This week’s episode of the Saturday Six Pack was an odd one. It started normal enough, with an in-depth discussion about the plot hatched in Ann Arbor to defund Ypsi’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, but then it kind of began a steady descent into madness, until, by the end of the show, we were pulling people into the AM 1700 studio from the dark Ypsilanti streets to discuss things like the the evil auras of local trees and the late Bert Lahr’s love of potato chips… It makes me wonder what future historians will make of us when these tapes are unearthed from the rubble of our parent company’s headquarters 100 years from now.
[If you would like to listen to the episode in its entirety, you can find it on both iTunes and Soundcloud. Or, if you want, you can just scroll down to end of this post, where you’ll find it embedded.]
Our first guest was Debbie Locke-Daniel, the head of the Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (YACVB). For the most part, as you might expect, we talked about recent attempts on the part of Ann Arbor’s hoteliers to defund her organization, and hand over both her million-dollar budget, and the task of marketing Ypsilanti, to the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (AAACVB). [below: Debbie Locke-Daniel just prior to the ceremonial opening of the six pack]
While, as Deb said, there are rumblings about closing the Ypsilanti bureau every five years or so, when it comes time to renew their contract with the County, it seems as though this time the threat is considerably more serious. For one thing, there’s now a lot more money on the table… When the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureaus were launched, in 1975, they were funded by a 2% hotel tax. Now, forty years later, that tax has grown to 5%, and the dollars associated are considerably more substantial. The annual budget of the YACVB is presently $1.1 million, whereas the budget for the AAACVB is $4.1 million. As Deb noted, there were serious efforts to shut down the department years ago, when the annual budget was just $340,000, so it’s no real surprise that there would be a more concerted effort to bring that money to Ann Arbor now that it totals over $1 million. And, on top of this, it would seem that people in Ann Arbor are motivated to grab this cash now, as it’s become common knowledge that Deb is planning to retire. “It’s absolutely no coincidence,” she said, that this is happening now, after she publicly mentioned the likelihood of retirement.
[Ypsi History Minute: According to Deb, Ypsi’s State Rep, Gary Owen, only agreed to help push through the 1975 State bill that created the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, once it had been agreed to that a sister entity would be created in Ypsilanti, which would receive 25% of the disbursable hotel taxes collected across the County. This arrangement has now been in place for 40 years.]
While Deb acknowledged that there is room for improvement, as the sales departments of the two bureaus occasionally cross paths in their efforts to attract people to local hotels, she said that she was “very skeptical, based on history, that (Ypsilanti) would get the kind of promotion that (it does) right now,” with her six-person office, if the responsibility for promoting our community is handed to Ann Arbor… If the Ypsilanti bureau is forced to close, she said, “The voice of Ypsilanti will die.”
The Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, she said, has their hands full, “just keeping the Ann Arbor brand burning.”
I might be inclined to consider the possibility of a merger, if we hadn’t just gone through pretty much the same thing with our Chambers of Commerce. When the Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce and the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce merged, we were told that the new entity would keep an office in Ypsilanti. And they did, for a little while. Then, we were told, they would have a dedicated person in the Ypsilanti offices of Ann Arbor SPARK. And they did, for a little while. The last I’d heard, though, that person hadn’t been seen at his Ypsilanti desk for several months, and was unresponsive to calls from local business owners. So, while I can appreciate in theory the idea that dollars might be stretched further with one office, I think history shows us that Ypsi usually comes out with the short end of the stick in such arrangements.
We are constantly told, “The local brand is Ann Arbor.” We’re told, as Deb put it during the show, that we’ll benefit from the “glow” given off by Ann Arbor. In reality, though, that doesn’t happen. And that’s why we need to push back on this, and fight for the ability to articulate and disseminate our own message, independent of Ann Arbor. When the Washtenaw Development Council was closed and replaced by Ann Arbor SPARK, we were told the same thing. “Ann Arbor is the powerful national brand,” we were told. “Invest in marketing Ann Arbor, and good things will trickle down to the surrounding communities.” Well, we’ve been at it for a decade now, and have you seen good things trickling down? While I see several new buildings going up in Ann Arbor, all I see in Ypsi is a new dollar store on Michigan Avenue. And this, I think, is why we need to fight this fight.
If you’d like to have your voice heard, Deb and her staff will be at a public forum in Ann Arbor on the morning of Thursday, April 16. The event is scheduled to run from 8:00 to 9:30 AM at the Washtenaw County administration building on Main Street, and we’d love to have a lot of Ypsilantians in the audience to show County Commissioners Ronnie Peterson, Andy LaBarre, Ruth Ann Jamnick, and Alicia Ping just how strongly we feel about this issue. [This matter will eventually go to a vote before all nine Washtenaw County Commissioners, but these four have been charged with making a recommendation.]
I could go on, but I think you probably get the point… If you’re at all interested, I’d suggest listening to the first thirty minutes of the show, during which we really dig into the details, and name names.
Then, following Deb’s interview, we had two minutes of silence. I’d like to say we’d intended it as a form of protest or to commemorate the passing of Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago, but, the truth is, we just couldn’t get this week’s contribution from our friend Dr. Peter Larson, the legendary founder of Bulb Records, to play. [note: Pete, who just arrived back in the states from Kenya, will be performing live in the studio on April 18, so stock your fridge with beer and reserve your AM 1700 milliwatts now.]
Then, as memory serves, I called Chris Sandon, who had, just moments earlier, somehow weaseled himself into a house party on Cross Street. After describing the scene to us, I asked Chris if he thought that he could smuggle out some of their food, and bring it down to the station… which he did, much to the delight of our guests.
And, with that, local musician Dave Menzo came in the door with a theremini under one arm, to tell us about his most recent project – a record created using only the music tools available for check-out through the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL)… After playing around with a few of the instruments he’d brought along from the library, we talked about his work as Analog Synthesizer Ambassador of Michigan, and how he hopes to use this new record of his to help other communities establish music tool collections, like the one at the AADL. [top of the page: Dave Menzo with a very happy Annie Palmer]
Then our friend Brigid Mooney, as she does every week, made her way into the studio from the Wurst Bar with someone that she wanted for us to meet. This week, Brigid was accompanied by a woman named Jenna Parks, who, we would learn, now lives with her folks in Armada, and works at a 7-Eleven. I’m sure, when she came in, she’d wanted to talk about other stuff, but, seeing as how we were recording on the day of 7-Eleven’s big Bring Your Own Cup promotion, I just kept asking about Slurpees, how much they cost to make, and what kinds of containers people were bringing in to be filled. [They cost a few cents an ounce to produce, we were told, and someone apparently brought in a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket to be filled. Also Slurpee-related, Jenna showed us that she’s got the Slurpee barcode tattooed on her ankle. I probably should have asked if 7-Eleven made her get it, but I didn’t, for fear that doing so might bring her to tears.]
At 1:08 a man called in from Frog Island Park to recite a poem that, if we hadn’t cut him off, would have gone on, I’m sure, for the entirety of the show. I think it was called the Ballad of Scooter McGrew, and we made it about 25 verses in before pulling the plug.
Alexis Ford stopped by to tell us about the newly-formed Music & Arts Guild before heading across the street to an event she was hosting at Beezy’s featuring Patrick Elkins, Scotty Karate, Gregory McIntosh, and Annie Palmer.
And local musician Annie Palmer came in with her guitar to play some sad and beautiful songs for us, and talk about everything from fern sperm to those songs that she can no longer bring herself to perform. Annie played three songs, including a lovely cover of Sia’s big hit Chandelier. [below: Annie Palmer performing]
Oh, and Chris Sandon, good to his word, showed up with his pockets stuffed full of tamales and a mason jar full of liberated honey whiskey from that house party I mentioned earlier. And, before making his escape from the party, Chris was also able to capture a few minutes of Andru Bemis, who was performing there, which he shared with us… And thus our new segment, “Party Busters,” was born.
And, as if that weren’t enough, local historian Matt Siegfried dropped by to kick off our new segment, “The People’s History of Ypsilanti,” which, this episode, focused on the 1814 burning of Native American villages along the Huron River.
And, as I mentioned up front, we ended the show by pulling in people off the street. First in was local sculptor Casey Dixon, with whom we discussed the existence of both evil and healing trees within our community. And, after him, we invited in self-described “rocakabilly poet” Canton Belanger, who wanted to discuss, among other things, Bert Lahr’s love of potato chips.
Like I said, it was a weird night… And it delights me that this recording may one day be listened to by historians interested in what life was like in 2015, in the small, strange city of Ypsilanti, Michigan.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL THE TIME CAPSULE IS OPENED… YOU CAN LISTEN FOR YOURSELVES RIGHT NOW:
Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, and to Brian Robb for running the board. Thanks also to my AM 1700 coworker Kate de Fuccio for calling in from her rural Pennsylvania vacation to check in on us. And, last but not least, thanks to Chris Stranad for taking the photos in this post.
[If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.]