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Posted on Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Ann Arbor spending $50K on site work for greenway park and arts center at 415 W. Washington

By Ryan J. Stanton


This graphic representation shows what a greenway anchor park could look like at 415 W. Washington St., one of three city-owned properties along the proposed Allen Creek Greenway.

Ann Arbor officials are moving forward with planning efforts for a greenway park and community arts center at 415 W. Washington.

The Ann Arbor City Council voted 10-0 Monday night with Christopher Taylor absent to spend $50,000 on preliminary site work to evaluate the property's condition and realistic reuse potential. That includes an environmental assessment and historic structure report.

The resolution was sponsored by Mayor John Hieftje and Council Members Margie Teall, D-4th Ward; Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward; and Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward.


Hieftje said he has renewed confidence in the vision for a greenway and community arts center at 415 W. Washington.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"This can only increase the likelihood that something exciting happens on that site for the benefit of the public," Hohnke said.

The blighted property on the west edge of downtown, across from the YMCA, is one of a few city-owned sites city officials have talked for years about transforming into parks.

The two-story building there — now more than 80 years old — has been vacant for several years, and it remains in a state of disrepair.

"If we're going to continue with the vision to make that into a greenway park and a community arts center, we need to get some work done so that we can assess where we are," Hieftje said.

"As we're doing with the 721 N. Main property, we want to go for a Natural Resources Trust Fund grant in the next funding cycle, and we would need to have this work completed."

Hieftje said he has renewed confidence in the vision for a greenway and community arts center at 415 W. Washington. He's even more hopeful about a greenway park happening at 721 N. Main and thinks it'll "score very high" for state grants next year.

But even if the vision for 415 W. Washington doesn't work out, Hieftje said, the work being done would be required to demolish the building anyway, so it's not a waste of $50,000.

"If we were going to do anything else to that building, including tearing it down, we would need this information," Hieftje said.

The $50,000 is being transferred from the general fund's cash reserves.

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 if it ever got to that point. Hieftje and others on council want to see it reused as an arts center, though.

Teall said she's been pushing that concept for a decade.

"It's even a possible FestiFools studio site, which would be just fantastic," she said. "So this is a first step and it will tell us whether the building is usable or not. I hope we get the answer to that. I hope it's affirmative and that we can move ahead."


"It's even a possible FestiFools studio site, which would be just fantastic," said Council Member Margie Teall.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Hieftje said there's no rush, but he guesses the site work will be complete within six months. The city has until April to submit a detailed grant proposal to the state.

"It's a city property I want to do something with as quickly as possible," Hieftje said. "It's just sitting there, it's kind of an eyesore and I'd love to be able to move forward."

Ann Arbor officials said previously they were zeroing in on 721 N. Main as the first place the city might transform a blighted city-owned property into a greenway anchor park.

To kick efforts into high gear, the City Council voted 10-0 with Teall absent on May 7 to establish a new North Main-Huron River Corridor Vision Task Force.

The task force is expected to make a recommendation to the City Council for the best use of 721 N. Main as part of a proposed greenway by Dec. 31.

Hieftje said Monday night it's important for the 721 N. Main and 415 W. Washington efforts to be connected.

"There's a lot to be said for coupling these efforts," he said.

"One of the reasons that we're able to move forward with a Natural Resources Trust Fund grant for the 721 N. Main property is that much of this environmental work has been done there," he added. "In order to get the Natural Resources Trust Fund grant, you need to have what's called a clearance from your site, and we can get that much more easily on North Main. It's going to need this kind of thing done at this site in order to be able to move forward."

Hohnke said he's hopeful the work being done at 415 W. Washington will be worthwhile and will help the city preserve its options for the site.

"Absent really understanding the potential for reuse there, we'll start moving toward unfortunately having to demolish it," he said. "If it doesn't get used, if it doesn't get maintained, it won't be able to stand forever, so this is an important investment in looking at the options."

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.



Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 12:57 p.m.

The building is in the Old West Side Historic District. Anyone recall when the city replaced some historic windows in the building?


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

Love the idea and concept, keep up the good work Mayor Hieftje and city council members! Parks are gathering places for all kinds of events (Sonic Lunch for example) and a park across the street from several high rise condos is much better for the city than a "blight". I just don't understand all the naysayers...doesn't that wear on you after a while?


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

Wouldn't 415 W. Washington be a nice place for the Wild Swan Theater!!


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

Art and Parks....Food for the soul.

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

The rather lovely illustration was, I believe, devised to support a Placemaking grant by the group who staged the dance events across multiple greenway properties. Shouldn't there be an attribution here somewhere? Forgive me if I missed it. Another thing I don't have time to look up: I thought that I heard or read that the Natural Resources Trust Fund (state of Michigan) is just about exhausted. As I recall, this was the fund that one donated to through the tax check-off on the state tax returns. I'm pretty sure that Gov. Snyder's new tax structure eliminated that.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 3:44 p.m.

To address a couple of issues raised by various folks. brimble - The property cannot be sold, renovated or torn down until the hazardous materials are identified and removed; that is an owner's responsibility. In this case that is the city. There are hazardous materials both within the building and in the soil. This money will pay to survey the site and evaluate the building, which is the first steps that anyone takes with any project. And remember it is even a necessary step if you want to tear this down. DJBudSonic - As far as the dollar figure goes this array of surveys was priced by a number of local and established engineering / surveying companies and then a budget (rounded up about 10%) was established for contingency. The biggest chunk is to do a phase 2 environmental clean-up of the site. Barzoom - The proximity to the RR seems like an opportunity but apparently these tracks no longer carry passengers. I am not familiar with the politics of trains. To all - there have been a ton of volunteer hours by many people poured into this building and there are many more to come. Alice Ralph is right on; if its not an asset its a liability. Right now its the latter but it need not be. I for one do not believe it is in the best interests of the city to let this building fall down. It may not look like much right now but it has plenty of life in it yet.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 5:43 p.m.

How long have you been a sycophant for City Hall? I can't think of anyone other than the street people or "homeless" that can't go to Delonis because of non sobriety that will use this park....but then again maybe it will lighten up the number of panhandlers using Liberty Plaza at night...


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 5:22 p.m.

I can't make all the meetings so it's nice to know where these figures come from. It seems like this should be put into the amendment. As a board member of a non-profit it is rare that we authorize unplanned expenditures, especially taking from the next years budget, without knowing the exact details of how and where that money is going to be spent. Then, we have the responsibility of recording that expenditure as a matter of public record. I guess my minor gripe is that it takes a lot of digging to find out where our money is going.

Alice Ralph

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

The portion of 415 W. Washington where the image shows trees and paths is in the floodway of Allen Creek. This fact means that certain types of development are limited or required adaptations that might not be desirable in this context. For example, new buildings would have to be elevated on columns, similar to the way the Ann Arbor Y across Washington was built. Building "critical facilities" in a floodway, however, may be prohibited. A floodway area is better suited to low-impact development such as a park. If the existing building--which is not in the floodway--is rehabilitated for a different use, such as an arts center, the environmental impact of redevelopment is reduced. The building becomes an asset rather than a liability. Historic district guidelines promote rehabilitation of existing buildings when feasible. A rehabilitated building may also accommodate successive changes of use. If the building is demolished, current zoning and building code requirements would apply to any new construction.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 2:52 p.m.

Or, the City could sell the property for multi-family, retail, or commercial use. Increase the tax base, put density toward downtown, and so on. A sale would not demand the $50,000 expenditure on the part of the City, but on the part of the buyer. The greenway through the middle of town is a lovely fantasy, just like the greenbelt around town. Meanwhile, Rome begins to crumble....

Dog Guy

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 2:43 p.m.

"It's a city property I want to do something with as quickly as possible," Hieftje said. "It's just sitting there, it's kind of an eyesore and I'd love to be able to move forward." After a dozen years as mayor, the boss has developed an infrastructure urgency. Rev. Albert Howard's planned opposition candidacy may have gotten his attention.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

I'm all for this green space, but the car wash site is for sale. Are we building a park for the residents of our next seven story apartment spire? Also, nice ancient picture, still showing the parking deck across from Kiwanis. The thing that bothers me the most is that there is an approved 50K to be spent, but to whom is this money going? It is not spelled out at all in the legislation text, is it possible this is one of those city money spigots that only flow to the connected? How did they arrive at this figure without getting quotes for the work? Is there a bid process for awarding this city contract?


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 6:30 p.m.

The car wash is for sale? I use that place all the time that sucks!


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 1:41 p.m.

We need more art........


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 1:27 p.m.

Oops, merge the lines to see the pic: in/photostream/lightbox/


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 1:25 p.m.

"We already have a FestiFools studio. It is called the City Council Chamber." Topcat ; )


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

All of this talk about a "Green Way" Park sounds interesting but who is going to benefit? With the Green Way Park, Camp Take Notice will be closer to downtown, the "Occupy Crowd" will now have more space and the "Noble" Homeless will now have a Deluxe Urban Setting to enjoy! Townies will avoid this part of town so as to ignore this problem! So, who really will benefit from the $50,000.00 spent?


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.

Looks like a good place for a train station and transit center to me. It's already got railroad tracks. Close to down town too.

Harry Hunter

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 2 p.m.

I think the tracks at grade on N. Main are an unused spur. AmTrak runs along the river.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 2:20 p.m.

Sure it does. What makes you say that? What do you think that bump in N. Main just north of the RR overpass is?


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 12:58 p.m.

This would work for that proposed line from Howell, but the Detroit-AA-Chicago line doesn't readily connect here.

Top Cat

Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 12:30 p.m.

We already have a FestiFools studio. It is called the City Council Chamber.


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 11:04 a.m.

We need more art........right?


Tue, Jul 17, 2012 : 11 a.m.

Cops Fireman?????? arts and greenpaths?i don't think so