On Michael Jackson passing

I was going to post something about Michael Jackson’s passing the other day, but nothing seemed to work. I wrote for hours, but just couldn’t find the right balance. So, I’d made up my mind that I wasn’t going to post anything at all. Then, today, I stumbled across a video of 11 year old guitar prodigy Sungha Jung playing Billy Jean, and it occurred to me that it would make a simple, fitting farewell for an insanely talented, yet very troubled man… Here’s hoping that he finds peace, and that maybe we as a culture learn something from his passing about the fine line between childhood fame and child abuse.

Posted in Art and Culture | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Showdown on Water Street

Remember 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 in the near future at a City Council meeting. I just received the following from a friend. I’m told it originated with Beth Bashert and an organization calling itself Advance Ypsilanti Political Action Committee.

Three of our city council members, Murdoch/Robb/Bodary, are presenting the first business proposals to purchase Water Street property.

Burger King & Student Housing

Bodary and Murdoch ran campaigns based on stating that Water Street was in need of their leadership. Robb has been highly critical of the project for its entire history. All three have political reputations and goals associated with Water Street. They have promised to take action on this issue.

• Burger King represents a business that is not in compliance with the plans or zoning for the area.
• BK will not generate the tax revenue that is expected for that area.
• Student housing demand is questionable. However, residency of some sort is in compliance with the zoning and plans for the area.
• Both of these businesses are weak attempts to fill space.

Murdoch/Robb/Bodary have placed themselves in a position where they need to say that something is happening with this issue, their constituents are watching anxiously. These proposals give them the appearance of action, but not the substance.

Is this their best effort? Is this the best Ypsilanti can do? We invested millions of dollars to get a fast food joint?

Ypsilanti deserves better from our leaders. We deserve an exhaustive effort to live up to the plans laid out for our leaders to follow.
The city needs to set AND HOLD a standard in compliance with the zoning and plans already in place. The businesses they bring forward for purchase need to benefit our city in some way, not just fill a slot of real estate.
If this task is too much for them and they cannot meet the minimal standards set by the city, they should give this task to other city council members to manage, hopefully a committee that includes representation from Ward 1.
After all the talk by these three about how badly Water Street has been managed, this first effort is extremely disappointing.

Write or call your city council person and/or Murdoch/Bodary/Robb. (A complete list of their contact information is below).
Go to City Council and express your opinion. Tell them NO, a fast food joint is not a good fit for Water Street.

First Reading of this proposal is Tuesday July 30.

Support AY PAC (Advance Ypsilanti Political Action Committee). Help us in our work to keep our leaders accountable and on track.

Paul Schreiber
(734) 277-5446 (Cell)

Mayor Pro-Tem
S.A. Trudy Swanson-Winston, Ward 1

Council Members
Lois Richardson, Ward 1: loiserich@hotmail.com
Michael Bodary, Ward 2: mbodary@cityofypsilanti.com
William Nickels, Ward 2: kbnickels@aol.com
Peter Murdock, Ward 3: pmurdock@cityofypsilanti.com
Brian Robb, Ward 3: brobb@cityofypsilanti.com

I don’t know that I can offer anything new to the subject, as my opinion hasn’t changed since my last post. (Follow that first link to read what I had to say on the matter.) I still think that fast food is a terrible fit for Water Street, but I don’t know that we have a lot of options at this late date, as the bonds are coming due, and as Michigan slides into depression. And, for that I blame our City leadership, most notably those who assigned themselves to the Water Street sub-committee referenced above. Like Beth, I expected more from them, especially after all the vitriol they directed at the others before them who had been unsuccessful in moving the development project forward. The truth is, though, I don’t know what they could have done. Michigan is one of only two states in the country losing population, and, to my knowledge, there’s not another state farther along the path to complete economic collapse. So, it only makes sense that those looking to build new facilities would be predatory businesses that feed off the poor. No one is going to open a high-tech office complex in downtown Ypsilanti. We’re more likely to attract deep fried food outlets, blood plasma collection centers, and dollar stores.

I think we had a chance early on, but I don’t know that it exists now. If the State of Michigan, instead of throwing our money at Hollywood had instead offered those tax incentives to wind turbine manufacturing companies, I think we might have had a chance. We might have gotten a company to move into the Visteon plant, and that would have kick-started development on Water Street. Or, we could have given an acre for free to each to 6 builders selected from a nation-wide competition, under the condition that they build ambitious, green multi-family dwellings. Sure, it may not have gotten us the money we needed up front, but at least it would have set the tone for the other 32 acres. And it would have gotten us national press, establishing us a City with a vision for the future. There are any number of things we could have tried, but instead it looks like we have Burger King coming to town to employ a handful off people at minimum wage while pushing the rest of us that much closer to diabetes.

update: The following correction concerning the City Council’s meeting to discuss this comes from city planner Richard Murphy:

Just a quick note – there is no City Council meeting scheduled for June 30 (tomorrow night).

The next scheduled Water Street-related Council meeting is Tuesday, July 21, at 6pm (prior to the regular, 7pm, general Council meeting). The next scheduled Council meeting at all is on Tuesday, July 7, at 7pm.

You can check the agendas (entered as the link to this comment) and Council packets online as those meetings come up to see what’s scheduled for each night.

Posted in Economics, entrepreneurism, Mark's Life, Observations, Politics, Rants, Retail, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

Pencil Paparazzi: Rob “Meathead” Reiner at Eve

As I think many of you know, Rob Reiner, the beloved character actor and director, is in Ann Arbor this summer, working on his new film Flipped. And, as Drew Barrymore and Hilary Swank before him, he’s taken to eating at the restaurant Eve. Well, as luck would have it, a few nights ago, he was sitting next to a reader of this site, who, fortunately, had paper and pencil handy. The following drawing comes from the fashionable Joe Posch, the man behind the Detroit design emporium Mezzanine.


Here’s how Joe describes it:

This was last night, we arrived at Eve around 9 and we were seated down a bit from him. At first I wasn’t sure it was him – I mean it sure looked like him but from the side his features seemed a little sharper (you can see the source of my confusion this highly-lifelike drawing). I didn’t want to stare because I hate a celebrity gawker, but I did watch out the corner of my eye to get confirmation.

I was sure it was him when someone from another table (loser sycophant) went up and talked to him and he was super nice to them. His wife and son (or whomever he was with) seemed mildly irritated with the whole thing.

Fashionistas will be curious to know that he was wearing light colored khaki pants and an untucked French blue linen button-down shirt, and wore glasses. When he got up to leave a short time after our arrival I was shocked to see what a giant he is. Several people said hi to him on the way out and he was very pleasant about it all, but I can’t give details because by then my martini had arrived.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Spur Studios to open In Ypsilanti

About two years ago now, James Marks, the founder of the custom screen printing company VG Kids, and I walked through the ruins of Tom Monaghan’s failed Ypsilanti college, Ave Maria, discussing the possibility of turning it into an incubator for ambitious local arts initiatives. The timing wasn’t right for James at that moment, but now it seems as though it is. As I write this, he is preparing to launch a new arts community in a large, vacant commercial building at 800 Lowell Street, filling a void in Ypsi that’s existed since the loss of Gallery 555 about five years ago. The building, directly adjacent to the campus Eastern Michigan University, is to be known as Spur Studios. Following is a short interview I just completed with James on the subject.

MARK: So, what’s Spur Studios?

JAMES: We took a commercial building in Ypsi and cut it into private studios for artists, bands, and other creative types who need somewhere to work. There are 2 floors- top floor for visual arts, bottom floor for bands. With 24 hour access and off-street parking, each tenant has a locking space and a 1 year lease.

The idea is to pull creative folks together into a force with enough mass to take on projects like converting unused buildings into rad opportunities- things that are beyond the scope of someone working alone.


MARK: When you and I had talked about thins kind of thing before, we were throwing around a rate of $1 per square foot, per month. Where you able to get close to that? How much will the spaces rent for? And how many units will you have on each floor?

JAMES: We got pretty close to $1/foot, each space varies. Originally we were trying to drive the price down absolutely as far as possible, but in the end felt it would be better overall to make sure things like cleaning, maintenance and future projects were alloted for in the budget.

Most spaces will rent for about $125-$350 per month flat- no utilities, no membership fees, etc. We actually have 1 space for $75/month. Its about the size of a closet with 1 window. Perfect for someone who just needs a desk and chair to zen-out and get something done. We’ve got 15 units upstairs and 15 units downstairs, plus a common kitchen, bathrooms on both floors, and a nice smoking area outside.

The vision for the space is intentionally raw and low to the ground, but at the same time stopping short of creating a total cesspool.

MARK: Do you have any tenants already lined up?

JAMES: We’ve had some interest, but we haven’t accepted anyone yet. We’ve been very cautious in letting anyone know what we were up to until we had approval from the city and a final agreement with the property owner. Starting in the next few weeks we’ll begin signing leases that take effect August 1st.

MARK: Is there a model for what you’re doing with spur? Are there things taking place around the country that you’re borrowing from?

JAMES: As far as the studios go, there are no specific examples we’re aspiring towards, just sort of a vague knowledge that places like this exist in functional arts communities like San Francisco, Brooklyn, Baltimore, etc. There are local examples for sure- 555 when they were in AA/Ypsi, The Performance Network, The Lofts in Redford… unfortunately, they stay in my mind more as examples of the ways things can go awry. Those places were amazing, I want to avoid their same fate of having been dissolved prematurely.

I did hear of a place in Brooklyn where you can rent a practice room in 3 hour blocks, and there’s already drums and amps so you can just walk in and play. We might try to do that once things are up and running.

MARK: I’ve recorded in a place in New York like that. If I remember correctly, it was called Tasty Fish. It was a great resource… Since you mentioned pitfalls, what, in your estimation, usually brings down ambitious efforts such as these?

JAMES: The 2 big lessons I’ve picked up are that A) You’ve got to have everything totally up to code, or you’re going to get shut down once you get a little momentum. That’s a no-brainer for a big retailer or a ‘straight’ business, but to a bunch of punk artists trying to get something off the ground, you can get into trouble.

And B) You’ve got to have clear, enforced expectations about what can and can’t happen in the space. For example, there’s a natural thought to live in a practice space, which will get you shut down.

I’m a little self-conscious of talking about these things at all, because we’ll be addressing these issues not with rules pasted up all over the place, but just in the presentation of the thing, the people we attract, the vibe you get when you walk in… all of that.

I think you’ve got to be careful what you spend your energy on. If you spend too much time watching the ditch, you head straight for it because its all you can see. I officially denounced myself for having brought up a negative topic.

We should be talking instead about the impact a cluster of awesomeness could have on its immediate environment.


MARK: So, what should we, the Ypsi public, expect to see generated from this COA (Cluster Of Awesomness)? How will it positively impact people’s lives?

JAMES: We’ll see Ypsi retaining more of its youth instead of watching everyone jump ship the first chance they get, taking their ideas, energy, and reputation along with them. We’ll see a tighter bond among the art scene that already exists in Ypsi, which will manifest itself in more and higher quality gallery exhibits, shows, installations, etc.

Ypsi is developing a reputation as an arts community, but I think we need to back that up with some really tangible assets if we’re going to cement that in people’s minds- such as studio space by and for artists.

As much as I cringe at the thought of it, the fact is that artists are first wave gentrifiers. Over the course of time, that means support for our businesses, increased property values, and a higher quality of life.

Its my hope that Ypsilanti has an eclectic enough base and that the transformation is happening over such a long arc of time that we’ll be spared from the cycle of mass-homogenization and corporate takeover that often happens in cool neighborhoods. But we’ll see.

MARK: Have you had an opportunity to speak yet with any of our city leaders? I’d like to think that they would be wildly supportive of this endeavor. And, I suspect they will. In discussions I’ve had with folks, most of them now recognize the fact that they dropped the ball when they allowed Gallery 555 to get away. At the very least, I think that they would acknowledge that we should have been more aggressive about helping them to find new space when they were evicted from Water Street. I guess that’s one up-side to the economic mess that we’re in – people are beginning to appreciate the value of young people with energy and vision. Nine years ago, when I lobbied that the Peninsular Paper plant be turned into artist space, no one wanted anything to do with it. They wanted to tear it down and build student housing. Then, when 555 was on Water Street, folks wanted them gone, to make room for more new development. Now, however, I think people are coming around to the reality that we can’t just build our way to success. We can’t just trust outside developers to turn things around for us. We need to invest in our people. We need to nurture our artists and our technology geeks. We need to empower entrepreneurs, and support the arts. We need to – dare I say it – give up some of the control to the next generation.

JAMES: I’ve spoken to a few people unofficially and gotten vaguely positive feedback.

I hope you’re right about the shift in viewpoint. I’ve definitely heard it discussed, but I’m not convinced that civic leaders mean the same thing as I do when we both use words like “youth”, “art”, or “culture”.

My approach doesn’t require them to understand, I’m just making sure I’m on the right side of the law, and ideally their positive opinion can be formed over time.

Which is how it should be anyway, right? If the whole thing had a big stamp of endorsement from City Hall, it doesn’t do much for the anti-authoritarian vibe that walks hand in hand with the folks we’ll attract.

MARK: So, what does an ideal candidate for Spur look like?

JAMES: We’re looking for makers and doers. People who have a need to express themselves and contribute to the world around them. That can manifest itself in so many different ways- everything from wood working to fine painting, stenciling, playing in bands, performance art, etc.

I’m not here to judge anyone on their craft or aesthetic, its more important that they be passionate about whatever it is they do. We want to create an environment of support and shared experience. Working on art is often very alienating, I think the social aspect of pulling like-minded creative people together can be just as beneficial as the practical aspect of the square footage itself.

Of course on a strictly pragmatic level, we need people who are stable in their lives and able to pay rent, otherwise you’re chasing down late rent instead of building up steam.

MARK: One last question… Will you be at Shadow Art Fair on July 18, with floor plans and photos, answering questions, etc?

JAMES: Yep, we’ll be at Shadow with some teaser info, stickers, etc. We’re unveiling the floorplan and prices at the public meeting at Corner Brewery on Sunday July 19th at 2pm, the day after Shadow.

I’m hoping the spaces will be more equitably distributed by doing this gestation period prior to selling leases.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

Man climbs Ypsilanti tree, refuses to leave

Were you wondering why the news choppers were circling Ypsi earlier this evening?

The following clip comes from WDIV television in Detroit:

Man Continues Peaceful Tree Protest
DTE Wants To Clear Space For Transmission System

YPSILANTI, Mich. — A Ypsilanti man is camping out in a tree behind his house in protest of a utility company’s efforts to cut it down.

Bill Riney said he will stay in his beloved tree in his back yard as long as it takes to keep ITC International, a transmission company subcontracted out by DTE, from cutting it down.

Tuesday marked day two of the protest.

“I don’t like to be without electricity either, you know,” Riney said. “I understand, come out and trim them a little bit, but don’t devastate the neighborhood by cutting them all down”…

For video, click here.

I like that Riney, when they show him up in the tree, is reading a book about Walter Reuther. And I also like that the reporter didn’t ask him where he poops, which is the kind of reporting I’ve come to expect from our regional press.

Posted in Environment, Media, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments


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