ann arbor news covers last night’s forum

Here’s the article that’s running in this afternoon’s “Ann Arbor News”:

Ideas for Ypsilanti Business District
Ypsivotes group sponsors a talk about downtown
Friday, November 03, 2006
News Staff Reporter

Imagine downtown Ypsilanti bustling with shoppers, teeming with residents, full of stores and offices, easy to navigate and well promoted.

That is the vision of about 100 residents, students and merchants who gathered at Eastern Michigan University’s College of Business on Thursday to find ways to improve the struggling district. The area includes several blocks of empty storefronts and vacant upper floors, and merchants often complain about the lack of visitors and the fast moving vehicle traffic.

“There is a lot of pride in downtown Ypsilanti, but there isn’t a lot of foot traffic,” said Paul Shemon, co-owner of the Congdon Ace Hardware store long Pearl Street. “We need to get more destination stores downtown and we need to provide incentives for those businesses to survive.”

The meeting was the first step of a campaign by Ypsivotes to bring all parties in the city together to find solutions to improve downtown. The nonpartisan group organized a successful mayoral debate this summer and is now planning several public meetings on topics ranging from poverty and crime to local economic development.

“This is the beginning of a longer dialogue … about issues that matter to us,” said Amanda Edmonds, one of the organizers. “And we need to keep the energy going.”

Participants reviewed downtown history, listened to testimonies on failures and successes in downtown and presented a wish list of stores they like to see in the district, including a bookstore, office supply store, grocery store, bakery and ethnic restaurants.

Peter Rinehart, owner of Bombadill’s coffee house along Michigan Avenue, said most of the stores and services on the wish list already exist in the district, but people are not aware of them.

“It’s all here and what we need to do is get people involved,” Rinehart said. “There are a lot of people who care about this town.”

Jennifer Albaum, a former downtown businesses owner, said retail space downtown is too large for small businesses, and most buildings require months of renovations, which are time-consuming and expensive. Also, businesses need to find a way to convince EMU students that downtown is not too far from the campus, she said.

Shemon said the city ought to offer tax incentives to new business, and landlords should also lower rent in the first a few months to allow new businesses to survive.

“Businesses must make a profit and if they don’t, they are not going to survive,” Shemon said.

James Marks, owner of VG Kids, a printing business along Michigan Avenue, said having a business that is local is not enough – it has to be good and meet the needs of the community. “It’s a matter of style and quality,” he said.

David Curtis, owner of Pub 13 and Club Divine along Washington Street, said in addition to luring stores and businesses for daytime traffic, landlords should develop second floors into lofts and offer more residential space downtown to increase the nighttime traffic.

He said his restaurants attracted between 500 and 800 people on weekends a few years ago and now they attract twice that number. He is also developing the first floor of another building on the corner of Washington Street and Michigan Avenue into a restaurant.

“There are lot of good things going on in downtown,” he said. “With all of us working together … downtown can continue to grow and be vibrant.”

For more information on the meeting or future events, visit

Khalil E. Hachem can be reached at or 734-482-3225.

Sounds like something might actually be happening here in Ypsilanti…

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  1. mike_1630
    Posted November 3, 2006 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    This is a great article :)

  2. egpenet
    Posted November 3, 2006 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    I liked the article, too. Khalil is getting to know us very well, and his reporting is quite good.

    I wrote him with notes from the Riverside Neighborhood meeting regarding Hope Clinic. I’d like to see him cover that story, as well.

    Elsewhere on the blog, I suggested “shaming” downtown landlords who have dilapidated buildings for rent and for sale. I know people at the meeting sugested financial help for the landlords in the form of tax abatements.

    Woah, there!

    Throw money at people who have blighted the city for 23 years … no way!

    Give them 60 days to clean up or get out. Otherwise, I’d propose to publicize who they are, where they live and shame them out of town on a rail. No more giveaways. Giving them $$$ is nuts!

  3. Sam
    Posted November 3, 2006 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Mark, congratulations to you and Amanda and all the other members of YpsiVotes on putting on a great event.

  4. leighton
    Posted November 3, 2006 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Did anyone notice the note on Fast Eddie’s door (on Mich. Av.) about him needing a new place and to “save downtown business”?

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