is ypsilanti business-unfriendly?

My recent post on Ypsilanti Township’s plans to create their own nice, new, clean downtown Ypsilanti led to an interesting and wide-ranging discussion in the comments section. After a lengthy exchange on the merits of having a smut-filled red light district in Ypsi, the conversation turned to the red tape involved in starting a business inside the city limits. Regardless of whether or not it’s really warranted, the perception of many is that Ypsilanti is not business-friendly. Well, my friend Jennifer, who once ran a shop on Michigan Avenue called Henrietta Fahrenheit, left a comment in the thread regarding her experience as a downtown merchant, and I thought that it belonged up here on the front page. Here’s what Jennifer had to say about rehabbing a space on Michigan Avenue, working with the Historic District Commission, and all the rest of it:

…For those who don’t know me, I’m Jennifer, owner of the former Henrietta Fahrenheit (HF), a retail store that was at 126 West Michigan Avenue (downtown).

I’d like to comment on my own experiences:

1. I had no problem with the Historic District Commission, even though they rejected my first sign application. Once I got over my disappointment, I redesigned my sign and felt that in the end, it was a much better design than the original one. It passed at the next meeting.

2. I only needed one inspection before getting my C.O. This is because I am a list-maker, a rule-follower, and had a landlord who knew the process and made important, valuable suggestions (like getting the inspector out to the property PRE-rehab to let me know which things were of the greatest concern and to answer questions). E.G.P. suggests that up-front planning is key. He’s right!

3. Getting a business open and running is very different than maintaining it or making it profitable. Despite all my up-front planning, PR for my own business and for Ypsilanti’s downtown, Henrietta Fahrenheit’s appeal to professionals and young people, it didn’t make it. There just weren’t enough of the HF customers to support the business. Not in Ypsilanti and not in Ann Arbor. (I thought moving my business to Ann Arbor, where most of its customers were coming from, would help, but it was a wash. Sales increased, but so did rent at the same rate). In the end, I was under-capitalized and lacking the critical mass you need in retail for quick turns. My products were too niche-oriented for this area.

4. I will say that getting my space in Ypsilanti ready for business cost me 10x the amount it cost me to get the Ann Arbor space ready for business. Ten times the amount! Ypsilanti’s problems (in my opinion) are:

A. Lack of move-in ready space. Paint and personal touches should be the responsibility of the renter, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Had I had a white box to move into (like I did in Ann Arbor), I would’ve had a lot more capital to work with.

B. Excessively large space (I only needed about 500-800 sq. ft., but couldn’t find anything available that was less than 2,000 sq. ft.). Who can afford rent on all that space if they don’t need it?

5. Depot Town is like a smaller Ann Arbor in that it’s an EATertainment district. Straight-up retail in Depot Town is just as difficult, despite the increased foot-traffic that the restaurants bring there. That part of town is difficult to find, difficult to navigate, and very, very small. Huron Street (again, as e.g.p. suggests) is the link between downtown and Depot Town and needs a good mix of retail, too.

6. Someone asked me once, “What can I do to support your business if nothing there appeals to me?” My answer, “Shop the stores next to me and next to them. If they survive, my chances of surviving are better.” When I moved, the only two other young retailers on Michigan Avenue had already closed months before. (Young = not Puffer Reds, a successful business for at least 25 years.)

7. I NEVER saw DejaVu as an impediment to my business. Its location (on a side street in an “entertainment district”) is semi-obscure, its hours didn’t really conflict with mine, and its management/personnel were nothing short of friendly and welcoming when I opened HF. I agree that using DejaVu as obstruction to business is too easy a cop-out.

Thanks for your time and stamina in reading my long comment. I miss being downtown. I can’t afford to re-do it.

Regardless of whether or not it’s true, there is a very real perception out there that it’s difficult to do business in Ypsilanti. So, what do we do about it? How do we change the perception? And, if it’s not just perception, how do we change the rules so that we’re on more equal footing with the Township, with whom, regardless of what we’re being told, we are competing?

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106 Comments

  1. Amanda
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    I just needed to write somewhere in these downtown business threads that I think we could *REALLY* benefit from a burrito joint. I think I just crave black beans a lot, and while getting something from Dos Hermanos and heating it in the microwave at the office is okay, it doesn’t compare. I’d like to lobby the Dos Hermanos brothers to rehab the place next to them and open a little lunch and take out spot. Wouldn’t that be perfect? They could use the kitchen/deli counter facilities they already have.

    As someone with a downtown office, the lunchtime options are so very limited– love Dalat, and bagel or soup from Bombadill’s, and Tap Room Annex (though no one is really there duing the day) actually can do a nice chicken sandwhich… and there are a few other places, yes, but what about a burrito place, or sushi, or a falafel/middle eastern lunch place?

  2. mark
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    The following were in an earlier thread. As they came after Jennifer’s comment, which I’ve reprinted here, I decided to move them over. -Mark

    Comment from: amused1
    Jennifer’s description of DT as an EATertainment area seems to be supported by the fact that Quinn’s Essentials is closing. The story was in the Monday Ann Arbor news cand can be found at:

    http://www.mlive.com/annarbor/stories/index.ssf?/base/business-5/1195486968230610.xml&coll=2

    Quite a blow to retail in DT.

    Comment from: John on Forest
    amused1

    I just read the article and I’m not sure the closing of Quinn’s Essentials is an indictment of DT. It was a successful business and had experienced 5%-7% growth, year over year, per the article. From what I could gather from the article, Quinn’s is not closing for economic reasons; but for more personal reasons of the Stassels (more time for family).

    Jennifer, thanks for the insight you gave us on HF.

    Comment from: amused1
    Hi John

    Yes, there were personal reasons, but the article also states that the gift show biz was much more lucrative for them. They said they could make “‘in two days (at a show) what we do in three weeks’ selling at the store.” So I kinda figure the rise in gift show sales had a lot to with the 5-7% annual increases.

    Comment from: egpenet
    Hillary:

    Crapola! Interior necessities like plumbing, etc. … paint ready walls … electrical … flooring … security … NONE of that is affected by HDC. We are STRICTLY interested in exterior, signage and what ever else we are chartered to do.

    Landlords who really want tenants should get their buildings ready, secure, up to code and ready for occupancy. The landlords may need to visit with us at the HDC, but the tenants should never have to worry about us, except for signage and signage lighting.

    You are full of very ripe polish sausage, my dear!

    Comment from: leighton
    http://leighton.livejournal.com/
    My notes from Historic Preservation courses in college are so old they are in the Smithsonian, so I may be wrong, but…

    If Ypsi is the proud host to one of the largest (“National”?) Historic Districts in the state, then don’t building and interior rehabs have to be done with familiarity of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and national historic preservation laws?

    And are these laws one or two too many pages for out of town landlords to give a crap about while they wait for the next real estate bubble?

    Comment from: name
    So, epg, seems that despite all the anti-Ypsi-city-gov’t propaganda (and general ill-will), Ypsi downtown is perhaps held back by: the ypsi down-town landowners, who expect their business tenants to do the work that they themselves are unwilling to do? See HF’s post about running a real business here. If a landlord isn’t willing to get a business property to “white box” state, how serious an owner are they? for example, we can look at the HF proptery— previously totally out of code, now fine- and no expense to the landlord. So it’s empty. why should the landlord care?

    Sounds like my post a couple up stating Ypsi is holding itself back has validity?

    Next we can start on all the landlords S of Cross Street who try to rent sh*tholes to criminals, and then blame the crime and empty (of respectable renters) rental properties on the city budget and poor law/crime enforcement.

    I’ll bet those same landlords are wetting themselves at the opportunity to avoid fixing up those crummy rentals, once ordinance enforcement is gone.

    Penny wise and pound foolish. Sums up Michigan in many way, let alone Ypsi.

    Comment from: name
    Leighton, when I looked up the craphole properties in Ypsi that are dragging all of us down, I was amazed (and disappointed) that many of them are locally owned. The train station poster aside.

    If you know of main, neglected business properties owned by out-of-towners, don’t give them their wished-for privacy, name them.

  3. John on Forest
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    amused1

    It hadn’t occured to me that the gift show biz might have been a big contributor to the 5-7%; but, you might be right.

    Still, my point was that Quinn’s was a successful business in DT and could have remained successful for some time.

    I agree that DT is largely a EATertainment attraction. It is for me and my family. We can walk down there for dinner and I get my hair cut there on occasional Saturday mornings. Gordons is great and my son takes drum lessons at Dennis’s. But when I go down there in the evening after work, all the retail stores are closed. I am of the opinion, although not a retail professional myself, that later hours would attract customers from among the people dining.

  4. John on Forest
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    leighton,

    The historic district ordinance in Ypsilanti, is as egpenet said. It was designed to maintain the historic architectural character in the district, from a street visual perspective. All other maintanence and rehabilitation of historic buildings (interior, structural, and mechanical) is only subject to standard codes.

  5. John on Forest
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Mark, I find it interesting to read all these comments and make my own. I find your blog to be a great place to get some of my ideas out for scrutiny. BUT – and I know the format of a blog doesn’t make this workable – it would be so much better if we could lay everyone’s ideas out together in a format where we could truely analize them.

    Take zoning ordinances in Ypsilanti, for example. Some seem to think they are wrong. Some seem to think they are probably ok. What is really needed is a way to examine them, line by line, as a group and then reach a consensus on which rules are ok and which need to be reworked, and reworked how.

  6. Posted November 23, 2007 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Local or out-of-town slum lords are all the same if they can equally profit from neglect. Though I agree that the local cannibals are very disappointing.

    It’s been years since I cared, but I remember a good portion of our empty buildings were sat on by speculators from Oakland County’s highest order of moneyed scum.
    (The Smith Furniture building at 15 South Washington? well,… http://ypsilantidda.org/properties seem to protect the sellers’ identity from serfdom casually perusing listings.)

    I know people have earlier discussed fining or seizing the property of owners who wait for their empty / disintegrating buildings to appreciate. Ignoring the legality of such actions in the US of A, it’d be fun to open than can to see how edible the worms look now.

  7. Posted November 23, 2007 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    So, if there are only restrictive building ordinances stopping property owners from creating white box interiors for small businesses, the local chapter of the Communist Party might get a few converts with property seizures on their minds?

  8. Posted November 23, 2007 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Ypsi’s historic district does not come under Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and national historic preservation laws? Guess we’re not “all that” and property owners have no excuses.

  9. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Leighton, no owner’s identity is hidden at cityofypsilanti.com. Click on top-right link “assessment and taxes.” It’s all there and is great fun. So much fun, that at one point, I had the great idea to take pix of the owner’s Ypsi properties, then take pix of their actual homes, and post them side-by-side. Good clean fun.

  10. Posted November 23, 2007 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    I shall sharpen the guillotine out back! We will soon be supplementing our leftovers with the brains of former real-estate speculators.

    Cross,
    Could you get pictures of their cars as well? I’m guessing there’s at least one Lexus (non-hybrid of course), and one Avalon with a “Cheney ’08” sticker.

  11. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    So, I tend to hang onto things I love. Wives, friends, boots, towns. After three repairs, I once had a shoesmith refuse to fix my boots a fourth time, on principle.

    When I moved to Ypsi, it was perfect. Bars, parks, buses, co-op, etc. and more empty storefronts than we have now. A rare mix of urban and country, affluence and poverty, grit and gravy, etc. Anyone who’s been here knows. The only thing I’ve lost since living here, and it was a big loss, was the freighthouse where all things Ypsi converged. There’s even been some surprising gains (Lukaw, CB, Gordon’s, CB, Rocket, CB, VG, CB, and more…)

    To me, empty storefronts are like scars or missing teeth, they add character, they convey a sense of struggle. The missing teeth make the the dangling teeth all the more appreciated.

    I’ll be candid. I don’t really want a “vibrant” downtown, be that a contrived fantasy sex stop, antique superstore or year-round santa’s villa. I don’t want to compete with Ann Arbor or pander to them. I want a mess of folks struggling but making due. I want to pay more for less. I want my old boots.

    But, cobblers, consumers and investors rarely want what I want, that’s okay, I’ve learned to deal, but I don’t feel like I’ll add much to this discussion because I don’t have much to say about how to make it better, since I fell in love with what it was.

    If any folk feel like answering, I would be curious what Ypsi wet-dream you’d like to see and why.

    P.S. I’ve been drinking.

  12. mark
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    I can see your point, OEC, and, to some extent, I feel the same way. I don’t mind the empty shops, especially if the alternative is for them to be full of corporate garbage. I don’t want for us to necessarily have a “successful” downtown, if that means getting bigger shops that pay more money to rent their spaces. I think Ann Arbor is losing itself right now because of just that. A lot of people, however, would say that they’re being wildly successful.

    Linette and I went back to Savannah not too long ago, and found our favorite restaurant closed. The whole block had gentrified. I believe a Rolex store was where Nita’s used to be. I hated it. The landlord, however, was probably thrilled.

    So, when I say that I want a successful business district, I don’t mean that I want to see Prada handbags hanging in our windows. As much as we need the revenue, I’d rather see a boarded up storefront. What I’d rather see is a complex ecosystem of high-quality locally-owned stores that deliver the kinds of goods that my family wants and needs. I’d love a burrito place, and a butcher, and a store that sells housewares. That’s my dream Ypsilanti.

  13. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Leighton, I can’t get the pix of cars, but, as opportunity has presented itself, I’ve been biting off small chunks of out-of-town owners’ foreskins for years. I have quite a collection, but don’t know what to do with it. Let me know if you want it and I’ll pass them onto Mark who can get it to you. (P.S., If anyone has Dahlman, I’ll trade you a half-dozen of my Chelsea-on-the-lakeAndrew Field’s).

    P.S. I’ve been drinking.

  14. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Mark, I concur. I want to see the great shops we have now succeed. If that means more shops will help them, I’m all for more shops. If that means more high-end shops will drive up rents so we lose what we got, I’d rather see a few empty storefronts. That’s me. I may be misguided. I am drunk. I should go.

  15. Amanda
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    are there models of communities starting a co-operative of people to buy (and invest in making vibrant) buildings in downtowns? wouldn’t that be great? figure out some shared core values– like some of the things many people mention in these threads– e.g. locally-owned business, filling niches for what we lack or build on what we’re already good at, sustainability, etc.– then we can just communally buy these buildings, bit by bit, and us good ol’ community capital and sweat to get them into white box condition– and try to recruit prospective business owners ourselves. maybe there’s some sort of by-law in the co-op that it’s not about long term ownership, but that once they’re looking good, have something in them that’s stable, etc, then we sell them, and use any profits to reinvest in the next one. but, in any sales agreement, make sure there’s a long term commitment to not skyrocketing rents when the market picks up, honoring long term leases from tenants, etc. maybe there’s some model of this?

    you know me (well, some of you do)– i’m the ‘take it by the horns and make it happen’ sorta person. so, let’s turn our talk into action and creat the community we want to see. i think a lot of us around here– mark included– are doing that in lots of ways… but maybe the ultimate way is to really take ownership ourselves. and, we should commend the owners of buildings downtown who *are* doing a great job investing in rehab and such. more piwer to them.

    maybe that model is starting our own cdc specifically around this sort of revitalization. the cdc’s in our area do different things– the depot town cdc will be focusing on parks/rec, et al, power inc. focuses more on individuals, i know of at least one church-based cdc on the southside, and gateway is an EDC i think. but, we don’t have a downtown or a commercia revitalization cdc. detroit has lots– doing both housing development/redevelopment and commercial redevelopment. i know a number of you who read this have much more experience with cdc’s in econ development, and i think your input would be great.

    but, i’m an advocate of the simplest level of organization that can effectively (from financial, legal, liability, and outcome perspectives) meet the goals– so maybe some other type of cooperative community-based investor structure would be easier.

    oh– and another idea ripe for adapting locally, that could help local businesses…. microfinancing loans. we could adapt the model of kiva here. it’s totally worth looking up.

  16. amused1
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    Speaking of business friendly… how’s the Shop Ypsi brochure coming along?

  17. MaryD
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    While doing some shopping this week at Quinn’s, a salesperson said that since they announced the closing, Quinn’s has recorded over $60,000 in sales (In a week and a half!). I overheard the comment, “If they had come before we wouldn’t be closing our doors”.
    I also remember the news article stating that the Strassels had been pouring their own resources into keeping things going. Sadly, it will be a big hole in DT.

  18. amused1
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Touching upon Steve P’s return on investment comments let’s take a look at 413 W. Michigan Ave. This is the multi storefront, mixed use space between TC Speakeasy and Bombadill’s. It’s currently on the market for $499K. That works out to about $23/sq ft. The building needs some rehabbing. Ok, looking through the front window I think the building needs the combined efforts of an entire season of Nip and Tuck and The Biggest Loser. Across the street at 408 W. Michigan Ave. (the space next to Bowerbird) is leasing for $10/sq ft. Doing the math, there appears to be little monitary incentive to buy and rehab 413 W Michigan Ave. As Mr. Pierce rightly said, businesses gotta make money.

  19. egpenet
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Returns on investments vqary from investment to investment and are caluclated differently for every investment class. There ARE investors and developers who look at the stages of devliopment within a community, gauge what’s happening, etc. and jump in or not. Commercial property is NOT like buying a home or even a duplex.

    413 needs A LOT of work. BUT … properly reconfigured inside, it could be making a gross profit quite quickly. Takes money, good design, smart procurement, and a fast and professional rehab team. Lots of possibilities there.

    amused1: $23/sq.ft. financed over time might be a real deal for a buyer, even when added to the reehab costs/sq.ft., versus $10/sq. + utilities + all your other business costs taken from every month’s gross profits to get to your net.

    leighton: Ypsilanti HDC DOES follow and IS chartered to enforce the Secretary of the Interior’s guidelines for preservation. If you’d like to do a museum-quality restoration of 413 W. Michigan, go for it, we won’t stop you.

  20. Posted November 24, 2007 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Heh, pointless historic preservation sounds fun, but I’ll leave it the wealthy Boomers when they’re done recovering from their latest restored-Harley accident.

    I have to defend the previous owners of the Elbow Room as the ones who did the early heavy lifting and initial renovation of the interior. A lot of the improvements you see today happened before the place became more palatable to the washed masses.

  21. Posted November 24, 2007 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    For the record, the HDC never stepped foot on the *inside* of my building to inspect, reject, or accept what I had done. Just the City Inspector.

    Jennifer

  22. todd
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    “Touching upon Steve P’s return on investment comments let’s take a look at 413 W. Michigan Ave. This is the multi storefront, mixed use space between TC Speakeasy and Bombadill’s. It’s currently on the market for $499K. That works out to about $23/sq ft.”

    I wouldn’t open a business in a building in Ypsi at $23/sq ft. if you held a gun to my head.

  23. todd
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and the obvious corollary to that is that at $10 a square foot, you’ve got something.

  24. John on Forest
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    todd,

    egpenet has it right. I’m not sure if the $23/sq ft is a flat calculation of $499,000 divided by the square footage of the property; but if it is and someone would lease it for $23/sq ft/month, it would be paid for in one month of occupancy [not counting rehabilitaion costs]. So if the $499k is financed over time, and an additional $1M in rehap costs are also financed [just picking a figure because I have no idea how much is needed], then at $10/sq ft/month rental [$499 divided by 23 yields about 20,000 sq ft space] then $20,000/month times 75 months would pay for the costs.

    If my calculations are right and if I had the money, I’d be into it in heartbeat. ASSUMING a tenet could be found for the 75 months.

    Obviously, theses are simplified calculations. I didn’t account for insurance costs and probably many other costs as well.

  25. todd
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    John,

    I think that you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying….

    What I’m saying is that I wouldn’t LEASE a building at $23 a square foot.

    I don’t know whether this is a Michigan thing or what, but rents don’t seem to relate to revenue opportunities very often in Ypsi and Ann Arbor.

    When we first opened our place, rent was in the single digits. If rent was much higher, we would never have moved here.

    Why would you open a shop at $20+ a square foot in one of the worst economies in the US? The rent doesn’t match either the risk or the opportunity for revenue.

  26. John on Forest
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    todd, I wasn’t missing your point at all.

    You missed my point: The rent wouldn’t be $23/sq ft. $10/sq ft rent would easily give the new property owner a good return on her investment. A more careful calculation might even put profitablilty possible at single digits.

  27. amused1
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    About four years ago I was asked if I wanted to join a small local consortium with plans to buy property downtown. These were people with years of experience in real estate, commercial and residential rental, marketing, retail design and operations. They pretty much covered the bases for your typical downtown mixed use property. Try as they might, they just couldn’t come up with a model that worked. It all came down to capitol and an acceptable timeline for ROI. It had nothing to do with the property being in an historical (or hyserical as some would say) district.

    I’d love to see something done with 213. I believe it holds a great deal of upside potential for the right investors. The financial reality is pretty grim though.

    Once investors secure the half mill to buy the place they’d have to cough up at least that in rehab costs to make it attractive to tenants. Pulling a number out of my behind, I’m thinking an easy 1.25 mill in start up costs (between purchase price and rehab). I suspect I’m lowballing the rehab costs but I really can’t say just what needs to be done to the property. The sq/ft cost has now broken the $50 mark and you’ve gotten little, if any, dollars back.

    You could, perhaps, lessen the initial rehab cost by focusing on one storefront at a time, leasing that as you continue to work on the others. But the whole place will eventually have to be brought up to code.

    There may be some cost savings if, as a single tax entity, you can share certain mechanicals – boiler/hvac, sewer, some electrical, etc. between the three storefronts. And though you can elect to buy a portion of the property, my still slightly turkey distended gut says the owner would push the sq/ft price up on the smaller parcel.

    So yeah, greedy or lazy or uncaring or absent or aging or disinterested landlords is likely part of the problem. A lack of municipal oversight most likely added to the problem. Fingering a cash strapped city for not condemning and assuming these properties strikes me as unrealistic. It’s not like the city had the cash to bring these places up to code. Images of a Water Street type hue and cry come to mind.

    I do pass that building the consortium was looking at and wish it could have worked out for me to be a proud part owner. Sigh.

  28. Posted November 24, 2007 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    John on Forest,

    The rehab costs of 413 W Michigan will be between $150 to $200 a square foot. That is in addition to the acquisition costs. If I remember 413 is about 21,000 feet so the rehab cost would be about $3 million. Even if you got it down to a bare bones $100/sf you are still talking about over $2.1 million in rehab costs. If you put in a restaurant, final costs would be closer to $4 million.

    What would your property taxes be on the building. Just after purchase, it jumps to $20,000 a year just for the vacant building. Taxes on a $2 million building, over $75,000 a year. $6,250 a month just for property taxes.

    So it gets back to investing $2.5 million in a building that once done will generate $15-20 a sf in Ypsi or spending the exact same money on the exact same building in Ann arbor and getting $25 to $30 a sf in rents and operating with a much lower vacancy rate in A2 with a MUCH higher level of foot traffic.

    Your property taxes are lower in Ann Arbor. Insurance and liability coverage, generally lower in A2. Cost of finance, lower in A2 because it is considered a better risk.

    Plus, in A2, you won’t get your tires slashed or your reputation slaughtered on the blog if you rented to a national coffee chain or suggested using a franchise for an Ice Cream shop {grin}.

    Hey, there is money to be made here in Ypsi and there are deals to be found. But I am pointing these things out because a lot of people don’t understand business, or finance, or debt service and just think if you put a for lease sign on a building, it will rent. It doesn’t work that way.

    The reason development is not happening is back to the original premise from the Eastern Leadership Group. Given that money is fluid and will move to the places where it will generate the greatest return, given all other things equal, cost of money, construction costs, acquisition costs, between taxes and City Hall policies, it is still far more costly to do business here in Ypsi than it is is in surrounding communities.

    So two choices, form our own partnerships and buy a building and rehab it. Get the government to streamline processes, costs, rules and regulations to give Ypsilanti a competitive advantage over our neighbor to entice investment into our community.

    I think we need to do both, I am will to invest my time and money in such a solution. Who else is willing to invest in Ypsilanti?

    Cheers!

    – Steve

  29. UBU
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I’d rather invest in severed unicorn heads, and I’m not planning on doing that either!

  30. egpenet
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    In all fairness, there needs to be a regard given to property rights and those past and present property owners who DID make an investment downtown, hung on as long as possible, are still hanging (sweeping, clearing snow and keeping the heat up to 55 so the walls don’t collapse).

    So very few building owners are neglectful on purpose. Probably none. Circumstance, economic times, poor maintenance, wholesale system failure, accidents … any number of causes can occur. The Thompson Block is NOT a typical case. Nonetheless, we need to show some respeect and give the owners some due.

    My personal suspicion is that downtown Ypsi wouldn’t be in the shape it’s in if the building owners had kept things up. What could have been routine wiring … now becomes a major electrical overhaul. A leak becomes an entire reroof, plus new floors throughout … etc. Pennywise … pound foolishness.

  31. John on Forest
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    My original calculation was off by a factor of 10. Not 75 months; but 7-1/2 months. Less than a year.

    Steve, at $15/sq ft, 21,000 sq ft would generate over $300,000 per month. But as you said the key is having paying renters.

  32. Posted November 24, 2007 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    John on Forest,

    Commercial rents is advertised on an annual basis. So the $300,000 is an annual rent, not monthly. Moreover, commercial leases are calculated on usable space, stairs, hallways ducts, support walls and the like are not calculated. So you can figure about 15% to 20% less for usable space.

    Plus, yeah I know, who wants to really learn this stuff and as the executive secretary up on the 4th floor of City hall once said, “What does Steve know he is just a computer guy.”, but here goes. You also have to factor in a vacancy rate, which is some percent of the building that you think will be vacant at any one point of time. That could be another 10 to 15%. In really bad times it could be as high as 20% but if you think that is your rate, you better have a sweet heart deal because that is a huge risk.

    Plus, yep there is more, you have to figure in the cost of the money to borrow or to pay a return back to your investors. That is 8 to 10% as well. Commercial mortgage rates are typically 2 to 3% more than what a homeowner pays.

    Plus you need to figure in taxes, insurance, repairs and maintenance and there is much more.

    I haven’t run real hard numbers on 213-217, so please don’t use this if you are seriously considering the building. But I think it was a 12 to 18 year return when I looked at it about a year ago. That was factoring possible OPRA’s and Historic Tax credits which are not guaranteed.

    But if you struggled getting a tenant in the first year, you were over 20 years, so the only way to move on this project is with an anchor tenant that is going to commit to a min 5 and preferably 10 year lease.

    Also there was the suggestion to renovate in pieces. Beside the fact that costs are 20 to 40% more to do it in steps, your current tenants will hate you for all the noise dust, and contractors in and out so plan on reducing your rents. Plus many costs like HVAC, stairs, elevators, fire suppression, and roof, can’t be done in steps so the biggest costs are going to be up front.

    For those that still haven’t dozed off, here is a good book on the subject.

    Bob McComb, Navigating Commercial Property Leases

    http://www.renavigator.com/

    Cheers!

    – Steve

  33. Mark H.
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    OK…let me see if i follow all this, as a non business person who nonetheless has for many years followed urban development issues closely….

    Ypsi has a huge competative disadvantages compared to nearby areas: higher taxes, less foot traffic, higher insurance, less certainity or probability of return, older buildings that need huge upgrades at great costs, less likelihood of tenants with long leases, etc. etc. Ypsi does not even, when the supermarket planning studies are done, have enough of a popullation with enough $, to warrent our own modern supermarket, in the city limits…

    In this situation, can local govt. do some things that make Ypsi more attractive to businesses? Yes, and that’s important, because this is where we can make choices with positive results.

    Can local govt. by its own initiative make the local economy zip along and grow fast? No — local govt. has not got that kind of power or that kind of deep pocket.

    But didn’t city hall try to do all those things for Water Street, make itself (govt.) the center of what was to be an economic revitalization of the whole city, by clearing some properties and getting a developer to come in and put up a huge project, all carefully done according to the city’s mandates and vision? So, oddly, Ypsi city hall has failed to do the little things that could realistically make Ypsi much more attractive to some businesses, and more viable in a variety of ways, and yet city hall did undertake a kind of state-managed capitalist enterprise, Water Street. The Water Street plans have been an utter failure, and at all attractive to any capitalist who actually are willing to take some risks and invest their own capital.

    And yet the key figure who pushed the Water St project is still on the job, and being given raises by his subordinates on city council. Strange, to reward failure like that.

  34. John on Forest
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    Steve,

    Thanks for the primer on comercial real estate. Rent quotes on a per/annum rather than monthly basis paint a totally different picture, don’t they.

    I need to sit down and scratch my head now.

  35. Ol' E Cross
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    Nobody will ever accuse me of being a real-estate whiz, and so, I’ve got a couple questions.

    As far as investors go, Steve, do your numbers factor in appreciation on property (aside from the current climate). I.e., the furniture store sold for $300,000 and is now listed at $1,600,000 with, as far as I can see, decent maintenance but not a lot done in improvements.

    Also, I heard tell, by angry, disreputable drunks, that savvy owners can write off lost income on empty storefronts. Does anyone know how much (if anything) in write-offs owners can gain, best case scenario, by sitting on vacant buildings?

    I may be mixing posts, but as far as getting out the checkbook… I’ll sell you mine for a dollar. I realize that I live in a vastly different world than some readers, but if I collected every spare dime of my dearest friends, we could invest a two cents.

    It would be nice, I suppose, if instead of complaining about airlines, auto companies and elections, I could just buy one. This is a meritocracy, so it’s probably my fault, but I can’t afford to buy an airline anymore than an abandoned building. (Sorry to let you all down.)

    So, I’ll just complain about what folks who can afford to buy such things do with them. Who knows what they were thinking, but I’m pretty sure that’s another right the founders slapped into the Constitution. (Also pretty sure I’m blending posts.)

  36. egpenet
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    Carrying losses is NOT a good business deal. No one does that purposefully. If you can “carry” in order to “ride out” a downturn … then OK.

    You see all the rats jumping ship in the stock market … to conserve cash. Nobody with a brain “rides out” a bear market … unless you’re stuck with a 401k in mutual funds and your broker says, “Don’t worry, the markets has averaged 11% since the Great Depression.” THAT guy or gal should be shot!

    If you have not yet sold … do it now.

    Anyway, the reasons you conserve cash is for times like these when a downturn produces a few good deals … which if they make sense … you can jump upon and then ridee on the way back up. But nobody rides’em down.

    We don’t NEED a big market downtown. We don’t WANT a big box store downtown. We don’t WANT the franchises downtown. We WANT the mom and pops, the boutiques, specialty shops, the usual services, local produce, drugs, fresh meats and eggs, cars, mechanics, shoes, hair, all varieties of restaurants, bakeries, dance studios, antiques & collectibles, movies, plays, art, crafts, hardware, notions, decorative specialties, all of that … even a tax service or two (not four) … and we’re on our way with all of that.

    What we STILL NEED are a couple really good restaurants different from the ones we already havee or are expecting. Haabs, Sidetrack, Bomber draw people into town … we need two to three more. Mongolian Grille may. Young people are drawn in by the VU, Pub 13 and the music and dance. Lots of guitar cases walking around downtown, but most folks don’t see that. We also need one or two more Puffer Reds retailers. And we need arts & crafts downtown … fine and indie. And we need exhibit space. There is no downtown art … no sculpture, no murals, no color, no posters, nothing to see or touch! Even the stupid planters downtown scream for attention to the point that I have personally watered and weeded in order to save them around the RAC … while the DDA says on the phone, “Can’t they wait till Monday?”

    Mark H. – What a limited local government CAN do is get its fat little fingers out of the pie and stand aside with the ladies in hats and thee old men in vests along with the paranoid vets … and let things progress. We have enough code and zoning and HDC on the books to basically preservee our little spot on the planet, but the rest of our regulations and policies are what is stifling further growth. And when we DO make a move like Water Street … we under-estimate the pollution, and under-plan for the costs, and under-cut our own developers. The lefthand, meantime, is shovelling money out the door to Chiddister, Peninsular Paper and new hires, while we risk the very lives of our firee fighters by not maintaining their numbers and capabilities.

    Oh, that gurgling sound in the background, is the drain choking on wasted money being poured into a program called “public housing.”

    …. Went to a friend’s for Thanksgiving, so a trip to my fridge for leftovers is out of the question. Oh, well. Time to hang it up.

    G’night, Ypsi. Love’ya.

  37. name
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Public housing doesn’t have to be a total drain (clogged or otherwise), or something that encourages activities that kill businesses/downtowns/people but the reality in Michigan is that it is hard to have it otherwise.

    How to change that?

  38. amused1
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Someone asked where the sq/ft price for 213 came from. It came from a commercial real estate listing I found on line.

    Can you take lack of sales as a tax write off? My no longer turkey distended gut says, likely not. If a rental unit sits unoccupied, the IRS says the landlord can’t write off the amount of rent “lost”. They can write off the cost of upkeep, mortgage interest, insurance, etc. against income, causing a loss on the books. These losses, depending upon the structure of the business, may or may not be applied to other income or carried forward or backward against the income of years. For those who are interested in learning more IRS Publication 542 covers taxes for corporations. Possibly one of the best insomnia cures ever devised.

    Whoa Egpenet, hold on there pardner. When you say “we don’t want…” who are you counting in the “we”? The HDC? You and your Thanksgiving tablemates? The city population in general?

    Personally, I’d love to see a Trader Joe’s in town. World Market wouldn’t offend me. JoAnne Fabric would be nice to have close by. But that’s just me.

  39. egpenet
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Every time a good idea gets into the hands of a political body or a religious organization, the beurocracy skims the cream and, worse, perpetuates theee “evil” condition (ie., poverty) in order to keep the beaurocracy in business.

    I blogged above that somewhere in the 1990’s Maggie Thatcher converted 1.5 million public housing units in England into private residences thereby creating property owners with a stake in the community out of working class poor who wereee trapped in a benificent system that would not let them succeed becausee the systeem had it OWN stake in maintaining a reasonable poverty level.

    In my opinion, the average person has NO idea how poor or in need they could sink until they register for a government handout. The WORST part of it, unlike faith-based charity, there is NO humanity at the heart of the social services aparatus.

    Ypsi should get out of the ghetto business now by incentivizing family, work and property ownership.

  40. Amanda
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    just a first hand note on the VU and who it attracts. my desk literally faces the entrance to the vu, so i have an interesting opportunity to see who the clientelle is. i agree with other commenters that they are actually pretty good neighbors– clean, no trouble, no loitering. i feel safer leaving the office later in the evening knowing they are there– because they’re always keeping an eye out on things.

    but anyway, their clientelle are mostly older white men– i would say 40’s-60s. at least during the day and early evening, there’s a steady flow of that sort of age. just an fyi.

  41. egpenet
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Dear VU:

    Please gather up all your bags of cash and those lovely girls, and tuxedo’d Blackwater drop-outs and buy the Smith Furniture Building. There’s plenty of parking and it’s HUGE! Two elevators, two entrances and you could have a MUCH bigger stage and a less jam-packed gift shop.

    In return, I could enjoy a movie at the Martha Washington Theater. Please, please, please!

  42. Posted November 25, 2007 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    I’m overwhelmed by the many comments and have a million thoughts flowing through my head. I’ll list some of them in bullet-point form and come back later, I’m sure.

    +Potential business owners: most rents are “triple-net” meaning you pay rent, property taxes, and insurance on the leased space. So “rent” is a lot more than what you think it is.

    +Potential business owners: You need your own business insurance, you pay property taxes on your own stuff (fixtures/furniture, equipment, etc.), you pay utilities (water, gas, electric), and you pay for maintenance/upkeep on your space.

    +This, and all the things I have NOT listed, is why you need a good business plan and why you need to map out your financials before even getting started. I started my business plan in January ’01, finished it in July ’01, took it to banks and closed on my business loan in November ’01. Writing that thing was like writing my Master’s thesis. Grueling, but necessary. Getting a business that LOOKS like it isn’t fly-by-night up and running takes time and commitment. It does NOT happen overnight and shouldn’t.

    +Wanna buy a building? My accountant once told me that the price of a commercial building should be determined in part by that building’s tenants’ success. So a building that can show business success would be more valuable than a building that’s been empty for 30 years. Just because someone is asking a million dollars, doesn’t mean you have to offer that and it might even mean you never pay anywhere close to it.

    +Building owners: They have a right to choose their renters. They have a right to keep their properties even if their buildings are empty. If the building is in enough disrepair, it is condemned, just like 128-130 West Michigan. I’m not saying that it’s smart on their part to keep an empty building, but it is their right.

    +Behind the scenes: We don’t know why some buildings *are* empty. Are there potential renters calling? Are there potential renters who want to set up a janitorial supply warehouse in a Michigan Ave. storefront? And the landlord said no? Maybe. Maybe not.

    +What commenters here are saying that we need for downtown is supported limitedly by the greater population surrounding downtown. There aren’t enough people nearby to support goods that have limited appeal (indie fashions & gifts, for example). Restaurants, okay. People eat. Coffee, okay. People drink coffee. Candy, yep. Small gift items, with low/competitive prices (competitive to Target, etc.), sure. T-shirts, maybe. But even VGKids tees are limited in their appeal, because they’re “art-y”. If more than just a few locals wanted the art-y items, my store would still exist.

    + I heard it loud and clear. People don’t want unique. They want everyday items. Unless unique is in museum format where they can look and visit on a regular basis and not buy.

    My favorite story to tell:

    As I was scraping the vinyl signs off my storefront, a woman came by and said, “NO! Please tell me you’re not closing!.”

    “Yep, sorry. I am.”

    “NOooo! I *LOVE* your store. I come here all the time. You have such interesting, wonderful things.”

    “Oh, thank you so much! I really appreciate you telling me that. It’s a difficult time for me right now, closing the store. Thanks so much for your support over the years.”

    “I mean I never bought anything, but I really did love your store.”

    Does she get a vote?

  43. egpenet
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Jennifer: Well said. I have written business plans for others and DO find it a challenge, because many business concepts aree not yet fully formed and aspects of the plan shock the entrepreneurs into realities they had no imagained. That’s OK, but it can be really tough for them to come to grips with flaws in the “big idea” as well as the minutia.

    Nevertheless, a solid business plan is also no guarantee for succeess. I wrote a plan for a video concept some years back. The feedback from some Business Devlopment people was that it was “the best plan” they had seen in years. However, the business never got off the ground. The owners would not/could not accept the financial risk, technologies weree shifting and they would not allow for that in their growth plan, vendors balked at their pricing, and a sponsoring organization was divided at the Board level about backing the plan. Basically, the owners had not sold THEMSELVES on their own ideas, and subsequently had not sold OTHERS. Very complex.

    Bottomline, the plan WORKED. It laid out every idea and evry penny. Folks had a chance to see evry detail. And everybody involved said in one way or another, knowing what we know, we’re not interested. The $loss … a couple grand for a plan, a few more for a prototype, and some time. No one lost their shirt. No one got hurt.

    The idea is still a good idea IMHO, but it needs work and a committed follow-through.

    We keep blogging about what we want and need downtown. Jennifer has it right. The basics.

  44. Posted November 25, 2007 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Ol’ E,

    A property is only worth what someone actually pays. Not the asking price.

    I always like it when someone buys say Netscape stock for $20. then watches as it shoots up to $90. They proclaim, hey I made $70. I ask, did you sell the stock? No. Well then, you haven’t made any money, you have the potential but only on paper.

    Then when the stock drops to $30 they say, Oh damn, I lost $60, I had a terrible day in the stock market. Did you sell. NO. Then you haven’t lost $60 either.

    If you did sell for $30 then you had a great day, you made 50% return on your investment.

    But many people don’t look at it that way. They say they lost $60. It was not a real loss or gain until you actually sell.

    Buying for Smith $300,000 and asking $1.6 million only means you spent $300,000 for the property in 1992. Nothing else.

    What if you took that same $300,000 and put it in a savings account that made 5% per year in interest. What is that worth today? About $600,000. That is a for sure solid return.

    Remember earlier in a riskier investment like real estate you want to target an 8% to 10% return. At 8% that is nearly $900,000 a year. And like I said, he is asking $59 a square foot which is not unreasonable. Plus look at his other expenses over the last 15.

    From 1997 to 2007 his taxes have gone from $10,000 a year to $20,000. His taxes have doubled in 10 years.

    Property insurance has tripled in the same time. Utility costs, water, gas electric, have all doubled and tripled in the same period. Those are all expenses you pay out of pocket with no income.

    Just to keep Smith furniture vacant, which by the way it isn’t vacant, they are using the building, but to keep it as it is, costs about $35,000 a year in cash out of pocket expenses. Ouch.

    So it doesn’t matter what you are asking for the property, it is only when you actually sell it and then add up your expenses that you determine what you made.

    The other question was about carry forward of property losses or expenses. Unless you are real estate professional, you can only use that loss to off set other money earned from property income.

    Again I always like people who say “I can write this expense off” as they grab the lunch bill. Only if you have other income.

    I have two rental properties here in Ypsilanti. Last year I had $20,000 more expenses than income. By the time I paid the interest, insurance, utilities, advertising, lawyers, maintenance, contractors, paint, supplies, snow removal, rental inspections, and PROPERTY TAXES, fines paid to the city when tenant puts out garbage one day early (sigh), and much more. I spent $20,000 real dollars more than revenue. I can’t use that loss to off-set other non-property related income. I can carry it forward but again only to off-set income.

    However, given my fixed costs and increasing utility costs, even if I was fully rented at 100% for the full year, I would still lose money. Yeah, I was a stupid guy, I bought two properties in Ypsilanti and even fully rented I can’t make a single dollar.

    So I have been trying to sell one property. I paid $145,000. I put in just over $40,000 fixing it up. It was off the tax rolls, owned b a church and it was in very rough condition. I have had it up for sale over a year. We have had two open houses and not one visitor. Over the past year I have had a total of four prospects and one of them was a neighbor who wanted to see what it looked like.

    Here are what Realtors who toured the property recently wrote about the property and the drawbacks. This property is next door to my house and South of Michigan Avenue. It is in the Southside. It is a historic 1920 home with incredible wood floors that have been painstakingly repaired and refinished.

    So what did they say were the drawbacks?

    DRAWBACKS
    Dips in floor
    Location
    Wavy floors/location
    Curb appeal, location
    Location
    Location, South of Mich. Ave.
    Neighborhood
    Ypsilanti taxes, area has limited appeal
    Location, south of MI avenue

    Go to

    http://www.Ypsi.com

    and you can see for yourself. Drive by or walk by 212 Woodward and take a look. Yet this is the perception from the Realtors who are supposed to be selling properties in Ypsilanti. Imagine what the perception is when a first time buyer comes to town and hears this same stuff.

    So what they are in effect they saying, “The neighborhood is not safe, it is Ypsilanti, bad location south of Michigan Avenue and the taxes are high.

    If I can ever get it sold, the buyer is punished because when they buy it, they must pay the non-homestead taxes for the remaining year. Even if they live there, they are stuck paying 17 mills more for non-homestead because I have it as a non-homestead. They can’t get a refund of those 17 mills, can’t get a credit, can’t get it changed to Homestead until the following year. The City assessor and City manager says there is nothing that they can do. Bull, they just don’t want to do anything about it.

    Too often the bureaucrats say there is nothing they can do, and so it is you and me that gets goofed and in this case the new home buyer moving to Ypsilanti.

    So it is great, someone sees I paid $145,000 and the listing $199,000 so I must be gouging the buyers and making a fortune. I must be one of those scum bum landlords ripping off the community.

    Before making that assumption about any property or owners, ask about the details. I think you will be shocked what folks have invested in their properties and how much they are losing if and when they can actually sell it.

    In the mean time, want an old home beautifully fixed up with brand new AC installed by a an Ypsi business, new 90% furnace installed by an Ypsi business, new bathroom, and much more in a great Ypsi neighborhood, it is available for $199,000. Talk to one of the best Realtors in Ypsi that does understand the community and represents Ypsilanti very well, PJ Moffett at Real Estate One.

    Cheers!

    – Steve

  45. Posted November 25, 2007 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Ed,

    Smith has NO parking. That is a huge problem. You are surrounded by a city owned lot and a garbage dumpster right next to your building and front door. On the street is metered 10 hour parking.

    If the city doesn’t like you, you can get screwed with no parking for tenants or customers. Right now the City has long term City hall employee right in front of the door. When inquiries were asked by potential buyers of Smith, City Hall said they weren’t interested in changing the parking to free or shorter hour parking. The reason given, there would be no other places for City Hall employees to park.

    This is one of the huge barriers to getting Smith going.

    By the way, Smith is likely going to be home to the Spark East incubator. They are looking at renting the building from the current owner. Parking is still going to be a problem.

    But one of the real barriers to getting anything done with Smith is the lack of parking and that the City controls all the parking on all four sides of the building.

    – Steve

  46. egpenet
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Steve: The new parking plan, which includesa few dedicated spots for employeeeees at City Hall and along that Michigan Avenue block, will open up a couple dozen or so free spots for the VU patrons. It’s also a walkable site. Most VU-goers hit the local restaurants and bars and are willing to walk a few paces. Employees and patrons can also park in the N. Washington lot or N. Adams or at Key Bank.

    Besides … parking, schmarking … patrons can crawl to the SMITH/VU for all I care … I want movies and popcorn at the Martha!

  47. name
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Steve, so you got hit by the collapsing bubble/MI economy and can’t do a quick flip/ no nibbles on a nice remodel.

    the City gets hit with a similar thing at a similar time, on a much bigger project and they had 2 developers back out, unforeseen problems pop up, etc.

    Do you feel you should give up your business? Clearly you made errors that others have not made in this instance…

    But it’s OK to want people in the city gov’t removed for being put in a similar position as you are in, despite a lot more planning and work on their part to make the city project something that seemed reasonable to many many parties involving orders of magnitude more money?

    I’m sorry that your rentals aren’t thriving at the moment, the better you are doing the better we all are doing, and it looks like a nice remodel and as someone who is also improving property here, we all benefit and feel better to see it going on– but buying in 05 and griping about sale prices in 07 after a major renovation? That’s not Real Estate 101….even in a good economy.

  48. Andy C
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Jennifer got it right, limited appeal items are not going to survive in smaller towns. Restaurants and bars sure but I think that’s all that can. The Rocket is surviving by ever changing to demand. People want cards, they get them etc. Even stores selling everyday items won’t be able to compete with Target. There is a lot of talk about parking but why drive to downtown Ypsi when you can drive to Target just as easily. Ypsi isn’t alone in this, it happening every where. Even Ann Arbor and Royal Oak has mostly chains now because that’s all that can survive.
    So for now we keep trying to make all of Ypsi like Depot Town and stick with the empty shops.

  49. Posted November 25, 2007 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    I just shopped Apotheke in Depot Town. It’s closing, too.

  50. Bonnie
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Ypsi, as far as the zoning is concerned, is no more business-unfriendly than any other community with a historic district. Could the codes be improved to serve businesses better? Sure. Should they be? Maybe, so long as the public interest is still served (you wouldn’t necessarily want to find out that ten years down the line you’d shot yourself in the foot somehow).

    Probably a good place to start looking for ways to improve is to look at other cities with thriving downtowns/commercial districts, with or without historic districts, and see what they’re doing- look for “best practices.” Another key thing is to look at comparably sized towns with similar characteristics- ~25k pop with a primarily commuter university within the bounds, and a lot of property off the tax rolls as a result. Ann Arbor is not really a good example of this- four times as big, with a much larger university. They’re good, perhaps, as a “what we want to be someday” thing, but only if you want to be that way someday. Ypsi is not Ann Arbor, and it never will be- it shouldn’t worry about turning into a mini-AA. Leave that obsession behind.

    There were a couple of studies done by U-M students last year regarding Ypsi- landscaping codes, encouraging arts, the Smith building, transit, etc. You may want to dig those up (try Gavin Shatkin at UM), as the landscaping and arts people did do quite a bit of line-by-line analysis of the zoning codes, and might give a bit of insight into what exists and what can be changed.

    Another thing people might want to accept is that any attempts to improve Ypsi is that it will *change* Ypsi. Some people will think they’re good changes, some people will think they’re bad changes. You can’t keep the door (mental or otherwise) to new businesses and new types of businesses closed because they’re not “Ypsi” enough- that just discourages all businesses, because everyone has a different idea of what is and is not Ypsi. If you want to encourage downtown business, encourage all downtown businesses- existing and new- not just independent ice cream stores or independent knickknack stores. Chain stores, like them or not, are a part of the economic landscape. People who drive through are more likely to stop at (to use an above example) a Jo-Ann Fabrics than a Marianne’s Fabulous Fabric Emporium because it’s familiar, and there’s the perception that independent stores will be more expensive than chains. If we get more people in to a Jo-Ann’s (or whatever), we get more people *downtown,* period, and more people downtown is more likely to lead to more people patronizing local businesses.

    Even chains can comply with HDC regulations, and they do so in many communities.

  51. John on Forest
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    Well said Bonnie.

    As terribly sorry as I am to see Quinn’s Essentials and (Oh no!) Apotheke are closing, they were of limited appeal to my family. Quinn’s has great stuff; but outside of our price range. While we bought a few items at Apotheke, they are not the kinds of things that a person will go back for more of.

    A few more chain stores downtown (at least we have an Ace Hardware chain and a few banks) really would attract some drive by business. How about an Office Max? Game Stop? Radio Shack?

    Parking?? Parking is bad in A2 too, and costs money. But, people go to A2 and pay for the parking. Less people go to Ypsilanti. Would it be more attractive if parking was made free in Ypsilanti? Honest question on my part because I don’t know. Are the parking lots in A2 owned by the city or are they privately owned (read tax paying here)? Again I don’t know the answer.

    Where does my family shop? Meijer, Home Depot, Home Goods, Staples (all on Carpenter); WalMart, Radio Shack, Game Stop; Borders, Micheals, Circuit City. The items carried by these stores are what my family needs. We can’t find them in Ypsilanti.

    Where do we eat out? Cafe Luwak, Corner Brewery, Haabs, Sidetrack, Aubrees, Pita Pita, Chipotle, Big Boy, Smoke House Blues, Joes Crab Shack, and a few others. So, Ypsilanti does have GREAT restaraunts but could use some more…can’t wait for the Mongolian Grill place if it goes in.

  52. mark
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a chain guy. Given the situation we’re in now, I can see the appeal. Tax dolalrs are tax dollars. But I’m not going out of my way to recruit Starbucks to Michigan Ave. I won’t torch the place if they do decide to invest, but I sure as hell wouldn’t bust my ass to drive business through their doors like I have been recently with this Shop Ypsi for the Holidays thing. Personally, I think that chains are a bad long-term investment. Drive anywhere in the US and what do you see? For the most part, it’s the same damned thing. I know it would be upopular, but if there were a way to keep them out through legislation, I’d fight for it. (I’m told that a community in the pacific northwest has done it, but I don’t have details.) I see it as a cancer. That’s just me though. And, with the economy being like it is, I know it wouldn’t be a popular cause. I just wanted to put that out there. Maybe we should start another thread on the subject… Or, actually, just do a site search on “Quiznos.” I think we had a few good exchanges during the stint that they were in Depot Town.

  53. Bonnie
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    I agree that chains are not the best long-term investment, and they can be a blight on the land. Personally, I’m not a big fan. But they serve a purpose- they can create foot traffic. They’re also kind of an economic indicator- if there’s a Starbucks (god forbid, I quite hate starbucks) or whatever, then people perceive the area a little differently, they think it’s looking up. We already have strong coffee shops, great restaurants, so I wouldn’t go courting a chain food-service place. I’d look more for plain old retail, maybe even franchise retail, if such a thing exists (I know it’s common for restaurants, not sure about plain retail). That’ll get people in town for the basics, and keep the more specialty local shops in the forefront of peoples’ minds when they go looking for gifts, extras, or a night out.

  54. mark
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    What I’m hearing is that if we want retail to work, our owners have to be more realistic on their rental rates… And, Steve, I appreciate your stepping in to defend the current price put on the Smith Furniture building, but come on. You can spin it however you like, but purchasing a building for $300k in ’92 and having it on the market in ’07 for $1.6 million is more than just a little unrealistic, especially given that little work has been done to the building, and that there hasn’t been a successful business in the space for a couple of decades. The guy was speculating. He rolled the dice, hoping that Ypsi would turn the corner sooner, and it didn’t. He timed it badly, and he should look, at best, to get out of it what he put into in. He isn’t entitled, as you suggest, to get 5% a year on his investment. But, as you say, the market will decide what the property is worth eventually. It just kind of bugs me in the meantime that we have to sit back and wait for him to put the property into play. It’s like Dahlman and the Depot. We’ve got a lot of folks out there who bought in a long time ago for very little and now they’d rather just sit on their property than do something with it. Their hope, I guess, is that Water Street will happen and suddenly they’ll get their $1.6 million. I suppose that’s their right. It doesn’t make it any easier to accept though.

  55. Bonnie
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Oh, another thing to keep in mind regarding chains- if you find a way to legislate out chains, that could actually stunt local growth. Aubree’s is now a chain- they have three locations, only one of which is actually within Ypsi. It’s a local chain, but still a chain. You’d have to be very careful with the legalese to not exclude local chains, or else businesses may see that as an impediment to growth. Or think about it the other way- what if Aubree’s had started in its Whittaker Road location, and not Depot Town? Would you want the legislation to exclude them, or the HDC to assume that a chain restaurant, no matter how small a chain, would not fit with the Depot Town or downtown character?

  56. egpenet
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    HDC has no issue with chains … ie. the KFC at the foot of N. River, with some arm twisting, did a lovely job. If the corporate ID, signage, and fascades fit … I dare say (as only one lone commish) … we will permit.

    Real estate bubble is a real estate bubble … what goeth up is comething down, down, down. By the end of 2008, the prices will be a lot more realistic.

  57. Posted November 25, 2007 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Dear name,

    It is always great when someone blasts someone using an anonymous posting and name.

    I am not complaining, I didn’t ask for sympathy, and I didn’t ask for a tax break. The difference is I wasn’t spending taxpayer money, the folks behind Water Street were Real Estate Speculating with taxpayer money and despite repeated warnings, kept spending taxpayer money until they ran out of money.

    Given the problems with Water Street, our elected leaders will likely be asking for a 4 to 5 mill special assessment to pay for the mistakes made at Water Street. This is business, people at City Hall screwed up. You don’t get a “A” for a nice try.

    If I made a mistake, I don’t get to force you to pay to bail me out.

    The Water Street planners can and will.

    Again, you know not what you are talking about when you said this was a quick flip. This wasn’t a quick flip, it was a long term investment to protect my neighborhood, my community, and most importantly the substantial investment in my own home.

    The house had been for sale for over a year when I bought it. It had been vacant for nearly two years. The price was getting to the point that I was worried about getting a non-homestead ‘investor’ that wouldn’t fix it up or screen tenants.

    There are several rules for buying real estate. One is location, location, and location, A second rule is, if you are going to buy a second home, you should by the house next to yours. My home borders up to two other homes so I bought them both.

    I was also doing my part to help my community by buying a property and putting it back on the tax rolls and fixing up a home before it became inhabitable.

    The bubble has nothing to do with the inability to sell the home. The house wasn’t selling in 2004.

    The problem is the perception that was clearly demonstrated from the Realtors report I wrote about earlier.

    Ypsilanti is not a good value, that any home south of Michigan avenue is not safe, and that the taxes are too high.

    Considering the problems we have in our neighborhood with chronic drugs, prostitution, theft from cars and break ins, and street assaults on neighbors.

    Given this, it is hard to argue about the security problem, it is a problem. The taxes are also higher in Ypsi than anywhere else in the county. So they are right on two accounts. Given the high number of homes for sale, the highest foreclosures in the county, and decreasing property values and threats of the Income Tax *these comments were made before the CIT didn’t pass) and likely increases in property taxes to pay for Water Street, hmmm the Realtors may be right on the third account about good values as well.

    Cheers!

    – Steve

  58. Betsy Bobbin
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Steve, weren’t you a proponent of Water Street? I wanted to ask you that some time ago when you were suggesting a link between the proposed income tax and Water Street but I bit my tongue.

  59. Posted November 25, 2007 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    Mark,

    Why must Mr. Pate sell the building for something less than what he is currently asking?

    Secondly, do you know for a fact that Mr. Pate bought the building for speculation or are you speculating why he bought the building in 1992?

    – Steve

  60. egpenet
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    REAL ESTATE

    Steve’s heart and the hearts of his several heavily invested neighbors are all in the right place. It’s the private homeowners and a few good landlords who are getting screwed with the fact that the city’s errors are flushed away with taxation rather than running the council out of town … and the people that made the mistakes with our money (silly us) get raises and keep their retirements (silly, silly us).

    FOOD

    I went to the DIA and had dinner at Polish Village tonight. (I waved, Hillary, but it was snowing.) We talked about food in Ypsilanti. I said that the best meals I ever had were at the WCC dining room (which is not even in town).

    As for the overall quality of fare, service and consistency within the city limits, my vote is #1 … Haab’s, #2 … Sidetrack, #3 … Cady’s. In the early days (20+ years ago), when Connie Crump was rummaging through her disguise box, my #2 would have been L’Amour, but it was very inconsistent. Since then, its replacement, Martini was quite good … but inconsistent.

    Literally everything in town that isn’t omlets, coney’s, hoagie’s or pizza … not too many choices left after that … is mediocre IMHO … say, as compared to other working class neighborhoods in Cleveland, Detroit, Toledo. I very much like the variety … Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese … but all of those are the typical. As for south of the border, I think the little place out on W. Michigan has it all over Fiesta Mexicana … but both menus are again quite “typico” … no pallela or paella (sic) … but still quite tastey.

    What we really lack is great soul food … why? I Do like Biggie’s catfish sandwich. And his burgers are also unusually tasty. But that’s it for coming close to Detroit-style soul food. Beats the hell outta me why soul food isn’t available. Some of the rib shacks have good sides, but most come out of a GFS can. That’s NOT what I’d want. Shoot, when I cook, smoked hocks and ham fat rule.

    You’d also think we’d have some European ethnic foods, as well … but no authentic German, Polish, French or Italian. The closest for many years was Louis’ on Michigan wioth a limited but excellent array of Greek dishes. No more. Perhaps, that’s because the folks that founded Ypsi were all from England, where food is usually boiled to death and/or southerners who came up to work had no cuisine preferences other than beans/rice and biscuits.

    This silly discussion relates to why we have no imaginative retail going here. We’re still a working class town with a middle class college on the fringe. Angel Catering rollups and little finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off are a big deal. (Sheesh!)

    My dinner at Polish Village was fabulous … four thick slices of home-cooked pork roast, potatoes, gravy, home made kraut and a salad … $5.75! Come on, Ypsi, where is the food?

  61. amused1
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure I’m committing some sort of sin here but… I don’t like the food at Sidetrack. I don’t really like melting in there during the summer either.

  62. Posted November 25, 2007 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    Betsy,

    I was an early supporter of Water Street in 2000 and 2001. But in 2002 the new plan removed all retail on Michigan Avenue and I started having concerns.

    When I saw the updated plan and they were proposing 872 units, most with only 1 car garage but still planning on nearly 1,400 residents, I asked where they were going to park. Knowing many folks fill their garage with stuff, not everyone would park in the garage so I and many others couldn’t see where all the cars would park.

    They had proposed stacked parking with an outside space in front of the garage door. I said that won’t work, people will just park on the street rather then block in their spose or roommate. The response from the planner was they hoped people would shift the paradigm and just own one car. All hell then broke out at the meeting as others shouted out, are you nuts, this is Detroit. No one is going to sell their car.

    I then asked what would they do with all the snow. They had no place to store the snow. I then pointed out that the one way drive lanes would not be wide enough to do snow removal without requiring it to be a snow removal route and thus during snow removal, no one would be able to park on the street. At the meeting was a land planner from up north and he agreed, it was too narrow and the planners said they might have to adjust parking.

    By 2003 when the city had less than $5 to $7 million in the thing, I and many others had some very serious questions and worked like heck to try to get the attention of the elected officials and staff to change course.

    Barry LaRue and the Mayor at one public meeting said we can’t stop now, we have too much invested. Mr. LaRue even refused to meet with citizens concerned about Water Street saying it was too late to make changes in Water Street. The Mayor did kindly meet and promised to get back but then nothing happened after that meeting,.

    Today the City has spent over $30 million and the city would spend more money if they could figure out how to raise it but they can’t borrow any more.

    I had suggested to Mayor back in early 2003 that she needed to put in a continuing resolution to cut short the negotiations with Biltmore. They never did and when Biltmore was fired, they threatened to sue and the City settled rather than going to court.

    Despite numerous promises not to spend general fund money on Water Street it now appears that since 2000 the City has spent nearly $1 million of general fund money on Water Street.

    While on the DDA I brought up serious concerns over the financing and strong arm tactics used by the City and Bond Council to get DDA approval for the bonds. I sent a memo to the DDA director and Mayor with my concerns and the Mayor said she would look into it and asked me not to send my memo to the rest of the DDA board and that the DDA would be able to revisit the issue. No surprise nothing happened here too.

    I suggested we should look at something besides residential condos. Ikea had recently pulled out of Royal Oak and was looking for another location. I suggested Water Street and the Mayor and the head of the HDC at first didn’t know what Ikea was. After I explained it including 500 employees, top 100 companies in the world to work for, eco-friendly purchasing, they pays benefits on the 32 hours, 1100 seat restaurant, 100,000 visitors per week. After all that,the Mayor and HDC chair said they didn’t want a blue building with a yellow stripe in Water Street. They wanted to know if Ikea would paint the building a different color.

    I explained how Ikea painted all their buildings the same color and showed them pictures of their stores across the world. I explained it was part of their brand. They said it looked too much like U-M colors. The color killed the deal with the mayor saying she wanted residential, that is what was needed, more residential units in Ypsi.

    Then you heard what the former Mayor said when asked last February 2007 when asked what shouldn’t be in Water Street and her response was a baseball stadium.

    In early 2003, I was in a meeting with the mayor and then head of planning and Biltmore had suggested they would take over land acquisition. They said they would likely pay more for some pieces, but they could get the acquisition done faster and get development moving faster. The city declined, saying they wanted to assemble the property.

    Remember early estimates from the City said land acquisition was expected to be $5 to $7 million. Only much later, in 2004, did we learn the city had spent $13.1 million. Then, not much later, the City fired Biltmore after negotiating with them for over three years.

    In 2003, a number of citizens asked the Mayor if citizens could review the proposed development agreement. She said there was no draft agreement. About two weeks later the developer announced at a public meeting he had a copy of the draft agreement in his brief case (he held up his case) and said anyone was welcome to look at it. When we asked again, the city declined to release it saying it was attorney work product and not subject to FOIA or public release.

    From there things went downhill as the city continued to hide costs from citizens. Despite having negotiated the deal on the railroad in 2004. The city didn’t disclose the terms of the deal until 2007. Despite repeated requests, the city denied having the agreement. The new planner didn’t realize this was a secret and said during a public meeting in 2007 that the city had an obligation to rebuild the railroad spur for ACH for the next 22 years and all costs had to be paid by the City.

    This was as stunner because the City never disclosed that obligation in any of their state audits which is likely a violation of both state and federal auditing rules. The city is now estimating that in today’s dollars it would cost the taxpayers of Ypsilanti some $5 million if ACH requested the spur be put back.

    When the City released a new RFQ in 2005, the city proudly announced they had three responses to the RFQ. Only later, did we learn that there was actually NO responses to the RFQ, no one bid. What the city had was three letters of interest, including one letter from a company that only did subsidized federal HUD housing. We later learned from several of the companies that the city had begged the companies to write letters of interest so they could save face on the project.

    In 2007 during a City Council meeting, the newly hired planner said she had no brown field redevelopment experience and that they were having to learn as they go.

    Water Street is the largest Brownfield in Washtenaw County and nearly a year after being hired, the head of Planning admits she doesn’t have any Brownfield experience. Yt you heard from the new Mayor had they had to pay these extraordinarily high salaries was because they needed to hire experienced staffers.

    If you have more questions, just ask, I will do my best to answer them.

    Cheers!

    – Steve

  63. Posted November 25, 2007 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Sunday’s (now where Biggies is) had great soul food, I was sorry to see them close. Their fried okra was awesome.

    – Steve

  64. amused1
    Posted November 25, 2007 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    I think Steve P brings a perspective to the discussion that merits some attention. Whether or not you agree with him isn’t necessarily important. The point is, he’s saying things that I suspect other investors have thought, or do think, about Ypsi. Agree or not, it’s a barrier.

    I certainly agree with him about real estate professionals and how they view Ypsi. I’ve heard realtors tell friends of mine that it’s dirty, crime ridden, nothing but crack houses and worse. To hear some talk, you’d think we were a plague colony.

  65. Posted November 25, 2007 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    Just after I moved to Ypsi, I was at a Christmas party at U-M. The wife of a high ranking official at U-M asked, after learning we bought a house in Ypsi, “Couldn’t you find a better Realtor.”

    I heard that same exact statement at another party from an employee at U-M, who asked me the same question, “Couldn’t I find a good Realtor.”

    Truth is, I had to fire our first Realtor when she wouldn’t show us Ypsilanti.

    We then met Liz Rauser now with Keller Williams and she was awesome. Liz has sold at least two other houses based on our recommendation to use her as a Realtor.

    I then met PJ Moffet while volunteering here in the community and after she sold one of my properties when it wasn’t even listed and Maggie was deployed to Afghanistan, well PJ earned my gratitude.

    If you want someone to sell your home or looking to buy a home in the area, without reservation I would recommend PJ Moffett or Liz Rauser.

    Cheers!

    – Steve

  66. amused1
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Steve,

    Yup, business losses have limitations. That’s why I qualified my statements with words like “may” and “depending”. I’m not a CPA, I’m just someone who researched the topic once upon a time.

    So I gotta say, I’m thinking that plenty of glue has been beaten out of the horse that is Water Street. I know you were responding to a question about your support, but that could have been done in a simple paragraph. To me it seemed to become a hijacking rant. I’m not questioning the veracity of your statements, just the delivery and forum.

    Kathy Linderman (of Ann Arbor based Trillium Real Estate) is another realtor who proudly represents Ypsi.
    Maybe we should make a list of realtors we know support growth in Ypsi? Nothing encourages positive change quite like reward.

    I wonder if there’s enough snow on the ground to make a snowman?

  67. Posted November 26, 2007 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    EGP,

    I’ve fantasized about opening a vegan/vegetarian Southern restaurant in Ypsi (up here Southern = Soul). But if HF was too “out there”, I have to laugh at myself for even thinking that kind of craziness. I’d love for you to taste-test the Seitan/Tofu-sausage gumbo I made for T-giving! Hmmmm, I might have to suddenly do a switcheroo to what I’m offering at the Shadow Art Fair this Saturday??

    Jennifer
    (Louisiana transplant)

  68. Posted November 26, 2007 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Jennifer,

    You know what we might do is working with local restaurant(s) run specials of someone’s favorite recipe. So from Dec 12 to 19, come to the ZZZZ resturant to try Jennifer’s special gumbo.

    It would be a way to showcase local favorites, people could invite their friends to try their favorite recipe and restaurant.

    We could have different folks each week throughout the year.

    Just a thought,

    – Steve

  69. egpenet
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Go for it, Jennifer.

    Stevie: Bonnie and I walked to Sunday’s sevral times (3) and found it was closed, out of food, or closed. Their Soul Food Sunday never got off the ground.

  70. Posted November 26, 2007 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Ed,

    You are correct. Irregular hours is a death knell for a business.

    I have tried to go over the Mi-Hut twice in the last couple of months, closed.

    – Steve

  71. name
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Hi Steve;

    It’s always good to see details of city activities, especially if strictly factual.

    For example, keep in mind re: Ikea, you reiterate *your* interest in Ikea, not Ikea’s interest in “us”…. two different things. “color killing… ” _what_ deal?– an imaginary one. Sure I’d personally like to have seen Ikea *call*, and I’m disappointed that yet again some Ypsi businesspeople don’t see to get the idea of an “anchor” store, but to paint an ex-mayor as “killing” a non-existent deal, well, that’s kind of spinny.

    RE: your properties, again the same thing- no one was saying you wanted a bailout, etc etc- but you _were_ using your personal example of “I can’t make my costs on my newly redone rental” as an anti-city-policy thing. When really, you really can’t be making your costs on that place, not for quite a while yet, no matter the city policies. Again, a bit spinny.

    I do enjoy the facts about city processes, though. Emphasis on facts–

  72. name
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Michigan: one of the top 10 for small business
    http://money.cnn.com/2007/11/16/smbusiness/SBE_states_lists.fsb/index.htm

    FORTUNE Small Business

    Which states love small business?
    Attention libertarians! Find out where the cold, dead hand of the state weighs lightest.

    Washington, D.C. — Entrepreneurs, zip up your parkas and head for the plains! South Dakota once again leads the list of U.S. states with the best tax and regulatory climate for small business, according to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council’s latest ranking.

    Rounding out the top three were Nevada and Wyoming, unchanged from last year. The rest of the top 10 includes Washington, Florida, Michigan, Texas, South Carolina, Virginia and Alabama.

    […]

  73. Huckett
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Hi–when I think back on Henrietta Fahrenheit, my recollection is not that it was too “out there,” or that the products were too “unique,” it’s just that one-of-a-kind, artist-designed clothing is way too expensive for most people!

    I think a niche food establishment would stand a better chance–no bowl of soup, no matter how unusual, is going to cost $150.

  74. Demosthenes
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Mark wrote:

    “I’m not a chain guy…For the most part, it’s the same damned thing. I know it would be upopular, but if there were a way to keep them out through legislation, I’d fight for it.”

    So, I guess the answer to the question of this topic is “YES”.

  75. Posted November 26, 2007 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Dear name,

    I couldn’t get the Mayor or planning department to even make a call to the site selection folks at Ikea to invite them out for a tour. The head of Planning a the time said Ypsilanti wasn’t big enough. She didn’t know waht she was talking about. Ikea is less interested in the host community as how it is situated in a 250 mile radius.

    Water under the bridge, Ikea is in Canton. The point is, they weren’t interested in anything but residential, so they weren’t going to call Ikea or anyone else to look at Water Street.

    Just like no one at the City Planning department will call the site selection folks at Costco to invite them out for a visit to look at the ACH property where Bosal was first looking to locate. Costco bailed on Zeeb road and I hear the deal in Canton fell through. Costco has wanted to be in Washtenaw for 5 years and hasn’t found a location yet. Costco, 300 employees, Top 100 companies in the county work for, they also pay benefits on a 32 hour work week. But heck, what do I know, I am just a computer geek.

    Costco has said they don’t think Ypsilanti is the right fit, but that should not deter us from trying to address their concerns. Remember our discussion about Realtors. Their perception is Ypsilanti is not a good value. The site selector for Costco has the same feelings. So lets educate them about why Ypsi is the right location. We should work to address those concerns from the site selector and also pitch directly to Costco.

    We should have been working hard over the last three years to work on recruiting folks for the ACH location. But what do we hear from Planning. No much. They don’t really want to hear from us. They have their ideas on how to do things and really look at the public as more interference then assistance. That is what the former head of planning said at a community workshop about public input.

    Instead the current planner spent hours and hours and hours reviewing the recent CDC plan. Was that really the best use of her time. The former Mayor said the focus of the planner should be Water Street and ACH. That is what was she said during the hiring process. I am not criticizing the CDC project, but that isn’t what the Planner should be working on. But watch, someone will say that you are micro-managing. Oversight and setting priorities is not micro-management. It is called fiscal policy.

    The former mayor was right, The Planner’s sole focus should be Water Street and ACH. But it isn’t, and until folks in the community ask for accountability from our elected officials, it won’t change. In the mean time, there are opportunities for development of the ACH site that was originally pitched to Bosal and we are missing those opportunities to bring jobs and businesses to our community.

    – Steve

  76. Posted November 26, 2007 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Great CNN aricle about Michigan and Small business. In it they wrote:

    “… while sixth-place Michigan will likely slide in next year’s rankings because it adopted income and sales tax increases after the SBE Council finalized its list.”

    Check out the comments from readers. Almost as entertaining as this blog. Almost.

    http://fsbfeatures.blogs.fsb.cnn.com/2007/11/21/does-your-state-love-small-biz/

    Cheers!

    – Steve

  77. Posted November 26, 2007 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Huckett,

    I think we’re both right and I should’ve stated my thoughts more clearly.

    Handmade items are more expensive than similar, mass-produced items offered elsewhere. So by default, the prices at Henrietta Fahrenheit were higher than at other stores.

    I heard customers complain that HF was too expensive, but too expensive compared to what? Wal-Mart, Target, Kohls, Big Lots? I tried to accommodate those customers by offering smaller, less-expensive items (still unique and handmade), but in the end, it was easier for them to shop elsewhere. Or perhaps those items didn’t appeal to them (neither by nature, nor cost).

    On the other hand, there were individuals who *did* want unique, handmade items (i.e. not mass-produced), so they could have something that was either one-of-a-kind or few-of-a-kind. My point earlier was that there weren’t enough of *those* customers to support my business long-term.

    I don’t blame my customers or the current population as a whole. I blame myself for not recognizing what a small, niche market I was trying to appeal to. Like “name” says above, HF was something *I* wanted, not necessarily what everyone else wanted.

    Jennifer

  78. Posted November 26, 2007 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Steve,

    What a fantastic idea! Hmmm, first you make a roux…

    Jennifer

  79. Hillary
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Sorry we missed you, egpenet. The $4.99 meatball dinners at PVC are a personal favorite, but we rarely go there. It’s three superblocks from our house and there are 12 other restaurants between here and there. The #1 Ypsi restaurant in my opinion is Hawkins Place and #2 Dalat.

    We have a lot of ethnic restaurants because 40% of residents are foreign born. Mixed use buildings are dirt cheap and just about anyone who will work 16-18 hours per day can open a business.

    The rent is too high in Ypsi to sell cool things cheap.

  80. Posted November 26, 2007 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    FYI,
    There is a market for expensive specialty items, even in Ypsi. (Materials Unlimited – the galactic opposite of a cheap chain)
    And $150 truffle soup is a bargain at some restaurants.

    Maybe Ypsi should exploit the expanding, Bushian wealth gap and specialize in attracting the obscenely wealthy who want to keep a low profile?

  81. egpenet
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Hillary:

    It was snowing when I waved.

    The square footage is too much (per Jennifer) as well. I have suggested two, three or four businesses going in together … varied good, varied hours, varied square footage … make these spaces work FOR us.

    Good Indian food in Hamtramck … good music in the bars, as well.

  82. Bonnie
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Steve makes a good point about the pessimism of area Realtors. When I moved to Ypsi, I ended up in Stadium Meadows- the newly built condos on the west side- in large part because every time we looked at an actual *house* in Ypsi, the Realtor made discouraging noises about the “quality” of the neighborhood and the crime rate. This was an Ypsi-based Realtor, too.

    Furthermore, I think about half of the units currently for sale in Stadium Meadows are for sale by owner- because the Realtors in the area “just don’t try hard enough,” or the Realtors have outright told sellers that the outlook was grim, slash your prices, and don’t expect it to sell quickly. True as that may be in Michigan right now, no seller or buyer wants to hear that the market is crap. I have residents who are terrified of the crime in the area, because of what they’ve been told by Realtors & others in the Ypsi-AA area- and Stadium Meadows generally has one of the lowest crime rates around. Ypsi’s got an image of being downtrodden and crime-ridden, at least in many Realtors’ eyes, and they project this. Realtors- both commercial and residential- have a huge influence on where people end up (obvious, I know, but worth pointing out), and we need to get them to see Ypsi in a better, more accurate light so that they can be better “ambassadors of Ypsi” (for lack of a better term).

    Perhaps we could put together information sessions for local Realtors, with accurate market/demographic/crime information, showcase some possibilities for commercial buildings, bring in community representatives from the neighborhoods to actually speak with the Realtors, that sort of thing.

  83. Posted November 26, 2007 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Boniie,

    In our NA we invite Realtors to our meetings. We also call the broker if the Realtors won’t call us back or come to our meetings.

    We then also tell neighbors that are looking to sell about problem realty firms or specific Realtors that we know have been biased against our neighborhood.

    We won’t tolerate it and we call them out when they do it.

    – Steve

  84. Bonnie
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Steve-

    That’s a great idea. I think Stadium Meadows will try doing that. Thanks!

    -Bonnie

  85. Jennyfurann
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    So there is a frickin ton of comments here – and I’ve only gotten as far as the discussion of who owns the less developed properties in Ypsi. So my mom sent me this link (she a realtor) it’s a virtual plat book – you can look up who owns a property by parcel, address, name… so for example 15 S Washington is owned by James Pate who actully does live in Ypsi, as you can tell from the parcel info. You can get all kinds of information on this site… check it out if you’re really interested.

    http://gisweb.ewashtenaw.org/website/mapwashtenaw/

  86. Posted November 26, 2007 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    Great link to the GIS site Jennyfurann, thanks!

    You can also get specifics on a property at the City’s website http://www.CityofYpsilanti.com and click on the Assessor link. There you can get tax info, assessment data, pictures of the property and often times diagrams of the building foot print and lot size.

    The same basic info is also on the County’s website. Hey look, a duplication of effort, the county has assessing info up on the web, the City pays an outside form to put assessing info up on the web.

    I wonder if we could perhaps share services and eliminate what the City pays in special fees to BSA. Nah, that would never happen. What was it the mayor said last summer, “Collaboration is cost avoidance, not cost savings.”

    Any how, here is the county website for assessing
    http://secure.ewashtenaw.org/ecommerce/property/pStart.do

    Cheers!

    – Steve

  87. egpenet
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Two more points tonight …

    Article in today’s NYT about Denver’s Colfax Avenue … “A Notorious Main Drag, in Line for Big Changes” by Dan Frosch, Denver, Nov. 21.
    Great reading about a street and a neighborhood in transition. “The Capitol Hill area, where haphazard development is particularly apparent, was rezoned to encourage ground-floor businesses with residential units above them.” Theree’s more, lots more.

    Also … closer to home …

    “Where Mansions Go Begging” by Keith Schneider, Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

    In part, “Almost 700 homes are currently on ther market in the five Grosse Pointe communities … twice as many as in the same time in 2005. And since June (2007), prices for the most expensivee houses have dropped by around $100,000 a month.” Read on.

    My point … to my own self, to Steve, to Smith and everyonee else who owns property here … the market has changed. The appreciation we’ve long felt we have been entitled to, and the imaginary equity against which have borrowed, is evaporating by the hour.

    That’s the economic lesson of markets. Lets get real heree. The best price right now for any piece of real estate in Ypsilanti is what the buyer is willing to pay … nothing more.

    Get REAL Smith. Get REAL 213(?) W. Michigan
    Avenue. Get REAL City Council … re: Water Street. Time to cut the price and dump it as fast as we can. Let it GO. Cut bait. Get the debt OFF the books.

    Stevie … I’d suggest that a bunch of us form a Water Stret CDC and sell the damn place for whatever we can get so the city can stop scaring people. Hmmm?

    Time to air the dog and get to bed. G’night all.

  88. John on Forest
    Posted November 26, 2007 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Great idea, egpenet. In fact, I’ll bet a concrete crushing operation could make good use of that size property and would pay what ever you’d take for Water Street.

    (Pulls my tongue out of my cheek)

  89. egpenet
    Posted November 27, 2007 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    How can I be clear?

    For the last five to ten years, YOUR banks, YOUR retirement plans, (including YOUR “safe” TIA-CREFF plans), YOUR brokers, and YOUR city has been “collateralizing” debt.

    That means they have taken our “sound” mortgages and bond obligations and COMBINED them with high-yield (JUNK debt) into new forms of investment. THESE “investments” have beeen bought and traded around the world for the past many years and amounts to $4.5 trllion. None of this debt is hedged, meaning “insured” against default.

    The market dropped 257+ points today. We have another 500+ points to go to test the August lows, and beyond that is the other side of the world.

    “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

    Our city could NOT have picked a worse time to go into debt … with the financial system of the world at stake, with Michigan’s economy in default, and with a state government in total disarray, and manufacturing at an all time low. 7.7% unemployment and climbing.

    I noted above a couple of today’s NYT articles for you to read. A third article in today’s NYT shows pictures of barefoot men in loincloths in India pouring molten metal into forms to produce manhole covers for the City of New York! This is what we are competing against! Good luck at the bargaining tables, ladies and gentlemen.

    I have (tomgue in cheek) quoted my friend J. S. Bach in this thread. No more German (Wacht Auf!) He’s saying: Wake up, people!

    I’m saying, wake up Ypsi! We have been taken for a ride, but the next roller coaster is going to slam us into the wall of the Ypsilanti Iron & Steel Building.

    We have a small window of opportunity to take back what is ours … our fair city … and to reclaim it via serious political and structural REFORMS. If we can keep the poli-sci “experts” OUT of the room … we can stage our “revolution” quite peacefully and get done what needs to be done.

    We have five months … and counting.

    It’s 2:02 AM … I can’t sleep, how can YOU!?

    – Ed

  90. rodneyn
    Posted November 28, 2007 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Another Realtor horror story:

    My wife and I were specifically looking for a home near Rec Park or Prospect Park. We engaged a buyer’s agent to help us when we couldn’t get local agents to work with us (they kept trying to steer us away from these neighborhoods). It took 8 houses to find the one we bought. By the end of the process of dealing with various seller’s agents, our buyer’s agent (from Northville) said that she was appalled at the unprofessional behavior of certain agents.

    Even getting available listings from the MLS for homes in the areas we preferred proved to be a constant struggle. The home we ended up buying was found by us almost by accident.

  91. amused1
    Posted November 30, 2007 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Beyond the discussion of whether or not city hall is business friendly, how about local bloggers?

    I mentioned in a different commment that I hadn’t seen much mention of the Shop Ypsi campaign in other local blogs. I just looked again and STILL NO MENTION on most blogs. Sustainable Ypsi? Nothing. Ypsinews? Nothing. Trusty Ghetto? Nothing. East Cross? Nothing. Ypsidixit? Nothing. Common Monkey Flower? Nothing.

    I guess my earlier comment was too SUBTLE.

    For cripes sakes, ya’ll are happy to write novels about this person and that organization who’ve established policies that you feel deter business growth. So why the heck haven’t you taken a few minutes to promote something positive on your blogs? Shame on you!

    So, I challenge local bloggers to refrain from commenting on Mark’s blog until you’ve posted Shop Ypsi information on your own blogs.

  92. egpenet
    Posted November 30, 2007 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Amen.

    Are church parishoners talking? Union locals? Coffee shop chatter? Neighborhood Associations? Park strollers?

    Not much in the A2 News or Courier since the election.

    IMHO … in this case, no news is NOT good news.

    We need public debate, folks. We need YOUR voices and ideas.

    A passive electorate plays right into the game of “business as usual.”

  93. Posted November 30, 2007 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Amused1,

    I sent direct email out to over 1,000 Ypsilantian’s about Shop Ypsi, Shadow Art and Downtown Happenings just in the past week. Direct email is WAY more effective than posting on a blog and hoping someone stops by.

    So cripes, don’t just assume that because you don’t read something on one of my blogs that I am not out there promoting Ypsilanti.

    And don’t just assume because you don’t see someone at Shadow Art Fair that they are not supporting Shadow Art. They may have another commitment and can’t make it.

    Sheesh,

    – Steve

  94. egpenet
    Posted November 30, 2007 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    And think of all the new stores and things to do and places to hang out that have opened since last Christmas!

    There hadn’t been a lot to rave about in year’s past … now there is A LOT to be thankful for and also A LOT of promotional activity to support those businesses.

    Point is well taken about the blogs … in a way. Many blogs have different focuses, not necessarily to promote Shop Yspi. I promise, you’ll see many bloggers at the Shadow Art Fair.

    See’ya there!

  95. amused1
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    Steve, very cool, you’re making an effort to get the word out. However, as one who has receveived emails from your blog featuring posts covering the CIT issue, the horrors of our city govt, and other concerns of yours, I’m surprised that I’ve not received your email covering the Shop Ypsi effort.

    If I was a bitch, which I am, I’d ask why I received emails from ypsinews about those issues but not about the shop ypsi project. At the end of the day my question still remains, why aren’t more local bloggers talking about this positive effort?

    As of this moment, your blog still doesn’t have a post about Shop Ypsi. I’ve still not received an email from your site talking about this positive effort.

    I commend, and thank you for, your efforts to date. That doesn’t change the fact that I’ve received emails from your site about other issues but haven’t received an email about shop ypsi. To me that says you’ve got a broader reach that you haven’t utilized yet. So I ask you to please spend less time defending yourself and utilize every power at your disposal to promote this worthy effort.

    By the way, no other local bloggers have responded in any way, so Steve gets points for keeping up to date on the issue. That said, I can’t help thinking it’s as much about preserving his public image as it is about suppporting ypsi.

    Hey, I did tell you I was a bitch.

    G’nite

  96. MaryD
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Amused-Maybe the bloggers are too busy out shopping locally. Most of us local yokels do this and have for years. It seems counterproductive to keep pointing fingers so divisively.
    And it does seem as if one cannot “win” with you either way. Steve appears dammed if he does and dammed if he doesn’t, because then it is self-serving? You seem to be happy to grinding your ax.

  97. amused1
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Mary, I was being rude and inappropriate. Shame on me. I could try to make excuses for my comments, but excuses wouldn’t alter the fact that I was wrong to say the things I said.

    Steve, I hope you’ll accept my sincere apology. My comments were out of line.

    To other local bloggers, I apologize to you as well. Mary’s right, everyone does there own thing in their own way.

    To fellow readers, I apologize for throwing that ugliness into the world. Lord knows, there’s plenty enough out there already.

    Mary, thank you for reminding me what it’s all about. I am taking your advice and replacing the ax with my shopping basket.

  98. mark
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I don’t think there’s a conspiracy. I’d like to believe it, but I don’t think it’s true. I just think that everyone is busy. I get emails from a lot of folks doing good work in the community, asking that I write about them here. Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time. It’s not that I don’t support them. It’s just that time is limited, etc. And I do think the other bloggers you mention do their own things to support local businesses. Laura (YpsiDixit) was behind the Stuff Your Stocking night in Depot Town last year, and I assume she’s going to be involved this year as well… With all of that said, however, I wish that people would link to the Shop Ypsi page if they have the time and inclination to do so. I think our merchants would appreciate it.

  99. Posted December 1, 2007 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    amused1 – you’re right, I’m sorry, I’ve been derelict in my publicizing of the Shop Ypsi efforts. Please accept my sincere apologies on behalf of the entire staff of Common Monkeyflower Dot Net. We’ll try to do better next time, when I’m not busy guest lecturing at the UM Business School about the importance of shopping locally in general and the Shop Ypsi effort in particular. :)

    (ps, just how high do you think my readership is, anyways?)

  100. egpenet
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    How high IS your readership? I hear, if you eat enough tofu very fast … you get a buzz.

    What’s with all these apologies? Mayor call you guys, too?

  101. John on Forest
    Posted December 1, 2007 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I guess I read amused1’s post, posted yesterday at 13:30 a little differently the the rest of you. It seemed to me like it was a FRIENDLY challenge and reminder that Shop Ypsi is important, and several owners of blogs could take three minutes to put a short post and link up on their blogs.

    Steve’s response came off a little defensive in my opinion. Amused1’s response to Steve’s response was emotional and he’s appologized for it.

    I can’t say if MM gets better readership, or different readership than any of the other local blogs; but, I’d say saturated coverage is better than unsaturated. Why not have the Shop Ypsi campaign mentioned on everyone’s blog?

    Steve, thanks for the 1000 emails on the subject.

  102. egpenet
    Posted December 4, 2007 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    102 comments … AND COUNTING.

    I wanted to keep some thread going regarding the city.

    Goal-setting meetings are coming up December 8, 15, and January 26 (all Saturdays) to be held from 9AM to 3PM or so at the Haab’s Clinic Meeting Room at 111 N. Huron.

    There is time for comment, but mostly we will be observing the council in action as they discuss actions to reach the goals elaborated by themselves in a resolution from Council Member Robb on February 6, 2007.

    I couldn’t copy them here from the pdf but they are strikingly similar to several of the rants and raves I have made here and others have seconded over the last several weeks. The key is how they are elaborated and to what detail action is taken.

    SCIT has been silent on ideas. I have not. I was quite surprised to see some of my concepts embedded in the council’s goals. And I have been hearing most recently of the city taking steps to build relationships throughout the county along the lines we have proposed. I don’t give a flying hoot who gets credit here.

    Get the job done, and done fast.

    The credit markets are imploding. The stock market is headed for a fall. The Fed is going to cut again by 50 basis points in December, and continue doing so “to rebuild public trust.” This will ignite inflation like we haven’t seen since President Carter’s days.
    And if you think Grandholm’s tax increase plan is bad for Michigan, by the end of next year, we’ll have a Democratic President that will set off a tax hike and trade protection program that is sure to kill the car business in the US … sealing our fate in Michigan.

    Our City Council and the Democratic Party are like Microsoft. Rather than writing simple and elegant software, they have simply been adding layers and layers of codee to DOS over the years. The City and the Dems add laws, and ordinances, and levies that have choked the system and killed business. I prefer the Apple, open software model, simple, clean, uncluttered, and available to all to emulate.

    Keep the goal sessions on your calendars. Attend. Don’t be intimidated. An electorate that feels silenced has lost the war before the first battle has been engaged.

    I know it’s Christmas … however, it’s time to lock and load.

  103. Demosthenes
    Posted December 5, 2007 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to the meetings this month. It’s too bad they won’t be televised on community television channel, so I could listen in while I’m wrapping presents and loading the dishwasher.

    Someone should print out all the comments on this thread, as well as “so, what gets cut” and “Does Ypsi need another downtown?”, make copies and distribute to the council persons and mayor so they would have the ideas that have been posted here.

  104. egpenet
    Posted December 5, 2007 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if Steve Pierce is planning on taping these meetings. Steve?

    Pretty please!

  105. Posted December 6, 2007 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Yes, we will be recording the City Council meetings and will post them on http://www.YpsiNews.com as soon as possible.

    – Steve

  106. Posted December 6, 2007 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    We always need help recording City meetings. We especially need help recording AATA Board, Planning Commission and School Board. Most meetings are about 2 to 3 hours and in the evening time. If you have time in the morning, we need help recording DDA meetings which are usually 8 in the morning.

    Also if you know of a community meeting we should record, let us know. We just did the Senior Summit and we recorded the Taser meetings recently held by Ypsilanti Police last summer.

    Cheers!

    – Steve

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