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Posted on Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Ypsilanti Water Street possibility: Connecting River Street to Factory Street with bridge

By Katrease Stafford

View River Street in a larger map

The opportunity for redevelopment along the Huron River on Water Street is limitless, according to consultants who are helping to update Ypsilanti's master plan, but the city needs to figure a way to connect the entire city to the property.

That connectivity can be achieved by connecting River Street to Factory Street, with a bridge over the Huron River.


Discussions about Water Street continue to evolve throughout the master plan process. Officials have talked about extending River Street through the property to Depot Town and creating a dedicated public space for events.

Courtesy Shape Ypsilanti

"Right now River Street dead ends at Michigan Avenue," said Mayor Paul Schreiber. "It can bisect the Water Street property if it goes all the way to Factory Street. It would have to be a bridge over the river and it would tie in the southern part of the city to the rest of the city. It seems like that’s a huge thing."

River Street, which already runs through Depot Town, would serve as a connecter to the Water Street property.

The street would be equipped with both pedestrian and vehicular capabilities and the bridge would likely be right where Catherine Street intersects with Factory Street, said Planner Bonnie Wessler.

"You could go from Depot Town and get on River Street and go all the way down to Factory Street," Schreiber said. "That’s a great connector we don’t have right now."

Schreiber said drivers use a series of one-way streets to connect to the other side of town. The connectivity that would come from creating a bridge would also make access to Interstate 94, officials said.

Consultants also are proposing the creation of a public gathering spot that could be used for events or other purposes. It may lure developers who envision it evolving into a high-traffic area.

Ian Lockwood, a principal transportation engineer with AECOM, Inc., said the city should value its waterfront property and have a public edge all along the public waterfront.

"There are opportunities for wonderful redevelopment along the river," Lockwood said during a Wednesday joint Ypsilanti City Council and Planning Commission session.

"It's important for buildings to be fronted and we want to pull the value of the water," Lockwood said. "The idea is to create a highly walkable edge. Imagine the street all the way up to Depot Town, that makes a really nice relationship."

Planning Commission member Gary Clark previously served as the chair of the Ypsilanti 20/20 Task Force, that looked at ways to improve the city over a long period of time. Clark said part of their vision was to extend River Street through the Water Street property.

"I'm delighted to see it's part of it," he said. "There's a beautiful part of the river back there. ... It all goes together. You've reinforced what we thought was important and doubled the frontage."

However, the placement and form of the proposed $12 million Eastside Recreation Center and $1.2 million Family Dollar developments will shape the rest of the 38-acre property.

Lockwood said the city needs to consider establishing standards for the entire property to help guide future development. Lockwood said while he has no issues with the use of the proposed recreation center and Family Dollar, he is concerned with their forms and location.

Lockwood is proposing moving the potential location of the recreation center further off Michigan Avenue and deeper on the Water Street property.

"No one has a quarrel with the use of the rec," he said. "I would just like you to think long and hard about the form. If it's on Michigan Avenue, it's isolated."

Former Ypsilanti resident Wanda Wiser isn't a fan of the idea. Wiser just moved one block out city limits into Ypsilanti Township.

"I’m not real thrilled with moving the rec center down and further off the Michigan Avenue corridor, mainly because it will bring people into the city," she said. "You have a bird in your hand, the rest of it is all possible development. If you make it harder for the rec center, you may lose them and then you’ve got nothing, which is what's been happening over and over in this area since the Water Street project started."

For the Family Dollar, Lockwood suggested adding more windows to the front of the property and urged officials to think about requiring this before the structure is built.

"Chances are the Family Dollar will change in maybe five to 10 years from now, but what goes in second will contribute to the area," Lockwood said. "If they follow the rules, you'll get a predictably nice place, if they don’t then the developments don’t work together and adjacent buildings should work together."

By establishing standards now, Lockwood said it creates a sense of predictability that developers like.


A large part of the city's master plan update process has been how the 38-acre Water Street property will look over the next 10 to 15 years.

Joseph Tobianski |

"They can go in knowing that their neighbor is going to be held to the same standards," he said. "If they see the vision and predictability, it's much more likely for investment to come in because they know you have a vision and you're sticking to it. If they’re holding you hostage to the form, then you’ve undermined predictability. It just needs to be built in form that respects urbanism."

In March, Ypsilanti postponed its decision on the proposed $1.2 million Family Dollar development until April after council members and residents expressed concern over aspects of the project, including the form and design.

Council Member Daniel Vogt was one of the council members concerned about the Family Dollar design. Vogt said he agreed with Lockwood's analysis.

"I think the presentation about the dollar store is spot on and think it's something council will need to consider very carefully," he said.

City Manager Ralph Lange said council will have a tough decision to make about Family Dollar and cautioned that the city could potentially lose out on what would be Water Street's first redevelopment.

"We've come to the hard decision of if Family Dollar will not budge to your desires, is it all or nothing?" he said. "Would we let $1 million go away? That's the hard reality the council is going to have to face."

Lange also inquired about how the city would pay to extend River Street throughout the entire property. Lange said that could potentially cost $1 million to do and he wasn't sure if the city can afford to make that investment at this time.

Former Mayor Cheryl Farmer, who was mayor when the city assembled the 38-acre site, said the city should consider the negative impact the Family Dollar may have.

"One of my concerns is that is a brand name that may brand the whole parcel in a negative way and make it more difficult to market the entire parcel," Farmer said.

Planning Commission Chair Rod Johnson said the discussions about Water Street are important to have and that this is the first time the city will have a basis to go off on for future developments.

"The whole Water Street redevelopment zone provides a means of communication between the city and developers about what may or may not work," Johnson said. "It's very important to have a basis for the master plan for all of us, so that we can look at undeveloped land and effectively engage a developer on what will work and what will not work."

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


Pete Murdock

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 11:24 p.m.

Without weighing in on the "new concept" for Water Street - at this point it's just another pretty picture to go with rest of them. Andy Clock is correct about the old treatment plant area being a honeycomb of water pipes. Every water line in the City originates from there. But the "new Plan" puts the recreation center on the Angstrom property across Catherine Street. It also has issues like the City doesn't own it and it is in the flood plain. As to Dan Ayres comments, he is not correct that the entire Water Street is fill. There is the section the tree nursery is located in that was an old "dump" the rest of it is ok.Contrary to popular belief there is only a small section of Water Street property that is in the flood plain.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 2:51 p.m.

Pete, whose map are you using to determine the "small section" that is in the floodplain? I have not done "due diligence" in finding the boundaries of the floodplain, but any maps would be contingent on whether the dams upstream were strong enough to survive a flood event. Maps that show "100 year" floods are based on climate assumptions (that have to be revisited because of demonstrable climate change) and whether upstream dams can be counted on. I remember reading articles which said that many of those dams have not been maintained and at least some of them are in bad shape. Aside from maps, if you just look at the pictures and walk around the area it is evident that flooding has occurred in the past. I think actual past experience is a better predictor of the future than any map drawn by an "expert." I saw flooding at one of the businesses which had a building on Michigan just east of the river. It was one of the businesses which was forced to move. (My memory is that business involved heating and cooling.) If there is money available to the City for "development," I think it should be spent in a manner that is more likely to produce revenue (i.e. a viable tax base) rather than create another permanent drain on the resources of the rest of the City. Is there any planning effort underway to repurpose the physical plants of the manufacturers who have left the City? Doesn't it make sense to reuse existing structures (if it is possible) than to build new ones. Just south of Factory Street is a huge empty structure (the old Ford plant) with parking, utilities, etc. Why build when existing structures are available? The City's priorities for spending its funds for planning consultants appears to be to buy more pretty pictures and "huge" ideas. I would rather see the City spending consultant funds to come up with practical plans for the near term "reuse" of existing structures

E. Daniel Ayres

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 10:50 p.m.

People need to remember that the Water Street area is mostly "fill" accumulated over the past 150 years or more. I was down there today helping convert an abandoned Little League field into a temporary nursery for tree stock to be used by the City in an effort to "Releaf" areas where street trees have aged out or have been fatally damaged by storms, etc. Frankly, the whole area could easily be returned to swampland, and with global warming rapidly increasing the likelihood of 100 year flooding, I wouldn't insure anything built there! Putting a bridge over a "kink" in the river which could easily be "straightened out" by a really massive flood might well be a waste of valuable resources better used elsewhere. The Huron River has been transformed and abused ever since the area was settled and water works for milling were first built. In the end, it may very well determine the future of the entire proposed "development" area in ways we have little control over. Anything built there will require special engineering studies related to possible settlement, as well as the likelihood of flooded basements.

Andrew Jason Clock

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 8:15 p.m.

Apparently everyone working on this plan has forgotten how Waterworks Park got it's name. It's where the water plant used to be, and as such, is still crisscrossed by water mains and more or less un-buildable. This was already talked about in council when we were first talking about the Recreation Center. How can we be talking about building there again when we already know it's not feasible.


Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 7:13 p.m.

The present proposal has no reported economic component. If it did, we would know how much the consultants estimate the development would cost the city and, more importantly, how much it would generate in revenue to pay for those expected costs. How much will it cost to build and maintain another bridge over the river? Will that development generate enough new revenue to pay for it or will that development suck revenue from the rest of the city? Good planning has to extend beyond pretty pictures and "huge" ideas. Good planning means looking at the long term costs and benefits to the citizens of the city and beyond and having a reasonable plan to pay for expected costs. One more question: Isn't the entire Water Street development in a floodplain? Look at the picture and see the way the river wraps around the proposed acreage. Consider what climate change is likely to do. Just looking at the photographs, it's easy to envision the river changing course during a major flood—this is what rivers historically have done for thousands of years. Is it a "good plan" to build in a floodplain? If the river floods, say 20 or 30 feet, how much of this development will be left standing? With the extreme weather events we've already seen, we should plan accordingly. Who will pay for flood damage? A responsible plan will have answers to these questions.


Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 4:04 p.m.

Regardless of which ideas make the cut for the final plan, simply having a plan is critically important for the City's marketing and development of the Water Street property. I've talked to numerous Ann Arbor and metro Detroit developers over the last five years who say they are interested in part of the property, but are unwilling to enter negotiations without some guiding plan and regulations in place. Not only are developers afraid of spending money on attorneys, architects and engineers only to have their plans dismissed by council, but they're (quite reasonably) anxious about the idea that they'll invest in a parcel without any knowledge of whether the next parcel over will end up luxury lofts or a landfill. Making clear to developers what the city will say "yes" to is critical to getting them in the door; making clear what the city will say "no" to next door is necessary for them to pull the trigger. As Mr. Ranzini notes, laying out the plan for the public infrastructure is also important for making clear to potential developers what they're investing in. Whether DC or Cleveland, cities across the country have seen private investment follow the plan for public investment, in many cases even in advance of the public project.


Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 3:01 p.m.

I agree that "having a plan" is important. The Water Street development did have a plan. That was required before the bonds were issued. Do you know the history regarding past plans adopted by the City? In my view any "potential developer" has much better investment choices available than Water Street.

Katrease Stafford

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 2:20 p.m.

I think it's important to note that at this point, these are all ideas coming out of the master plan update process. Nothing is set in stone yet. If this does actually become part of the city's master plan, it could be awhile before this sort of project begins because of funding and other reasons. The master plan outlines the city's vision for the next 10 to 15 years. The actual draft process has not started yet.


Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 2:31 p.m.

I'm not an architect or city manager, but I would imagine someone paid the architects and consultants for these updates. They are paying for these crazy ideas instead of getting useful, workable, POSSIBLE, solutions to the Water St. debacle. It's good to have grand plans and I would hope that they never stop having them. But since they are having a problem just getting people interested in the property, even thinking about spending millions of dollars more, no matter if it is federal state or local monies, is foolish.

Nicholas Urfe

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

Bridge to nowhere. Bought with borrowed money.


Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 12:47 p.m.

So, we're in debt up to our eyeballs because of Grand Ideas past city councils and mayors have had - and you're proposing spending million(s) of dollars AGAIN on Water Street in another Grand Idea? What is it about Water Street that keeps pulling our politicians' heads into the clouds with dreams of grandeur? Come on, Schreiber, get real! Get us out of the hole we're in, unload the Water Street debacle without throwing more good money after bad. THEN you can start dreaming on how to turn Ypsi into a little Ann Arbor.


Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 11:58 a.m.

Great idea. It will make the rest of the property available and more desirable for development. Otherwise, only the Michigan Avenue part has street frontage. The Rec Center makes more sense on the water Works Park side because this is already off the tax rolls and there is plenty of associated land for soccer fields, skate parks, Tennis courts etc. I also think most of the users will come from the south and west (including the township, but a study of this is being done now.Why give a huge prime Michigan Avenue location next to the river to the Rec Center folks and take it off the tax rolls? About 40% of Ypsilanti is already non-profit status and is one of the reasons creating revenue for the city is difficult and why our property taxes are so high.


Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

Steve....the rec center would not be downtown ( depot Town is not downtown either ) it would be down the hill from downtown

Steve McKeen

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

Gary, sometimes the things you say make me laugh. The rec center makes more sense on Michigan avenue. It is going to be an anchor for the downtown. Putting the center next to low-income housing will doom the project in a heartbeat.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 10:43 a.m.

Having the bridge to extend River Street to the beautiful Waterworks Park site and Factory Street in the master plan as an ambition is great even if the money isn't there today. When the Water Street property is developed the tax revenues will be there to make this key long term investment. The other key thing with this site is the bicycle trail along the River and extending it all the way past the old Ford factory and under I-94 to Ford Lake and connecting it to the parks there. This is a major opportunity to spur economic development in Ypsilanti. Microsoft relocated from Albuquerque, N.M., to Redmond, Wash., early in its corporate existence, for example, primarily because Redmond had the Sammamish River Trail, a 10.9-mile bike path and recreational rail trail. The millenials that Ypsilanti could attract to that type of public park amenity could fill the entire Water Street site and all nearby neighborhoods. It could transform the city.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 10:02 p.m.

@Local Yocal: Actually officials have already done a feasibility study of the best way to do a path under I-94. It is a below grade crossing with retaining walls on each side.

Local Yocal

Sat, Apr 20, 2013 : 9:33 p.m.

"under I-94 to Ford Lake and connecting it to the parks" Not possible, I suggest you take a look where the river crosses under I-94. Barely enough clearance for a canoe.


Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 3:06 p.m.

Actually the taxes are not, or rather will not be, there. The entire property is in a Brownfield plan and a DDA district. So once the initial taxable value is reached all of the taxes will go to the Brownfield and DDA captures. Those funds are already committed to repaying the bonds the City sold to acquire the properties and do the demo and cleanup work that wasn't paid for with grants, as well as reimbursing future activities related to redevelopment.

1982 Brew Crew

Fri, Apr 19, 2013 : 12:44 p.m.

Agree that connecting this to Ford Lake is key.