the ypsilanti property swap

Well, it looks like it’s almost a done deal. According to the “Ann Arbor News,” the city of Ypsilanti has agreed to swap a few 99-year property leases with Eastern Michigan University. Here’s a clip from the “News” explaining the terms of the agreement:

Eastern Michigan University wants to make its campus more aesthetically pleasing and pedestrian-friendly, and the city of Ypsilanti wants to add more parking spaces for downtown visitors.

So the city and the university announced on Tuesday a plan to convert a city street near campus into a pedestrian mall and give the city additional parking downtown.

The city will lease College Place to EMU at $1 for 99 years to convert the small street into a pedestrian area. And the university will lease the North Washington Street parking lot to the city at $1 a year for 99 years to provide 60 additional parking spaces in downtown. The plan also includes converting a small portion of Perrin Street into two-way street…

So, what do you think? Assuming it passes the City Council and EMU’s Board of Regents, will this be a creative “win/win” for all parties involved or another colossal blunder? I guess only time (99 years) will tell… I haven’t had the time to start digging around yet (and I haven’t been to a City Council meeting in a long, long time), but I’d be interested to know what exactly the University means by “pedestrian mall,” and what the actual boundaries are… Are we talking about College Place on both sides of Cross, or just on the University side? Does it including the old Credit Union building and any other property, or is it just the street itself that we’re talking about? I suppose it’s conceivable that EMU could develop some of the property (assuming this includes College Place north of Cross) for retail, and keep it on the tax rolls. I suspect, however, that now that it’s in the University’s hands, we’re not likely to see any revenue from it. So, I’m not sure what we’re really getting in exchange for the garbage-filled parking lot across the street from the all-nude strip joint. (Sorry for the snark, but I’ve never liked that parking lot.) On the face of it, it doesn’t sound like such a good deal to me. But, if giving EMU the power to develop that plot as they see fit leads to happier students, and higher student enrollement and retention, and if it gets more students crossing over to the other side of Cross Street and entering into our downtown business district, then it’s absolutely a good deal.

So, what do you think?

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33 Comments

  1. tommyspangler
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Mark – EMU wants to simply close the street in front of Pease to thru traffic. Nothing more from what I understand. On the surface, sounds like a good idea … although the Water street Project sounded like a good idea at one point as well!!

  2. Ted Glass
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    This is only tangentially tied to the subject here, but what if, instead of having a moratorium on large events in the City, we had a moratorium on churches, non-profits and University expansion? At the current rate that property is dropping off the tax rolls, we’ll be close to 50% non-taxable before you know it. It doesn’t seem sustainable.

    Couldn’t we have church licenses like we have liquor licenses?

  3. ol' e cross
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    The project would end at Cross. The University already owns all the surrounding land so no taxable land would be lost. The city would only lose the parking meter revenue from the spaces on the street.

    I

  4. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    The student perspective on the project, from the Eastern Echo:

    …Perhaps it is odd for a publication so often seen as liberal on campus to call for fiscal discipline and monetary conservatism, but while we generally support efforts to improve campus, we feel that the student body cannot afford to endorse any project without a direct and demonstrable benefit to the students, especially as so many needs go unmet and our cost of attendance rises ever higher. The administration may feel foolish fripperies are worth the money, but we do not. ..

    The whole piece can be found here:

    http://www.easternecho.com/cgi-bin/story.cgi?31399

  5. Brian R
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I only comment on serious matters such as this on Arbor Update.

    The City will, however, lose $5K per year in road money because the two blocks or so of College Place that will close will no longer be roads and therefore will no longer be eligible for these funds. That’s a half a million dollars over the life of the lease, but that’s a little misleading and even I wouldn’t spin it that way.

    When you consider the kind of luck the community has had with long term leases like the 99 year lease on the Kresge building and the long-term contract with Detroit on water, you’d have to wonder why we’d entertain such a proposal. If we’d just agree to a permanent land swap, the City would at least have the flexibility of selling off the portion of the Pearl Street lot for development some day.

    It should be noted that the parking lot in question (i.e. across from Deja Vu) is owned by three groups right now; the AATA, EMU, and the City. I believe EMUs parking spots are located at the north of the lot along North Adams.

    Finally, with EMU building their new student union on the other side of campus, this pedestrian mall may not get much use unless EMU actually builds an outdoor stage attached to Pease Auditorium that is being kicked around.

    I think EMU gets the better end of this deal, but I will reserve my final judgement until the year 2105.

  6. Ted Glass
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    According to the Echo, the city has also agreed to pay for the destruction of the street. I wonder how much that will cost.

    http://www.easternecho.com/cgi-bin/story.cgi?11452

  7. Brian R
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    The funds to pay for demolition may come from the road bonds we passed a few years ago. College Place has not been resurfaced and the water mains have not been replaced. This will allow the YCUA to complete that work, but the City will not have to spend the money to resurface the street.

  8. Hillary
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    The current deal is certainly better than the one two years ago when the City tried to give EMU the land for nothing.
    http://seat.defcode.com/index.php/2004/07/04/ypsilanti_land_grant_via_secret_vote

  9. murph
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    It’s not a project I was involved in, so don’t look to me for details, but I believe some reconfiguration of Perrin is going to happen to carry the traffic that’s currently on College Place.

    As for the City “paying for the destruction of the street” that Ted mentions, as I understand it, the options were for the City to tear up the pavement and rebuild the street, or for the City to tear up the street and EMU to do the rest, with MDOT non-motorized transportation funding involved somewhere in there. So I don’t have an answer as to how much it will cost, but it’ll be a lot less out of the City’s pocket than the alternative.

    Brian Vosburg, the DDAs’ Director, can probably answer more questions.

  10. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    So, speaking of the credit union building at the corner of College Place and Cross, does anyone know what’s going on with it? Is it owned by the University now, or are they renting it? Are there long term plans.

    And, absolutely, Hillary, I remember when you and Steve broke the story about the secret plan to give it away.

  11. ol' e cross
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    EMU owns the old credit union (College Place and Cross).

  12. ol' e cross
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I think what Brian R said about the location of the new 165,000 ft Student Union will impact W. Cross businesses more than what is really just a million-dollar-welcome-mat that EMU envisions for Cross/College. Who’s going to take a long walk across campus to dine at Golden Wall or Jimmy John’s when there’s a Panda Express and Subway nestled in the new union?

    According to the city tax site, the campus Taco Bell in McKenny pays no Ypsi tax. The Taco Bell off-campus (Ecorse Rd.) paid about $15,000 in city tax last year (personal&property). EMU, however, gets very good lease money from on-campus chains and, at least in some cases, a percent of sales. (Ypsi does have a Starbucks, it’s in Pray-Harrold.)

  13. ol' e cross
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    So I had a moment to check on Brian R’s blog and it appears that
    instead of scrutinizing pressing public concerns, he’s been reduced to self-engrandizing defenses of his public image.

    I knew the opiate of power would despoil his once vital voice, I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

    At first, I was hopeful when I saw he still visited this humble blog, but now realize it’s more likely that the above comments were just submitted by one of his many, fresh-faced
    interns
    .

  14. egpenet
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    As a resident within walking distance of the West Cross Stree business district, I urge thee WC DDA to develop that little corridor with businesses that appeal to the several hundreds of us who live 24/7 in the neighborhood, as well as the students, and those who traverse that climb up toward the water tower eeach and every day. We’ll keep you busy if you come up with something (products/services /entertainment that has family/young adult appeal). Don’t sweat the little stuff like the new Union … that’s for undergrads and poor staff who get paid next to nothing and can only afford pizza.

  15. murph
    Posted September 29, 2006 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    As a resident within *sight* of that business district, I have to say I find the area’s reputation as the red-headed stepchild of Ypsilanti’s business community undeserved. I will happily state my affections for Golden Wall (excellent vegetarian selection), Eagle’s Market (“Michigan beer sold here!”), Cross Street Books, Town Cafe, La Fiesta Mexicana, and Double Eagle at the least.

    I admit to not patronizing the tanning salon(s – there are three within a few blocks) on a regular basis, but that Ballard-to-Perrin stretch definitely has plenty to offer as is! A few missing links filled in, and I’d be a happy neighbor.

  16. Mark H.
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    This deal may or may not be bad for the city, but it is bad for EMU. It will most likely create a huge nearly always empty public space, a so called pedestrian mall with not much reason for pedestrians to go thru, except to get to the parking lot by Pease Auditorium.

    So why is EMU pushing it, and willing to spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to remove the pavement and create plants, etc? (The figure of $300K sticks in my memory but I am not sure of the figure; I think it was reported in the Eastern ECHO).

    Here’s why: years ago, EMU’s upper management hired a consulting firm to do a Master Plan for the campus, and this is part of the plan. The firm had no ties to campus, seems to have gotten no input from body who actually works on the campus, and was paid big $. The plan was also used in early 2004 by the now ousted, but handsomely paid off, President Sam Kirkpatrick to deflect criticism from his presidential mansion, which was then nearing completion. The plan was presented at, if memory serves, a March 2004 Board of Regents meeting, the very time demands for Sam’s resignation were at their peak (and about to bear fruit).

    This campus master plan is a disaster, yet the upper Administration is still committed to it. Why? They lack the imagination to revisit decisions made by their predecessors. One of its features is the eventual removal of Rackham, a distinctive building that, when it opened nearly 70 years ago, was one of the first facilities ever built to train special education teachers; instead of building on EMU’s proud history, this master plan seeks to obliterate it. Another feature of the plan is the fantasy of creating a “west campus” that is linked and inseparable from the real campus. What is the “west campus”? The president’s house and the convocation center. Yeah, the university property with no classes, no faculty, and almost no students.

    It is stupid to take a very busy, very useful street, College Place, which is one of the most frequented access points to the campus, and spend a lot of resources on converting it to a “mall” when the other nearby open pedestrian spaces are never crowded. This would be stupid even if resources were abundant, and they aren’t. Among the likely results will be a space that women will feel unsafe in at night (as there will be no traffic on the formerly busy College Place), as well as a terrible bottle neck on Perrin Street, just east of the Pease Street parking lot. Expanding Perrin will take out a lot of trees, create too much traffic right by apartment buildings, make getting from town to campus and vice versa harder and slower, and probably reduce the number of parking spots in the area. All this for the sake of creating a “pedestrian mall” next to Pease hall and its large parking lot! Smart, eh? Brought to you by the same gang that built University House and said it cost half of what it really cost, and violated state laws to build it.

    EMU could spend the money elsewhere in ways that would help students, instead of wasting it on this ill conceived project. And oh yeah — the road is in terrible shape on College Place now, but only because EMU’s desire to get control of the street caused the city, a few years ago, to avoid, wisely, resurfacing it with the rest of the streets. If not for this bad plan, it would have been resurfaced.

    Council and the Board of Regents should vote this down.

  17. mark
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Thank you all for filling in the blanks. I think, given all the evidence, I’m against the plan…

    Now, I’d like to know more about the franchises on campus and how they’re contributing, or not contributing, to the the local tax base. Here, for those of you who didn’t catch it, is Ol’ EC’s comment on the subject:

    According to the city tax site, the campus Taco Bell in McKenny pays no Ypsi tax. The Taco Bell off-campus (Ecorse Rd.) paid about $15,000 in city tax last year (personal&property). EMU, however, gets very good lease money from on-campus chains and, at least in some cases, a percent of sales. (Ypsi does have a Starbucks, it’s in Pray-Harrold.)

    If it’s true (and I suspect that it is), I’d like to know whether of not alternate models exist elsewhere.

  18. murph
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised to see that on-campus restaurants pay no personal property tax. Not that PP pays much – I think the average restaurant in town probably has about $10k in taxable PP – but I was expecting something at least non-zero. I wonder if that’s because the PP is considered to be University property (like the building), or if it’s just a legislative tax island.

  19. Brian R
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Two prominent Depot Town establishments each paid less than $500 in personal property taxes for their summer 2006 taxes. A downtown coffee shop paid less than $100. The average is far less than $10K as suggested above.

    If you focus on that stuff, you’re focusing on the wrong things.

  20. edweird
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    First time post. I’ve been reading you for as long as I’ve owned property in Ypsi (1/27/06). Thanks for helping me get reaquanted with Ypsi after 7 years in A2. Nice site Mark.

    On to the subject at hand. This whole idea is silly for most of the reasons above. On the surface it seems like a good idea. The street is in terrible condition and has been for as long as I can remember. Turning it into a mall seems like a good idea if EMU pays for the construction. And as a former student who liked to walk to campus, I never really liked the car traffic through that area. But, Perrin is the only other option for car traffic and that’s not a real pleasant thought. And I really think the city is asking for far to little $$$. It’s token. What can you buy for $2 per year? Meh. I’d like to see the whole thing planned out better with a bit more thought put into it from both sides (EMU and the city) before I’d feel good about this.

  21. murph
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Brian – note that my $10k was taxable personal property *value*, not pp tax *revenue*.

    My point was that the personal property tax distinction between on- and off-campus restaurants is pretty small. Maximizing property tax revenue twenty bucks at a time is a good way to miss the forest for that one leaf on that tree over there.

  22. ol' e cross
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    For those persitent readers, always assume that if OEC cares enough to post after dark (That’d be around 3 p.m. in Michigan) he’s had too much to drink.

    That said, I concur with everything Mark H wrote about the wisdom of this project for EMU. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d think refurbished classrooms would swell EMU’s enrollments more than a welcome sign at cross and perrin.

    Murph, I too was surprised about the PPT for on-campus eats. Given that the on-campus bookstore & mail shop pay modest city PPT, I jump to the conslusion that the University “owns” the grills and deep fryers so that Taco Bell and others can avoid any tax.

    And, just for the record, I cast my uncompromising support for Brian R in the November elections. Last year, he gave my daughter a CD of Gerald Ford’s presidential address, and he has held my heart/mind/soul/balls in the cusp of his hand ever since.

  23. mark
    Posted September 30, 2006 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    I’ll have to reconsider my support of Mr. Robb.

  24. BVos
    Posted October 2, 2006 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Here’s the details on a few questions raised in the discussion (Murph can vouch for the accuracy of my info):

    -Why a 99 year lease for EMU and the City? The city is able to keep a significant amount of federal raod money by leasing College Place and maintaining responsibility for Forest instead of giving them to EMU. Giving title outright for the lot and College Place/Forest was explored, but in the end leases were in the best fiscal interest of the city. Steps are being taken to ensure that things are not “forgotten” as was the case with the Kresge Bldg.

    -Perrin St. status
    Perrin will become a two way street with no on-street parking. This is a separate but related change and will happen even if College Place/Perrin doesn’t. The traffic light situation will be figured out in the engineering stages of the project.

    -The old Credit Union building is currently being used as a psychology clinic by the EMU psych dept/staff.

    -According to the West Cross master plan College Place north and south of W. Cross is supposed to be closed. North of W. Cross for a pedestrian mall and south of W. Cross for a new street-fronted building with a parking lot in the rear. So this project is essentially part of the master plan.

    -As far as the validity/background of the Master Plan, I wasn’t around when that was drafted and don’t know the history of it, but it does have some influence on development in the area. It also has some quasi-legal standing.

    -Regarding the mix of businesses on W. Cross, the Depot Town DDA (which includes W. Cross) is always open to volunteers and/or folks interested in opening a good business in the area. You see what the market is currently sustaining. If you want to correct this market failure, you’ll need to be a part of the solution.

  25. Brian R
    Posted October 2, 2006 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    At the August 22nd council meeting, Bill Bohlen said the City would lose $3,600 in Act 51 money per year if College Place were to close. In addition, the City would lose almost $1,000 in Act 51 money by making one block of West Forest a local instead of major street.

    Unless I’m misunderstanding what he said, the City loses that money regardless of whether we lease it or give title outright because West Forest gets downgraded whether or not there is a lease or trade in place and College Place is no longer a street therefore the State doesn’t give us gas tax for a pedestrian mall.

    In that case, what is the financial drawback of a trade?

    You can watch the video from the meeting HERE.

    Discussion begins at the 1 hour 45 minute mark.

    Try and learn that from council meeting minutes.

  26. BVos
    Posted October 2, 2006 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have the time to go over the video posted above. However my understanding of the street funding is that the lease would keep the losses from happening, at least as far as Forest goes.

  27. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted October 2, 2006 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    As long as that amount does not exceed $1 per year.

  28. Mark H.
    Posted October 3, 2006 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    All these posts are interesting comments on the College Place conversion idea. But is the idea itself a good one? Who will it serve? Nobody.

    And none of us, i believe, have addressed the question of the bus route that now uses College Place. There’s a bus stop on College Place, and that bus brings lots of people to campus. Is this bus route going to be redirected to tiny little Perrin Street? If so, bad for traffic there, and bad too for the people taking that bus, as it will mean that their closest stop to campus is at least a block away from where it is now.

    EMU & Ypsi both need greater ease of access. This College Place plan will do a lot of harm in restricting ease of access.

    And it’s a well established fact that pedestrian malls do NOT generate activity. They can, at best, support nearby activities.
    None of the nearby activities that happen on campus or on Cross Street near College Place are in need of greater open space (especially open space right next to the large Pease parking lot).

    The plan involves nothing but a waste of public resources, no matter whose public resources it may be: EMU’s, the city’s, or MDOT’s.

  29. ol' e cross
    Posted October 3, 2006 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I still don’t know, part of me simply finds it hard to resist the idea of MDOT tearing up a road and replacing it with trees for once. The catharsis of that alone may be worth a million bucks to me.

  30. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted October 3, 2006 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Anything that hastens the descent of young coeds from campus to the Vu is a good thing. One less street to cross is a good thing. Ultimately, I’d like to see one long, greased channel between the new Union and the pole on the main stage. (Much better than the Olympic luge.)

  31. ol' e cross
    Posted October 3, 2006 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Today’s Focus EMU has the clearest rendering of the proposal I’ve been able to find online. Mr. Buttons will be happy to see that the “Lube Luge” appears to cut diagonally through Pease Park in perfect trajectory for the Vu.

  32. ol' e cross
    Posted October 16, 2006 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Dead horses are the easiest to beat, so, this is from today’s Eastern Echo (10/16). Some faculty were picketing the governor on Saturday and told the Echo:

    …EMU psychology professor Alida Westman said. “There is currently a $1.4 billion beautification project, half of which will be paid by EMU, in process. It will take away the parking lot at Pierce [Hall], and my fear is the campus is becoming less and less accessible.” The project referred to is the College Place Park, which was unveiled last month at a city hall meeting.

    Dang. The costs have already ballooned to the billions and now they’re taking out the parking lot. Either the Echo misquoted Westman on every point or the faculty rumor mill has been a-churning.

  33. Teddy Glass Esq.
    Posted October 16, 2006 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    You would have thought that the board would have learned its lesson after having squandered $8 trillion of taxpayers’ money to annex the Galapagos islands for the EMU presidential retreat.

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