It has been a big week for the stretch of Washtenaw Avenue just west of US 23, the part of Ann Arbor I call home.
Bad news first. Of course Borders filed bankruptcy this week, blowing another crater into the Arborland outdoor mall on Washtenaw. Paula Gardner points out how the big-box model is creating significant retail vacancy in locations like Arborland, which are not aging well. The traffic concern is a recurring theme: Commenters to her article overwhelmingly voice complaints about poor parking lot design and traffic flow, which hinders accessibility to the stores and doesn’t serve pedestrians well either.
Speaking of businesses folding, the Ypsi Arbor bowling alley is, and Mark Maynard is dismayed by
the thought that the iconic sign out in front of the building might no longer grace that stretch of Wastenaw Avenue. It’s one of the very few things along that corridor, in my opinion, that has any character, and I’d hate to see it go. Maybe, if we’re lucky, they’ll sell the business, and the sign will stay where it is. But, if not, we should find a way to buy it and keep it lit. Actually, if they haven’t already, someone from our local Historical Society should contact the owners of the alley and see if they might want to donate it.
And speaking of Borders, Toby Barlow offers some advice for laid-off Borders employees: open your own bookstores. And in that vein of celebrating creative destruction, let us now turn to what I consider the good news.
New infill development is coming, for one thing:
(A) proposed Ann Arbor retail development called Arbor Hills Crossing at the corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Platt Road received a mostly warm welcome by the close to 40 neighbors and residents at a public meeting Wednesday night to unveil the plan… Developers will submit plans to the city early next month…
Tom Stegeman of Campus Realty, development manager for the project, said … (he) hopes to see construction begin by the end of the year or early- to mid-2012. Construction would take about a year, he said.
While Arbor Hills Crossing is being billed as mixed-use with retail and “flex” space, most of the project would go to retail. The rest would be for office or other uses and some residential may be possible, depending on market conditions, Stegeman said.
There will be no large anchor… and he hopes to attract national chains, regional players and local businesses. It will include a mix of tenants, including most likely food use, apparel and specialty retailers.
“It won’t be just discretionary retailers, but retailers of things people need,” Stegeman said…
Stegeman said the partnership has been in serious discussions with a number of potential tenants and there is strong interest.
“You won’t see it compete with Briarwood and it won’t be Big Box central. We may have one or two larger users, but it will be a good mix,” Stegeman said…
It will be bike and pedestrian- friendly, with 10-foot sidewalks running along Platt and for the full Washtenaw Avenue frontage, and a number of sidewalks entering into the center and meandering within it.
A former site of a gas station and a car dealership, there will be a brownfield cleanup of hazardous materials at the site. The project will seek eligibility from city and county governments for tax increment financing, and is expected to be eligible for a total of $3 to $4 million in tax reimbursements paid over a number of years, said Anne Jamieson, of AKT Peerless Environmental Services.
Some details of the project unveiled at the public meeting at Tappan Middle School:
• There will be four buildings, three with Washtenaw Avenue exposure. Two of the four buildings will have partial second stories, with the other two single-story. The buildings will be spaced apart, with pods of parking separating them.
• Access will be off of Washtenaw and off of Platt, said architect Robb Burroughs, principal of Ann Arbor-based reFORM studios. Traffic exiting out of the center onto Washtenaw could only turn right, but a new traffic light at Platt and Washtenaw would allow traffic to turn left.
• Construction materials include brick and steel along with steel and wood screens marking and anchoring some of the corners of the buildings. Stegeman promised “high quality architecture and appropriate scale.”
• There will be a rain garden, a pocket park and the wetland on the property will be preserved and improved, such as removing invasive species.
• There will be parking for 300 cars.
For some people at the meeting, the project will be a marked improvement from its current state of being empty and overgrown, they said.
One commenter voiced an increasingly common concern about the Washtenaw strip:
I can’t imagine what this already congested area will look like at the 4:00-6:30p.m. crush, especially if they tie up the Platt Rd. siphon off Washtenaw with yet another traffic signal.
My main reaction is I’m glad to see some infill in this curiously underused location, which has fantastic potential. They probably won’t charge for parking, but they should, otherwise the congestion on this strip of Washtenaw will just go through the roof. There would be more than enough foot traffic from the #4 bus route and bicyclists from the ample resident population of this area to sustain it even if paid parking discouraged some shopper. We need to start treating this strip of Washtenaw for what it is becoming: a secondary retail hub that is too dense to continue operating under the same old primarily auto-based model.
While ‘Arbor Hills Crossing’ is the most high-profile announcement, AnnArbor.com reports:
(T)here are other new businesses establishing themselves in the (Washtenaw Ave.) area this week. Here’s a look at three:
Satchel’s BBQ — …Satchel’s offers “southern-style bbq at a good value with courteous service.” The menu promises pulled pork, brisket, chicken and ribs, with a variety of sides.
Marathon Gas Station — Further east on Washtenaw, a freshly remodeled gas station has also reopened… The renovated station also offers E85 “flex fuel,” a blend of 85 percent ethanol.
Diva Nails — Behind the new Marathon station in Arborland Mall, a nail salon has moved in along the same strip as Starbucks and Beauty First.