Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Gentrification and the City: Eaton Factory Re-Zoning

15. July 2004 • Rob Goodspeed
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The Eaton Factory, the last remaining industrial facility in the Downtown Area, is set to close soon and the city will be voting soon to allow the factory to be “re-developed” as expensive condominiums and shops. Engineering student Katherine Scott thinks the planned destruction of the historic factory is a loss of a historic building, and “If Ann Arbor wish to remain a truly “cool” and progressive city in Michigan we must attempt to preserve our unique residential and retail spaces.”

I agree with her, and I think city leaders in general aren’t being nearly as creative or vigorous in their vision for downtown: they give the issue of affordable arts space and affordable housing lip service, and then rubber-stamp massive gentrification projects.

Here’s an op-ed Scott has sent Arborupdate:

Historic Factory to be Replace by Condominiums – PLEASE HELP!
By Katherine Scott (kscottz at

Ever wonder why there are rail road tracks through downtown Ann Arbor, or what that huge factory is doing right in the heart of Ann Arbor’s old west side? In 1858 the first part of the structure, now called the Eaton Factory, was constructed. As the legend goes steam powered locomotives, laden with buffalo hides, would ride across the prairie and arrive in Ann Arbor, to be tanned at a small factory just off of Main Street. Back then Ann Arbor was just a small community, and a new University had just been built in the city of trees. Land was cheap, and with a rail stop, Ann Arbor presented a great alternative to the bustling metropolis of Detroit. Like many cities in the Midwest, Ann Arbor grew from a one horse town into a big city; and what was once a little tannery expanded into a auto-parts manufacturing plant.

What was once that tannery was eventually purchased by the Eaton Corporation. At its peak this building housed nearly 500 employees making various auto-parts such as fuel regulators. Last year the Eaton factory announced that the factory was to be shut down. Like many of the manufacturing plants in the area, the parts it produced could be produced cheaper in Mexico. Within the coming weeks the last workers at the Eaton factory will be laid off, and the assembly line shit down for good.

These lost jobs are a lost cause; the Eaton corporation will not bring them back. The problem now lies with the historical space left by the corporation. The city has plans to allow the Chicago based Morningside Realestate Group to tear down this 150 year-old structure and build 60 condominiums, a large commercial development, and a parking structure. No price has been set for the condominiums, but estimates range from a quarter to half a million dollars. At that price, the cost of these commercial and residential areas will be out of reach of most Ann Arborites and local business. The subsequent increase in local property values will also serve make what was once a modestly economically diverse area more homogenous. Undoubtedly the development will also increase the congestion in the downtown area while giving little back to the current residents of the Old West Side. Recent downtown condominium developments, such as the Ashley Mews already offer a sufficient number of high priced condominiums in the area, and do little to promote an economically mixed neighborhood. Furthermore the Ashley-Mews modern brownstone design is in stark contrast to Early Gilded Age home styles already present in the Old West Side. While the Eaton factory does not blend stylistically into the background neighborhood, the building gives the Old West Side a certain character, and serves to remind residents of Michigan’s manufacturing heritage.

Alternatives do exist that will meet the city’s need for commercial, residential spaces without the destruction of the historic Eaton factory. Furthermore renovation of the factory can be done in such a way as to preserve a historic part of the building, while providing affordable housing and retail space for local business and residents (Much like the former Argus camera factories). If Ann Arbor wish to remain a truly “cool” and progressive city in Michigan we must attempt to preserve our unique residential and retail spaces. This is not to say that the Morning Side Group is not welcome to create a development within the city, but rather that such a development should take place at a location outside the immediate downtown area and certainly not on the site of the historic Eaton factory.

There is still time to stop the destruction of the Eaton Factory and the further gentrification of Ann Arbor. The city must re-zone the property of the Eaton factory from light industrial to commercial. A city council meeting will take place on July 20, 2004 at 7pm to hear about this rezoning. City council meetings take place on the second floor of city hall. Please let your voice be heard and attend this meeting, or contact Katherine Scott at (734) 358-0175 or kscottz at

Further reading
> Old West Side Association
> “Development gets first OKs”

  1. While I’d rather see the building preserved and renovated into mixed-use retail and affordable housing than torn down and replaced with mixed-use expensive condos and upscale retail, I’d much rather see the latter than see the building sit empty for the next 5-10 years (at which point it would end up being torn down and replaced with probably just expensive condos).

    Has there been a proposal for a renovation-based redevelopment? (“adaptive reuse” is the technical term.) Or is the feasibility of this just Scott’s opinion? I was just walking past the site last night, and (in my opinion) it’s a beautiful building. But. If “fewer condos, more affordable housing!” is just a populist cover for “fewer condos!”, I don’t see how this is any different from, say, the OFW blocking ADUs.
       —Murph    Jul. 15 '04 - 02:48PM    #
  2. Well, they only plan to demolish the original 3-story building, as I understand it. The larger main part of the facotory is going to be redevoloped… into fancy condos and retail. I honestly don’t know if I’ve even seen the 3-story section, actually. What side of the site is it on?
       —Brandon    Jul. 15 '04 - 04:51PM    #
  3. Interesting take. I agree with her, but things like “and the assembly line shit down for good” don’t speak to this being edited for publication…
    It would be nice to see some shops there. Jesus, I know that it might negatively affect downtown, but it would help develop neighborhood character to have littler groceries and shops all over the town, especially in residential buildings…
    (Thinking about how to get a convenience store in Arrowwood now…)
       —js    Jul. 15 '04 - 08:07PM    #
  4. Sorry about the editing. I just jotted it down in open office and the spell checker passed right over it. I sent Rob a revised version, but it was too late, he had already posted this version. When I sent it out I also noted that it needed to be edited.

       —Kat    Jul. 15 '04 - 09:08PM    #
  5. js, if the workers are upset enough about their jobs moving to Mexico, they might do any number of things to the assembly line!

    Brandon, I think the 3-story section is behind the right half of the section pictured (behind the left half is a parking lot). The onsite flyer for the rezoning hearing mentions new buildings “in the same footprint” as existing ones, so I assume the parking lot will remain a parking lot (though it’s not nearly large enough for the number of spaces they’re proposing—underground parking?)

    Note, in the MLive article linked to, that Morningside’s corporate types say they “recently began marketing the retail space, preferring service shops such as grocery and drug stores”. Unless “grocery and drug stores” is code for “scented candle shops”, I really can’t bring myself to stand in the way of this. Especially if they’re planning on preserving/renovating the main structure.
       —Murph    Jul. 16 '04 - 12:54PM    #