hyett palma delivers their findings on downtown ypsilanti

As you’ll recall from earlier posts, last night was when the consultants from Hyett Palma were supposed to share the findings of their study on downtown Ypsilanti. I got there about a half hour late. As I don’t know what was covered the first part, and since I haven’t yet read their final report, I should probably refrain from sharing any judgments one way or the other, but I do want to pass along a few thoughts. Following are my rough notes on Doyle Hyett’s presentation. I’m no doubt leaving things out, and misquoting him in places. If you were in the audience, feel free to call me out on stuff, add to my thoughts, etc.

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  1. Suzie
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Interesting! It’s true, some things are obvious but maybe we are too close to it, like “When you get off 94”, you’re lost. I still remember visiting a friend for the first time in Ypsi, and it’s totally true. Living here so long, I had forgotten. I don’t think there’s even a sign that points toward downtown, at all.

  2. egpenet
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Follow the money.

  3. Kranston
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I thought that a major deliverable was going to be a detailed analysis of regional buying habits and perceptions of Ypsilanti. Is that in the final report?

  4. egpenet
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    The Appendices in 1992 were pretty thorough.

  5. pete
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    i wish i could have made it on monday but i had a late class. I just have a few thoughts.

    I think the entertainment resources should be used to a fuller capacity to bring people in. There are lots of good small music venues but why couldn’t there be some shows out at frog island in summer/fall? its already a near perfect venue! I think you’d be hard pressed to find another city thats barely 4 square miles that offers more local music. I love what the RAC does but I have to admit too that I’m rarely there. I stopped in to see an art show some time ago and was amazed at how much the admission was; I know thats not by choice but it makes it tricky to draw people in.

    As for the smith bldg, yes its big old and ugly but i wouldn’t be so quick to tear it down if SPARK is still planning on moving in there. a business incubator would be terrific for getting new businesses started around town. I think with a bit of work that building could be an impressive operation…I bet they could even reuse the old sign frame (smith/spark both 5 letters) the incubator will let business ideas get off the ground with lower risk. creativity is the key and theres little doubt in my mind that it could be done. There’s a great graphics design firm a block away!

    businesses should make a tiny bit more effort to look welcoming. erratic hours and dark storefronts do make the place look desolate…even better encourage stores to stay open til 8 or 9pm if possible. There’s good news too though, like the bike shop expanding and the new gallery.

    The commuter rail has been one of the most promising ideas imaginable. If a feasible mass rail transit center can connect detroit, dearborn, ypsi, and ann arbor it would be a huge accomplishment for SE Mich. if someone would relinquish ownership of the depot it could even be rebuilt for the purpose. I’m willing to bet the freighthouse will be making a comeback soon enough too. One key is making the train stops reasonably close to city transit centers, i know I’d use it.

    State grants are great, the trick is educating people in how to get them.

    shadow fair is terrific, but at least for summer it really needs to expand to outdoors as it’s just getting too tight inside the cb. Annual city events are a strong asset.

  6. Posted March 12, 2008 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Thanks for taking notes and sharing. I wasn’t able to attend and am really glad there is another source for what went on.

    I also listened to Bob Eccles on WEMU, who provided a nice report, too:

    What are next steps for this report? Will the DDA take the recommendations and decide on an action plan?

    And one more specific question, What needs to happen to add left turns on Michigan Ave?

  7. schutzman
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    just to clarify: was the exact phrase “fun, funky, edgy, cool” being employed by the consultants?

  8. UBU
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Not a word about Ypsipanties? Does this guy not know who the TRUE Czar and Blog god of Hipsilanti is?

  9. Posted March 12, 2008 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Mark for posting this. I never seem to be able to get to any of this stuff and it’s nice to be able to get good commentary on these things. I really appreciate all you do.

    Now can we get rid of Deja Vu and turn that building into a theater again?

  10. egpenet
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    The DDA website has posted the complete report … including outlined strategy, some tactical suggestions and complete sidewalk survey data and financials.

    Turning OFF the lights at the Vu will require the very same strategies as getting the burned out street lights repaired by Edison … you and the rest of writing letters, picketing and making a LOT of noise.

    Maybe we could get Romulous to swallow yet another tenant in what amounts to their red light corridor. OR … since Ann Arbor doesn’t mind chains, get the VU to take over the “A” space from Leopold’s on S. Main.

  11. Pete
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 2:14 pm | Permalink


    I agree with the part about the vu. It’s not so much that I mind it being there i just think its a shame that the Martha Washington has been reduced to adult entertainment for a few decades now. I think that if they could be persuaded to relocate that building could be a jewel again. a landmark community theater is one of the few things i think is still missing from downtown. Granted that’s a pipedream that would require lots of money but I think in a place like this it could actually happen

    Also, hopefully a tenant can be found for the old bw3 location. I think it was a big mistake for them to move as it’s no longer walkable from everything else. Still, for the right entrepreneur with a good business plan that could be prime real estate.

  12. Posted March 12, 2008 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    The Vu Can’t move to A2. Ann Arbor adopted a zoning strategy to specifically prevent strip clubs from opening. If the Vu wanted to move inside the city limits, it’d be in one of the office/industrial parks out near the A2 airport.

    That said… I want the Vu out of there. Hyett says we need a movie theatre, let’s restore one.

  13. egpenet
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Maybe UofM could bring in the Vu as the College of Strip Mining.

  14. egpenet
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    It could disguise itself as a UofM sorority … Batta Bing Batta Vu.

  15. Posted March 12, 2008 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Having read the report, doesn’t it bear mentioning that a lot of the suggestions/goals aren’t particularly realistic given our current economic forecast and the overall lack of resources available to pursue these strategies?

    It’s nice to see the optimism, but the commuter rail idea alone is a multi-hundred-million-dollar project, and Water Street is a multi-ten-million-dollar project. The RAC is struggling to match funds to build an elevator — and the suggestion is to create an endowment? We don’t have the money for building inspections, picking up leaves, and full ordinance enforcement, but we are to pour scant resources into better media relations?

    Again, the optimism is truly nice to see, but the problem hasn’t really been a lack of ideas. It’s a lack of resources to implement the ideas we already have.

  16. egpenet
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Troubling as these times may be financially, there are resources rcommended in the report that are in addition to DDA/TIFF, etc.

    Specifically because this is a Cool Cities/Blueprint program with MSHDA support, funds are available and can be applied for .. facade, home buying, and more … all available through State resources.

    On top of that, the County has stepped up at the same time with their SPARK program.

    The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer these days, but the money and the interest is OUT THERE … it’s up to US to get it IN HERE.

    Saying US also includes those of us in the community alone or together taking more risks, if we care to achieve some of the goals … restorations, fix-ups, buying and selling, building a business downtown.

    That’s why it’s called: Blueprint.

  17. Posted March 12, 2008 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Hmmmm, I also was looking for more imaginative direction based on their experience in other communities. I agree that signage will make a big difference — I was thinking that myself, if only to differentiate Ypsi City from places like the strip of chains on Washtenaw. I remember when the original signs went in for Depot Town and the Huron St. Parking lot near The Corner Health Center (the *last* iteration, not the current one, which is not too bad). I hated the colors and the laminate materials — ugh. Hope we can do something a little more interesting that that.

    I like the Ypsilanti sign near the Depot. It has a historic feel that is better.

    I like the idea of mixing historic location with Art Rack idea — we could have bike racks that allude to the history nearby. I thought of the picture of the little girls who brought bouquets from the MCRR Gardens onto the trains and imagined silhouettes of them on a bike rack — or something referring to the Opera House or the Mineral Spas. Or, as Barry LaRue jokingly said, John Norman Collins’ motorcycle outside the former wig shop where he picked up his final victim. I think that would be great.

  18. egpenet
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 4:57 pm | Permalink


    I’d like to see a professional signage program, too. Gotta get rid of the last 40 years’ worth of signs … several different iterations exits throughout the city.

    We also need to work with MDOT to clean up the street signage through the city. It appears so cluttered and also plain ugly.

    Signs and racks don’t have to be old timey, though! If I wanted to live in Plymouth, I’d be there. Take a look at the artsy pipe racks on the sidewalks in Saline … LOTS of possibilities.

    Go to Chelsea and check out their wayfinding system … including downtown maps on building corners with built-in brochures and other info.

    The garbage cans are essential. I’m always picking up stuff, but I can never find a conveniently located canister or an empty one. I don’t want to snag along a litter bag everywhere I go, but trash is an issue on the streets and sidewalks.

  19. Posted March 12, 2008 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Well, I was thinking of historical in the sense of OUR history — and Plymouth certainly doesn’t have that. I was picking up on Hyatt’s theme of historical tourism, where he said those kinds of tourists stay longer and spend more than any other kind. Also, if I might add my two cents as someone who grew up in a resort town, I think they’d be less obnoxious than the usual sort of tourist. I’m just saying.

    Yes, I grew up “Downashore,” which translated means along the Jersey coast.

  20. egpenet
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely right. OUR history … past and present.

    Love the Jersey shore.

    The Riverside neighborhood Association is working on several historic tourism ideas as we write. The RNA includes a big chunk of the downtown. News at 11.

  21. Thoreau
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 7:46 pm | Permalink


    “Freaky-Deaky, and Hot”

  22. Thoreau
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    With the right modifications we can turn out another four quads per channel.

  23. Andy C
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Hyett Palma commented favorably on the VU saying it brings in tax dollars. They also praised us for having some of the best dive bars in the state.

    I loved what he said about the RAC, it’s a great space and very under used. I think maybe a Ypsi film coop could be formed to show classic, cult, and independent films there once a month. As for a theater it’s hard to compete with Showcase.

    I’m glad they also spoke up about pushing back the island on Michigan Ave. to accommodate left turns. Too bad they didn’t mention all the one ways streets.

  24. Posted March 12, 2008 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    I would like to clarify at this point that I have nothing personal against Deja Vu. Hell they could take over next door and I’d be ok with that. I just want the building turned back into a proper theater. One I can walk to and see art house/foreign/classic films at. Cartoon matinees for the kids on the weekends in the summer.

  25. mark
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Andy, I read the first part of your comment three times before realizing you weren’t talking about the Velvet Underground.

  26. mark
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

    And, yes, Brett, “fun, funky, edgy, cool” was something said by Doyle Hyett at least two times during the presentation.

  27. mark
    Posted March 12, 2008 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    As long as we’re reclaiming the RAC, why not reclaim the VU too… We should all start going there more often, and then start pushing for changes. How about showing noir classics on Thursday nights? I think it would be cool to watch “The Maltese Falcon” while strippers danced in the foreground.

  28. amused1
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    I find the retail breakdown beginning on page 90 of the detailed report very interesting. I hope the DDA and other groups make note of the retail categories with the best potential and focus on attracting those types of businesses. I found the misc. household equipment numbers especially surprising.

    As fuel prices continue to rise it will become more economical to trade in locally and regionally produced goods. A home goods store that features local and regional products should have a fighting chance if prices can be kept reasonable.

    Though I suspect my next comment will be unpopular I’ll throw it out there anyway. I believe the AATA transit center is more of a deterrent to business in the Pearl/Washington corridor than the Vu. Whether reasonable or not, I believe more people feel uncomfortable walking past the transit center than the Vu. I also suspect more people go out of their way to avoid that block of Pearl than they do that block of Washington.

    Someone mentioned “dive bars”. Hmm, personally, I like the “dive bars” of Ypsi. The level of service I’ve received in the “dive bars” of Mich Ave. has been consistently higher than the establishments in Depot Town. The crowds are generally more diverse and friendlier. While I prefer to think of myself as “edgy and hip” perhaps I’m just “divey”?

    Speaking of food and dining venues. Someone at the first public meeting mentioned a restaurant featuring locally grown foods. Actually, I think she said something about herbs and greens grown on the roof of the restaurant. I think it would be great to have a restaurant that worked with a cooperative of local, perhaps small plot and hobby farmers. I suspect many have had the experience of colleagues and friends bringing in bags of zucchini and tomatoes when the harvest is too much for one household.

    How great would it be to have an option to sell the abundance to a local restaurant? By working with a group of supplier farms the restaurant would have variety as well as some level of protection from crop failures. Also, better visibility to pest management techniques used by their suppliers. Imagine a salad of locally produced heirloom tomatoes and bread. Yum.

    Food preservation is another area I think should be explored. With the recent food scares a lot more people are looking at where their food comes from and how it’s processed. I wonder if it’s reasonable to explore the concept of a small batch processing co-op? Member suppliers sell their produce to the processor and also receive a discount on the end product. The rest can be sold to local markets and restaurants.

    Lots to think about.

  29. Meta
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Someone else is from down the shore, Lisele:


  30. Rob
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    ^^ You’re not flying off on a wild tangent about the transit center, Amused1, My (nearly!) elderly mother would agree wholeheartedly– Especially when the (4 or 5?) bus runs late missing the local (#11?) connector and she has to sit there fending off the constant stream of the addicted/ or nearby local half way house residents begging for change… My mother on a couple of occasions has been called a “bitch” once and had the dregs of a soft drink tossed at her feet for refusing to hand out her change– Now this is the only 2 incidents (that she’s told me) in YEARS of switching buses at the center, but still, for what is in effect the exact same area, she’s never once mentioned any problem she’s had to face personally from the VU or it’s patrons……. For me, I’ve no problem with the VU, but it would be a little more “classy” if they didn’t spell out on the marquee about the lurid details of what’s inside- I mean, come on! Everyone knows by now what the VU is all about…….

  31. Tommy
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Wow – great comments, all. No mention yet of the artists and the gays. Get them in here pronto – adds to the whole “fun, funky, edgy, cool” vibe. Anybody remember what Ferndale was like 20 or so years ago? We could get there too. Washington Street as the strip of clubs, getting progressively seedy as you go North from Michigan Ave. Bars and artist lofts mixed in with some homegrown businesses on Michigan Ave along with the Library (which is a way cool building). Well lit and patrolled pathways thru Riverside Park to the historical Depot Town. Finally, a bit more structure and activity from the Cross Street / Huron Street (or is it Huron River Drive by then?) South toward Michigan Ave. Now you have an accessible, walkable, “fun, funky, edgy, cool” and most likely vibrant little downtown.

  32. Andy C
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Hyett didn’t mention the Shadow Art Fair or the freight house because they both aren’t in the downtown area. Water Street wasn’t apart of it either but it’s hard to avoid. I’m sure no one told them about the Downtown Farmers’ Market and should have. I laughed at the idea of needing an art supply store when Art Attack is 1/2 a mile away. At the first meeting a guy said “we need a meeting place for things like this”…it’s called the Freight House buddy.

    The term “fun, funky, edgy, cool, diverse community.” was taken from how people saw the the city in the 1st meeting. In fact most of the report was pretty much what people said in response to their Q and A.

    The Maurers made a big impression because they own a lot of the downtown and they’re actually doing things with it. They also own a lot of the block I live on, and what rentals they don’t own are owned by Dave Kircher. I’ll take the Maurers any day.

    One more thing… At the 1st meeting a fella from the township suggested a walk/bike path from the city down to the Library/Krogers area of the township. I think that would be great. There’s a great park down by Ford Lake and it’s real hard to get to on foot or bike from the downtown.

  33. Posted March 13, 2008 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    I admit I’ve never gotten over my bitterness about the whole Whittaker Road library thing: they put it in saying YES, there will be bus service — but neglected to mention that the bus service was contingent upon a soon-to-expire grant. I almost never drive out there, even though it is a beautiful building, because I still feel angry about it. I’ll stick with the downtown location. If there was a great bike path out to it, I’d feel at least partially mollified.

    YES to a walkable theatre! And YES to an Ypsi Film Co-op to host movies at RAC. I’m in.

    About local food: Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver write stirringly about a few restaurants which are committed to reliance on local food. There are a lot of considerations, such as running out of items listed on the menu if local sources dry up for awhile. I think such a restaurant would require a different mindset from its clientele. However, I will be first in line and a regular customer.

    Speaking of local food: the community gardens are experiencing GREAT interest this year, at least on the west side of town. I fear we will not be able to put everyone in a plot — it’s definitely the highest interest ever. Which means, we need more community gardens! I’ve never yet had an open plot in four years — I think, if you build it, they will come. Also, at the Farmer’s Market this year, Growing Hope will be selling Kitchen Garden Kits. I would love to see our city growing on a scale not seen since WWII — 4’x4′ plots in every yard. As Asa Wilson once said to me, any yahoo can grow a better tomato in their backyard than anything you can buy in a store — period.

  34. Posted March 13, 2008 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    When the weather breaks, we’ll all feel good and things will start to happen. Amen to all the ideas.

  35. mark
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    What hurt the most was that he didn’t mention my bike-powered projection of “Night of the Hunter” in Riverside Park idea.

  36. John on Forest
    Posted March 15, 2008 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    All good comments here. I’d like to add a word about efficiency.

    It was mentioned that we need local theater AND better utilization of the RAC. YET, PTD Productions produces 4 or 5 plays each season. I’m not sure what kind of “collaboration with Purple Rose” is really needed.

    Someone wanted music brought to our local parks, and yet we have the Elvis Festival, used to have the WEMU sponsored Blues Festival, and from my house I hear other music wafting from the park on several occasions throughout the summer.

    There are lots of good ideas; but, just as much or more energy should be put into better promotion of some of the things we already have. Perhaps some of those things need some minor repackaging?

  37. amused1
    Posted March 15, 2008 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Thanks Rob, I’m glad to know I’m not totally living in a world of my own. :)

    I’d like to suggest taking the down town planters idea a bit further. I’d love to see street level businesses in the down town area put up window boxes. If purchased in bulk or through Congdon’s they don’t have to be expensive and aren’t too difficult to maintain. Culinary boxes could be featured in front restaurants. Some herbs have wonderful flowers and most have a great scent when brushed or pinched. Imagine the visual appeal of chives next to cilantro tucked up by curly parsley with trailing nasturtiums and a tower of rosemary in the center of it all. Hmmm toss in some bright green lemon balm and chocolate basil for a bit of contrast. Most herbs are pretty hardy and can take the harsh conditions of a street scape. The southern side of MI Ave is a bit tougher due to the lack of direct sunlight, but I wouldn’t mind seeing begonias and impatiens pouring over the sides of boxes on that side of the street.

    The HP report does strongly suggest improving Ypsi’s media presence, both in content and amount. There have been some really good articles in the past couple of years and the DDA and City Hall really must put a major effort behind building even better relationships with the media. TV is a challenge but print and radio should be pursued diligently. Of course part of the media game is being an advertiser. The advertising files are often the first place a writer goes to find an interview source for a story.

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