An Ann Arbor-based development company's plans are well underway to restore Ypsilanti's historic Thompson Block and revive it with a new restaurant, bar, and loft apartments slated to open sometime in 2019.
Once completed, the first floor of the Depot Town building will be occupied by a restaurant, tentatively named North Cookshop, and a second location for Ann Arbor's Mash bar. The restaurant's concept and menu have yet to be determined, but the bar will focus on whiskey, bourbon, and beer. The building's second and third floors will consist of 20 market-rate loft apartments.
About 15 years ago, Jon Carlson and Greg Lobdell of Ann Arbor-based development company 2mission considered taking on the Thompson Block project, but they ultimately decided against it. They reconsidered a few years ago after the previous development team was forced to back out, and then officially signed on to take over the project about a year ago.
Around the same time last year, Carlson and Lobdell established a real estate development spin-off of their company called 3mission with their longtime friends Liz Marek and Rob Eisman. The 3mission team is handling all of the company's current and future projects, including the Thompson Block development and three other developments in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Bay City.
3mission's principal developers have rehabbed historic buildings before, but the Thompson Block development is their most challenging project yet by far. The vacant building's condition has deteriorated over the years due to exposure to the elements and a fire that broke out in 2009. All that's left of the building is the brick facade that will serve as the shell of the new development.
Most of the activity that's taken place at the site so far has involved safety, structural, and masonry work. Lansing-based construction company Kincaid Henry initially focused on stabilizing the structure and determining what portions of the building can be reused. Construction workers have been following strict safety protocols and exercising extreme caution as a result of the partial collapse that killed a worker in 2015 under the supervision of the project's previous development team. Workers are adding a new foundation, structural support, floors, and a roof. Construction could wrap up by next spring or summer.
Lobdell notes the building's history and its Depot Town location, on the northwest corner of River Street and East Cross Street, as the driving forces behind 3mission's decision to take on the Thompson Block project. Marek believes Ypsi deserves to have the building restored because it's been an eyesore for so long and a new development has the potential to further spur growth in the neighborhood. The 3mission partners plan to establish a restaurant that's different but still complements the others in Depot Town.
"It’s already such an amazing and cool destination and we’re really excited to be a small part of it as we move forward," Lobdell says.
Another reason 3mission wanted to take over the Thompson Block project was because of the company's current employees who live in the Ypsi area and work at one of its businesses in Ann Arbor but want an opportunity closer to home. Carlson estimates that 3mission will employ between 80 and 110 people in the building. He thinks about a third of the staff will be comprised of current employees who are now commuting to the company's businesses in Ann Arbor, like Grizzly Peak Brewing Company and Blue Tractor BBQ and Brewery.
The 3mission partners plan to pay homage to the Thompson Block building's history with photos in the restaurant's party room and a plaque near the entrance. The building was built across from the recently constructed railroad around 1860 and was originally designed to house retail and residences. But it was used for various purposes, including a Civil War barracks, a wagon and carriage retailer, a volunteer firehouse, and a car dealership.
Local real estate agent Tyler Weston has been involved in the effort to develop the Thompson Block building for several years. He worked with previous owner Stewart Beal and his Thompson Block Partners LLC investment group until their plans were scrapped in early 2016. Weston then reached out to Carlson and Lobdell to see if they'd be interested in taking over the project. Since the new developers agreed to come on board, Weston has helped connect 3mission to relevant community leaders and public figures, like city of Ypsilanti economic development director Beth Ernat.
Weston believes Ypsi has suffered many losses over the past 15 years or so, including employers, jobs, and homes. But he's hopeful the resurrection of the derelict building will show that good things can happen in Ypsi again.
"We haven’t had a whole lot of victories or things to kind of hang our hat on and this building is kind of a representation in that category previously," Weston says. "Having this building built is not just a victory for the partners, but also a victory for everybody who passes by the building and everybody associated with this community."
The 3mission partners are excited to become part of the community and plan to help advocate for local efforts, like establishing a Depot Town train stop, which has been a longtime goal for the city. They're specifically looking forward to getting involved in First Fridays Ypsilanti's monthly self-guided art and culture walk and providing a space for local musicians and bands to perform at least a few times a week.
Marek feels obligated to serve the communities where 3mission puts down roots. She thinks Carlson and Lobdell have done a great job with their 2mission businesses by "not just plunking a restaurant down and walking away, but really building those community relationships and being an active member."
"Whatever needs to happen at whatever time it needs to happen, we want to be there to help and to be supportive," Marek says. "In front of the scenes and behind the scenes, it’s equally important."
Brianna Kelly is the project manager 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.
All photos by Doug Coombe.