Ypsilanti City Council signs letter moving proposed Water Street recreation center forward
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.
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
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.”