department of Public Works; - City Yards for Street Sewer Refuse and Garage; - City Traffic Street Maintenance; and - City Waste Field and Ann Arbor Recycling and Solid Waste. This is not the city cleaning up blight left by previous occupants, and it is not a new park. It is an environmental catastrophe that the city has developed over the last hundred years. While I applaud them cleaning up their own mess, they need to also acknowledge who created it. Cleaning up your own toxic waste is not green.

Vince Caruso

Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 10:34 p.m.

Discussed at the various 721 meetings was the fact that the floodplain map for the Allen's Creek watershed is poorly understood. The maps are 'very loosely calibrated' on the 1968 flood (city staff and consultant who did the mapping). Leaving the building that is up against the floodway (the blue lines) is ill advised and should be removed for safety sake. Obstructing the floodway (which the building is most likely in) will needlessly cause more flooding upstream of homes and businesses and unsuspecting occupants of the building could be at great risk. A Greenway for this site makes the most sense and is how many Michigan city's are converting floodplain lands in a environmentally and economically sound planning practice. We have had several cases of very costly mistakes trying to build in and near the floodplain in Ann Arbor, even before Climate Change was considered as is now. Lessons need to be learned or a great price will be paid in life and property damage. At a recent City and UM Climate Change Discussion in March the UM Professor of Planning stated clearly - "don't build in the floodplain!'. The Mayor was also on the panel of speakers. I hope he was listening.

Roger Kuhlman

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 10:05 p.m.

You don't build in a floodplain but how many of you people who want a Greenway in downtown Ann Arbor and along Allen Creek were opposed to the federal government sending down billions and billions of dollars to New Orleans to rebuild the city after Katrina? New Orleans is probably the environmentally worst case of building in the flood plain in America. Double standards anyone?

Roger Kuhlman

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 9:58 p.m.

You better believe there is a hidden agenda. It is called NIMBYism.


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 2:37 a.m.

our "mayor" has been for the "greenway" since the beginning. I am all for parks and green space, but the spaces they have always floated have seemed very strange. I also see that there is a "hypothetical" conceptual greenway along allen creek on this plan. I suspect there is some sort of hidden agenda involved in this.


Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 9:45 p.m.

Looks great! I can hardly wait for this to become a reality.

Eat Local A2

Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 9:10 p.m.

So Ryan's posting of his own story from last year talks about the city finally getting serious last year about a ten year old idea, but didn't really ask the tough question, which is how does a city get away with subjecting residents to ongoing flood risks while instead spending taxpayer money on flooding silly sculptures with water? Open spaces, parks, greenway, whatever you want to call it, the PRIMARY reason for configuring this land use is not for that but rather for stormwater management and flood mitigation. Rather than getting serious about a solid plan for the land that handles the water and provides basic open spaces with local dollars, the City of Ann Arbor makes the problem bigger than it needs to be, foments the fake crises, and thus passively insists on some other entity bearing the cost of their core function. That's why the last decade was frittered away on this. One could have bought a lot of regrading for the price of that fickle water sculpture.


Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 6:53 p.m.

Remind us Ryan - what is a "green way" and why does Ann Arbor need one?

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 8:23 p.m.

Here's a past story:

Tom Joad

Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 6:34 p.m.

How about placing a pedestrian bridge over the railroad track from Main to the Argo Dam. As it is now you have to walk further down to get on the paved trail in order to avoid trespassing on railroad property to cross the railroad tracks.

Eat Local A2

Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 6:20 p.m.

It is interesting to note Ryan's unique use of the word blighted within the article, which is not supported by other comments or statements within the plans. This puts a false veneer on the story in support of a larger government project, without supportive facts. I'm not seeing anything here to suggest this is a Superfund site! Seems to me the overspenders in government have the dog whistles and the lapdog press take their cues well. Thankfully the people are smarter than that.

Eat Local A2

Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 6:11 p.m.

The real issues here are those of any property owner: what does the owner need from the property, and how do they deal with their responsibility regarding drainage. Apparently whatever business and operations functions are happening now on the property are not critical, since there is no talk of any reconstruction except hypothetically in the future. So the sole present issue is the responsibility for drainage. Having some open space for public use would be a plus on top of that, but note the ACTIVE 'development' (development by government, their use of the term) which does not provide the least costly solution to get the basic job done in these economically challenging times. Moreover, as another commenter noted, where is the consideration of this particular issue of stormwater drainage within the larger context of those needs throughout the city. The fact is, that by chunking these projects into small pieces, with the trails/greenway dream held out as the ultimate long-term goal, it allows the city to divert attention from getting the basic job done on their own budget and skirt any debate on their overall stewardship of taxpayer dollars and the scope of city government. And since the greenway couldn't possibly be finished on the city's budget in a few years, of course there is the need to go out seeking grants--which again gets us away from the basic question of what the city is doing to meet their responsibility for providing the core services of local government in a cost-effective manner. In some ways this is no different from the framing of the Stadium bridge issue as a special project of sorts, when in fact it slowly fell apart on the city's watch. That way of looking at it diverted the narrative away from their steadfast refusal to accept and plan for its maintenance and ultimate replacement as a core function of why they exist.


Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 11:01 p.m.

Master plans can take decades to implement, and therefore improvements are "chunked into small pieces" as the timing is appropriate to redevelop particular sections. A town that does not attempt to evolve will end up antiquated and undesirable.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

In case anyone wants a closer look at what was presented at Wednesday night's community meeting on 721 N. Main, here's a link to the presentation:

Soulful Adrenaline

Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 7:44 p.m.



Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 4:25 p.m.

I am not familiar with this site, but would have concerns with a dog park located either near a floodplain or adjacent to a major water body (Huron River or tributary). Fecal coliform contamination is a huge issue in waterways passing through urban areas. Since not all dog owners pick up their pet waste, this can be a significant source of contamination. Will this pose a problem at this site? - if so, I hope they can find another dog-friendly place in town that wouldn't potentially impact river water quality.

glenn thompson

Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 1:56 p.m.

This demonstrates some of the problems when our city management considers individual parcels and does not have the foresight to consider the city as a system. The 721 design seems to show a depression in the center of the floodway portion, but this is not a logical location to attempt to store stormwater. The floodway, especially near the river should be design to enhance flow to the river to reduce upstream flooding. Stormwater storage should occur upstream where, if the water is retained, the flood can be prevented or reduced. Yet our Parks department proposes exactly the opposite. More land is being made impervious in Vet's Park with the expansion of the ball fields and the proposed skate park. This is the western area of the Allen Creek watershed and will exacerbate future flooding. A preferred solution is obvious. Put the skate park at 721 and design some of the features to act as a channel to increase floodwater flow to the river. Stop over developing Vet's Park and use it as an engineer stormwater control system where acre feet of water could be retained.

Soulful Adrenaline

Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 8:55 p.m.

What would you do?


Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

There is no attempt to store storm water. Nor is day lighting the creek possible. This article failed to explain that.

Susan Montgomery

Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.

Nice! I appreciate the task force's vision and efforts.


Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 12:21 p.m.

oh good, another park.....can't have enough of those.....


Mon, Dec 3, 2012 : 12:18 p.m.

Let's see what the recent record is: bunches of new skyscrapers for students (around Campus) or young professionals (the old Fox Tent property) or the 100% build-out around Briarwood vs. how many new parks?


Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.

No...I'd rather have a 17-story high rise for students.


Sun, Dec 2, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

I agree with your words, though I suspect you are being sarcastic.