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Posted on Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 6:30 a.m.

Officials: Proposed $12M Water Street recreation center could drive economic growth

By Katrease Stafford

The proposed Eastside Recreation Center in Ypsilanti will not only serve as an anchor tenant for future developments but also as an economic growth driver, Washtenaw County officials said Thursday.

County officials and the University of Michigan design team behind the proposal gave two presentations Thursday discussing the project and its potential impact upon the local area. Nearly 70 people showed up for the 4 p.m. session.

The city is facing $31 million in Water Street debt and will make annual payments that will grow to $1.3 million through 2031. The city assembled the 38-acre Water Street property about 9 years ago with a plan to create a mixed-use residential project. But it hasn't been able to find developers for the property. Officials hope the center will attract more interested parties.

The center would occupy eight of the 38 acres on Water Street. The center is expected to be nearly 60,000 square feet and would be much like the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center that opened in 1991, officials have said.

County Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. said the rec center would fulfill the needs of Ypsilanti residents and those of the surrounding communities as well. Sizemore said the economic impact could be significant.

"It's got to be a community thing," Sizemore said." Yes, it’s nice to have a rec center but what I’m about is the jobs it will create. People are starting to ask questions and get more involved."

U-M Architecture Professor Craig Borum, head of the design team, said the two designs were created with the hope of capturing some of the energy and momentum currently going on in downtown Ypsilanti.

"To capture that energy will then capture and trigger energy and interest for that site," Borum said.

Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Director Bob Tetens said the 60,000 to 65,000-square-foot building will cost roughly between $12 and $14 million. The center would most likely have a swimming pool along with various aquatics, a locker room, gym, fitness facility and other amenities. The center also would offer classes.

"There are going to be other costs and we don't have the resources to buy the land and operate the land but that's the beauty of the partnership," he said.

The partnership Tetens referred to will be between the city, the county's parks department and the Ann Arbor YMCA.

During initial discussions, officials said the parks and recreation department would purchase the land from the city and subsequently would own the land and building as well. The YMCA would oversee the day-to-day operations.

However, Sizemore said what will most likely now happen is the county would enter into a potential 99-year lease of some sort for the land. The YMCA would still oversee the day-to-day operations.

Tetens said over the next eight to 10 months, the City Council along with the parks and recreation will continue to hammer out the details.

"We're trying to keep this at a manageable size," Tetens said.

Some residents expressed concern regarding how the project would be paid for, and Tetens stressed the county has no plans to move forward until funds are secured. Tetens said the lack of funds is what has slowed the project down.

The Washtenaw Parks and Recreation is funded by a millage, and the project would partially be paid for with money from its fund balance.

The millage is set to expire in November 2014, and Tetens said parks and recreation will wait to move forward until it is assured of continued funding.

Tetens said if a millage renewal is approved, construction drawings will be completed, bids will be sent out and he will then approach the board of commissioners, and construction would start "immediately after."

"What it (the millage) does is give us 11 or 12 years of assured cash flow," he said.

City Planner Teresa Gillotti said public feedback will continue to be vital for the project.

"One of the reason we’re doing these sessions is we need to see how people are responding to them," Gillotti said. "We’ve spent so much time and have been so close to it that we need to make sure the community has a chance to say what’s wrong and what's not. So depending on what we hear it might be leaning in one direction and leaning in the other or it might be melding."


Jay Thomas

Sat, Sep 29, 2012 : 9:56 p.m.

There is no way Ypsi is going to reject solving their water street wasteland with money from the rest of the county. Hello new rec center!


Sat, Sep 29, 2012 : 5 p.m.

I do not understand the comments about graffiti and thugs and no one being able to afford a membership here. Have any of you been to Ypsilanti in the last 15 years? I live within a five minute walk from this area and am far from low income, can live just about anywhere I want and, CHOOSE to live in Ypsilanti. I have no fear driving anywhere in the city at night. Maybe take a minute and ask yourselves why you are making these comments, is it from recent personal experience or something else?


Sat, Sep 29, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

Please, oh please, oh please, someone provide some DETAILS as to how a rec center in a low income area will drive prosperity and economic growth? How will throwing a few basketballs and volleyballs around do anything to attract businesses???


Sat, Sep 29, 2012 : 11:48 a.m.

This looks like an outstanding project that will benefit a wide range of people, and has the potential to attract a lot of activity to a beautiful piece of property. It resolves two thorny issues in that location's development: a hot spot of pollution and approval by the State Historic Preservation Office. Cudos to the County for being willing to be the catalyst of what will one day be a wonderful addition to downtown Ypsilanti.


Sat, Sep 29, 2012 : 6:10 a.m.

I have it on Good Authority that dozens of Indian arrowheads were discovered on the property. They now reside in the collection of a resident of the City of Ypsilanti. Why Give the property to the County Parks Commission that will put it on the Non-Taxable rolls when the City could get it on the Indian Tax Rolls? Ypsilanti is Very Close to an International Airport (closer than it is to Detroit). Ypsilanti could become a "happening" city and draw tourists! (But it cannot with its current Brain Dead "leaders."


Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 11:56 p.m.

Why is the city still trying to pursue their "Dream" of a Water Street Project??? How about allowing Fischer Honda to expand there like they want to??? How about allowing Burger King to build there like they want to??? How about enticing ALDI food stores to build there instead of Ypsi residents having to drive to the west side of Ann Arbor or the east side of Canton to buy affordable groceries??? All three of these ideas would provide much needed tax dollars to the city AND provide much needed jobs for our area!!! Want an even better idea??? 38 acres is plenty of land for a massive building and parking structure for... get this now... A CASINO!!!! Hundreds of permanent jobs... Millions of dollars of tax revenue.... And it would bring MANY people INTO Ypsilanti to see what else we have to offer and to spend their dollars at other local businesses!!! Maybe not part of our wonderful city's politician's "Master Plan", but certainly ideas to collect tax dollars, put people back to work, increase local property values (which would in turn lead to even more tax dollars for the city), but MOST of all, allow the city to pay off it's massive 31 million dollar Water Street Project debt and put the city on a course toward financial solvency.... Just saying...

Dog Guy

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

I would not leave my surrounding community and pay user fees to visit the proposed Eastside Recreation Center in Ypsilanti because I would not feel comfortable/safe with the people who would congregate there. The Keynesian notion that spending tax money drives economic growth is, in common parlance, "money pit" and "throwing money down a rathole." The only people who would ever benefit from this project are public employees, contractors and construction workers, consultant designers and other tax parasites.

Ron Granger

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 11:15 p.m.

"Have you sat in one the restaurants in Depot town or Ypsi and looked around lately? Generally a pretty nice crowd of people." I think it is the parking lot that is the bigger concern, especially at night.


Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 7:08 p.m.

C'mon, man. You think this fitness center is going to be populated only with thugs and hoodlums? What a ridiculous notion. Have you sat in one the restaurants in Depot town or Ypsi and looked around lately? Generally a pretty nice crowd of people. If you are that prejudiced and pointlessly afraid of Ypsi, I don't think we want to visiting either. It's a win win for you to stay home alone and just complain on the internet.

Ron Granger

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 5:12 p.m.

If you build it, they will come... and cover it with graffiti.

Ron Granger

Sat, Sep 29, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

Apparently I was unaware that this is a graffiti-free zone. What's your secret? Any plans to expand the zone to the rest of Ypsi? Ann Arbor would like some of that solution.


Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.

What a silly thing to say. Do you see graffiti all over this part of ypsi? No? Oh wait, you have no idea, because you don't live here and just like to toss around pointless insults? Right.

Ellis Sams

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

No reason to get excited. Nothing really happens until 2014 when/if the millage is renewed. In interim, a developer might come along and make the original vision of Water Street happen. And perhaps Ann Arbor's mayor will decide it would be a good place for a train stop. The sky's the limit when dreaming.

greg, too

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

The fact that they are making plans on land that cannot be built on for 2 more years shows that, most likely, nothing is going to happen in the interim. And why would a business invest in the land around it between now and then when they don't even know what the cornerstone lot is going to be? And, with Pittsfield creating it's own Water St-like property off of Washtenaw (across from Whole Foods), why would someone invest here? Would you rather take your business to a depreciating ghetto on land that may or may not become a rec center? Or be on the busiest street in the city, near businesses that are making money and creating heavy customer volume? The more I think of this, the less it makes an ounce of sense.


Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 3:05 p.m.

>> 9 years ago with a plan to create a mixed-use residential project. >> the rec center would fulfill the needs of Ypsilanti residents and those of the surrounding communities Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice....


Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

I live in Pittsfield Township. A Rec Ctr in Ypsi would be more convenient for me than the Meri Lou Murray Center. This might also be true for people living in Saline. Folks in Ypsi Twnshp would also find this more convenient. Having a Rec Ctr in this location is not only about Ypsi itself and this is a county project. Having the YMCA administer the program sounds great to me. The county could look at the possibility of paying off a membership in monthly installments, making it possible for more people to afford. The Y has scholarships at its A2 bldg. Maybe it could swing something for Ypsi. The constant marginalization of Ypsi adds to the problems it has.

greg, too

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 4:04 p.m.

But it is a county project on land that the city of ypsi cannot afford to give away. They owe $30ish million on the entire Water St. property, so giving away the best piece of land for a non tax generator, no matter how much it might help the neighboring communities, is not good government. It is simply a repeat of the actions that got the citizens saddled with this property that no one wants...well at least no one who would pay wants.


Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

Doesn't this tell the whole story? "The city assembled the 38-acre Water Street property about 9 years ago with a plan to create a mixed-use residential project. But it hasn't been able to find developers for the property. Officials hope the center will attract more interested parties." This sounds like a Government doing what it does worst!

greg, too

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 3:42 p.m.

Do Ypsi have a town slogan? If not, I offer up "if you build it, they will come." Does everyone see what is absent from the article or from city announcements about this project? "such and such company has stated that they will be buying land to be next to this community center." It is pure speculation, such as the speculation that occurred when they bought these parcels of land, that if you build it they will come. A nice community center is a great idea. But in a city that is cash strapped, seriously needing an influx of capital, this is a waste of valuable space. All during the recent tax debate, proponents of the new taxed screamed from the hills about all of the land in Ypsi that they could not tax to bring in revenue. So what do they do with the land that they needed the tax to pay for? They are giving it away, tax free. This is a waste of space and a colossally bad idea.


Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 2:05 p.m.

My main concern, is that a large percentage of residents wil not be able to afford a membership. If the plan is to pay for upkeep etc on the rec center from membership fees, I wonder how many memberships that would take. Is it a reasonable number given the econmic reality that is Ypsilanti? What a shame it would be to build this rec center and then discover that it was a project that was unrealisic and misguided, given the economic reality of Ypsilanti residents.

Ron Granger

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 12:37 p.m.

What will the user fees cost? Will taxpayers who fund it get a break? Do they have a financial model projecting user fees, that takes into account the local demographics and ability to pay? How many of the users are projected to be EMU students? What are the projected on-going graffiti removal costs?

Ron Granger

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

Where will the money come from for this Ypsi project? The rest of the county? And how about the operating expenses? What will happen a couple years after it is built, when they run out of operating funds and voters turn down the operating millage?


Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 9:14 p.m.

People are probably thumbing down this post because these questions have been asked/answered in previous articles and this post looks like typical scaremongering by the "anything government does is bad" folks who comment regularly.

greg, too

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 3:57 p.m.

It's scary that people are thumbing this down this post. These are questions that need to be answered before they do anything in the name of the city or county. It was actions like that which led to this mess in the first place. Is the Y going to operate it for free, with no new money from the city or county? What about upkeep or insurance or stuff like that? If the city is claiming it will be broke in 2-5 years, where is the extra cash going to come in to help this? And if it is a county operating cost, where are they going to find the money without more millages on an over taxed city and area? This is land that does not generate a dime in tax revenue (remember the complaints about EMU during the tax debates?)...and now it might also cost upkeep? Building a great community rec center is a wonderful idea...if you have the money and land you can afford to give away for free for it. We don't have either.


Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 11:53 a.m.

"City Planner Teresa Gillotti said public feedback will continue to be vital for the project." Fine, here's some input: Stop building things we cannot pay for, cannot operate, and bring no tax money into our coffers yet require a constant flow of tax dollars out. Instead of this boondoggle of a project how abiut you take that money and fix our roads, fund our schools, and hire more competent police officers to reduce our sky-high crime rate. You know, infrastructure, education, and public safety, the things a government is actually responsible for providing with our tax money? By the way, perhaps if you fix these things employers and tax payers may actually start to move back into Ypsi instead of getting out as fast as they possibly can. I know some people believe that this Rec Center will help bring in jobs and money but who wants to live in a place that has such terrible roads, schools, and crime? What are they going to say: " Yeah, I got robbed on my way into work because I had to detour into a bad neighborhood because of the terrible roads but at least we have a good Rec Center?" Come one. What our leadership is trying to do is put a very expensive band-aid on a sucking chest wound and it's got about as much likelihood of succeeding. P.S. Where is Walter Norris? Maybe he can tell us where some of YHC's missing money is so we can fund this great project. Perhaps he can even run it for us!

greg, too

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 3:51 p.m.

"Ypsilanti has access to great schools"? Really? Oh wait, you are talking about the charters and schools of choice in other towns. As young parent of a young child, I don't see these schools in Ypsi. All is see are neglected, failing schools that are only going to get worse by infusing them with even worse students from WR (if they merger passes). "The Rec center is a great way to revitalize the downtown waterfront area." How? Everyone keeps saying this, but no one has evidence one of a company that wants to build next to a rec center. If the city could just show us a single company that has tried to buy land because of this, just one that has even looked into buying land, then maybe we would be less skeptical. Just one. Or just show us similar cities that have made this model work. This is not going to be an upscale rec center for the rich and famous. It will be one in a lower income, urban city rec center that seem, at least base on their surveys, that will cater to lower income residents...not exactly the cornerstone that profitable companies flock to be next to. And with the increase in available land in downtown A2, we are going to have to way undercut their prices just to lure anyone out to these plots of land. Right now, this just seems like a hail mary...and without the crappy NFL replacement officials, those usually don't turn out well.

Sandy Castle

Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 12:20 p.m.

Ypsilanti roads are in no worse shape than Ann Arbors. Ypsilanti City does a much better job at snow removal than Ann Arbor, as well. Ypsilanti has access to great schools, so that even though their public school system is going down the tubes (and was for years before budget cuts), kids and parents have great choices for a BETTER education than what has been offered locally for a long time. And the crime? Well, they're addressing that and moving forward with cameras in public places to help reduce crime. The Rec center is a great way to revitalize the downtown waterfront area.


Fri, Sep 28, 2012 : 12:01 p.m.

Ryan, chill out. This is absolutely something we CAN pay for, provided the millage is re-approved. You want to propose a millage specifically for street repair? Go for it! After construction, membership dollars should pay for operation. As stated in the article, this rec center would serve as an anchor for the water street property. It's very likely that other businesses will want to mooch off the huge increase in people traffic that will result. This will bring more people and dollars to downtown Ypsi. With more of their spending, comes more tax revenue. It should overall be a positive project for Ypsi, so your blind criticism of policy you don't even understand is unwarranted.