“Where are you going to find 100,000 square feet?”

AnnArbor.com’s Paula Gardner describes a problem most Michigan cities would love to have:

It’s easy to celebrate upon hearing the assertion from Barracuda Networks that it wants to hire up to 500 new employees and acquire or build a 100,000-square-foot office in downtown Ann Arbor…

But it also begs the question posed by developer Ed Shaffran: “Where are you going to find 100,000 square feet?”

AnnArbor.com reader Bernie P. had an idea:

Brownfield @ Broadway / Maiden Lane – COULD BE purpose built for a Barracuda campus to hold 500 people with parking, shopping, etc, etc.

Bonus is that it is within walking distance of AATA stops from the park & ride at Plymouth / US23.

As I already wrote in response to his comment:  I could not agree more.

Before I moved out near Arborland, I lived off Maiden Lane on the north side right next to the huge abandoned brownfield at the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane.  Surrounded by chain link fence, the property has reverted to prairie and looks like something you’d see in Detroit, not Ann Arbor.

Lower Town is probably the most blighted part of Ann Arbor.  The student ghetto is blighted too, but at least has a high population density;  Lower Town, largely divided between unkempt university parking lots and the property I’m writing about, just feels empty.  It’s a puzzling failure of land use, since it includes ample parkland along the Huron River and sits in the heart of the city, smack in between the prime real estate of Kerrytown and the University’s sprawling North Campus.

As I noted in my comment responding to Bernie P., the site has a number of advantages for a corporate campus of some size.   It would presumably be much cheaper than downtown real estate, while offering access to the river and, as he noted, AATA’s #2 bus.  The biggest problem would probably be opposition from homeowners on Broadway, but steps could be taken to minimize adverse impacts on their neighborhood.  And the most immediate neighbors on the other three sides of the site are either commercial, rental housing, or university parking.   It’s not quite as glamorous as downtown, but certainly better than developing on the city’s outskirts.   And providing space for employee parking would be infinitely easier than downtown.

Am I missing something?  Anybody know why this site has been idle for so long, besides the lousy real estate market?

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3 responses to ““Where are you going to find 100,000 square feet?”

  1. I don’t know why it has been vacant so long. I am a student in the Master of Urban Planning program here at U-M and there are a couple of design and real estate classes that regularly do projects that vision a future for Lower Town; however, those are just student projects. I had similar questions about a site right in the center of downtown Grand Rapids (where I’m from) that sat vacant for as long as I can remember. Every time I went past I would make comments to whomever I was with about how many good uses it could have. Currently, that site is wrapping up construction of a mixed use space to be primarily used by the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts and something like 7 floors of apartments above it, so spaces like that are slowly being developed it seems. Back to possible development here in Ann Arbor, the Michigan brownfields program might offer some incentives for locating there.

  2. I don’t know why either! When I lived in Island Drive apartments there was a Kroger, a bakery, an Asian grocery, and several other stores. I could walk over there, pick up stuff for dinner, and walk home and it was perfect.

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