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Posted on Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

Ground collapses outside of downtown Ann Arbor parking structure site in latest project mishap

By Juliana Keeping


Ali Ramlawi, the owner of downtown Ann Arbor's Jerusalem Garden, took this photo of a sink hole that opened up this afternoon just beyond the fence surrounding the construction of an underground parking garage.

Courtesy of Ali Ramlawi

The ground collapsed outside the gates surrounding construction of the downtown underground parking structure in Ann Arbor around 3:30 p.m. today.

A sink hole could be seen behind the Earthen Jar restaurant, 311 S. Fifth Ave., in a parking lot adjacent to the construction site, following a breach in an earth retention wall.

A worker on her cell phone asked for a head count, but another worker at the site said no one was injured. The space excavated for the parking structure is four stories deep.

“There shouldn’t be anyone down there; it’s not stable,” one worker said.

Workers declined to answer questions about the incident or provide their names.

Sim Sethi, whose family owns Earthen Jar, said workers evacuated the restaurant around 3:30 p.m. Jerusalem Garden, located next door at 307 S. Fifth Ave., also was evacuated.

Ali Ramlawi, who owns Jerusalem Garden, said he was shaken and angry. Workers at both restaurants use the parking lot where the ground caved in. They stand and park on the spot that collapsed, Ramlawi said.

"One of us could have been dead today — that’s why I’m angry, and it could have been any of us," he said.


Spotlights were on the site of the cave-in as crews worked throughout the night and into early Friday morning in the area. The parking structure is four stories deep.

Ryan J. Stanton |

A note on the door said Jerusalem Garden was closed for the day Thursday, and orange construction barrels and a make-shift fence blocked access to Earthen Jar following the ground collapse.

Construction on the 700-space underground parking lot on South Fifth Avenue began 13 months ago. In a recent story, owners of the two restaurants talked about how their business was suffering during the construction.

The $50 million parking structure is a project of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. DDA Executive Director Susan Pollay called today's incident a "serious occurrence," saying a small section of the retaining wall broke. She said there were no injuries.

''The event may have been caused by a large sink hole that developed behind the wall in the parking lot of the house that is located interior to the block behind Earthen Jar," Pollay said in an email. "We consider this to be a serious occurrence and we understand that Christman is following all appropriate construction protocol to deal with this. Their first efforts are being directed to human safety, and as a preventative measure Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden were evacuated; the small house nearest to the sink hole is already vacant."

Pollay added she's confident in Christman Co., the construction manager, and its response to this situation. She said the DDA’s structural engineers will be on site to provide an independent assessment of the situation.

Today's incident is one of several accidents or mishaps that have occurred during the project. There was a similar scare in the fall, when a breach in the southern earth retention wall created a sinkhole effect next to the Ann Arbor District Library.

Sand began funneling through the wall, which sunk a few bike hoops and a portion of the concrete sidewalk along the northern edge of the library property. No one was reported hurt in the incident.

Earlier this week, another incident occurred where emergency workers had to use a crane to hoist a boy out of 6-foot deep hole he fell in near the construction site. The boy was walking with his father when he stepped on a soft spot in the soil and fell in the hole.

Firefighters and police responded after someone called 911. The boy was given a harness that he attached to himself and was pulled out. He was in the hole for about 10 minutes.

Earlier this month, two workers from a steel company working on the project were taken to the hospital following another accident on site. The men were working on a metal rebar wall — used to reinforce concrete— when it started to fall shortly before 9 a.m. and "they rode it down about 30 feet," said Joyce Williams, Huron Valley Ambulance public affairs manager.

This story has been updated with additional details and interviews. government reporter Ryan J. Stanton contributed to this story. Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter.


Michael Tosto

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 3:14 a.m.

Ann Arbor has a truly unique opportunity here to earn its "Tree-Town" moniker and join some other forward-thinking cities by turning this eyesore into a ground-level rooftop park. Chicago has Millennium Park, St. Louis built Hudlin Park and San Francisco residents get to enjoy Yerba Buena Garden. These parks have all been success stories for those metropolises; why shouldn't Ann Arborites have a highly accessible, beautiful green space in the heart of downtown to recreate, relax, and raise our children in? I believe this potential park could be the centerpiece of our city one day, and personally I like the idea of being able to check out a book at the library, walk 40 feet and read a chapter under a tree while eating some Earthen Jar.


Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 4:50 a.m.

We need to look into the construction company's liability insurance and errors and omissions type insurance for both the design and construction of the underground garage. The least we should do is suspend payments to the construction company beyond paying the salaries of the construction workers. We also need to issue "cease and desist" orders to city council and flood all city council members with e-mail messages to NOT approve any other construction projects. This means NO convention center, especially when there are underused convention facilities near Ann Arbor. THE SELF-GOVERNMENT OF OUR CITY OF ANN ARBOR IS ON THE LINE.


Sat, Mar 26, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

I believe the page link to the following day article on this topic is missing for some reason <a href=""></a>


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 6:48 p.m.

How about asking those Councilpersons whose brilliant idea resulted in this fiasco of a project to volunteer--out of their own pockets--to pay for relocation of both these businesses (Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden) into rent-free premises until this project is over so that the need for them to post &quot;going out of business signs&quot; can be forestalled. After all, we, the taxpayers have been paying....and paying....and are continuing to pay... for this project that never should have been approved. Instead of the business having to shut down, how about shutting down the whole project? Public opinion is heavily against it--and aren't we the ones paying for it?!

John Spelling

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

This &quot;parking structure&quot; has now been under construction for 13 months. The Empire State Building was completed in 18 months. Any guesses on how long the Stadium bridge will take to build? Granted the structure and bridge are pretty complex projects, but have to believe the Empire State Building was as well. The difference couldn't be that the bridge/parking are gov't projects, or could it? Oh, maybe the difference is there is less available labor now, what with the full employment we are enjoying at the present time. Silly me.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 5:33 p.m.



Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 5:32 p.m.

the word boondoggle comes to mind! and for once atticus f and I agree on something. This is a huge waste of money and I will never ever use the parking there and doubt I would ever set foot in any building placed on top of it. additionally sinkholes have a lovely way of continuing to erode that is to say the surrounding ground is also comprimised and just looking at the picture shows just how close it is to the building. I'd say they should just stop the project now, fill the hole back up and gives back a surface lot.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 5 p.m.

Pardon my confusion. ''The event may have been caused by a large sink hole that developed behind the wall in the parking lot of the house that is located interior to the block behind Earthen Jar,&quot; Which is the cause and effect? Are breaches caused by sinkholes? It seems unlikely. It seems that in order for the sinkhole to form, there must be a place for the sinking earth to go. Wouldn't the avenue for that movement have to be opened first? (i.e. a breach in the wall.)


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 4:25 p.m.

I bet Ali's comments have been heavily edited in this story. As a fellow downtown small business owner, both Ali &amp; I agree that the DDA does not care about small businesses like his. When Ali recently complained to Polley that his business was suffering a 20% cut in sales, Polley told him to stop &quot;complaining and buck up&quot;. The DDA is practically belligerent toward any non-Main Street Association biz. I think that the DDA operates in a bubble; a non-elected, appointed bubble. The DDA has no connection with the problems of this city's working poor. The DDA does not seem to grasp culture or heritage. Ali is not rich, but his restaurant's cultural contribution is. The DDA's main focus, like nearly every other politician, is corporatist. If you don't have big money, forget about the city representing you. I hope there's a TGIChillibees in the new hotel.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 8:32 p.m.

I just hope there is no Taco Bell on the spot that Jerusalem Garden went bankrupt on.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 4:24 p.m.

This issue deserves more in depth reporting. Hopefully we can stop these corporatist's before they do to Ann Arbor what Clear Channel did to radio; one homogeneousness, nightmare culture indistinguishable from Anywhere, USA.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 4:23 p.m.

This might be a relatively easy fix. Providing there has been no compromising of the adjacent structures yet. The colder weather should help keep the existing ground stable. The longer the sink hole stays open the more likely additional damage will occur. Lets hope they don't study it to death!


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 4:16 p.m.

I hope earthen jar gets compensation by the city and christman; they've already been seriously hurt by the construction but now I cant imagine anyone going with the risk of the wall caving in.

Stephen Landes

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 2:50 p.m.

from the article: ''The event may have been caused by a large sink hole that developed behind the wall in the parking lot of the house that is located interior to the block behind Earthen Jar,&quot; Pollay said in an email. I have a suggestion for Ms. Pollay: leave the description of design and construction failures to others as your comment shows you have no clue as to what happened in this incident.

Moscow On The Huron

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

This project is almost like a boat: it's a hole in the ground where our money goes.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 2:10 p.m.

Is there a legal defense we can contribute to so that Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden can sue the pants out of the DDA, the City, and Christman for lost revenue, unsafe work environment, and endangerment? I think that's more than worth a few falafels and one of those delicious potato things from EJ.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

OK, that's the last straw. It's time for DDA to pony up some funds to help keep these two businesses afloat. The addition of more parking spaces is not worth the loss of Jerusalem Garden and Earthen Jar.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:31 p.m.

those Ann Arbor care about live or is another way to collected on young people social Security after they fall into hell?


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:24 p.m.

Welcome to spring field USA! HEHE THE MOST crappy of the best places t live. call editors of weird Michigan also I see this turing into a hollywood horror movie.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:19 p.m.

I look forward to the completion of this structure. It will free up parking above-ground for me to use, because I'll sure as hell NEVER risk my life driving into this thing.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:01 p.m.

The City should send the summer tax bill out early to these businesses in case they are not around. Council has plans for that money!


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 12:50 p.m.

This entire project is a sink hole.

Atticus F.

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 12:46 p.m.

I would never park in this structure once built, for the fear of it collapsing on me. Also, does anybody remember the news article that came out when this was structure was proposed? Notice you don't see anybody defending this project now...Thats because now that the contract has already been procured, all of the construction comapany shills and paid bloggers have no interest in defending this project. They already have their money in the bank.

Elaine F. Owsley

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 11:53 a.m.

And what happens when they park that Martian toaster looking convention center on top of all this unstable ground? Assuming the situation is safe enough for them to finish the parking structure, how safe is it going to be to use? What is it the Bible tells us - &quot;A house built on sand.................&quot;?


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 11:39 a.m.

I've often wondered how stable/secure those walls for the big hole were. They are within several feet of existing buildings. I guess my concern has been answered. Not very stable.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 8:09 a.m.

Why does Ann Arbor still have a DDA?

Kai Petainen

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 5:31 a.m.

are there other cities around the country that are building $50 million parking lots and possibly another $40 million parking lot on the way? what other city does such a thing?

Marshall Applewhite

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 5:10 a.m.

Well, there's one thing we know is definitely true here......... The sky is absolutely falling.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 4:25 a.m.

people that think this incident isn't a big deal are very wrong... I sat outside after evacuating everyone from Jerusalem garden and watched all the workers walk around dumbfounded like they had no idea what to do.. i think we need smarter people working on this project that know what to say when something unexpected happens other than shrugging there shoulders and saying i don't know...

John Roos

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 4:02 a.m.

Great comments. Big hole. Here is the solution: Forget the parking and prop up the crumbling walls with all sorts of reinforced wavy concrete we have our A2 skate park!

average joe

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:48 a.m.

Looks like one more underground parking spot to me.....


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:34 a.m.

Cue the DDA's Susan Polley for quotes defending the project and to tell us all how sinkholes are actually being unfairly criticized and that this one just occurred because of the general economy in Michigan. Also, those orange bags on every parking meter within several block radiuses are just needed as precautions to make sure the construction workers will have somewhere to park when they come down to work on this safe secure worksite.

Audion Man

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 12:22 p.m.

FTW! I love those orange bags!


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:17 a.m.

To quote a poster on another story: &quot;I know several members of that union and they would never, ever just click their heels and salute and do anything that would jeopardize the safety on the job. The work would stop until it was made safe! You can take your anti union bias elsewhere on this one!&quot; Therefore this must be a non-union job! My point is accidents happen on union and non-union jobs alike!


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 2:30 a.m.

Baloney! Go work in construction for 42 years then come tell me how it works!

David Briegel

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:43 a.m.

Apples and oranges! The engineer is liable!


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 12:39 a.m.

Like Tios, maybe the city will buy out Earthen Jar so they can move to a better location with more seating and adequate space for the buffet.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

Tios had an inside person, no doubt, and location...years of free tacos to the right person on the City Council no doubt.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 12:34 a.m.

So can someone explain why we &quot;need&quot; this underground parking garage again? I must have missed it when it was spun the first time around. And I think it should be known as Pollay's Folly.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 11:43 p.m.

Yes, John, I hope that Jerusalem Garden's owner can sue Christman Company who should have liability insurance (or the DDA really screwed up!). I wonder what Christman Company's safety record was on previous projects.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 11:39 p.m.

This hole will pale compared to the hole that will be excavated from the taxpayer's wallets if city council approves the conference center boondoggle!


Sun, Mar 27, 2011 : 4:31 a.m.

I questioned the multilevel underground parking garage from the time it was proposed. Perhaps a level underground would have been okay and only if it was part of a move to avoid tall above ground construction. But height has been the way of other construction. Will people feel as comfortable parking forty feet underground as they do parking in above ground parking structures? I won't. If it comes to parking underground or avoiding downtown, I'll avoid downtown. Plus, the cost of the underground garage is enormous. If the city goes ahead with a project such as conference center above that ground, I expect two things to happen: 1. The project will cost the city and won't bring in revenues and taxes anywhere near the rosy projections and 2. An emergency managers (possibly the Ann Arbor city manager who Snyder is hiring as an emergency manager) will take over the city and cut services and dissolve negotiated contracts of the teachers, police, and firefighters who enhance our city. Don't think it can't happen here. Give the message to every member of the Ann Arbor City Council. Vote no for any future project (including the proposed convention center) that could bankrupt the city and ruin the benefits of living here. Stop any future digging/expansion of the underground parking garage and insist that the construction company secure and repair every inch of the garage and the surrounding area that has been damaged. Admit that you acted beyond your abilities and the fiscal abilities of the city of Ann Arbor and its residents.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 12:10 a.m.

The conference center CAN'T happen!! The public needs to let city hall know!


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 11:25 p.m.

Pollay's and Parker's praise of Christman doesn't make me feel any safer living near the site. It sounds like spin to me. We were assured measures were taken to prevent anything like this from happening.

Tom Joad

Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 11:21 p.m.

a bit dramatic...that little hole couldn't swallow anyone or anything


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 4:16 a.m.

ahh the hole is 35 feet deep.... I think i could have fallen in it. or when my fiancée was dropping me off at work and drove over it minutes before it could have collapsed under the weight of her car. it could have been my fiancée and I and our baby she is pregnant with, and her car.... think before you comment..


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 11:47 p.m.

Oh, come on.....not only is the ground opening up, the sky is falling! The sky is falling! The sky is falling! That isn't drama, it is journalism.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 11:34 p.m.

A car parked where that little hole is would have been bad news for the owner of the car -or anyone that might have been in it.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 11:21 p.m.

I smell shawarma and a lawsuit....

David Briegel

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:40 a.m.

Now I'm Hungry! Falafel!


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 11:11 p.m.

Im a Manager at jerusalem garden I had to be the person to call the occupants of the apartment above earthen jar.. non of the construction workers bothered letting my co-worker and friend Frank Zinda know that his life was in danger. Good thing Christman Co. had me. that could have been really bad.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 11:04 p.m.

Didn't a child fall into a hole on the other side?


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 11:02 p.m.

Has anyone connected the dots between the sink hole today and the kid that disappeared into a hole on Tuesday?? People who made nasty comments about parental responsibility ought to re-think this one.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 11:05 p.m.

What she said!!!


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 10:56 p.m.

I feel for those business! Let's hope the Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Gardens can survive this debacle!


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 10:57 p.m.

Sorry that should be businesses, my fingers move faster then my brain does..sigh.

Basic Bob

Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 10:48 p.m.

Just a small breach, causing a big sinkhole!

lou glorie

Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 10:26 p.m.

This is more than a sink hole. Which is bad enough. There is a breach in the north wall of the structure. Stop soft peddling this mess.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 10:25 p.m.

Can you say &quot;white elephant?&quot;

lou glorie

Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 9:59 p.m.

Let's remember the slip and slide justificating that made this project imperative. First it was needed to that businesses who have 25,000 pedestrians walking past their shops every week day would not have to bother changing their product lines to suit those who only need to walk by. Nope, that solution would be way to easy and cheap. Then it seemed the parking structure would be a necessity because of what some of the Larcomites had cooking all along--a hotel/conference center complete with tax-payer subsidies. But thanks to Ben Connor Berrie, we now know that this massive hole in the ground is not only for throwing away taxpayer money, but also for human sacrifice. Thanks Ben and I love your blog.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 11:40 p.m.

&quot;justificating&quot;??? Seriously? Arguments carry a bit more weight when actual words are used.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 9:29 p.m.

Fiasco! It would be funny if it wasn't so sad.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 9:28 p.m.

To fill in the hole let's fill it up with taxpayer money.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 9:16 p.m.

This is at least the 4th incident connected to this project, and 3 of them happened within a very short period of time this month. It is disappointing that sees no need to provide a timeline. In addition to the &quot;Library sinkhole&quot; and the &quot;Earthen Jar/Jerusalem Garden&quot; sinkhole, this week a little boy fell 6' into a hole near the site. and a couple of weeks ago a construction worker fell 20-30' and was taken to the hospital. C'mon,, give me SOMETHING to talk me out of canceling my subscription.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:50 p.m.

Mike D., prints two hard copies/week -- Thursdays and Sundays. There is a pd. subscription fee for those paper copies.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 3:27 a.m.

found it: <a href=""></a>


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 3:23 a.m.

DF - I can't locate the link, but I read the story of the boy who fell into the hole. They had to use a crane or forklift (can't remember) to get him out, but my recollection was that he was fine.

Mike D.

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:46 a.m.

Subscription? How does one subscribe to a free website? From where I sit, you're getting what you're paying for.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 1:31 a.m.

Cleanup- was the little boy who fell into the hole OK?

Ben Connor Barrie

Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 8:58 p.m.

I'm surprised The Com is not covering the Cthulhu related aspects of this story. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Bertha Venation

Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 8:54 p.m.

Uh, Duh... I guess people don't realize that when you take something out of the ground, something has to fill in the space (uh, physics I think). Same thing with all the oil drilling and tsunamis. Makes one just shake their head and wallk away.

Moscow On The Huron

Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

I'm with ferdcom. I'd love to hear how oil drilling and tsunamis are connected.


Fri, Mar 25, 2011 : 2:25 a.m.

Are you claiming that oil drilling causes tsunamis -- or oil drilling causes the earthquakes that cause tsunamis? Was the recent Japan earthquake/tsunami caused by drilling? Physics justification, please.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 8:44 p.m.

Uh-oh. Better close the street for another whole year!!!!! Safety first! Also, be sure to bag all the meters within a one-mile vicnity to be sure there's nowhere anyone can park for blocks and blocks!

Atticus F.

Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 8:44 p.m.

This whole project has become I nightmare, and I have been apposed to it from day one! Everytime I walk by I see the sign that say &quot;Your parking dollars at work&quot;, I always think 'your parking dollars being squandered'.


Thu, Mar 24, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

We agree on this. This has been the ultimate debacle since day one.