Ann Arbor officials leaning toward demolishing 415 W. Washington building across from YMCA
City officials released a revised budget plan this week revealing the city is planning to spend $300,000 to demolish the building in the fiscal year starting July 1, 2014.
The city's capital project plan previously assumed a $650,000 cost in fiscal year 2014-15 for the reuse of the deteriorated building as a community arts center.
The move to demolish the building represents a $350,000 cost reduction, Tom Crawford, the city's chief financial officer, noted at a budget meeting Monday night.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Powers said the city is leaning toward demolition after doing some preliminary analysis of the site's reuse potential. The City Council voted last July to spend $50,000 to evaluate the condition of 415 W. Washington, including an environmental assessment and historic structure report.
Powers said the report isn't available yet, but the work done so far did inform the administration's decision to recommend demolition.
"We are perhaps jumping ahead, but the timing of the budget process required a tentative decision to be made regarding what to include in the budget for that parcel," he said.
"If the study comes back and indicates the building does have some strong reuse potential, we'll recommend to council that be revisited," he said.
Powers said it might be possible for an arts center to still happen at another location. He mentioned a large building on another city-owned property at 721 N. Main, which is being evaluated now.
"The preliminary analysis and the review of the floodplain maps are indicating that, of the two sites, the one on Washington is most problematic as far as reuse," Powers said.
The dilapidated building at 415 W. Washington stands on the west edge of downtown directly across from the YMCA. The two-story building — now more than 80 years old — has been vacant for several years, and it remains in a state of disrepair.
Some community members have suggested turning it into a 24-hour warming center for the homeless, but city officials rejected the idea, saying it's not fit for occupancy.
The city began exploring the creation of a greenway anchor park and arts center at 415. W. Washington with the nonprofit Arts Alliance and Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy a number of years ago. But those efforts have been slow to progress.
The 415 W. Washington property is considered historic, which means the city would have to go to the city's Historic District Commission for permission to tear down the building.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
The site originally was home to the Road Commission in the 1920s and later was used by the city as a headquarters for forestry, park operations, signs and signals, the city's radio shop and parking enforcement. Many of those operations moved to the city's new Wheeler Service Center on Stone School Road in 2007, and 415 W. Washington has been vacant since.
The idea for 415 W. Washington was that the existing brick building on the site — with some money — could be restored and made available to artists and others in the community as a place for studios, gatherings, meetings and performances.
David Esau, an architect and partner with Cornerstone Design Inc. who looked at the 415 W. Washington building for the Arts Alliance, said the demolition is "unfortunate but hardly surprising."
"The building has potential, but would need a lot of work to be usable, and funding sources to move a renovation forward are hard to come by," he said. "I'm sure the neighbors have been pushing for resolution one way or another as the building deteriorates over time."
Esau serves on the board of the Arts Alliance, but he said his comment was not an official Arts Alliance position.
Regardless of what happens with the building, it's still expected 415 W. Washington eventually will be the site of an anchor park for the proposed Allen Creek Greenway.
Bob Galardi, president of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy and a member of the city's Park Advisory Commission, said he actually took an art class many years ago inside the 415 W. Washington building, but he doesn't know if the building holds any significance.
"We can't maintain everything, and I think the city has to make some tough decisions about that," he said of the possibility of demolishing the building.
Generally speaking, the greenway would be a green walking and bicycle pathway located in the Ann Arbor Railroad right-of-way, running from the University of Michigan athletic complex to Argo Dam and the Huron River, connecting neighborhoods to downtown and recreational opportunities.
Courtesy of Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway
"I would love to have this greenway concept clearly understood," Galardi said. "I think it would be one of the most unique assets to Ann Arbor, because it's more than a park. It's a nonmotorized path, it's a park and it's stormwater mitigation, so it meets a lot of different needs."
The city plans to move forward soon with demolition of two smaller buildings on 721 N. Main, leaving a much larger garage standing. That facility is being studied for potential reuse.
Julie Grand, chairwoman of the city's Park Advisory Commission, has been closely involved in planning the greenway park for 721 N. Main. She said she welcomes the idea of having a community arts center take shape at the North Main site instead of 415 W. Washington.
"We want to activate that space the best we can, and that's a real potential for activating that space, using it as an arts center," she said.
"I think that can be a great place for it, as an entrance to a potential greenway," she added. "Having an arts center there makes a lot of sense to me, but it's all dependent on the outcome of that study (of the building's reuse potential), which we don't know yet."
The Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission agreed earlier this month to contribute $150,000 toward the greenway vision for 721 N. Main, which includes trails connecting to the Border-to-Border Trail. The city also is hoping for a $300,000 grant from the state later this year.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at email@example.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.