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A Walking Tour Of Downtown Ann Arbor

A Walking Tour Of Downtown Ann Arbor image
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This walking tour of downtown Ann Arbor was conceived and written by members of the Homeless Action Committee (HAC). lts purpose is to reveal the dramatic loss of housing which has been demolished for parking structures and office and commercial space. The commercial development and gentrification of Ann Arbor 's downtown will continue to elimínate affordable housing unless we subsidize needed units. O The Ann Arbor Y: The addition of three floors to the "Y," paid for in part by $100,000 of Downtown Deveolpment Authority (DDA) funds, was an attempt by local politicians and business people to address Ann Arbor's housing crisis. The Y is heralded as "af fordable housing," but at a cost of $22.80night, or $310month, who can afford to stay here? People working fulltime, minimum wage jobs would pay more than half their monthly incomes to rent at the Y, leaving less than $300 for food, clothing, transportation , medical and other expenses. The Y's 100 rooms are all 9x12 ft.- just big enough for a bed, a closet and a desk. Residents must eat every meal out, as there are no refrigerators or stoves. One bathroom serves each floor. There are no rooms for women with children, who make up the fastest growing group of homeless people. The Y project provides minimal shelter for single adults who can afford it, but it does not address the need for permanent housing. Nor does it address the housing needs of minimum wage workers, nonwage workers such as women with children, and people who receive GA, ADC, SSI, or Social Security. OTally Hall: Tally Hall, the DDA's first project, is a seven story complex with six levéis of parking, one level of retail space and a basement "food court" featuring "multi-ethnic" dining. It was designed to accomodate several stories of housing. It was intended to attract students, tourists and people who shop in Birmingham. Then-Mayor Lou Belcher pressed for the project because State Street merchants wanted more parking in their area. The city and private developers decided in September 1983 to co-fund the $10 million project. The City would opérate the parking structure. The DDA would float a $5 million bond issue. The mail opened in July 1986. Retail occupancy never exceeded 50 percent. The city tried to sell "air rights" (the right to build on top of the structure) to a developer who wanted to build luxury condos, but this feil through due to Tally Hall's "image problem." In July 1987, the city parking manager noted that only an average of 40 percent of the available nonmonthly parking spaces were used daily. The building closed in November 1990. The parking structure is still used. When asked why this project flopped, some merchants pointed to a glut of retail space. Some critics cited design flaws and the lack of street level retail space. O 301 E. Liberty: This office building was built in 1985 by a group which included Mayor Belcher, with a zoning variance from City Council. Council Democrats supported the variance in exchange for an Affordable Housing Task Forcé. A bakery and boarding house were razed to make room for this building. For a while the ground floor contained a clothing store, but it is now vacant. Half of the building's offices are empty. O The Ann Arbor Inn: This 189-room hotel went into bankruptcy despite a central location and an attached parking structure. Since it closed in December 1989, several new uses have been explored. One developer wanted to turn it into a private student dorm. U-M's Intercooperati ve Council (ICC) nearly bought it for co-op housing. HAC proposed converting it into 69 apartments for low-income families and single adults. However, due to the building' s construction and fire codes, the cost of renovation blocked all serious bids to buy the building. HAC's proposal called for $4.26 million of DDA funds to buy and fix the building, a drop in the bucket compared to what the city spent on parking structures and business subsidies. Only with such a subsidy could rents be kept affordable to people on social services grants. The city refused to explore this option. ODowntown Club: This building, Ann Arbor's original YMCA, provides a clear example of how govemment supports the loss of low-income housing. In 1960, the building was converted to the Downtown Club - a single room occupancy (SRO) for nearly 60 people. Dave Kircher, a notorious Ypsilanti slumlord and former Ypsilanti city council member, owned and managed the building. A 1982 plan to convert the building to offices prompted the formation of the Ad Hoc Committee to Save the Downtown Club. Nevertheless, early in 1983 Utilities were shut off and the tenants were forced onto the streets. Mayor Belcher and his associates bought the tax-delinquent building at a bailout price in December 1983. After a year of "bargaining," Belcher ended talks with the Ad Hoc Committee and announced plans to convert to offices. The Belcher group obtained $698,000 in fedejal tax credits by "donating" the building's facade to the Ann Arbor Historical Society. The Department of Social Services rented office space in the building upuntiltwoyearsago.Thebuilding's present occupancy rate is 38 percent OBraun Court: This sevenbuilding court on Fourth Avenue near Catherine Street was built in 1910 to house Germán brewery workers. Later it was home to moderate-income families until sold at $16,000 per house to realtor Hayes Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh raised the rents, forced families out, and moved students and young single working people in. Seven years ago, the court was lost to developer Peter Allen who, after a long battle with residents, turned the court into a "multi-ethnic" restaurant strip. Only 4 of the restaurants survive. The 3 remaining houses stand empty. OAnnAshley Parking Structure-One North Main: In the mid-1980s, Mayor Belcher made a deal with the Kojaian family of Detroit. The DDA would sell approximately $8.5 million in bonds to build a parking structure at the comer of E. Ann Street and N. Ashley Street, leasing a couple hundred spaces to the Kojaians. In return, the Kojaians would build an 1 1 -story office and luxury apartment building at 1 0 1 North Main Street. The tax revenue from this building was supposed to pay the debt service on the DDA bonds. The 837-space parking structure was built in 1987. Rubin Bergman, a staff member of the DDA, cites this as an example of how parking structures attract new businesses and additional tax base. Bergman ignores the downtown office space glut. New development just fights old development for a limited number of tenants. One North Main has a 27 percent office vacancy rate, with 63 percent of its apartments unused. The Kojaians filed for bankruptcy, which means lost revenue for the DDA. O The J J.R. Building: The Johnson, Johnson and Roy architecture firm moved to Miller Street in 1989, after the construction of the AnnAshley parking structure. The AnnAshley structure straddles business and residential districts. The DDA built there, intending to expand the business district. To make room for its headquarters, J.J.R. demolished five houses with 42 units. The new building has three stories. JJ.R. uses two. The third floor, intended to be an office, is vacant. O The Salvation Army Thrift Store: The Salvation Army's Red Shield Thrift Store used to stand at the corner of Main and Ann, which is now "A Little Park for a Little While." This park will disappear when the county decides to build on the site. The thrift store, which sold used clothing, fumiture, dishes, and more was a popular shopping place for people who could not afford Ann Arbor's pricier establishments. While it was open, the store took in three truckloads of donations a day. In December 1987, Washtenaw County bought the store for $440,000, intending to raze it and expand the adjacent building. The Shelter Association then proposed using the building for its Day Program (see below), but by this time asbestos was found in the building, which increased renovation costs. The county's consideration of the Shelter Association's plea to save the building surprised the Salvation Army's Captain Roger Senn: "I was told we would be getting in their way if we didn 't leave." The Salvation Army intended to retócate to a larger space, but never did. Now the area's only Salvation Army thrift store is in Ypsilanti. The demolition made Ann Arbor less hospitable to poor people. B he av Program: On Jan. r Y 2' e Day Program, a ■j 'J daytime drop-in center which É É provides counseling and job services to homeless people, opened in a house at 1 17 South División Street. The Ann Arbor Shelter Association leased the house from Great Lakes Federal Savings Bank. The shelter was created to serve people who, unül then, sought shelter during the day in the library, local businesses, and University buildings - establishments which disliked and harassed homeless people. About 60 people per day used the Day Program. In May 1987, Great Lakes tried to eject the Shelter Association. The bank and the DDA wanted to put in a parking structure. The Shelter Association looked for a new site, but met opposition everywhere they went. In October, the newly formed HAC went to City Council with four demands, one of which was space for the Day Program in a city leased building. On November 16, 1987, after seven weeks of pressure at their meetings, the Council voted unanimously to sublet the building at 1 12 South Ashley Street to the Shelter Association to temporarily house the Day Program. This building, formerly the Michigan National Bank, is on a block owned by developers who planned to raze it to add 15 spaces to the adjacent parking lot. The Day Program constantly faced the prospect of relocating. The owners of the 200 South Ashley block can refuse to release the building to the city whenever a profitable development venture comes along. Developer Bill Martin proposed the construction of a convention center. Had the plan not failed, the Day Program would have had to move again. 1 12 S. Ashley had problems with electrical wiring, a leaking roof, and a crumbling ceiling in the adjacent storage building. This year, the city and owner gave the Shelter Association a three-year lease. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority, the city and the county agreed to pay for needed renovaü'ons and repairs. During the.renovaü'ons, which began in August, the night shelter houses the Day Program services, but there is no daytime drop-in center. S The Kline's Lot: The Kline's lot, at the corner of ■ I Ashley and William, was the B mm object of a long struggle over the DDA's plans for a $10 million parking structure. This struggle highlighted many of the questions raised on this tour. HAC asked: Whose needs do the parking structures serve? Why does the city subsidize merchants, commercial landlords and developers instead of building low-income housing? Why do business interests domínate city priorities? HAC challenged these priorities by squatting two empty houses then located on this site, by picketing at the parking lot, by taking over the City Council chambers and by gathering over 5,000 signatures on a petition to put the construction of the Kline's structure to a public vote. Two years of HAC actions led to the proposed parking structure's defeat in a May 1991 City Council vote. Two of the squatted houses were saved for low-income housing. HAC meets every Thursday at 5:30 pm at the Guild House (802 Monroe).


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