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Posted on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor moves ahead with study to determine future re-use of 721 N. Main buildings

By Ryan J. Stanton


A view of the buildings that stand at 721 N. Main looking from the Summit Street side of the property. Council Member Sabra Briere clarified the large garage structure shown here, which is being considered for re-use, is actually two buildings. One is older — and behind — the building visible from North Main. They are linked internally, she said, but each could stand alone.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The city of Ann Arbor is moving ahead with a structural and environmental assessment of masonry buildings at 721 N. Main where the city wants to develop a greenway park.

The Ann Arbor City Council voted 9-0 this week to spend $30,000 from the city's general fund cash reserves to complete the assessment — with the stipulation that a report on its findings is due to the city's Main Street Huron River Corridor Vision Task Force no later than May 31.

The City Council appointed the task force last May. One of its tasks is to provide recommendations for the future re-use of the former city maintenance yard at 721 N. Main.

Allen Creek runs through the site and creates a floodway covering about 2.5 acres, or roughly half the 5.1-acre property.


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 task force has recommended the floodway portion be developed to include walking and biking paths to form the first component of a larger greenway.

Two buildings on the flood-prone half of the site would be demolished as part of that plan.

But the task force is still investigating potential uses for the non-floodway area, where a large fleet services garage stands. The task force thinks it could be reused.

Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, said there is no way to know the full extent of the environmental issues that rest within that structure without further study.

"It was used as a garage. We know there's asbestos," she said. "Those are just the minimum things we know. But the (task force) really believes that before determining a building should be demolished, we should explore as much as possible what it would cost to make it usable again."

Briere clarified the large garage structure is actually two buildings. One is older — and behind — the building visible from North Main. They are internally linked, she said, but each could stand alone.

The task force has until July 31 to provide its final recommendations to council, including suggestions for the future use of the non-floodway portions of 721 N. Main.

Briere pointed out the City Council also took action in December to spend an additional $32,583 — on top of the already budgeted $50,000 — for work related to 415 W. Washington, another city property where an old warehouse-style garage continues to deteriorate.

The city entered into a $44,498 contract with Tetra Tech GEO for environmental investigation work and a $26,935 contract with Rueter & Associates Architects for historic structure assessment at 415 W. Washington, where the city has plans for a second greenway park.

Mayor John Hieftje said he's toured the building at 721 N. Main and it's not fit for habitation or another use at the moment. He said asbestos is visible, so doing an assessment makes sense.

Council Member Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, said the work being done at 721 N. Main is part of a long-term desire to look more closely at the flood areas of the city.

"I'm pleased with the groups that joined in to get this effort done," he said. "It's a long, difficult process, and it's interesting how community sentiment for it developed slowly through years and years. I guess that's the way government works … but it's good we're here now."

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.


Fred Pettit

Wed, Mar 20, 2013 : 7:57 p.m.

The University of Michigan continues to buy land in Ann Arbor which leads to less property tax for the City of Ann Arbor. How much did the city lose in taxes when Pfizer decided to take it's business elsewhere and the land sold to UofM? (Thanks for that one Mr. Mayor.) I wonder what the increase in taxable value was when First Martin Corp. developed the land to the west of the train station on Depot (which is in the flood plain)? I like green space also but how well utilized will this park be when there is already a park on Depot and Fourth? AND it's possible to develop this land with green areas to make it an appealing part of our northern entrance. Another point is why does the city want to remove the natural gas distribution center located on the property? Natural gas is a cleaner fuel than diesel or gas. Why not develop that as a distribution center and encourage people that use their vehicles mainly for around town to convert nat gas? Forget about bio fuels which are heavily subsidized and driving up the prices of grains. If you want bio fuels, produce them from something that is not used as a food product as Brazil does.


Sat, Feb 23, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Kay, It is YOUR assumptions that make it look silly. Did I say I was there after every rain? No. I was there after every really BIG rain which sometimes are 4,5,or more years apart. Did I say it NEVER flooded? NO. I said I had never seen it flood and was asking if anyone has seen it flood. The silliness lies with you and your silly assumptions and not my comment.


Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 5:53 a.m.

Your welcome, Were you there for the full time that the flood lasted? I didn't think so. Maybe that is why you didn't see me. What do I look like? Male of Female, Black of White? More silliness, especially since no part of the area surrounding Felch and North Main has ever floddede more than 3 ft.

Vince Caruso

Sat, Feb 23, 2013 : 3:07 a.m.

The building not being torn down is up against and small parts in the drawn floodway map. At one of the tours of the site the staff said in agreement to a question raised that the Allen's Creek floodplain map is very loosely based on 1968 flood elevation data measured on buildings! This building, like the others coming down, is very likely well into the floodway we just don't have a meaningful study to show it. One has to ask do we really want to put unsuspecting people in harms way. Buildings come down in floods that are in the floodway. A watershed study would greatly help this type of planning. It is way overdue and considering the consequences is not ethical to continue without doing it. This is what government is paid to do. I agree we need space for a day shelter but this is not the location for one.

Alan Haber

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 7:53 p.m.

replying to the comment about "drifters." Actually some of our "drifters" are quite local. Hard times and other factors know no boundaries. Compassion is the way of the future. True, it attracts, like flowers do bees. And also true, with good hives, the result is honey. 721 North Main could be a good hive.

Alan Haber

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 6:12 p.m.

Do not destroy. The local non-profit, Imagine Warming Centers, Inc, a homed and homeless service group, proposed to lease, secure liability insurance, and to rehabilitate the front building at 721 North Main, at no cost to the City, and to use it as a self-managed community center with volunteer professional social services and staff. (The expedient repairs to make the building safe and useable included to isolate the bits of exposed asbestos, make the bathroom handicap accessible, improve fire safety, fix windows, seal to one spot where there was a roof leak, and reinstall heaters, all at no cost to the City.) In addition, Imagine Warming Centers proposed to organize the inventorying of the surplus City property now stored in the building and selling it for reuse on the e-bay and other such markets, with positive return to the City. I toured the building twice, once with the City Administrator himself. I have been 44 years in the building trades and $30,000 of outside consultants supplementing city professional staff aren't needed to assess the reusability of the building. Unfortunately, the City Administrator refused even to discuss the proposal, in spite of the clear winter and continuing need for an accessible warm place, (other than the Public Library,) and volunteer readiness. Since then, Imagine Warming Centers has been working at the Delonis Center doing art, music , crafts, creative writing and creating community. Like with the old Y building, the City government (and a section of the public, too) seem overly ready to destroy existing buildings with still useable capacity, rather than engage community creativity to meet ongoing needs. Imagine Warming Centers did plant and maintain a pretty little flower and vegetable garden in front of the building. The building could also well serve as a base for volunteers in the landscaping and development of the Allen Creek Greenway part of the lot. Sustainability guidelines urge creative reuse.

Local Yocal

Sat, Feb 23, 2013 : 11 a.m.

Actually the community center appears to be a under used building.Just pay them for the rental of the building.


Sat, Feb 23, 2013 : 12:41 a.m.

Besides scandal.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 9:18 p.m.

What about the A2 Community Center? Does anything happen there anymore?


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 6:29 p.m.

We don't need to attract any more drifters from Wayne county, we are over-run as it is. How about something that benefits the home-owners and tax-payers of the city? Is that too much to ask?

Homeland Conspiracy

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 5:43 p.m.

Whats with all these studies & consulting? Maybe they are owned by Mayor John Hieftje frat buddies.

Linda Peck

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

I guess City Council needs consultants to get an expert opinion so the expected recriminations would not be on their heads. But, I agree with annarboral that we probably have professional staff we are already paying who could assess and recommend what to do. Just as a layperson, those buildings are nasty looking and should removed to make a very nice and open space for a city park. There is already plenty of concentrated housing in that neighborhood.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

Woith all the full time and highly paid staff that the city has, why do they need to spend an additional $30,000 to "assess" the situation? If the staff can't do their jobs then maybe they should be eliminated. Seems like every time we see the news the city is hiring more consultants. If you're going to do that then you simply don't need staff, take your pick.

Jay Thomas

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 3:50 p.m.

Politicians need experts to blame if something goes wrong. This way they cover their....


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 12:56 p.m.

Always a good idea to gather more information and make decisions based on facts rather than opinions. Good call city council!


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 12:05 p.m.

I'm looking forward to seeing this park completed. I'm with Carolyn. The buildings should be removed.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 11:50 a.m.

Has that lot ever really flooded? In my 40 years of living in that neighborhood I have never seen flooding on that land. I know some of the surrounding streets flood during heavy rains, mainly due to storm water coming up out of the street drains. I think the federal flood plain designation is derived solely from elevation data and not from actual instances of flooding.

Sam S Smith

Mon, Feb 25, 2013 : 6:30 p.m.

I love dogs Kay Nein which sounds like canine! People can post their opinions even if you don't agree with them or is it your way or no way thinking.


Sat, Feb 23, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Kay, It is YOUR assumptions that make it look silly. Did I say I was there after every rain? No. I was there after every really BIG rain which sometimes are 4,5,or more years apart. Did I say it NEVER flooded? NO. I said I had never seen it flood and was asking if anyone has seen it flood. The silliness lies with you and your silly assumptions and not my comment.


Sat, Feb 23, 2013 : 12:40 a.m.

I figured you were a dog Kay Nein given your clever name. Why did they remove your comment?

Angry Moderate

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 8:57 p.m.

Somebody needs to read more carefully...he lived IN THAT NEIGHBORHOOD for 40 years.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 3:02 p.m.

That's funny dog!


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

It's at the bottom of "Water Hill" isn't it?


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 1:47 p.m.

As a matter of fact, Yes, I have. And your point is?


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 11:41 a.m.

While not in the floodway, where it is essential to remove all structures, the other two buildings are still within the 100-year floodplain, and given the recent exercise in potential flood scenarios performed by Emergency Management Services, these structures should also be removed. I have been in that building - it is not a nice space and not worth renovating. Adding open space is more important and a reducing impervious surface is a much more sustainable land use alternative.


Fri, Feb 22, 2013 : 6:31 p.m.

Thanks for being all knowing. In the future the City should just rely on your opinion.