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Posted on Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 9:50 a.m.

Ypsilanti City Council signs letter moving proposed Water Street recreation center forward

By Tom Perkins

The Ypsilanti City Council agreed to move forward Tuesday night with plans for a proposed Washtenaw County recreation center on the city's long-vacant Water Street property despite some members' concerns about the project.

The council Tuesday night approved signing a letter of intent with the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation . The letter states that the city intends to give the commission up to eight acres on Water Street’s northwest corner despite a majority of council members’ preference that it be built further east.


The Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission wants to build the proposed rec center on the west side of Water Street, pictured here.

Tom Perkins | For

The commission is proposing a $10 million to $15 million rec center on the Water Street site, which has so far failed to attract any development. Its supporters say it would attract new development, but the issue is complicated because the center wouldn’t be on the city’s tax rolls.

Ypsilanti is facing $31 million in Water Street debt and will make annual payments that will grow to $1.3 million through 2031.

Both parties now have 18 months to work out a development agreement that includes details such as the building’s size and design. Construction would be completed within a year after that 18-month period.

Also during that period, the two sides will have to move through the permit and planning process with the city, receive Michigan Department of Environmental Quality permits to build in a flood plain, secure funds for infrastructure build out and address other similar issues.

The city started acquiring parcels of the Water Street property in 2001 with the expectation that it would quickly attract mixed-use development.

Officials thought that development would add to the tax rolls and pay off the bond issued to fund the purchase. The development never came, and the city made its first bi-annual debt service payment of $476,000 last May. The city faces $31 million in debt after it refinanced the bond in 2006, as well as bi-annual payments that will grow to $1.3 million through 2031.

Council Member Pete Murdock said he would prefer to see the recreation center development agreement signed within six months, and council extensively discussed if that timeline could be shortened.

Bob Tetens, director of the WCPRC, said he was comfortable with the 18-month timeframe but said the commission would act quickly.

“We don’t drag our feet on projects,” he said. “On the (Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center), the millage was approved in 1988 and the building was opened in 1991. This is probably a lot more interesting of a building, but I don’t want to be working on it in five years.”

Council Member Lois Richardson underscored that she supports the project but said she thought it should be built on a different parcel of the 36-acre property. The center would occupy the eight acres at the northwest, corner which is closest to downtown and is at the intersection of the Michigan Ave., the Huron River and the Border To Border Trail.

Richardson said that parcel is the most desirable and questioned whether the city should be giving it away and not collecting any tax revenue on it.

“We weren’t in favor of you building in that corner; I want to know why you’re being insistent on the northwest corner,” Richardson asked Tetens.

“I think that it's the most desirable,” Tetens responded. “We need to be at the intersection of the road, river and trail. If it’s not there, we’re not going away, but we’re not going to be the first to build.

“We like the west northwest side better.”

“So do we,” Richardson replied.

Tetens then reiterated that if Council wanted the WCPRC to be first to build on Water Street, then the center would have to be built in the northwest corner.

Council members have also been pushing for a building with a smaller footprint. Originally the project was designed to take up to 12 acres with a large parking lot and swaths of “greenspace” around the building. Council Member Brian Robb has asked for a more compact, “urban” building and questioned whether the WCPRC was willing to work with the city to design such a building.

Tetens said the WCPRC “would be willing to discuss” design details.

“Personally, I don’t want to have a 40-foot building that’s 10-feet off the curb,” he said. “It would be nice to have some open public space there ... but those design details are all worthy of discussion.

“I’ve got 10 commissioners back at the office that want to have input there, so I can't make promises that I can’t keep.”

Robb said after the meeting that he thought the letter of intent was largely symbolic.

“What we heard tonight is no one knows how long it's going to take to do anything,” he said. "We’ll continue to negotiate…and we’re interested in their project and they’re interested in our project.”


Kristi Charles

Fri, Feb 17, 2012 : 4:35 p.m.

Wow, is Water St. part of the reason that the City of Ypsilanti can't even keep Rutherford Pool open in Recreation Park? Or was it that they passed a bond because they just had to go and replace every city street all at once? Seeing the writing on the wall back in 2003, I sold my home on the westside of Ypsilanti and hightailed it out of the city with one of the highest property tax rates in the state. Don't get me wrong, I love the City of Ypsilanti. I loved living there but could not take the mismanagement that I knew was going to erase all of the gains the city made in the 90's. I used to attend the city council meetings and could not believe what I was hearing about this millage and that bond and no mention of the effect that 56 mills would have on property values. I stood at the polls on the day that the road bond was voted on, passing out the millage rate sheets for all of Washtenaw County because people deserved to know where they stood before voting. I was fortunate enough to see the writing on the wall and now feel for my neighbors who stayed and lost a great deal of their home values even before the recession hit. The blind leading the blind...

greg, too

Mon, Feb 6, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

This is idiotic. Spur growth? Who wants to build next to a rec center in a ghetto on a former brown site in a flood zone? And if a rec center is the best thing to come to Ypsi in a long time, then that might address the serious issues the city is facing. Add in the fact that the new City Manager jumped off the sinking ship before he could get a foot on the boat, you should be able to see the real problems that Ypsilantians are too delusional to see. The city is dying and people are trumpeting taking away more taxable land to build a rec center?


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 2:51 a.m.

"Personally, I don't want to have a 40-foot building that's 10-feet off the curb," he said. "It would be nice to have some open public space there" Don't let Tetens anywhere near the architects. Has he stepped foot in downtown Ypsi? Downtown Ann Arbor? Has he been to any city? We already have the ridiculous EMU Business School screwing up the west end of Michigan Ave, we don't need another suburban monstrosity on the east end. You put green space or parking lot in front like Mary Lou and you cut off the rest of Water Street from downtown. It becomes an extension of the Township's strip malls and dealer lots rather than the City's downtown. Lets at least TRY to make Richardson's concerns unfounded.

The Picker

Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 1:04 a.m.

Who negotiated the "due on sale clause" of this turkey ???? Can they parse this parcel ?????


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 10:03 p.m.

I applaud this decision. It will be an improvement over what was there and what is needed in the city. I hope that an outdoor playground is also in the works on the site.


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 6:14 p.m.

For shame City council. I expect an "i told you so moment" a few years from now. This will go down in "it sounded like a good idea at the time" basket, just like a median down the center of Michigan ave and Ohhh yeah Water st itself. Maybe the EFM which is obviously in the future for Ypsi will think its a good idea. LOL

Ron Granger

Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

Maybe they could fill the rec center with treadmills and cycles that are connected to generators. Then they could sell the electricity to pay off the debt.


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 5:35 p.m.

Or at least break even on their own electricity use. The concept of a massive indoor, air conditioned space where people go to get all hot and sweaty and give off tons of caloric energy, on machines that USE electricity to provide resistance, is actually rather ludicrous.

Ron Granger

Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 5:18 p.m.

The money is just burning a hole in their pockets! Oh - that's right. They don't have any money. This is just more debt for the people of Ypsilanti to "work off". Any estimates of what the user fees will be on this $10 to $15 million dollar facility? How about the on-going operation and maint costs? What happens if people don't use it because the fees are too high? What happens if it goes bankrupt, as they have in so many other communities? These are just a few critical questions which must be answered before money is spent.


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 5:05 p.m.

People who would argue against more buffering greenspace around a building and more parking lot, namely the woefully ignorant Ypsi City Council, scare me.

Steve McKeen

Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 4:29 p.m.

I'll be very excited to go to this rec center when it opens in 2016. Thank you council for speeding this process along so that development will only take four years. You are earning your pay on this one! First the Thompson Building and now Water Street. Things are happening a very fast pace. Go Ypsilanti!!!

Ron Granger

Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 4:17 p.m.

"Richardson said that parcel is the most desirable and questioned whether the city should be giving it away and not collecting any tax revenue on it." Rec centers are typically indoor-centric places. You go inside to do indoor activities. They tend to be very functional large buildings and are typically rather ugly. Especially when they are financed by taxpayers, because there is so much incentive to keep costs down. So why put such a structure on your very best piece of land? It makes no sense. It is total folly. This council needs to find a way to dig the city out of the deep financial hole they have created. Instead, they continue to pretend that they are brilliant business people, cutting deals and making things happen. They are deeply confused about their role and priorities.


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

It will be wonderful to have this facility and I'm happy for it to be built at the intersection of road, river, and trail. Just think, we could ride bikes to the building. We can exercise near the water: maybe there could be summer morning yoga classes. Maybe they'll even rent canoes! We're not earning any tax from the property as it is, and it's not like there's a long line of businesses vying for the place. Let's get something there and benefit from the visitors and from the improvement in the quality of life.


Sat, Feb 4, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

And add Solar panel to pay for the so the city is FREE..


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 3:49 p.m.

Sounds like members of the council are still going to nitpick over asinine details here. Let the county build on whatever piece of this land they want, for pete's sake! They are offering a serious benefit to your city and you want to fight them on it? This supposed "most valuable" piece of the property in the NW corner has been vacant and available for YEARS now. If it was so extremely desirable, as council members claim, how come no private developers have even had any shred of an idea or proposal for it? The concept of a linked parks system with a state of the art rec center in the middle is awesome. This will help downtown, this will help depot town, this will help the Michigan avenue corridor, this will help YPSI. Stop fighting the county and please just MOVE FORWARD at a faster pace. As a new resident of Depot Town, I urge you.


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 3:37 p.m.

I don't see any reason why the county building has to be built on the most desirable parcel of land. I also don't see any reason why the county building can't be the first building constructed regardless of where it's built. I've worked in the development industry for almost 20 years. The most desirable parcel of land can be saved for a tenant that will pay taxes, which the county will not.


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 3:45 p.m.

That highly desirable piece of land has been preserved and available for 10 years now. No one is biting, so let;s all just let it go and move on.


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.

I know what all of the naysayers are going to post, but I believe this is great news. I was on City Council when development of this land was in its infancy. We did not want a Burger King. A recreation center is much closer to what we had in mind to set the tone of the parcel. No, they won't pay taxes, but they will spur other development that will. I foresee retail shops for sports equipment, health food, a juice bar, and more. This is the best thing to happen to Ypsi in a long time.


Sat, Feb 4, 2012 : 5:02 p.m.

Donot forget a ramp for the disablet ......


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 5:46 p.m.

I didn't create the situation; I'm not sure what you would have done differently. Accepted the Burger King offer? I was no longer on council them, but I did oppose its construction. And since you obviously know me...Do I know you? :-)


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 5:16 p.m.

Uh....Water Street. You know, that $30 million problem down the hill.


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 5:14 p.m.

MIdtowner, what "mistake"?


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

Thanks for all of your help Lisa! I am very excited to pay an extra 6 mils in property taxes for your mistake. We may get receivership, sky high taxes, and an income tax, but at least we'll have a rec center.


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 4:33 p.m.

You wanted it - then you pay for it.

Andrew Jason Clock

Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.

Thank you council, for at least moving the process forward, and to agreeing to at least the location of the center. Just imagine what that area will look like in 5 years, with a new footbridge connecting the Rec Center to Riverside and Frog Island parks, Downtown to Depot Town, a beautiful riverfront path, an maybe even new sports fields across the existing footbridge in Waterworks Park. We'll have a central park system to rival any city's, with a state of the art Rec Center right in the middle. The value we get from these combined projects will far exceed the taxes lost in turning over the property to the county. Council Woman Richardson needs to take another look at the city's own value estimates of Water Street. She would be reminded that the NW parcel is in fact the least valuable of all of the Michigan Avenue frontage. The site is in the flood plain and can not have direct access to Michigan Ave because of the location of the footbridge; entry will have to be via River Street and Parsons Street. We should be thankful that the county wants to build on the site that presents more challenges than any other of the 32 acres there. If we can get the county to foot the bill to build River, Parsons, and run utilities, suddenly we've got several development ready parcels all along the property. Suddenly that lost tax revenue, tax revenue we haven't seen in over 10 years anyway, doesn't seem like such a big deal.


Thu, Jan 12, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

Since most college locals need a place to work out and a place to hang out while doing homework or what ever college students do these days, will make this a very vibrant area indeed. Can't wait to see how this does all develop in 5 years or more. This will give the edge to come to downtown earlier and spend more money on the local area. Besides, there is a bike repair shop on Main street, isn't there? And they drink lots of coffee too.


Wed, Jan 11, 2012 : 4:36 p.m.

EMU's college of business has done a fabulous job of spurring growth Downtown since it opened. The impact on surrounding businesses has been incredible. I expect the rec center to have the same kind of economic impact.