my third post for concentrate is on the freighthouse

It’s not up yet, but here’s the next article scheduled to run on Concentrate:

What’s it going to take to open Ypsi’s Freighthouse?

There are a lot of things that need to happen in Ypsilanti. A favorite pastime here in town is debating the order in which they need to be addressed. Or, maybe it’s more appropriate to say that we fight over it. That’s what happens when resources dry up. People, all probably well intentioned, begin to squabble. For every project that takes a step forward, you can bet there’s someone in the wings, cursing their good fortune. And, I’m just as guilty of this kind of thinking as anyone.

Recently, I got it into my head that Ypsilanti’s Riverside Arts Center had perhaps unfairly claimed funds that should have been directed toward the reopening of Ypsilanti’s historic Freighthouse. I’m still not confident that there isn’t cause to be upset, but I don’t think that the protracted online squabble that resulted from my remarks does either group any good.

But I feel passionately about the Freighthouse.

It’s my favorite place in the entire world.

Or, at least, it was.

I can’t remember when I first started going there. It was probably 11 or 12 years ago now. It was a magical kind of a place. A handful of other communities out there, I imagine, have public spaces warmed by wood burning stoves, where folks gather and talk, make music together, drink coffee, play with babies, and the like. There was something different here, though. I’m trying hard not to use the word “spiritual” here, because I don’t want to be someone that would say something like that, but there was something about it that made me feel really good, and surprisingly optimistic about the human condition.

I’ve never been in a room where an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s could stand up and start dancing alongside little kids as though she were one of them, and it wouldn’t seem at all odd. But stuff like that happened at the Freighthouse all the time. I don’t want to overstate it, but there really was this incredible sense of inclusion and camaraderie that crossed all the typical lines that separate us from one another as human beings.

Sitting there on Saturday mornings was the most “in the moment,” free of worry, and happy that I have ever been. And it’s a big part of why I wanted to move back to Ypsilanti and settle down here. I wanted to live in a place where black kids could dance to amateur bluegrass next to an old man wearing a dress, like it was the most natural thing in the world. It reminded me of the Twin Peaks universe, only everything, instead of having a dark, seedy underbelly hidden just below the surface, had a kind of a hidden beauty, and a glowing shimmer. It was quirky and beautiful.

It was a like a little window into the heart of our City.

But that little window has been closed for the past several years now, due to repairs that need to be made. Apparently, until they’re done, no one will insure the once vital building.

So, when I had an opportunity on my blog not too long ago to argue that money directed toward the Riverside Arts Center should instead have been used to make the repairs necessary to reopen the Freighthouse, I took it. Several good folks came forward to explain the situation to me, and tell me why I was wrong to argue that one was more valuable to the community than the other, and they were probably right. They pointed out that, as wonderful a place as the Freighthouse was, there wasn’t a business plan in place that would see it operational, even if the repairs could be made. The Riverside Arts Center, on the other hand, had a plan, a track record, and a responsible Board. The Freighthouse had a Friends group that, while well intentioned, hadn’t been able to move the project forward significantly over the past several years. As it was explained to me by one person, “They’re organized enough to prevent a private developer from doing anything with in – like turning it into a McDonalds – but they aren’t organized enough to raise the money for the repairs and see it opened as a viable, self-supporting entity.” So, let’s say all that’s true — what now?

Are the people of Ypsilanti willing to get behind the Freighthouse in a significant way? It seems like there’s some movement in that direction already.

The Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse have applied for a $15,000 grant through Hamburger Helper’s My Hometown Helper program. In hopes that our project is among those selected this funding cycle, Ypsi residents were being encouraged to leave notes of support on the Hamburger Helper site. We had 272 notes of support by the deadline. If you have a chance, I’d recommend that you go over and read what your neighbors had to say about the historic railroad building, and what it’s meant to them. The stories of attending dances and weddings there, going back several generations, are quite touching. If there was ever any question that the Freighthouse was an integral part of our local community, this should erase any doubt.

The $15,000, if we get it, is only a fraction of the close to $400,000 in repairs that have been estimated, but it would be a fantastic step in the right direction, and, hopefully, it would encourage all of us to do more. Already, Caf

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9 Comments

  1. Posted April 17, 2008 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    Wow, Mark. What an uplifting story about our iconic building in Depot Town. I too miss sitting around that pot belly stove drinking coffee or cocoa and having a donut while listening to great music. Our family was there many Saturday mornings too.

    Speaking of transparency of community projects and funding: The Historic East Side Neighborhood Association won a $500 grant this winter from Wildflower Association of Michigan (WAM). The funds will be pooled with about $2000 that was collected from donations about three years ago. The funds will be applied (as the original donations were intended) towards a rehabilitation of Luna Lake in Prospect Park. The project will be planting of native species of plants that will survive the wetland-like conditions of Luna Lake, and also survive periodic drought conditions.

  2. Lark Gaytard
    Posted April 17, 2008 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    Mark and the Freighthouse sittin’ in a tree, Kay-I-eS-eS-I-eN-Gee…

  3. mark
    Posted April 18, 2008 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    I guess I should be thankful that’s all you saw.

  4. publius
    Posted April 18, 2008 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I’ll never forget the time my family went to the freighthouse and my 2-year old started dancing surrounded by young people and seniors all watching with smilies on their face. That day and that place was magical.

  5. Posted April 18, 2008 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    My wife and I had our wedding there on Nov 4, 2000. We were catered by Michael Cooper, local catering legend. And we had George Bedard and the Kingpins as our band. It was a GREAT night.

    When my wife got her wedding dress back from the place that cleaned it up and put it in a storage box, they apologized because they couldn’t get all the splinters out of the hem. I still laugh about that.

  6. UBU
    Posted April 18, 2008 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    And I’ll never forget the time those poets sat in a circle composing sonnets, similes on their faces….

  7. MaryD
    Posted April 19, 2008 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    I feel passionately about the Freighthouse too.

  8. Leak Woe Begone
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Yet more proof that Mark Maynard is the Garrison Keeler of blogging.

  9. thirdcity
    Posted June 5, 2008 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    According to a 5/22/08 memo to council from Edward Koryzno, the freighthouse has received the grant.

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