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Posted on Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 9:25 a.m.

Blake Transit Center project moves to Ann Arbor City Council for final review

By Ryan J. Stanton


Renderings for a new Blake Transit Center that were included in Tuesday's Ann Arbor Planning Commission agenda packet.

Courtesy of AATA

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority's plans for a new and improved Blake Transit Center downtown are headed to the City Council for final review.

The city's Planning Commission voted 7-0 Tuesday night to sign off on the AATA's proposal to demolish the current one-story building at 331 S. Fourth Ave. and construct a two-story, 12,019-square-foot transit center in its place.

As a pubic entity, the AATA doesn't have to follow the normal process for site plan approval that's required of private developments. It's going through the process for review and input only, and the Planning Commission voted only to affirm the project meets private development standards with two exceptions: No interior landscaping is provided and 367 square feet normally would be required, and the drive approach width is about double what's allowed.


Another look at plans included in Tuesday's Planning Commission packet.

Courtesy of AATA

The current BTC stands 13 feet tall. The new transit center would be 29.3 feet tall, according to the plans reviewed by the Planning Commission.

"This will be an up-to-date, modern facility that will better accommodate our riders, improvements in technology, and better flow," said AATA CEO Michael Ford.

The building is being constructed so it can support third and fourth floors if desired in the future. It also will have a basement.

The project is expected to go before the City Council on Aug. 20. After the council's review, the AATA plans to break ground quickly, possibly in September or October.

"We want to continue to move forward," Ford told planning commissioners Tuesday night. "We want to get started in the fall and be done before Art Fair next year."

Ford said the AATA will be coordinating with the Downtown Development Authority, which recently opened a new underground parking garage across from the BTC, and the Ann Arbor District Library, which is hoping to demolish and rebuild the downtown library, to ensure there's minimal disruption as the new transit center is constructed.

"It's a great sign for our community that this investment is being made," said Planning Commissioner Kirk Westphal, who regularly uses AATA buses to get around town.

The new transit center will take shape at the southeast corner of the 0.4-acre site, a shift away from the northwest corner, with more of a connection to Fifth Avenue.

The two-story building will include space for a main customer service lobby, restrooms, offices for AATA and getDowntown staff, conference rooms, a staff break room, and a basement to accommodate storage and mechanical equipment. The plans also call for 16 bicycle parking spaces, which is double what's currently on the site.

Ford said more than 5,000 bus riders a day pass through the BTC, coming and going on somewhere around 40 buses an hour. AATA officials expect future frequency and ridership increases as they push for a countywide expansion of transit services.

"The AATA has outgrown the current Blake Transit facility," Ford said. "Since the transit center was constructed in 1987, ridership has grown over 60 percent and more demands have been placed on the facility by a growing number of passengers and employees."

Ford said that means about 1.5 million people a year use the BTC. He said that foot traffic, as well as time and weather, have taken a toll on the building.

He said the heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment is well beyond its life expectancy and a new fire suppression system is needed. He said the BTC also needs upgrades to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The site will include boarding spaces for six AATA buses, located along a central driveway. A transparent canopy will run the length of the site.


Another view of what's being proposed.

Courtesy of AATA

A landscaping strip measuring about 3,500 square feet will run along the southwest property line. According to plans, that will be the only area with vegetation on the site, as no interior landscaping is provided in the vehicle use area.

That was a sore point for Commissioner Bonnie Bona, who told AATA officials she was concerned the plans include a massive amount of pavement in a concentrated area. She wished there was some way the AATA could provide more green space.

"I would like to think that maybe there's something that the AATA can do, maybe in the street right-of-way near the building, to help provide some of the green space that you're not able to provide on the site, because it's precious downtown," she said.

Bona also said she's concerned the AATA is replacing a building that's only 26 years old. She said she hopes the new transit center will last longer.

Terry Black, the AATA's facilities manager in charge of the BTC project, said he wants to see a building that lasts, too, and that's why the AATA will be using more durable materials that are going to be easy to maintain and clean. He said it should last for years to come.

The AATA intends to continue to use the existing transit center building during construction. Bus boarding will take place on Fourth Avenue and William Street.

City Planner Jeff Kahan said no stormwater detention exists on the site right now, but a new stormwater detention system is proposed to be handled by three 24-inch perforated pipes underneath the main driveway on the north side of the site.

The direction of bus access is proposed to be reversed, with buses entering on Fourth Avenue and exiting on Fifth Avenue. Extra bus bays will continue to be provided on Fourth Avenue.

Pedestrians will have an opportunity to access the site from Fourth and Fifth avenues along a paved pedestrian plaza that bisects the site.

Kahan said the AATA is in the process of working with the DDA and city staff on the design of a pedestrian crosswalk that would connect the new Library Lane sidewalk across the street to the Fifth Avenue sidewalk.

The new BTC is expected to achieve LEED Gold certification for sustainable building design.

Sustainable design features include white reflective roofing materials to reduce heat island effects, collecting roof stormwater runoff for gray water use (flushing toilets), energy efficient condensing boilers (96% efficient), energy efficient lighting (lighting controls and LED fixtures), recycling of existing materials, use of new building materials with recycled content, and use of low-VOC (volatile organic compound) materials.

Commissioners Wendy Woods and Evan Pratt were absent from Tuesday's meeting.


The layout for a new Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor.

Courtesy of AATA

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.


Linda Peck

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 8:58 p.m.

I see there are no more "buses" parked beside the proposed building than there are with the existing building, in fact visually it looks like less buses parked there. I could be wrong about this, but it is just my sense from looking at the drawings. What would be the point of that new building? I think Ann Arbor "city planners" are trying for an all new and improved, very upscale town for out of town people to admire. That is my guess, but I could be wrong. I remain curious, as always, about the outcomes. I am no expert, obviously. From my visits to the existing building, it is not pleasant. Is the proposed one going to be any more pleasant?


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 6:19 p.m.

While I am not saying that this an out-right bad design, I think there is room for improvement. If they're going to build a new bus terminal, why not incorporate it with the Y parking lot in a multi-use building that would make better use of the land space? The bus terminal on one side with some retail, offices/ housing/ and parking too. Richard Dawn also noted this. As this design is, it limits the proposed new building to just the transit center. While it is good to have the ability to add up to two more floors on it, it would still almost certainly be limited to the transit center use. As uabchris noted, this also doesn't address the need for combining City bus, Greyhound, train, other services which should be figured out BEFORE a new bus station is built. Seeing how fast so many in the Ann Arbor area shot-down the idea of building a inter-modal station on a parking lot located in a park off Fuller, we may have to settle for less than ideal to keep a lot of the folks around here happy.


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 6:17 p.m.

"The city's Planning Commission voted 7-0 Tuesday night to sign off "........really now.....not one person on the Planning Commission cares about the tax payer? There isn't anything about this building that is needed. Offices in the new city hall, offices at the new proposed library, offices in the new bus many offices do these city employees need?


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 5:49 p.m.

Hire the same company that build the structure that's half working..their company motto should be "it will be done when its done but we don't know when"


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 5:48 p.m.

not needed, buses are too big and never full, except for a couple lines once or twice a day. Plus they crowd downtown at the rush hours and stop traffic leading to pollution and accidents. If we have a new station one, why not move it to Huron where there are vacant lots. Put it next to the Greyhound station, or better yet, convert greyhound station to all buses.


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 4:36 p.m.

"Ford said the AATA will be coordinating with the Downtown Development Authority," Since they did such a swell job with the parking structure? Are you serious??


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 4:02 p.m.

I really like the new building and especially the new orientation of the building. I like the idea of getting the buses off the road while they are loading and unloading passengers. This pull through design makes a lot more sense than the current configuration.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 4:55 p.m.

The new configuration only changes the direction the buses will pass through the center (Fourth to Fifth instead of Fifth to Fourth). It doesn't add any bus parking capacity in the center, although it may ease the congestion on Fourth Ave. when all the buses leave BTC at the same time, every 30 minutes.

Richard Dawn

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

The Blake Center passenger shelters should be built on top of the new underground deck and use the new east-west Library Lane drive. The existing Blake site could be combined with the Y lot for development and put both back on the tax rolls.


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

Yes! I wonder where the funds for this project are coming from? I can ear the drums beating now.......... Tax & spend - tax & spend - tax & spend. AA voters will approve anything. AA voters have very deep pockets.


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

If anyone has ever walked inside the current Blake Transit building during a weekday, you will find a small lobby with a person behind what looks like bullet proof glass, answering the occasional question. There are no public restrooms. Then there are the homeless hanging around along with some gangbangers. How will the new transit center be any different, other than another oversized "taj" building?


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 6:32 p.m.

sonnydog -- when it's extremely cold or hot out, or raining or snowing, at about 5 p.m., the room can't hold all the people going home from work waiting for their buses


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 4:05 p.m.

"can't accommodate current ridership" OK. let's do some simple math. 5000 riders per day pass through BTC (according to the article). Let's assume, charitably, that they operate 20 hours per day (it also makes the math easier). That works out to 5000/20 = 250 riders per hour on average. How can the building not support 250 riders per hour?


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 3:30 p.m.

"gangbangers"? what? listen, if you took the bus regularly, you would know that the current facility is outdated and can't accommodate current ridership -- but go ahead and keep complaining if it makes you feel good.

Tom Whitaker

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 3:05 p.m.

It appears the design review board's report was largely ignored by AATA. It looks like all they did was change the color and add a canopy that should have been there all along. Are they only going through the process so they can say they went through the process? Shouldn't an agency of the City--the City that created the zoning and design standards--want to exceed the standards and set an example for future private development? Despite Mr. Ford's assertion of the need for this new facility due to increased ridership, the money spent on increased passenger space and amenities appears to be minimal, with much more spent on adding a second floor (requiring a passenger elevator) that will only house AATA employees.


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 2:58 p.m.

Will the contractors for this monster project have a contract, unlike the garage mahal??


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 2:35 p.m.

I understand different funds can only be used for certain things, but I think there are other priorities that need to be taken care of before we are building a new center. I'm not vehemently opposed to the plan because I DO think it is a bit small with not enough seating, but I would rather see increased service than this. But on the other hand, increased service means increased ridership which means we may "need" a new transit center. I want to see later weekend service and expanded coverage from Ypsilanti (it's not possible for me to reach one of my jobs on Sundays without an expensive cab ride or Washtenaw Community College on weekends).


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

Since we are tearing down Blake and also need a new train station, would it not make more sense from a logistics and land use point of view to COMBINE BOTH???

Brandon Angelini

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

I guess this area of Ann Arbor is just destined to always be under construction...


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 4:28 p.m.

And if you drive down 5th Ave, it will make it less livable for another two years while they're doing the construction.


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 3:27 p.m.

JRW - if you take the bus, this project will make Ann Arbor more livable.


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 3:05 p.m.

Not only always under construction, but inundated with homeless and gangs. Creating a "no man's land" with sprawling underground garages and a monster bus station does not make a city more livable, nor does it create street-level commercial foot traffic, which is badly needed. The entire area has become much less safe.


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 1:49 p.m.

Absolutely not needed. I can't believe how no one understand how incredibly wasteful it is to tear down perfectly functional buildings and replace them. Same goes for the Library board - stop wasting our money and resources on unnecessary construction!


Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 5:38 p.m.

Steve, you must be kidding. Like how the city listened to our collective desires on building a new city hall... and the underground structure.... and millions on "public art" by foreign artists. They do whatever they please, and balogna like this impending boondoggle of a project are shameful. Ann Arbor is about the least "green" city in Michigan. Honestly, it probably consumes the most resources and energy per capita of any city in Michigan.

AAPS Student

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 2:40 p.m.

Amen! Could not have said it better myself. Tearing down the building is not green! There is no need for offices inside the building!

Steve Beisheim

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

Instead of complaining, maybe you should move to a city that is much more wasteful to appreciate the fact that Ann Arbor, for the most part cares and listens to the needs of its residents.