Ypsilanti Freighthouse cafe set for warm weather opening

With exterior structural work completed on the landmark 1878 Freighthouse in Ypsilanti's Depot Town last November, the spring thaw brings renewed efforts to complete interior work on this outpost of the former Michigan Central Railroad.

"While we have saved the building for the next 150 years, the interior is not ready for occupancy yet," says Ed Penet, chair of the Freighthouse building committee. Necessary fixes include replacing beams underneath the floor, installing ADA-compliant bathrooms, and various building code compliance measures. The non-profit Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse, manager and operator of the facility, is about halfway towards its fundraising goal; a minimum of $425,000 is still needed for the interior work, Penet says.

First in line, according to Penet, is to open a cafe to serve passengers on the potential Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail line, as well as Amtrak riders. In February, the Ypsilanti City Council passed a resolution asking Amtrak to reinstate the Depot Town stop on the Wolverine line between Chicago and Detroit. SEMCOG and MDOT are funding a new platform alongside of the tracks, which will connect by sidewalk to an ADA ramp and to the Freighthouse.

The Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse has received from the Masco Corp. a $15,000 grant and donation of $5,000 worth of paint and stain supplies, about half what's needed to get the cafe up and running; Penet estimates it will cost $30-40,000 to add an ADA-compliant bathroom and basic furnishings. If the kitchen can't be finished by springtime, vending machines will go in.

"The cafe will be open by late spring or early summer. You may not be able to cook a pancake in there, but that's OK," Penet says.

In other near-term developments this spring, landscaping will be added to the new rain garden on the property. "It sounds like a beautification project but that's how we got rid of the excess water on the property – by digging a rain garden so when it pours all the water runs away from the building. It used to run into the foundation and caused a lot of structural damage," Penet says. That damage has since been repaired.

Once complete, the city-owned Freighthouse will be available for not only train riders, but also as a rental facility for weddings and other gatherings, which Penet likens to the city of Ann Arbor's Cobblestone Farm. "We want to make it self-sustaining, get off the tax rolls," he says. "Granted that we need to use gifts to get us going, but once we're up and running I think we can sustain ourselves."

Source: Ed Penet, Freighthouse building committee chair
Writer: Tanya Muzumdar