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 Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Ypsilanti businesses see more vibrant downtown as lofts bring renters, though challenges remain

By Tom Perkins


Mike and Dawn Gendich pictured in the first floor of their downtown Ypsilanti loft.

Tom Perkins | For

Nearly two years ago, Mike Gendich and his wife, Dawn, decided to move from their suburban Livonia home to a more urban location, but one still close to Gendich’s Canton office.

Dawn grew up in London, and wanted an apartment similar to the flats she lived in before moving to the United States, so the couple began exploring their options. They looked at spaces available in downtown Northville, Ann Arbor and Plymouth, but found the cities a little too stuffy for their tastes.

Then they discovered a loft at the Maurer Management-owned Mack and Mack building on Michigan Avenue in downtown Ypsilanti. The roughly 1,600-square-foot, two-story loft they lease for $1,000 monthly fits their tastes perfectly, as does the downtown.

“We looked at a couple different places, but this had that old-town feel, it has all kinds of flavor, color, all kinds of people — it’s different,” Gendich said. “I was a little hesitant at first, but we moved in and I’m thoroughly pleased that we did so.”

More residents like the Gendiches are calling downtown Ypsilanti home over the past decade, and city officials, merchants and business people all agree it’s a positive trend.

When Maurer Management completes its $2.2 million renovation of the Mellencamp Building at 120-124 W. Michigan Ave., 12 more lofts priced from $800 to $1,000 a month will be on the market.

That will equate to 46 new loft apartments — or 37 percent of downtown’s housing stock — added since 2001, and mean an increased taxable value estimated at more than $2.3 million.

Those figures don’t include smaller apartments that city planner Teresa Gillotti said have been “cleaned up” or undergone smaller scale renovations. Since all loft projects utilized OPRA tax breaks, the city is only collecting taxes from the Flour Mill Building renovated in 2001, and will start collecting from the five other loft buildings over the next decade.

Gillotti said the boost in housing, population and additional traffic that residents bring through downtown helps achieve the vibrancy for which the city is aiming in its "blueprint for downtown," a five-year plan for revitalizing the area City Council adopted in 2008.

“One of the key strategies is making the area into a 24-hour downtown, so people aren’t just coming in, visiting and leaving, but living here all the time,” she said. “When you have people living here as well as people coming in, you have different markets using downtown constantly.”

Still, those renovating in downtown Ypsilanti face some challenges. Landlords who have added the new housing say their units fetch less in rent than they did five or 10 years ago because of the economy. The Maurers have also stated their intent to retire from property renovation, and partly attributed their decision to Ypsilanti's high taxes.

There have also been some challenges retaining businesses.

Most notably, lights remain out at four large nightlife and dining venues along Washington Street, two of which are on the ground level of a Maurer-owned loft building. But Gillotti said their failure was related to a dispute with DTE Energy and other problems, more than it was a question of demand. And she pointed out that the liquor license at Club Divine was the most productive in Washtenaw County while the nightspot was open.

Several merchants who occupy the first floor of the buildings or neighboring spaces to the downtown housing say they benefit to different degrees.

Officials acknowledge some of the attorneys or accounting firms in town might not directly benefit, but others, like Bonnie Penet at Mix, said she regularly talks to residents who live upstairs and shop in her boutique.

"I have a real excitement about the lofts," Penet said. "About once a week we meet people who live in them. They all lead very busy lives, but they will come to an event here, grab a card real quick for a gift or do some shopping. And the hardware store is always highly praised."

Don Britton, co-owner of the Congdon’s Ace Hardware on Pearl Street for 30 years, said downtown has grown more lively in recent years and he talks to more people living nearby.

He said the store has benefited to a degree, but he added that landlords typically take care of the apartments' repairs, so his wares aren’t as much in demand as those of other merchants.

“It’s hard to track, but I’m sure it has helped because there are so many more people who need even small stuff from us,” he said, adding that the Maurers directly help because of the scale of the proximity of their three renovations.

Gendich said he has visited nearly every store and restaurant in downtown since moving there 18 months ago. All the essentials are available, he said, and his only desire is more dining options beyond bar food or Coney Islands.

But he added that Red Rock Barbecue, which will soon open several doors down from his building, is a nice start to resolving that problem.

Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority Director Tim Colbeck also highlighted other benefits to an increased population. Crime traditionally decreases as people move into once-vacant downtown space, he said.

One of the only potential issues he could find was a lack of parking spaces, but he said Ypsilanti isn’t there yet, and he called it a good problem.


Crews are adding a third floor onto two of the buildings at the Mellencamp.

Tom Perkins | For

“Almost universally, there would be no negative impact from an increase in residential units downtown,” he said. “It’s positive for the city, for the DDA, businesses, residents all the events that happen nearby … and in terms of planned economic development principals, this is what we go for.”

One of the challenges facing downtown is its size, Gillotti said, which allows it to have destination stores but not enough storefronts to maintain regular foot traffic. Swisher Commercial Real Estate broker Tony Caprarese regularly lists downtown properties and called the area's progress slow but steady.

He also said the city was supporting its destination businesses, but questioned whether enough people live in the area to fully support a commercial community. He added that Water Street is the type of project that could turn that corner.

“Anytime you can bolster a downtown with more foot traffic and more of a residential population, it’s good for the city,” he said. “Those are people who have demand for certain services that will hopefully attract merchants who want to provide those services. The question is: Is it enough where it’s getting to a point where there’s a critical mass?”

The other benefit that comes the loft is the wealth of those residents leasing the units. The 46 new lofts means significantly more people around downtown who can afford $600 to over $1,000 in monthly rent at the Maurer lofts, for example.

“I think the housing is slightly more upscale,” Gillotti said. “People have been attracted to it — ‘Oh, look this is a cool loft.’”

While the lofts go for more than other smaller apartments in downtown, Bill Kinley, president of the Phoenix Contractors company that renovated the Flour Mill lofts in 2001, reported rents have dropped by roughly one-third since opening. Karen Maurer said the prices in the 200 W. Michigan building have also gone down due to the economy.

But Erik Maurer said their downtown lofts are the most popular units they own, have remained full since opening, and he expects the new units will rent as quickly as their other buildings. While the price is slightly higher than most of Ypsilanti's rental housing stock, it’s also cheaper than neighboring cities' lofts and in a diverse, urban environment

“Our renters' thinking is ‘We want all the amenities and a really nice place to live, but we don’t want to pay Ann Arbor prices,” he said.

Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter for Reach the news desk at 734-623-2530 or



Tue, Jul 26, 2011 : 12:47 a.m.

This article still fails to mention 4 new businesses that are thriving and bringing in business from as far away as Jackson. I am sure it was an oversight but there is 3rd Coast Compassion at Pearl and Hamilton, Crosstown Dispensary at 513 W. Cross St., Herbal Solutions on Michigan Ave and Depot Town Dispensary next to Aubree's. Check out these businesses as well for more information on how CANNABIS CURES CANNABIS CLOTHES CANNABIS FEEDS

leslie leland

Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 5:40 a.m.

As the co-owner of MIX, I can report that it is doing great. I see Ypsilanti as a place of opportunity and potential. For small business owners with an innovative plan and a lot of elbow grease the price is right, among the best in the SE Mi area. AA is a thriving and exciting place, and we lived there for a number of years. MIX draws many customers from there (it's only 6 miles away), and from all over SE MI. Build a good business, and people will come. Viable small businesses ARE slowly taking hold in downtown Ypsilanti and Depot Town. We love that we can get to AA in 15 minutes while enjoying Ypsilanti's lower cost of living (for now), and small town charm....and AA etc., can easily get us too if there is reason to come. Before moving our art studio from AA and then renting an apartment 2 blocks from downtown I hadn't really spent time in Ypsilanti. Now, we're hooked. We love, and choose to live in, the cultural diversity of this architecturally rich little town. Riverside Park is one of the prettiest river parks I've ever seen. I have no idea where the downtown development will all go, but I can assure you that MIX is holding down the corner of Mich. Ave and Washington Street happily and the future looks bright, not only for our business, but the businesses of our friends in the surrounding blocks. There are some amazing new ideas being circulated. Having owned businesses in AA and in Key West, Florida and I have NEVER experienced a more supportive business climate. Fellow business people and customers pull together here. Customers purposely support Ypsilanti businesses. Now we just need a little market with wine and cheese and fruit and flowers and veggies and fresh bread and olives and salami and cupcakes.....for all of us foodies and downtown dwellers. Every neighborhood should have it's own little market, don't you think? P.S. TY T. Perkins for your reports of Y-towns continued development.


Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 12:18 a.m.

After living in Normal Park for 26 years, my husband and I bought a building downtown and are renovating and living in it. Someone should have interviewed us for this story; we have plenty to say! And for the record, we have never felt unsafe downtown. Living there is awesome!

Steve McKeen

Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 1:48 a.m.

It would be great if you'd put your store front to better use rather than just storing junk in the window. Yours is the only unoccupied storefront between Huron and the River.


Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 5:41 p.m.

1000 a month for 2 stories/1600 sq feet in a downtown area is not excessive by any means.

Mr. Burns

Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 1:04 p.m.

Sigh Another non story written by Tom Perkins about the Maurers and Beal...oh wait...Beal isn't mentioned...


Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 1:01 p.m.

The downtown would take off if two things happened. First, somebody would buy out the Deja Vu and change it into a mini Michigan Theater. Second, Michigan Avenue between Huron River and Hamilton is turned into a pedestrian zone and through traffic (especially trucks) is routed around downtown on Spring Street.


Sun, Jul 24, 2011 : 6:43 a.m.

Then only a few tight wad hoity toits would just hob nob a few nights a week as opposed to employing many people every night. Buying them out would be expensive and it ain't no theater as it is a short 2 story building so the ceiling height is very limited. I like the ped zone idea but good luck with the reroute. Academic ideas usually look good on paper then reality sets in...


Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 1:48 p.m.

I like the idea of routing trucks to Spring St, but those hills might not be easy to sedan has trouble staying in place at the light at Prospect...I can only imagine the problem the semis may have if they get stopped at that light.


Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 12:53 p.m.

This is positive news and what the Mauer's are doing is great but the story is written in a "well-meaning" type of way that is typical for downtown Ypsi. You could go back 1-2 years and read how downtown in about the be thriving and how its cool to live there etc etc its the place to be and new bars and restaurants are leading the way .... and businesses continue to fail and public safety is not improved! I love downtown but I will not look thru rose-colored glasses when talking about its future or potential - until it can sustain businesses and attract new businesses the cycle will continue. A positive is people continue to invest and try - but unless they can actually survive downtown will remain a mostly vacant downtown that does not draw the average citizen


Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 11:14 a.m.

Thank goodness most Ann Arborites are too scared to cross Carpenter road--they may discover an alternative to ridiculous rent! Thanks to all the developers who have put time, energy, and capital into improving Ypsilanti. There are positive things happening, and that is great to see.


Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 3:47 a.m.

Hmmm my $525/mos house payment to live smack dab in between A2 & Ypsi (own, not lease) doesn't seem bad at all if others can shell out $600-$1,000 to "borrow" the space for a while!


Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 7:36 p.m.

For 1600 square feet is not bad. Mr. Burns, the 1960s called and also wants to inform you that the Vietnam war ended a long time ago.

Mr. Burns

Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 2:27 p.m.

Since when is $1,000 per month not ridiculous rent?

Linda Peck

Thu, Jul 21, 2011 : 10:31 a.m.

It is wonderful to see downtown Ypsilanti come alive. Now, if someone could clean the sidewalks of the road dirt and slow the traffic down so semis are not careening past you within 2 feet, that would be something!


Fri, Jul 22, 2011 : 12:22 a.m.

There is a large parking lots both north and south of Michigan avenue that provide free parking plus all the side streets have relatively cheap meter parking (75 cents an hour iirc). Or you can walk a couple of blocks and park for free. I do agree some of the merchants need to learn about brooms!