Where should we put the Ypsi train platform?

ypsidepot09smAs I mentioned a few days ago, there’s going to be a big community meeting on March 18 to discuss the proposed Ypsi train stop. Given the few conversations I’ve had with neighbors over the past month, I suspect that most of that discussion will revolve around the location of the boarding platform. As you may have read in today’s Ann Arbor News, there are three locations presently being considered. If you look at the attached image, I’ve marked the two primary areas in the running with red rectangles. One is on the west side of the tracks, next to the Freighthouse, and the other is on the east side of the tracks, by the perpetually empty parking lot that, for some mysterious reason, was built a few years ago.

One group of people, namely those individuals who would like to see our historic Freighthouse reopened, are pulling for the west side of the tracks, right in front of said building. Their thought is that having the train stop right at the Freighthouse would help their efforts to raise money for the necessary renovations. (The building was closed due to structural issues that have yet to be fully dealt with.) There may, after all, be some federal stimulus money or other grant dollars that could be allocated for the project, if it were being used in conjunction with this commuter rail project. But, even if there weren’t, having the regular flow of commuters at the Freighthouse would make it more likely that the folks charged with making the City-owned building a self-sustaining entity could rent the space inside to tenants. (The current plan, I’ve been told, still calls for a coffee shop to be located at the front of the building. At the very least, one imagines that having the rail stop right outside the door would increase the rental rate that could be charged.)

Another group of people, namely those individuals who own businesses in the Depot Town area, are suggesting that a new platform be built on the east side of the tracks, by the large, but seldom used parking lot at the end of Maple Ave. Their concerns, I believe, are pretty well summed up by Sandee French, the owner of Aubree’s, who just sent me the following:

We are confident the train will stop in Ypsi and we are thrilled that it will probably be in Depot Town. As some of those leaving comments on your site have pointed out, using the train to attend an event in Depot Town or a festival in the parks is an easy way to get in and out of Ypsilanti. 

However, Bill and I are concerned that the city may recommend the west side of the tracks, utilizing the Freighthouse. I know it would help the Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse (FOYF) with potential grant monies, which is very important, but, as old timers in Depot Town, we can vouch for the train stopping in the 70’s. Riders were not considerate of the business community. Passengers would take up the close parking from 6 am until 6 pm and it would be very difficult for our cash strapped city to monitor daily parking. The north side lot is the ONLY public lot for customers in Depot Town. 

As you know, we have a few spaces available behind “Willy’s” but not nearly enough for our customer base. The north side parking lot has always been the lot that most customers use and it is important to us in this economy that our customers have that availability for parking. We won’t make a decision on the future of Willy’s until the city’s recommendation to SEMCOG is made… then we’ll go fast forward! 

Parking on the west side of the tracks will affect ALL the merchants in Depot Town, not just us. Convenient parking is a huge draw to any business and businesses on both sides of Cross depend on it. The feeling from those I’ve spoken with is the need to make sure our parking remains as it currently is. 

The east side of the tracks is absolutely perfect for a train stop. A 400 foot platform will be constructed by SEMCOG and it will provide convenient parking in a lot that is underutilized. The argument that customers will have too far to walk to the business district is true. But realistically, if you’ve just come back from the airport or a trip to Detroit, do you really think most passengers will continue their excursion and continue to shop? Most will have relaxed on the train and look forward to heading home. Into the lot….. out of the lot….. our customers will use the train coming from other destinations to enjoy Ypsilanti.

The important thing as far as I’m concerned is that Ypsi gets a stop on the Ann Arbor – Detroit line, and, as of right now, it looks like it’s going to happen. And, I’d hate to have local squabbling over this issue scare off the good folks at SEMCOG. Personally, as much as I love the Freighthouse (it was, after all, among the main reasons I wanted to move back to Ypsi), it seems considerably easier, given all the factors at play, to put the platform on the other side of the tracks, near the large, unused parking lot, at least for the time being. (If the rail project is successful, and if we begin having more than 4 daily stops in Ypsi, then we can move the stop to a more permanent home.)

note: For those of you were are unaware, when Sandee talks of “Willy’s,” she’s talking about the new barbeque place that she and her husband Bill are planning to open in the storefront formerly occupied by Cady’s. (It’s to be called Wild Willy’s in honor of former President Bill Clinton, who ate there once upon a time.) And, it sounds like she’s saying that it might not happen if the train stops at the Freighthouse.

So, with all of that said, let’s work this out between ourselves right now, before the folks from SEMCOG come to town.

One last thing… I still need to verify it, but I was recently told by someone in City government that having the stop at the Freighthouse would also require quite a bit more money, as tracks would need to be moved. (Of the two sets of tracks you see in the photo, the train, as it’s currently envisioned, would be using the eastern most ones. If we decide to have the stop at the Freighthouse, the currently layout would have to be changed.)

[This post was brought to you by those defending the New Deal, test driving Zipcars, and fighting for increased regulation and transparency in banking.]

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  1. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 10, 2009 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m leaning towards the east side of the tracks, both because it’s an unused lot and because of the track removal bit.

    That said, I like west side’s potential benefit for the farmer’s market. It’s not hard to imagine commuters buying coffee and a muffin, a loaf of bread, or bag of apples on the way to or home (if hours were extended) from work.

    I can appreciate Sandee’s concern with close parking, but there are usually a fair number of empty spaces further north. Commuters will park as close as they can to the platform. If it was moved further north than Mark has on the picture (to where the sidewalk ends) that may pull commuters away from the spaces closest to Depot Town.

    For old-timers, where exactly was the station located in the 70s?

  2. Posted March 11, 2009 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that this stop you really need, even if it will help at least one person, it is always annoying when you can not get to any place.

  3. roots
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 6:42 am | Permalink


    Anyhow, I vote for the empty lot side. (Will there actually be voting? How will this issue be resolved at the meeting?)

  4. Jim
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Could you solve this dilemma as well as increase use of the northeast parking lot by adding a pedestrian crossing at the proposed platform location? Currently if you park in the northeast lot you have to hike to the corner of River and Cross to get to Depot Town. A well-placed crossing would make the northeast lot as convenient to the east end of Depot Town as the well-utilized lot on the west side of Rice Street. I don’t know whether it is permitted to have a track level pedestrian crossing at a station or whether you would have to add a pedestrian bridge (like the one linking the Ann Arbor Amtrak station to its long term parking lot across the tracks).

    The best long term solution will be to renovate the old depot and to use it as the station. It’s a neglected Ypsilanti landmark, and it’s convenient both to the northeast lot and to the existing pedestrian crossing at Cross and River.

  5. Posted March 11, 2009 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    On a side note, I’m curious how as to the method of bbq that will be done at Willie’s. Bbq, when done right, can draw people in for miles. If done average, it can get boring pretty quickly. I think it’s a great idea, I just hope they bring in a head chef who really knows his/her bbq. I have a friend from Louisiana that considers cooking and bbqing a sport – eating over at his house made me realize the art there is to good bbq.

  6. BrianR
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    The question should be, what are the issues with a platform on the east side? and what are the issues with a platform on the west side?

    Parking is an issue (an issue we want to have), but it’s a red herring in typical Depot Town politics. There is already 2 hour parking around Aubree’s and the Freighthouse. People can’t park there from 6AM to 6PM today let alone when a train stops. If there are so many people getting on the train each morning that the close spots in the Rice Street lot fill up, we can make them 4 hour or 6 hour, or 8 hour parking (depending on the needs). This would either push parking down to the Recycling Center or over to the Maple lot. To suggest that things would stay status quo makes no sense.

    As far as the crossing goes, the tracks need a crossing for usability as well as safety right now in order to connect the Maple lot to Depot Town. There are two different types of crossings with two levels of cost (with the lower cost version being in the $125K range). The logical place for the money to come from would be the Depot Town DDA.

    The cash-strapped comment is misleading. We do parking enforcement today.

    On the other hand, if you park in the Maple lot, you could essentially create a park and ride situation where people get off the train and leave. This would be more of a negative than a positive.

    There are concerns to be sorted out for sure. To simply weigh in on a side eliminates the opportunity to work through the issues.

  7. Posted March 11, 2009 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I dont necessarily agree that a park and ride situation would be very negative although I am basing that on my own commuting habits and personality. Since the lot at the Ypsi transit center has become free, I have often driven my car there and then taken the bus to work. In the evenings, it has been nice because I can get off the bus and pick up dinner before I drive home. If parking was not free, I would probably just drive to work and poor DaLat would be out of sight – out of mind.

    As for where the platform is located, I cant say that it matters much to me although I *love* the idea of a pedestrian crossing there whichever side it is on.

  8. MP
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Personally, I don’t like what seems like a veiled threat by Sandee not to open the new restaurant if the train station isn’t where they’d like.

    I may be misreading this and they’re free to make whatever business they see fit but I don’t think we should be coerced into a decision based on this. As Mr. Robb said, it should be made on the issues.

    I’m also curious who she’s spoken to. Is this the consensus among ALL Depot Town businesses? Does the DDA have a unanimous opinion?

  9. Pete Murdock
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Mark –

    You were a member of the 20-20 Task Force and it’s vision was for the freight house to be the train depot. Have you changed your mind or are you just being on both sides of the issue.

    From the 20-20 presentation:

    “The existing Freighthouse has been expanded and updated to serve as a light rail passenger station and houses the Depot Town Farmers Market. Light rail traffic has stimulated activity in the cities residential, commercial and entertainment districts.”

    I concur with Councilmember Robb’s remarks.

    Have more later….


  10. Paw
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Brian raises good points. It might not be as easy as one or the other. There may be an opportunity for a compromise. Whatever is decided, I think you need to find a way to have that parking lot utilized by commuters. As we don’t want people crossing the tracks on foot, that’s probably going to mean a pedestrian bridge. Does the Depot Town CDC have that kind of money? And how much would it cost to alter the current track configuration to move them to the Freight House? Would the city have to cover that cost, or would SEMCOG?

  11. Andy C
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I was in the out skirts of Boston, MA last year and they had platforms on both sides of the tracks. There was also two places where you could walk across the tracks. It was kind of like when rail road tracks cross a street. I think a platform is unnecessary.

    They also had a light in the train station signaling when the train was arriving. It would be great to have one of those in the Freight House when it opens.

  12. Shelly T
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 11:32 am | Permalink


    You are on the City Council. The City Council is against urban chickens. Yet you are for them. Have you changed your mind or are you just being on both sides of the issue?

    Logic fail.

  13. Posted March 11, 2009 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Answer our poll created Feb. 23 to accompany our story http://tinyurl.com/csfubc published Feb. 19 and see the results.
    What side of the tracks do you want to be on when the train stops in Depot Town?
    http://twtpoll.com/hz0n1s #twtpoll

  14. MP
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    So you don’t think people will walk a hundred horizontal yards down the street to get to Depot Town, but they’ll walk up two flights of stairs (or ramp, remember, this will have to be ADA compliant) and down the other side to get to Depot Town? Talk about a bridge to nowhere…

  15. BrianR
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    The cheap version of a pedestrian crossing is not the traditional, elevated walkway. Those run close to $1M.

    This is similar to what is being proposed.

  16. BrianR
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    The HTML didn’t take.

    THIS is an example.

  17. Walter Street
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this issue as it’s good to have a dialog going. I’m very passionate about seeing the commuter train succeed but sadly most likely won’t be able to make it to the meeting due to class.

    My vote is for the east side. It seems to me that the elephant in the room was largely ignored here: The train station. In years past I remember discussions about Mr. Dahlman who owns the old depot. There was/is lots of anger that he seemed to be unwilling to fix it up for reuse or at least sell it back to the city. While I’ve always shared this sentiment I could at least understand why he wouldn’t take us seriously because before if there’s no train then theres no real purpose for the depot. With this light rail coming closer to reality though I think it’s an issue that should be brought up again firmly but respectfully.

    In my apartment I have a picture of the station from I believe the late nineteenth century when it was large and ornate. After a few fires and collisions it’s scaled down to its current form.

    In the spirit of making lemonade I view this as a blessing because it means that renovation becomes much simpler and cheaper. In the past Mr. Dahlman implied that the station was a lost cause and most people might agree with him. However now that this project is knocking at the door we realize that we are residents of Ypsilanti: we may not be great at investment decisions or politics but we are good at one thing and that is bringing old buildings back into use. While I know the station is in very rough shape, not ADA compliant, etc etc the point remains that the station is a very basic structure and in the long term could be rebuild almost entirely to be a landmark success story. Yes the task would be a bit daunting but much less so than turning an abandoned warehouse into a brewery, a high school into a senior complex, a fire station expanded to be a museum, etc etc. I would challenge anyone to convince me that in the long term we coudln’t make it happen. I was reading about some more renovation projects of historic properties- one of them completely burned out and they were being done by people who enjoy doing so and will also make good money (state and federal tax credits in many cases will pay 40-50% of the costs right off the bat.

    Now I realize this is probably jumping the gun until the new system is running smoothly but its a dialog that seems to be mostly skipped in this topic. In the short term we can create a temporary stop on the east side next to the parking lot. Maybe down the road we can try to talk with Mr. Dahlman (and probably be a little nicer this time) Who knows, maybe if he sees the potential to make some money he’d lead the effort. The station doesn’t need to be much; just a simple enough station that was rescued where so many have been lost.

    One last thing: parking. I guess I can see why we still are stuck in such a car culture. I think the empty NE lot would be fine but can not imagine why someone would think that is too far from businesses!!!! Seriously it’s not even a five minute walk and if bitching about that makes me ill; when did we collectively become too lazy to walk a few minutes here and there? I guess we could carry people from their cars to the train if the demand was there. In seriousness though short of making some expensive crossing it is not far from anything in depot town. I’m guessing that anyone who is unwilling to walk 3-5 minutes is probably not going to be a big user of public transit. I would estimate I spend an hour to an hour and a half walking between classes, bus stations, businesses, and work and it’s not a bad thing. Even walking from downtown to the corner brewery is only a 15-20 minute walk, so walking to your car or aubrees is a quick and easy jaunt. I’ll probably get flamed for questioning just how lazy we have become collectively but thats the way I see it. That said, this solution would still allow the regular DT parking lot to stay pretty clear for businesses.

  18. Babe
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Paw. I vote for something more like this.

  19. Pete Murdock
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Shelly T –
    At the risk of sending this off another direction –
    I don’t know if City Council is for or against urban chickens. It hasn’t been discussed. Mayor Farmer and a City Council a few years ago refused to take up the issue. Since then there is a new mayor and three new City Council members. I said when asked during the campaign, that I could support a carefully crafted ordinance that would allow chickens but I was not an advocate for the interpertation of the Right to Farm Act that would allow farming unrestrained by zoning or nuisance ordinances. I haven’t received any information that has changed my position. I also said that we needed to allow the Thomason’s Right to Farm legal issue to at least go through a step of the legal proccess, because if he prevailed the chicken issue would be a mute point. The issue was recently decided in the City’s favor and a “technical” CYA amendment was proposed by the City Attorney. I advised Urban farming and chicken advocates to take advantage of the public hearing to advocate their position. Growing Hope was encouraged to give a presentation, which they did. Following the public hearing and presentation Mayor Schreiber – with no visible objection from any councilmembers – asked the City Administrationto to prepare an ordinance that would allow chickens along the lines of the City of Ann Arbor. That is tentatively being proposed for the April 21st City Council Meeting. Then we can review the proposal and hear more citizen input. City Council will vote on it and we will see where they and I are on the issue when it counts.


  20. Posted March 11, 2009 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    The cheaper crossing seems much better than a bridge. It certainly would be easier for anyone with a handicap than a bridge with stairs would be. It doesnt hurt that it is cheaper too.

  21. Jim
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Brian, the crossing picture you link to looks like an ideal solution. That would be the less expensive (approximately $125 K) option?

  22. Posted March 11, 2009 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to respond to roots’ comment above, regarding, “will there be voting?” Specifically, the answer is no – the meeting on the 18th is not about east side vs. west side, and no decision will be made at that meeting.

    The intent of the meeting is closer to what BrianR stated. What are the issues and concerns with the east side option? What are the issues and concerns with the west side option? What are the issues and concerns that need to be addressed regardless of which side a platform is located on?

    The location is not the only decision that needs to be made, and I’m glad to see Mark’s readership branching out into questions like track crossings and leveraging the rail service to encourage investment in other properties.

    Formal comments may be send to me by e-mail, rmurphy@cityofypsilanti.com or regular mail to City of Ypsilanti, Attn: Richard Murphy, One South Huron St., Ypsilanti, MI 48197. We’ll be compiling all comments received.

  23. Posted March 11, 2009 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I like Brian’s idea (much less expensive then the bridge). I also like Andy C’s idea about using both sides- if you have ever gone to a big city and used the sub-way or rail system, you will see both sides of the tracks being used.

    Anyways, the reason that I was writing in has to do with bicycles. Walter Street just touched upon a bit my intended theme (that “we” need to be able to walk a few blocks- for our own health and the health of the environment), but I really, truly, hope that there will be a large amount of bicycle parking at the new (and old) depot. I’d also like to dream big and ask that the new light-rails allows folks to bring their bicycles along on the train (it is called biketo-rail). Which is why I’m going to the meeting on the 18th.
    But anyways, regarding the Ypsilanti Depot:
    I wish us to be like (sorry I don’t know how to make a nice web-link on this blog):

    Like this one in Japan: http://earthfirst.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/bikes-train-station.jpg

    In Amsterdamn: (I forsee this when all Ypsilantians get really excited about Bike Ypsi and we have to build a structure to house all of the bikes!):
    Or this in Amsterdamn: http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2006/10/amsterdam_bikeparking.jpg

    Or we could be like Copenhagen, and have a bike rental system… this would work great if Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti all had one at once!

    Think I’m dreaming too big? I don’t. I forsee that soon (much sooner than we all think) pedestrian, cyclist, zip cars and other car sharing options will be the norm NOT the exception.

    And I’m hoping that Ypsilanti agrees with me and is AHEAD of the time on this one. Part of Bike Ypsi’s agenda is to make Ypsilanti the most bike friendly city possible. Everyone’s always talking about that Ypsilanti needs to have a “catch” or “theme”. Well, why not a bicycle theme? It’s good for you, its good for your community, its good for the planet.

  24. Walter STreet
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Definitely Kristen, I love the idea of rail to bike and bicycle parking should be pretty easy to do. As a matter of fact there’s already a bicycle rental service in Detroit (though it’s down by river now) but the option to either bring your bike along or just pay for a rental service would be great. Commuting to detroit, the stop is supposed to be around new center which would mean most any employment or university would be a 2-3 mile trek at most and you wouldn’t have to wait around for any buses.

    Just thinking of commuter trains and bike transit give me the warm fuzzies Meanwhile the big 3 and local institutions are researching new energy means. Oh sure i still get reactions like I’m wearing an aluminum foil hat now but wait for 4-5 dollar gas and paying for parking everyday. I’d also hate to see too much money dumped into a temporary stop when that could go a long way towards fixing the depot up in the long term.

  25. kjc
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    thanks for that Jonathan Chait link.

  26. Posted March 11, 2009 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Most likely they will put platforms on both sides.

  27. Posted March 11, 2009 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Platforms on both sides with a pedestrian crossing would be nice but seems unnecessary unless it was likely that trains going in each direction might be at the stop at the same time.

  28. Posted March 11, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Wow… Lots of stuff to respond to… Let me start with Pete.

    Pete, have you ever served on a committee? If so, did you agree with every finding of that committee?

    You make it sound like, just because the 2020 Task Force said that they’d like to see the stop be at the Freighthouse, that I should be in total agreement. That’s not the way democracy works. Not everything in that report was agreed to by all. People can disagree, as I do on this.

    For what it’s worth, all things being equal, I’d love for the stop to be at the Freighthouse. So, I guess I am in agreement with the findings of the 2020 group on that. Unfortunately, the suggestions of that group, to some extent, were made in a vacuum. As a group, we weren’t thinking about the ramifications of commuter parking, the cost adding new pedestrian crosswalks, or anything else. We just wanted to acknowledge the importance of the Freighthouse and express a desire to see it rehabilitated in concert with the new stop. And, yes, I still agree with that. That would be my preference.

    And I totally appreciate the comments of Mr. Robb on this matter. I think he’s exactly right when he says that it’s not an either/or decision. I wish him all the luck in the world on brokering a compromise that sees that unused parking lot used, and, at the same time, gets the stop at the Freighthouse. That would be awesome.

    And I’m afraid that my main point may have been lost along the way. My main point was simply that the most important thing is that we get an Ypsi stop, and that I don’t want petty squabbling to get in the way of that, regardless of how good intentioned it might be. I know it’s asking a lot, but I think it would be great if we could present a unified front to the folks from SEMCOG when they get here on the 18th. I’m afraid, however, that instead we’ll get craziness.

    And I should add that I love everyone. Seriously, I do. I think everyone wants what’s best for Ypsi, and that’s what makes this particularly frustrating.

    The main thing for me is 1) that we don’t fuck this up, and 2) that we don’t, through our ineptitude, hand the whole thing over to Dahlman, the real estate speculator who has been sitting on our railroad station these past several years, as it falls apart. I don’t want the stop to land on his doorstep, rewarding him for years of not giving a damn about this community.

    So, yeah, based on everything that I knew last night, I said that I’d like to see the stop on the east side. It seemed to me like the easiest, fastest, more sure bet we had, given the costs of moving rails, building pedestrian bridges, etc. I thought, perhaps naively, that, if this three-year test run went well, then we could figure out a more permanent solution. Again, the most important thing for me was the fact that we got a stop on the line.

    I hope all of this is clear.

    Oh, and I’m sorry if I gave the impression in the post that all Depot Town merchants agree with Sandee and Bill on this. I’m aware that they don’t. I do, however, feel as though their opinion deserves to be heard… And I welcome other Depot Town store-owners to leave comments.

    And I love bike racks.

  29. Posted March 11, 2009 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    And, if you haven’t done so already, regardless of which side of the tracks you stand on, please take Mr. Murphy up on his offer, and send him a letter letting him know how you feel.

  30. galan
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    The Omnibus Bill that President Obama signed tonight contains almost a million dollars for the light rail project that we are discussing here. We need to thank senators Stabenow and Levin for this inclusion. It’s an earmark that stimulates our economy.

    I believe we need to be present on March 18 for this important meeting and arrive with an open mind and a cooperative attitude, eager to listen and to participate in the discussion. This is a community opportunity and let’s work together to maximize the benefit it offers all of us.

  31. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    So, how often is the lot next to the recycle drop-off center essentially an unused lot? Today, there were three cars in the entire thing, which seems par for the course for weekdays. You (Mark) could have easily used a slightly wider view from the Google satellite image and printed “available parking” over the empty spaces on both sides.

    In this discussion, I think it’s important to remember that once a loading station is built, it’ll likely be in that spot for a good long time. These things tend to stay in put.

  32. Babe
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Steve Pierce was on the Blue Ribbon Finance Committee that proposed a city income tax, therefore Steve Pierce favored the income tax? What is the point in Mr. Murdock even making such an odd assertion?

  33. Pete Murdock
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    MP –

    I have to say that there was no veil to that threat when I got the call about a month ago from Bill French, and he told me he was stopping work on Willie’s because he heard the City had decided the Depot was going on the West Side. And if that wasn’t reversed he wouldn’t be opening his restaurant. He insisted we reverse the decision ASAP.

    My response was that the City had made no decision, was looking at all its options, and was awaiting more information from SEMCOG, before having some sessions to present the options and listen to concerns and preferences from the community.

    I have know Bill and Sandee for a long time and love them dearly, but I don’t take kindly to threats “If I don’t get my way, I’m taking my ball and going home.” Although I do take the issues they raise seriously.

    The very fact of the train stopping in Depot Town is going to create issues, especially parking regulation issues, no matter where the train stops. And they can be resolved.

    Sandee in her email refers to being an Old Depot Towner and remembering the day, but with all do respect, I’m an Older Depot Towner, and have lived here for over 35 years. I was an early member of the Depot Town Association and my first term on City Council was devoted to initiating the Farmers Market, constructing the Market plaza, purchasing the freight house and prying the Depot out of the Railroad’s hands. I also remember when the train stopped in Depot Town.

    It was a two track system with both tracks on the east side. The passengers boarded on the east side. Most of the train parking was at the Depot and on River, Maple and Short Oak Streets. The parking situation was much different then. Obviously there was no Maple St. lot nor was there the second Sidetrack Lot. For most of the time the market plaza hadn’t been constructed yet and there was a large building where the southern part of the plaza is. None of the paved parking along Frog Island had been developed yet.

    Depot Town was a different place then. The Alibi (now Aubree’s) and the Central (now the Sidetrack) Bars were what was happening. They were pretty rough bars. No students welcome there. The central opened at 7:00AM and we would take bets at when the police would be called to break up the fights. I couldn’t get my co-workers at Motor Wheel to patronize those places. So of course the railroad “commuter suits” couldn’t get out of Depot Town fast enough. Depot Town is a far different place now. It could attract commuters as well as destination people for festivals, events and EMU.

    My approach is to try to maximize the positive potential of the East-West train while minimizing it negatives. How best we can utilize the train as a community and economic tool, not just a transportation stop.

    More later…..


  34. Pete Murdock
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    Mark –

    I was just trying to goad you a bit. We have had discussions about the freight house and its history and I know full well how much you support the freight house. And it sounds by your more recent post you actually do support the freight house becoming the depot as envisioned by the 20/20report. I think we can leverage the East-West train project into rehabilitating the freight house and connecting the train and the Maple Street Lot to Depot Town.

    I agree that we don’t want the usual Depot Town food fight and war of the French’s on this issue, but maybe that’s asking too much.

    Here is where I am coming from and have been working very hard to make happen. A few weeks ago we found out that the stimulus money would have some funds in the Historic Preservation category of the Transportation Enhancement part of the Highway Funds. We found out that the Freight House was an eligible project and we rushed to get it on the possible project list, which we did. We are applying for 100% grant, no match, of 400-500K to cover the structural portion of the Conditional Use Assessment of the Freight House – mostly the roof and walls and foundations. This would eliminate most of the roadblocks to opening the building. I know of no other source of funds that could be tapped to get this done so quickly nor do I know of another eligible project we could use this grant for. The freight house project is rated favorably by the powers that be in Lansing and the idea the freight house would act as the depot makes our grant even more attractive than it would be otherwise.

    We also solicited some cost estimates for a pedestrian crossing from the Maple St Lot as Brian outlined in his post. The pedestrian crossing, IMHO, should have been included in the original parking lot plans to tie that lot to Depot Town more directly. We are trying to get some of the additional Rail Corridor Stimulus funds that you posted about and that addition money that Galan mentions in his/her post for the crossing or possibly a regular Transportation Enhancement grant later in the year – which would need some match or possibly DTDDA money as Brian suggested.

    As to the track reconfiguration, the representative from SEMCOG, told us they had a verbal “no big deal” and “minor costs” from Norfolk Southern and were awaiting a specific proposal and costs in writing from them. It was my impression that the track costs would be picked up by SEMCOG.

    In the scheme of things, the parking issue is a minor one – basically making the near parking short term and the Maple St Lot and far end of the Frog Island long term. As OEC posted the Frog Island lot at the backend by the recycling center is empty much of the day.

    Mark, that’s my plan, with the information I have now, and I invite you and others to join us in making it happen. If the train is a flop in three years, which I doubt, we will have a restored and open freight house and a pedestrian crossing across the railroad tracks. That’s a win for the community.


  35. Andy
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 1:46 am | Permalink

    Hey Pete. What exactly does track reconfiguration mean? Right now, there is the main line, the unused second main line and the spur. Do you mean that tracks will be torn up? Or that trains would cross over to the second track (assuming part of the second main be put back in just past Depot Town)? Speaking of the future of this project, it is possible that the route could be triple-tracked some day. If the platform is chosen for the west side, it might have to be rebuilt to accomodate a third track. Dearborn took that into consideration when they planned their new intermodal station.

  36. Posted March 12, 2009 at 7:47 am | Permalink


    If your intention is to have an intelligent, well informed, and civilized discussion about a serious issue facing Depot Town businesses and the development of the Freighthouse; then the first step should be for you to stop using such inflammatory phrases such as “Food fight”, “French War”, “he insisted we reverse the decision asap’, and “take it or leave it”.

    These phrases are inflammatory and personal, and you know it. If you are attempting to create a villain to deflect from the concerns of the Depot Town business community and the taxpayers of Ypsilanti; I hope it will not work. It is time for you to tone down your rhetoric and stick to the facts.

    Your characterization of my statement that I could not make a business decision to create Wild Willy’s unless I knew the status of the only public parking lot in Depot Town, and would you help the push process along; is somewhat different than “he insisted we reverse the decision asap”.

    I assume the phrase “the food fight” you are referring to is the City and the past Depot Town DDA Board’s decision to pave the Maple Street Parking lot. The Depot Town merchants strongly objected because this action required the DDA to put ‘all their chips’ in for paving a parking lot that was too far from the business district.

    The Depot Town merchants were right. Our main opponent, former Mayor Cheryl Farmer has told me on numerous occasions, that the decision to pave the lot was a mistake. In my opinion, this mistake was created because passion over took reason and professionals were not brought in to help our community work through a process that would lead to a sound business and community decision.

    Our economy is in a tail spin and we haven’t reached the bottom yet. To risk existing businesses and a business district by using inflammatory statements to persuade others is beneath my friend of 30 years.

    Bill French

  37. Pete Murdock
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Bill –

    I ended our conversation with a comment to the effect that you have to make your business decisions based on what you think is in the your best interests and I need to make mine, after evaluating the information available, on what I think is in the best interests of the Community-City.

    Your concern that you expessed to me was maintaining the parking on the north side of Cross as it is (short term) and not have it taken up by all day parking. That is a legitimate concern and no one is ignoring them, including me. In the concept I proposed in a previous post, we don’t change that parking at all and designate the same Maple Street lot that you suggest using for all day train parking and connecting it to Depot Town via a pedestrian crossing. Parking enforcement is the key to making sure that the short term lots are not used for all day parking – train or no train, depot on east side or west side.

    It seems to me, we can deal with your parking concerns as well as gain a much needed pedestrian walkway across the tracks and a rehabilitated freight house.

    I think that is a win-win situation.

    Is there something more that I’m missing. Call me at 485-7799.


  38. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:28 pm | Permalink


    Thanks very much for taking the time to provide that info and the old-time perspective on the tracks. I find it persuasive.

    I’ll let you and Bill work out your differences, just like I have to every time I piss off one of my friends on the blog.

  39. maryd
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    This is the best news in awhile, let’s make it happen. East meets West over the nice bridge Brian posted…

  40. sb
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    This isn’t the first time Bill and Sandee have made threats. Bill called me and said there was no way I was getting a liquor and dance license for the Thompson building. He was right, I didn’t.

  41. Beth B
    Posted March 13, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I am surprised at several comments and omissions in reading this thread.
    1. Pete has apparently not considered the many options open to cities to control parking. With a little planning it seems to me that we could arrange parking availability for Depot Town customers.
    2. I cannot imagine how having extra foot, car and bike traffic through this wonderful business district could not help our city. Even just the increased visibility and presence of having people repeatedly visit our fair town will be positive.
    3. I find it hard to get worked up over a 100 yard (if that) location dispute. The FACT of the station will be the key element here.

    All in all, it seems like a win/win situation with some relatively minor plusses and minuses on both side. Please, let’s all be professional, especially our city representatives who have worked so hard on this, and put this particular question in context.

  42. Posted March 15, 2009 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    After reading this entire thread all I can add is, “I love you guys.”

  43. amused1
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    While increased traffic can be a boon to businesses, we should keep in mind where and how that traffic flows. Where do we expect the traffic to originate? From I-94 to Huron? Washtenaw to Huron to Cross or Forest? Michigan Ave To River or Huron St? Do we want it to flow through Depot Town on Cross or divert it to Forest? Do we want increased traffic next to the park or next to the houses on River and Oak?

    As for parking, well, that “city” to the west of us has horrible parking and yet people still flock there. Maybe it’s about the perceived value of the experience? If the perceived value of a product or service is such that an existing customer won’t walk an extra 30 feet to get it, then how will that business ever grow and embrace the increased traffic of the commuters?

    With the increased number of cars expected due to the commuter line some people are going to have to walk further to get to Cross St. At the end of the day it seems to me that the focus of businesses must be on the consistent delivery of an experience that inspires people to come in regardless of where in the Depot Town area they park.

  44. Murdock by Proxy
    Posted October 14, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Good News on the Commuter Train – Carmen Palombo from SEMCOG reported that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has reversed itself and is no longer requiring a full blown Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) so it looks like the Environmental Review will be completed in early 2012. This could mean Ypsilanti platform construction in spring or summer of 2012. In addition, event trains are being planned with AMTRAK and the FTA and a schedule will be available in the future.

  45. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted October 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    freaking awesome!

4 Trackbacks

  1. […] few days ago, I posted something here on the site about the local debate over where to construct the Ypsilanti train platform. And, I did a poor job of relaying my main point, which was that we can’t afford to let petty […]

  2. By Wednesday’s meeting on the Ypsi rail stop on March 17, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    […] week, I posted something about the local debate over where we place our train stop here in Ypsi. We kicked the idea around for a while, and people on both sides of the issue weighed in. City […]

  3. […] the French’s have been going to war over which side of the track the proposed train platform would be located, Governor Granholm […]

  4. […] As for whether or not Ypsi should have a stop on the existing Chicago line, I’m not sure. Given how close the Ann Arbor station is, I don’t know that it makes sense. Yes, it would be cool if we could grab the train to Chicago from Depot Town, but I’m not sure it makes sense to have two stops so close to one another in this instance. (The Ann Arbor – Detroit commuter line we’ve been talking about, however, is a completely different animal, and it’s imperative that we get a stop on that one.) But, I’m glad to hear that there’s a movement afoot to have Amtrak look into the feasibility of it… Who knows, maybe they’ll suggest shutting down the Ann Arbor stop and moving it to Ypsi, which, in my opinion, would be cool. There are, however, those who don’t want a Depot Town stop, as it will, in their opinion, make it more difficult for the customers of existing businesses to find parking. If you’re interested, you can read an earlier discussion we’ve had on that issue here. […]

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