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 Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

Ann Arbor officials leaning toward demolishing 415 W. Washington building across from YMCA

By Ryan J. Stanton

A city-owned building at 415 W. Washington St. that Ann Arbor officials for years have been talking about transforming into a community arts center might be demolished instead.

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.


The 415 W. Washington building as it looked in December 2011.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"In discussing it with staff and looking at the capital budget, we felt an amount for demolition would be more feasible," City Administrator Steve Powers told on Tuesday.

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.


The 721 N. Main site as it looked last Thursday.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"That certainly would be something that would need to be worked through," Powers said. "Those discussions and those steps have not begun."

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.


The proposed Allen Creek Greenway

Courtesy of Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway

The long-term vision includes "anchor parks" at three city-owned floodplain/floodway properties: the northeast corner of First and William streets, 415 W. Washington and 721 N. Main.

"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 Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.


Alice Ralph

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 8:43 p.m.

"That certainly would be something that would need to be worked through," Powers said. "Those discussions and those steps have not begun." A lot said in a few words. I have been following the fates of the 'greenway sites' for many years. The city is now taking needed steps in evaluating these sites and buildings. It is important to note that once removed, there might not be a replacement building of any kind for a very long time, if ever. The reports have not yet indicated what constraints might remain on the site. An existing building is the greenest building, as is often said. Re-use can be viewed as investment in an asset. Demolition is an expenditure with unlikely return. The building at 415 W. Washington has been allowed to fall into severe neglect, but main part might be re-used, especially for a use compatible with the intensely active Ann Arbor Y across the street. The building at 721 N. Main has never been finished for anything but light industrial use. However, the clear width and open volume of the building has potential for unique re-purposing. Both buildings have drawbacks and unknown potential. An arts center is just one possibility for a community use. How about a "maker studio" or a community repair facility or a 'bike station'? The city should begin with one step at a time, and has begun with evaluations. Another positive step is to safeguard the asset of open floodway public property for the 'triple-play' greenway described by Bob Galardi.


Sun, Mar 31, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

Do it! That place is garbage!

Arno B

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 9:18 p.m.

One question about the N Main property: Isn't his where the city's natural gas re-fueling station is located? [On Summit, near N. Main]. What will happen to it? Regarding the 415 W Washington site: Nothing was mentioned about the soil remediation costs. Perhaps our denizens in City Hall can assume that a Lansing pied piper can allot funds for this as they have for other developers around town. I have been using the parking lot on this site for several years. It is operated by our friends at the DDA. Every time a new parking fee in the rest of the town is OK'd the fee at this site also goes up; it is currently $4 per day. It was $3 and $2 in happier times. However, I tried to find out why the city's lighting standards for parking areas is not in effect as well as trying to find out why the lot isn't paved. At present, it has plenty of slush, ice, mud, and dust depending on the weather. I found out that City Hall gave a waiver to the DDA that the lot does not need to conform to other parking lot standards because it is a "Temporary" location and thus exempt from these standards. So the DDA keeps taking more while the drivers keep plodding in the dirt. As far as I am concerned, the whole decrepit structure should be demolished and a permanent parking lot installed over most or all of it. If the Artsy folks want to do something with it, I suggest that they put up a statue of Shaky Jake in the middle of it.


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

I don't see why the city doesn't sell it!? I bet there are developers who would turn that space into lofts. That is the kind of building that would make for great lofts like the old Eaton building which is now Liberty lofts. If the city knocks it down then we will just have a big empty dirt parking lot. What a waste. Please do something useful with the building or let someone who actually has the $ to do it have it. That's a prime residential area. Even if the building can't be salvaged a smart developer would put up townhouses or lofts there. Would be a great place to live, and there's plenty of onsite parking!


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 4:44 p.m.

It's in a floodplain, so they can't build housing there, and it is a dilapidated structurally - unlike the very sturdy factory that is now Liberty lofts - parking for the Y is the best short-term use. Ever try to park around it, other than when closed - not easy.


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 1:46 p.m.

Parking for the Y! Why was the YMCA allowed to be built without adequate parking in the first place???


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 2:28 p.m.

Because the car-hating Hieftjeites like to pretend that cars don't exist in Oz.

Vince Caruso

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 1:41 p.m.

Glad to hear this news that the building would be coming down. It is in a dangerous location in and around the Allen's Creek floodplain and floodway. A park in this location is a much better use of the property. The Federal Government has virtually forbidden the use of federal funds for any building construction in the floodplain for good reason. A park will reduce the flood hazard and the size of the floodplain up stream in the Old West Side by removing obstructions, provide much needed green park space close to downtown and provide alternative transportation linking the city with the Huron River Greenway path. An arts display location could be incorporated into the site for temporary and long term art. Like other Michigan communities a greenway in the floodplain/floodway is not only an environmental improvement will also prove to be an economic asset with increased foot traffic and downtown business activity. Properties along this greenway will become much more in demand and revitalize a rundown part of the city as has been clearly shown time and again in other communities. Kalamazoo Arcadia Creek Greenway is a great example, spearheaded by it's DDA a few years ago: 600% increase in taxes for the area, eliminated 100 floodplain where flooding was common, eliminated all flood insurance requirements, park space for festivals and activities generating $12M/yr in receipts and payroll, and created a very in demand development zone out of a dilapidated part of town.


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 12:21 p.m.

So Hizzhonor and Co. are willing to spend $300K of our tax money to tear down one large building off the "main drag" but can't spend a reimburse-able $96K by March 15th to tear down blighted houses on one of the busiest corridors into and out of the city? It takes $50K to "study" that a building needs to be demolished? Really? The citizens of Ann Arbor need to hold the mayor's feet to the fire and make him accountable for his folly that's wasting hundreds of thousands of tax dollars. Oh, but we can't afford to hire more police and firefighters. Pshaw! I'm tired of the city crying poverty when it comes to basic services but will waste money in other areas until the cows come home. More art! Greenway! Conference center! Train station! Hooray!

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

The mayor and council set policy. The city's staff handles day to day business. The mayor and council voted in February to spend the $96K to demolish the houses on North Main. It didn't get spent because the staff realized it couldn't meet the March 15 deadline. That said, I still haven't gotten a good answer from anyone as to why the North Main demo grant didn't go to City Council for acceptance until mid-February when the deadline was less than a month away. According to a timeline provided by MSHDA, the city was awarded the money on Sept. 28. I'm trying to find out why it wasn't accepted earlier so the demo could have happened by March 15.


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 3:23 a.m.

Dog Park...Dog Park... Dog Park! Stop kicking the can down the road, and give us a Dog Park already!

Jay Thomas

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 2:53 a.m.

Considering its 'sunken' location that would be perfect. Difficult for the dogs to get away.


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 2:29 a.m.

Maybe they should go thru the bulldog attorney for Ypsi Township first. He is great at getting things done. Ann Arbor can't seem to get it right as it with those Main street buildings. Ann Arbor? Stop asking the Detroit council. They can't help you folks out now.


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 2:20 a.m.

The Y needs parking down there! Turn it into a parking lot!


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 3:46 p.m.

Or a walkway that connects directly into the upstairs of the Y.

An Arborigine

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 2:57 a.m.

Right, then install a HAWK crossing to further discourage motor vehicle traffic in the kingdom!

Scott Reed

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 1:36 a.m.

Why does anyone need permission from the HDC to tear down a decrepit building? A bunch of historical hobbyists could actually veto this? Sounds to me like the HDC needs to be de-fanged and de-funded.


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 1:34 p.m.

Sounds a bit extreme. The HDC hasn't even been asked yet and you are blaming the HDC?


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 1:35 a.m.

This is a city owned building?!?!? Tear it down. I have been walking past that building everyday for three years and always wondered what company is paying to keep this POS standing. Stop wasting money insuring this space and stop wasting money with "reports." Why does the city council need all these external reports to do anything? Don't we elect them to make decisions, not pay for them?


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 1:18 a.m.

Get 'er done!


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 1:07 a.m.

What to do with this property needs ten more years of study, and a $800,000 consulting contract for a German artist, before a decision can be made.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 11:06 p.m.

This building should have been demolished years ago, it is not fit for anyone to work or live in. I cannot believe it is still standing, a good gust of wind could blow it down!!!!

Tom Joad

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 10:55 p.m.

If you consider a hulking concrete edifice historic. Walk past it and even a cursory look shows spalling concrete falling off. There's a small alley on the west side of the building that presents a security threat to someone walking by at night. I only walk on that side of the street to get to the Kiwanis on Saturday morning...


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 10:44 p.m.

The real need is to ensure pedestrian safety. It is poorly lit at night and has gobs of kids running across the street in the dark. Tear down the building and erect some bright street lights. Who wants to take odds on a kid getting run down in the next 12 months absent no change?


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 3:45 p.m.

Couldn't the streetlights just go on the side of the road like they always do? Should we just install wall to wall stadium lighting where the building used to be?


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 1:29 a.m.

I won't take odds on a kid being hit, but the kids are there b/c of the Y. The Y's lack of parking and that narrow street is the real problem. I have no issue tearing down the building, but I think the Y is equally to blame for the crappy situation over there.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 10:30 p.m.

Why does the city own property that only saps money? If the city is sitting on land that is not being used and is costing money, for God's sake, sell it. Ryan, a while ago you had a story about the old Y lot the city bought and lost huge amounts of money on, bu there was no total loss as of this point after their meager earnings from the parking lot. Can we get that number? Why are my taxes going towards sitting on (at best) stagnant land that is not serving any purpose and/or land that is actually COSTING money and STILL serving no purpose? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 4:27 a.m.

Because with all the restrictions nobody would buy it (floodplain, historic district, etc.).


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 10:15 p.m.

The building sits empty for many years, because uninhabitable, city thinks about tearing it down, needs to get permission from the historical society, ... Standing next to the building gives you a feeling of the beginnings of Detroit's downfall. Tear the eyesore down before the city becomes more like Detroit.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 10:06 p.m.

I say we apply for an receive state funds for the demo, then let the grant expire, to continue the tradition of the high-paid city admin and low-paid King of Ann Arbor. Why waste an opportunity to squander funds when you can tax the subjects?


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 9:34 p.m.

Maybe the Y would not mind a dog park across the street.


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 12:08 a.m.

As a Y user I would not favor that, but its not the worst idea. It is downtown.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 9:23 p.m.

$650,000 for conversion/renovation is the tip of the iceberg for that building: Flood plain restrictions Historic district restrictions Dilapidation approaching point of hazard Environmental contamination Also, it is interesting that we have money for pet projects like art centers, while our senior center and Mack Pool have been threatened with closure due to lack of funds. Not surprised, though.

Dirty Mouth

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 9:21 p.m.

It would more economical to gut the city-owned building at 415 W. Washington than tear it down! This is just common sense and besides the building's architecture is somewhat unique and perfectly suited for a muti-zoned activities and living space. 10 to 1 the DDA has its paws in this mess once again. Hence, the idea of demolishing the property.


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 3:43 p.m.

I thought the building was full of asbestos so I am unsure how that might play into the decision to demo it or rebuild it.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 9:05 p.m.

There is some emotional attachment to this building as an arts use, especially since the YMCA sits on the site of the biggest arts building Ann Arbor ever had. There is a third option that saves even more money. Don't do anything but secure the building from additional vandalism. Doing less saves more money. Of course, if that building was to be razed it wold no doubt end up as surface lot until further use. Oh boy, more parking!


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 2:19 a.m.

Have the YMCA contribute to turn it into a parking lot so there would be some parking down there!


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 1:26 a.m.

Frankly, the Y could desperately use that parking. I would think that the neighborhood is pretty unhappy with the parking situation over there - there is rarely on-street parking available after 5:00 p.m. While residents are not entitled to their on-street parking, it must really stink to never have parking available for your guests, or even your own self if you don't have a driveway. It's really unfortunate that the Y was able to get away with such a poor parking plan.

Dirty Mouth

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 9:22 p.m.

Parking + DDA = Revenue for the DDA.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 8:49 p.m.

No reason for it to still be standing - nicer view without it. Wally-Folly will never happen anyway, but would not be surprised to see the powers-that-be try to squander some more of our money on another choo-choo station.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 8:18 p.m.

Would that be the greenway that has a profitable, working railroad running right through the middle of it???

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 8:35 p.m.

Yep. Here's a story I wrote on the railroad in relation to the greenway.

E Claire

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 8:12 p.m.

That building is covered in graffiti. Why is the city allowed to leave it there but a private business owner is fined?


Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 4:05 p.m.

You're proposing the city should fine itself?


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 8:05 p.m.

If this building is indeed demolished, please offer the materials to residents for re-purposing. It would be said to see all of that end up in a landfill.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 10:41 p.m.

are you some sort of proto hoarder? Learn to let go! It's garbage. It belongs in the garbage dump.

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 8:02 p.m.

I have to say that this all makes a lot of sense, including the use of this site for a greenway anchor and moving any arts activity to the North Main site. I've been in that building and I've never understood the interest in keeping it. Isn't it actually in the floodway? We could really lessen the flood volume in that area by making this a stormwater control area instead.

Vince Caruso

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 2:38 p.m.

Parts of the building are in the floodway. With a meaningful watershed study I predict most of the building would be in the floodway. A Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) was issued by FEMA 1/2007 raising the floodplain 33% in the area of 415, the Y and Homeless Shelter. The current maps used by the city for planning are 'very loosely calibrated' on the 1968 flood!

Jack Eaton

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 7:45 p.m.

Ryan, Is this 415 W. Washington site the same property "between Liberty and Washington" that the AATA is looking at as a possible location for the downtown WALLY commuter rail station? (see:

Jack Eaton

Thu, Mar 28, 2013 : 2:17 a.m.

Thanks Ryan. I look forward to reading your report.

Vivienne Armentrout

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 10:12 p.m.

Good hunting, Ryan! Some of us build castles in Spain (in our dreams). Others stick with rail stations in Ann Arbor.

Ryan J. Stanton

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 3:35 p.m.

So the answer is yes and I've got a story coming on it

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 11:16 a.m.

@Jack Eaton: Thanks for the link to this very interesting article and information. Looking at the small map in the article, the blue question mark appears to mark the current site of a grow lamp store and the Cavern Club. On the other side of the tracks is a city surface parking lot along the tracks and a car washing facility that is for sale. The 415 W. Washington site is nearby but not likely part of the study area for a downtown stop of the proposed WALLY commuter rail line.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 8:33 p.m.

I'm checking with AATA


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 7:55 p.m.

Looks pretty likely doesn't it?


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 7:39 p.m.

I just keep thinking that building would make some nice loft apartments.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 7:26 p.m.

I am not here to defend the mayor, but it is the mayor and council who set policy, and it is the City Administrator who is in charge of getting things done. Who is to blame on the North Main houses not being demolished IS relevant to this discussion, since we count on them for all of these decisions and tasks.

Fred Pettit

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 7:41 p.m.

Doesn't the "Buck" stop at the Mayor's desk? If he is not ultimately responsible he shouldn't be the Mayor.


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 7:23 p.m.

Maybe the mayor can get funds from the state to help out.

Jud Branam

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 7:23 p.m.

Ann Arbor: Wrecking Ball City!


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 7:19 p.m.

Maybe not hold our breath?


Tue, Mar 26, 2013 : 7:18 p.m.

So, Will this be demolished before, or after the abandoned houses?... Better talk to the Mayor first.......

Angry Moderate

Wed, Mar 27, 2013 : 12:49 a.m.

False dichotomy. Neither will ever be demolished.