Opinion.. Is Downtown Ann Arbor Growing too much?
Ann Arbor has changed. If you have lived here for any length of time, you've seen it. Ulrich's bookstore demolition to make way for a high rise. Crazy Jim's Blimpy Burger demolished to may way for a new dorm. Up and down Huron street, new hotel, new high rise apartments. An old church demolished on Main for condos. Historic homes on Ashley demolished for condos. Parking lot on Washington turned into high rise apartments. On Main street, who remembers Fox Tent & Awning? Fingerle Lumber site is now being developed. All the things on Hoover, Division, Kingsley, Williams, and I can go on and on. Not to mention all the things just outside of downtown.
The changes have come with mixed reviews to be sure. Some concerned that the town has changed too much, and lost it's college town charm. Others have welcomed the changes as desperately needed growth and development. Housing units in the downtown area have multiplied, but at what cost? With the increased demand and growth the rents for apartments have increased to a point where it's difficult to afford.
Condos have been built, but have had slow sales as the price for those have been above market support. The development in Lower Town Ann Arbor on Broadway has been altered after the developer scrapped plans to build condos because of poor pre-sales. The new focus is on apartments and retail, the 2 other phases that the project was committed to. The new high rise buildings in downtown have all included ground level retail space, but landlords have struggled to keep tenants in those spaces for any great length of time.
And it was recently announce that the city has approved zoning changes that is going to bring a new 19 story building to the corner of State and Washington, that will sit behind the Michigan theater. Promises of affordable housing units to the building has teased the city enough to give it the go, as Ann Arbor has made shallow promises and commitments to affordable housing but hasn't followed through with most of them.
As someone who was born and raised in Ann Arbor, I identity as a "townie", meaning someone who was born here and went to school in Ann Arbor. I understand the feelings of many who grew up here, or came here decades ago and fell in love with the "college town". To be truthful, I've never quite felt like that, but appreciate the sentiment. I've generally supported the development within the city, especially with the creation of the Ann Arbor Greenbelt program.
However, I don't feel the city has always made their development decisions with care. They seem to be far too motivated in creating more property tax revenue, however they can, and less about the impact of their decisions, and have been a bit reckless at times. Ask any resident of the Old Forth Ward their opinions about the high rises, or strike up a conversation with anyone about the "Library Lot" and you'll begin to understand. All of these new projects have been done with a handful of lip service to affordable housing, but affordable is only a relative term. Ann Arbor is suffering from an acute case of gentrification, and it's possible that it never quite recovers from it, which would be good news for every other community in the area.
Video courtesy of MLive