Library lot project promises to redefine downtown development

This story originally ran 12/02/09

Lost in all of the talk about what to put on top of the Library Lot underground parking garage is the impact it will have on future development in downtown Ann Arbor. In fact one of the area's major local developers calls it "one of the three most important project sites in the city."

Peter Allen, of Lower Town fame, say these three sites will have the biggest impact on development in Ann Arbor over the next few decades. The other two sites are Fuller Street Station transit center by the University of Michigan Hospital and where the Amtrak station is currently located on Depot Street by the Broadway Bridge.

"These three sites will all impact Ann Arbor and each other in a fundamental way over the next 50 years," says Allen, president of Peter Allen & Associates.

There are currently six proposals for the Library lot, which can be found here. Four of them call for dense mixed-use projects that incorporate things like a conference center, hotel, condos, apartments and retail space. The other two call for open space, such as a park or ice skating rink. All of them would go over the 677-space parking garage the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority recently started building.

Allen says whatever is built there needs to serve as "Downtown's Diag," meaning it should service the needs of downtown and the nearby University of Michigan campus. To him that means a combination of hotel and conference center, which would set the tone for dense construction for the former YMCA site, Blake Transit Center and expected redevelopment of the adjacent Ann Arbor Public Library downtown branch. It would also provide the city with much needed tax revenue.

When it's all built it could means hundreds of thousands of square feet of new commercial space, hundreds of new living units and a new state-of-the-art transit center that could serve as the nerve center for all of Washtenaw County.

"If anything is going to be built there it will be higher density," Allen says. "For a lively downtown you need a lot of people and to get a lot of people there you need density."

Allen, who is also an adjunct member of the faculty at the University of Michigan, has a few dozen graduate students working on plans for all three sites. He thinks moving the city's train station to the Fuller Street Station (which also will incorporate buses, trains, trolleys, automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians) will make it much easier to move people inside the city and to and from it.

A development of that nature would also free up the Amtrak station parcel overlooking the Huron River on the city's north side, which should allow for more development along Depot between Main Street and the Fuller Street Station, along the Huron River and overlooking Argo Pond.

"How you move people around this city and between cities are fundamental issues," Allen says.

Allen's students will present their findings and plans for the three sites on Dec. 14 at the Ross School of Business in the University of Michigan. For information, call Peter Allen & Associates at (734) 994-1122.

Source: Peter Allen, president of Peter Allen & Associates and the city of Ann Arbor
Writer: Jon Zemke
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