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Posted on Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Housing boom: 2 downtown Ann Arbor buildings seek to add floors for apartments or condos

By Lizzy Alfs


The owners of two adjacent downtown Ann Arbor properties - 123 E. Liberty St. (not visible) and 210-216 S. Fourth Ave. (white building in center) - want to construct two to three stories of apartments on top of their existing buildings.

Daniel Brenner |

The owners of two adjacent properties located in Ann Arbor’s Main Street Historic District want in on the downtown housing boom.

Running Fit owners Randy Step and Steve Angerman proposed adding two floors of residential units along with a rooftop patio to their existing one-story building at 121-123 E. Liberty.

Meanwhile, Joe Barbat, the new owner of the mixed-use building at 210-216 S. Fourth Ave. wants to add up to three stories of residential units on top of his existing two-story building and replace the facade.

“We certainly hope this will revitalize that block of Fourth Avenue and make it as vibrant as the blocks of Liberty and Washington and Main Street,” explained Brad Moore of Ann Arbor-based J Bradley Moore & Associates, the architect for both projects

There will be back-to-back citizen participation meetings for the projects on July 10.

121-123 E. Liberty proposal

Step and Angerman purchased the 800-square-foot space at 121 E. Liberty St., formerly Metamorphosis Salon, in September 2012 for $295,000. They also own the adjacent Running Fit space.


Step and Angerman own the entire building at 121-123 E. Liberty St. after purchasing the former Metamorphosis Salon space last year.

Joseph Tobianski |

Once a three-story building, a fire in the 1950s destroyed two floors and those were never rebuilt, Step said.

“We are one of the only buildings in the (Main Street) Historic District that’s one story,” he said. “We’re trying to get back to the look of the building before (the fire).”

The property is located in the city’s D1 zoning, but because it’s in the historic district, there are limitations on a building expansion or redevelopment, and plans require approval from the Historic District Commission.

City Planner Jill Thacher said the building is considered non-contributing because it was partially destroyed by the fire.

Preliminary plans submitted to the city call to add two stories of residential units on top of the entire building, along with a rooftop patio and penthouse that would occupy a partial fourth floor. Moore said there would be six residential units ranging in size from about 500 square feet to about 950 square feet.

It hasn’t been determined if the units will be marketed for lease or for sale, but Step said he would prefer to sell the units as condominiums.

Step said they also intend to improve the building’s facade. He said the project should not affect business at his Running Fit store, or the physical therapy clinic opening at 121 E. Liberty.

210-216 S. Fourth Ave. proposal

After a foreclosure, Joe Barbat, CEO of the Wireless Toyz franchise chain and real estate firm Barbat Holdings LLC, purchased the 20,000-square-foot Town Center Plaza building at 210-216 S. Fourth.


The new owner of the building at 210-216 S. Fourth wants to build residential units.

Courtney Sacco |

Tenants in the building include Bandito’s Mexican Restaurant, Salon Vertigo, Easy Pay Direct, Arbormoon Software and Ann Arbor Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy. It has several first- and second-floor vacancies that are now being marketed for lease with Colliers International’s Ann Arbor office, including two street-level spaces.

A fire in 1960 caused significant damage to the building, which was occupied by Montgomery Ward & Co. at the time. Thacher said the existing aluminum facade was installed after the fire. The property is located in the D1 zoning, but it’s also considered a non-contributing building in the Main Street Historic District.

Barbat’s plans call to add up to three stories of residential units ranging in size from about 500 square feet to about 800 square feet on top of the rear of the building.

“They would certainly like to add three stories,” Moore said. “We’re still doing investigations for the building’s structural system, and we hope to have everything completed by the time we get to the citizen participation meetings.”


The aluminum facade was installed at 210-216 S. Fourth after a fire in 1960 destroyed part of the building.

Ann Arbor News

“Any vertical additions we do to the building would be set back from the front facade,” he added.

The total number of units hasn’t been determined yet, and Barbat hasn’t decided if the units will be marketed for lease or for sale.

“That’s going to be a market-driven issue,” Moore said.

Along with the addition, Barbat wants to replace the building’s facade. Moore said they are still working out what materials would be used, and that’s subject to Historic District Commission approval.

“We are looking to bring this building back to its old glory,” Barbat wrote via email.


At one point, the building at 210-216 S. Fourth was known as the "Fourth Main Arcade" and it had a pedestrian walkway in the middle, but Thacher said that wasn't part of the original building's design.

Lizzy Alfs |

“We think it has a great history as the old Montgomery Ward’s building, and we want to bring some of that old history back to life. We realize this property has been neglected for many years, and we are excited about our plans to make this a premier property in the downtown area,” he continued.

It’s unclear how the addition would affect the building’s current tenants.

If approved, the projects would join a wave of new housing construction near downtown. Recently built and under construction high-rise buildings are resulting in more than 2,500 new apartment units.

Meanwhile, Tom Fitzsimmons of Huron Contracting LLC is building condominium projects on North Main Street and North Ashley Street.

“There’s no question that downtown residential is really strong right now,” Moore said.

Added Step: “(Our) project is smaller, one-bedroom units. According to the studies we have done, there is demand for that type of space downtown.”

The public meeting for the 121-123 E. Liberty St. project will be held from 6 to 7:10 p.m. on July 10 at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. The meeting for the 210-216 S. Fourth Ave. project will follow that from 7:10 to 8:30 p.m. on July 10.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Wed, Jul 10, 2013 : 3:49 a.m.

Regarding the Running Fit Store addition. Let's just hope the architects and space planners are better than most I've seen in Ann Arbor when looking for living spaces. Most spaces are too small and have too little natural light. Yeah let's try to get the most bang for the development buck as usual and cram too many spaces in too little square footage. 500 square feet is like living in a postage stamp. And exactly how large will the windows be - way too small like all the other ugly high rises in town? Why doesn't the city just pass out antidepressants? Could, Ann Arbor PLEASE develop some level of sophistication, hire truly great architects and create amazing buildings. UM is the only part of the city that has used credible, wonderful architects. Ann Arbor is woefully backward design-wise. It's also a pigsty. How about abolishing the HDC and establishing a beautification and clean-up department (this could include weeding). Thank goodness those buildings are being demolished as one arrives from the highway. My son's friend from Mexico said coming into A2 looked worse than a third world country. Wake-up Ann Arborites.


Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 4:03 a.m.

WOW, J Bradley Moore & Associates has gotten a lot of projects recently!!


Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 3:27 a.m.

I am barely old enough to have experienced the Montgomery Wards fire. Some years after that, my aunt established and ran the Knit and Wear Shop in that space, so it is loaded with memories. I guess going up and adding living space is OK; IMO it beats yet another looming edifice.


Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 1:16 a.m.

Smart... Density... Downtown...


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 3:26 p.m.

Can you post higher quality versions of those images? I'd love to read the old news story. The facade on the Montgomery Wards building is horrible and needs to go.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 3:46 p.m.

Try going here:

Bob W

Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.

Since development comesup so frequently, I hope the mayor, council, city attorney and the historic commission are aware of one of the Supreme Court decisions this week that may have gotten lost in the crowd so to speak. Next time a project is rejected or requirements imposed they should read this first.

Bob W

Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 7:43 p.m.

I realize the decision was in regard to a neasement but thought it might lay the groundwork for challenges of other demands or requirements. No more no less.


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 7:12 p.m.

I don't see the parallel here. The city isn't telling the property owners that they have to set aside a part of undeveloped land as an easement that would try to offset some of the inevitable environmental degradation that would be caused by the development of that undeveloped property. These properties are already developed, and the city isn't asking the property owners to set aside a portion of undeveloped land. Maybe you could provide the logical link between the issues, rather than just a pdf link to the opinion?

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 5:06 p.m.

Thanks for highlighting this opinion. An analysis is provided here: The case, where a water district disallowed a permit for development unless the landholder gave up most of his property in an easement, was rather narrowly decided (not a sweeping decision) but may be seen in new cases where the legality of conditions imposed in order to obtain building permits may be challenged. My quick reading says it will not apply to most of our local zoning cases.

E Claire

Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 2:11 p.m.

Lizzy, love the old AA News article. Nice addition to story


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 1:09 p.m.

Of course the projects will be contextually sensitive, the Historic District Commission will ensure it. Downtown is THE most expensive place to build residential units or anything for that matter. By keeping the units on the smaller size the prices will not be extravagant - not million dollar units. More people living downtown (stakeholders) will help ensure its vitality for years to come.


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 12:38 p.m.

That sounds great! Now if I thought I'd be able to afford to live there...


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 12:38 p.m.

Nice way to add living units - weight on existing foundation hopefully wont be compromised - housing is certain a good use of the sky.


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 12:33 p.m.

It's a HOUSING BOOM! Hype much?


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 11:51 p.m.

@Lizzy Alfs Fair enough, insofar as the buildings go, but I suspect another "overbuilt" bubble is in the making - even if all the new units rent/sell, this will represent more cannibalization of existing residents than new ones. Lots of current residents in dumpy old shacks will move to new construction, if affordable. Influx of newbies, as a result of new jobs will not be fabulous, just modest, as there is just too much turnover in A2's population, especially the 20-35 age group.

Ryan Munson

Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 7:40 p.m.

I am surrounded by a couple hundred people that previously did not work downtown in one office alone. I am sure a few of us are interested in living downtown!

Jojo B

Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 4:52 p.m.

There actually is a bit of a housing boom right now. Unrelated (or perhaps somewhat related?) to the article, it is currently a seller's market for real estate. People putting their houses up are getting offers within days and are getting very close to what they are asking for. This is MUCH different than the market only two years ago where much real estate seemed worth it. The rush to add more student housing and build up is another sign of that. But is this a continuation of recovery? Or yet another speculative housing bubble that will soon pop?

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

@CynicA2: I definitely agree with what you're saying, that the new housing is targeting students and the "higher-end" market. However, I don't think the word "boom" should discount that. It's still new housing construction, occurring at very fast rates downtown.


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 2:33 p.m.

Just about all those places you mention, Lizzy, are student warehouses intended for transients, not permanent residents. These new add-on units will be few in number, and high in price - only for the a select few. A few more condos for the rich, and apartments for rich, out of state students, hardly translates into a boom for the rest of us. Be interesting to see what happens to this mini-bubble when interest rates normalize, as they are showing signs of doing.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 1:23 p.m.

Well, just in the past two years Zaragon West, Landmark and City Place were built near downtown. The Varsity and Ann Arbor City Apartments are nearing completion. 618 S Main and 413 E Huron are approved and slated to begin construction this year. Condos are being built on the former Greek Church site and just wrapping up on North Ashley and Catherine streets. So, yes. I consider that a boom.


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 12:31 p.m.

More lux housing......just what AA needs.


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

more snubs the better.


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 11:57 a.m.

This is certainly a great development for Ann Arbor. From the description I gather that the new construction will be contextually sensitive, and its tenants will add to the customer base of local retailers without a marked increase in car traffic as they are likely to be able to walk/bike/bus to work and leisure destinations. This is what city building should be about.

Lizzy Alfs

Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

@cck - I think that's the goal - to target the demographic that wants to live and work downtown, especially since parking isn't included in the plans.


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 11:53 a.m.

Good for all of these people - no problem with building up and not out.


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 10:44 a.m.

Short and sweet. The more pragmatic approach to housing in A2 rather than the Soviet Block style mentality enamoured by City Hall and their DDA. That is also how the Federal Reserve sold 500 tonnes of gold in April in an effort to drop the price of precious metal and prop up the U.S. dollar- short. There was no real gold behind the massive sale and you know who can "materialize" the huge amount of required paper to cover any loses. Mouthpiece Goldman Sachs among others "leaked" the expected bottom ($1300/ozt) so the little guys would sell. Banks do not "leak" such privey info. The little guys are actually wise to that and out buying like crazy. If the dollar value drops to far the "too big to fail" fellows out East are a derivative of SOL and thus goes the American AKA Ann Arbor economy. Remember what started the recession- hosuing? These owners are puttinggold up front for all of this- right?


Thu, Jun 27, 2013 : 11:32 a.m.

Ye! whatever he said ...