Ann Arbor officials want to shift energy for urban park idea to 415 W. Washington
Ann Arbor officials say they're impressed with the amount of creative energy that some members of the community recently put into drafting proposals for an urban park downtown.
Mayor John Hieftje and others say they're hoping to shift some of that energy away from the Library Lot - located at 319 S. Fifth Ave. - to another site near downtown Ann Arbor.
A late addition to the Ann Arbor City Council's agenda for Monday night reveals city officials are taking a closer look at the city-owned property at 415 W. Washington.
Hieftje is one of the co-sponsors of a resolution calling for the "creation of an innovative process of community collaboration" to explore a "Greenway Park and Arts Center" at the site.
An appointed committee of city leaders recently decided the Library Lot isn't the place for an urban park, and they're looking at hotel and conference center proposals instead. But Hieftje and others still think a green space can be developed at 415 W. Washington, between Third and First streets in Ann Arbor's Old West Side Historic District.
"I've been inspired by the conversations around building a new park in the center of town, and I didn't want to let that go by the wayside," Hieftje said, adding the idea of a public park at 415 W. Washington has been discussed for a long time.
"In fact, this greenway was first mentioned 20 years ago in the master plan," Hieftje said. "We had a greenway task force a few years ago, and one of their recommendations was for an arts center and greenway anchor park at that site."
Groups like the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy and Friends of the Ann Arbor Greenway have been working to promote the creation of a greenway system with public parks along the historic alignment of the Allen Creek.
One of the hopes of those efforts is to see greenway anchor parks occupying three specific city-owned floodplain/floodway properties: the northeast corner of First and William streets, 415 W. Washington, and 721 N. Main. Other sites would be added to the greenway as they become available.
A request for proposals previously netted three ideas for use of the 415 W. Washington site, but attempts by the city to bring those ideas to fruition never materialized.
City Council Members Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward, and Margie Teall, D-4th Ward, have teamed with Hieftje in sponsoring the resolution to be discussed Monday night.
"Personally, I was really excited to see a lot of the energy for pretty creative proposals for the Library Lot," Hohnke said. "It looks to me like the review committee has set those aside. But I think this is another opportunity for another city-owned site that may be a little bit more conducive to tapping that creative energy. I would hope that people who have been interested in open space on the Library Lot want to pitch in and look at this, too"
The mayor and council members note in their resolution that the 415 W. Washington site is a short walk from Main Street and is across the street from the new YMCA. They say there is great potential for the site to be the anchor park of a new greenway that will someday join the existing Huron River Greenway.
The resolution calls for bringing together the creative energy of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy and the Arts Alliance, along with other potential partners in the community.
The sponsors of the legislation say the lack of affordable space for studios, art display, and performance space in Ann Arbor forced some artists and musicians in the community to take their craft away from the city. Many local artists now call Ypsilanti home because of cheaper rent.
"Ann Arbor has long been considered a haven for the arts and hosts the largest art fair in the nation," the resolution reads, "and recent studies have confirmed that the arts annually contribute millions of dollars to the local economy and provide thousands of jobs in the greater Ann Arbor area."
Hieftje said he wouldn't mind seeing a sculpture park fill the open space at 415 W. Washington. An 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.
"We don't have $1 million we can throw at this project," Hieftje said, noting he's hopeful the same energy put into the push for an urban park on the Library Lot could be tapped to help seek grants and make the idea a reality at 415 W. Washington.
City officials say a large portion of the 415 W. Washington site lies within the floodway. It also is within the boundaries of the Downtown Development Authority.
Hieftje and others say they hope to tap the expertise and resources of the DDA, the Parks Advisory Commission, the Art in Public Places Commission, the Energy Commission, the Main Street Area Association, the Office of the County Water Resources Director and others willing to contribute.
The resolution asks that a progress report be delivered to the City Council at the first meeting in February 2011.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529.