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Posted on Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Ypsilanti officials like elements of Water Street rec center proposal but raise concerns

By Tom Perkins

Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission officials shared their vision for a new recreation center on Ypsilanti’s Water Street property at the Ypsilanti City Council's meeting on Tuesday. The preliminary plan and ideas received a warm reception from several council members, though concerns were raised over the city not receiving any tax revenue from the center and the size of its parcel.

The $10 to $15 million development would occupy up to 12 acres on the property’s northwest corner. It would be bordered on the north by Michigan Avenue and on the west by the Border to Border Trail and Huron River.

No official plans were submitted, but several council members questioned the need for such a large site. The city would likely give the property to the county and wouldn’t receive any tax revenue.

A lack of revenue from Water Street has significantly contributed to the city's strained financial position. The city started acquiring parcels comprising it 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.

But Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Director Bob Tetens called the rec enter a development “anchor” that will help attract the mixed-use and residential developments the city has desired.

The rec center would serve as the centerpiece in a series of area parks linked by the eastern Washtenaw County Border to Border Trail. The commission is funded by a millage and officials previously said the project would be partially paid for out of its fund balance, while the rest would be covered by bonding.

Preliminary drawings presented to council called for a parcel approximately 400 feet from east to west and 1,200 feet from north to south. A small park and greenspace wrapping around a two-story, 65,000-square-foot building would sit on the site’s north quarter closest to downtown. The building would be set back from the road approximately 40 feet, Tetens said.

A 250-space parking lot would occupy the quarter of the property directly south of the building. A trailhead to the Border to Border tail would be further south, and plans called for a park, some playground equipment and more greenspace on the southern end of the site where the river bends to the east.

Indoors, the building would include a pool, gym, track, fitness equipment and weights among other amenities. The center would utilize Border to Border Trail and riverfront for outdoor recreational activities such as canoeing.

The Commission also is seeking to link the site and Border to Border Trail to Waterworks Park, which sits just south and east of the Huron River and north of Spring Street.

Tetens said the Commission wants to work with the city on the site's design, but said they weren’t interested in any other location on the property.

“For us, it’s the river, it’s the trail and it’s the main road, and that’s the only site where you get all three of those,” he said. “And, again, we want to be a landmark downtown and be as close to the center of downtown as we can.”

Tetens called a rec center and parks a “boon for development” and the project Water Street needs to attract further development to the east.

He said the group could provide concrete data demonstrating that such a project would attract further development when asked to do so by Council Member Dan Vogt. Council Member Ricky Jefferson also said he liked the idea, but said he wanted to see more evidence that it would attract development.

“This development will not pay off your Water Street debt, but you need to have an anchor or catalyst, and nothing will make that site look better than a community recreation center," Tetens replied.

Council Member Brian Robb called the proposed center a “quasi-suburban” development in an urban area, and asked for examples of similar successful projects. He said the building could be taller and denser and serve the same purpose while better fitting the vision for Water Street.

He said the current proposed site is sprawling.

"If they want to be on Michigan Avenue, it needs to be urban," he said.

Mayor Paul Schreiber said he liked the plans, but questioned parts of the site's layout and asked specifically if the parking lot needed to be located along the riverfront.

Schreiber also questioned how infrastructure would be paid for, to which Tetens replied that the parks ommission would “play a role.”

Council Member Mike Bodary said he liked the idea of the rec center but wanted to see it on a smaller parcel.

“A smaller footprint is definitely encouraged,” he said.

During council proposed business at the end of the meeting, Council Member Pete Murdock said the city needs to carefully consider how it proceeds because it may put a Water Street debt retirement millage in front voters while concurrently giving away a third of the property. The proposed plans could equate to a loss of $400,000 in annual tax revenue, Murdock said.

He was skeptical that the center would definitely attract development and said the same promises were made about the Eastern Michigan University School of Business prior to it being built in downtown's west end.

“They haven’t demonstrated any instances of how a rec center is an anchor to development,” Murdock said.

Schreiber said he agreed the financial situation is complicated, but said there aren’t a lot of Water Street development proposals on the table.

“As we heard before, the first thing you put on Water Street is going to determine what is going there, and a rec center provides options,” he said. “And even though we’re giving away a chunk of tax revenue, it may attract tax revenue from other developers interested in building in a high-density downtown area.”

County Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. was one of several commissioners in attendance and has played a role in the project's development. He said he was pleased that the dialogue had been started and said planners are likely willing to work with the city on issues over the size or design of the parcel.

He said the center would improve the quality of life, attract businesses and bring people to the area.

"I think this an economic tool, not just a tool for recreation," he said. "This side of the county deserves this."



Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 1:30 p.m.

I wonder if this proposed spot will be where Ypsilanti's version of Stonehenge currently is. As for using it, I may live closer to this proposed building but I still love my $99/year membership at Planet Fitness. Even with an 'in county' discount, they still won't be able to beat that.


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 1:37 a.m.

What would Alfred A. Hunter (the guy who owned the land before it became part of the city) think about all this?


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 10:20 p.m.

Being a tax paying, home owning Ypsilanti resident I beg the city council to find a way to make this project happen, a recreation center I believe is absolutely in the best interest of the residents and local businesses. The Michigan Ave Water Works lot has been a black eye in our community for years, please please please do not pass this up!!


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 9:57 p.m.

Much better then that empty land becoming property of the state when Ypsilanti can't make due on the lien. I am all for it, but what I am wondering is this. Canoeing? To where? You need lots of water to make the calories count.

Andrew Jason Clock

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 5:43 p.m.

Sorry, wrong google map link. here is the right one: <a href=",-83.597889&spn=0.034504,0.084543" rel='nofollow'>;msa=0&amp;ll=42.24002,-83.597889&amp;spn=0.034504,0.084543</a>

City Confidential

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 5:39 p.m.

I was also at the meeting and I was a little perplexed at why Councilman Robb was so concerned about it being too suburban simply because the building wasn't proposed to be 4 stories tall. It's currently occupied by homeless people's camps, including piles of human feces and drug needles on the barely developed trail. I'll take suburban over that, thank you. I also noticed that Mr. Robb kept making side comments to the person next to him, which came off as little disrespectful to everyone else in the room. I'm all for it. I hope they include a dog park on the site so I can walk my dog on leash on the B2B trail and then let her run and play off leash in the dog park.

Andrew Jason Clock

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 5:30 p.m.

I think that people don't really grasp the scale of what Wastenaw County Parks, Rep. Rutledge and Commissioner Peterson are trying to do for Ypsilanti. First, look at the map of the B2B trail: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Notice how Ypsilanti is a void on these maps, outside of Frog Island and Riverside Parks or EMU's campus? Now, look at this Google Map I created, illustrating the park complex that this group is trying to create within Ypsilanti City Limits, using all land that's already parks or city owned: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Can you really tell me that this sort of feature isn't worth giving up some land that has no real prospects for development? They are trying to use 12 acres that we have had sitting abandoned for 10 years, with no prospects of development or tax capture, and in return, give us a massive urban park from that stretches from Forrest Ave to Factory Street, connects directly to Ford Lake, EMU, WCC, St. Joe's and the ENTIRE ANN ARBOR PARK SYSTEM via the Border 2 Border Trail, and turn that 12 acres into a major hub and destination on that system. The potential for this to attract visitors and development is off the scale! We've been hedging our bets for long enough. Its time to make a bold statement that we believe in our city. If we're going to go down, I want to go down swinging, not cowering. City Council, this is your chance to make that statement. Get the job done.

Andrew Jason Clock

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 9:49 p.m.

Steve, I think you will find very few people who will dispute those statements. Water Street has been vacant for 10 years, we don't have any prospects for development, and we do have a large stock of vacant businesses and homes. That's not talking down the city, that's our reality. If it wasn't we wouldn't have the dire financial problems council was discussing last week.

Roger Dodger

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 7:53 p.m.

Telling the truth isn't talking down the city. The list of items you present are all factual, with the exception of the prediction for the future. To me, though, it seems pretty accurate considering how much progress has been made on Water Street over the years. I fully expect that the Thompson Block will look the same in ten years too.

Steve McKeen

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 7:10 p.m.

These are all things you've written today: land that has no real prospects for development They are trying to use 12 acres that we have had sitting abandoned for 10 years, with no prospects of development or tax capture we can't fill our vacant retail in downtown or vacant homes in our neighborhoods Ypsilanti is in dire straights 10 more years of vacant lots

Andrew Jason Clock

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 6:17 p.m.

Please, Steve, enlighten me on how I'm talking down the city? Because I don't think people understand the broader concept of a linear, river front park in Ypsilanti, based on reaction that I read here and other places, or because I'm suggesting we need something to boost development potential and help drive downtown business? Or because I suggest that City Council is failing to act in our best interest?

Steve McKeen

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.

I enjoy how you talk down the city in order to make this project sound more worthwhile.

Andrew Jason Clock

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 5:45 p.m.

oops. this is the correct second link: <a href=",-83.597889&spn=0.034504,0.084543" rel='nofollow'>;msa=0&amp;ll=42.24002,-83.597889&amp;spn=0.034504,0.084543</a>

Thinking over here

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 4:57 p.m.

Get Kumon, Sylvan, or other &quot;tutor&quot; businesses to go in next door! Drop your kids off, go workout. :)


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 4:53 p.m.

@ Andrew Clock I think your comments ( on A2.COM rewarding County's plan) are right on the money. I'm a life long resident of Washtenaw County. ( A2 bred) and regularly bike the B to B trail and use the city / county and Metro Parks. Once this this development is completed, hopefully the county will promote its use with schedule events. The University of Michigan community certainly uses the City of Ann Arbor's parks and recreation areas for gatherings, picnics and groups events. Eastern Michigan University should be encouraged to do the same. Things like (cancer) walkabouts, foot/ bike races could originate and end there, Perhaps this will encourage the rest of the community to use the facility for family reunions / picnics / recreation etc.

Andrew Jason Clock

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 4:50 p.m.

I'm not suggesting that giving or leasing this land to the county will fix our declining tax base as if by magic. What I'm suggesting is that, in many, many areas, urban trails and recreation has been used to help bring new visitors, residents, businesses and development. New residents and businesses mean increasing tax revenue I'm saying we have a choice. A choice between doing what we've been doing: cutting budgets, raising taxes and fees and waiting for some private investor to swoop in and buy up all our problems. To keep acting like Glimmertwin: &quot;Nothing works. Its all pointless. Businesses can't make it.&quot; Or we roll the dice, let the county come in and build something that its going to build somewhere around here anyway, and hope that investing in our city pays off in bringing in people (people=tax revenue). To take a stand with local businesses like those in Depot Town and Beezy's, Puffer Reds, The Rocket, Bowerbird Mango, Ypsi Studio, Da Lat, Ypsi Cycle, and so many others that will tell you that being in Ypsilanti does work, and that the people will come. We are SO close to being able to tap into the same kind of revival Midtown in Detroit is seeing. EMU is starting to cooperate more and more. The DDA has actually gotten something positive done with the Cross St. and its facade grants. Washtenaw County, our state rep, so many people see how this can fall into line, why can't city council?


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 3:28 p.m.

Ypsi City Council has a long record of sitting on that more or less useless property with some delusional belief that the &quot;next great development offer&quot; is right around the corner. Meanwhile, they deny or backpedal on any actual real-life offers that do come, and so vacant that polluted brownfield known as Water Street remains. It reminds me so much of the fable of the person perched on their roof during a flood, who prays to God for help as the flood waters rise. A row boat comes, and offers to ferry the person to safety, but he says no, this is in God's hands, I shall wait for Him. Next, a raft comes, and the person still declines, saying, no, I shall wait on God. Finally, a helicopter flies over, just as the waters reach the roof, and still the person says, no, I shall wait for the Lord. Finally, in Heaven, after the person has drowned, he goes up to the Lord, and says, &quot;why didn't you try to save me?&quot; and God says, &quot;I did...didn't you see the rowboat, the raft, and the helicopter?&quot; Such is a parable of Ypsi City Council's behavior regarding Water Street.


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

So is this Rec Center suppose to be a business magnet like the county Rec Center on Washtenaw Ave. in Ann Arbor? If it is the city of Ypsilanti is in trouble. The Rec Center also has competition from EMU, UofM, WCC and the Rec Center on Washtenaw Ave. Also, Where is the County getting the money for this? I thought that they were short of money also?

Andrew Jason Clock

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 4:53 p.m.

County Parks and Recreation is funded through a dedicated millage since the 70's, just recently renewed. Washtenaw county has clearly stated it wants recreation. And, I call a new Whole Foods/Barnes &amp; Noble complex, all full, and an stalled but now restarted massive retail/residential development across the street, all one block from the rec center, a pretty positive effect on development.

Chuck MacIsaac

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 2:13 p.m.

A few years ago there was a vote for a similar facility in Ypsi twsp. It contained an ice rink but it was voted down because voters would rather of had the facility in the Lincoln area instead of the Willow Run area. Would there be a chance the rink could be included on this site?


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 1:35 p.m.

It would be wonderful to have an indoor space to exercise in the city limits of Ypsilanti during the cold winter months. It would be fantastic to have a playground near the downtown area for youth to use their energy while their adults can enjoy the natural scenery of the Huron River. Please make this happen as soon as possible. Thanks.


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 1:25 p.m.

I had heard talk within the last year of putting a playground in Riverside Park. I'm not sure where that currently stands.


Thu, Oct 6, 2011 : 1:25 a.m.

treetowncartel - There are parks, but where are the playgrounds? In my four decades of life, there never has been one in either of these parks. It does make sense to put one in Riverside Park, but apparently no one is willing to pay for one.


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

There are two parks north of this parcel for play grounds.


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

Just like all the other entities that have explored building here, this will likely be delayed and questioned until it goes somewhere else. If it isn't turned down directly. Every day, I look at the Water Street mess and watch dollars fly out of my wallet. You HAVE to start somewhere. This is a good place to start.

Andrew Jason Clock

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 1:22 p.m.

Glimmertwin, there IS demand for Eastern Washtenaw Recreation center. On WILL be build somewhere east of 23. Those facts have been established by Washtenaw Parks and Recreation. The question is where will we locate it, who will see the benefit of all those visitors? I say, give it to us. We are, by far, the Washtenaw community most in need of help. Of course, we should see how it fits in with our Parks and Recreation department. Oh, that's right, we don't have one. We had to eliminate it due budget constraints. Yes, this is somewhat of a gamble. But as you point out, we're already loosing on Water Street as a city? This seems like a pretty minor bet with chances for a big win for Ypsilanti. Why pass it up?


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 1:46 p.m.

Perhaps, but I doubt many people will be going to downtown Ypsi for recreation. Besides Depot Town, people that don't live in Ypsi stay away. Just ask all the businesses that close - seemingly weekly. I'm all for revitalization for any area. But putting all your eggs in facts derived by, guess who, another taxpayer-funded body, is very dangerous. Just look what happened when it was established that downtown Ypsi determined the demand was there for a mixed-use development project on the Water Street property. Hasn't worked out too well.


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 1:12 p.m.

Unfortunately Ypsilanti property and business owners are already taxed to death. There isn't the population to support nor pay for this. It would be throwing in good money after bad. I love how the politicians go $31M in debt, and then in the middle of it all need to change the game plan - all at the expense of their citizens. This entire project has been a very, very sad example of leaders that have no idea what they are doing and when their terms are up the problem shifts to someone else. Very sad.


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 1:01 p.m.

Lets count our Water Street tax revenues to date..... done. Zero, Zip. Nada. Anything built on this moneypit of a site has got to be better than what we have.

Andrew Jason Clock

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 12:57 p.m.

As to the tax revenue question, again, this is non-starter. We haven't collected tax revenue on it in 10 years. In case no one has noticed, we can't fill our vacant retail in downtown or vacant homes in our neighborhoods, let alone entice anyone to buy a piece of our vacant 38 acres. Wake up folks, this is the miracle investor you've been waiting for to spur development in the rest of the area! They are even agreeing that they will be a part of bringing infrastructure to the property. That's a hell of a lot more than Burger King was offering! Ypsilanti is in dire straights. Our budget becomes insolvent in 2015, and by 2017, the only way to stay in the black, as council plans now, is to eliminate all city hall employees, half of fire and police, eliminate the DDA, and start charging taxes and fees on just about everything they haven't taxed or charged for yet. That's the best our City Council has come up with. Enough. This is our chance. We must gamble the tax revenue on that 8 acres in hopes that it can serve to reverse the slide in taxes in the rest of our city. We can't cut enough to just keep doing things the way we have an survive. We need to take a gamble. Its our last play to turn things around. If council fails to act swiftly to work with Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation to make this a reality, then the people of Ypsilanti should move swiftly to remove the members of city council from their duties. Its that important to us as a city.

Steve McKeen

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 2:49 p.m.

Are you suggesting that by giving away a third of the property the cit will NOT need to start charging taxes and fees for everything they haven't charged for yet?

Andrew Jason Clock

Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 12:54 p.m.

I attended last nights meeting and I thought Washtenaw County Parks &amp; Recreation's vision for a Recreation Center on Water Street was fantastic. I was less than impressed with Council's muted response. Washtenaw County, David Rutledge, and Ronnie Peterson are clearly gung-ho on this project, and its going to be built somewhere east of 23. They are trying to present it as a gift to Ypsilanti, to attempt to spur the redevelopment of downtown. Its frankly the best idea that's been proposed for the property since the entire debacle began. The question is, is our council smart enough to take it? Council's questions were non-starters. Its not a "suburban type" development, its a recreation center. Cities all around the county of every density have them. As for weather it will have an economic or developmental impact? Well it's going to be a lot better than 10 more years of vacant lots, don't you think? Considering there is evidence form all around the country and all over Michigan that recreation center and urban trails help to revitalize areas, considering availability of recreation ranks high in the consideration of relocating companies and individuals, I think this is a no brainer. The vision, to create a family and senior focused center with an open plaza for community gatherings and access to the county wide Border to Border trail is perfect for our downtown, and frankly, mirrors the existing density in our city grid. Its nothing like the uninviting and imposing fortress EMU was allowed to build. We like to have some green spaces, and frankly, the idea of turning Water Street into some sort of super dense urban development left with all of Michigan's jobs and residents. I could care less where they put their parking lot, as long as its filled with visitors to Ypsilanti! We're talking over 1000 visitors a day between the rec center and B2B trails. That would make a significant difference to our local businesses if even ΒΌ of them made their way into downtown!


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 12:13 p.m.

They should consider something like Baltimore has on their waterfront, a combination of retail and restaurants. Build their own buildings and lease out the space.


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 4:24 p.m.

Oh, and let Burger King be a tenant, just don't let them have a drive through.


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 4:20 p.m.

I've been to both, Toledo doesn't really compare, they went with just restaurants, not mixed use.


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 1:14 p.m.

Toledo modeled their revitalization after Baltimore - even the same architect and structures. That failed miserably and in the end the taxpayers held that bag too. Now the entire area is some sort of museum funded by - guess who. You need the density to pay for these things.


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 12:10 p.m.

I hope they continue to move forward on the project as a whole. The exact details can be worked out. I think the parking lot might be better on Michigan Ave rather than the river front. All of this can be negotiated. Places that have foot and bus traffic have less crime. Make sure it's a major bus stop, easily accessed from both sides of the street.


Wed, Oct 5, 2011 : 12:08 p.m.

This sounds better than the hypothetical tax value of an empty lot that has no takers.