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Posted on Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

AATA's new transit center plans ready for Ann Arbor design review

By Ryan J. Stanton

The plans to demolish and rebuild the Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor will face the scrutiny of the city's Design Review Board on April 18.

The meeting begins at 3 p.m. in the sixth-floor conference room of city hall, 301 E. Huron St., according to a notice mailed out to nearby residents.

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority is proposing a new two-story transit center to replace the 1987-era building that stands today. AATA officials say the agency has outgrown the facility and the long-term prediction is bus use will continue to increase.


A rendering of the new Blake Transit Center as presented for consideration to the Ann Arbor Design Review Board.

Renderings courtesy of DLZ Michigan

New drawings of the project are included in the AATA's recent plans submitted to the Design Review Board. Download the design packet here and the application here.

The drawings have changed from a conceptual image released at a meeting in January. The drawings then included a large canopy over the bus lane and a slightly different look to the building.

AATA officials said the drawings still are being refined and probably will change by the meeting on April 18 and will include the canopy again.

At the upcoming meeting, the Design Review Board will discuss with the project design team how the new transit center responds to the city's Downtown Design Guidelines. No recommendation or approval will be made regarding the project at the meeting.

Under the city's new design review process, developers are required to submit preliminary plans to the Design Review Board prior to applying for site plan approval. City ordinance requires a meeting with the board, but implementation of its suggestions is voluntary.

City officials say members of the public are welcome to observe the Design Review Board's discussion but there will be no public hearing at that meeting.

The project will require approval from the Ann Arbor Planning Commission and Ann Arbor City Council and public hearings will be held before both bodies.

Once the AATA decides to move forward with the project, it will mail invitations to a citizen participation meeting where public comments will be sought.

The new Blake Transit Center is proposed to be built in the southeastern corner of the current site with frontages on Fourth and Fifth avenues.

According to the Design Review Board application submitted by Terry Black, the AATA's maintenance manager, the new building will measure 17,471 square feet and cover a floor area of 10,783 square feet. It will rise nearly 38 feet from the ground.

The ground floor includes a lobby, restroom and ticket booth for patrons, while the upper floor includes offices, driver break areas, dispatch center and a conference room.

A total of 5,000 square feet of open space is included in the proposal with no off-street parking spaces. AATA officials said the design promotes sustainable practices and achieves Gold certification from the United States Green Building Council.

The site of the Blake Transit Center is in a D1 district, which is the core downtown zoning designation. It also is in the Midtown overlay zoning district.

The design team for the project includes representatives from DLZ Michigan Inc., Robert Darvas Associates P.C., and DiClemente Siegel Design Inc.

AATA officials say ridership has almost doubled since the Blake Transit Center was constructed in 1987, so more demand has been placed on the facility.

According to the AATA website, more than 5,000 passengers use the transit center to get to their downtown destinations or to transfer to other bus routes every day.

That's more than 1.5 million people each year. The number of buses serving the Blake Transit Center also has increased to 36 buses every hour, according to the AATA website.

The AATA also recently launched a new AirRide shuttle service that transports passengers to and from the Detroit Metro Airport starting at the Blake Transit Center.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Wed, Apr 11, 2012 : 7:16 p.m.

Why oh why are all the windows facing North leaving the south side of the building an almost solid wall with little windows!! The design seems to have no relation to the site. I just saw a transit center that looks much like this one in Anchorage including the sterile interior hall. It in no way was an attractive addition to the city scape.


Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 3:23 a.m.

Another project looks like it was cobbled together by a student inflicts itself on AA. LOL I wounder if the architect has visited Ann Arbor yet? ...this looks like something that would be right at home on Northwestern Highway or some urban sprawl office park somewhere north of 12 mile. This City is it's own worst enemy.


Sat, Apr 7, 2012 : 11:50 p.m.

Let's see. They're going to tear down a building and then build a two story building in its place? Why not just add a second story? Are they getting ideas about wasting money from DDA?


Sat, Apr 7, 2012 : 6:28 a.m.

This isn't about the use of car's, it's about not getting high parking costs at the airport. The airport parking businesses charge a big daily rate to park for extended periods, so they found a way to make us "Tax Payers", to take them and they don't have to pay for parking. That's what this is all about. The private sector can very well handle the airport traffic in this town. That is not a problem. I never fly anywhere, and we/us have to pay for the ride for they can leave their cars at home, (free parking). I believe they will destroy the private sector's jobs, and create more tax money going out to take care of the unemployed, the homeless, the hungry, and the sick, people who have lost their income to the tax payers. Not to mention the loss of income taxes, property taxes, and sales tax, too. So they are creating less revenue and more tax burden.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 10:56 p.m.

To be a true downtown Ann Arbor project, the road that the new transit center sits on must be closed over one year (and then kept closed for two years) for the duration of the project.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 8:17 p.m.

Another design by fema trailers llc ..just like city hall about another $ 150,000 mobile to enhance its inside....welcome to OZ.....


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 7:43 p.m.

I ride the bus back and forth to work Monday-Friday, and about 4 times each day on Saturday and Sunday (grocery store, farmer's mkt, AADL, etc.). The new design appears to favor the AATA personnel more than the 5,000 riders per day. The 2nd floor for AATA personnel is much larger than the 1st floor and has many windows covering a large area. The tiny bottom floor has horrible drab gray concrete walls and no windows on the 4th Avenue side (how can we see the buses arriving on 4th Avenue?). The current center has wrap-around windows onto 4th Avenue, so there is easy bus viewing down 4th Avenue. I don't understand why the drivers need such a big area, because they usually only have a few minutes for break time, and have to rush in and out of the little door to be in time for their bus to leave on-time. Now, will the buses be delayed while drivers over-relax on their few minutes break watching TV and lounging up there on the nice furniture? I wish the new design was thinking more about the 5,000 bus travelers and making things nicer for us. It's not easy commuting every day on the bus. I think the floor use should be reversed: drivers downstairs (have less time to lounge), and riders upstairs (have more time to lounge/wait).


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 10:59 p.m.

I agree. This transit center seems designed to provide a break and rest area for the AATA employees. Also, the front desk personnel of AATA, should be replaced along with old center. Truly rude and unhelpful 99% of the time. To get anything accomplished, one usually has to threaten to go over their heads and speak to their bosses...almost every time.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 7:29 p.m.

If they want it to be made of sustainable materials they should have a garden on the roof along with solar panels and reusable materials. Maybe insulation out of old blue jeans and rubber floors out of old car tires? Maybe all the buses could be converted to electric and they could just plug in at the new building?

Sam Smith

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 6:52 p.m.

Break room? For who? Are those screens on the wall TVs? I can't afford and don't have TV--am I going to be paying for TV at this center with my taxes? And it doesn't look friendly accessible for wheelchairs, the elderly, etc.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 5:45 p.m.

Looks like it could support intermodal transportation as well on the second floor, for something like an elevated tram or maybe covered walkway in the future. (

Dog Guy

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 5:56 p.m.

The second floor is intended for Jet Pack Rocket Belt traffic as soon as FAA approval is obtained.

Tom Whitaker

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

This design is a huge let down over the concept sketch from January that is linked to in the article. I agree with others who feel that this building should be a welcoming, if not inspiring introduction to downtown Ann Arbor for visitors--especially now that the taxpayer-subsidized airport shuttle is stopping there now. If money was an issue in the design changes (which I can't understand given the large budget), then perhaps they should go back and put more into the exterior aesthetics and passenger amenities and leave the second floor, which is only for the use of AATA staff and its board of directors as unfinished shell space for now. Because the building is moving to the opposite side of the current driveway, and buses have doors on the right side, it appears that the traffic flow of buses is going to be rerouted from its current east-west direction off of Fifth Ave., to a west-east direction off of Fourth Ave. I don't know that the design review board will be the place for a discussion of this, but I do wonder what impacts this rerouting will have on the general flow of bus and other traffic within a two-block radius. Fourth Ave. is currently two-way, while Fifth Ave. is one way heading south. Also, the project is located between Fourth and Fifth AVENUES and not Fourth and Fifth STREETS, as the drawings were labeled. I sent the architect a note about that, but I see the submittal has not been corrected yet.

Vivienne Armentrout

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

Some readers may not be aware of the long history of AATA trying to rebuild the Blake Transit Center. After the YMCA decided to sell their property adjacent to the current center in 2000, the AATA made an offer to buy it for $5 million in order to rebuild the transit center using that additional space. The City Council instead exercised its right of refusal and bought the property. The DDA made the interest payments on the $3.5 million loan. (The loan was finally paid off in 2008.) This old history is available here: The Council then put out an RFP for affordable housing. HDC LLC won the RFP with its proposal for William Street Station. The AATA once again entered into discussions with this developer, to incorporate the transit center into WSS as a joint development. There were plans drawn up. Council killed William Street Station in 2007. The history is here: (Recent stories on have recounted the final defeat of the resulting lawsuit.) With the failure of that second attempt to incorporate the end of the block into the transit center, AATA was faced with the necessity to replace the transit center in a timely fashion in order to avoid losing the Federal grant that had been made for this purpose. This design (which I, personally, do not find offensive) is the result.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

It doesn't matter what it looks like from the outside, as long as we have a six-figure art piece inside to make it look good (preferably made by somebody out of state or country).


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 2:38 p.m.

We'll soon see if this Design Review Board really has our best interests in mind. If they do, they will not give their OK to this rider-unfriendly monstrosity.


Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 2:21 p.m.

The design review board has already shown itself to be a complete failure.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 2:30 p.m.

The city has a perfect opportunity here for the AATA, the DDA and city planners, to explore the most important of real estate questions - location, location, location. If the city is determined to rebuild the transit center, then first ask yourself if the current location is the best site available? There are plenty of city owned parcels to choose from- the Library Lot, the old Y lot, the first floor of the William St. parking structure, the first floor of the Ann/Ashley parking structure, etc. Part of the problem with the William St. and Fifth St. corridors is an overabundance of UGLY government buildings and the large William St. parking structure. Maybe the solution is finding another location for the transit center.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

Hello, Please know that I'm looking for gardens and TREES. WE must have foliage in this great city of ours and lots of it. Oh, and my the way our name is ANN ARBOR. I encourage all of us to take part in the efforts and success of this undertaking. Your friend, Dawn


Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

This is a city, not a park. We must have successful development to succeed, not a bunch of trees and shrubs. Go plant a tree in Detroit - there is lots of space there.

Ron Granger

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 2:20 p.m.

Why does it need to be right downtown? What's it gonna cost? How much of the cost is being paid by the county?


Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 2:25 p.m.

I needs to be right down town so it is accessible to people who work there. How much is cost is less important then the other factors that make this design a failure. Buildings get paid off no mater what they cost, but when the design is this bad, it damages the City for generations.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 2:19 p.m.

Totally necessary. Not a waste at all. Especially the conference room. The first thing I do after getting off the bus is gather the small group of people hanging around on the overplush furniture in overly large rooms and have a conference in the bus station's conference room. I imagine that will be difficult, though, since I'm sure all the local businesses will have it booked solid, as the local bus station's conference room has always been the top spot for business conferencing. Not a waste at all.

Les Gov

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

So now our great government is replacing buildings every 25 years. I use the Blake Center twice a day, or more, every day. There is nothing wrong with the Blake that some maintenance wouldn't take care of. Rarely is anyone at the ticket window, which only has one employee at it. There is always a seat available inside the Blake. Someone is trying to expand their empire on the backs of taxpayers. What this article doesn't report is how the cost of this project has skyrocketed. There just isn't any respect for taxpayer money by government employees. I guess that is what happens when money is just handed to you.

Will Thinkaboutit

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 2:02 p.m.

Rather than demolish the present building, why not add a second story to the existing structure for a lot less money? On another note did the revamped design neglect to remember we live in Michigan? Where is the canopy to provide the riders some protection from the weather? The present structure provides that. In my humble opinion, this building is just another mindless design monument in a quest to spend money unnecessarily!!!!

Dog Guy

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

Several comments here have complained that this design does not say, "Welcome to Ann Arbor." Perhaps Gexir could add that sentiment to his tags on the intimidating neo-prison exterior.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:36 p.m.

" replace the 1987-era building..." Seriously? Do you not know exactly when the building was built? It's not like the building was built hundreds of years ago and records were poor back then.

Ryan J. Stanton

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 3:18 p.m.

There are conflicting records actually - some say 1987, some say 1988. I have been seeking clarification on that.

David Cahill

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

People care more about the esthetics of a building than about anything else. It would be helpful if the architects made this building look nice.

Wolf's Bane

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

Not surprising it looks like the old transit center just a bit uglier. Very sad that this is considered acceptable. Let's really try to come up with something inviting, technologically innovative, that will be aesthetic and current in, say, 5 years!!! The lack of vision is really worrisome!

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.

If the AATA shared the New Urbanism vision, the would design a building that had multiple uses instead of just one. If you are going to build two stories (what is going on in the second story anyway???), why not three, four, five or six? Since the land and foundation are already paid for, the upper levels would be much less expensive. On the upper levels you could add some condos or apartments, either market rent or affordable leveraging grants available for that purpose from MSHDA and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis. Or, if you don't want all residential, it could be flex space that could be sold and finished by the buyer into either residential, lofts or office space. Or, if AATA doesn't want to take the risk to develop that itself, then sell the air rights via Request For Proposals and coordinate with the winning bidder. Yes, the current design is UGLY.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:06 p.m.

Get the buses off Fifth street by buying or otherwise taking control of the old YMCA lot. You can barely travel on Fifth with buses on both sides and jaywalkers everywhere. Who allowed the use of this street in the first place? Say no to a new transit center. Say yes to buying the YMCA lot so the buses can be used safely and the streets can be cleared.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

I think you're referring to traffic problems on Fourth Ave., not Fifth. Fifth has been closed for years due to the underground parking lot construction. I agree with you that using the old YMCA lot for AATA buses is a good idea because there is just not enough room within the current space and it's less than ideal that the buses have to load/unload on the surrounding city streets.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 12:59 p.m.

Hmm, zero problems with the design, but why do they need this at all? They have a beautiful office down on Industrial. For a transit center, shouldn't it really be about making sure you have sufficient room to do bus transfers, not some building?? Where, in this design, are the riders being served in any way? It looks like a small fortress for the AATA rather than a covered waiting area for bus riders and a small efficient information center office. Seriously having doubts at this point about who is in control of these things.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

Horrible, horrible design. I love the fact that there is development going on around town, but do all the designs (e.g., new Blake Transit Center, the Varsity) have to lack the care and intricacies that great buildings from yesteryear have? Like others have mentioned....this is a blank slate to build a really innovative, inviting place that says "Welcome to Ann Arbor", especially with the regional/county-wide transit expansion where many folks will be coming from other cities...and their latest design looks like some undergrad arch. student made it over the weekend on AutoCAD/Sketchup. Please, can we have some higher standards.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

Will the Earthen Jar NEVER be rid of construction affecting their business?


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

Too much glass on the south side, with no overhang to shield from summer sun. The air-conditioning will be on in March.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 12:22 p.m.

"The drawings have changed from a conceptual image released at a meeting in January. The drawings then included a large canopy over the bus lane and a slightly different look to the building." I rarely use the bus system, but I thought that there's currently an area where people can get on/off buses out of the weather - is this feature (and bus passenger comfort) not included in the new plans?


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

There is no place at the Ypsi transit to get out of the rain and inclement weather as of late. Wish there was.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 12:19 p.m.

Forget all the griping about the tax payer's money, what about the visual tax of looking at an abomination like this building? Give a five year old a crayon and they can draw something less visually assaultive. Stop the insanity, no more ugly government buildings!!! The republicans in Lansing should get a consent decree for an immediately effective piece of legislation to make it illegal to build ugly buildings with taxpayer money what the heck, when can I schedule my first conference at the transit center? brilliant idea including conference rooms. How about a bavarian themed transit center to harken back to the German town settlements they so handily destroyed down the block? Or a building which looks like a great big book to echo our past as Border's headquarters? Or a building that looks like a great big bratwurst? Or a building with energy, vibrance and life? Or a building which is welcoming? Perhaps this design was confused with plans for a new state prison? That's what it looks like on three sides.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 12:13 p.m.

Are they planning to build something else soon on the south side, directly abutting the transit center? Or why is that side so plain ugly and almost windowless? Otherwise, ther is no excuse for such an unwelcoming sight. The rest of the building seems ok to me, although not particularly inspired.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 11:55 a.m.

Downtown is not a box of lego pieces. On second thought, you can do better even with legos.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:34 p.m. that is how they built the underground garage. Thank you, I did not know this.

Wolf's Bane

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:20 p.m.

Legos are also fun.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 11:55 a.m.

Fugly. But get a nice piece of 800,000 sculpted metal, a few bike lanes, and I'll contemplate crossing the street, & hold up traffic long enough to cause idling cars to be ticketed to help pay for it.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 11:51 a.m.

Another WASTE of taxpayer's money! And ugly too! Totally not needed.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:33 p.m.

I could not agree more. Ypsilanti needs a new transit building and yet they are spending more on yet another building to replace another building on top of yet another building that is not need. When will the madness stop?

Karen Hart

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 11:49 a.m.

Utilitarian and very uninspiring. Here's a chance to create a cheerful gem, a new "front door" to people arriving in Ann Arbor or getting on with their day, and this sure isn't it. The SE side rendering, in particular is something I wouldn't want to look at or experience as a pedestrian. Every side should be beautiful.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 11:07 a.m.

Mr. Stanton, this architectural design is copy written material, and must be credited to the architect.

Peter Baker

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

Copyrighted, not written.


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 10:47 a.m.

" the design promotes sustainable practices " Now seriously, what does that actually mean? I'm really getting tired of all the fluff-speak. Does it mean that it promotes the sustained draining of taxpayers' pockets by an overpriced bus system?


Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 10:47 a.m.

The ridership is expected to increase because the Ann Arbor city government is making it impossible for motorists to get around in the city. Shutting down traffic lanes to provide bike lanes, putting bike lanes on streets that are too narrow for bike and vehicle traffic to share safely, etc. Bike riders have lots of advocates in our city government. The motorists of this city also need representation and an advocate. Ann Arbor is suffering from Boulder Envy.

Dog Guy

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 1:27 p.m.

Ann Arbor is suffering from politicians' Boulder Envy compounded with Edifice Complex.

Bryan Lareau

Fri, Apr 6, 2012 : 10:39 a.m.

Seeing this, the same though I had when I first saw the Justice Center comes to mind. What were they thinking when they designed this place. No amount of art is going to help this thing or the JC.