After five years of promises, Ypsi’s downtown rec center pronounced dead

RecCenterDeath

This past May 2nd, Bob Tetens, the director of the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission, came to Ypsilanti at the behest of Washtenaw County Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, and explained to us why it was that, after five years, he and his team still hadn’t broken ground on the downtown recreation center that we’d all been led to believe would be the “new civic anchor” that would help us jumpstart meaningful development on our 38-acre downtown brownfield known as Water Street and turn our city around. Well, despite his assurances at the time at he was looking for a way to salvage the project, it looks as though he’s going to officially pull the plug on the whole thing this evening, at the monthly meeting of the Washtenaw County Parks and Rec Commission. The agenda for said meeting includes a memorandum about the Water Street project with this recommendation from Tetens.

“Given the current status of the estimated cost of this project, and the uncertainty with the significant remediation of the entire Water Street site, I recommend that the Commission authorize staff to officially notify the City of Ypsilanti and the Ann Arbor Y of our intent to withdraw our interest in the East Side Community Recreation Center project on the Water Street Redevelopment Area.”

According to Ypsilanti City Council member Pete Murdock, “They had made this decision some months ago, but delayed telling us officially until after the election.” [As you’ll recall, we just failed by 35 votes to pass a Water Street debt reduction millage last week.]

I don’t know what good it is at this point to vent, as doing so likely isn’t going to bring the project back to life, but I think it’s appropriate to once again share the following excerpt from my coverage of the May 2 public meeting referenced above.

…The most interesting response, I think, came from State Representative David Rutledge, who, after saying that he hadn’t intended to voice his opinion publicly, said that this was “the most frustrating thing” he had ever gone through. “And that,” he said, “is coming from someone who works in Lansing.” He went on to say, “This center should have been built two years ago, minimum.” He then said that it wasn’t the contaminated land that was stopping this from going forward, but a lack of will on the part of Tetens and his organization. “If there were a will right now, and the administration said ‘get this done,’ it would get done,” said Rutledge. “We can do something for $13 million,” he added, suggesting that Tetens had the wherewithal to invest more than just $10 million. “There are all kinds of ways that this could happen now if there was the will to do it,” he said. He then he went on to remind Tetens that they’ve been collecting the millage for this for some time now. He also suggested that some of the things that had slowed the project to date, like the negotiations with the Y to manage the center, may have just been “red herrings” intend to slow the project…

Tetens and his staff, in the opinion of many, never wanted to build a recreation center in downtown Ypsilanti, and have just been stalling these past several years, waiting for the right moment to pull the plug on the development, which regional politicians had strongly encouraged them to pursue more than half a decade ago.

Tetens, for what it’s worth, defends his recommendation to the Washtenaw County Parks and Rec Commission as follows.

A number of issues surfaced as staff proceeded with due diligence and design development that significantly increased the cost of the project and put the proposal in jeopardy. First, the 3 ½ -year delay in reaching an agreement on the land resulted in an increased estimated construction cost of over $2.5 million. Changes in the design, most notably a second pool and babysitting/teen areas, added an additional $1.2 million.

Second, the cost of necessary infrastructure had also increased significantly. The additional infrastructure costs were compounded by delays in the MSHDA residential project, Water Street Flats/River Walk Commons, which would have shared the cost of extending the necessary roads and utilities. Consultants estimate an increase in projected infrastructure costs from approximately $340,000 to nearly $800,000.

Finally, soil borings for the foundation revealed the existence of buried construction debris. Estimates from the environmental engineer and design team suggest the cost to remediate the site (remove and replace with clean compacted soil) to be between $700,000 and $1.2 million. City staff had previously indicated that the building site had been excavated to a depth of thirty feet and filled with clean sand that was compacted and ready for construction. The soil borings have proven otherwise. Even more disturbing, contamination elsewhere on the site has resulted in the City barricading access to the new Border-to-Border trail segment shortly after the Heritage Bridge was installed. The Commission provided nearly $600,000 in matching funds for the bridge\trail projects, and helped secure an equal amount from the DNR Trust Fund grant program. It is unknown when the new trail will be available for public use.

Staff has also been working for several months to find additional financial support from the private sector and/or corporate entities. WCPARC and City staff explored the possibility of pursuing a public-private partnership to help deliver the facility at an affordable price point. Working with a private development team that specializes in integrated health and wellness facilities, staff explored the concept of developing a wellness center that would include a fitness component among other health related services. The private developer is not based in Michigan, but has successfully built similar facilities in several communities nationwide. Ultimately these discussions stalled due to an inability to get a firm commitment from a large health care provider.

As mentioned earlier, the original budget for the building was $10 million. The current estimate for completion is approaching $16 million. While the Commission remains committed to providing quality recreation opportunities on the east side of the County, it has become increasingly clear that constructing a new recreation center on the Water Street site is not practical, nor is it a prudent use of WCPARC resources.

We could quibble over the details. And we could point fingers. We could point out that much of the delay that Tetens references above was his own doing, as he chose to wait until a new millage could be passed before breaking ground. We could ask why, if they found “buried construction debris” on the site, as they claim, they’ve never shared evidence of it with the City. And, I suppose, we could make the case that we’d been lied to, as we voted to support the millage in good faith, thinking that it would result in a recreation center on Water Street, when it’s not clear that Tetens and his Commission ever really wanted to pursue it. But what would it get us? As Murdock noted above, it looks as though this has been a forgone conclusion for some time now. [It’s not likely at this point, but I suppose there’s still a remote chance that the Commission could be persuaded not to accept Tetens’ recommendation at this evening’s meeting.]

I’d just like to know where we go from here, and what the Parks and Rec Commission intends to do for the people of Ypsilanti now that they’re likely walking away from the promised recreation center. [On May 2nd, as you’ll recall, Tetans said, “If we can’t build something (on Water Street), we’re not going away,” after it was pointed out that his Commission had no black members and just two members from our side of the County.] Furthermore, I’d be curious as to whether or not they ever seriously looked into the suggestion made by Depot Town restaurant owner Linda French during the May 2 meeting that they move forward and build something smaller on the site right now, that we can afford, but build it in such a way that it could easily be added to at a later date, when additional funds become available. [For instance, French suggested, we could build a rec center now, without a pool, and then add one later.] At the time, Tetans said that this might work, and promised to look into it. And I’d like to know how seriously he took that promise.

And I’d love to know if Ronnie Peterson, who just won the Democratic primary to represent us in the State House, is planning to attend this evening’s meeting of the Washtenaw Parks and Rec Commission, given what he had to say to Tetens on May 2.

From my coverage of the public meeting discussed above:

…Then, Ronnie Peterson questioned whether or not the project would happen at all. In another two years, he said, our $10 million may just be worth $8 million. “What will we do then?”, he asked. “You owe the community an explanation,” Peterson demanded. “They supported the millage. A promise was made. And we deserve an answer (as to whether or not a rec center is going to be built).” Peterson then went on to add that Tetens and the County, if they wanted to, could make this happen, as they have both financial reserve and the ability to borrow for things such as this. In response, Tetans said that he did not have sufficient funds to make this happen, and reiterated that he was dedicated to the eastern side of the county…

And, for that matter, I wonder if anyone else will step up at the meeting on behalf of our community. Will Yousef Rabhi, David Rutledge or Conan Smith be on hand to ask Tetens if this Ypsilanti development was ever really a priority for him, and what, if anything, he intends to do for our community now?

update: Washtenaw County Commissioner Conan Smith just posted the following to Facebook. I suspect he’d be OK with my posting it here at well.

Mark, as you know, I’ve been a champion of this project all along and a proponent of the Water Street site. Even I find myself struggling to justify its continuance. I think it was wise for the Parks Commission to close out this iteration of this particular project. It is confronted with too many complexities (from cost to contamination to a lack of clarity about what exactly the investment would be anchoring) for anyone to honestly say it would move forward to completion. What the commission did tonight was officially notify the city that we would not proceed with our project. That allows both governments to start fresh. Parks is committed to investing in recreational opportunities on the east side, and the second half of the motion directed staff to start a community conversation about what the priorities are for east side recreation. You should know that this specifically leaves the door open to work on Water Street and we continue to negotiate with St Joe and others around the possibility of a joint facility there. However we will also look at other options. Staff today toured several YCS buildings that may be considered as alternatives to new construction. We’re also talking with partners about various programming opportunities and more diffuse capital investments (e.g., shoring up existing facilities that are in disrepair could be an option). Essentially, we’re looking for a clean slate, not walking away.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized, Ypsilanti and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

32 Comments

  1. Andrew Clock
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    So, how about the old Boys & Girls Club site. None of the Water Street issues and only a handful of blocks away…

  2. Andrew Clock
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Or, better yet, lets build it over by Park Ridge, in an Ypsilanti neighborhood that we know from our recent millage vote needs to see financial support and development.

  3. Gillian
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    The blame for this one rests squarely with the county. they delayed the project for three years and guess what–costs went up while they waited! Now, instead of revisiting their plans, they are killing the project. County staff never wanted it in Ypsi from the start. Building a sprawling, car-oriented development in the middle of nowhere is far easier than building it in a city. It is sad that county staff’s convenience won out over an incredible opportunity to spur economic development and deliver recreation services to the people in the county who need it most.

  4. Dan
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Mark

    The buried construction debris was found and reported on a while ago. I believe when MSHDA contamination report led to more testing on the site

  5. Dan
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    In fact you reported it on this site.

    http://markmaynard.com/2016/05/state-rep-david-rutledge-to-washtenaw-county-parks-and-rec-commission-director-bob-tetens-on-the-long-stalled-eastside-recreation-center-there-are-all-kinds-of-ways-that-this-could-happen-n/

  6. Dan
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Gillian,

    It sounds to me that they were stalling because they counted on the housing project to provide a lot of infrastructure. They likely were waiting on that to get started and when it fell through it no longer made sense.

    Im not sure who gets the blame for that. I guess MSHDA. Although I’d say that in the long run you will be happy that they refused to fund another low income development.

  7. General Demitrious
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I really like the idea of re-purposing Ypsilanti West Middle School. It would make a great rec center. It Has the land for athletic fields, parking, a swimming pool suitable for young adults, a good roof, water and electrical service adequate for the project. It would be awesome!

  8. Posted August 9, 2016 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I did report that Tetens had made the claim in the past, Dan. And he did. What I’ve heard since, however, is that it’s unclear as to what that claim in based on. I’m told people in the city have not seen reports showing existence of this buried construction debris.

    For what it’s worth, I think it very well could be the case that it exists. I’ve just been told that the city has asked for the reports in question and has not seen them. Or at least they hadn’t seen them the last time I’d asked. If I’m not mistaken, a FOIA had been filed, however.

  9. Dan
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    The Phase 2 site assessment should be available without a FOIA. That would contain the soil boring information

  10. Dan
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    The Phase 1 might contain relevant info as well. That would be more along the lines of records of remediation activities and what was done at the time. (i.e. if the environmental consultant witnesses or inspected the excavation and fill.) the phase 2 would contain actual boring profiles, which it sounds like they exist.

    This should be stuff that is readily available to the city. They should not have to pull teeth to get it and I’m fact were probably the people that paid for it to happen. It seems really weird that there is a systematic ignorance of the environmental consultants activities on the site. It seems like the city just paid the consultant and never looked at any report and has no idea what or where they are.

  11. Hannah A
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    I’d venture to say the Pphasing of a facility wasn’t ever truly explored – adding a second pool before figuring out how to break ground? C’mon, now, you’re just looking for a way out.

    I’m not often sad about things – I’m sad the Parks and Rec folk don’t seem to have fully bought in (actions) and thought anything viable (yeah, actions again, Bob). It’s not a huge stretch to believe in the good this could have created for Ypsi…that lovely little town that, unfortunately for most folks, is east of 23.

  12. Lynne
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    It is such a struggle to get nice things. Which is too bad because all of those things that so many people consider frivolous actually are why a lot of people choose to live in the city when they could easily live elsewhere and pay much lower property taxes. Michigan will continue to see its poorer cities decline I am afraid until we can come up with a way to either fix our state tax structure or find another way to fund the extra nice things that make city living preferable to more suburban or rural living. Oh well, at least we aren’t taking money away from poor school children to fund a hockey stadium for a billionaire.

  13. Lynne
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    OH yeah, and I vote for a rec center at the old boys and girls club. Heh. ;)

  14. Posted August 9, 2016 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    I just got word that the Washtenaw County Parks and Rec Commission voted to accept the recommendation to walk away from the Ypsi project. I’m told, however, that Evan and Conan added language that left the issue somewhat open beyond the Water Street site. There was nothing specific, though.

  15. Posted August 9, 2016 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Dan, I received this someone who claims to know a bit about the issue…

    “As I understand it, we did some spot deep remediation but not the entire site. And Tetens was given all of that information. In addition, they did there own due diligence testing, and, at that point, they allegedly found a lot of construction debris. The City, as I understand it, however, didn’t receive that analysis, or their estimates as to what it would cost to remediate it.”

    I don’t know how accurate that is, but it’s what I’ve heard so far. I’m still looking into it.

  16. Dan
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Mark

    This is obviously anecdotal and not site specific, but in a past career I spent a lot of time on construction sites excavating and backfilling. It would be more surprising to me to find out that they filled everything with clean sand than to find out they took the shit dirt and used that instead. Normally it is not huge chunks of concrete and shit but it is rubble and bad clay and other shitty soils that don’t make good foundations for a building. It may sound ugly to call it construction debris but what it really is is a mix of poor soil some concrete some small wood etc that isn’t good enough to build a foundation on but is good enough to build a parking lot on. It’s a very common practice for contractors to make some extra money

  17. Posted August 9, 2016 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, I don’t doubt for a minute that it happens, and very well could have happened in this case.

  18. Dan
    Posted August 9, 2016 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    Someone did a phase 2 site assessment (it’s unclear to me if MSHDA or ypsi paid for it.) The report from that should not be difficult to obtain, regardless because both are tax payer funded. They have no right to withhold the info. That is by far the most current and most accurate description of what the site conditions are, including deep soil borings.

    I just find it really hard to believe that ypsi city officials haven’t seen these reports

  19. Posted August 9, 2016 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Washtenaw County Commissioner Conan Smith just posted the following to Facebook. I suspect he’d be OK with my posting it here.

    Mark, as you know, I’ve been a champion of this project all along and a proponent of the Water Street site. Even I find myself struggling to justify its continuance. I think it was wise for the Parks Commission to close out this iteration of this particular project. It is confronted with too many complexities (from cost to contamination to a lack of clarity about what exactly the investment would be anchoring) for anyone to honestly say it would move forward to completion. What the commission did tonight was officially notify the city that we would not proceed with our project. That allows both governments to start fresh. Parks is committed to investing in recreational opportunities on the east side, and the second half of the motion directed staff to start a community conversation about what the priorities are for east side recreation. You should know that this specifically leaves the door open to work on Water Street and we continue to negotiate with St Joe and others around the possibility of a joint facility there. However we will also look at other options. Staff today toured several YCS buildings that may be considered as alternatives to new construction. We’re also talking with partners about various programming opportunities and more diffuse capital investments (e.g., shoring up existing facilities that are in disrepair could be an option). Essentially, we’re looking for a clean slate, not walking away.

  20. Posted August 10, 2016 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    I am saddened for the City of Ypsilanti. It seems that despite the efforts of committed individuals, progress is a distant dream.

  21. Posted August 10, 2016 at 1:46 am | Permalink

    There isn’t anyone responsible. Many people that fucked up, but no one person to tell Tetens to get his shit together and make it happen. The county is broken like the rest of the state. I prefer bad decisions to no decisions. Complete lack of leadership at every level.

  22. EOS
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    This is good news for the county. It’s not often they reverse a bad decision. I’m hoping they proceed with building the new rec center at Rolling Hills Park, as was in the Master Plan. No cost for the land, no environmental contamination, plenty of room for parking, and a location that is easily accessible by residents in the eastern part of the county where the greatest growth is occurring, now and even more so in the future.

  23. C Adam Plummereatus
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Someone above commented about how this is such good news for the county, and how maybe now they can move forward to build a rec center at Rolling Hills County Park as there is “no cost for the land, no environmental contamination, plenty of room for parking, and a location that is easily accessible by residents in the eastern part of the county where the greatest growth is occurring”. While the Rolling Hills cite might be cheaper and easier, I have the development of downtown Ypsilanti in mind. Even if it’s just a park to mirror riverside park across Michigan Ave. But please. Something positive.

    As for what Conan Smith posted, I agree. It sucks, but until an actual remediation plan exists, there is no point in proceeding. I also understand the concept of shared cost between the other developments, but remediation seems to be the big roadblock.

    Mark, I saw the gov’t peeps you asked for their mind on this in your Facebook post, and I’m glad that Commissioner Smith chimed in in some fashion. I’d like to hear from the rest of city council and the mayor on it too. Mainly, what is it gonna take for freaking remediation of that site to occur? Is it a billion dollars that the city is never gonna have? Fine. Tell us. Is it in the millions and could be paid for with a temporary and defined millage increase? Then propose THAT to the residents – with a real plan for making it happen. The community (by about 40 votes) doesn’t have the will to just pay off a bad decision. But I really think they do have the will to pay to fix a bad decision.

  24. Posted August 10, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    C Adam — “what’s it gonna take for remediation” depends almost entirely on what gets done on the site. There are different standards for dirt that a house is going to be built on vs. dirt that a parking lot is going to be built on, with substantially different costs. This is why brownfield remediation is usually tied to a specific developer / proposal — so that the level of remediation can be matched with the proposed use.

    If the city were to remediate in a vacuum, so that future developers didn’t have to worry about it, it could definitely expand the pool of potential developers. The downside, the city would either have to put deed restrictions on the property (“we only cleaned up this area well enough for commercial, and you have to put a parking lot on top of this spot”), or would have to clean it up to the strictest standards, potentially spending way too much for the end use, or else the developer would have to go back and do a second pass to clean stuff up to a higher standard.

    This gets to the questions about the soil quality as well — to Dan’s point, the WCPARC would have done the evaluation of their patch of land against their construction plans, so they’d be the ones holding the environmental and geotechnical evaluation docs. I would hope they’d offer those up to the city to inform future efforts on that area.

  25. Adam Gainsley
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Sad and so much more.

    The lack of support from staff has been bad enough. The lack of support from the commissioners is even more disappointing.

    This is clearly a good project and very well could have been executed despite staff’s problems. If the board of commissioners had directed staff, and in turn staff executives had directed their teams, to get this done, it damn well would have gotten done.

    This is the second time in recent memory the county has overtly screwed over the city of Ypsi. I have little faith in this body right now. How do we get past this? How can we trust that the county will support Ypsi in any future endeavors or partnerships?

  26. Lynne
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    One of the problems with the Rolling Hills site is that it isn’t accessible via public transportation so it actually isn’t accessible to many of the residents of eastern Washtenaw County. Now if adding a bus route out there, paid for by the county perhaps, is part of the plan, then it might be acceptable but a rec center in the city would be better.

  27. EOS
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Lynne,
    Those in the city who are dependent on buses can easily utilize the Murray Center which has bus service every 10 minutes for a good portion of the day. The southern half of the township is devoid of any substantial bus service, can’t get to the existing rec center or the city by bus, but could walk or ride a bike to a facility near their homes. The new rec facility is supposed to serve the whole county and there is a substantial population in the Township (more than double that in the city) that pays taxes but have no access.

  28. Dan
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    There is a ton of land a bit north of Rolling Hills, by the post office on Whittaker/Huron on either side of the road. There are buses there as well. I believe most of that land is for sale too.

  29. Lynne
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Yes, it is true that people can take the bus to the other rec center but it is a bit overcrowded. Not to mention that our county is very bad at serving poorer people. Perhaps there is some land near West Willow if it MUST be built in the TWP?

  30. EOS
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I guess the point is that the county already owns the land at rolling hills and the plans include a rec facility at that site. The other facility should be less crowded if there were a second option.

  31. Donald
    Posted August 10, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    “Several YCS Buildings”

    That has every suggestion of being the Willow Run High School/Middle School complex, which has a barely 10 year old, 8 lane pool, 2 gyms, 2 weight rooms, and an auditorium.

  32. Nur1k0san
    Posted August 13, 2016 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    Of course YCS takes all the Willow Run students, strips all markers of WR. Then sells the buildings.
    Don’t forget the football field, baseball field, etc across Holmes rd, that’s now the community center park.

One Trackback

  1. […] and cities like Flint.] And, of course, it probably doesn’t help that, just yesterday, the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission voted to kill the development of the new rec center…. [Yes, the one positive thing we had to look forward to on Water Street is now […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Connect

Sidetrack ad Aubree’s ad BUY LOCAL... or shop at Amazon through this link Banner Initiative Manchurian Candidate Banner