So, yesterday, as Arlo and I were chasing “Sammy the Turkey” around Feral Farm, it kind of came to me in a flash what we should be working toward on Water Street. It would take some strategizing on our part to make it work, but I think there’s a chance that, if we play all of our cards right, the citizens of Ypsilanti might be able to avoid the worst of what’s on the horizon (i.e. the lowest common denominator strip mallification of our downtown). Here, to begin with, are the main facts as I know them.
1. A few weeks ago, over the objections of many in the community, our City Council, concerned about the economic calamity ahead of us, voted to accept a $210,000 bid by Core Resources LLC for a parcel of City-owned land at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Park Street. (The company’s stated intent is to build a dollar store on the lot.) Assuming the company breaks ground on schedule, this will be the fist new construction to be undertaken on 38-acre downtown parcel commonly referred to as “Water Street,” since the City assembled the property nearly 14 years ago, in hopes that doing so would usher in a new era of prosperity.
2. Several folks in the community, for reasons that we’ve discussed on the site before, are hoping that the Family Dollar, which is slated for the site, fails, like the Quizno’s in Depot Town (which is now Harvest Kitchen), the Long John Silver’s on Washtenaw (which is now Tuptim Thai), and any number of other large chains that have attempted to thrive here, only to ultimately create space for our beautifully parasitic local entrepreneurs.
3. The Ypsi Food Co-op needs to expand. Their annual gross sales have grown from $500,000 in 2005, to $1.6 million last year, and they’re in desperate need of space. (Their current retail space is 1,600 square feet.) Over the past several years I’ve had numerous conversations with people at the Co-op about either opening a second location downtown, or moving the whole operation to a larger building that can better accommodate the needs of the community. At one point, we even discussed the possibility of opening a new Ypsi Food Co-op on Water Street, but, as I recall, it was determined that new construction would be far too costly, even for the successful community-based business.
I know that it’s unlikely, but, assuming that the dollar store is a foregone conclusion, as it now appears to be, let’s imagine the best case scenario…
Core Resources invests $1.2 million in the construction of a 8,320 square foot facility at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Park. Said facility closes for unforeseen reasons. And the Ypsi Food Co-op moves in, purchasing the property for a deep discount, more than quadrupling their space, and bringing groceries to the underserved south side of Michigan Avenue. And, who knows, maybe they even buy the adjacent lot so that they can operate that Water Street farmers’ market we’d dreamed of.
Is it a long shot? Absolutely. Anything could happen on the site. The Family Dollar could thrive. Certainly their market research has shown them it’s likely. And, even if they were to fail, there’s no guarantee that the Co-op would inherit the space. The building could, for all we know, evolve into a blood plasma center, or a pot dispensary. There’s no harm in dreaming, though… And I really do think this is the best possible outcome – a locally owned food co-op in the heart of downtown, next to the small native prairie that we just planted. That, I think, would usher in real, sustainable economic development a lot more quickly than a dollar store. (Can’t you just picture the cohousing community being built along the banks of the river, right behind the thriving co-op?)
So, let’s keep that vision in our minds, and not lose hope, alright?