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Posted on Mon, May 7, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

Top 5: Opportunities to get rid of blight on Ann Arbor's North Main corridor

By Paula Gardner

Ann Arbor City Council will hear a resolution Monday night to establish a North Main-Huron River Corridor vision task force.

Details on that as of mid-afternoon were not available, but the timing is right: MichCon’s effort to clean up its contaminated riverfront property is under way.

And it’s well past time to look at North Main Street.

After all, the corridor from M-14 to Huron is the northern gateway to Ann Arbor. But it’s also the most obvious evidence of blight in the city.

As one of the key entrances to the city from M-14, these blocks of North Main comprise the first view of Ann Arbor for visitors from Grand Rapids, Lansing, Brighton, even Plymouth and Metro Detroit.

Yet what is Ann Arbor telling its visitors - and its residents - by ignoring all of the elements on this stretch of road that, collectively, make it an eyesore?

The opportunities here are endless, considering the acreage involved - and how much of that property fronts the Huron River.

Details on tonight’s North Main proposal are still unclear. But here are the properties that I’d put in front of city officials as priorities:

1. Those abandoned houses: They started as a vision for very low income housing and on the real estate front, they represented an assemblage that spoke only of opportunity to create needed housing in the city. Today, thanks in part to the economy slowing that Near North project down, these six houses in the 700 block of North Main have become the “poster children” for what’s wrong with Ann Arbor development. Exposed beams in a roof, boarded-up windows, peeling siding and holes big enough to attract vandals - much less smaller mammals - combine to create a housing eyesore that begs for demolition until something else can be done with the properties. The city says that’s in the works. But in the meantime, neighbors of these homes are living or (in the case of the Summit Party Store) running businesses next to unabashed decay.

2. The Greek Church: Just like “those houses,” the former St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church has a plan behind it - it just neither has the financing nor the market conditions to make that possible. Yet. And in the meantime, the condition of the building is just getting worse. Windows are broken out, the dome is wide open to the elements, and the efforts to secure the property (like the orange temporary fencing) leave it an unappealing eyesore. In its defense, someone is taking steps to control graffiti - and at least there’s fencing there. But of all of the properties mentioned, this one is closest to downtown - and the one people really stop to see as southbound vehicles approach our central business district.

3. Ann Arbor's Fleet Services building Across from the Avalon Housing property sits the city’s Fleet Services garage, which is, in turn, next to the Ann Arbor Community Center. Both have served their purpose. And they're technically not blight. The fleet services building simply isn't the best use of a near-downtown building. And I have to suspect the programs in the community center would serve their purpose in a newer (but still centrally located) facility. But today, in a city that decries demolition of historic homes for student housing, the fleet services property simply offers a chance to maximize development in a place where it would improve the area and not bring out the wrath of neighbors. Could this city-owned lot be the next request for proposals from municipal officials? Maybe it’s time to stop waiting for something viable for the Library Lot and see whether the timing is right to find someone willing to develop a vision for this property.

4. The fenced lot at 1212-24 N. Main: Industry grew up along Ann Arbor’s Huron River shoreline, and it remains there today - even as other buildings (like those redeveloped by Peter Allen) have been gentrified into cool office space. This lot shows the residual impact of the lack of importance the river played over decades here. Today, we’ve got a fenced lot in front of an industrial garage. And again, it’s just west of the riverfront. Picture a restaurant here, maybe during summer at twilight with strands of lights. Picture pedestrians on the walkway. Picture an Ann Arbor that enjoys both a vibrant downtown and stops turning its back on the riverfront.

5. Hawkins Auto Body. From the junk truck parked out front to the RV with the blue tarp on the roof out back, the lot doesn’t signal prosperity. Yet behind it sits Bluffs Park (the sign is just to the south of the business) and one of Ann Arbor’s finest tree-lines. One element that could come into play here: Autos come off of M-14 screaming fast - and they tend to race past the first quarter-mile or so as they head south on North Main. However, the right calming element on this property could open up the potential that people could actually see Lake Shore road and its access to Bandemer Park, both just east of Hawkins.

There are less acute issues on the corridor - like the former gas station at the corner of Summit that just begs for redevelopment.

But I’d like to see what Ann Arbor could make of this corridor by targeting these eyesores first.

Paula Gardner is news director of Contact her by email or follow her on Twitter.



Tue, May 22, 2012 : 11:21 p.m.

Hawkins is a long time business, and very much in business, but if you take your car there you can't be in a hurry. The fenced in vacant lot shown is the top of a building, and belongs to a long time business, Hosford & Comapny, a metal fabrication shop. I know for a fact that the cleanup on this site would be extensive, the former owner of that building, who is a current part owner of 1200 N. Main, for years used it to store scrap materials, expired inks, solvents, paints and the like. Before that, some old timers may remember it was a bike shop ( Cycle Cellar) and frame builder ( Nobillette). I am sure there was plenty of chemistry spilled then, too. It was only a matter of time before the city got around to spending our money trying to beautify this part of town. I can only imaging what sort of big bucks schemes they are going to come up with. And don't count on having any input into it, a few weeks ago I contacted my Councilmember about participating and was told that the taskforce members had already been chosen. Someone will have to pull some eminent domain tomfoolery to get those businesses out of there, or have a very big checkbook. Last I heard, even in Ann Arbor, active and responsible property owners have rights. I say start with the vacant, failed development sites. It is incredible that those places have been allowed to deteriorate for this long without city blight enforcement. Tear them down and bill the owner. Then maybe you can "picture" your taxes going up yet again to homogenize and yuppify one of the nicer parts of town...


Wed, May 9, 2012 : 2:08 a.m.

The City knuckled under to nimby pressure that prevented residential development on the west side of N Main. The hillside property facing across Main and the river became unused scrub.


Wed, May 9, 2012 : 1:07 a.m.

North Main is a speedway from 3PM to 6PM and a traffic jam in the morning. Putting a Starbucks and a Crispy Cream and a restaurant or 2 in there would be a disaster, traffic-wise. I say leave it like it is.


Tue, May 8, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

YES-- a really nice development and clean up of north main would be a wonderful alternative for everyone going to the main street area. But then, there's the parking issue....


Tue, May 8, 2012 : 11:24 a.m.

The boarded up houses, yes. The half stripped down old church, of course. But Hawkins Auto Body - really? I don't know what Rockwellian world you would like to see our town prettied up to be, but if you've ever been to any other city - any city at all - I can't imagine considering this to be "blight". North main is light industrial and commercial. This is the kind of stuff that belongs there, and fits quite fine. Of all the places to single out, this one's just baffling to me.


Tue, May 8, 2012 : 4:50 a.m.

what it comes down to is it's going to take money and probably lot's of it


Tue, May 8, 2012 : 3:41 a.m.

Why not build all these wonderful things at Gallup, Riverside or Island park which the city already owns?

Silly Sally

Tue, May 8, 2012 : 5:08 a.m.

Because this would save money and make sense!


Tue, May 8, 2012 : 3:17 a.m.

Great waterfront property not being used. What a crime! Could be a great mixed use area. Commercial, Dining, Residential, parkland/boardwalk.

J Shaker

Tue, May 8, 2012 : 2:44 a.m.

Bluffs and Bandemer are both terrific, as is the walk from Argo Dam to Broadway. I especially like the bike path access to Bandemer. Thing is, Bluffs Park is hard to get to with no decent parking or bicycle paths, and crossing Main St around there is not cool. How about starting off with a stop light at Lake Shore or maybe a walking bridge over Main to the entrance of Bluffs?


Tue, May 8, 2012 : 2:42 a.m.

Talk about unsafe railroad track crossings, the unofficial Bandemer to Barton parks trail linkage (just west of the M-14 bridge) has been patiently awaiting funding for decades. Every five years or so, new parks funding priorities arise to push back this long delayed linkage in the border-to-border trail. I sincerely hope it does not get pushed back yet again for these newer parks projects.


Tue, May 8, 2012 : 1:36 a.m.

go for it, I have said for years it is a diamond in the rough, there are so many connectors parks that could be linked to the river front, the vacant building supply at the freeway entrance ramp could be transformed into a large parking garage, bring light rail into it, from there have it run up main to the stadium over to state st. to central campus over to medical center and back to the river front. the possibilities are endless please However i am cautious our city council and planning commision have the necessary knowledge and business sense to see it through successfully. let professionals design it, and let residents have input.

Silly Sally

Tue, May 8, 2012 : 5:07 a.m.

So Silly! And just what fool will pay for all of this? Not me I hope and pray! Oh, so silly.


Tue, May 8, 2012 : 12:48 a.m.

I'm kinda surprised nobody has mentioned re-doing the whole M-14/Main St./Barton Dr./ Huron River Dr. Interchange? It's inefficient since traffic backs up into downtown for an accident at US-23 and Territorial. It's also dangerous how fast people come off the freeway as well as having the exiting and entering traffic converging on M-14 directly over the river and Bandemer Park. The city has done redevelopment studies in the past but nothing ever materialized. Main St. should really connect with Whitmore Lake Rd. but that would tough to do without getting rid of most of the park.

Elena Chesney

Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 7:25 p.m.

Not to mention it is extremely unsafe -I live by there and it is a mecca for car crashes.


Tue, May 8, 2012 : 12:21 a.m.

I tried parking at Hawkins once to go hike for a hour or so at Bluffs Park. A guy came out of the business, immediately, and told me if I stepped foot onto the trail, he would have my car towed "within 5 minutes". So much for Bluffs Park.

Dog Guy

Tue, May 8, 2012 : 12:06 a.m.

What would Boulder do? (Other than multiple bike lanes which are a given.)

Will Warner

Tue, May 8, 2012 : 1:05 a.m.

What would Boulder do? Make it a green belt, fill it with pedistrian crossing and public art.

Wolf's Bane

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

A few factual corrections if I may: 1. The reason most of the graffiti has been painted over is because we have an ORDINANCE making landlords responsible for removing graffiti. 2. The reason for the dome being wide open on the former St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox is because the current owners gave scrappers permission to remove the cooper roof!!! 3. I believe the "poster child" for what's wrong with Ann Arbor and the current developer's special plan is that disgusting shack at the corner of Summit and Main Street across from the Main Street Part store. It has literally been there for decades! How about passing an ordinance barring blight, tearing down the offending structures, and billing the absentee landlords?

Let me be Frank

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 11:16 p.m.

Imagine all the meters, you can if you try, all of the parking meters that we could line up along North Main. Don't forget the parking structure too. This will insure that Argo Dam will stay in harmony with the natural environment. Hey, people need all these essentials to survive. What about a boat dock and a fishing pier. Meters for boats and fishing meters for angler on the pier. Let's Ann Arbor-ize North Main.

Linda Spector

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 10:50 p.m.

I feel the river corridor is a totally wasted opportunity for Ann Arbor. We should be developing our waterfront and that corridor to welcome walking, art work, craft sales, restaurants. It could be beautiful and populated. Now is the's past time, let's get it done.

Harry Hunter

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 10:41 p.m.

The land along the river has been in industrial use for over a hundred years. It likely has even worse environmental problems than the ones that have stalled the development of Lower Town at Broadway and Maiden Lane.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 10:06 p.m.

Where exactly is the Ann Arbor Fleet Services building? How about an address?

Paula Gardner

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 10:23 p.m.

721 N. Main


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 10:13 p.m.

Oops, make that "southwest."


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 10:12 p.m.

Soutwest corner of Main and Summit (on the right, as you drive towards downtown).


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 10:02 p.m.

Hawkins (the place with all the old beater trucks parked out front) should be exempt from any blight removal plans, but only if they promise to hire a Redd Foxx lookalike to sit out front all day and wave at passing traffic.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 9:37 p.m.

Please Paula, use Broadway/Barton to M-14 to access the expressways. Stay out of the only "real" part of Ann Arbor, for it is evolving at it's own pace. I would much rather see a reincarnation of Mr. Rib or "Painless" John's than an extension of our gentrified urban core. Are you trying to drive out all of us "Waterhillbillys'" to Ypsi or Detroit? Most of your "eyesores" were the result of developers in the first place. We need to keep the visitors and commuters from stopping and discovering our "hidden gems" and this veil of urban blight seems to do just that.

Ann English

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 10:12 p.m.

You and I appear to be the only ones mentioning roads on the OTHER side of the Huron River, where the topography won't allow development between apartments and houses on Longshore Drive and the river. Nice and hidden by foliage, steep hills separating them from the Huron below.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 9:31 p.m.

Resolutions . committees , outside council , frivolous spending ...council excells at that ....getting things done ..well thats another story unless you have bowed before the king and court and it fits their agenda.....


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 8:54 p.m.

A Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, and a Mr. Alan's would work great in this area.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.

But....29 or two for 50!!


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 8:58 p.m.

Yes, because the only other option besides a bunch of dilapidated buildings is a strip mall.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

People of the Old West Side, please remain calm; just because the author is in favor of removing some old, outdated structures, it doesn't mean they are in favor of removing all of them. YOUR houses are safe. Please put your pitchforks down. You may now return to your usual afternoon activity of shaking your fists at traffic on Jackson Ave.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 9:18 p.m.

Uh, the discussion concerns the North side of town. And that's a pretty broad brush you're painting with.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 8:32 p.m.

Some things never change. still has the signature value system of the old Ann Arbor News: all development is good development. Any parcel, whether owned by a private party of the City is one that should be developed right away, and of course with public subsidies in either cash or a parking structure spaces. Downtown parks and greenways that are typical of so many cities? They do not even deserve to be mentioned as alternatives to be considered. This form of monomaniacal urban planning -- shared by the Mayor and City Council super-majority -- is why Ann Arbor has lost so much of its charm since the turn of the century. In the long run this is not just a matter of aesthetics, but it will prove a barrier to the city's economic future as Ann Arbor becomes a less attractive place to live and becomes mired more deeply in debt (due to the public subsidies). But this is of no concern to the owners of as they seek to reap short-term profits by pandering to their business advertisers. And it's of no concern to the super-majority that controls City government, as they are in the pocket of those who profit from easy and subsidized development. It's sad to see how the enormous potential of Ann Arbor to be a world-class city is being squandered, year after year.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

How many top 10 lists does this City need to make before people stop complaining about the Main Street "entry"?


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 9:07 p.m.

How many top 10 lists does this City need to make before people stop saying that the planning in this town is a disaster. If your objections center on the fact that this place is turning into more of a city and less of a town than it used to be, it's time to leave. Like it or not, that's what's happening and will continue to happen. And, yes, with that comes more problems, but also more benefits that only a true city can offer.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 8:23 p.m.

I don't have any problem with Government easing the bureaucracy it lays out for potential development. But they can't take private property away from law abiding citizens just because they don't like them and turn it over to somebody they do like.

Silly Sally

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 8:03 p.m.

I notice how this author attacks as "blight" a functioning business and historic homes that I believe are unoccupied due to some developer's plan to tqp into government low-income housing funding. What is true "blight" is crime and a criminal element. Ypsi has too much of it and WIllow Run, too. Western Ann Arbor near Maple and Liberty is drifting in that direction. This is what makes businesses and people leave an area, exacerbating a bad "condition"

Ann English

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 10:03 p.m.

I know there are functioning businesses there, which have not been there in the 1970s. Some, like Robey Tire, have left and others have taken their places. Once, in 1996, I went up to one of those houses across North Main from the businesses and talked to a very young resident there; sometimes it really helped to talk to people when trying to find the right residence/company that I was sent to deliver phonebooks to, and the little girl was helpful. I get the impression from Paula that nobody lives in that house or others on either side of it today. The Rip Van Winkle bedding store took the place of Ann Arbor Auto, which took the place of Toyota. On the residences' side of North Main, not the Huron's side.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:59 p.m.

There are functioning businesses there, guys! In this economy, you people want to shut them down and build parks? I'm a liberal, and I think that's insane.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:58 p.m.

This was great to read. I have been saying for years that we should develop some kind of "mini San Antonio riverwalk" down there. Can you imagine a row of restaurants along the river with a nice walkway. Each place has outdoor seating overlooking the river. This idea might not sit well with the business owners downtown but it sure would be great for those of us who live here.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 11:15 p.m.

I agree with you completely. The problem is that the railroads control a lot of land directly adjacent to the river and aren't willing to relinquish it to public or other commercial use.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:56 p.m.

I would love to see that stretch of Huron transformed into a usable board walk, restaurants, evening market...anything that would bring down those ugly buildings that obstruct the river and make it easier to enjoy the water. So much sad, wasted space.

Lizzy Alfs

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:54 p.m.

Remember this collapsed house on North Main next to Hawkins Auto Body?


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 8:28 p.m.

And remember the city's dragging its feet about allowing it to be torn down?

Atticus F.

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:54 p.m.

I'm getting sick and tired of this 'blight buster' nonsense. Let's call it what it is, the homogenization of eccentric people within Ann Arbor. While we're at it, why not burn all of the musical instraments, art supplies, and Beatles albums within the city limits. I'm sure that will apease all of the people relocating to our city from Saline.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:53 p.m.

Since we are dreaming here, how about adding to the list access to the bicycle trail along North Main Street near Argo Dam without having to (unsafely) walk bicycles across the railroad tracks?

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Tue, May 8, 2012 : 5:36 a.m.

@Craig Lounsbury, @Top Cat, @Michigan Man: The Border To Border Trail runs along the river and not far from the rail road tracks from the Argo Dam to M-14. You can get a good view of this on Google Maps using the "hybrid" view combining satellite data with road data. There is only one legal access point that I am aware of, halfway up N. Main St. at Lake Shore Drive, the access road to where the U-M Boathouse and Ann Arbor Rowing Club are located. The city already plans an underpass underneath the railroad tracks from the Border to Border Trail to West Huron River Drive, which is a prime scenic spot to bicycle. If an access point were made closer to downtown, this would increase usage and utility of the Border to Border Trail. As I noted in a recent column, better bicycle trails are an economic development engine, as it improves quality of life and makes the area more desirable to live in. Microsoft relocated from Albuquerque, N.M., to Redmond, Wash., early in its corporate existence, for example, primarily because Redmond had the Sammamish River Trail, a 10.9-mile bike path and recreational rail trail.

Michigan Man

Tue, May 8, 2012 : 2:09 a.m.

Really bad idea by Ranzini. Pedestrian/bicycle traffic by railroad tracks makes no sense and is inviting a disaster. Who would want to bicycle close to the the Chicago to Detroit Amtrak train blowing by at 110 MPH? What is Ranzini thinking?


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 9:04 p.m.

My understanding is that this is on the new committee's to do list (and rightly so).

Top Cat

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

It is illegal to cross the railroad tracks at other than a grade crossing. Signs are posted by Norfolk Southern that crossing the tracks at that location is deemed to be trespassing.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:56 p.m.

what do you propose? I'm not familiar with the "issue".

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:50 p.m.

Maybe if the city powers that be didn't make it so hard on people to build more people would be willing. It takes a specially person to be willing to be beaten down and kicked repeatedly by politicians and career "civil servants" and get up for more.

Paula Gardner

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:48 p.m.

I'd lived in Ann Arbor for years before I realized just how close the Huron River is to those buildings on North Main. It's still amazing to me how the city never capitalized on it, even as I understand some of the barriers (like the rail tracks).

Elena Chesney

Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 7:24 p.m.

I live near here (on other side of the river) and it is so unfortunate that this area has been neglected - I think it would be wonderful to see more of a walking trail that would perhaps draw new businesses. Ideally it would be great to have small business' vs. a strip mall type situation though.

Ann English

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 8:18 p.m.

Going canoeing from Argo Park is one way to see how the businesses on the east side of North Main are very close to the Huron River. Before the Lansky business was closed, I remember seeing the massive metals in its back sloping property, FROM LONGSHORE DRIVE, very near the entrance to Argo Park. Longshore parallels much of Pontiac Trail and Chandler Street, but keeps going past Barton Drive, staying near the Huron River far below it. Paula, you might know the story behind the removal of the railroad track across North Main that used to connect the Ann Arbor Railroad (which crosses the Huron River very nearby) with what is now called the Norfolk Southern rail line. You're referring to that rail line above. Maybe it was about the time when the tracks formerly called Penn Central became Norfolk Southern that one of the two tracks following the river was removed.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:45 p.m.

The former Greek church should have been preserved in some way. Unfortunately it was an iconic symbol in the wrong location.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:41 p.m.

#5, Is Hawkins Auto Body a functioning business? Or is it a closed former business?


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:40 p.m.

I'd like to see the City spearhead some sort of effort to clean up the North Main corridor. But, I'm pretty skeptical this will ever happen given North Main has looked like this since I first started coming to Ann Arbor in the 1970's and hasn't changed much. Furthermore, you look at the other entrance "gateways" to Ann Arbor (Washtenaw @ U.S. 23, State St. @ I-94, Jackson Rd. @ I-94, and AA Saline Road/I-94) and you see the same "we don't care what visitors think about our city when they arrive" appearance. Specifically, I'm talking about unmown grass and weeds, trees that have never been trimmed, no large attractive welcome signs, crumbled asphalt, poor or non-existent landscaping, old worn out looking commercial developments, etc. I'm not sure the City Council is aware of or even cares about the poor impression these areas make on people coming into Ann Arbor. Yet they'll spend millions on a few public art pieces that far less people will see. Like I said, I'd love to see N. Main cleaned up, but I won't be holding my breath -task force or no task force.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 8:02 p.m.

How much would it cost to put a big, bright and colorful "Welcome to Ann Arbor" sign on the north side of railroad bridge on N. Main? I'm very surprised there is no signature signage for welcoming visitors to our fair city right after they get off at the downtown/main street exit on M-14/US-23.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

Yes! The only improvement in 40 years was getting rid of Lansky's junkyard. The river and this approach should be beautiful, not full of awful ruined buildings, so lets get started!

Michigan Man

Tue, May 8, 2012 : 2:12 a.m.

Was the paperboy back in the day for the Lansky family. They lived in Ives Woods in a very beautiful house. The Lansky business was very profitable and I would imagine the Lanksy's enterprise took the City of Ann Arbor to the cleaners. Lanksy, I think, got the better end of the deal relative to his property on North Main.


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 7:37 p.m.

Developing the riverfront with some restaurants, and a walkway would be a great addition to ann arbor


Mon, May 7, 2012 : 10:38 p.m.

I've been saying that for years! It would be great to be able to officially access the riverside park system, east of the Huron River on North Main without having to first head far north to the official railroad crossing.

Silly Sally

Mon, May 7, 2012 : 8:23 p.m.

I know, let us have a property tax at 1 mil!