what the consultants have to say about ypsi

As I mentioned a little while ago, we in Ypsi have been playing host off and on for these past few weeks to a group of DC-based urban development consultants. They’ve been interviewing our store owners along Michigan Avenue, pouring over our demographic data, talking with people within something like a 50-mile radius about their spending habits, and, I would hope, putting it all together to see where there might be potential. Well, on Monday night, they’re supposed to tell us what they’ve found… Prior to that meeting, if you haven’t already, you’ll probably want to check out the study conducted by the same group in 1992. One would hope we didn’t just pay $50,000 ($25K of which came from the State) to get a re-hash of what came before infused with new economic development buzzwords. For what it’s worth, I’m optimistic.

I first came to Ypsi in 1992, and, from my perspective, the City has changed dramatically for the better in that time. And I’m not just talking about the stuff on the surface. Yes, the number of porn shops has decreased as the number of locally-owned coffee shops has increased, but I think it’s more than that. It’s more than just a few visionary business owners investing their time and money in the community, opening shops and rehabbing previously neglected buildings. The most important change, I think, is with the people living here themselves. They’re starting to take an active role in determining what their City is going to be like in the future. People have always felt passionately about this place, but now, it seems to me, they’re deciding to actually get involved. Maybe it’s because our City government has been melting away, leaving gaps in service that need to be filled, but people are jumping in to contribute like they haven’t in a long time, and, in the process, they’re beginning to feel empowered. I don’t want to overstate it, but my sense is that people here in Ypsi are discovering that they themselves have the agency to create positive change. And I think that’s fairly unique. I certainly don’t get that feeling in Ann Arbor, for instance, where things have reached a kind of tolerable equilibrium across the board.

Neighborhood associations are growing, community gardens are flourishing, and local blog traffic is increasing daily. Bottom-up, community-originated initiatives like Wireless Ypsi, the Shadow Art Fair, the Solar City Hall project, the downtown farmers market, YpsiVotes, our various Friends groups, and Growing Hope are stepping up to the challenge and they’re doing great things. I know that we’ve always had bright, dedicated people in this community who cared about creating a good place to live and work, but that spirit is more palpable now, it’s more ambitious, and it seems to be spreading like a virus. Maybe my view is a bit skewed, seeing as how I work here at MM.com and I’m constantly interacting with people attempting ambitious things, but my impression is that people are more engaged than ever. I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but, at least in my case, there was a point that I thought, “I am a stakeholder in this community, this is where I’ve decided to raise my family, and I share the responsibility for protecting what is good, and directing growth in a positive, sustainable way.” And I think that others are realizing the same thing. I know we complain a lot on this site, but I think it’s been a pretty good 16 years.

Now, let’s focus and get damn the Freighthouse open. (And let’s hope the consultants don’t advocate non-locally owned big box retail.)

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  1. mark
    Posted March 6, 2008 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    That link to the 1992 HyettPalma study will just take you to the first 1/4 of it. To see the rest, you have to go to the DDA’s website. Just scroll down and you’ll see links to all four parts toward the bottom.

  2. schutzman
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    the link in your comment needs an “l” at the end of it.

    For those of you who don’t have time to read the whole study, i would suggest just skipping to part 3, page 108, where wackiness ensues for a few paragraphs.

  3. Ypsi dweller
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I received this last night and thought that you might find it of interest as it relates to the Freighthouse.

    Yesterday, the Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse submitted a reguest to http://www.myhometownhelper.com, a General Mills/Hamburger Helper site which funds worthy projects in “hometowns” across the country. We are delighted that they agreed that the Freighthouse met their criteria and have made us part of their “hometown helper” projects.

    What we need now is support from the community. That’s YOU!!! We will not get this grant without your help!

    If you click on the link below, you’ll go to a page where you can make a comment in support of restoration of our Freighthouse. Please feel free to use your own words. But if you need some prompting, take a look at the text below and take something from it!


    Please add your voice! We CAN make a difference if we all speak up!

    I don’t know how much the grant is for, or whether it will require a huge sign reading, “Welcome to the General Mills Hamburger Helper Freighthouse”.

  4. Edward
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    The report, if it’s worth a damn, will focus on live entertainment, good beer, green industry and rail connectivity.

  5. Steph
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    According to the website linked to, the Friends of the Freighthouse are asking Hamburger Helper for $15,000.

  6. John on Forest
    Posted March 8, 2008 at 9:13 pm | Permalink


    I don’t understand fully the bias against franchise businesses (what you call “big box”). I’m not writing this as a rebuttal to your statement “let’s hope the consultants don’t advocate non-locally owned big box retail.” Rather, I’m asking for explanation of it, please.

    I fully agree and support the notion that locally owned businesses are important to what Ypsilanti is. But, I don’t know why it has to be exclusively local? Isn’t there room for both? I’m of the opinion that foot traffic in our business districts would be increased if there was a diversified set of business, including some national franchises.

    If we DON’T want “big box”, then shouldn’t we do something to get Ace Hardware out of downtown? (For example).

  7. egpenet
    Posted March 8, 2008 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    ACE isn’t a “franchise” it’s a co-op of locally owned and operated stores.

    KFC is a franchise and it’s on Michigan & River.

    Walgreen’s is coming in on Michigan & Prospect.

    The subshop on Cross & Ballard is a franchise.

    There was a franchise subshop in Depot Town but they moved.

    DejaVu is a corporate chain, too.

    All the banks in town are corporate shops.

    The Rent-To-Own places are corporate shops.

    The Honda store is a franchised store, part of a larger dealership syndicate.

    Sesi is its own syndicate with two or three stores now.

    The gas stations are corporate.

    What most of us want are locally owned and managed business downtown that will “fit” into the fascades and planning and zoning guidelines we have. We aquired and assembled the Water Street property for housing and retail, NOT for a ballpark or a Wal-Mart or a Best Buy or a Target, John.

    All of the business I mentioned are strong Ypsi citizens. And those that are in the Historic District have met every guideline. The KFC did a great job to confrom, I think, and serves the community well.

    What we do NOT want to happen downtown is what has been allowed to happen on Main Street, Liberty and elsewhere in Ann Arbor … where so-called “A” businesses have come in and driven competitive prices up for real estate, raising costs to the customer, but providing no increase in product and service value to the customer.

    The Starbucks Corp. can pay the high rents, but Bombadill’s or The Mug or even The Wolverine serves a decent cup of coffee for $1.00 or so. They have Wi-Fi, too. The property owners make out just fine, though. You want Ann Arbor? I moved here to get away from that crap.

    The Wolverine is our Fleetwood. No one in the County can touch Biggie’s fish sandwich. Even out panhandlers are funkier and our street walker are the ugliest … which is the way it should be. Lucky us.

  8. John on Forest
    Posted March 9, 2008 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Ed. I agree with the vision and rationale, and I wasn’t suggesting a Wal-mart or the like.

    But, to really draw me to downtown on a regular basis, other than to eat, I’d like a place where I can buy an ink cartridge for my printer, a new (or used) game for my son for his XBox360, and some pvc pipe for my latest backyard construction project.
    At competitive prices, of course.

    I’d also like to see every single store front downtown, that the folk in the township think they need in their new downtown.

  9. egpenet
    Posted March 9, 2008 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I agree.

    But it ain’t gonna happen until Michigan becomes economically competitive.

    Maybe that’ll happen sooner than later if the stock market breaks below 1150 and takes us all down a few notches in the next couple weeks.

  10. Posted March 9, 2008 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I see it both ways. I think JoF’s point is that maybe some “big box” will help the little guys with the foot traffic.

    Ann Arbor gets criticized a lot, but I think people need to look at just how many small businesses there are down there that have thrived for 20 years or more. Ann Arbor is a destination, because of the diversity. I worked at a private owned retail specialty store on Liberty for three years (about 10 years ago), and they did great, largely because of the walk in foot traffic. They recently celebrated their 30th year of being in business and also have another store in the Plymouth Rd. mall.

    I know it’s a slippery slope…In a perfect world, Ypsi would be the funky mom and pop shop capitol of Michigan, and the downtown would be a buzzin’ everyday. It would just take a lot of things to happen all at once. I remember a comment from the Henrietta Farenheit owner who gave some great examples of why it’s just not worth it for business owners to move to Ypsi. I’ve personally thought about opening a brick mortar store in Ypsi (Hedger calls me once a year to see if I’m ready to look for a space) for my record store, but it’s just not a good business decision. Maybe it will be someday. What’s cool is all the effort being made – it’s something I really appreciate my neighbors of this town doing. Whenever I take out of town guests out and about around Ypsi they’re just amazed at how cool it is and they always predict that it’s the kind of town that could start doing really well.

    Eg, you’re right about the economy, both locally and nationally, and that sure doesn’t help right now. But we’ve got a lot going and a lot to look forward to. I think when the weather breaks we’ll all feel a lot better.

  11. egpenet
    Posted March 9, 2008 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to literally count the names the next time I’m on Liberty and Main. But unless my memory doesn’t serve me well, excluding restaurants but including coffee shops, there are, perhaps, 10 retailers from State to Main on Liberty that still exist from 20 years ago … and less than 5 from Huron South on Main to William. I would expect that, business being business. But what has replaced the former local places are mostly franchises or small chain outlets. That’s my point. Whether they well-serve the community only the community can answer. Actually, I don’t think the community does care, or you wouldn’t have lost the stores you did lose.

    There are so many levels to the problems in Ypsilanti’s downtown, even aside from the state and national issues. A few issues are: (1) Most empty buildings are NOT move-in ready; (2) Many occupied buildings have on-going serious issues; (3) Many retail spaces are simply too large for one edgy business … and at the same time too awkwardly small for most small chains, like a Radio Shack; (4) the better downtown store front locations are occupied by several non-retail businesses, which mitigates against foot traffic; (5) some building owners are “holding on” for higher selling prices, perhaps, pending Water Street development … and those days are gone for now; (6) handicap accessibility is a must and can be accomodated with some effort; (7) front and rear fascade issues are always raised with concerns about HDC and other codes, but while important, those are non-issues, including imaginative signage and lighting.

    There are other issues, but all can be addressed. What we neeeed right now are a few more ballsy investors like the Mauers and Beal to jump in and just DO it.

    If someone like J-O-F needs electronic games or PVC, that’s an entrepreneurial first step. See the need. Step Two … fill it!

  12. John on Forest
    Posted March 9, 2008 at 6:42 pm | Permalink


    I don’t remember where I saw it, but I’ve even seen a McDonalds restaurant (somewhere!!) that had a historical facade that matched the location. It’s not something that can’t be done. [I’m not saying McDonalds is what we want, just using it as an example of what can be done]

    CV has it exactly right….get the critical foot traffic down there.

  13. egpenet
    Posted March 9, 2008 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    CV is VERY correct about foot traffic.

    Drive downtown Saline, Milan, Manchester, Chelsea … decent foot traffic, but not great … but there ARE many nice little shops that I wonder why can’t we have little places like that here.

    Some of the answers to why not (yet) I have detailed above.

  14. oliva
    Posted March 9, 2008 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

    Yes, yes, yes, to rail connectivity (again)!

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