Is Burger King right for Water Street?


As another local blog has already let the cat out of the bag, I don’t feel so bad mentioning here that one of the entities likely to find a home in Ypsi’s Water Street development is Burger King. While I don’t believe a firm offer has yet been made, I hear that something is in the works. And this has me wondering what Water Street, when all is said and done, will end up looking like.

[For background on the issue, you can see my thoughts on franchises in Ypsilanti here and here.]

If you’ll remember, when all of this Water Street business started, we were promised a beautiful residential neighborhood along the river, full of happy, tax-paying families and the like. And, now it’s looking like what we might get instead is more fast food, and discount stores, contributing little to the economic health of the City going forward, and helping to erase what it is about Ypsi that makes it unique and beautiful in the process.

For those of you not from the area, Water Street is a 38-acre parcel in downtown Ypsilanti, right along the banks of the Huron River. It had been, until relatively recently, the home of many small manufacturing companies and the like. City leaders, looking for a way to grow the City’s limited tax base, however, saw an opportunity in the underdeveloped property, and set out to buy the individual parcels. The plan at first was to build a new residential development, perhaps with some unique retail spaces along the Michigan Avenue frontage. Work, however, stalled when it was discovered that there were environmental issues on the site that needed remediation. (We, of course, hadn’t sought out a developer with brownfield experience, even though we knew that there must be contamination issues.) The developer we’d brought on board then backed out, to be replaced by another, who would, in due time, also back out… Something about Michigan having a dropping population and the worst economy in the country… Which brings us to today, where, with only 146 days left until the next payment comes due, the City is desperate for something to happen. (I believe the City still owes some $18 million on the project which, to date, has cost in excess of $30 million.)

We’ve questioned the logic of the entire enterprise in the past. In retrospect, I think it’s safe to say that most people think the whole thing was stupid – that the City Council, regardless of its motives, shouldn’t have been playing the role of real estate developer with taxpayer money – but what’s done, as they say, is done. The fact is, we’ve got 38 acres of prime real estate, and, like it or not, something’s got to happen with it soon. And, as no one is looking to build residential homes in the City, or build anything remotely interesting, it looks like, at best, we’re talking discount stores, like the food chain Aldi, and fast food, like Burger King. Both, I suppose, would pay taxes, and employ a few people at something close to minimum wage, but is that really what we want our future to look like?

And I’m not saying that I have a better idea. (Or, more accurately, I do have a better idea, but I don’t think it would bring in the kind of tax dollars we need to pay back the bonds that are coming due.) We may not have an option at this point, though. Burger King may be the best thing we’ve got. It just depresses me to think that we’re going to be stuck with a Burger King on our most prime real estate for the next 30 years just because the economy sucks in Michigan today, and because we couldn’t make something better happen. It just seems so short-sighted… I could rant for another hour, but it’s time to call it quits for the night.

One question, though, before I go… What’s Congressman John Dingell done to help us find a company more in line with what we all want for Ypsilanti? What wind turbine manufacturers has he steered in our direction? What green entrepreneurs has he brought to the table? I know I shouldn’t lay all of this at his feet, but as the former Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, you’d think that he might still have some pull. And, seeing as how Ypsi is his base, you’d think that he’d want something good to happen for us… other than seeing that we have increased fast food options to feed our hunger for fat and salt.

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  1. Posted June 8, 2009 at 6:18 am | Permalink


  2. Brackinald Achery
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Not to be a contrarian or anything…. but maybe we should just cut our losses and settle on this one. They do have a twisty slide. Two, even.

    This is just not the time to hold out for new housing or industry that isn’t coming.

    Or we could turn it into a Hollywood RV-sized pay parking structure.

  3. Posted June 8, 2009 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    It’s not even increased fast food options. I heard that this is just a relocation of the Burger King on Michigan Ave just east of Ecorse Rd.

    If we’re going to have a fast food chain in the Water Street development, we should try to get something that’s unique in the area. For example, what if we had the only In-N-Out east of the Rockies? OK, I know that’s not going to happen, but something different like that, instead of more crappy sameness.

  4. Posted June 8, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I don’t really understand why it’s up to you to decide what business moves in. if you don’t like it, don’t buy anything from them and tell others not to buy from them. They will then go away on their own.

    It’s kind of like the people who complain about Deja Vu. If there wasn’t a market, it wouldn’t be there. Obviously someone wants to go. Why should a minority dictate how other people spend (and make) money?

    Just putting that out there.

  5. Posted June 8, 2009 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Bear in mind that I hate Wal-Mart, Burger King, Petco, etc. Hence, my lack of shopping there in the hopes that they all fold and go away. I just think that you are fighting an uphill battle without being able to prove that there’s no market for this kind of thing.

  6. Posted June 8, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I have come to accept that I am not going to get what I want at Water Street. It does really suck that Michigan’s economy is such that a nice residential development with condos and apartments which are all walking distance from downtown isnt going to happen. It is a real bummer.

  7. Walter Street
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink


    It doesn’t seem to me that anyone is denying their right to move in there but its still ok to be a little depressed that the potential of that land may be reduced to another fast food place. Besides if they’re only moving from near ecorse its adding insult to injury by likely having another vacant building down michigan ave. Same thing with the vu, I don’t care for it but at least they’re paying taxes etc (though my pipe dream is to see someone offer them a good deal on a new location just outside of downtown so a cooler use could be found for that building but of course I don’t see that happening anytime soon. So noone would get forced out, only made an offer to move of their own will that would benefit all involved.

    I must say though, if it must be a fast food place my vote is to try to lure in white castle. Seriously, how embarassing is it that ypsi has no white castle? Thats one thing detroit still has going for it and I hate driving to ann arbor every time the crave hits. So now housing and manufacturing are both ideas that are unlikely for that land so I guess we’ll be seeing something strip-mally.

  8. Posted June 8, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Personally, I want to make a vote for Skyline Chili.

  9. elviscostello
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Give me Sonic or Del Taco…

  10. Mark H.
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Water Street was better for the city the way it was 10 years ago than the way it is now or will likely be 10 years in the future. Can we bring back the old towing companies and the nearly empty buildings? Or at least recover the building that the artists had colonized, and the City Leaders evicted? Water Street has been such a series of bad, bad, ill informed decisions that it’s hard to see how the city ever benefits from this $20 million fiasco. So, my position is this: if we can’t go back to the way it used to be, sell the land to anyone who will buy it and use it for a legal purpose, and hope to recover some small fraction of the public dollars poured down this drain. And meanwhile, maybe someday the visionary in chief who pushed this disaster forward – -the city manager – will be held accountable for the series of bad decisions he presided over. Failure on the job should not begat job security.

    Prediction: Water Street in 30 years will look much as it does now, except with a few cheap buildings along Michigan Ave, and lots of parking. Can the city residents have fries with those Whoppers — both those Whoppers hat Burger King will sell and those whoppers that the city leaders bought and told us?

  11. roots
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink


  12. Catchum
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    We’ve talked here on this site about Zingerman’s doing something on the site, or having the developers behind Ann Arbor’s co-housing communities do something. We’ve talked about green industry. But nothing’s come of it. One suspects that, for the first two, the business case just didn’t stand up (although one would think that a downtown co-housing development would do quite well). But what about the green industry? The state is actively luring companies to the area. Why not lure them to Water Street? Why not put an advanced battery research facility on Water Street. DIngell, Levin and Stabenow should be compelled to make something happen.

  13. Posted June 8, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    The impression I get from that History Channel show about life after people, is that in 20 years, Water Street will be just fine.

  14. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Thank god for the internet. Where else can we have a totaly pointless debate about something that really doesn’t need to be debated. Except maybe Ypsi City Council.
    By the way, the company I work for, which was founded in Ypsi, tried to build a new building in the city. The planning commision basicly told us they didn’t want us here. Now Milan is going to get out tax money.
    *sigh* I can’t wait for our next city election.

  15. Kal500
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Andy, you say it’s a pointless debate for anyone other than the members of Council to have. Perhaps you don’t understand, but our members of Council work for us. They are supposed to be acting on behalf of all of those in their district. So, it does make sense for us to debate it here, in a public space where they can see it. At some point the City Council is going to have to vote “yes” or “no” on Burger King, and I want to let them know how I feel on the matter.

  16. Nancy Boy
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    There was talk some time ago about expanding the size of the Washtenaw County Jail. Might it be possible to put it on Water Street? Perhaps it could be built so that it’s attached to a number of fast food enterprises, so that they could all be run by prisoners.

  17. Nancy Boy
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    If someone takes a stab at a letter to Dingell, Stabenow and Levin, and post it on a petition site, I’ll sign it.

  18. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Kal500, I understand that council is supposed to work for us. I suppose that I’m airing my frustration with recent local events. My real point in this matter; is Burger King a good use for some of the Water Street property? No, probably not. But it is A use for Water Street. To be honest, I would hate to see that area become a corprate mini mall, but I sure would like thier tax money

  19. Rob
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Well ain’t this great! All we need now is the Family Dollar store that didn’t get built next to the Mantis pet store out on the west side give downtown another look and the circle will be complete– I said a couple of years ago, that Water street would probably end up being Ypsilanti’s version of Model T Plaza in Highland Park. Has anyone seen that? It looks (cough) sweet!

  20. Paul Schreiber
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Water Street updates from city staff are available on the Ypsilanti city website. I welcome all comments.

    Paul Schreiber

  21. Paul Schreiber
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    The latest updates aren’t posted on the Water Street web page yet. You can download the city council packet from last Tuesday to get the latest update starting on page four.

    Paul Schreiber

  22. Posted June 8, 2009 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the link, Paul. I’ll check it out… If you happen back by the site and have a moment, I’d like to know whether or not anyone from the city ever reached out to Dingell about this. The city won’t have another opportunity like this (having 38 contiguous acres downtown) and I’d hate to squander it on Burger King without first looking into every other opportunity possible. I know we’ve retained a broker to help sell the land, but, given all the stimulus money we’re looking at now, I’m wondering if the answer might be more of a political one. Am I making sense?

  23. Ifedthefreewireless
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    If it would pay for a cop to put buckshot in the butts under Michigan Ave bridge, I’m for a stupid Burger King. I am sure all this has been decided in a “screw your FIOA, this was a closed meeting” held by the bought-a-crap-property-30-years-ago-and-managed-somehow-to-diminish-it’s-value Ypsi Deciders.

    I think it’s insane that the chain (or a franchisee, lets not forget that)would see building from scratch less than 1 mile from their current location sensible. Unless the City was giving them, say, 20 years city-tax-free. Then we could get oh 15 $5.75/hr, go-nowhere part-time jobs, plus the not-stopping-in-the-city traffic, plus extra let-stop-here crime, all without the 1/7th cop that the taxes would buy.

  24. gtrplyrman
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Hmm. A BK, which will contribute tax money to pay off the massive debt borrowed to fund this civic project gone awry vs. nothing with which to help pay for public services, public safety and bus service while the debt further accrues interest.

    Where’s the debate?

  25. Ricker 76er
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Please, just make the BK look like it fits in, minus the giant sign. We don’t need a monstrosity with a kid gym. Some community have ordinances against that. Do we? Now my questions is, what happens to the other BK down the street?

  26. Ifedthefreewireless
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Hmm. A BK, which will contribute tax money to pay off the massive debt borrowed to fund this civic project gone awry vs. nothing with which to help pay for public services,

    .. a BK, a profit making franchise, which somehow sees moving 3/4 of a mile, away from an intersection, and building from scratch when they have an existing building already as a profit-making decision– Why would a business DO this? What is the city handing them, and at what cost to us.

  27. WTF?
    Posted June 8, 2009 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    You kidding me? So is this what Bodardy, Robb, and Murdock the know-it-all McTrinity of Water Street needed their secret club to work out?

    No doubt they’ll be wrestling over the scissors as the ribbon cutting.

  28. roots
    Posted June 9, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Mark: great point about 38 contiguous acres. I, too, would hate to see it wasted (even though I realize the need for tax revenue).

  29. A Question
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    If, in order for us to cover our losses on Water Street, we need to get developers to sink in $2 million per acre, as it’s being reported in the press (see link), what possibility do we have of ever finding takers?

  30. K Rizzo
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Why was it racism when people were against Family Dollar on Warer Steet, according to Brian Robb, but not when he voted against Burger King?

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Showdown on Water Street on June 28, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    […] how, a little while ago, I mentioned that I’d heard that Burger King was getting ready to make a bid on one of the Water Street parcels? Well, it sounds as though the subject is going to come up at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. […]

  2. By Burger King likely to occupy Water Street on March 15, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    […] a lot to swallow. But, I don’t know what can be done about it at this point. We’ve debated the hell out of it on this site, and kicked around ideas for the past year, but, the sad truth is, […]

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