You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, May 20, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

North Main Street should be a welcoming gateway into Ann Arbor

By Tony Dearing


The North Main Street corridor has assets that ought to make it a prime candidate for redevelopment, including riding and biking paths in Bandemer Park that run alongside Argo Pond.

Steve Pepple |

Ann Arbor is a city with a vibrant downtown and thriving neighborhoods, but that’s not the impression we give visitors who drive into town from almost any direction. Our entryways into the city are bland at best -- and in the case of the North Main Street corridor, downright unsightly.

That’s why the community should welcome recent action by the Ann Arbor City Council to appoint a North Main-Huron River Corridor Vision Task Force. Efforts to improve this important corridor into the city are long overdue. We hope the impetus from this task force will be just what North Main Street needs to begin a process of rebirth.

Among other things, the task force’s efforts will focus on a new future for the property at 721 N. Main, which currently houses the city’s fleet services facility. That’s as good a place to start as any. Improvements there could then potentially radiate up and down the street — which, for all its eyesores, has tremendous potential.

The blighting influences that greet visitors to Ann Arbor as they enter town on North Main Street are well documented ... Yet that stretch also has assets that ought to make it a prime candidate for redevelopment.

The blighting influences that greet visitors to Ann Arbor as they enter town on North Main Street are well documented, most recently in a column written by Paula Gardner, news director for Yet that stretch also has assets that ought to make it a prime candidate for redevelopment, including Argo Pond, which runs virtually the length of the corridor, and Bandemer Park. The city also is looking at the riverside MichCon property, off of Broadway Street, as a potential new park, and that could help bolster the area as well.

We cannot make a case that Ann Arbor puts out the proper welcome mat to visitors approaching the city from any direction. Whether you’re talking about Washtenaw, South State Road or Jackson Avenue, none of these provide a first impression of the city that lives up to the charm of our downtown, neighborhoods or University of Michigan central campus.

Still, North Main Street stands out for the complete lack of appeal with which it greets those driving into town off of US-23 and M-14. And for all the talk about the need to improve this sad stretch, it continues to languish. We recall back in the early 1990s when the NEW Center, which works to support the mission of local non-profits, opened its building on North Main at the location of the former Lansky scrap yard. There was optimism at that time that it would spark further changes, but the street remains surprisingly unaffected in the nearly two decades since.


Ann Arbor Fleet Services facility, located at 721 N. Main St.

Melanie Maxwell I

At a time when the economy and the city budget are beginning to show modest improvement, and communities across the country are increasingly interested in issues like walkability, bike paths, aesthetics and sustainability, this feels like the right time to revisit the issue of North Main Street and see if we can jump-start something there.

We particularly should note that efforts to improve this area wouldn’t just lay out a better welcome mat to visitors. It also could give residents greater visibility and accessibility to the river and adjoining parks. For instance, access to Bandemer is particularly troublesome because people are illegally and dangerously crossing railroad tracks at some points to get there.

At a time when the city is directing its attention to North Main, there also are rumblings of interest in the private sector that could lead to new investment along the corridor. We’re encouraged by the broadness of representation that the city wants to bring to the task force, which is expected to include someone from the city's Park Advisory Commission, a member of the Planning Commission, one resident from the Water Hill neighborhood, a resident representing the North Central area, one resident from the Old Fourth Ward, one resident representing the Broadway/Pontiac neighborhood, two business and property owners from the area, and someone from the Huron River Watershed Council.

The task force will work over the next year to develop a vision for North Main Street and nearby areas along the Huron River. It is expected to make its recommendations to City Council by the end of July 2013.

North Main Street has suffered neglect for a long period, and we have no illusions about the amount of time, effort and investment that will be required to turn it around. But just as the blight stares all of us in the face every time we drive along the street, so does the potential. We look forward to what vision the task force defines for North Main, and what steps it suggests to start a reclamation.

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



Mon, Jun 4, 2012 : 5:39 a.m.

I would support a task force to look into this, were it not for the fact it will surely be made up of the same small group of people that continue to run this city into the ground. The cronyism in selecting task force members and lack of genuine community input into these matters is frustrating, to say the least. Will we see one person named to this task force that is not in some way connected to city hall or commercial development? Get ready to open your wallets, Ann Arbor. A task force is forming...


Sun, Jun 3, 2012 : 12:01 a.m.

I actually don't mind the high rises, I'm from Detroit and just moved to Ann Arbor. However, I don't mind the high rises if tney were NOT messing up the beautiful view of the riverfront.


Thu, May 24, 2012 : 7:33 p.m.

As active participants in the redevelopment of North Main, Peter Allen and I, along with the roughly thousand employees and residents of N. Main, have been doing our part on our little section of N. Main from the north of Depot St. to the railroad overpass. Over the past 10 years, we have spent over $4 mil. creating a place that many love to work in, live in, and play around. Just yesterday we replaced the gutter under the railroad that Peter paid local artists (treetownmurals) to do 12 years ago. We are paying again to repaint it. We just got Sweet Heather Anne's cake shop to come to the neighborhood. Clean Energy coalition just installed electric charging stations. We have the river, the new cascades, we have soul food at elks right up the hill. We very well may need a Task Force, and I know we have blight, but more to the point, we need more people to come down here and join us in making North Main awesome.

Rick Jans

Tue, May 22, 2012 : 10:04 a.m.

As a frequent visitor to Ann Arbor, I totally agree that North Main Street needs immediate work. It is an eyesore and has been neglected for way too long. It`s sad to enter such a beautiful city that way! Repaving roads, new sidewalks, new lighting and some landscaping would be a good start!

P. J. Murphy

Mon, May 21, 2012 : 3:44 p.m.

The task force sounds like a good idea, clearly there's no shortage of views on this subject, so a city-sponsored look at the situation makes sense. Yet, when you look closely at that corridor, how it's tied to M14, it's hard to imagine anything more than a cosmetic makeover. Years ago it was decided to turn N. Main into a extended entry/exit ramp to the expressway. Given the era and it affection for autos, and light industrial nature of local use, that solution was understandable. But today the relatively high speed and volume of traffic on N. Main has tended to make property on either side of the street less desirable, despite the pretty views. So the task force will have some challenges and hopefully some creative solutions.


Mon, May 21, 2012 : 3:07 p.m.

This is idiotic, when people come off that ramp the ONLY thing they should be paying attention to is THE ROAD! so yes, clean up the pot holes and make all the roads leading into town Pot hole free!!!

Maggie Phillips

Mon, May 21, 2012 : 2:36 a.m.

Good for the A2 City Council for appointing a Vision Task Force to address future plans for the blighted northern entry corridor. Many fine examples exist of U.S. and European cities with re-imagined water fronts. My Vision: open the river side as much as possible for parks and of low-rise development (restaurant and office space); put in walk/bike paths along the river's edge; acquire and sell land on the west hill side to developers for housing/office development (2-3 story height limit) with access to river by pedestrian bridge or tunnel; force the developers of the PUD and the luxury high-rise to either begin construction or remove the burned-out, boarded-up buildings they now own. Like Detroit, we could at least erect community gardens on the vacant land. Finally, no pricey consultants for this project....please!! Ann Arbor's got talent to figure this out.

Wolf's Bane

Mon, May 21, 2012 : 1:25 a.m.

Leave Bandemer Park alone and focus on al the blighted homes and other properties along Main Street.


Mon, May 21, 2012 : 1:55 a.m.

Exactly. Ann Arbor needs to do something about those boarded up houses there. I'm sure they could find a buyer to re-do them or tear them down for a development project.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 11:04 p.m.

Whenever I enter into Ann Arbor through North Main, I feel I'm entering into Detroit.


Mon, May 21, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

say what you will about Kwame...but most all major roads into the city have been newly paved. Michigan ave, the lodge and Jefferson. even all the roads into downtown (Brush park) have been re done. Makes a world of difference. takes your mind off the blight.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 8:39 p.m.

Some very good points. The entries into town should look better but there is always the question as to what to do about it. One thing would be to not allow some of the horrible architects who have been destroying other parts of town lately to build ANYTHING. I know that this is an unreasonable request, but one can dream ... Remember when architecture was considered an art?


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 5:20 p.m.

I agree more care should be taken to the N Main corridor asn well as other corridors into the city. On N Main st, I agree cutting grass (& ensuring landowners do the same) and trimming & planting is aesthetically pleasing trees is a good start and it doesn't cost much. Bluffs Park is a *gem* and access from it to Bandemer & other nearby parks like Kuebler-Langford, etc., should be better. Displacing residents from affordable housing for aesthetically pleasing entrance is irresponsible not to mention very rude!

Lynn Glazewski

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 4:50 p.m.

It really should not be the priority of a recovering municipality to spend taxpayer money on extravagances. If the city can find financial monies for beautification, sure, but otherwise, it is the responsibility of local businesses to attract customers. Since Ann Arbor doesn't seem to have a problem attracting employees, students, or visitors who spend money in our city, do we really need to enhance the approaches? Obviously, the people the city is trying to attract to town don't care. Pull the weeds, yes, but expensive bike boardwalks? Not in this economy, please.

Michigan Man

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

Let the Barton Hills residents pay for and fix North Main! They are the ones with all the money in Ann Arbor. Please fix the run down + ghetto looking Georgetown mall property 1st. North Main has looked has looked crappy for decades and it hasn't seem to stop Ann Arbor from becoming the place where the smartest people in the nation live. Move on to another more pressing social, cultural quality of life issue.


Mon, May 21, 2012 : 1:55 a.m.

Barton Hills pays their own taxes. Just like Pittsfield Township pays their own taxes. It wouldn't make sense for Barton Hills residents to pay for the Georgetown Mall project when it is on the opposite side of the city.

Mike Hartwell

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:56 p.m.

IMO the article has it right. All of the expressway entrances into Ann Arbor are ugly and boring. NONE of those entrances give a clue about what kind of town Ann Arbor is/was. IMO the problem is the dirt loving tree huggers compete with the business types. It seems to me that A2 has enough creative people on both sides to get to a solution. I do not think this is an either or issue.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:50 p.m.

of course the north entrance is important, but please don't forget the south entrance, the main gateway for most of the folks coming to football games and to visit, and to work in Ann Arbor ... the intersection of I-94 and Ann Arbor-Saline Road. That stretch of road is one of the worst re-re-re-re-patched asphalt in the county, and terrible to drive over. It would only cost $200,000, split three ways with the state, city, and county, to get the job done. That stretch hasn't been repaved in anyone's memory, and isn't scheduled until 2014 ... MAYBE !! What about getting it resurfaced before this fall ?????

Ricardo Queso

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:48 p.m.

Nothing says economic devastation like "Lotus Motors".

Tony Dearing

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:38 p.m.

More than one commenter has made points about graffiti and the impact that has on defacing the corridor (not to mention other parts of down). It's an issue we've been writing more about recently, and its a good example of how beautification and cosmetic improvements can help change an area. We're not arguing that there need to be big development projects here -- though, for instance, a restaurant on the river wouldn't be a terrible idea . Things as basic as an attractive "Welcome to Ann Arbor'' sign with landscaping around it would be an improvement, as would making the area more open and accessible to the river and parks.

Ron Granger

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

Why should I care what commuters or visitors think as they speed into town? Why should I care what UM student parents think? They don't pay taxes here. The priority should be on people who live in this town, and pay taxes in this town. Not out of towners.

Ron Granger

Mon, May 21, 2012 : 1:01 p.m.

Maggie, I think an apprporiate river front park would be nice, but with an exmphasis on resident taxpayers, not for out of town visitors or developers. It shouldn't become a "Rest Area" for those pulling off the highway.

Maggie Phillips

Mon, May 21, 2012 : 2:53 a.m.

To Mr. Granger..... I live in this town and would love to see the riverfront become a source of pride and a pleasure to visit. Since I'm also a Water Hill resident, I'd hope that I could one day ride my bike the mile up N. Main to Huron River Drive, without risking my life due to commuters, visitors and U of M parents who regularly speed into town.

Ron Granger

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 10:56 p.m.

KMHall, I don't get a discount for being local. So why should I subsidize those for-profit businesses? Isn't it enough that I give them my business?


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 9:43 p.m.

Visitors support local businesses.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:01 p.m.

Form a task force PLEASE!! I always love those stories of wasted money; excessive compensation, with no results! You Ann Arborites are hiliarous!

Andy Price

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 5:42 p.m.

If you are an out-of-towner, why do you care?


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

Aren't they doing something over by that damn to clean it up and beautify? Near Barton Hills. Although that is is a rare gem. Never saw people with so much money. Wow.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

there is nothing so ugly as 10 story buildings right in front of a beautiful River with undulating land and Nature site behind it. Drivers use NMain as a conduit between expressway travel and getting to a destination. The expectation is to keep traffic moving swiftly and efficiently. The stop and go at Depot St. is enough. We don't need more on/off from NMain to add chaos to the driving. Keep it simple.....there is something untouched that should be respected about this zone. It is not a blight...River to the East and Nature site and more Parks to the West. The words "blight" and 'eyesore" are offensive, and being used to defend "rumblings of private investment." Why don't you be more specefic...since you have passed judgment on the current appearance.....other people should have the chance to comment on your knowledge of "rumblings"......and what exactly that refers to.

Tony Dearing

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

We don't have anything on the record yet that we can report about private development interest, but we will offer specifics as soon as we have them.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 1:17 p.m.

I always chuckle at the "haters" and their negative comments about spending money to beautify our city. I wish these folks would travel to some other cities to observe that many industrial eyesores have been returned to lovely people oriented parks, which create a draw for tourists and residents to get out and meet and greet---and spend money on local stores and restaurants. It isn't always JUST about tax dollars! It's about long term improvements that will bring in big dollars for conventions, for instance.


Mon, May 21, 2012 : 12:08 a.m.

Yes, Steve, it IS about our money, OUR TAX DOLLARS!


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

And it isn't always about bringing more tourist dollars to the city. If I wanted to live in a tourist attraction I'd move there. I'm sure I'm not alone on that, either. Let's spend our dollars first on making the city better for the residents, not to impress people who are already driving into town in the first place.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

Let's don't over think this and form a committee of granola grazers and curly pipe puffers. Just clean up the entrances and be diligent about maintaining the grounds and filling pot holes. Good gosh the Briarwood area looks like a native grass exhibit for cryin out loud. Put the $ in the DPW it is the best bang for the buck. Oh, take a look at VETS park as the poster park on how the Green Belt has swiped money from park maintenance as well.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

Put me in the clean it up, plant some trees and keep it trimmed up but no need to freak out pile.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 1:03 p.m.

This article starts out on the mark: "Ann Arbor is a city with a vibrant downtown and thriving neighborhoods, but that's not the impression we give visitors who drive into town from almost any direction. Our entryways into the city are bland at best -- and in the case of the North Main Street corridor, downright unsightly." I've said this in a number of other posts related to this topic. But don't just pay attention to the unsightly North Main corridor. The city needs to address the other 4 main gateways to Ann Arbor: Jackson Rd. at I-94, Ann Arbor-Saline Rd/I-94, State St/I-94, and Washtenaw/US 23. All of these could be much improved without spending a ton of money on acquiring land. How about just fixing crumbled asphalt and potholes, trimming trees, cutting grass and weeds REGULARLY, planting some nice landscaping, and maybe putting up a nice looking welcome sign. That would have a much more positive affect on the city than the public art program. The city needs to show the rest of the world that we're proud of our city. What you see today sends quite another message.

Jim Osborn

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 12:58 p.m.

The laws making it illegal to cross a railroad track by a pedestrian, as stated in this editorial and if true, should be removed. Just as people can cross tracks at a road, they should be able to do so at a park. Railroad tracks are easy to cross, as trains are infrequent, and noisy as they approach. Walking along a railroad track is a mostly harmless practice that is abused by the few fools who wear headphones and get killed. So I can understand laws prohibiting this. It is fine for a city to have a vision for an area and to have zoning laws. Tony Dearing mntioned South State St. Thecity sould trim the weeds and fill the potholes. If there is and budget improvement, it is because they neglect thes functions.

Unusual Suspect

Mon, May 21, 2012 : 12:29 a.m.

Every crossing of a railroad track means more insurance costs and risks of collisions between trains and people. Even at 50mph a train comes across that corner very quickly, and trains are much quieter these days, especially when decelerating. Build a walking bridge over it, or a walking tunnel under it. Where do we have a stretch of track that has no crossing for "miles and miles?" Other than somewhere in the middle of Alaska, that is. Hello, red herring. "It is private land for maintenance purposes." What does this even mean? It's private property, period. You can't just grab private property just because you want to. Well, when America is free, you can't. There are easements at certain points to provide crossing. These are added very infrequently because they are dangerous, whether a road or walkway. The crossing at Gallup Park, for example, wasn't even added, it was already there - it was previously a street crossing.

Jim Osborn

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 7:46 p.m.

@"U-suspect - There cannot be high-speed rail along the Huron River. These tracks cannot handle speeds of 180 MPH, or even 120 MPH, which is what HSR actually is. When trains do travel at 60 MPH or less, it is quite easy to know not to cross. You only need to cross a 10-foot section to be safe. I'd rather cross RR tracks than a curved section of road such as Whitmore Lake; especially with a quiet electric. Chevy Volt or Nissan.. Societies have had roads that have been crossed by pedestrians for centuries. With the advent of railroads in the nineteenth century, the railroads were granted right-of ways that became private property for the narrow strip. It was never intended for a private person or company to prevent crossing land for miles and miles. Until recently, this has never been a problem. I'd challenge anyone to find an Ann Arbor newspaper article from 25, 50, 75 or 100 years ago about an elderly lady being arrested for crossing or even walking along railroad tracks. Much of this desire of railroads wanting people kept off of their tracks is due to lawsuits. It is private land for maintenance purposes, not to hinder movement of people.

Unusual Suspect

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:13 p.m.

A crossing along the curve in the railroad track is at that area would be very dangerous, especially considering trains are about to start traveling at high speeds. Also, are you also in favor of people crossing your property whenever and wherever they wish, without your ability to control it? This is exactly the policy what you are proposing be forced on the railroad companies.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 12:49 p.m.

I think 10story business buildings with underground parking should abound the west side (into the hill) and 2-3 story tutor style small apartment/condo/commerce/retail buildings.

Jim Osborn

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 12:37 p.m.

I agree completely that North Main, and all main roads from the highways into Ann Arbor should be as attractive to visitors as possible. What should be the city's role? 1) Smooth roads with no potholes 2) Eliminate graffiti, and stop conducting the how-to-do-it graffiti class that the Ann Arbor Library holds every year during the Art Fairs. 3) Along any roads, during the summer, trim any weeds 4) A welcoming sign pointing to downtown and UM, paid by UM, of course could be added. What a bankrupt city should not do is spend a fortune to buy property from functioning businesses for an expensive redevelopment program.


Mon, May 21, 2012 : 1:53 a.m.

Graffiti is not always vandalism.

Unusual Suspect

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

Does the library also have a breaking-and-entering class? I've always been baffled by holding a class that instructs youth on the finer points of vandalism.

Jim Osborn

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 12:59 p.m.

How do you know? The AADL began this about a 12 years ago, when Ann Arbor had none, and it grew nd grew.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 12:46 p.m.

Students who take a Graffiti class are not the ones defacing public property.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 12:11 p.m.

It's a city, not a theme park. At least that's what I used to thinkl

Local Lady

Sun, May 20, 2012 : 12:07 p.m.

This entrance to the city from 23 has for years been the winner of the ugly contest. As a resident, my goals are: 1. Not a lot of city investment unless it involves creating a park along the pond 2. Avoid huge high rises on the river side of the road that would block the view of Argo pond 3. Buy up the properties on the hill side of the road to developers that will create some pretty buildings 4. Move the city fleet parking or disguise it with trees


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 11:57 a.m.

Please don't create another financial boondoggle


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 11:07 a.m.

Please oh please task force don't waste countless dollars on this...the northern approach to town is still the prettiest we have (in fact UM even routes perspectives and visitors that way) and its pretty much looked the same for the thirty years I've lived on the North side. It needs a little TLC and some cleanup and new trees...but it's the least of this cities problems right now.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 12:44 p.m.

I can't disagree more. Since moving here over eight years ago, I've always wondered why North Main was so industrial and run-down, being it's right off the river. I would imagine places like Barracuda or Google would have loved to have a 10 story building overlooking argo pond with immediate access to M14/US23. N. Main could look very good, and the only reason it's not horrible is that us Bus23 coming into town down the hill you can see a good view of the cityscape which is very nice. Once you exit the freeway, your next mile is very run-down and bland.


Sun, May 20, 2012 : 11:38 a.m.

Agree -- have always loved coming into AA from North US 23 -- a little clean up and away we go. On the other hand coming in State Street or Washtenaw leaves a little bit to desire -- some general clean up and planting would definitely enhance that area.