Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Does McKinley hate local businesses?

21. September 2007 • Chuck Warpehoski
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Okay, I’m sure it’s not a hate thing, but their McKinley Town Centre project has brought more corporate chain blandness to Liberty Street. Somehow Salsarita’s and an AT&T store just don’t say keep Ann Arbor Funky to me.

And I can live with that, there wasn’t much else on the property they developed.

But now they’re proposing to expand the Town Centre by buying, demolishing, and building over the building that houses Encore Records and Orchid Lane.



  1. Orchid Lane = meh.

    Encore = one of the core institutions keeping that town afloat.

    Truth be told, it’s a dang soft site… a 1-story building on the main shopping street in the middle of downtown. Blame capitalism?


       —Brandon    Sep. 21 '07 - 07:48PM    #
  2. Your not mad at McKinley, your upset that you may loose Encore. That would suck, but you should change the title of the article and text too. Also, if you don’t like this, then buy the property yourself, or get investors, or Encore can move, what a idea. And unless you have some kind of proof that they are asking more rent for local non-corporate businesses, or plan to kick Encore out and refuse them a chance to rent the new space, or something that shows us that its their fault. All of downtown is more chain then it used to be and McKinley doens’t own/manage all of it do they?

    Gonna delete this too?


       —just a voice    Sep. 21 '07 - 08:29PM    #
  3. Orchid Lane = women’s clothing in a wide range of prices, styles, and sizes. Great for women who don’t want to have to shop at the mall.

    Encore = meh.

    OK, so I will be sad if Encore goes away because other people value it, but I still remember back when that store sold mostly Christian sheet music (or something like that) and I never did get in the habit of going there. I was more upset about losing Thanos. But the main point is that these are small stores with local owners that cater to lots of different people and that is good. The money stays here, the jobs stay here, the profits stay here, and the people stay here. On the other hand, let’s not forget that McKinley is a local company and it is run by local people, most of whom live in Ann Arbor. The CEO is Albert Berriz who was the 2007 Ann Arbor Citizen of the Year, 2006 Washtenaw County Distinguished Citizen of the Year, and the 2005 Red Cross National Volunteer of the Year among other awards. So it isn’t quite like having some nameless, faceless entity come in. I’m not happy with some of the changes they have made (get rid of the stupid lit-up martini and give me back the time and temperature!) but I really think it could be a lot worse.

    As Brandon points out, this is a site that really “should” be developed. The unfortunate part is that the rents McKinley charges will be more along the lines of what they are charging for AT&T and Salsaritas, which is far more than the current buildings go for. You will never get a new building downtown that is cheaper than one that already exists. It just isn’t going to happen. With the higher rents you will get only chains for the first several years. I am afraid the businesses on Maynard will be the next to go because there is building potential there and I know at least one of the long-term tenants is only allowed to sign six-month leases. But the only way to make sure the small local businesses stay is to shop there and not go to the chains. If enough people do that, eventually the small local businesses win. I’ve never been to Salsaritas or Rio Wraps on William, but I go to Franks and Silvios and Pita Kabob Grill and Middle Earth and the Caravan. Places change. Society changes. Downtown has very few of the businesses I grew up with, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t good new places and many of them are small and locally owned.

    On a completely unrelated note, it looks like bagels are coming back to the long-empty Bagel Factory Building on South U. There is a sign saying that Barry Bagels is moving in.


       —Juliew    Sep. 21 '07 - 09:48PM    #
  4. What? That’s not the way to make sure local businesses stay — people DO go to Encore and DO go to Orchid Lane and they’re teetering on the brink.

    We cannot avoid the fundamental role of real estate in the demise of local Ann Arbor business, and as part of that, the lack of comparable dense, low-rent places for them to move to when current places are redeveloped (an unavoidable fact of city life).

    Not to parrot Todd too much (or his brother the economist-engineer), but capitalism is totally compatible with small business — these are capitalist enterprises. The problem is of course the long-term zoning and political obstacles (past and present) to the development of new buildings, which ensures a continuing supply of old buildings.

    The best thing for downtown small business in the short run? Nothing. In the long run? Increase the supply of retail friendly buildings (say, by replanning the downtown and downtown-adjacent neighborhoods for compact development). The recent building boomlet will probably turn out in 20 years to be the best thing to happen to Ann Arbor small business in half a century.


       —Dale    Sep. 22 '07 - 11:48AM    #
  5. “Increase the supply of retail friendly buildings (say, by replanning the downtown and downtown-adjacent neighborhoods for compact development). The recent building boomlet will probably turn out in 20 years to be the best thing to happen to Ann Arbor small business in half a century.”

    Unless the whole real estate market and economy in Ann Arbor completely crashes, affordable urban retail space seems like a lost cause. As Jane Jacobs pointed out, you need OLD buildings for these sorts of businesses… building a bunch of new mixed-use blah blah whatever all over the rest of Ann Arbor isn’t going to help, as I think between land values and costs of labor, steel, and everything what it is, the rents are still going to be too high for a lot of the types of places we love. Ypsi is Ann Arbor’s only savior… unlike large cities, everyone can’t just move to the next cheaper urban neighborhood over in Ann Arbor. It’s either crappy old strip malls further out (build all the shiny new 10-story things with retail on ground floor you want, but they are going to house Starbucks, Great Wraps, and the like), or the next town over.


       —Brandon    Sep. 22 '07 - 04:47PM    #
  6. Indeed, my point is that not until we get some new old buildings (20, 30, 40 years out) will there be much of a chance for downtownish small business.


       —Dale    Sep. 23 '07 - 05:33AM    #
  7. Well said, Juliew! In the same vein, I haven’t gone to Bar Louie, but I go to ABC, Grizzly Peak, etc. In fact, one of my new year’s resolutions was to buy local—I’ve done pretty well, but it sure is getting harder.

    Great news on Barry’s Bagels…I still miss those fragels from downtown (fried dough and cinnamon and sugar….mmmmmmmmmmmm)


       —TeacherPatti    Sep. 23 '07 - 03:40PM    #
  8. We welcome these cast-off locally-owned businesses of yours in Ypsi. You can have the Starbucks and the corporate burrito joints. We’ll take the Fleetwoods and Orchid Lanes.


       —Mark    Sep. 24 '07 - 08:50PM    #
  9. Well, I guess the plans are doomed now…there’s a facebook group opposing the plan.

    Snarky Facebook comments and tabloid headlines aside, this does point to the question of how to develop the downtown so that we have a mix of old and new retail space.

    What I would like to see on Liberty is a stronger connection between State and Main. I think Orchid Lane and Encore are healthy in that respect, but the block between division and fifth is pretty dead (and the new garage door view of the Denali building doesn’t help).

    Of course, that’s part of why McKinnley picked this site, it is already in a healthy shopping zone, and beefing it up will help pull more business to their Salsaritas, Bar Louie, and AT&T storefronts. To redevelop the old houses across from Seva would do more to energize Liberty, but it would also be more of a risk for McKinnley.


       —Chuck Warpehoski    Sep. 25 '07 - 01:49PM    #
  10. Yeah, just say No to crummy architecture. Seriously, this is about as lame as it gets. I’m not anti-McKinley and they sound like responsible local businesspeople, but three cheers for the Facebook page…


       —Young Urban Amateur    Sep. 25 '07 - 06:15PM    #
  11. And the thing is, I’m not all that demanding—the architecture doesn’t need to be anything that fancy—it just shouldn’t look like Every Mall in America. Enough already! If those curving fronts at the top are false fronts (I assume they are) they could at least ditch those—so hateful & goofy!


       —Young Urban Amateur    Sep. 25 '07 - 06:26PM    #
  12. This project should be stopped because it’s replacing a one story building with reasonable rent with a two story building with insane rent.

    Make better use of the footprint. Build up.

    Yes, I read that it’s built in a manner that allows for the height to be expanded.

    There is only one thing that can help small business in downtown Ann Arbor since commercial rents, taxes and fees are going to keep rising…..more people living in city center. That’s it. Without this, the rest is sound and fury. Commuters won’t feed the bulldog. Or at least not at $25+ a square foot.


       —todd    Sep. 25 '07 - 06:47PM    #
  13. I do believe that building up will help alleviate the problem but I fully reject the notion that this will decrease rents and that more people will help small businesses. There are 30,000 people living in and around downtown, mostly students who live by the image that they are for the little man and are anti-corporate. Within 10 years students will be over 50% of the city population under current trends of UM growth. For the last, at least, 10 years student population has increased every year and almost every year the University has said the increase of enrolment was unexpected, but the students are still enrolled. Now the University is building new dorms. This will not slow enrolment increases. As I said the lack of tall buildings is part of the problem.

    But the two main problems that Ann Arbor faces in which the residents, (homeowners) are not willing to face or overcome are the population size and the geographic size of downtown. If the city had grown at the same rate of the University keeping the student population around 20% then the population of Ann Arbor would be about 180,000, 67,000 more people than it has now. The second is the expansion of downtown. The city should expand and put under the control of the DDA a downtown bordered by 7th, the river, Washtenaw and Stadium. Solving these two issues will ensure the long term economic viability of Ann Arbor. But the residents do not have the will power to actually solve any problems with real solutions.


       —Scott    Oct. 3 '07 - 11:21AM    #
  14. What are the current actual figures for student vs. non-student population in A2? I’ve always been confused about whether published population figures for A2 included all UM students or not, since many still list other addresses as their permanent residence.


       —Ted Belding    Oct. 3 '07 - 07:45PM    #
  15. Ann Arbor’s population is about 112,000 and student population is around 37,000. Census data contains university population.
    On another note 52% of Ann Arbor are renters.


       —Scott    Oct. 3 '07 - 08:20PM    #
  16. “I do believe that building up will help alleviate the problem but I fully reject the notion that this will decrease rents and that more people will help small businesses.”

    I don’t recall anyone at Arbor Update saying that having more people (and buildings to put them in) will decrease rents. What I have personally said is that it will help to hold the line, so to speak…especially when we’re talking about commercial space.

    However, I would like to know why you don’t think that having more people in City Center would help small businesses in said area.

    You make a great, great point that I think that the freeze Ann Arbor in amber crowd has missed. Students are pushing out the “locals”/non-students/whatever-you-want-to-call-them. This is bound to have serious effects on the City, for the good, bad, and other.


       —todd    Oct. 4 '07 - 02:26AM    #
  17. Well we already have about 30,000 within walking distance of the city center and I find it hard to comprehend how that is not enough people to help small businesses. For a downtown the size it is how many people do we need to make it work?


       —Scott    Oct. 4 '07 - 07:02AM    #
  18. It’s not about the number of people who could walk downtown, it’s about the number of people who actually do. Plus, they have to have the means and desire to purchase the products or services offered by the business.


       —jcp2    Oct. 4 '07 - 03:26PM    #
  19. “Well we already have about 30,000 within walking distance of the city center and I find it hard to comprehend how that is not enough people to help small businesses. For a downtown the size it is how many people do we need to make it work?”

    I’m not sure that you read my post(s) very carefully. You are assuming that the costs to operate a small business has remained the same. They haven’t. And yet the population over the past 7 years has been static, or has dropped.

    But first off, many (most?) of the ’30,000 people’ who live downtown are seasonal.

    Secondly, the problem is that that number of people who live in Ann Arbor hasn’t changed, yet taxes, fees, and other Ann Arbor-specific expenses has gone up significantly. This creates a financial environment which favors large chains.

    In other words, if you own a small business downtown, and rent has gone from $10 a square foot to $25 a square foot since the year 2000, where are you going to come up with that extra $15 a square foot if the population hasn’t changed?


       —todd    Oct. 4 '07 - 08:04PM    #
  20. #13, “Within 10 years students will be over 50% of the city population under current trends of UM growth”—I’m pretty sure this isn’t true. Total UM enrollment was as high as about 36.5K twelve years ago, and only grows by several hundred a year. In ten years it might reach 45K, still under half the city’s population. Though it’s true that the proportion has been growing over the last decade. (But 20%? I’m not sure it’s ever been that low since sometime in the 1800s! Enrollment was 21K in 1951, at a time when the city’s population was 50K—that’s an even greater ratio than we have today! It seems to have fluctuated around 30-40% for some time now.)

    You and todd are right to say that students must be driving out permanent residents somewhere within the city, since there are more of them now, in a city whose population has remained steady for at least the last seven years. Though I’m not sure adding the OWS to the DDA area is the answer to this!


       —Young Urban Amateur    Oct. 5 '07 - 12:29AM    #