the cherrys demolish ypsilanti’s water street

Steve and Hillary Cherry, for those of you who are new to these parts, used to live here in Ypsialnti. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but they may be responsible for getting me blogging. At the very least, they got me interested in writing about my local community. I’d always loved Ypsi, but it never occurred to me to really get involved until I met Steve and Hillary. They’ve since moved on to Hamtramck, but they had a blog here in Ypsi for a few years called The Seat of Revolution. I guess you could say they were “shit kickers.” They’d stir things up. They recorded police radio chatter and made it available for download over their site. They attended City Council meetings and asked questions that the local press wasn’t. I have no doubt that they were hated by some. I loved them, though. They really believed in the power of local economies, the genius of Jane Jacobs, and the Bill of Rights, among other things. And I think that our community is a lot worse off without them. Sure, they could, on occasion, be a little too negative, but I found their honesty refreshing.

Anyway, a few days ago, on their new site, the Hamtramck Star, they decided to go back and cover some old Ypsi territory. Specifically, they decided to delve into the mess known as Water Street. What they’ve put together is a very detailed timeline showing exactly how we got to where we are today. The result, I’m ashamed to say, is far better than anything any of us living here in town, have done to date. I’m not in 100% agreement with their assessment in some places, and, as someone who loves this town, I found myself getting defensive at their tone on occasion, but the truth is that it’s pretty damned accurate as far as I can tell. Check it out by following that last link, and let me know what you think.

You might be asking yourself why Steve and Hillary would be going to all the trouble now, some four years after they left Ypsilanti. Well, I talked with Steve, and it looks like Hamtramck might be headed off down the same path that we took. So, they’re using the story of Ypsilanti as a cautionary tale. They don’t want their new home town to get into business best left to real estate developers. (Hamtramck, as I understand it, is appointing a brownfield authority, and, even worse, I’m told that there are some lobbying for the slogan “Hip Hamtramck.”) Hopefully, the Cherrys are successful.

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  1. mark
    Posted January 22, 2008 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know that it’s necessary for me to mention it every time I have a Water Street post, but it is worth remembering that, at least at the outset, there was a kernel of a good idea here. The city, unable to grow geographically, and with a dwindling tax base, had to attempt something. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it was executed poorly. That doesn’t mean, however, at least in my opinion, that the idea wasn’t a good one.

  2. todd
    Posted January 22, 2008 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    Steve and Hillary are so cool it’s absurd.

    I’m totally amazed at the people who understood how to use the internet as a tool (AAIO, the people at Arbor Update, the Bunker) to make a community better long before I had gotten used to email.

    My hat is off.

  3. Posted January 23, 2008 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    Mark, I used to give you credit for my interest in blogging but I guess I owe that credit to Steve and Hillary.

  4. mark
    Posted January 23, 2008 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Lke I said, I can’t remember the exact sequence of events. I think I had a blog before I took notice of the Cherrys. It was certainly because of them, however, that I started paying attention to local politics. They made it seem less intimidating. And, to some extent, I was motivated by guilt. I started feeling a responsibility to pitch in and help as best I could… I keep hoping that Ypsi might get another person as ambitious as one of the Cherrys, but I don’t see it happening.

  5. Thoreau
    Posted January 23, 2008 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Water Street was always a super crappy idea. Some of my favorite photos are of a big flood about 100 years ago where its totally underwater with sheds and rooftops floating by. I will try to find it. The water will go over Michigan Ave again someday, and it really will be water st, then.

    That should be a park only. Greenspace. Building pavement and roofs along the Hurin is ecologically corrupt as well.

    When a group gets together starving for an idea for something new, or a plan to save the world (or city) the idea can’t stop sometimes, like a moving train. Thing is, sometimes the train has no tracks ahead. And then its a wreck.

    I also found it interesting how our mayoral campaign, the candidates all changed their stance as I had known it talking to them way before the election.

    Ypsi needs to think way differently. Not look at AA or anywhere else.

  6. Dr Cherry
    Posted January 23, 2008 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

  7. Hillary
    Posted January 23, 2008 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Mark: There was no way to execute the envisaged plans well. It all looks very nice on paper, but the numbers never worked.

    We learned about blogging from Linux Journal, March 2003. The Water Street project is responsible for our interest in City Council meetings. The blogging community in Washtenaw County has always been something special., The Goodspeed Update, and AAIO all predate the Seat and Bunker.

    Todd: We’re flattered. I wish your bar was closer to our house.

  8. egpenet
    Posted January 23, 2008 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    While we HAD an economy here in Ypsilanti, it was fun to jest about Ann Arbor. We no longer have more than a fraction of an economy … most of it now in the hands of EMU (hooray for EMU!), the County and State (more food stamps, please! Thank you!), and a few outlying jobs in the townahips and Wayne County with what’s left of Ford(s) and GM. All else is small potatoes.

    Know what?

    When I have had large gardens (once or twice in my lifetime), “small potatoes” were the next best thing! I’d slice those little seed buggers, fertilize the heck of them, mound up the top soil and mulch, and in just a few weeks … gadzillions of delicioso tubers!

    The issue is how to get Ypsilanti to think small-big … at the same time. Like a potatoe mound. Small sets … big mound.

    We have a form of government with a City Manager and a Mayor/Council. Problem is .. we have a weak Manger and a naive council. Decisons appear to be uninformed and/or ill-conceived. Worse, is that a lot of consensus is built over the phone or in private conversations, so that council comes to pre-made/pre-formulated decisions without public input or careful onsideration.

    A very weak team … leading us into the 21st century.

  9. cra
    Posted January 23, 2008 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    allow a private investor to build a ballpark on this site already as the city isnt a real estate agent !

  10. Paul Schreiber
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    egpenet said:
    “Decisons appear to be uninformed and/or ill-conceived. Worse, is that a lot of consensus is built over the phone or in private conversations, so that council comes to pre-made/pre-formulated decisions without public input or careful onsideration.”

    All council decisions are made in public. City council has audience participation at the beginning and at the end of meetings with remarks from the mayor in response. Ordinances under consideration have a public hearing usually sandwiched by council questions and comments.

    Mr. egpenet is welcome to attend city council meetings to see first-hand how business is conducted. All city council meetings are open to the public in accordance with the Open Meetings Act.

    Paul Schreiber

  11. Paul Schreiber
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    City council, not city staff, should be held responsible for decisions that were made concerning Water Street (except for the Cherrys leaving Ypsilanti).

    City council will consider proposals from real estate agents to find developers who are interested in investing in Michigan and Ypsilanti. If no developers can be found that will take on the whole project, then city council will consider dividing up Water Street into parcels so that smaller developers can bid. All decisions will be made during meetings open to the public.

    Paul Schreiber

  12. Thoreau
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Maybe we can get a heating and cooling company, an iron and metal company, a couple small houses, a door company and an antiques business to move on the property.

    Oh, wait we kicked them out and they moved down the road already.

  13. Thoreau
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    A new study by the Huron River Watershed Council finds that a transfer of development rights program could provide significant ecological protection to the Huron River watershed.

    The study, completed in December, created three scenarios using actual pieces of property in the watershed and looked at how a hypothetical transfer of development rights program would affect the parcels and the communities they are in.

    Transfer of development rights allows a developer to purchase development rights – such as the right to build houses – for one piece of property and transfer them to another piece of property. The first piece of property is then protected from development, while the developer gets to build more houses than otherwise would be allowed on the second piece of property.

    “Transfer of development rights creates more compact development that helps preserve areas that communities would deem as important for agriculture and natural features,” said Elizabeth Riggs, watershed planner with the council and the main author of the study.

    According to the study, transferring development can help reduce impermeable surfaces, which eases problems from run-off that raises stream volume, velocity and temperature and carries sediments and pollutants into streams.

    Even moderately intense development, with 8 percent to 10 percent impervious surfaces throughout an area, can negatively affect streams, the study says

  14. John on Forest
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    In my opinion, the idea of Water Street was NOT a bad idea.

    In it’s simplest form the idea was this: Take a non-contiguous (that is having multiple ownerships) section of the city that was poorly developed and as a whole vastly underutilized and revitalize it by making it contiguous (at least to begin with) and planning it out to make the most of the acreage.

    The goal of the Water Street project was to facilitate the conversion of a fairly large parcel in the city from one of lessor property value and economic vitality into one of larger property value and economic activity.

    That the city did so before clearly understanding the extent of brownfield contamination on the site was a major mistake. That mistake resulted in significant delays and eventually the pull out of our primary developer for the site. Those delays then pushed us into a less economically stable time period which had stymied our ability to attract another developer and press the project ahead.

    Monies borrowed to facilitate the conversion of this parcel are now coming due, exacerbating our city’s finances.

    Everything,negative, that has transpired since the idea of Water Street was first conceived do NOT negate the soundness of the original idea. Yes, the execution of the idea was poor.

  15. Navin R. Johnson
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    Titanic was a good idea.

    The Zeppelin was a good idea to somebody too.

  16. egpenet
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Right on, John! I supported Water Street and STILL support it.

    The timing was risky, but the execution was poor and the developers just couldn’t make it work. And then the economy really soured. But it WILL HAPPEN.


    On the subject of council meetings … of necessity, prior conversations, discussions, agreements, negotiations, phone calls, notes emails, etc. … all MUST take place outside of council meetings or nothing would ever get done. Coalitions and the gathering of votes and the very timing of votes, even the timing of meetings, especially “special meetings” are all political.

    By the time something comes for a first reading, most often the wave is already too heavy for any public comment to turn the tide.

    Fine. OK.

    That leaves us with results in the Ann Arbor News, and the opportunity to come across like a bunch of grumpy old men in these blogs. Sorry, Mr. Mayor. Just ignore my rants.


    Kudos to the Fire Chief and the Police Chief for their efforts toward cooperative operations. I trust the council feels the same way and will support their efforts to maintain high service levels where public safety is concerned.

  17. Ol' E Cross
    Posted January 24, 2008 at 10:59 pm | Permalink


    Where do you suggest we transfer the development rights to? We’re not talking about greenfield development here. We’re looking at an area that has had businesses, streets and homes (impervious surfaces) for more than 100 years. So, the city did the old businesses a favor by buying them out and sparing them from the looming flood?

    We’re looking at a project that, eventually, will reduce environmental contamination and run-off into the river, add public park/greenspace, reduce suburban sprawl, potentially revitalize a struggling downtown, etc.

    Yes, it’s costing a lot. But I prefer even a flailing attempt at redevelopment to the prevailing ruin and relocate model.

    Navin. Some things fail; best not try anything new? Inspirational.

  18. JMeyer
    Posted January 25, 2008 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    If Water Street were a good idea with a high probability of success and future profits then private business would be fighting to get the rights to get it going. Former City Councils (and some current members) thought it was a good idea to use other peoples money (our tax dollars) on a highly speculative venture that blew up in their faces. When resources are scarce, as tax revenues are in Ypsilanti, you don’t speculate with a large portion of funds. Unless, you’re intent on pushing city finances over the edge so that the State will step in and cover your losses.

  19. John on Forest
    Posted January 25, 2008 at 10:45 pm | Permalink


    As OEC just said, is the only alternative then to let our old urban core rot into the river???

    Water Street suffers from a current wrinkle, a dollar warp, or worm hole of sorts in our economy. The timing of such puts us in a pickle for a time. But, the economy will turn around and the calculations that will make Water Street a good investment by a developer or two will once again become positive.

  20. egpenet
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    What past and present Managers, Mayors and Councils thought is now under the bridge.

    There ARE, in fact, very good developers who specialize in brownfield development looking at the Water Street area.

    We, however, happen to be kneeeeeee-deep in a recession in Michigan … and if the worst case scenario develops in our banking system … we will be ass-deeeeep in bond insurance company deafaults that the neon signs on top of our local banks may fail.

    We won’t know that for another six to nine months. (Ain’t that something to look forward to?)

    Anybody want to run for President and have THAT in your lap? (I DARE Hillary to try and raise taxes in that environment.)

    That too will pass, and we will go on with Water Street, which I feel is a great opportunity to extend our downtown another three to four blocks with new retail, residential and office.

    And now that Nathan “By The Letter of the Law” Vought is out of the picture, maybe we have a teamat City Hall that sees some wisdom in “Let’s Make A Deal!” (Before Nathan, it was tell them anything but give the Arpage. Then, Nathan came along and it was “Bend Over!” Hopefully, a more welcoming and business-like atmosphere will prevail.)

    I like how Ann Arbor has benefitted from their restraint with Pfizer. A2 got screwed by Pfizer, I thought. But everyone kept their cool, and Pfizer gave a big chunk of cash back to the city. Then, it helped relocate/re-position a lot of their peolle at the U-M, with U-M commitment. Now, recently, a lot of very expensive equipment is being transferred at a loss to new start-ups, U-M and other entities … $6 million worth!

    Wouldn’t it be NICE of Visteon/ACH would do the same in Ypsilanti … or GM … or Marsh Plating … or Amtrack/NY Central railroad … or Motor Wheel. …

  21. Posted January 26, 2008 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    And now that Nathan “By The Letter of the Law” Vought is out of the picture, maybe we have a teamat City Hall that sees some wisdom in “Let’s Make A Deal!”


    Are you implying that I’m not interested in upholding the law, or just not up to it? Either way, I’m a little offended.

  22. John on Forest
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Right on Ed.

    I wonder what we could do with all that automotive manufacturing equipment. I think making 150 foot long blades for wind turbines would be a great business to have in Ypsi.

    Are you trying to tell us that Marsh Plating has or is leaving town too???

  23. egpenet
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I apologize to the Planning department for spreading more angst … when they must say “NO” it’s “No” to idea people, developers, homeowners, remodlers, etc. … and rather than focusing on denials of activity … I am prompted to focus on what’s being reviewed, permitted and completed in the city.

    I hear (in converstaions and asides) only the complaints, and have witnessed firsthand only some of the confusion. So, as I’ve said privately and publicly … what I see and hear is confusion … and I am reminded of a line from “Cool Hand Luke” … What we have heree is a failure to communicate.”

    What are the “hoops” and “how high” do we have to go … and on the other side … get the job done right people. I’ve seen enough partial or poorly defined applications at the HDC to belive the stories at City Hall.

    As an aside … there is always gossip about how “easy” it is for business people to get “things” done in Ann Arbor. Perhaps, that is one reason I chose to move from there to here … where there is SOME measuree of control being exercised over a policy of anything goes.

  24. mark
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been talking with a business owner in Ann Arbor who has been having a hell of a time with their Planning Department.

  25. todd
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    “As an aside … there is always gossip about how “easy” it is for business people to get “things” done in Ann Arbor.”

    You have got to be kidding. I don’t know a single….not one….business owner in Ann Arbor who doesn’t have a horror story to tell.

    There are entire construction companies and contractors who won’t do business in Ann Arbor.

    I wouldn’t open another business in Ann Arbor if you paid me hundreds of thousands of dollars. Totally serious. If I told you what we went through, you’d fall off your chair.

    The Greffs told me that working with Ypsi was a breeze.

  26. mark
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    When I ask for specific cases illustrating what people don’t like about our Planning Department, I rarely get back responses that lead me to believe they’re “anti-business.” If someone has a good example of our Planning Department acting inappropriately, let me know, I’ll start a new thread on the front page, and I’ll ask a representative from the Planning Department to respond.

  27. mark
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Todd, if you’re free, come out to Frenchie’s on the 21st. Me and the goons will buy you a beer, and put on the hard sell for Ypsi.

  28. todd
    Posted January 26, 2008 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Well, thanks for the invite, but I’ll be in Colorado on the 21st.

    No need for the hard sell. I’m quite familiar with Ypsi and its suitability for business.

  29. mark
    Posted January 27, 2008 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Fair enough. You’re off the goon list for now.

    …And, you aren’t talking to any realestate agents when you’re out in Colorado, are you?

  30. todd
    Posted January 27, 2008 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Heh. Nope not talking to real estate agents there. Smart question, though.

    We’re launching our absinthe.

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