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:
Michael Bodary, Ward 2:
William Nickels, Ward 2:
Peter Murdock, Ward 3:
Brian Robb, Ward 3:

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.

This entry was posted in Economics, entrepreneurism, Mark's Life, Observations, Politics, Rants, Retail, Ypsilanti and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. an ypsilanti citizen
    Posted June 28, 2009 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    For a little truth in advertising, the above anti water street development post comes from the team ” action committee” of perennial council candidate Rod Johnson. For those who haven’t been paying attention, these are the same folks (aka Gary Clark, former mayor Water Street Debacle and assorted friends) who sunk the ypsitucky jamboree because it, like Burger King, was just plain too blue collar. Just in case you’re wondering who is really behind this latest “advance”!

  2. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 2:36 am | Permalink

    While I first was of the opinion “buisness is buisness, let Burger King build” I’m now not so sure. If there wasn’t already a BK just down the street, I think I would be all for it. But as it is, this would just fill one vacant city lot while leaving behind another. Is this really the best we can do. Hell, can’t we at least get a Sonic or Jack in the Box? At lest that would bring people in!

    And, while we’re writing letters and speaking to council, the city is set to let the DTCDC contract to run the parks expire July 20. Remember, the $22,000 set aside by the city to run the parks was supposed to buy Microphones for city council chambers. New mics that would only cost about $3000 for a set of really, really nice ones from Guitar Center. If we start looking at that, we get to “Where does that money come from next year” or “What services do we loose next year.” Was the DTCDC a perfect steward for our parks? No. Could the city have worked with the DTCDC to make them a perfect steward for our parks? Apparently we don’t get to find out.

    I would encourage everyone here to attend the next city council meeting. Get up and speak on Water Street, the parks, or whatever you are worried about in the city. It’s you right. Please use it. Ypsi needs you! Besides, it’s funny to watch city government get twitcy when the meetings run late…

  3. Smithy
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Regardless of who might be behind the letter, it’s worth considering whether or not Burger King and student housing are right for the location. But, as has been pointed out here, I don’t know that we have many options left at the moment.

  4. Carlos Semotozia
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    I think we owe Robb, Murdock and Bodary a debt of gratitude for bringing us this opportunity. When I first heard that they were establishing a top secret Waterstreet committee, I was doubtful, but now that I see what they’ve accomplished, I’m a believer.

  5. nammeroo
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Now you’re fussing, Mark? When we finally have competent folks in the planning office working on the Water Street project, and a City Council that is actually paying close attention to the financial numbers instead of accepting the word of dreamers and the underwhelming performance of underqualified economic development personnel like Megan Gibb – who alternated between taking dubious credit for the least success and backing swiftly away from responsibility for the many setbacks and failures to act.

    Burger King is not my favorite choice to start off construction of a new Water Street neighborhood, especially if it means closing the location just up the road in the Township. However, knowing the state of our state economy and the looming debt payments, I’m willing to entertain options. Done right, one small project will lead to others.

  6. Curt Waugh
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Wait, if this is a case of the city poaching a BK from the township, then we are pretty much morally required to do so. We’ll just take all our shit back, one french fry at a time if we have to.

  7. Posted June 29, 2009 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    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.

  8. Mark H.
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Sell Water Street properties to any buyer who wants them for a legal purpose, and count ourselves lucky if we get any buyers for this extremely expensive land. The objections that “Burger King represents a business that is not in compliance with the plans or zoning for the area” and that ” BK will not generate the tax revenue that is expected for that area” are both absurd: zoning rules are written to promote or exclude certain kinds of activities, as desired; they are not writs handed down by God, unalterable over time. And “tax revenue” is expected for the Water Street area? None at all, presently. Fantasies about what Ypsi needs on these brownfield acres should not be any longer allowed to compromise realistic planning and decision making. What’s possible is not up to city officials to decide, as it’s the market that dictates; but city officials can disregard the market, as they have for the whole life of this terrible Water Street project, and thus discourage market forces.

    To pay for itself, the Water Street lands need to be sold to developers that create taxable properties worth about $100 million. This isn’t going to happen. We’re lucky if we get a strip mall with moderately appealing businesses.

  9. Posted June 29, 2009 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Ah, yet another attempt to polarize rather than make progress.

    Let me get this straight: the idea here is to blame those who inherited this disaster for picking among a long list of crappy options? You’ve got to be kidding me.

    If you want to blame, blame those responsible for creating the problem, not those attempting to fix it. Moaning about zoning and planning isn’t going to maintain the city’s solvency.

  10. Burt Reynolds
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Mark is right. Lets just skip over and ideas of grandeur and immedicately build what will eventually take over any retail space put there. A Sally’s beauty supply, a check advance place, and a dollar store.

  11. Brackinald Achery
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I completely agree with you on this one, Mark H.

  12. elviscostello
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Screw you. What did we take from the city, you ahole? You want to start war with us?
    Up y’alls!
    Ypstuckians Rule!

  13. rodneyn
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Interestingly, I just received this email from my business’ Twitter account letting me know I have a new follower:

    “Hi, Building Place.
    rodRod Johnson (AdvanceYpsiPAC) is now following your updates on Twitter.”

    Good ol’ Rod Johnson, the leader of the Planning Commission during some of the worst of the Water Street failures, is apparently behind this latest effort.

    Rod, you and your failed ideas for city government lost three elections in a row. Don’t you think it’s long past time to try something different?

    Your and Mayor Farmer’s us-vs.-them approach to city government was what derailed the Ypsilanti train into the Water Street mess. The least you can do is stop standing on the tracks throwing spitwads while others try to get our municipal train rolling again.

  14. Posted June 29, 2009 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    The pining for Sonic and/or Jack In The Box strikes me as very funny.

  15. Posted June 29, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Unresolved festering wounds can be a source of inspiration.

    Fixing the Water Street problem might be the worst thing that could happen to this city, spiritually speaking.

    Not that you shouldn’t try. Trying and failing is half the pain.

  16. Curt Waugh
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Oh, if it’s a war you want, it’s a war you’ll get elvis. I didn’t even give a shit until I realized that you Ypsisucky Township SOBs threated what might be a Sonic. It was was jokes and humor and shit until someone played the Sonic trump card. Now, it’s fisticuffs.

    We get first pick. Ypsilanti chooses the re-animated corpse of General Demetrios Ypsilantis.

  17. EOS
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Don’t worry Elvis, the militia has your back.

  18. Quackenbush
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Burger King isn’t very good that’s for sure.

  19. rodneyn
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I’m all for Culver’s and Jack in the Box! Add in a nice bookstore, movie theater, and minor league ballpark and I’m in heaven!

  20. Posted June 29, 2009 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the meeting information, Murph. I’ll add it to the post.

  21. Posted June 29, 2009 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    “Now you’re fussing, Mark?”

    I don’t think my opinion on Water Street has changed, and I think that I’ve been “fussing” for a while. If you search the archives, I’m sure you’ll find dozens of posts on the Water Street development, most of them at least somewhat unfavorable. I haven’t made it a secret that 1) I don’t think that our City should have gotten involved in the business of real estate development, 2) we haven’t shown much creativity when it comes to marketing the land, and 3) I don’t like the idea of more franchises downtown.

    With all of that said, however, I’m always careful to add that I don’t think there are a lot of options at this point. I’m not fighting, for instance, to keep Burger King out. I just pointed out that some are. I think we’ve fucked up colossally on this, and I think that we’re going to have to pay for it for generations, but I don’t know what alternatives are open to us at this late date. If someone wanted to do hog rendering on Water Street, we’d go for it. My point, however, is that it didn’t have to be this way. This thing has been handled poorly from day one, from the decision to contract with a developer with no experience in brownfields, and we’re going to be paying for those bad decisions for years. But, yeah, I don’t like the idea of adding another fast food outlet downtown, and I’m likely to bitch about it some more. So get used to it.

  22. Brackinald Achery
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    I vote for the hog rendering plant.

  23. Rod J
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Re: Rodneyn’s 1:47 PM post: The only place I’ve ever twittered Rodneyn is in his own dreams. I could comment on all the other factual inaccuracies [Mark, you must hire a fact checker at some point]of his but why bother. The point here is that the Bodary/Murdock/Robb committee has been trying to spearhead these Water St deals but have yet to weigh in on the over all Plan. Is there one? The Council has had a proposal for new zoning on the table for Water St for many months now with only a first reading to show for it. The way this is supposed to work is that you set your zoning and then allow the various entities to come in under that zoning. The zoning we have now for Water St is woefully outdated and bears no resemblance to any proposal revealed yet. That this Burger King deal is being pushed forward apparently ahead of zoning says there must be some sort of conflict with the new proposed zoning involved. I am not privy to the secret talks but on the face of it it looks like the developers are driving the new zoning language. Even if this is not true, the perception can drive this to the point where we will never get any solid proposals with the future and vision of Ypsilanti involved. Those developers with the ready bucks and no foresight will be able to pick and choose. Yes, I do agree that Ypsilanti is in a tough spot right here but this is where strong leadership has to step up and at least stay true to the process that nearly every Planner in the state agrees is the right path to follow. That is you pick your own zoning, do it correctly, and your vision will pay off in the end.

  24. Foley
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    I think what’s being lost in this post is how utterly lame the three Water St. muskateers are.

    Burger King is half a step up from a skatepark for crack whores.

    Student housing? God almighty. In a year and a half it’ll be public, not student. Wake up. Here’s the vote for more projects.

    Robb, Murdock and Bodary absolutely suck ass as much as those they so passionately replaced.

    That’s the message here. They crowed loud but got no cock.

  25. Foley
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    “Sell Water Street properties to any buyer who wants them for a legal purpose, and count ourselves lucky if we get any buyers…”

    goddamn fucking another fucking young republican.

  26. Posted June 29, 2009 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Actually, for what it’s worth, I think a local skate park would be a great thing for the community, but I’ll leave that for another post. I just didn’t want to let the “Skate park for crack whores” comment go unchallenged.

  27. Mike want longr name
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, Mark H, you goddamn republican.

    But, really, I completely agree with you. You just earned 5 libertarian free passes.

  28. Marion
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    God bless the “We’re lucky if we get a strip mall” 60s radicals.

  29. x on
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    The fast food naturally gets all the air. But the “student housing” is the real risk. It is code word for “vertical slum.”

    But yes, I agree with Mark H that anything we envision for the future shouldn’t be about ideological fantasies but about market forces. Call us republicans if you will; I call us realists.

    The only value that should be in play at this point is what the market dictates.

  30. elviscostello
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    We choose T.R. Stumbo, a real street fighter and cunning “father” of Ypsitucky…He will kick that Greek’s ass all over Woodruff’s Grove! If not, we will sue, Attorney Winters needs the work…

  31. Posted June 30, 2009 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    It came to me last night, as I was falling asleep… What if we compromised? What if we agreed to let Burger King in, but with the condition that they have all of their people dressed as though they were in the 1830’s? And we could stipulate that their building look as though it was built in that time period too. The people behind the counter could educate visitors about life in early Ypsilanti, while serving their various combinations of salt and fat… I really think I might be on to something.

  32. Ypsiman
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink,2933,529576,00.html

  33. rodneyn
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    “Yes, I do agree that Ypsilanti is in a tough spot right here but this is where strong leadership has to step up and at least stay true to the process that nearly every Planner in the state agrees is the right path to follow. That is you pick your own zoning, do it correctly, and your vision will pay off in the end.”

    Nothing makes my skin crawl more than having someone justify some course of action by offering up an unsupported, low-hanging argument like “nearly every(one) in the state agrees” with whatever it is that person wants. It’s been a very long time since anyone in the urban planning profession looked at Water Street as an example of “the right path to follow.”

    It’s my hope that, with a great planner in place (Murph) and a much more engaged and watchful City Council, that the time may come again when Water Street has a positive ring to it. However, bringing back the Farmer/Johnson team’s failed ideas for another try just won’t do the job.

    What’s needed even more than any rezoning of the property is to fix the flaws in the development review process that have created bottlenecks and unnecessary delays and expense for past projects.

  34. Mark H.
    Posted June 30, 2009 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Call me a Republican, call me a libertarian, call me a 60s radical, call me Ishmaiel: I am none of these. Still, I say God bless the party of Lincoln, and may it rise again with values ol’ Abe would recognize!

    But as for municipal government ventures into capitalist real estate development: Only fools would advocate what the city government of Ypsilanti did, in a locality where real estate values, over time, have been as flat as in Ypsilanti. (Downtown AA or San Francisco? Different story). Thing is, the main fools who pushed for the Water Street project got off scott free, and the chief force behind that fiasco remains on the city payroll. How many pay raises has the city manager gotten over the years he’s been presiding over the near bankrupting of the city due to the $20 million invested in a brownfield? He pushed a hair-brained scheme for upper income mixed use residential/retail development, despite the total lack of even a single investor willing to take on the project by investing their own capital. He took privately owned, tax-paying lands, and turned them into huge municipal liabilities. And for this achievement, he remains City Manager! This fiasco was created by an extraordinary series of bad municipal choices, and the market will dictate what can be redeemed from this fiasco, not our populist fantasies. I’d rather have the run down businesses back than a strip mall of Burger King type places, but wishes aren’t commands.

  35. Posted June 30, 2009 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    So no one likes my Ye Ole King of Burgers idea?

  36. Posted June 30, 2009 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    I like it. We could make it look like an old wooden fort and make up a bunch of lies about how there was a fort on Waterstreet in the 1830’s, then make up some of those tourist pamphlets and stick them into the rest stop tourist pamphlet things.

  37. dragon
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    The mistakes have already been made. Bite the bullet, take the loss and extend Riverside park with another under-bridge walkway. Return the land to nature and have the one of southern Michigans most scenic downtowns. I’ll volunteer to cut the fucking grass.
    No B.K.

  38. Oliva
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    In the empirical but informal survey of litter, in which Budweiser cans and bottles win hands down, so it is with Burger King. On our regular pick-up-trash walks around town, the clear fast food winner is BK. Reading dragon’s (good) comment, it strikes me that having a BK right across from Riverside Park probably means a whole lot more BK trash in our parks and along curbs and easements. Sad, sad. The idea of extending the park, beautifying instead of providing fodder for so much more litter–even though we miss the needed revenue (until we concoct a palatable way to earn the money)–sounds so much better to me. I understand the urgent need for money, but at what (bigger) cost?

  39. Bob
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    I just love sitting back, now 3 decades,

    “Watching Laughing.”

  40. Curt Waugh
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Please, for the luvogod, listen to Mark H here. He is the only one who speaks truth to power about our city’s woeful professional manager.

  41. bob
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Hey Mark H,
    Have you ever owned a business?

    Watching Laughing.

  42. Mark H.
    Posted July 1, 2009 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Bob, I’ve never owned a business, unless my youthful paper route and grass cutting labor counts as a business. Why do you ask?

    Curt – I’m glad to have your agreement, but I don’t think I’m the only one who says what I say about city management.

    And I overstated things earlier when I said only “fools” had supported the Water Street plan. I should have said “fools and naive people”, or gullible. It was a foolish series of decisions, all short sighted and naive, but good people were involved. Didn’t mean to say otherwise.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Burger King likely to occupy Water Street on March 15, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    […] 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, we’ve got […]

  2. […] serious bid that we’ve received in the past two years, since we refused to sell one acre to a Burger King franchisee. While I don’t think they’re thrilled about the idea of having a dollar […]

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