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Posted on Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 6 a.m.

Proposal to evaluate selling off former YMCA site in downtown Ann Arbor goes down in defeat

By Ryan J. Stanton

Ann Arbor City Council Member Stephen Kunselman met resistance Monday night when he suggested the city consider selling off the former YMCA site downtown.

His resolution quickly went down in defeat, with a majority of council members putting their faith in an ongoing planning process being undertaken by the Downtown Development Authority.

"We've asked the DDA to take a good, long look at this property, and in my view it's proper, prudent and polite to wait for it," said Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward.

The lot at the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and William Street was purchased by the city in December 2003. In Kunselman's opinion, it's been a money pit ever since."This particular piece of land is costing us a lot of money," he said. "Our other vacant surface parking lots are not, so we're in no rush to put those up for sale."


Stephen Kunselman

Ryan J. Stanton |

Kunselman pointed out the city has a $3.5 million balloon payment due in December 2013. In addition, he said, the city will have made another $1.36 million in interest-only payments on the land.

"I think we need to start thinking about that now because December 2013 is going to come up pretty quick, and if we have to pay interest-only payments … it's not going to bode very well," he said.

"If we just look at the balloon payment and the interest payment … we'll have $4.86 million in a piece of land that is certainly not worth it," he said.

The city demolished the old Y building with plans of developing the site and expanding affordable housing options within the downtown, but that idea never panned out and the site remains a parking lot.

Kunselman estimated the city has spent $1.3 million just on rental payments to house the former occupants, plus nearly three-quarters of a million dollars for the demolition work.

The DDA is in the middle of going through its Connecting William Street planning process, which is looking at development opportunities for city-owned sites downtown.

Kunselman's resolution, defeated in a 7-3 vote, would have directed the city administrator to act independently of the DDA's ongoing efforts and evaluate and report back to City Council on potential uses for the Y Lot, including a timeline for putting the land up for sale if no use is found.

"This is not to impinge upon the Connecting William Street effort," he said. "That process still moves forward, still looks at this land. They're coming forward with some recommendations at the end of October."

But he said the city's staff still should look into putting the property up for sale. Only Council Members Jane Lumm and Mike Anglin supported his resolution.

Council Member Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward, called Kunselman's proposal premature and unnecessary. She argued the city has more than a year before the balloon payment is due, and until then the city should let the DDA finish its process. She was reappointed for a four-year term on the DDA board Monday night.

"I think it just adds another layer on, as well as sending a clear message that there's no faith in the process that's under way currently," Smith said of Kunselman's resolution.

"The other component of this that's missing is who actually is paying the interest on the property," Smith said. "As far as I know, 50 percent of it is being paid by the DDA. And of course the city is a beneficiary of 17 percent of the parking revenues that are derived from the parking on the surface lot."

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.


Arno B

Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 4 p.m.

So someone is lamenting "Baloon Payments" and "Interest Only Payments"! Just another example of the folly of City Hall getting involved in real estate ventures! I wonder what kind of sophistry is used to justify the $250,000 spent on the golf course annual subsidy!!

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 10:59 a.m.

The article does not note, but should have noted, that the original idea for buying the old YMCA building and redeveloping it, was Mayor Hieftje's idea.


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 8:46 p.m.

So Margie Teall was ABSENT Again ? And Marcia Higgins left before the meeting adjourned ? Is that what representation in Ward 4 looks like ? Why yes it does, and continues to look like. It's what the voters continue to vote in. It's a travesty, and Margie Teall is an absolute Hypocrite for holding onto her seat with absolutely no dedication to representing her constituents to the level that they should be served. Let's hope that the recount that Jack Eaton has requested will find those 18 votes separating him and Ms. Teall and he will be declared the actual winner of this contested election so that Ward 4 can actually have the representation it deserves.


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 6:11 p.m.

The land should be sold to the AATA for a badly needed bus station. It would get all those buses off the streets and prevent all the dangerous jay walking to get on the buses.


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 7:29 p.m.

You do know AATA already has plans to rebuild on the existing site, right?


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 5:18 p.m.

There is no defense for sitting on land for which you're making interest-only payments. If it's true that this land is so valuable, then the city is mishandling not using it. If it's not true, we shouldn't hang onto it. This should be sold; let people who are better at making decisions with money and land use it; A2 government simply is not up to the task.

Vivienne Armentrout

Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 4:39 p.m.

"That idea never panned out" is considerable shorthand for what has been a long tortured history. Some of that is told in my post which links to earlier parts of the story. I draw connections between the failure of a project proposed by HDC, LLC and the wish to put a conference center in that area. earlier reported on the outcome of the HDC lawsuit against the city. I'm guessing that the $6.4 million figure reported by the Ann Arbor Chronicle does not include the costs of defending that lawsuit, which went to appeal, as I recall.


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

....seems like there's trouble in Paradise


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 3:49 p.m.

"Council Member Sandi Smith, D-1st Ward, called Kunselman's proposal premature and unnecessary. She argued the city has more than a year before the balloon payment is due . . " Of course there is no need for Ann Arbor to plan in advance. The longer we wait, the less likely there will be any change as it will suddenly be "too late" to do anything other than make the balloon payment.


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 2:25 p.m.

This is chicken feed compared to the $50 million already laid out for the DDA-spawned, unnecessary five-story Parking Pit next to the library. And since DDA revenues are importantly centered on their share of property taxes (plus, of course, the Art Fair), any reference to tax dollars being saved by the DDA making payments is either feigned ignorance or plain stupidity.


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 1:31 p.m.

Putting their faith in the DDA? Are they CRAZY? Did they not pay any attention to the Garage Mahal debacle?


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 1:25 p.m.

Heaven forbid we should be impolite to the DDA.


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 12:47 p.m.

Affordable housing is a part of any good urban planning context. But, other than the wealthy, who else can afford to live in the high rent areas of downtown? Affordable housing is ideally interspersed through all residential areas, but the value of downtown real estate should be seen as a means and opportunity to maximize the city's ability to serve all its citizens.

average joe

Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 12:42 p.m.

In Kunselman's opinion, it's been a money pit ever since. Is there any calculation of the entire cost of this property vs. the city's income (not DDA's) since the purchase? How deep is this pit?


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.

When in doubt, find sand, stick head in. Given a little more conservative smoozing and positive 'vision of OZ', Kunselman might become Ann Arbor's next mayor. Unfortunately he, Lumm, Anglin, and sometimes Higgins are too transparent and practical for city business at this time. After the 4th ward recall vote and the next primary/election cycle, the old guard and the DDA will be taken to task and better ideas in this will emerge. This property is a gem and should be treated as such. Others can be sold to raise cash. It is all the same city bucket. At some point leaders will understand resident sustainability far outweighs addictive and in this case costly development.


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

Sorry, somehow the question I intended to ask got chopped. Which is: Would you explain why this property is a gem??


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

To the north is the AATA hub, which may have a convenience factor for those who use transit, but frankly I wouldn't want my business right on the bus depot's door step (traffic congestion, noise, etc.). To the northwest is one of the most dubious spots in this town... that night club (I think it's still Studio 4??) which has been nothing but trouble for years due to fights, drugs, etc. To the west is a big ugly parking garage. To the south is a funeral home (due respect to the fine folks at Muehlig's). I guess you do have the library to the east. That's something.


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 12:20 p.m.

The DDA is appointed by the mayor! Having them (DDA) decide something is like having the mayor decide something only it takes longer and gives him political coverage if it is a bad decision. Sell the land and let the developers build something on it! We need more housing, then we will need more support businesses for those who live their. Government SUCKS when it tries to do things that should be done by the private sector!


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 9:39 p.m.

not only DDA. AATA board and others are appointed by mayor and ratified by council majority. Is this common among city governments?


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 11:41 a.m.

It's only $4.86M of OUR tax dollars and 10 years sitting idle...its not like we have more important needs like police or fire protection...what a waste, but be sure to vote "yes" on future millage increases so we can enable more wasteful spending...just saying...


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 11:39 a.m.

As long as the majority of AA voters back this mayor and most of city council, we cannot expect much different than what we have experienced to date. Some of us scream for new leadership, but the majority of AA voters speak very loudly – that they support this mayor and his group. Until this changes (the AA voters want or demand new leadership), we can expect more of the same. Tax, spend & waste – all on personal projects or the wrong priorities.


Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

If it is the will of the majority, then the priorities, projects and spending aren't wrong, though they do no doubt go down like sour grapes. How they taste?

David Paris

Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 10:56 a.m.

I'm with the "No" votes on this one. It's been in the budget for a few years now, so just let things play out as they've been planned.

Chip Reed

Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 10:36 a.m.

When do we get to vote on the DDA?

Alan Goldsmith

Tue, Aug 21, 2012 : 10:30 a.m.

"The city demolished the old Y building with plans of developing the site and expanding affordable housing options within the downtown, but that idea never panned out and the site remains a parking lot." The City's promise of "expanding affordable housing options within the downtown" had been smoke and mirrors and a failure. Why does that surprise anyone?