Former Ypsilanti mayor Cheryl Farmer: I have no regrets about Water Street
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The former Ypsilanti mayor who helped assemble the 38-acre city-owned Water Street property said she has no regrets and still believes it was the right thing to do.
"In retrospect, would I have done anything differently?" said Dr. Cheryl Farmer. "I think the answer to that was, if I had a crystal ball and would have been able to predict the housing crash, I would have waited until then to assemble the property because it would have been cheaper to buy up those properties. But other than that I don’t have any regrets. I think we did the right thing for the long-term future of the city."
AnnArbor.com file photo
The city began began assembling the 38-acre site in 1999 with a vision to turn it into a premier waterfront residential and retail hub for its residents, but Farmer, who was elected in 1995, said the discussions began prior to her being in office. Farmer served as the Ypsilanti mayor for three terms over the course of 11 years.
"This wasn’t my idea," Farmer said. "This project had been simmering in people's back mind for more than 20 years, but no one had dedicated the time and energy into it. People were happy we were making it happen then, now they're unhappy because we have to pay for it."
Farmer said at the time, development statewide began to stall out and Ypsilanti felt the effects of the larger Michigan economy crumbling.
"Development in the whole state just died in 2008," Farmer said. "No one was building anything ... .It just died on the vine. Everything did. It wasn't a matter of marketing, no one was in the market."
Updated numbers provided by Ypsilanti's Fiscal Director Marilou Uy show that as of May 3, the city owes $24,764,695 on the Water Street debt and to date, the city has paid $4.6 million of the debt.
The payments, and interest rate, are expected to increase as the city continues to pay through 2031. The debt repayment schedule shows two payments are due each year and the first 2013 payment of $848,783.75 was due May 1 of this year. The city made that payment. The next payment, $435,070, is due Nov. 1.
Officials have discussed refinancing the debt in the near future.
So far, the city has used more than $5 million from the general fund to go toward Water Street and has spent $30.2 million on the property, according to records provided by Uy.
"It's been a sad thing to know that we've had to continue to pay out of pocket, but at the end of the day, we have something here," Farmer said. "It's going to be developed. I just wish the economy didn't implode when it did."
The city had two developers, Biltmore Properties Corp. and Joseph Freed and Associates of Illinois express interest in redeveloping the property. Both developers ended up leaving the project.
Courtesy City of Ypsilanti
"We had a great developer in Freed," Farmer said. "They understood the urban characteristics we were looking for and they were determined to build ... . The timing was bad, but I think the project is still a good thing."
Freed envisioned retail space along Michigan Avenue, with parks along the Huron River and residential units on the rest of the site. Farmer said Freed's plan is still ideal for the site.
"There aren’t really any condo options and that becomes a more popular option for people in my demographic," Farmer said. "People want to stay here. They really love the community ... . I still think that the original plan makes a lot of sense. We put a lot of time and effort into it."
Farmer said she believes the waterfront off the Huron River will continue to be a draw for the property.
"This riverfront is a really huge asset," Farmer said. "In the beginning when the community was founded, it was a huge asset ... . I think again people recognize the value of the property. I can imagine people putting their families in cars to get on their bikes, get on their inline skates or on their canoes and take advantage of this wonderful park feature. I foresee that sort of activity in Washtenaw County."
The City Council will decide Tuesday night whether to give the proposed $1.2 million Family Dollar plan the green light.
Farmer believes the Family Dollar plan does not fit into what the vision for the property. The discount store would be located on the corner of Park Street and Michigan Avenue.
"My concerns with the dollar store is all about branding," Farmer said. "They’ve put a lot into branding themselves as a cheap place to shop and my concern is it would brand the rest of this beautiful parcel into that. The little neighborhood to the east of that parcel that the dollar store wants, it's really working to get better and I'm not sure of what the impact of all of the traffic would have on that."
Farmer said she supports the proposed $12 million Eastside Recreation Center, but said officials should consider moving it further back on the property.
AnnArbor.com previously reported officials are considering such a move. However, the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Department has said it remains interested in its original location. The rec center is slated to be placed on the northwest corner of the site, off of Michigan Avenue.
"I think the rec center, the ideas that they came up with are beautiful and they do meet the criteria that we had when were developing the property," Farmer said.
Yet, Farmer said the plan calls for the recreation center, which, because it would be county owned, would generate no tax revenue for the city, to take up between eight and 10 acres and that's too much.
"It takes too big of a piece off the tax rolls," Farmer said, who believes it should be located closer to the Waterworks Park area of the property. "They could have more space ... . They just take up such a big space of the existing corner. That's a prime location."
Farmer said she remains confident that development will happen for the site.
"It's just a matter of time," Farmer said. "What goes in there first can be a trigger for other businesses. Is that type of store (Family Dollar) going to help us bring other businesses in? There are other places they can build on Washtenaw."
Farmer said she believes the city needs to have a high standard not only for the Water Street property, but the entire community.
"What you're willing to settle for is what you get," Farmer said. "That really applies to our situation ... . What goes in first matters."