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Posted on Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 5:53 a.m.

Ann Arbor's future meets its past as Barracuda Networks moves downtown

By Tony Dearing

If it is possible for Ann Arbor’s past to meet its future, that appears to be happening quite agreeably with the announcement that Barracuda Networks is moving into the former downtown Borders location.

Simply put, this is great news for the Liberty Street corridor and all of downtown Ann Arbor, helping to fill a long-time flagship location with a rapidly growing technology firm that says Ann Arbor is where it wants to be.

Barracuda Networks created a lot of anticipation and buzz last year when it announced plans to create a “Silicon Valley-type campus’’ in the Ann Arbor area. The company, which creates network security devices and email and web filtering products, currently employs about 180 workers at its Depot Street offices and could add as many as 200 additional jobs as it expands.


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The firm had expressed a desire to locate downtown, although there were questions about whether it could find the necessary space it needed, as well as adequate parking in the central city.

Fortunately, it turns out it could. Last week, business reporter Lizzy Alfs broke the story that Barracuda has signed a deal to lease 45,000 square feet of office space in the former Borders location at East Liberty and Maynard streets. It is expected to move this fall.

The symbolism of this transition is rich. The closing of the former Borders flagship store was as much a blow to Ann Arbor’s psyche as to its economy. Borders was a home-grown company that grew and prospered right along with this community, but faltered when it couldn’t keep pace with changing technology and consumer preferences.

Much as we miss this local icon, whose passing is still all too recent, we can’t live in the past. We have to look to the future. In the knowledge economy, Ann Arbor has all the ingredients to attract and grow technology companies that bolster the local economy and create jobs that offer good wages.

Barracuda won’t occupy the former Borders retail space at street level on Liberty. Its offices will be in the adjacent space that formerly housed the Borders corporate offices before the company moved its headquarters to Phoenix Drive. But its presence in the building will not only increase the prospect of filling that empty retail space, it will give a boost to the entire area, particularly in combination with the recent move of Menlo Innovations into the nearby Offices at Liberty Square, formerly known as Tally Hall.

Liberty Street has struggled recently, losing a number of small, locally owned retail shops, as well as the Borders store. We have argued in recent editorials that downtown isn’t in decline, but rather in transition. The Barracuda announcement supports that contention. It said from the beginning that it wanted to be downtown if it could find the right space, and after looking at more than 100 locations, it found what it was looking for. Adding that many new jobs downtown will create additional demand for retail, dining and housing in an area that needed this kind of shot in the arm.

We welcome Barracuda’s commitment to downtown and to Ann Arbor. The company will be hiring for a variety of jobs, including engineers and employees in support, sales and customer service. Sean Heiney, the company’s director of new product initiatives, said the company is choosing to expand in Ann Arbor because of the talent that’s available here, or can be lured here.

“The main thing here is it has smart people,’’ he said. “Ann Arbor is also definitely an easier sell for someone out of state to come to than most cities.’’ That, we have to say, is an enviable position to be in, and one that bodes well for the future of our community.

(This editorial was published in today's newspaper and reflects the opinion of the Editorial Board at


David Cahill

Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 7:22 p.m.

Barracuda's move would not have happened without our new Library Lane parking structure. A clear case of harmonic convergence!


Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 4:44 p.m.

Dreamer! It'll take more than a couple hundred more techies to solve E. Liberty's problems. Both of these companies are simply relocating from elsewhere in the city... so there will be vacancies there. Aside from whatever new jobs are created, the whole thing is a wash for A2. All those phony surveys don't amount to a warm bucket of spit. This burg's population has been treading water for decades, and that tells more about its attractiveness than all the surveys ever taken.


Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 8:24 p.m.

Just cause you cut and paste the same post twice does not make it any more factual the second time a round.

say it plain

Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

Sadly, I have to agree... These companies are merely re-locating, but at least in part it's because they are planning to add jobs. Of course, they are partly being funded by development money (not really addressed here, and it's not a ton of it, but some millions from the state, so we're all kinda paying for their expansion at least a little, with the promise of some payback via new jobs), and they will leave vacant the other spaces in the city... The state as a whole has been deeply affected by the trends of the recent decades, and this little addition to the downtown landscape is notable mostly because at least it's not a giant odd-lots or something going in that space. But as always these days, gotta sell the image. Increasingly difficult, when you see the reality of downtown Ann Arbor these days, but at least infusing the street with more non-student hipster spendy types will probably knock out the pie-company chains in favor of more interesting purveyors of lunch, no?

say it plain

Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 3:47 p.m.

This is great news, for the jobs (which aren't huge numbers, but still...), and for the tech-friendly face it puts on downtown Ann Arbor. It serves to say to other tech outfits, hey, see, we can pretend to be silicon valley or cambridge ma or whatever, great for the local economy! But it's sad to see in a way how our economy has moved to on the one hand creating spam and endless ads and such (I'm looking at you down the road, Google!), and on the other, putting up firewalls to block this garbage, which is what Barracuda specializes in. Basically, the business model seems to be about directly 'communicating' with people via their electronic devices, to sell them stuff and monitor their consumption behaviors... and then *also* to try and *protect* them from invasions that come from their new vulnerability. Makes me miss brick and mortar bookstores who aren't about selling your info or getting into your head about what you might buy... Makes me miss department stores quaintly trying to lure you into a purchase via 'merchandising' their selling displays and such... Now, the lure for downtown business is the 'lifestyle' it's possible to lead as an engineer or adwords salesperson. Ooh, look at the coffee shops and parking structures and brew pubs! Ann Arbor better get their schools in better order now, because these young engineers will have kids someday and want decent ones!


Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 1 p.m.

This all seems overhyped to me. Barracuda is already here in town and the people working there are already supporting the economy in Ann Arbor. They will take over the Borders building and vacate their current building. They will add some number of jobs at some point (a good thing). Menlo moved from Kerrytown to "downtown", and it's pretty much the same story. They vacated their old building and moved to a new one. The people working there will have the same disposable income as before. So maybe they spend more money on Liberty instead of in Kerrytown now, but I just don't see the "boon" that people like to talk about. I think it's just more cheerleading for the "downtown-centric" view of Ann Arbor.


Thu, Jul 5, 2012 : midnight

According to what I just read, Barracuda is occupying the OFFICE space in the old Borders building, which still leaves the retail space vacant. So how is that filling any voids on the street level?! Same old empty storefront, unless somebody has stepped-up recently I haven't heard about. Sounds like the same old Babbitt-like boosterism to me - and real estate is, in case you haven't processed events of the past few years, much closer to a shell game than you seem to realize.

Tony Dearing

Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

Brad, I understand what you're saying, although the reason that both Barracuda and Menlo are moving is that they've outgrown their previous space, and they're putting themselves in a situation where they can continue to grow. If they have to move because they're bursting at the seams, I'd sure rather than have them move downtown than out of state, which has happened in other situations. As for downtown, this isn't just a shell game. That empty space where Borders used to be has created a gaping hole in the center of the community. That is a big space that used to create a lot of activity, both in the heyday of Borders, and before that, in the heyday of Jacobson's. Filling that void really is important. We're certainly both in agreement here that Barracuda adding jobs is going to be a good thing, regardless of their impending move.

Ron Granger

Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

Fortunately, not everyone is doom and gloom. "Some number of jobs at some point" Guess you missed the other story where they have been hiring 2 employees a week and are currently extremely constrained by their current facility. It is packed to capacity - "sardines" - and they long ago ran out of parking. Read the articles. Their A2 office started with 1 employee. Now 180. And adding 200. So what would it take for something to be a "boon" to Ann Arbor in your view?


Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 12:35 p.m.

Hopefully the move by Barracuda Networks into the Borders space will mark a turning point in the tide of homeless individuals that has washed over Liberty Street in this past year. One homeless person is not a problem. A group is only slightly worse. What's bad for a community is when an entire area becomes known as a gathering spot for vagrants - which is where Liberty Street has increasingly found itself over time, exacerbated by the exit of Borders from its flagship location.

Linda Peck

Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 12:35 p.m.

The move of Barracuda to downtown campus is such a boon to Ann Arbor commerce! It is all good! We are indeed a blessed city to have wonderful young talent to attract such activity here. It is a great time for Ann Arbor. There are good management decisions being made by our City Council and our Mayor in the area of business.


Tue, Jul 3, 2012 : 4:25 p.m.

Nice to see that Johnny is still busy rearranging the deck chairs on the good ship Lollipop! Consider these points - 1. 200 is small potatoes relative to what's been lost in this state (and county) - and that's IF and WHEN they ever do hire - Pfizer and Google made lots of promises about hiring, too, if you recall. 2.The state has lost population any way you cut it - and if anything the "official" stats probably understate the losses. The only growth in Washtenaw County has been in the townships - Ann Arbor proper actually lost a few hundred, as of the most recent census numbers I could find, and has been trending essentially flat for over 10 years. Much of the growth in the townships may well have come from elsewhere in Michigan. Like the burbs of Detroit, for instance - definitely know a few of those. 3. Florida and Nevada got overblown because there were LOTS of jobs - eventually the population just grew faster than the jobs did - nice to have the problems of growth. Texas and Colorado are still doing just fine, thank you. Texas may wind-up as the most populous state in the nation, though Colorado is more appealing to me, personally - Texas IS an economic powerhouse.


Mon, Jul 2, 2012 : 3:45 a.m.

I agree about this being great news for the City, but dispute any role of the Mayor or City Council unless you can cite some specifics?


Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 8:21 p.m.

Cynic of course spouts an opinion without an OUNCE of facts. 1. "currently employs about 180 workers at its Depot Street offices and could add as many as 200 additional jobs as it expands" I guess more than DOUBLING it's workforce is a "wash". 2. The Ann Arbor metro area has grown by about 40k people in the last two decades. From 2000-2010 the county lost people, BUT at a much lower rate than the rest of the stare 3. The two states with the fastest growing population over the last two decades, Nevada and Florida. Tell me how the economy is in those states. So your population diatribe is not based in reality or fact Your opinion amounts to far less than a "warm bucket of spit", since it has less substance.


Sun, Jul 1, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

Dreamer! It'll take more than a couple hundred more techies to solve E. Liberty's problems. Both of these companies are simply relocating from elsewhere in the city... so there will be vacancies there. Aside from whatever new jobs are created, the whole thing is a wash for A2. All those phony surveys don't amount to a warm bucket of spit. This burg's population has been treading water for decades, and that tells more about its attractiveness than all the surveys ever taken.