Ypsilanti city council approves purchase agreement for International Village project at Water Street

Following six hours of public comment and deliberation among officials, Ypsilanti City Council voted Tuesday night to enter into a purchase agreement on the proposed International Village project for the city's troubled Water Street property.


Mayor Amanda Edmonds, mayor pro-tem Nicole Brown, and council members Beth Bashert and Dan Vogt voted yes; council member Lois Richardson voted no; and council members Pete Murdock and Brian Robb abstained from the vote.


Before the vote, council members shared numerous questions and concerns relating to the project, many of which could not be resolved at the meeting. Because of this, Richardson urged her fellow council members to support her motion to delay or postpone the vote on the purchase agreement until the beginning of October. The motion failed to pass, with only Murdock and Richardson voting in favor.


Tuesday's city council meeting took place at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse, 100 Market Place, instead of at City Hall, 1 S. Huron St., due to the number of residents who were expected to attend. More than 100 residents were present for the meeting. Less than half of them stuck around until the final vote was cast shortly before 1 a.m.


About 40 residents took to the podium to share their opinions on the project. The majority of those residents expressed concerns about the International Village. Many of them were against using the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, which provides a pathway to U.S. citizenship to foreign investors who contribute at least $500,000, as a funding mechanism for the project.


Chinese-American developer Amy Xue Foster, president of Troy-based International Village Advisory, LLC, was present at the meeting, but she didn't lead the presentation on the project. Instead, project manager Wayne Hofmann of Spence Brothers presented most of the information shared by the development team at the meeting.


The proposed International Village would be a mixed-use residential and commercial development with an emphasis on housing Chinese international students. The development would include 1,100 units spread amongst various apartment complexes, as well as a hotel. Hofmann said the units will be between 800 and 1,600 square feet and will rent at a rate of $1.40 to $2.10 per square foot, for a minimum rent of $1,120 per month.


The minimum total project cost is $325 million and the EB-5 program is expected to fund 40 percent of the project's cost. The target for investment through the EB-5 program is $130 million from 260 foreign investors, who would be required to create at least 2,600 jobs.


The vote provides the latest potential resolution to the city's lengthy struggle to develop the costly property and follows a more recent debate about including affordable housing in the development. On Monday night, more than 100 residents attended a special meeting to solicit public input on the International Village as it pertains to the issue of affordable housing. During the two-hour public comment period, there were 44 three-minute arguments from residents, some of whom spoke twice. A handful of residents voiced support for the International Village project, but the majority spoke against it.


Since the purchase agreement was approved, the city and the developer are expected to begin negotiations on a development agreement, with the goal of approving it by the end of the year. That process is expected to stoke further debate over what proportion of workers hired for the project must be Ypsi residents.


On Thursday, Edmonds, Brown, economic development director Beth Ernat, and police chief Tony DeGiusti will travel to China in an effort to build international relationships and promote Ypsi abroad.

Brianna Kelly is the embedded reporter for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.

Photos by Brianna Kelly.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.