Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Peter Allen proposes more ambitious Y redevelopment plan

13. March 2005 • Murph
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The City received several bids at the beginning of March from developers interested in purchasing and redeveloping the old YMCA site, which the City had purchased from the Y in order to guarantee the preservation of the Single-Room Occupancy (SRO) housing on the site. The City will be reviewing the bid proposals (which include not just purchase price, but also some indication of the developers’ vision for the site) through March and April and picking a winning bid sometime in May.

Peter Allen & Associates, however, have submitted an unusual bid that urges the City not to sell during this bid cycle, but to let them serve as a consultant and, in conjunction with the City, do preliminary site planning and provide better specifications for what the City would like and will allow from a redevelopment. Peter Allen would not undertake final development after this process, but proposes that the City put out a new RFP with more information for the eventual developer, raising the value of the Y site by allowing developers more certainty. Allen has made the proposal available through his company’s website, entitled A Better Redevelopment Plan for the Y Site to Fund Ann Arbor’s Social and Environmental Agenda (pdf), and includes the following outline in the executive summary:

Our proposal uses the Y RFP to illustrate how the city, with creativity, enthusiasm and ingenuity, can utilize all of its downtown holdings to further enhance the excitement and livability of downtown Ann Arbor.
  1. Engage us and the DDA to take the next few months days to preliminarily master plan three downtown city-owned sites: the Y, the AATA and the Fifth Avenue surface parking lot. A preliminary site plan will enable the city to:
    • ask for and receive more for the value of their land & in annual taxes;
    • ask for and receive more or higher-quality affordable housing;
    • ask for and receive greater downtown density;
    • ask for and receive a greater diversity of residential income levels;
    • ask for and receive a more pedestrian friendly, greener design.

  2. Reissue the RFP by September 1. Our proposal defends the following concept in detail, but in short: preliminarily site planning the Y, AATA and 5th Avenue parking lot leads to less risk for developers which in turn enables the city to maximize the land’s financial value to fund the community agenda.

The result? We believe that by spending 90 days to restructure the RFP, the city can get at least double the current invested amount of $3.5 million. Importantly, this won’t delay actual site development. We’ll be doing the same steps the developer would do themselves after winning the bid. By doing it up front ourselves, we’ll get the city more money and still have a redeveloped Y Site in 2-3 years.

I have seen pieces of one of the other responses to the RFP, but am still trying to track down and copies of all of the responses from the city, which will be mirrored on this site when I can get them. Considering the import and scope of this proposal – Allen’s suggestions in the RFP make this redevelopment project possibly larger in land area, city revenues, and number and type of housing units than the DDA’s proposal for other city-owned sites, presented last week.

(Note: I am currently enrolled in a real estate class taught by Peter Allen, and so am likely to be biased towards this proposal even after seeing the others.)



  1. Good things about this proposal: Micro site planning does seem to be a good way to increase the return for the city and guarantee rights for the developer. I like the innovative thinking, I just wish that it was applied to all the other properties the City owns downtown as well, not just the surface parking lots. Imagine what could be done with the city services and maintenance lots!

    Problems with the proposal:
    – 4th and William parking structure has already had 3 levels of parking added to it. As far as I know, the structure cannot be expanded for another level or two without significant costs in structural improvements.
    – It mixes library traffic with the AATA buses. This is extraordinarily dangerous, because the buses will need to back up in order to leave and they can’t necessarily see cars. This has been an issue in the current AATA location whenever some idiot tries to cut through or – worse – parks in the bus area to go into the Y for a ‘quick visit’.
    – The biggest problem: it uses the Library Lot. In my opinion, this lot should be made into a park. I know, I know, everyone wants another park. But there are several reasons that this lot should be preserved above all others:
    * It is next to a great public amentiy, the Library; together they can create feedback as the two sites hold more cultural events than either can alone.
    * It is on the Liberty corridor, between State and Main streets, which makes it highly accessible to people walking between the two.
    * The downtown has no green park at all, and only one hardscape park (Liberty Plaza). To seek green space, citizens must hike to the UM Diag or West Park, both a good distance away and not accessible, for example, during a lunch hour.

    It makes no sense to me at all to develop this lot when a park is such a needed amenity downtown. I would give up the potential Allen Creek ‘greenway’ in order to preserve this one little lot, hands down.
       —KGS    Mar. 15 '05 - 03:37PM    #
  2. I’ll trade you Liberty Plaza for a Library parking lot park. Liberty Plaza is good for little more than munching on some JG or Le Dog …
       —Scott    Mar. 15 '05 - 05:17PM    #
  3. Another interesting item on PTAllen’s site is the (43MB!) powerpoint mentioned as Appendix E of the RFP response, Ann Arbor 2015 – Allen’s putting forth (in a very general sense) the idea of a greenway running (somehow) from the State/Liberty area to meet the Allen Creek greenway at 1st/William.

    In general, I’m not a huge fan of putting more parks in, downtown or anywhere in the city. All parks come at the opportunity cost of something else, and I feel there are plenty of something elses that A2 could use right now more than it could use more parks.

    In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think Ann Arbor needs a “Central Park”. If we’re going to use NYC’s Central Park or the Boston Common (the examples I know best) as models, I think that the Diag, the Arb, West Park, and some of the other largish parks in town give the average Ann Arborite awfully good park access.
       —Murph    Mar. 15 '05 - 08:36PM    #
  4. How about removing the post office and turning that into a central park?

    Discounting the fact that this will never happen for a lot of obvious reasons, it does seem to be the perfect place and that building is the ugliest example of 70s architecture in the city and it takes up an emormous amount of space that in the epicenter of town.
       —Matt    Mar. 16 '05 - 12:56PM    #
  5. Careful, Matt, in this day and age somebody is liable to mistake statements about “removing the post office”.

    Much as I’d like to see the thing razed to the ground and either rebuilt in a less hostile fashion or used for something else, I don’t think it will ever, ever happen. It would also be nice to pull the Federal building’s parking lot into any redevelopment of the Y and AATA sites, but again, not going to happen. The Federal folks have not a care in the world what would be best for Ann Arbor; they’ve got their building and their parking, and as long as they have no pressing internal need to change, they’ll exploit what they have rather than exploring new ways to meet their needs.
       —Murph    Mar. 16 '05 - 04:03PM    #
  6. Also, I don’t think the federal building site would make a good park – considering that it’ll have the Y redevelopment just to the south (which, remember, Hieftje explicitly named 15 stories as a starting point for discussion) the federal building wouldn’t make for the most vitamin D-ful park in the world.
       —Murph    Mar. 16 '05 - 04:10PM    #
  7. The YMCA site proposals (6) can be viewed at the Community Development office, on the 3rd Floor of the Washtenaw County Annex on 4th Ave.

    Unfortunately, it seems that you need to file a FOIA in order to get copies of any of the information to take out of the office. Ridiculous.
       —Murph    Mar. 18 '05 - 11:14AM    #
  8. An idea that friends and I have discussed in the past is to somehow combine the Greyhound terminal with AATA’s. I hadn’t expected this opportunity to come up, but the old Y site has apparently become a larger, more inclusive opportunity to shuffle things around.

    My thinking is that the city could benefit from our transit systems (they are several, not one) being better integrated. (Too bad the Amtrak station needs a parking lot, eh?)

    One problem with the Greyhound terminal is its location on the north side of Huron. I think Huron is a barrier, though I don’t have any evidence of it. (Not just for bus riders, but for shoppers who’d rather not park in the Ann-Ashley structure. Also for any Greenway path, lacking a bridge.)

    Lugging a full backpack and/or a suitcase over to 4th Ave has to be a drag, regardless of weather.

    I wouldn’t think that taking Huron to Division would be too far out of their way.

    Any thoughts?
       —Steve    Mar. 22 '05 - 02:55AM    #
  9. Huron, the Great Wall of Traffic, the local wind tunnel, a barrier? Where do you get that idea?

    That is an interesting idea, and I’m all in favor of increasing modal connections – if you’re coming into town on Amtrak or Greyhound, AATA is probably going to be your next step to getting many places. I have no idea what Greyhound’s feeling in on their station location, but moving it to, say, the library lot with a new AATA terminal there shouldn’t inconvenience them too much. Just a short jaunt down Fifth and then back on Division.

    The other thing to do would be to make the Link’s route pass the Greyhound station, and make sure there’s clear and current route information in the Greyhound station on AATA and Blue bus systems.
       —Murph    Mar. 22 '05 - 10:02AM    #
  10. What does micro-site planning mean?


       —Ben    Mar. 8 '07 - 07:27PM    #