Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

What draws people to Ann Arbor

1. March 2008 • Chuck Warpehoski
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Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

When the Ann Arbor Conventions and Visitors Bureau ask Equation Research to ask folks how to attract visitors, the answer was “good value, a relaxed atmosphere, friendliness and safety.” (source ).

Hmm, not funky spirit, local shops, cultural offerings, and a greenway?

How do you think Ann Arbor should position and market itself?

  1. Sounds to me like this marketing plan would end up saying “Ann Arbor: Safe, Friendly and Relaxed, just like an outlet mall, only with less parking and higher prices.”

    It’s not to say that I don’t think these concerns are important, but I see them as more of preconditions than actual draws. Few people will go to tense, unfriendly, dangerous places, but I don’t think that avoiding these is a good marketing plan.

    It’s like saying “hey, our food won’t make you sick.”

       —Chuck W.    Mar. 2 '08 - 12:01AM    #
  2. “The rest of the top 10 attractions [after the UM] were, in order: The Art Fairs, lakes and ponds, world-class medical facilities, being environmentally friendly, over 250 restaurants, being ranked among America’s Best Places to Live, top-notch performing arts, Zingerman’s Deli, and wineries and vineyards.”

    I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something about this list that just strikes me as funny. As an ‘attraction’ for a leisure destination who in the world says, “world-class medical facilities”? And who says, “Yeah, when I visit Ann Arbor, I go there instead of Toledo, because, you know, it’s ranked on that list of America’s Best Places to Live … not that the list ranking results in me actually living there.” And only the whole, it strikes me as an odd collection.

    Translating Chuck’s “Our food won’t make you sick” into the language of the network TV show VEGAS, which has Tom Selleck introducing the motto “Anything can happen!” to the Monticeto, the consultant’s recommendation could be rendered as: “Ann Arbor—Interesting can’t happen!”

       —HD    Mar. 2 '08 - 02:18AM    #
  3. On second reading of the News piece, the list I found odd and pasted into the comment is “Top 10 most well-known attractions” not the other list mentioned, which is reasons people visit.

       —HD    Mar. 2 '08 - 04:39AM    #
  4. Hmm, not funky spirit, local shops, cultural offerings, and a greenway?

    There is a difference between features that make a place livable and features that make a place a good tourist destination. Local shops and the cultural offerings can make people return to a destination or spend money there, but probably aren’t the reason someone would visit. Unless you are in San Antonio, a greenway is just a feature for a tourist, not a destination.

    I’m not sure Ann Arbor is ever going to be a grand tourist destination. I don’t think that is all bad though. Having lived in Boulder, I can say that being a tourist town isn’t always a good thing.

    It doesn’t mean Ann Arbor shouldn’t be a destination for other reasons. We can be a gateway to many of Michigan’s beautiful natural resources. Athletics are already a huge draw here. Not only the University athletics, but all the summer camps and regional events that the University hosts bring in a lot of people. Unfortunately, the City and University don’t seem to do a very good job of coordinating welcomes for these visitors and the Ann Arbor News rarely spotlights these visitors. The Art Fairs are a wonderful event for the city and region. The Book Festivals bring in a good crowd. The Rolling Sculpture show is a bigger and bigger draw. The Antique Fair and other shows at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds bring in a lot of people. Then there are all the conferences and events put on by the University and other businesses in Ann Arbor. The many cultural events may not rival larger cities, but they certainly are a nice extra for people once they know about the city (and occasionally do bring people in for very special events).

    Our biggest problem is the lack of conference space downtown. By most accounts, the biggest economic event we have in this region is the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters annual training at Washtenaw. If we actually had a large conference center, we could attract more of that sort of event. Neither Ann Arbor nor the University has a conference center, which hurts us. The area hosts a lot of conferences, but could do so much more if we had a facility downtown. The last conference we had, we had to put attendees up on Plymouth Road and shuttle them into campus. Campus Inn was entirely booked at the time, which is common. I was talking to the attendees and they were so disappointed because they had hoped to walk around and do some shopping and eating downtown, but ended up taking the shuttle back and eating at Carsons every night.

    Most large college towns do have at least one major conference center. I have been to several CIC events (Big 10 + University of Chicago) and it seems like Ann Arbor is the only place without some sort of downtown conference facility. I have heard nothing but good things about Boulder’s new St. Julien hotel and conference center and I know they do an enormous business in conferences and events. The old Y site or the Brown Block would be possible sites or put it on South U rather than the proposed student housing tower.

    If people can visit Ann Arbor and stay in a nice place downtown with easy access to unique restaurants and shopping, it is more likely that they will return. If they stay in a generic hotel by the mall, chances are they won’t end up coming back.

       —Juliew    Mar. 3 '08 - 03:04AM    #
  5. Just another hotel downtown would be nice. We’ve got a graduate student conference on Global Suburbs (plug, plug) next weekend and all the hotel space and B&Bs within walking distance of campus were booked up months ago.

       —Dale    Mar. 3 '08 - 03:31AM    #
  6. I agree Dale, at least another hotel downtown would help. Even better if the rate could be something under the $200+/night that Campus Inn charges. It would be good for Dahlmann to have a little competition downtown.

       —Juliew    Mar. 3 '08 - 07:45PM    #
  7. I think the conference/hotel space is a problem for Ypsi as well as Ann Arbor. Downtown, Depot Town, and EMU campus all lack significant conference space – I think the largest available spaces downtown, outside of church basements, only seat conference-style setups of several dozen. The “EMU/Ypsilanti conference center” is the Eagle Mariott hotel and golf course south of the freeway – which has some nice space, but it’s easy to come and go from an event without ever setting foot off the property. At least at Dahlman’s Campus Inn, they can send you out into downtown A2 for lunch breaks with walking maps.

    I agree that, in both downtowns, we should be treating these events as good opportunities to get people downtown and walking around – make it easy for them to see the parts of our cities we’re proudest of, rather than the parts that are easiest to access from the freeway.

       —Murph    Mar. 3 '08 - 11:05PM    #
  8. if the goal is to attract visitors, as opposed to attracting long-term residents, then I would agree that a few small hotels and a convention center downtown would be a good investment. It seems to me obvious that the University, with its $7.1 billion dollar endowment, should be required to chip in on a mixed-use conference center…

    I wrote “a few small hotels” because IMHO adding another hotel tower would do nothing for AA, but I think Julie’s right that, given a choice, many people would prefer to be in the walking region. figuring out how to add downtown hotel space is quite an opportunity for ingenious urban planning — our strong point here at Arbor Update ;-)


       —Fred Zimmerman    Mar. 7 '08 - 09:24PM    #
  9. Tell me, what IS Ann Arbor? Are we like some cheap street hooker, selling ourselves to anyone who comes along? What do you mean, “position and market ourselves”?

    Even a high class call girl is still a whore. Is that what Ann Arbor is to you? Some whore to be marketed? You in city council are already selling out parts of Ann Arbor to become skyscraping buildings instead of a low-key, laid back city that EARNED it’s reputation as a good place to live. It was earned, not marketed.

    What are you guys? Door to door salesmen, talking fast and looking to get your grubbing hands on some loot?

    Don’t be so quick to pat yourselves on the back, as far as I have seen, many of you have no idea what this town is about, much less how to “market” her like some sleazy pimp.

       —Bear    Mar. 16 '08 - 03:11AM    #
  10. Wow, has anyone else read that Borders is facing illiquidity and had to borrow money from a hedge fund in exchange for options on 20% of its stock at $7/share?

       —Anna    Mar. 20 '08 - 10:55PM    #
  11. One of Ann Arbor’s most overlooked sources of pride is our incredibly well-run and able District Court. One of Ann Arbor’s district judges, Elizabeth “Libby” Pollard-Hines, on March 25, 2008 is slated to receive the Distinguished Jurist Award by Mississippi State University at a ceremony(see id=4172). Judge Pollard-Hines is a 1974 Honors graduate of University of Michigan and received her law degree from U-M in 1977. She was elected to the district court bench in 1992 after holding a senior position with the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office. She is considered to be a leader in innovative court administration and is considered to be a likely and attractive candidate for gubernatorial appointment to higher judicial office in the future. She recently won praise for her handling of the recent Catherine Wilkerson criminal trial. As an attorney who regularly practices in the Michigan District Court system I can tell you that the District Court in Ann Arbor is well-staffed , efficient, and presided over by highly competent jurists such as Judge Pollard-Hines.

       —Mark Koroi    Mar. 21 '08 - 02:29AM    #
  12. According to the Ann Arbor News “bracket game” it’s Zingermans.

       —LauraB    Mar. 22 '08 - 09:31AM    #
  13. Ann Arbor is the world headquarters of Altarum, a non-profit corporation, whose driving force has been Dr.Charlie Roadman, a retired Air force lieutenant general who has served as chairman of its board of trustees and more recently as a member of its advisory council. It has served as a consultant and analyst on many health care issues and is considered to be one of the premiere health care think tanks in the U.S. It is located on Green Road, just off US-23. One of its key funding sources is the Kellogg Institute. Anyone who is familiar with their activities knows that they play a key role in shaping national health care policy.

       —Kerry D.    Apr. 14 '08 - 05:29AM    #
  14. I always visit places because there’s great judge or some organization that significantly influences public policy.

       —a2oldie    Apr. 16 '08 - 06:39PM    #