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Posted on Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Time for a makeover? Ann Arbor DDA says streetscape project could help South U's comeback

By Ryan J. Stanton


Ann Arbor DDA Executive Director Susan Pollay, left, sits with Maggie Ladd, executive director of the South University Area Association, on one of the tree planters along South University Avenue. They want to get rid of them.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Large concrete tree planters that double as benches have been part of South University Avenue's characteristic look and feel for roughly a quarter of a century.

But what might have been good urban design in the late 1980s doesn't work well anymore, said Susan Pollay, executive director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

The DDA is thinking it might be time to get rid of those planters — and replace them with much smaller ones — as it looks to give South U a makeover.


One of the hopes is that removing the planters will create more space for restaurants and coffee shops to be able to offer outdoor seating along South U.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The idea for a South U makeover is a conversation that's just starting — it isn't budgeted yet. Pollay said it could be one of the DDA's next big projects, though.

"It's probably one of the most compelling, simply because of the street activity we're not getting because of the trees," she said, suggesting the planters take up too much space on the sidewalks and stand in the way of businesses being able to offer more outdoor seating for customers.

"With the more people we're adding to this neighborhood who are living here as residents, that's one of the elements that we need to be thinking about," Pollay said, "because the overall vitality is coming back, and what can we do to help?"

Maggie Ladd, executive director of the South University Area Association, agrees that getting rid of the planters and giving South U a makeover is needed.

"This streetscape is very old and tired now," she said. "The reason we need to redo the streetscape is because the infrastructure is failing."

Ladd said the trees that were planted years ago have overgrown their planters, and in some cases their roots are now causing the brick pavers around them to heave.

"We just have mulch in the planters and that's because we can't plant anything because the roots have taken everything up," she said.


Pollay said it's inevitable that the DDA will have to do something about South U with the trees having overgrown the planters and the infrastructure starting to fail.

Ryan J. Stanton |

South U patrons and employees have mixed opinions. Relaxing on one of the planters on a recent afternoon, Brian Dew, a lifelong Ann Arbor resident and sales associate at Motivation Boutique, said he doesn't want to see the trees and their bench-style pots go.

"I think it would take away from South U," he said. "It's a staple for the city of Ann Arbor. It's tree city — Tree Town."

Mary Holt, a recent University of Michigan graduate, said she mostly comes to South U to go to Pizza House. She said she wouldn't mind trading the planters for more outdoor seating at restaurants.

"They look nice, but I don't have an extreme attachment to them," she said. "I think more outdoor seating is always good."

While the planters have become characteristic of South U, Ladd said, it's not a good characteristic. People leave their cigarette butts in them, some people sleep in them, and dogs even jump up to go to the bathroom in them, she said, "so they're not ideal."

'It's the comeback period'

Ladd believes the timing is right for a change as more and more people are calling South U home with new high-rise developments going in — mostly student apartments at this point.


The Landmark high-rise apartment building, visible in the background, is one of multiple developments changing the South U skyline.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"I think we're on the cusp of a really exciting period right now," Ladd said, crediting that to a change in the city's zoning regulations for South U.

"We have a similar zoning to the rest of downtown now," she said. "You can see there are different projects coming online. And there are a few more in the pipeline I think, so we're really in a very exciting time for this area. It's the comeback period."

In 2006, new zoning encouraging high-density commercial and residential development was adopted to reinvigorate South U. Within months, the city approved a 10-story apartment building known as Zaragon Place to replace the historic 1923 Anberay Apartments on East University.

The nearly 250 beds Zaragon brought has helped fuel what Ladd describes as a comeback for South U. The area welcomed another 600-plus beds last year with the 14-story Landmark high-rise, and another 14-story high-rise approved above Pizza House promises at least 175 more beds.

"If you put another 1,000 people down here, you're going to see the difference," Ladd said, tallying up the bed count for those new developments.

Most of South U is now zoned to allow buildings up to 150 feet tall. Ladd said it's difficult to predict the market, but she sees a lot of potential for more dense development.

"Which is good," she said. "Before we changed the zoning, it was all one- and two-story buildings. You couldn't do anything else. Sometimes you couldn't do more than one if you had a basement — they counted that. It was so restrictive that we couldn't get anything done down here."

Asked where the next high-rise might go on South U, Ladd said there's definitely strong interest in some properties, but she's not able to discuss that.

Starting the process

The DDA has funded a number of major streetscape projects in the downtown over the years from Liberty Street to Fourth Avenue, and more recently Fifth Avenue and Division Street.


Ladd said the trees that were planted years ago have overgrown their planters, and in some cases their roots are now causing the brick pavers around them to heave.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"The process takes a bit of time because we want to go deliberatively. We want to make sure we're listening to people," Pollay said. "Once we know what it looks like and what it will cost, we then begin the process of getting it approved by council and then get it scheduled."

Pollay said the DDA hasn't priced any of the work yet, but she guesses it could be in the $1 million to $2 million range if infrastructure like water mains and fire hydrants are addressed.

Pollay said DDA officials also might need to talk with DTE Energy about electrical capacity on South U to make sure there's enough to meet future needs. Ladd also raised concerns about water pressure.

"There isn't enough pressure to allow us to water plants, which is bothersome to me," she said. "It makes me wonder … is there enough water pressure if there was an emergency?"

Ladd and Pollay both suggested it might make sense to draw inspiration from State Street when it comes to the kind of tree planters that could replace the ones on South U — something less overpowering, yet still enough to support trees along the street.

Pollay said they also need to be thinking about trash and recycling receptacles, and the number of bike hoops along the street.

"One of the elements we haven't figured out yet is we want seating for people who may not want to be at a cafe — they may just want to be talking to a friend," she added.


The Brown Jug bar and restaurant on South U has worked around the planters to provide outdoor seating for its customers.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Pollay said it's inevitable that the DDA will have to do something about South U with the trees having overgrown the planters and the infrastructure failing.

"We think that's where reinvesting in it gives the overall message that people care, this is a neighborhood, we believe in our future," she said.

In some cases where brick pavers around the planters have cracked, Pollay noted, they've been filled in with cold patch.

"Increasingly you're going to start to see more and more cold patch, because we don't have replacement pavers," Pollay said. "It's only going to get worse, so now is a good time to start thinking about what to do to take the place of the pavers ... and what kind of sidewalk does work well."

Pollay said she loves the large trees along South U just like everybody else, but it's only a matter of time before they go, so now is a good time to start talking about what to do.

"Streetscapes in our town take years to go through a design process, an approval process and finally an installation process, so what we're saying is it's time to begin the design process," she said.

The changing face of South U

Ladd has been observing the changes on South U for decades. She and her ex-husband owned and operated a jewelry store on South U from about 1982 to 2005.


Ladd acknowledges South U has become a largely student-centric corridor with many bars and restaurants that cater to a college crowd. But as new development occurs, she said, there's room for new businesses, and she thinks there's a market for more diversity.

Ryan J. Stanton |

"I've seen a lot," she said. "I've seen the decline, and how long it took us as an organization to discover the causes of that decline, and to try and start the revitalization process."

Ladd said the revitalization process started in the late 1990s, just prior to the DDA building an 854-space parking garage on Forest Avenue.

"We had a dilapidated parking structure that was literally being condemned floor by floor," she said. "Businesses were fleeing because they couldn't bring their customers in."

Ladd said it wasn't until around 2003 that they finally realized zoning was the problem.

She acknowledges South U has become a largely student-centric corridor with many bars and restaurants that cater to a college crowd. But as new development occurs, she said, there's room for new businesses, and she thinks there's a market for more diversity.

"Not just diversity of housing, but diversity of businesses," she said. "And we think one will follow the other with new business spaces being available in the bottom of these new buildings."

Ladd said her experience on South U in the 1980s was that it was more of a "university area," as opposed to a "student area."

"It was a real downtown area with all sorts of retail shops, galleries, a variety of restaurants, a variety of service businesses," she said. "There was a movie theater down here, a gas station.

"You could come and get your shoes fixed. It was very much the downtown area for the residents from around here."


Ladd said it's "very impactful" for businesses to have hundreds of new residents walking up and down South U every day to get where they need to go.

Ryan J. Stanton |

She said the area was "chic" and "cool and hip" and there were lots of little interesting stores.

"We have Middle Earth now, and that's the only business that's left from that era," she said.

Over the years, Ladd said, bad decisions were made at vital points that hurt South U.

"I mean, when you put a Burger King, a McDonald's and a Taco Bell in one block, you've changed the look of the area, the feel of the area, the people who visit the area," she said, adding those kinds of changes contributed to the decline of South U in the 1990s.

But she believes South U is coming back. And she points to boutiques like Motivation and YCI Clothing and Launch as examples of its diversity.

"I'm looking at this street and you've got one-of-a-kind owner-occupied restaurants and retail again," Pollay added. "I didn't see this 10 years ago."

Ladd said it's been "very impactful" to have hundreds of new residents walking up and down South U every day to get where they need to go.

"Businesses here survived this last year while East Quad was closed. They maintained their business levels, and we think it's because of the people living down here," she said. "So this coming school year we're expecting to see a rise in profitability of the businesses because East Quad will be open."

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.



Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.

I am sure that the giant Landmark housing project (that's what these places are, projects) has something to do with the drop in water pressure in the area. We allow massive building in an area before the infrastructure is in place to support it, then wonder why we have low water pressure (too many units too high up), crumbling streets ( the repeated weight of heavy machinery, cemet trucks, steel haulers etc.). We all are asked to pay for this additional infrastructure support, but it benefits are realized by only a few. Is it that hard to understand? Massive housing = crowded sidewalks and strained infrastructure. The DDA solution? Get rid of the trees to make more room on the sidewalks, and tax the rest of us to upgrade the services these developments have strained. No, thanks, it would be easier and cheaper to get rid of the DDA.

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 12:57 p.m.

Those mid-size trees are a tremendous asset. We should be proud of them, not looking to monetize them for the expansion of the DDA's coffers and power. It is very difficult to grow trees on a sidewalk and they grow very slowly. Sidewalk trees struggle to get oxygen to their roots and their are a constant target of vandals and public inebriants seeking to demonstrate whatever it is they are about at the moment.


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 3:24 a.m.

So the trees in the planters are too big now. Why not just retire them to the arboratum or another location where they can be replanted and continue to have a natural life? Then, of course, since trees in planters are enjoyed along South University, plant younger trees in the planters. In ten to fifteen years when these trees get too big for their planter then replace them again. I do this with my own plants at home. Really its not difficult and likely not that expensive either.


Tue, Jun 4, 2013 : 11:50 a.m.

Those trees work great where they are. They shade the sidewalk- intended purpose. The hardscaping issues are easily fixed but that situation requires ongoing MAINTENANCE. Just like the rusting out light posts on Main Street required maintenance to keep them from rusting out.

Colorado Sun

Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 1:02 a.m.

The DDA is like a big "Insider's Club". THe DDA members are long-time political insiders like Leah Gunn and Joan Lowenstein. The DDA finances benefits to insiders' businesses, and these business insiders turn around and promote the political clique that votes to provide the benefits. Sumi Kailasapathy and Steve Kunselman are wise to the games played by the DDA and have introduced an amending ordinance proposal that would toss Mayor Hieftje off the DDA and provide more oversight by City Council. The Mayor is ardently opposed to this ordinance. John Hieftje's control of city government has steadily eroded over the preceding year and will continue to deteriorate if his ally Marcia Higgins loses her re-election bid this August - as many believe she will. The long downhill slide of the Hieftje political machine continues.................


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 3:15 a.m.

But not fast enough. Mayor Hieftje's power and influence extends into every commission and committee to which he appoints friends and allies which is why the Planning Commission, with Kirk Westphall as its leader, extended D1 zoning status to just about any piece of property in downtown Ann Arbor and is a reason why the hated 413 East Huron project will start construction soon.


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 12:39 a.m.

Ya know, for a city that prides itself in being progressive and ever-changing, there are a lot of people complaining whenever they decide to change something. I see quite a lot of trees in this city, so maybe it's just that lots of people are allergic to concrete? I've been living here for roughly 2.5 years, and I enjoy watching the city grow. I'll walk down an area of town I haven't visited often since moving to a different part of the city, and it seems like there's always some new building or landmark going up. It's expansion, it's change, and it's nice to see. I like Leaguebus's idea of converting a portion of South U into a mall. I'm reminded of the downtown pedestrian mall in Kalamazoo, and something similar could be perfect for the South U area. As for the trees... is it really that big of a deal? A handful of trees in giant concrete pots on a block or two of road? It's not like there won't be new trees planted there. They're covered in gum, cigarette butts, etc. I so often see on here comments attacking just one person or one small organization/administration/committee. After meetings and public forums, why do these structures still move forward? I'm guessing because most people either don't care much either way, or are fine with the changes to their community around them. This isn't really a matter of "concrete gooood, trees baaaaad". But I suppose if you want to cast anything in a negative light, the tree argument is a good stand-by. They are trying to transform areas of this city to better suite the constantly changing spectrum of people living here.

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 12:53 p.m.

@Andrew: You might like Troy or Birmingham or Livonia, or Canton. Those are cities that put concrete, development and strip malls first. The recent push by special interests to turn a2 into a city of high rise and concrete is a new thing and it is completely out of character forthe town, the history, and most of the year round residents.


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 10:12 a.m.

Andrew one of the features of the city that has kept me here for over 40 years is the diversity. I don't want a city [buildings included] that is a cookie cutter design. South U is a student area and it looks like it, relaxed, laid back area and the business's reflect that culture. Making it look like state st. is a mistake, I avoid state st. -except for Nichols arcade because of the pan handlers and you can't navigate the sidewalk because the DDA is allowing business's to take over the sidewalks in front of their business. This DDA and administration is about money, - just like Kwayme and company, there is a lot of money and 'projects' happening in this city over the last few years that should be raising red flags. This is another one.


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 7:18 a.m.

You have been here 2.5 years. You have no idea about this town....Ya know. (FYI - check spelling and grammar before posting comments. It might help.)


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 3:11 a.m.

You mean the organization that has been around since the early 80's and has had quite an impact on where our city is today? Okay, I may not agree with all of their ideas and policies, and the laws regarding the DDA. But what I am tired of seeing is people complaining about all of this development and saying it's all going on because of something shady the DDA is doing and where the money is going/coming from. Is the DDA so terrible in everything that it does that everyone on here has to demonize them?


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 2:18 a.m.

You have a lot to learn about how this city works politically. Do you even know what the DDA is or what it does?


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:48 p.m.

They ought to make South U between Forest and State a mall. It's a student area which seems to be doing well. It is impossible to drive South U most of the time, so why not close it? Actually the same goes for Main between William and Huron. It's mostly a parking lot now. There is no reason that football traffic can't take First instead of Main. If the DDA sees need to change South U, why not try something different?


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:11 p.m.

Everyone hold your breath while we wait for Susan Pollay to ask the ones that will pay for this, what they think.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:10 p.m.

It's only a matter of time until Susan Pollay has the whole city redone in HER image!


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 10:04 a.m.

Colorado you might be the only one in this town besides the mayor

Colorado Sun

Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 1:05 a.m.

I luuuuuv Susan Pollay. But i cannot agree with her on this project.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 8:30 p.m.

The only way to reel in the DDA is to elect different people for mayor and council. Quite simple. Until then they will continue to do pretty much whatever they please. With our skimmed tax dollars.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 9:33 p.m.



Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 7:40 p.m.

Susan Pollay and her minions at the DDA are a bigger nuisance to the downtown area than any tree planter. These tree planters are more than that; they are where people can sit and hang out, and they provide a nice atmosphere along South U. If they want to clean South U up, they can start by rebuilding where Pinball Pete's burned down years ago.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 7:32 p.m.

DDA = Concrete Jungle!

Colorado Sun

Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 1:12 a.m.

The DDA's poor operation is one of the reasons we need to get more oversight by City Council.

Scott Reed

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 5:59 p.m.

Instead of removing the trees, they should remove parking spaces and replace them with sidewalk or cafe seating. That area is getting very dense and car traffic will become an increasing nuisance to the pedestrians there.

Stephen Landes

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 5:52 p.m.

1) Remember that people who are not heading for a restaurant still need a place to sit down and take a break. The planters provide that opportunity all year long (not just in outdoor eating weather) 2) Think radically. Consider making South U a pedestrian mall between East U and Washtenaw. A center island the length of the mall could hold trees, food carts, and benches, leaving the sidewalk areas open for outdoor restaurant seating. (see 16th street in Denver -- just there and it is wonderful and CROWDED).


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 9:32 p.m.

There is plenty of opportunity to create pedestrian malls in AA. The businesses fought it on Main St and I think they will fight it on S Univ. They are under the false impression that pedestrian malls decrease pedestrian traffic and they are totally wrong. Another great example of a wonderful downtown pedestrian mall is Charlottesville, VA.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 8:52 p.m.

...or the Pearl St. Mall in Boulder or the Third St. Promenade in Santa Monica, or...

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 4:57 p.m.

How long until the University seizes S. University for their own use?


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 4:48 p.m.

I'm sick of hearing people complain about pedestrians on a COLLEGE CAMPUS where pedestrians outnumber motorists 5 to 1. It makes no sense to optimize car transportation when less than half of the people in the area are using it. Don't like driving through campus? Me neither, that's why I usually take a two or three block detour around it. Not that hard or complicated, but I guess any minor inconvenience is enough to generate a massive amount of complaining on the internet.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 4:25 p.m.

Wow that woman has a bright pink coat!


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 4:15 p.m.

Is there any plan to repave Forest Avenue from South U. to Hill? That block is now more pothole than street.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:55 p.m.

Perhaps their thought is to fill the potholes with particle board that comes from the trees they cut down. They could take the sawdust created from the trees beeing mulched, throw in some glue and use this as patch to fill all of the potholes.........:)


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 9:30 p.m.

There are 40,000 potholes all over town. Yet, they talk about destroying trees.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 4:15 p.m.

The DDA is thinking it might be time to get rid of those planters (...) One of the hopes is that removing the planters will create more space for restaurants and coffee shops to be able to offer outdoor seating along South U. (...) Pollay said it could be one of the DDA's next big projects, though. "It's probably one of the most compelling, simply because of the street activity we're not getting because of the trees," she said, suggesting the planters take up too much space on the sidewalks and stand in the way of businesses being able to offer more outdoor seating for customers. ------------------------------------------- So what Pollay is suggesting Ann Arborites spend tax money on is- Taking away shady places where people can sit FOR FREE, and replacing it with seats that taxpayers will have to PAY to use. This is the mentality that is driving this city now. Take away everything in the public domain and place it into private hands to generate private profits.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 9:29 p.m.

Well stated. That's the direction of this city.....more $$ regardless of the consequences.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:35 p.m.

So let's commercialize the trees, that's what they are really saying: "suggesting the planters take up too much space on the sidewalks and stand in the way of businesses being able to offer more outdoor seating for customers." Take out the trees rather than maintain them, and jam in more tables for all the high rise residents. Get those dollars!! Take out the trees that offer a more natural environmental element with all the concrete and monster high rises. Cities in Europe have old trees lining all of its center city streets and they do just fine. Trees need to be maintained, pruned and not just left to grow without proper care, like any other plant. Leave the trees where they are and spend the money on maintaining them, not tearing them out in the name of profits.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:06 p.m.

A comeback? Does that mean they'll finally be clamping down on the frat-types who run around hooting like gibbons and projectile-vomiting all over the sidewalks and streets while constantly jaywalking, providing nothing but hazards for other pedestrians and cars trying to drive through? Because that's about the only thing that'd actually propel South U into "comeback" status. Everything else wrong with South U is an indicator of the damage that that particular population has done to the atmosphere of that section. Uprooting the trees to attract more people is like putting in a new hot tub to try to sell a house in Tornado Alley. Aesthetics will only get you so far, especially when you're not tackling the real issues.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 2:41 p.m.

The "make over " we need is to get rid of Pollay who for years has championed the destruction those qualities of Ann Arbor which have made it a pleasant place to live. The city is being shaped by an oligarchy (or maybe it's a cabal?) of land owners, developers, the university and many of our elected officials and their appointees, like Pollay.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:36 p.m.

I could not have said it better. I agree with everything you stated. Pollay has to go. Long overdue. How did she survive the Library parking lot debacle?

sandy schopbach

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 2:25 p.m.

Trees are a must. It is no fun to sit in the heat. So if you want more sidewalk cafés, you need to remember a few things. One is that you'll need shade. If the trees "containers" have an open bottom, you should just break away the seating part and leave the trees alone because it takes YEARS for them to get to a height that is both aesthetic and useful. You could put a wrought iron seat around the base of it, a kind of doughnut seat with the tree as the hole in the doughnut. I've seen those in Europe. That way people could sit there and talk (or have their coffee) and there would still be plenty of room for additional tables. Another thing to remember is that all these outdoor tables will only be used from May through September and most of that time the students are gone, what with class being out. The idea of more dense housing there is a bad idea. There are already two skyscrapers there; you don't need more so close to the beautiful Law School and that first block of the President's residence and the Historical Library. Or to overshadow the old mansions on Washtenaw. Some things need to remain low. You talk about small shops and huge buidings in the same breath. You need to choose, and I hope you'll chose smaller as being better. And one thing you don't address is the total impossibility of driving down this street. I gave that up a long time ago. So if you want car traffic, put a stoplight on each corner, because the students cross wherever and whenever they like. Starting at the Union, that whole street is impossible. Or else make it pedestrian. Now there's a radical idea!


Tue, Jun 4, 2013 : 11:43 a.m.

Thanks. South U. I have been getting that wrong since I was a kid. Why do they need two U's anyway? I hereby propose that South University be renamed "University," and that East University be renamed "Dick Cheney Boulevard."


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 6:56 p.m.

I think you mean South U, no?


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:32 p.m.

I fully support closing off East U between Washtenaw and State.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 2:50 p.m.

Don't worry about loss of shade as the trees in "Tree City" get axed , the high rises being allowed and built will provide it.

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:48 p.m.

The DDA is just going to ignore the overwhelming number of people who want a green space downtown. A park to eat lunch at, etc. They want to use your money to maximize the interests of business owners, as a sort of corporate welfare. Aren't most of those businesses owned by people who do not even live in this town?

Homeland Conspiracy

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:42 p.m.

I sometimes feel that I might get mugged or worse...even in the daylight, & I'm not a person that is afraid of his own shadow.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 6:07 p.m.

You are right to feel that way, when the DDA starts planning, hang on to your wallet.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

"Most of South U is now zoned to allow buildings up to 150 feet tall. Ladd said it's difficult to predict the market, but she sees a lot of potential for more dense development. "Which is good," she said. "Before we changed the zoning, it was all one- and two-story buildings. You couldn't do anything else. Sometimes you couldn't do more than one if you had a basement — they counted that. It was so restrictive that we couldn't get anything done down here."" As they say: there goes the neighborhood! South University should belong to the students who largely visit the businesses as it is. The one and two story buildings are how college towns are visualized and provides character and attractiveness that comes from individuality. Ms. Ladd, Ms. Pollay and the mayor seem to have little regard for historic structures and the ambiance associated with them. And yet Ms. Pollay's DDA pays tribute to many antiquated buildings downtown by creating informative glass displays which honor the relics. Replacing landmark buildings in Ann Arbor with large box-type buildings is justified by the DDA and its supporters as a means for creating diversity and enhancing vitality, neither of which has been proven to occur for any recent construction. The motivation for tearing down smaller buildings is so that the bigger ones that replace them can provide more TIF revenue for the city and the DDA. However, increased revenue does not always materialize from the new construction because the DDA and city frequently spends it by providing incentives for the buildings developers. In the end, the city gets a non-descript if not ugly building that produces little cash for the DDA or the city but plenty of financial reward for the developer.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:28 p.m.

As usual, the report fails to point out that the motivation of the DDA is raising revenue for the DDA. Not city beautification. Tall buildings do not add to the character of the city in any way and density can be increased with 2 levels of apartments above street level retail. It's not an all-or-nothing problem. Just look how much the two ladies (who want to destroy them) are enjoying sitting in the shade on the planter's edge. That's what they are there for. Their intended purpose. That's how people use them. This tiny scale example of city action to meet a need is totally alien to those who now sit on the DDA wielding development power. EVerything must be maxed out as far as they are concerned.

Duc d'Escargot

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 2:43 p.m.

I must agree with these comments. Replacing a beautiful, historically significant apartment building with some "Zaragon" thing was not a change for the better. If we think parking is scarce and traffic is bad now, what will happen when more of these residential towers go up? With respect to outdoor seating, I really wish the Brown Jug would occupy less of the sidewalk--there are times when it's really hard to walk through that obstacle course.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:38 p.m.

" pay attention to people, even if they are dull and ignorant " - Leonard Nimoy


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

Are you suggesting we pay better attention to Ms. Pollay?


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 2:56 p.m.

Great quote.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:36 p.m.

Sadly the DDA loves to spend other peoples money on projects that they get to decide are important without oversight most other public funded institutions are required to have. Real oversight is needed badly.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:35 p.m.

South U is coming back? Where did it go? Seems like a busy mess last time I made the mistake of driving through. Why not close it down?

Dog Guy

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 6:01 p.m.

Now that we are agreed that South U. should be a pedestrian mall, will Pollay allow us to keep our planters and trees?


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 5:03 p.m.

Yep. Close off the street to cars. Problem solved.

Jon Saalberg

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

"We want to make sure we're listening to people," Pollay said." This, from the person in charge of the DDA, which thought a giant underground parking deck was necessary, which is never full, and surrounded by other garages that are rarely, if ever, full. I don't really think the transient UM student population, the overwhelming group that uses the South University area, really cares if there are tree planters or not. They care about where to buy their various sundries and get a latte or pizza.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:40 p.m.

How about filling that ugly empty space where the building burned down? Better litter clean up might also help.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:39 p.m.

I have lived in Ann Arbor all of my life, and the planters are not the problem. Use that money to benefit something else like the fire and police department. South U has always been busy and it always will it is the center of the U of M campus. Stop throwing away money.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:36 p.m.

In my younger days, South U. was where I headed. Now that I'm older, I head to Main street. I think perhaps the area needs a facelift, but the main reason people don't go there is because the restaurants are not very high quaility and the shops, for the most part, don't offer much that is worthwhile. I get it, though. To me, that's the student end of town - the Brown Jug and Middle Earth appeals to that population.

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:15 p.m.

DDA objective: remove trees, add concrete?


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

DDA once again- out of control - but what are the ann arborites going to do? Talk or act - usually nothing is done - fix the DDA first.

Linda Peck

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:07 p.m.

The South University area is not appealing for other reasons than those planters. CLX has said it beautifully. I doubt "redecorating" will help the situation. Perhaps keeping the trees, making the street an avenue for bikes and pedestrians, closed to cars for just those few blocks, would help. For me right now, it is not a destination and has not been for years and years.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 6:49 p.m.

Why should it be appealing to you, or a destination for you? It is a street that runs through the heart of the campus area. so it is focused on serving students. Whats wrong with that?


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:58 p.m.

Not a destination since the Bagel Factory closed.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

Those of you who would like these trees to remain — how would you propose making that work? Is there a good solution where trees this large can exist in such a concrete environment without the roots doing a lot of damage to the infrastructure over the next 20 years or so?


Tue, Jun 4, 2013 : 5:45 p.m.

Drifting off-topic but those Kerrytown townhouses are going to be P.R.I.C.E.Y. Just breaking even on the project means the units must average $655K. Yikes!

Steve Bean

Tue, Jun 4, 2013 : 2:48 p.m.

"You're not suggesting 413 E. Huron will not be built, are you? Or the Kerrytown project or the Fox Tent and Awning project? Connecting William Street project?" Tim, no, no, no (but I wouldn't be surprised), and yes (because I'm not aware of an existing construction proposal, and that means the timeline will have missed the financing window). I was responding to Ryan's question regarding the South U area and wasn't thinking of in-the-works projects elsewhere.


Tue, Jun 4, 2013 : 11:37 a.m.

Steve, You're not suggesting 413 E. Huron will not be built, are you? Or the Kerrytown project or the Fox Tent and Awning project? Connecting William Street project? Hieftje has even said that Ann Arbor should have stopped building high rises three buildings ago. Which I thought was a breath-taking admission of civic ineptitude.

Steve Bean

Tue, Jun 4, 2013 : 2:20 a.m.

Ryan, as I've commented recently on other articles, I think the new building construction probably is done for the foreseeable future.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:37 p.m.

The Picker and Timjbd both raise excellent points. Let's start with the pruning aspect. I don't profess to be an expert in this area, BUT when I planted a few trees in my backyard I did some reading on the subject. Regular pruning of the branches will keep the roots in control. That is, roots will ONLY extend to the lenth of the branches on the tree. So that fact that a few roots are pushing up these stone tiles tells me that the City ignored regular pruning that would have prevented this. Shame on the city. The 2nd point is that in most cases, roots can be shaved or trimmed back so that if they are pushing up concrete, this can be corrected and then the stones placed back over the root(s) in question. Leave the trees alone. Stop blaming them for misguided strategy that has left this area of the City looking like a Frat party gone bad. :)


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:02 p.m.

Tearing down University Towers would be a good place to start if you want to improve that area. That mess is a visual reminder of what the current student storage facilities being constructed- Zaragon, Pizza House, 413 E. Huron, Landmark, etc- will look like in 20 or so years.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 2:54 p.m.

Susan Pollay and Maggie Ladd sure look like they're enjoying sitting on the planters- like hundreds of thousands have done and will do in the future unless the DDA are allowed to chop the street trees down. The one photo of a tree root pushing up two pavers is easy enough to correct. Is that the only instance that Susan Pollay is using to attack the planters, or are many of them being pushed up? I think closing East U between Washtenaw and State would be about the best thing that could be done. This would also encourage better stores and restaurants to locate there, like in Santa Monica, Boulder, etc. The trees have to stay. Must have shady respite from the summer sun, even if it's just long enough to drink your smoothie or have a phone conversation. The current planters could be spruced up with Motawi tiles. That would support a local Ann Arbor business AND keep the street shaded. If people want to keep people and pets out of the planters (although I've never seen either people sleeping nor pets doing their business up there) could install wrought iron fence inside the seating rim.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 2:10 p.m.

Who has a good prediction for where we'll see the next high-rise go up along South U? Besides the Pizza House development, of course.

The Picker

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:42 p.m.

Many of the streets of Europe are lined with 100+ year old trees, that are slated to be there another 100+ years. They prune them to keep a handle on things. So are they saying that a lack of maintenance has allowed this to happen?


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:23 p.m.

The trees have attained an admirable size and are similar to the imaginative planning sketches we see. Leave 'em alone.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:55 a.m.

"We want to make sure we're listening to people," Pollay said." Remember this when the DDA take a poll and one of the choices is NOT "leave the trees there."


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:47 a.m.

South U. is a mess for several reasons. First, it is an enormous wind tunnel, and that is just going to get worse because of the additional highrise construction. It's not a pleasant place to walk, and the planters have nothing to do with it. Second, the stores are junky and cater only to students. It's an area within an easy walking distance to two major neighborhoods where the residents have money to spend -- Ann Arbor Hills and Burns Park, but South U. does nothing to attract actual residents to the area. I guess they've decided that appealing to students is the better money, but the result is students who have no loyalty to their businesses, and who treat their streets and businesses like trashcans. I think it's a wasted opportunity to capture the dollars of the nearby permanent residents.

Linda Peck

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:03 p.m.

CLX, you have it the proverbial nail right on its head. I could not have said this so well.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:41 a.m.

DDA needs to go -- the funds that support them should be returned to the city and used for the services of the citizens such as bringing the AAFD and AAPD up to full staffing. We do not need new planters or art.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:33 a.m.

Whether in Ann Arbor or the Amazon, trees seem doomed whenever money might be made cutting them down. But give it to the well-fed folks at the DDA -- there may not be half a dozen people in town who understand what the DDA is all about or who's behind the curtain running it, but it always seems to get its own way.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:07 p.m.

That's scary.

Ryan J. Stanton

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:55 a.m.

I think you're correct that a good number of people in Ann Arbor do not know much about the DDA. When I talk to people on the street for stories like this and I start out with "The DDA is talking about …" a common confused reaction I get is "Wait, the DEA? Why is the DEA involved?" Then I have to explain that I said "DDA" and many still don't know what that is.

Steve Hendel

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:15 a.m.

I don't think the problem with the planters on South U is so much their size as it is what's IN them-the trees. After all, there are planter boxes all along a stretch of S Main Street, and their size does not seem to impede pedestrian traffic or use in any way,


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 9:38 p.m.

I agree walking down state st. between Williams and Liberty it is tough negotiating tables and chairs taking up the entire sidewalk.