Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Ten Story Building Proposed

1. June 2005 • Scott Trudeau
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The Ann Arbor News’ terse article reports:

Joseph Freed & Associates has submitted plans to the city requesting a rezoning and site plan approval for a 214,000-square-foot building that would include three levels of underground parking.

With 93 units, the project would be larger than the combination of the 68-unit Liberty Lofts project under construction in the former Eaton manufacturing building on First Street and the 21-unit Loft 322 project on Liberty Street also in the works.

About 35 percent of the units would be one-bedroom and 65 percent two-bedroom. One penthouse would have three bedrooms.

> Ann Arbor News: 10-story downtown building proposed Project to have 93 condos

  1. At last night’s Downtown Area Citizens’ Advisory Council meeting, they noted that,

    * Freed is also the developer for the Glen-Ann PUD, and, apparently, has a third large project lined up as well.
    * They plan to pay in-lieu-of affordable housing for this project.
    * Bill Martin owns the property just across Ashley (where the Greyhound station is?) and is sitting on a large project there that has already been approved – if activity is seen across the street, he might start building too.
    * The CAC was, in general, supportive of this proposal. They opposed a four-story development for the site a year ago because it under-used the site.
       —Murph    Jun. 1 '05 - 12:10PM    #
  2. it’s interesting to me how all the market indicators show that downtown ann arbor is hot. that developers have lots of plans to build downtown. they’re not doing much for affordability, with the pricing onthis thing at 300-500k/pop for condos. on the plus-side, there will be a lot more residents downtown.

    i’m not sure who those people will be, demographically. we know that they can afford a probable $2-3000/month mortgage payment, though.

    since new threads have been scarce lately, let me try to get this one going. we need to block this development at all costs, and further, block huron off and make it a park. with waterslides. and a petting zoo. discuss.*


    * – set your sarcasam detectors to stun, spock.
       —bob kuehne    Jun. 1 '05 - 01:33PM    #
  3. Bob,

    While I’ve noticed some of the highest priced residential developments haven’t sold well downtown (e.g., the $800k+ “lofts” in the Collegian on Maynard still haven’t sold). But there does seem to be a huge market from the mid-200’s to the low 400’s (especially on the lower end) ... evidenced by the extremely fast sales of the Liberty Lofts in the Eaton building.

    It sounds like this proposed development is going to have a lot of one bedroom units, which tend to be cheaper and anticipates the market well—young professionals w/o children and older individuals and couples who’s children have moved out and like the amenities of living downtown (and like not having to maintain a house & yard). A lot of these people are either forced into crappy sprawl condos around the edges of town or into houses they otherwise don’t necessarily want.
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 1 '05 - 01:50PM    #
  4. First Martin owns the Greyhound station and the little yellow building currently housing the Ann Arbor area Visitors and Convention Bureau. Huron-Ashley LTD (hmmm, same address as First Martin, what a coincidence) owns the large surface parking lot on the south side of Huron and First. Interestingly, the lot to the West of the Kleinschmidt building is owned by “218 W. Huron LLC” which I’m pretty sure is restaurateur Andy Gulvezan (Full Moon, One-Eyed Moose, etc.).

    At first glance, this building seems like a very good one for this area. I’d like to know what it is going to look like though. I’m hoping the days of designs like One North Main are over. As I said before, there is a lot of property on Huron owned by developers just waiting for the other guy to blink. If this building is approved, built, and actually fills, it will be the first of many. Too bad about the off-site “affordable” housing. With 93 units, you would think they could throw in a few in that range.
       —Juliew    Jun. 1 '05 - 01:55PM    #
  5. JulieW, I saw an architectural sketch last night at the CAC meeting, and it looks fairly similar to Glen-Ann. That’s just the wire-frame style of sketch, though. I’m planning to swing by City Hall today and snag some Staff Recommendation packets.

    One interesting feature of this bldg is that, because of the slope on Huron from Ashley down to First, they can put “ground floor” retail relative to Ashley and Huron at the east end, while having the top floor of underground parking (3 levels, I think?) at ground level on First, making the parking less ridiculously expensive to construct by reducing ramping and ventilation costs.
       —Murph    Jun. 1 '05 - 02:08PM    #
  6. Bob, yes – water slides down Huron into the floodway. Excellent idea! :)

    Still more CAC tidbits: McKinley wants to turn Liberty (between Thompson and Division) into a pedestrian mall in order to “energize” that block and make the restaurant/retail space they’re retrofitting into TCF more desirable. CAC had nothing pleasant to say to that idea.

    Note also that McKinley wants to charge $40/square foot rents for the TCF building restaurant/retail. Compare to State Street, where rents top at about $35, and where Decker Drugs was pushed out for Noodles & Co when rent rose above $30. What kind of retail, exactly, is McKinley trying to bring into TCF?
       —Murph    Jun. 1 '05 - 02:11PM    #
  7. The kind that sucks.
       —Dale    Jun. 1 '05 - 02:14PM    #
  8. $40 per square foot is beyond insane, Murph.
       —todd    Jun. 1 '05 - 02:17PM    #
  9. Yep. Especially if McKinley thinks that $40 will be triple-net, as everything else around there is. I, personally, think they’re being totally unrealistic. Even if they try to fill all of the “retail/restaurant” space with restaurants, (“Like a food court?” snarked one of the CAC members) I don’t think they’ll make that target.
       —Murph    Jun. 1 '05 - 02:21PM    #
  10. Ha. Triple Net.

    Just an opinion, but I don’t think that there is any chance that they will get $40 as well as triple net.

    I don’t think that anyone is dumb enough to pay that much for that location (for retail).
       —todd    Jun. 1 '05 - 02:35PM    #
  11. Scott, residential was never built at the Collegian due to lack of interest. Your point is correct however, the only residential that Spoon has is the high-end in the “Offices at Fifth Avenue Building” and those have not sold.

    Eaton is a good development with mixed prices and a small (low-rise) feel in a very nice residential neighborhood. Some of these other developments don’t have that same feeling. Also, even though pre-construction reservations are high, by the time it is built, the prices will be more expensive and people will be able to see how little space their money buys (for example, the balconies are included in the listed square footage of the condo) so it may not sell as well as hoped. New condos downtown are between $290 and $400 square foot which makes them far more expensive than the houses downtown which average about $200/sq foot. Hopefully their other amenities will make them attractive to people.

    Murph, not surprising that the new building will look like Glen-Ann. It is a much squarer site though, isn’t it? Glen-Ann isn’t the greatest look, but it could be a lot worse.

    Ugghh, pedestrian malls! Double ugghh, to anything that will have retail at $40/square foot. The only thing that would go in there is a large chain that wanted to gain a foothold in the market, regardless of losses. They usually last about a year and then are replaced by a new one.
       —Juliew    Jun. 1 '05 - 02:44PM    #
  12. Turning that stretch of Liberty into a pedestrian mall is an idiotic idea. Detroit tried that with Cadillac (?) Square, and killed everything on it.
       —tom    Jun. 1 '05 - 02:56PM    #
  13. Scott Trudeau – there aren’t any lofts in the Collegian; it is strictly an office building. There were condos originally planned for the building, but the developer couldn’t get financing for it, so the building is 2 stories shorter than originally designed. That said, there are still very high end condos that haven’t sold: the Syndeco Plaza penthouses, for example, or the single penthouse in the Fifth Ave. building (there were other condos in that building that have sold, just not the penthouse). Most condos in the range they are aiming for have sold, as you mention.

    “McKinley wants to turn Liberty into a pedestrian mall” – ack, what a bad idea!! Liberty is a core street to the downtown. Making it pedestrian-only would, frankly, make it that much more difficult for businesses a block or two away from the pedestrian area to survive (IF it even helped the businesses right next to it; certainly the area next to Liberty Plaza hasn’t been helped by that pedestrian-only area). It sure sounds like self-promotion at the expense of the public use to me.
       —KGS    Jun. 1 '05 - 03:47PM    #
  14. ” there aren’t any lofts in the Collegian; it is strictly an office building. There were condos originally planned for the building, but the developer couldn’t get financing for it, so the building is 2 stories shorter than originally designed.”

    I’d heard that they scaled it down due to lack of interest in residential, but were still trying to sell the top three floors as residental. In any case, those top three floors are still unfinished…
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 1 '05 - 07:04PM    #
  15. Scott, AFAIK the owner hasn’t gone in to have it zoned to allow for residential, so the top 3 floors must be office per the approved plans. I prepared the drawings, that’s how I know. :-) And sadly yes, they are still empty.

    Whether the condos were eliminated due to lack of interest or lack of financing, it comes down to money either way. A larger developer like Freed won’t have the same issue, sounds like. Generally I’m glad to hear of the project and hope that the building looks good.
       —KGS    Jun. 1 '05 - 07:16PM    #
  16. KGS, reeeeeeeally.

    Dale, back up my memory here. I distinctly remember a certain local Sierra Club co-chair trying to convince a bunch of planning students that Spoon got that building approved by promising to build residential, then, after it was built, saying, “Whoops, residential isn’t selling. Guess I’ll just convert it to office. Doh de doh….” If it had never been approved for residential, is it possible that our brave Sierra Clubban, fighting the good fight against the developer-bought Council, had his facts wrong? (Maybe I’m just bitter because his attempt at brainwashing seemed to take in a few of the planning students. Maybe just a little bitter.)
       —Murph    Jun. 2 '05 - 02:29AM    #
  17. Getting into a different comment than my snark,

    KGS, are you responsible for the look of the Collegian? Or did you just work on the interiors? ‘Cause, personally, I think it’s the best-looking building in downtown in quite some time, and I know of several other folks who feel the same. Pass that comment on to whomever is the appropriate recipient, if it’s not you.
       —Murph    Jun. 2 '05 - 02:33AM    #
  18. I remember reports early on in the building process that there were no upfront reservations for the residential so it was dropped. It would be interesting to know the timeline.

    Speaking of Spoon Equities, there was an article recently in the Observer (April?) which talked about Spoon going bankrupt.
       —Juliew    Jun. 2 '05 - 02:46AM    #
  19. That’s my recollection, as well, Murph.
       —Dale    Jun. 2 '05 - 02:51AM    #
  20. Juliew, I think that’s correct – I remember seeing that he had to sell off the Collegian at a significant loss and had creditors clamoring for much more than was left of the sale after he paid off the construction debt.
       —Murph    Jun. 2 '05 - 12:14PM    #
  21. The Collegian went through so many versions I honestly lost track. I think it holds the record for the project seen at Planning Commission the highest number of times. It did have residential in an earlier version – and maybe that’s one of the reasons it was approved – but he still had to go back when it didn’t pan out and have them approve the building without the residential, particularly because there had been an affordable unit in it. To be fair, he didn’t ‘convert’ the residential to office – the residential portion was lopped off the top. Theoretically, the building could be extended by 2 stories because the steel was already ordered and being constructed when the residential was taken out.

    Thanks for the compliments, Murph. I did have a hand in the building design, though most of the credit goes to Carl Luckenbach, my boss. One thing is certain: Mr. Spoon has good taste and tries to go for quality whenever he can. The materials in particular are great because Mr. Spoon wanted real stone and brick.

    People don’t often realize what a collaborative process building design is; architects and clients have to work together to get a really great-looking building. You can only do so much with cheap materials, and on the flip side there are times when no amount of expensive materials can save a bad design.
       —KGS    Jun. 2 '05 - 01:48PM    #
  22. KGS,

    Interesting. I was talking to Ron White at the Wilson-White property management company about a rental I may be living in in the very near future (and lived at for three years) which is on the third floor of the building housing Wazoo, Orbit, and Bivouac. He mentioned the architect that designed the Collegian was interested in checking out the space, and proposing some ideas about how it might be redeveloped.

    It’s a pretty sweet space—an old dance hall in a circa 1900 building. 20’+ ceilings, old beams, lots of space. It rents pretty cheap now because the tenant (and his subletters) of the last 30 years have it a pretty cluttered mess. It operates right now as a sort of small co-op. Anyway, do you know anything about this architect and his interest in that space in particular? WW is pretty vague about what they want to do with the space? I have a pretty serious attachment to it and its bohemian character … anyway …
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 2 '05 - 03:19PM    #
  23. Yes, I know a little about that project. I’ll email you offlist.
       —KGS    Jun. 2 '05 - 03:33PM    #
  24. Neighbors turned out in droves last night at the Planning Commission meeting to protest the dense 10-story building proposed for Huron and N. Ashley…
    Except that they didn’t. As a matter of fact, all the neighbors there spoke in favor of the building with the two biggest concerns being noise from mechanical units on top of the building (currently a huge problem with the First National Bank building), and interrupting sightlines of the condos at One North Main. Since the new building will not have mechanical units on top of the building and the top of the building is actually 25 feet lower than the 10th floor of One North Main, these were not big deterrents.

    Ray Detter spoke on behalf of the Citizens Advisory Committee and blasted the density of the building and asked that the lot be zoned for single-family housing and part of the Greenway…
    Except that he said nothing of the sort. As a matter of fact, Detter and the CAC came out strongly in favor of the proposed building. They had been against the previous proposed plan for this site because it was not dense enough. They felt this plan was great and had everything that everyone wanted.

    The proposed PUD was approved…
    Except that it isn’t a PUD. This building actually fits all current zoning regulations for the site.

    Planning Commission resoundingly approved the building to the great delight of all present and those at home watching on TV…
    Except that, in a somewhat inexplicable turn of events, the proposed plan was not approved by the Planning Commission and was sent to City Council with a recommendation of deny.

       —Juliew    Jun. 22 '05 - 04:26PM    #
  25. Juliew,

    Have you considered applying for a job at the AANews? You seem to have their style down pretty well.

    I can’t imagine why this failed. I hear (from Detter and company) this building is basically exactly what CPC asked for a year ago when they rejected a site plan to build a Burger King.
       —Murph    Jun. 22 '05 - 05:14PM    #
  26. “Have you considered applying for a job at the AANews?”
    Bite your tongue Murph! That is just a cruel thing to say.

    I can’t imagine why this failed either. I watched the whole thing last night and still don’t see how it didn’t get approved. There were a few minor design issues, but nothing that couldn’t be pretty easily resolved. It was very disappointing.

    I’m pretty sure the Burger King proposal was several years ago. I think the proposal previous to this one was for a three or four story corporate office for Flagstar Bank. D’Amour had strongly supported that proposal so he voted against this one.
       —Juliew    Jun. 22 '05 - 06:26PM    #
  27. Just talked to our dear Planning Commission Chair Jennifer Santi Hall by e-mail. Sounds like a major problem is that there were only 7 Commissioners at the meeting (rather than the full 9), and a recommendation to approve requires 6 votes. She says,

    “Issues discussed were the drive-thru lane, pedestrian street amenities, height, set back for larger sidewalk (as per Pollack study on the Huron corridor), set back
    above level 3 (as per downtown residental task force report). These were the major issues, but as I said last night I don’t think any of these issues were major enough to warrant tabling to get the petitioner to address them (I also didn’t think it likely that they would change their design). I think the project is great (although I do have reservations about the drive thru lane).”

    Then she goes into some happy urbanist talk that I’m sure all of us can pretty easily imagine, having spent time around the likes of me.

    She remembers the vote as 4 affirmative (Hall, Carlberg, Bona, Kunsleman) vs. 3 opposed (Potts, Pratt, D’Amour); if Eric L. is reading, maybe he can add a second opinion as our resident CPC member.
       —Murph.    Jun. 22 '05 - 09:46PM    #
  28. But by my count, that means he wasn’t there.
       —Dale    Jun. 23 '05 - 12:38AM    #
  29. Or did he see the proposal in a previous meeting?
       —Dale    Jun. 23 '05 - 12:48AM    #
  30. “set back above level 3 (as per downtown residental task force report)”

    This was a non-binding set of recommendations for further action, ie, maybe we should look at some form-based guidelines. Why is it being invoked as grounds for critique or rejection?

    And what’s wrong with a bank off Business 94 having a Drive thru ATM?
       —Dale    Jun. 23 '05 - 02:40AM    #
  31. Dale: presumably, he got all the information on the proposal – but, not being there, didn’t weigh in on the discussion.
       —Murph.    Jun. 23 '05 - 03:39AM    #
  32. Eric L. is on vacation, which is why he was not at the Planning Commission meeting. I don’t know how he would have voted after seeing the actual plans, but I did talk to him about this proposal a few weeks ago and he was enthusiastic about it at that time.

    The setback issue is interesting with this building. They have setbacks on two of the four sides and worked with city staff to determine that the best sides were the north and west sides. The Planning Commission seemed more interested in seeing the setbacks on the south and east sides. I think the Commission does not want to create another One North Main with just an overwhelming flat facade. The way this building has been designed, the designers are trying to play to Main Street so the southeast side (on the corner of Ashley and Huron) is a very imposing full-height ten-story (glass?) facade which is not very pedestrian friendly.

    Dale, I agree with you on the ATM and the drive-through. It wasn’t something that I cared about one way or the other but the commissioners really didn’t like it. I think they are concerned about the safety of an ATM tucked in behind a building and also what will happen to the drive-through if the bank leaves. They don’t want another tenant coming in (like Burger King) who could use the drive-through in a more intensive way.

    It did seem like everyone was a little surprised that it did not pass. I think in general all the Commissioners assumed it would pass, but they wanted the petitioner to really think about the streetscape and pedestrian experience a bit more (something that really was not done with the Glenn-Ann proposal) so the votes against it were to note that. However, with two commissioners gone, the normal voting block behavior didn’t work.
       —Juliew    Jun. 23 '05 - 01:24PM    #
  33. Can council still approve it with a “deny” recommendation? How onerous is the process on the developer to “reapply” perhaps tweaking the design to take under consideration some of the comments?
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 23 '05 - 05:12PM    #
  34. Council can, and often does, approve a project even with a deny recommendation from Planning Commission. So the project isn’t dead by any means. I am assuming it will go through pretty much as proposed. It just further muddies the waters with developers and the city. If the Planning Commission doesn’t like this one, when it pretty much has everything they have asked for, what should developers be building? The owner of this property actually said as much to the Commission on Tuesday. Decisions like this seem to further strain the relationship between Council and the Commission, when really they should be working together.
       —Juliew    Jun. 23 '05 - 05:29PM    #
  35. Yes, council can approve it – the vote is just a recommendation, after all. The developer need not reapply or even change anything if given a deny recommendation, especially in the case of a technical denial like this one. Council can, in fact, deny projects that planning commission has approved, though this is relatively rare.
       —KGS    Jun. 23 '05 - 05:43PM    #
  36. Anyone read the Eminent Domain decision that came down from the S. Court today? (This is kinda on topic).

       —todd    Jun. 23 '05 - 05:54PM    #
  37. Todd, wow is right. This is the kind of decision that makes the second amendment look like a very, very good idea. So really, the DDA is setting their sights pretty low. How ‘bout razing all of the single-family homes in Ann Arbor and putting up six-story buildings full of 800-square foot condos. Just think of how much tax revenue Ann Arbor could make! And it would solve all of our sprawl problems too!
       —Juliew    Jun. 23 '05 - 06:17PM    #
  38. Okay, fine, I’ll go make a separate topic for Kelo v. New London talk…
       —Murph.    Jun. 23 '05 - 06:46PM    #