my big idea: shipping container artists’ colony in downtown ypsilanti

    As I’ve mentioned here before, the good folks at Pfizer, before packing up their Global R&D facility and leaving Ann Arbor for good, gave $1 million dollars to the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation with the stipulation that it be spent within one year’s time on high-impact projects. After giving the issue quite a bit of thought, and meeting with a great number of people knowledgeable about the needs of the community, the board of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation announced that they would primarily be looking to fund opportunities in Arts and Culture and Early Childhood Development. And, most importantly for us, they said that they would focus on Ypsilanti.

    Some of the funds, no doubt, have clearly already been set aside by this point for various projects, but, just before Christmas, the board announced that $200,000 was still available, and that they were going to use it to fund what they’re calling Big Idea grants, which could range anywhere between $50,000 and $200,000. (It’s conceivable that one organization will get the entire $200,000, but it seems more likely that the board will award 4 groups $50,000 each, or something along those lines.)

    My first thought, of course, was that our bike-powered film project would be a great candidate, but, as I couldn’t even begin to imagine how we’d spend $50,000, when the current budget comes in at less that $3,000, I went back to the drawing board. What I’ve come up with in its place is still a little rough, but, seeing as how the deadline for submissions is February 4, I thought that I’d throw it out here to get your feedback.

    Here’s the idea in a nutshell… We take a small plot of land in Ypsi (ideally on the Water Street property), stack it full of shipping containers, and begin leasing space to artists and entrepreneurs at the subsidized rate of $1 per square foot. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we could even pull the folks from Gallery 555 back from Detroit to manage the space. (They’re currently looking for a new home.) As I understand it, retired shipping containers can be had for something on the order of $1,250 dollars a piece. They would, of course, need to be insulated and made habitable, but I imagine that $75,000 from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation could go a long way, especially if a good portion of the architecture and building costs were donated.

    As we all know, Ypsi is well positioned to be a thriving center of artistic activity. (It’s already starting.) A high-profile space like the one I’m imagining would not only advance that cause, bringing more young, enthusiastic people with ideas here to Ypsilanti, but, if we were to do it on Water Street, it would be a great shot in the arm to spur on further development. My guess — and I’m pretty sure that I’m right — is that developers would rather build in a neighborhood featuring a funky, innovative, multi-level, green artists’ colony running on solar than, say, a Burger King or a strip mall. So, yeah, I’m suggesting that the City sell us an acre or two of land cheap contingent on our raising the money, drafting plans and making something happen. And, yes, I know it’s a gamble, but I for one would rather gamble on a few dozen artists and a couple of cool shops than on a Burger King.

    So, what’s your big idea?

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