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Posted on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Ypsilanti train depot: One target of proposed DDA policy to revitalize vacant properties

By Katrease Stafford


The train depot in Ypsilanti is one of many properties being targeted by the DDA for possible redevelopment.

Daniel Brenner |

A vacant train depot in Ypsilanti near Depot Town is a target of the Downtown Development Authority, which is considering creating a policy to address bank-owned and habitually vacant properties.

The DDA discussed how to return these types of buildings back to use at its Oct. 24 Economic Restructuring and Design Committee’s meeting and plan to further that discussion Wednesday.

DDA Executive Director Tim Colbeck created a list of five building owners who own several properties downtown, on Michigan Avenue and in Depot Town.

One of them, the train depot, has been vacant for many years, said Council Member Pete Murdock.

“When I moved on River Street 40 years ago, it was vacant,” Murdock said. “…It was really grandiose at one time.”

The train depot is owned by Dennis Dahlmann, owner of Dahlmann Properties and several buildings in the Ann Arbor area, including the Campus Inn hotel.

Dahlmann purchased the train depot in November 1999 from James and Carol Kovalak for $179,000. Prior to the Kovalaks owning the property, the National Railroad Passenger Corp., Amtrak, was the owner.

Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber said he spoke to Dahlmann a few months ago about the property, but no conversations have taken place since.

Dahlmann could not be reached for comment for this story.

“He has told me that he would be willing to work with someone in a partnership or sell the building at a market price,” Schreiber said. “I don’t know if anyone from the city has talked to him recently.”

The 2012 assessed value of the building is $83,700, making its market value nearly double that, according to city records.

Colbeck said right now, the parking lot of the train depot is being used as a parking lot, although the city is not sure if that is something Dahlmann agreed to. The building itself isn’t in total disrepair, but is boarded up.


A train platform may soon be installed in Depot Town. Officials are hoping this spurs development of the train depot in Ypsilanti.

Daniel Brenner |

City Planner Teresa Gillotti said the building is secure and a recent tour of it showed there are no issues with the building.

At one point, the depot was being looked at as a possible spot for the Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail line to come through, but officials decided it was too close to the tracks to install a platform.

Instead, the west side of the freighthouse will likely be used as the train stop. Six newly refurbished, bi-level commuter rail cars made their first test run earlier this month through Depot Town.

“(They) are planning on having a platform build adjacent to freighthouse,” Gillotti said. “The depot is most likely too close to the tracks for Amtrak standings.”

City officials agree that the commuter rail line stopping through Ypsilanti would have major effects on the city.

“That’s my No. 1 priority,” said City Manager Ralph Lange. “… Urban transportation is a huge asset for economic development for a community like Ypsilanti.”

City officials are hopeful that a commuter rail through Ypsilanti could spur development of the train station, even though the platform wouldn’t be connected to it.

“I think it would take someone with an idea that would fit in with Depot Town and the train stop there,” Schreiber said. “Someone had talked about a restaurant at some point or a train museum but those sort of things cost money.”

The policy to help business owners of properties like the train depot has yet to be developed or approved, Colbeck noted, but the DDA is interested in figuring a way to help encourage owners to redevelop their properties.

"What we’re saying is we have properties that have been sitting vacant for an extended period of time," Colbeck said. "Some are banks and some are individual owners. We would be excited to see some positive use."

Certain properties such as the former Savoy, previously called Club Divine, and the neighboring former Pub 13 piano bar, have received offers, but were turned down by the bank, Michigan Commerce Bank, that owns them, Colbeck said.

Colbeck said the policy, in this sort of instance, would find a way to incentivize banks and owners to move forward with offers. However, Colbeck said the policy wouldn't necessarily obligate the DDA to any sort of financial commitment with the owners.


Tom Perkins | For

"We want to try to come up with something long-term, whatever we can do to spur economic development," he said. "We just don't want those properties sitting. We’re really at the beginning of this, more than anything."

Colbeck said the vacant buildings certainly don't help increase foot traffic in the area, which is vital, nor do they generate an optimal amount of property taxes.

Colbeck said at this point, none of the owners are delinquent in taxes, but possible renovations and revitalizations could help boost the values of the properties, and in turn, the amount of taxes paid.

For the last three years, the DDA has seen a decrease in property tax revenue.

In 2007-08, the DDA received $316,559 in Tax Increment Financing. TIF allows all taxable value within the DDA boundaries to generate tax revenue for the DDA instead of the city of Ypsilanti. That number has declined over the years and in 2013-14, the DDA expects it to further decline to $239,138.

Colbeck previously told that the revenue drop is directly tied to property taxes and value.

"They’re really not generating the optimal amount of property taxes," Colbeck said. "Because in some cases they're in disrepair. We’re not losing money per se, but it's just not the highest and best use. If they were to be put into use that would mean more money. ... You may only see a real moderate increase or you may see a big jump."

The rehabilitation of these properties would not only boost the look and tax base of the city, but also the morale, Colbeck said.

"If all of a sudden there was a business operating daily out of each and contributing to the daily life, it will be huge," Colbeck said. "Each one little success we do grows our (overall) success."

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.



Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 1:32 a.m.

This Dahlman thing has been going around in circles for so long that the city needs to take it from him and turn it into a museum for that civil war thing across the street. That depot use to be a depot why is it so close to the tracks now? When it wasn't when it was being used? Weird. Time to revamp this building and move on.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 9:29 p.m.

First what make anyone think any EMU students ride the train anyway. Second if these people have that much money to let this building set vacant, maybe they should donate it a non-profit. Third the city should condemn it and tear it down if it looks that bad, oh that's right then they would not get the taxes, and that is what really counts to the city.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 7:15 p.m.

@itsworthwhatyoupayforit: Decades ago, when there was passenger service to and from the Depot in Ypsilanti, the tracks were aligned differently. After AMTRAK pulled out, the freight railroad that operated the line (Conrail) pulled up several of the tracks and realigned the remaining ones. The current, live track passes within inches of the depot (see photos), too close for required platforms and clearances.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 5:54 p.m.

I agree, shame on the Dahlman's. All those other proprietors in Depot town working hard to help the cause and this place with all its history and beauty just languishes. I certainly hope there are no streets in Ypsi named Dahlman or Beal,those two families are defintely not deserving of having streets named after them. Does anyone know if either beal or Dahlamn at least pulll their weight for their respective properties and contribute to the Depot Town association, whatever its names is, for things like holiday lights and the like?


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 7:58 p.m.

Yeah and I'm sure the Michigan Commerce Bank is helping the Downtown DDA.

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

I should also note that anyone can ride that shuttle for free. Students, employees,etc. I've seen local residents riding it as well to get around.

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 8:22 p.m.

Sorry for the confusion, Russ. My comment was referring to an earlier statement posed by a reader. I was talking about the EMU shuttle, route 33, that circles around campus and through part of downtown Ypsilanti. It stops near the College of Business near the Ypsilanti transit center.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 7:43 p.m.

wait, what shuttle?

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 3:06 p.m.

"....said Council Member Pete Murdock......When I moved on River Street 40 years ago, it was vacant," I think this is an important point. I lived on River just south of Forest back in the late 70's to early 80's. That place has sat empty with various grand plans that have never come to pass. What is going to change?


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 7:25 p.m.

I dunno, maybe an owner with some enthusiasm towards helping rejuvenate Depot Town or a business idea, instead of a disconnected old fart living far away from here, who couldn't give a cr@p?


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 3:04 p.m.

Maybe a hall to rent like the lovely one in Chelsea.

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 9:45 p.m.

LA- The freight station across the tracks will actually be a space available for rent like you describe once renovations will be complete:


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

I voted restaurant, mostly because I have no other real ideas what to put in there. However I really would love to see it re-furbished and re-opened as SOMETHING, rather than the blighted, sad looking thing it is now. And it would also be nice to add some diversity/competition to the bar food empire of the French family in Depot Town. Even just freshening up the exterior, getting rid of those horrible wooden posts holding up the top roof, and re-grading the parking lot would be a nice start. It is clear that the current owner has had zero intention of putting a single dollar into this property. Shame on you, Dahlmann, you are blighting Depot Town.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 7:12 p.m.

Um, no it is most certainly not maintained. Just because it hasn't collapsed yet or been intentionally set on fire does not mean it has been maintained. Park your car there next time you are in ypsi and tell me it is a maintained parking lot. Or walk around the building and tell me that the condition of the structure, roof and exterior are maintained. It is a shabby place and looks terrible. If Dahlmann has no intention of putting any money into it, please sell it to someone who might. Letting it sit there and deteriorate is rude, IMO.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 2:45 p.m.

I think that's unfair to Dahlmann. The property is kept maintained, what more do you want? If he fixes it up to be pretty, his taxes go up. Where's the incentive? As for the the article speculates, he may not even approve of people using the lot for free. Where's the incentive to fix it up there? If he was charging for parking, then there's an incentive.

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 2:18 p.m.

I find it interesting that 40 percent of the people who have taken the poll so far would like to see a restaurant in the old train depot. Mayor Paul Schreiber said there was talk awhile ago about this. What sort of restaurant? A chain or an independent restaurant?


Thu, Nov 29, 2012 : 1:37 a.m.

I heard a long time ago he wanted to make it into a mini Gandy Dancer. Something elegant. I guess he lost site of Ypsi and left us with more blight. Time to take it from him and turn it into a possible war museum. Heck, we have the fire one, why not a civil war one? We have enough war vets don't we?

Woman in Ypsilanti

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 8:10 p.m.

I voted restaurant but I was really thinking of something like a coffee shop that also sells books :Maybe that should have been "other" :)


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

Yeah Dabu is decent, but farrrr away from depot town. Kyle, I love your idea. Ravens club meets railroad theme with live jazz; perfect. Please quit your day job and go for it!! I'll help with the carpentry and sit in on the open jam nights.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 4:52 p.m.

Katrease....Carpenter is in Pittsfield Twp

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

This will sound crazy since it is located so close to the tracks, but I'd love a hybrid place that would be similar to the Raven's Club concept with craft cocktails and food but with a greater emphasis on being a live music venue (primarily jazz).


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 3:03 p.m.

Not a chain please

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

Good point, Ross. I think there's a sushi spot, Dabu Sushi, on Carpenter but I'm not quite sure whether that falls in the city or township limits. An Italian restaurant doesn't sound half bad either!


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 2:22 p.m.

Oh, definitely NOT a chain. C'mon now. Some decent Italian would be nice. Actually, Ypsi has no good sushi, either.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

Dollar Store!


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

figure out what you're going to do.either use these buildings for something or knock them down..and most important LEAVE POLITICS and SPECIAL INTERESTS Out Of The EQUATION.

j hampton

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 1:09 p.m.

When I dropped my son off at college several years ago I was stunned that the student body was so much larger than when I was in college. I am not talking about the number of students. Walking a mile to and from the train station every day would be a great start.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 3:57 p.m.

lol he is talking about fat people

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:30 p.m.

How come the blight busters aren't hollering to tear it down? I bet there's some "mold" in there somewhere.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

No plumbing or utilities in there? Well, that changes the question quite a bit, doesn't it. No running water or sewer connections means an additional huuuge hurdle to getting it developed.

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

Hey Craig- You're correct it was the Ypsilanti Freighthouse on the other side of the tracks which received the new roof. It should be reopening this spring as a mixed-purpose space:

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 2:49 p.m.

how old is your picture? Because that's not a new roof. And 'mold" is just a bit of hyperbole to make a point. The city runs around wanting to tear down plenty of residential structures in disrepair. Yet this place gets a free pass. And how often does the city walk inside that place? Who has a key to let them in?

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 2:25 p.m.

Hi Craig, City officials said since there are no utilities, plumbing, or anything of that nature inside of the depot, no leaks or mold infestations have taken place. I believe the owner also put a new roof on the building within the past few years. Not to say none of that couldn't happen, but the city inspects it regularly.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:17 p.m.

@itsworthwhatyoupayforit: The main train line runs along North Huron River Drive at the location I am suggesting. It also has the merit of being immediately adjacent to the existing main EMU commuter parking lot. You can see a good overview of the area on Google Maps using the "hybrid" view.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 4:05 p.m.

I see your point on "creatures of habit" . But folks will only drive so far to a train station from their house before they decide to just drive to work. So unless we know how many folks commute to EMU from a home near a train station its all just hypothetical. And I think we see the weekend trip thing from a different perspective. If someone spends 10-20 bucks to park in EMU's lot for the weekend so they can go spend 500 bucks in Chicago or Toronto that is a net loss for the area. I think that sort of thing needs to be considered when crunching numbers for the value of a train.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

@Craig Lounsbury: It is a merit because people would not have to walk much further or change their habits much to adopt the new commuter train service serving that location. People are creatures of habit. The goal is to have as much ridership as possible so that the train is either profitable, or as least expensive to run as possible. The ten thousand plus daily commuters to EMU are prime candidates to take a train if it is convenient. Your point about using the commuter lot for weekend parking for trips to Chicago, Detroit, Toronto etc., is an excellent one, too! The commuter lot could serve that purpose and gain EMU some additional revenue. It also greatly reduces the cost of building a train station, since the parking infrastructure is typically one of the major costs. There is I think only four parking spaces available at the existing train station at Depot Town and those are needed by and already used by patrons of the restaurants there.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:29 p.m.

why is being adjacent to a commuter lot a merit? Unless the real use of the train is 'commuting' to Chicago for the weekend to spend discretionary income? A commuter to EMU certainly doesn't need a parking lot across from the train station.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 12:03 p.m.

I'm no engineer, but it would seem logical that the best place for the train station to the train track. This pretty much rules out a stop at EMU. Locating the station at either the depot or the freighthouse makes use of existing infrastructure, without incurring extra expense. A simple solution for the EMU commuters would be a shuttle bus running on a regular schedule from the station to campus.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 11:21 a.m.

The best location for a train station in Ypsilanti is near Eastern Michigan University, so that the maximum number of users who commute to EMU each day would find it convenient to ride the train. A station near North Huron Rover Drive and Leforge would be best. Who wants to commute to Depot Town and then walk a mile to EMU?

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 11:35 p.m.

Thanks to everyone who commented below on the excellent feedback and information on this topic! This is really useful info!

Woman in Ypsilanti

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 8:05 p.m.

I imagine that if this train ever happens, it would be a small thing for EMU to change their agreement with AATA such that the COB bus swings through Depot Town.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

Thanks for the reminder, Katrease. I had forgotten about that "COB shuttle". However, per Stephen's original comment, the train riders would still have to walk at least a few blocks to catch it somewhere in the Washington St. area, I would guess. The #10 is the one that stops right in Depot Town.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 6:33 p.m.

The AATA #32 and #33 buses are operated by contract with EMU as circulators between the main campus area, College of Business, and convocation center / stadium parking lots. Discussions of future commuter rail service have included AATA and EMU staff, specifically regarding the modification of routes to distribute train passengers to campus and downtown.

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 4:33 p.m.

Murf, While I was a student at EMU, there was some movement from the Student Government body to obtain free passes for students. I'm not sure if that effort was able to pick up any traction. I do know that EMU has an existing agreement with AATA where there is a free shuttle for students, route 33. The shuttle has stops all over campus and goes downtown near Ypsilanti's transit center to pick up students from the College of Business.


Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 4:17 p.m.

There is an AATA bus stop near the train depot already - by Aubrees. Perhaps EMU could look into having an agreement with AATA such as UM has where employees/students get to ride for free. Or maybe people should enjoy a 1 mile walk (aren't there some students already doing that just to get to their school bus stop?). Granted, it is uphill going there but the plus side is that it's downhill at the end of the day!

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 4:16 p.m.

Stephen, I see what you're saying about the importance of having stops where there is the greatest concentration; however, that is what I see is the primary difference between a commuter trail and urban mass transit system. Commuter rails provide you the ability to travel longer distances over a short period of time whereas a urban system provides numerous, more convenient stops. The proposed rail line in Ryan's recent stories covers an extremely large area (see this map we created here: As a non-transportation expert my guess is that every time a stop is added it will only slow down the overall travel time and most likely discourage commuter use.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

@Kyle Mattson: Certainly the AATA would alter their bus routes to include an active train station and any other major destination points in its service area. Existing bus routes might be able to handle this need without a special service. Your mention of Washtenaw Community College and St. Joe's Hospital raises another interesting point which is that there ought to also be a train station built someday to serve them. They both could be served by a stop near St. Joe's (again see Google Maps and use the "hybrid" view to see the area) and from there it's a short walk to WCC (or a shuttle bus or AATA route could link in). This is important because there are over ten thousand commuters to WCC and St. Joe's daily (staff, students and patients) and therefore more potential customers for a commuter train. Again, stations should be located where the highest number of daily commuters exist.

Kyle Mattson

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 2:03 p.m.

Steven- Just a random idea off that popped into mind when you posted, I know the bus system runs through Ypsi, but what if Ypsilanti/EMU were to co-fun one of those 'trolley' type buses that looped through the city matched with the commuter train schedule? Essentially it could go into downtown Ypsil, then up Huron to EMU, over to St. Joes, WCC, then down Washtenaw Ave. In fact I beleve WCC ran similar trolleys shuttles for students between their campus and the Rynearson parking lots while the parking structure there was under construction.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 : 11:23 a.m.

Sorry, should read "North Huron River Drive"!