ypsi beer garden update

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Ypsi residents, Matt and Rene Greff, are in the process of trying to open a beer garden/brewery on the outskirts in Depot Town. In my post, I wholeheartedly endorsed the project. It would, in my opinion, not only put more beer within walking distance of me, but also reinforce the idea of Ypsi as an entertainment destination, create local jobs, and help grow our local tax base at a time when it’s desperately needed. And, as the Greffs have done this before (they’re the owners of Ann Arbor’s Arbor Brewing Company), and done it well, I can’t imagine a better suited couple to take a project like this and make it work. Anyway, on Friday, Rene left a comment on the site, letting us know the status of the project. In case you missed it, I thought that I’d reprint it here on the front page… Here it is:

Wow, someone just forwarded me this link. I had no idea that people were out here in the blogosphere supporting the microbrewery project. Thanks!

Here’s an update. By the way, I’m not familiar with blog etiquette, so I hope this isn’t too long and boring!

Things are moving along nicely. We received unanimous support from the Planning Commission and the City Council for the re-zoning. It will go before council one more time, and then barring any unforeseen glitches will receive final approval.

We started working with city staff very early in the process (a few staffers from the planning department actually went to look at the site before we made an offer on the property to give us a heads up regarding relevant code issues that we should take into account).

We met with Charles Bullard from the Building Department, the Historic District Commission, and Nathan Voght from Planning and Zoning several times during the process of drawing up the site plan so that we could avoid being blindsided by requirements.

We are only asking for a couple of waivers and one variance from the planning commission so we hope that we might be able to get the site plan passed on the first try on August 17th.

The only tricky thing is that our project is really not like anything people are used to encountering. It’s not a restaurant, not a bar, not a beer store, so the codes that were written for those uses don’t perfectly apply. And to confuse matters even more, there is a seasonal component because of the beer garden.

The variance we are asking for is to be allowed just rehab the front parking lot for starters and then do the back one if there is a need. The parking lots are actually pretty expensive because there are requirements for drainage, islands, landscaping, lighting, and screening. City code requires 1 space for every 3 occupants (as determined by a square footage formula rather than actual seats). So going by the formula we would need about 92 spaces, but realistically, we don’t think we’ll need more than about 45 since the beer garden may fill up in the summer and the caf

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  1. Posted August 7, 2005 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    There’s other reasons Voght might get a ‘bad wrap’, beyond code enforcement:

    “The developer … suggested preserving the smokestack as an icon in remembrance to the history of the paper mill. He showed from the beginning a sensitivity to the heritage of that site and the history of the city.”

    -Nathan Voght, Ypsilanti city planner, December 2004.

  2. Andy
    Posted August 7, 2005 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    So fuckin awesome!

  3. mark
    Posted August 7, 2005 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    I was just walking around down by the smokestack a few days ago and I was thinking that someday we should go and have a drink to the memory of the paper mill, Brett.

    And, yes, Andy, it is fuckin’ awesome.

  4. Jessica
    Posted August 8, 2005 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Did you see the story in the Ann Arbor News?


  5. Posted August 8, 2005 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t personally use the term “Fucking Awesome”, for several reasons.

    1) The owners clearly have no plans to call the business a “Biergarten”, nor clothe their servers in liederhosen.

    2) The owners aren’t from Ypsilanti, and regardless of the innocence of their intent could be construed as ‘Carpetbaggers’ of sorts, taking advantage of our slightly reduced cost of living when compared to Ann Arbor.

    3) Ypsi doesn’t have a microbrewery, true, but it has more than enough locations already where I may give my liver an alcohol bath.

    4) Speaking of microbreweries, this story seems strange to me as the plans for a similar venue just a few hundred yards to the west have been blocked at almost every turn by the same city council. Qu’est Que C’est, Monsieur French?

    5) As for the issue of bringing tax revenue to the city, this is not Visteon, nor any of the dead industries which used to be here, and isn’t going to make a huge difference in the big picture of the city’s bankruptcy.

    6) I’m glad to see an old building reused, even if it isn’t very historically or architecturally interesting; However, and I realize this isn’t a “fun” or “cool” idea, but I would personally much rather have seen a small- to mid-sized grocery store (not a “Party Store”) move into the space, considering the fact that many more people eat food than drink alcohol (I hope).

    7) Based upon the scale they’re operating with, I seriously doubt there will be many jobs created. I’m all for the philosophy of small, locally owned businesses, but I’ve begun to see here in Ypsi that oftentimes the economic reality of the situation means that the store is run by an individual, or family, and might only employ a couple of workers, if that. It also seems like, since they already have a successful venue in AA, their staff might just consist of a few hand-picked members of their existing workforce.

    8) If they do add the liederhosen, though, I’ll retract points 2 to 7.

    Sorry if this all seems overly cynical. I’m not familiar with blog etiquette.

  6. Teddy Glass
    Posted August 8, 2005 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    From what I’ve been told, the Greffs do live in Ypsi, Brett. And, while I agree with you that this endeavor probably won’t employ as many people as Visteon did, I don’t think that in itself is reason enough to pooh-pooh the idea. Even a half-dozen jobs at this point would be a good thing. That’s six people working in town, eating lunch in town, patronizing local stores, and perhaps even paying local income tax. And, let’s not forget, people will be coming to Ypsi to buy and drink their beer. I love your criticism elsewhere, Brett, but I don’t think this case realy warants it.

  7. Teddy Glass
    Posted August 8, 2005 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a quote from the Courrier:

    Democrat presidential hopeful Howard Dean will be in Ypsilanti Saturday for a fundraiser brunch at the Ypsilanti home of Rene and Matt Greff.

    The Greffs, who have been residents for 12 years and are the owners of Arbor Brewing in Ann Arbor, were approached about hosting the fundraiser in their home, and Rene said they jumped at the opportunity.


  8. Posted August 8, 2005 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Teddy, something is better than nothing, to be sure, but I’d like to see in writing how many jobs it will really create, beyond the owners and their existing employees at AA brewing company.

    I’m also quite serious about the grocery store comment, as I don’t think Ypsilanti’s moving in the right direction when I can walk to get a microbrew but not a roll of toilet paper. That’s Ann Arbor’s problem, and it’s becoming ours as well.

    I made a few other comments, but you didn’t address their veracity, so I won’t bother defending them.

    Like I said, though, something is better than nothing, but that doesn’t make it “Fucking Awesome” to me, so I felt a bit of cold water should be sprinkled on the discussion.

    …and thanks for loving my criticism elsewhere, wherever that might be.

  9. Posted August 8, 2005 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    …got our posts crossed there, I stand corrected on my point #2, thanks, though I do suddenly wonder why they haven’t opened shop in Ypsi prior to this point.

  10. Shanster
    Posted August 8, 2005 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I also wonder why Mr. French has not been able to push his plans through, and put that unsightly building to use. I would add points for the Lederhosen. And pretty Dirndls would be nice, too. Tell all of us progressives about this fundraiser. I want to hear Howard Dean scream like a hawk.

  11. Posted August 8, 2005 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    …and before someone corrects my German spelling, I just realized (thanks to Shanster) that I incorrectly referred to the traditional Germanic male’s leather pants as “Liederhosen”; this would roughly translate as “Song pants”, which is an interesting idea but nonetheless meaningless.

    I also like “Leiderhosen”, which I think would mean “Pants of sorrow.”

  12. john galt
    Posted August 8, 2005 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    will there be oompah music? A beer garten is a great place for “progressives” to gather and discuss politics, I can think of a prominent group that formed a political party in Munich at a beer hall. (Hofrahause)

  13. Posted August 8, 2005 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    john, you’re really putsching it with that comment.

  14. Posted August 9, 2005 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Hey Brett, just thought I’d address a couple of points for clarification.

    1. Lederhosen?
    2. Our original intent was to open our brewpub in Depot Town rather than Ann Arbor 10 years ago. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anyone willing to risk serious investment dollars on a couple of 28 year-olds with no experience opening a vanture in Ypsilanti. Now that we have a track record, a “proven brand” as they say in the biznis, and a bank willing to provide a substantial percentage of our start-up financing, we’re finally able to do the project we want where we want.
    3. I think the biggest hurdle Dave and Mike have encountered in trying to get a brewery going at the Frog Island location is financing. They found a really cool building, but it has huge rennovation needs. Even if the city were to waive the parking requirement, they would still need to satisfy state building code requirements and the BATF (the licensing agent for microbreweries) also has many site requirements.

    Unfortunately, there are many city, county, state, and federal agencies that can drown a project like theirs (or ours) in a sea of bureaucratic requirements.

    In the end I think they’ll get it done and we’ll get it done and with or without cute little leather shorts it will be really fucking awesome to have a little brewery row right here in Ypsi!

  15. Posted August 9, 2005 at 3:02 pm | Permalink


    thanks for responding to my comments. I wish you and yours the best of luck with the endeavor, and as I said I never meant to criticize your plans or intentions.

    Since you’re a resident of Ypsilanti, you’re no doubt aware of some of the problems the city faces, and I don’t think you would claim that your microbrewery will be solving most of them, although this was how I felt some people were interpreting it.

  16. Posted August 9, 2005 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I think the coolness of a brewery speaks for itself, irrespective of how many jobs it may create or how much tax a municipality can gouge out of the owners and employees. (I am decidedly non-“progressive.”)

    Best of luck getting this off the ground, Rene. I’m a regular at Arbor (beer within walking distance is great, as Mark pointed out) and look forward to hoisting pints of your beer in Ypsi as well.

  17. Ken
    Posted August 9, 2005 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    I just wish it was there when *I* was in college!

  18. john galt
    Posted August 9, 2005 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    why do people live in michigan? You live in in a craptacular climate.. and your biggest city is detroit… Maybe there’s nice places but america is a big country.. move to some place better!

  19. Ken
    Posted August 9, 2005 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    All you have to do is see the many, many lakes and you will know why. They are not brown like they are in Georgia.

  20. john galt
    Posted August 9, 2005 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    yes but the snow, its fun for a week or so, but I can’t imagine living in darkness most of the year and having my cars eaten by the salt… I could see it if I worked on a ship.. but I’d even find the (boring) midwest preferable to the deluge that is the upper north.. Of course I might not have seen the nice parts when I was there.. Just been to detroit and thats a hell-hole. Can you guys link to points of interest? (The casino doesn’t count). Its nice to live within easy driving range of the beach or New Orleans, 1 hr drive to the mtns… 2 hrs drive to the plains.. 3 hrs drive to the swamp (okefonokee).. and islands off the coast.. Most of our lakes are sorta brownish, but they’re also 85+ degrees in the summer.. Don’t have to wear a wetsuit to go swimming. (In tennesee the rivers are emerald green.. but thats caused by farm runoff I think).. Its always fun to be swimming in a river and see a half-eaten watermelon float down stream.

  21. Anonymatt
    Posted August 9, 2005 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    It’s too fucking hot down South in the summer. I’d rather deal with an excessively cold winter than an excessively hot summer. Especially if the lakes are 85+ degrees, whether brown or not.

    But, hey, other people like it the other way around. That neither surprises me or bothers me.

    Please note that the subject of the post is a bar you can walk to. When I’ve visited Georgia, people have had to drive everywhere. That’s no good for drinking, or at least much less good.

  22. Posted August 9, 2005 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    I think you get a healthy respect for the seasons when you suffer through the winters, and even then they’re not ridiculously bad.

    Some other pluses of living in Michigan: Few giant bugs, 2 hour drive to Cedar Point, 4-5 hour drives to “real” big cities (Chicago, Toronto), If you like year-round outdoor activies, there’s plenty to do (once you get past the sprawl).

    Back to the main topic: The arrival of any new place that brews beer in the area is great news. I recently “rediscovered” Depot Town after the beer fest, so a brewery/beergarden/etc. there will be great, as it’ll be one of the closer places to visit. (The Dearborn area is severly lacking fresh beer)

  23. Anonymatt
    Posted August 9, 2005 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and without Motown (Detroit), there probably never would have been “Beach Music.”

  24. mark
    Posted August 9, 2005 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Brett, I’m sorry if I gave you, or anyone else, the impression that this new beer garden would solve the economic problems brought on by the Water Street boondoggle, the closing of the Visteon plant, and everything else. That wasn’t my intention. Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not a moron… I just think that entrepreneurial endeavors, regardless of the number of jobs they produce, should be encouraged

  25. mark
    Posted August 9, 2005 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    As for why I live in Michigan… just two words – Fresh Water.

    The red states will be dust in another few decades. Mark my words.

  26. Posted August 10, 2005 at 12:16 am | Permalink


    I think I’ve already clarified my position, and it didn’t entail anyone being a moron.

    I realize i may be coming off as a cynic, but my personal feelings about the situation in ypsilanti have grown increasingly dire. I saw this particular business as representing a ‘want’ vs. a ‘need’; which is to say that while (as you well know) I may on occasion ‘want’ beer, the fact is that this is a luxury compared to things like decent affordable housing, walkable shopping options (for essential items), a sense of safety, a sense of community, and I might also add employment opportunities.

    A small-scale microbrewery, a new coffeehouse, an indian restaurant, a candy store, etc, aren’t going to improve these things in ypsilanti, *unless* there’s a hundred such businesses, in which case- we’ve suddenly turned into ann arbor.

    It’s a pretty fine line to walk, I know, but my point was simply that by bringing up things like the tax base and employment in your initial post, I felt it was putting a hair too much weight upon the Greff’s more modest plans.

    Besides, I’ve always had a secret desire to be a troll on your blog anyway.

    Mr. Galt,

    I agree with some of your general conclusions about Michigan, but protest your specific arguments, especially the issue of the seasons. I personally adore cold weather and upon relocating here, counted it as the one saving grace of the state. I have, however, been greatly disappointed, finding the winters milder than they were in northern ohio (ypsi is too far inland to get the lake effect I was familiar with), and the summers unpleasantly warm.

    As Greg said above, though, the changing seasons are a wonderful thing that makes you appreciate each one all the more, and I feel this also means that, just like a well-planned funeral service, each one needs to last just slightly longer than you really want it to, for the effect to be…well, effective.

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