Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

A Handful of Changes Downtown

26. August 2005 • Juliew
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Grizzly Peak expands into the old Del Rio space.

American Spoon on Liberty goes out of business. It will be replaced with a Beaners coffee shop in October.

NYPD takes over King of Queens space on South University.

And murmurs begin about the lack of progress at LoFT 322.

  1. I’m skeptical that LoFT322 will happen. I think it’s going to be back to the drawing board for that site before too long. (Which is fine by me, as it wasn’t a great design.)

    Liberty Lofts/Eaton, on the other hand, pulled more than $9 million in building permits last month for “new residential condo construction”. Previous work had all been demo, site work, and structural renovations, I believe, and I don’t think the units have officially sold yet, but they’re at least making significant progress.
       —Murph.    Aug. 26 '05 - 12:31PM    #
  2. There’s also (surprise) another chain coffee shop going in at Packard and Stadium.
       —todd    Aug. 26 '05 - 12:58PM    #
  3. Murph, I’m with you on LoFT 322. After hearing comments about it during the Historic Preservation Committee meeting the other day, I went to the LoFT 322 web site to see what it said. In February, the big buzz on their web site and in the media is that all the condos had been reserved (I was skeptical then for this very reason). A few months ago, it listed which condos had been reserved with a handful available. Now none of them are listed as reserved. I also noticed that there were ads in last Sunday’s Real Estate section for LoFT 322 starting at something like $389,000.

    Eaton does seem to have more on the ball and is actually moving forward, which is great to see. I still wonder though what will happen when people realize just how small a place they are getting for their $300,000+ (oops, I mean “mid $200,000s pre-construction price”). I’m not sure people are ready for sub-800 square feet condos for that price.
       —Juliew    Aug. 26 '05 - 01:00PM    #
  4. Oooh Todd, that one is particularly painful because Food and Drug Mart was a great little grocery store. I know when they sold it they said they were happy that the buyer was going to continue running the store, but his commitment to a grocery store only lasted about as long as it took for the ink to dry on the offer. I wonder if a Caribou Coffee was his intention from the start? This one ranks up there with the Decker Drugs to Noodles and Company transformation.
       —Juliew    Aug. 26 '05 - 01:51PM    #
  5. I don’t recall as much buzz about LoFT 322 being reserved so quickly, though I do recall seeing stats on high reservation rates for the Eaton conversion…
       —Scott Trudeau    Aug. 26 '05 - 02:35PM    #
  6. Scott, here are a couple mentions that I can find quickly:

    Ann Arbor Growth at Fast Pace (4th paragraph from the bottom).
    Condo Developers Have Lofty Goals for Downtown (in the section titled “High-priced Living” from the March 20 A2News.)

    The Denali Group used to have some press on their web site about it too, but that seems to be gone.
       —Juliew    Aug. 26 '05 - 03:01PM    #
  7. Julie W: Yeah, I thought I heard that the old grocery store was to be repurposed into a newer, smaller place as well. I was kind of stunned to see that Caribou was going in there…
       —brian cors    Aug. 26 '05 - 03:32PM    #
  8. Doesn’t surprise me that American Spoon finally died; there were very few people in there, and I think most of Ann Arbor got sick of their overpriced gelato within no more than a month.

    As for Beaner’s, its replacement, I wonder what Ann Arbor will think of another “local chain”. Will they shun it for Espresso Royale, even though it’s just as “corporate”, or will they ignore it completely? I think that that three coffee shops within one block is overkill. This is Ann Arbor, not New York City.

    Also, did anyone ever go into King of Queens? As far as I know, the tackiness of the interior design (if you can even call it design) seems to have kept everyone out of it. Too bad I don’t live on that side of town anymore; I used to cross the Diag three times a week for a $4 NYPD pizza.
       —eston    Aug. 26 '05 - 10:31PM    #
  9. Man, Food and Drug Mart was pretty weak as a grocery store. I liked the idea of having it there, but if you actually tried to live off of it, you’d be screwed and scurvy. About the best thing they had there was Old Colony gin for less than $5 a fifth.
    And King of Queens managed to fuck up my order, and were surly about it. That combined with their appalling decor meant that I actively rooted for it to fail.
       —js    Aug. 27 '05 - 12:09AM    #
  10. “Will they shun it for Espresso Royale, even though it’s just as “corporate”, or will they ignore it completely? I think that that three coffee shops within one block is overkill. This is Ann Arbor, not New York City.”

    Well, I can’t speak to competition, but I can say that there are precious few business models that can yield a higher margin than a coffee shop. These places have an awful lot of room for error.
       —todd    Aug. 27 '05 - 09:42AM    #
  11. King of Queens was adequate, but overpriced, I thought—I went in there one day before a Cinema Guild showing. I certainly won’t miss it.

    That blows, though, about Grizzly Peak taking over the Del Rio. Not a big Grizzly Peak fan over here. Again, the Del’s service was almost nonexistent, but I was more than willing to put up with it for the awesome pizzas and happy hour specials.
       —Lazaro    Aug. 27 '05 - 12:01PM    #
  12. I figured that King of Queens place was a mob front. Long live NYPD; best pizza in town and worth the price.

    I think there’s a nearly endless market for coffeehouses in this town (walk into any in that area most evenings during the semester and it’s often tough to find a seat).
       —Brandon    Aug. 27 '05 - 12:56PM    #
  13. This probably belongs in its own thread but I don’t think I can do that – makes for interesting reading, different City, same debate:
       —John Q.    Aug. 27 '05 - 01:08PM    #
  14. “The result of this reluctance to build housing results in housing shortages, which results in higher housing costs, which tends to reduce density.”

    Gee, where have I heard this before?

    Naw, that’s not what’s happening in Ann Arbor. Todd’s wrong.

    One things for sure: we need to band together and fight against those crazy tall buildings!!

    Pardon the sarcasm. It’s been a long day…..
       —todd    Aug. 27 '05 - 01:25PM    #
  15. John Q. –
    Making something its own thread would require you outing yourself to the AU maintainers so that we can decide whether to promote you to our ranks. Or, at least, giving a valid e-mail address so that we could e-mail you a password without it bouncing.

    I’m just sayin’...
       —Murph    Aug. 27 '05 - 06:10PM    #
  16. The dominant religion has always been the religion of short buildings. I challenge anyone to claim that their lives have been harmed by a tall building.
       —[libcat]    Aug. 28 '05 - 11:38AM    #
  17. Anyone know the status of Kingsley Lane? They’ve been promising to break ground in March for about the last three March’s. And their website has less information now than it did two years ago.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Aug. 29 '05 - 11:28AM    #
  18. A2News today discusses LoFT322 and Liberty Lofts, Liberty condos on track despite the lull

    In LoFT322, “all but three of the condos have been locked up with binding purchase agreements. Unlike the refundable reservations used early in the process, these sales agreements tie the buyers to the condos.

    Having the agreements in place makes it safe to move forward with construction. The project is now expected to be completed by next July.” They expect to begin work in about three weeks.

    In Liberty Lofts, “More than half of the condos have been sold with binding purchase agreements. Earlier this year, about 70 percent of the condos had been reserved, but those reservations were not binding.

    The first condos are set to be completed by the end of next summer.

    The complex has space for about 20,000 square feet of retail. That space has not yet been sold or leased, Mucha said.”
       —Murph    Aug. 30 '05 - 11:38AM    #
  19. King of Queens: The interior was atrocious. Whatever happened to Abe’s? Why wasn’t Abe able to make a go of that place? there always seemed to be abundant foot traffic in the area, and that spot is reasonably close to two parking garages. Also, does anyone know why the property across the street (next to the VC) has been empty for such a long time? I started U of M (law school) in 2001, and I think the “Bagel Depot” was out of business then. Is there a problem with that spot? Sorry if these questions bore everyone else.
       —Ann Arbor Expat    Aug. 30 '05 - 01:04PM    #
  20. That bagel place used to have the best dumpster…
       —Scott Trudeau    Aug. 30 '05 - 01:26PM    #
  21. That’s “Bagel Factory”, isn’t it? I believe that used to be owned by Dave Solo, but was sold to . . . one of the other bagel places a few years ago; can’t remember which one or when.

    Solo also served on the DDA Board for several year, until this summer, when his term ended and he no longer had a residence or “business concern” in downtown Ann Arbor and couldn’t be reappointed. (He also just got elected to Sylvan Township’s board f trustees, where my parents live, and so has that soaking up his civic energies.)

    As for why it’s remained empty so long? I don’t know.
       —Murph    Aug. 30 '05 - 01:37PM    #
  22. I walked by today and the new NYPD location is already up and running. They stripped the entire interior of all the wacky colors and it is now just tan and green.

    Also noticed that a new Thai restaurant is going in down the next block, next to the Korean and Japanese restaurants.

    The Bagel Factory being closed has really hurt that end block of South University. When I was growing up, that was one of the more vibrant areas of town—especially on a Sunday morning. It has been weird to see it so desolate for so long. I don’t know why it has been empty so long now.
       —Juliew    Aug. 30 '05 - 02:25PM    #
  23. Hmmm…The city’s tax/permit db lists 1306 South University (Bagel Factory’s address) as a 0-acre lot assessed at $9,300, owner “Bagel Place Inc, DBA Barry Bagels”.

    So . . . that doesn’t include the Bagel Factory building, but the addresses to either side in the db are Village Corner and South U Apts. So I can’t tell what’s up.
       —Murph    Aug. 30 '05 - 02:42PM    #
  24. Thanks for the responses! Isn’t there a Barry Bagels in that mall on the corner of Jackson/Maple? That would be a logical place for a bagel store, assuming that bagel stores don’t depend upon coffee sales for their margins.
       —Ann Arbor Expat    Aug. 30 '05 - 04:56PM    #
  25. Note to vegetarians: NYPD’s pizza sauce uses a beef base and is therefore not vegetarian. They do offer sauceless pizzas for vegetarians, but I consider sauce necessary for enjoyment. Oh well….
       —H.S.    Aug. 31 '05 - 12:36PM    #
  26. I’m not sure if anyone is still wondering about the Bagel Factory location, but I was curious and I tracked down a few more details.

    The Bagel Factory closed its retail location several years ago to concentrate on commercial baking. They currently bake, out by the Ann Arbor airport, bagels for Barry Bagels (based near Toledo), Natasha’s Bagel Fragel (on Plymouth Road), and presumably some other places.

    As I understand it, the current owner of the Bagel Factory building (I think the Barry people) has no interest in it as is, which is why it’s sitting vacant. No point in investing money in something you’re going to bulldoze. These people either want to redevelop the lot, or have someone lined up to redevelop it, in a plan that I am told would also include the Village Corner lot.

    According to a former member of the DDA, the city council is trying to “fast-track” a plan that would allow a building of around 15 stories to be built on those two lots. The building would be your currently standard retail on the ground floor, a floor or two of offices, and then apartments or condos above.

    Now what fast tracking entails, I’m not sure, but I haven’t read anything about this in the News, so maybe it’s being fast tracked in the dark. I do know that the Council seemed very anxious to get the South U. building height limits removed (or just raised?) a little while back.

    Anyway, I’d really miss the V.C., but other than that I’d like to see this happen.

    My “source” suggested that folks interested in the (re)development of the South U. area call Maggie Ladd (734) 663-5300 for current meeting times and general information on the on South University Area Association.
       —Parking Structure Dude!    Sep. 15 '05 - 03:53PM    #
  27. I don’t think the building heights (FARs) were raised nearly enough to handle a 15-story building. I don’t remember what exactly was done, but I had thought it was in the realm of raising limits from 1-story to 2-story and/or eliminating restrictions on mixed-uses within the existing FARs?

    And I have no idea what “fast-tracking” would entail, or whether it could be done quietly. Things would have to go through a Planning Commission meeting and (for a zoning change to PUD) two Council meetings; add in staff review, and 2 months is the bare minimum, no?

    Let me see if I can find out more about this.
       —Murph    Sep. 16 '05 - 08:12AM    #
  28. I remember talk awhile back about interest in getting buildings as high as 12- to 14- stories on South U—around the time the DDA did their little talk on what increasing downtown density might look like—and they purposefully avoided talking about the South U area because it wasn’t “downtown.” Or something.
       —Scott Trudeau    Sep. 16 '05 - 11:14AM    #
  29. The Planning Commission and City Council recently made changes to the zoning on South U related to the floor area, not to building heights. South U zoning used to restrict total floor area for retail and service shops to 8,000 sq. ft. and restaurants to 15,000 sq. ft. The first site plan approved under the new zoning was the Pizza House expansion to the adjacent site.

    I know there has been interest by South U business owners in addressing the FARs to allow more density and mixed use in this area. I think it would be fair to say that that Planning Commission has generally felt that the South U area would be an appropriate place for more residential density in the city. However, given that the entire downtown (which includes South U) is going through a community wide vision process right now, the Planning Commission and staff (I can’t speak for council or the South U merchants) feel that it is more appropriate to wait until we have some preliminary recommendations from these community workshops before moving forward with any more changes to the zoning on South U.

    I’m not sure that a 15 story building could be built on that site within the FAR limitations. It would most likely require PUD zoning. I don’t know what “fast track” means. A PUD project is required to present to Planning Commission at a work session before the formal public hearing. Then Planning Commission would hold a public hearing. And there would need to be 2-3 council sessions on the plan (for the zoning and site plan).

    I talked to city staff and they have not received any plans for this site.

    One last thing – just wanted to note that this is my very first post! I read often, but have been a bit reluctant to jump into the discussions until now. You might be reading more from me in the future :)
       —Jennifer Hall    Sep. 17 '05 - 12:43PM    #
  30. Welcome Jennifer! I’m always glad to see comments from the policy makers in the community. Just remember that if you have future political aspirations, your comments here might be fodder for future opponents. But don’t let that deter you from commenting!
       —John Q.    Sep. 17 '05 - 05:30PM    #
  31. Yes, indeed. Welcome, Jennifer! It’s great to hear from someone with actual authority.
       —David Cahill    Sep. 18 '05 - 10:48AM    #
  32. (Mini-rant: considering how many local decisionmakers and media read this site, it’s annoying how few of them think it “appropriate” to comment. The people who are most informed really ought to be trying to contribute that information, rather than worrying about whether saying anything honest will hurt their political position or create some sort of bias in their coverage that doesn’t exist when they have opinions but don’t voice them.

    Whether politician or media, more speaking out is always better – the more information the public has on what you think, the better their basis for considering your decisions or coverage.)
       —Murph.    Sep. 18 '05 - 10:57AM    #
  33. Umm, Murph, people might not want to comment because they are afraid of being ranted at …

    But yes, welcome Jennifer! And for those of you who remember my rant about Jennifer in an earlier post, well, we did meet for lunch, had a lovely time, and actually share many of the same opinions about development in Ann Arbor. So Jennifer, I look forward to more participation from you in the future!
       —Juliew    Sep. 18 '05 - 05:05PM    #
  34. I doubt the bigwigs are concerned about being ranted at. Being “shouted at” by someone on line is nothing like getting that said to your face. I’m sure the bigger concern is having something that they say thrown back at them in the future. But you can be sure that the people that matter in town keep tabs on what’s said here.
       —John Q    Sep. 18 '05 - 05:35PM    #
  35. I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant to comment until now, for fear of being shouted at online … but then I figured, what the hell … I’m getting shouted at anyway … wouldn’t it be better to get my opinions and views out there instead of having people guess what they are or make them up for me.

    Besides, the bit of ranting by Julie prompted us to meet for lunch and I agree … we did have a great time! So sometimes ranting isn’t so bad :)
       —Jennifer Hall    Sep. 18 '05 - 09:03PM    #
  36. Anybody else notice that the Ashley Mews retail space (formerly W.G. Grinders) is to become Zenaida Chocolate Lounge? It looks pretty swanky, and reading the menu online bears this out. But the largest challenge any venture in that spot will face is visibility – the window design is such that it is impossible to see what’s inside without standing directly at the window and staring in.
       —Jeff D.    Oct. 2 '05 - 12:52PM    #
  37. Oh my – Caribou Coffree is on my corner at Stadium and Packard (I live on Stadium) – it makes me sad. The “old” Food and Drug was a friendly, convenient family-owned grocery, which fit our needs in between trips to the supermarket. I often bought there just to keep them in business, and shopped until the end. Another store coming in is “Smokey’s Cigars” with big ugly signs. I don’t care about cigars, but those signs are an eyesore.

    As to 322 E. Liberty – the design was the problem – there should be retail on the first floor, not parking – but what can you do?

    Maybe we should start thinking about a Design Review Committee. Boulder does that, with a process called “Mandatory Review, Voluntary Compliance” – which might stop ugliness (example: State and Washington).

    Welcome to Jennifer Hall, one of the really good city leaders!
       —Leah    Oct. 2 '05 - 02:24PM    #
  38. I agree with Lee. We should start thinking about a Design Review Committee. Often people care more about what a building looks like than its height or mass.
       —David Cahill    Oct. 2 '05 - 07:39PM    #
  39. Height and mass are part of what a building looks like.
       —Dale    Oct. 3 '05 - 01:25AM    #
  40. “Often people care more about what a building looks like than its height or mass.”

    And that’s why we get “pretty” buildings that don’t function well by themselves or in relation to the street, adjacent buildings, etc. Too often, people fixate on the “style” of the building without asking whether it will work well. Let’s worry about whether the building is functional first. Then we can debate whether it looks good.
       —John Q    Oct. 3 '05 - 09:56AM    #