Draft conceptual plan emerges for new riverfront park on MichCon site in Ann Arbor
City of Ann Arbor
The four subcommittees of the city's North Main-Huron River Corridor Vision Task Force released draft reports this week following months spent brainstorming ideas for improving the corridor and providing better access to recreational amenities along the river.
One of the four reports is focused on repurposing the former MichCon manufactured gas plant site near the Broadway bridges.
The drawing shows several amenities, including a new canoe livery and docks, picnic shelter, public boat storage lockers, a boat storage yard, a 100-space parking lot and a canoe van access drive.
Grand said an important piece of the plan is a handicap-accessible walking and biking path that follows the edge of the river on the MichCon site and connects Broadway Park to the Border-to-Border Trail.
The drawing also shows the same asphalt path connecting to a proposed pedestrian bridge that would cross over the river from the MichCon site to Argo Park near Argo Dam, connecting with the Argo Canoe Livery, Argo Cascades and other paths that follow the river around Argo Pond.
DTE Energy, which owns the MichCon property, recently completed an environmental cleanup along the river and has indicated a willingness to set aside a portion of the site for public open space.
The company also has asked interested developers to submit ideas for developing part of the site, so it's possible a mix of uses could share the property — some public, some private.
The task force subcommittee recommends the city's staff maintain close talks with DTE representatives as they review options for development.
"If either short- or long-term solutions are to be pursued, city staff should devise a robust process for public input and engagement," the report states. "Public and private funding should be sought for the construction and maintenance of short- and long-term solutions."
Expanding livery operations
The report notes the Argo Canoe Livery, where the city already rents out kayaks, canoes and tubes for trips down the river, often operates at or above capacity due to its popularity.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
Kayaks would continue to be rented from the Argo livery, while those interested in canoeing could begin their trip at the proposed livery on the MichCon site. Grand said that helps deal with the fact that canoes cannot go down the new Argo Cascades, a series of drop pools near Argo Dam.
If planned whitewater amenities next to the MichCon site are approved by the state, Grand said, the second livery would be ideally located for special whitewater classes and rentals. The public boat storage lockers shown in the plans are being requested by residents.
Grand stressed the plans are purely conceptual and any decisions regarding potential recreational amenities on the site would occur following a robust public input process. She said the amenities are shown to scale, but their placement could be modified.
Beyond water-based recreation, the MichCon site has the potential for both formal and informal gatherings, the report states.
"Shelter and pavilion rentals are a popular and increasing significant source of revenue for the parks and recreation department," the report states. "The development of a pavilion, along with adequate open space, would enable a wide range of events."
In order for residents and out-of-town visitors to effectively use the proposed amenities, vehicular access from Broadway Street and a 100-space parking lot is recommended.
"Parking at Argo is already stretched, and parks currently lease private property to help accommodate the need for additional spaces," the report notes.
DTE's plans for the site
DTE Energy set a March 15 deadline for initial submittals from developers interested in the MichCon site. It has asked for creative financing strategies using public and private funding.
According to DTE, the goal in developing the site is to bring about a first-class, mixed-use development capitalizing on the unique features of the riverside property, and incorporating significant green space open to the public.
DTE has expressed interest in a development that could possibly include restaurant, retail, residential, commercial office space and medical office uses.
AnnArbor.com has asked DTE for a summary of the responses it received from developers and its latest thoughts on the future of the site. A spokeswoman said DTE would respond Monday.
Ann Arbor developer Peter Allen confirmed he submitted a response to DTE, but he said he's not ready to talk about it publicly at this point.
According to the subcommittee report, it appears the undeveloped western portion of the site is a strong candidate for expansion of both active and passive recreational activities.
The report contemplates the possibility of public-private partnerships, in conjunction with private development or through civic donations, to fund development and maintenance of the recreational amenities described. There also could be opportunities for grant funding.
The report cautions reconfiguring the site to allow for hundreds of additional vehicles off Broadway Street could prove to be a considerable impediment, and the need for and cost of additional soil remediation to allow active recreation on the site remains unknown.
City of Ann Arbor
Getting beyond the tracks
The task force has looked at options for a tunnel for pedestrians and stormwater to pass underneath the railroad tracks to access the MichCon site from Depot Street and North Main.
The report references the Allen Creek Railroad Berm Feasibility Study, which has identified two potential options for underground crossings near the Fourth and Depot intersection.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
But in order to apply for federal flood-mitigation grant funding, the benefit of the mitigation needs to exceed the cost, which is not the case based on preliminary analysis, Grand said. So the city doesn't think it would be eligible for FEMA funding, which Grand considers "a serious barrier."
Task force members argue the most significant barriers to creating a pedestrian connection to the MichCon property are costs and the need for cooperation with railroad ownership.
The Michigan Department of Transportation has acquired the tracks from Norfolk Southern. There's a concern now that as MDOT moves ahead with track improvements for high-speed rail, MDOT could shut down the at-grade crossing at Lake Shore Drive off North Main on the west side of the river.
That crossing, located near Bandemer Park, is used by rowers and many others to access the river and the recreational amenities surrounding it, including the Border-to-Border Trail.
Grand said MDOT has taken a position against at-grade crossings such as the one at Lake Shore Drive, which task force members pointed out is the only legal way to cross the tracks there.
If a barrier along the rail line is erected to prohibit pedestrian crossings, the need for an alternate solution greatly increases, and it could cost millions, according to early projections.
It's believed it would be tough to sell the idea of an underground crossing to MDOT, which is concerned about disruptions to rail service and long-term maintenance of crossings.
The task force has identified potential for another crossing that would take pedestrians and cyclists above the railroad from Main Street to the western side of the MichCon site.
Public input sought
The City Council created the citizen-led North Main-Huron River Vision Task Force to develop a vision to enhance pedestrian and bicycle connections from downtown Ann Arbor to Bandemer Park and Huron River Drive, increase public access to the riverside amenities of existing parks along the North Main-Huron River corridor, ease traffic congestion at Main and Depot streets at certain times of day, and recommend use of the MichCon property off Broadway Street.
The task force also has worked on a conceptual plan for the best use of city-owned property at 721 N. Main, which could become a greenway park with new trail connections.
The task force is expected to submit a final report to the City Council by July 31. David Santacroce, chairman of the task force, said there will be chances to provide input at community meetings on May 22 and June 12 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Community Center.
"I did the math the other day and we've probably got 500 person hours already into this process, so it's important that people get involved now rather than after the fact," he said.
"This has been a citizens group and a citizens task force, and we've got a lot of people involved," he added. "We're now coming up with a product and we want to get more people involved."
AnnArbor.com will have a report on Sunday on the ideas that came out of the other task force subcommittees, including discussion of potential improvements on North Main.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.