What are you most excited for in Washtenaw County in 2018?

At Concentrate we're all about keeping on top of what's next for Washtenaw County, so to send out 2017 we thought we'd take a look at the exciting things to come in our community next year. We asked each of our staffers to weigh in on what they're most excited for in Washtenaw County in 2018. We were surprised by the diversity of results, ranging from new restaurants to autonomous vehicles to new outdoor recreation opportunities. Take a gander at our staff's picks and then tell us your own in the comments. Happy New Year!


The following views are those of the individual writers and do not necessarily represent Concentrate as a whole.


Natalie Burg, senior writer: Many times since moving to Dixboro, my husband and I have had to do a reality check. Is this neighborhood for real? We take our tiny kids in a wagon to an amazing farmers market all summer and get pumpkins from the Dixboro General Store each fall. We walk to the local cafe, where the staff knows our toddler (and her order) by name. We love the little historic church and schoolhouse and park. The idyll is almost comical. Sure, every restaurant in town stops delivering three houses west of us, but nowhere's perfect, right?


Oh, just wait. In spring of 2018, Sava Farah of Sava's and Aventura fame, is opening "a Hamptons, Napa, and beach-inspired farm restaurant" in the former Roger Monk's space at 5400 Plymouth Rd. What? What! For the parents of small children (whose fine culinary experiences are limited to binge-watching Chopped), a Savco restaurant just a walk away feels like a gift. We can't wait.


Doug Coombe, managing photographer: Have you ever been really happy to be wrong? When the Blind Pig and the neighboring Kiwanis building went up for sale at about the same time I immediately imagined new condominiums going up there. Given real estate prices and the challenges of running a music venue, I didn’t think the Blind Pig had a chance.


For that reason I’m most excited for the Blind Pig being sold to a new ownership team that plans to improve the building as a venue, keep the staff, and give 20-year Blind Pig talent buyer Jason Berry free rein to bring the best musicians to Ann Arbor. Jason is the reason you see so many great acts play the venue who could easily play a larger room.


Southeastern Michigan has always produced an amazing amount of musical talent but not necessarily a lot of places for them to play (this is especially acute in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti). We live in a music mecca. I’m glad one of this town’s greatest stages will continue to inspire the next generation of musicians. (For more details, read Doug's interview with the Blind Pig's new owners.)


Patrick Dunn, managing editor: As a freelance editor, writer, and journalism nerd, I'm very excited to continue following shifts in Washtenaw County's media scene. This January brought us Annthology, an eminently readable daily local news digest from the good folks at The Ann, which aggregates top stories from a plethora of local news outlets big and small (including Concentrate). In July Concentrate launched On the Ground Ypsi, an unconventional journalistic project aimed at expanding coverage in Ypsi's news desert. Meanwhile, unique new media outlets like Pulp, the Ann Arbor District Library's arts and entertainment blog, have continued to provide valuable community coverage in nontraditional ways.


This all tells me that, despite the ongoing turmoil in the journalism business, our community still has a healthy interest in strong local reporting. I'm encouraged by the open-minded mentality I've observed locally towards a variety of new solutions to disseminating news, and I can't wait to see what innovations our community comes up with next.


Eric Gallippo, contributing writer: It's very likely ground won't break on the permanent home of Grove Studios before 2019, but 2018 stands to be a critical year for the people behind it. This ambitious, community-minded effort aims to establish a small business incubator-style collective of stable rehearsal and work spaces constructed from shipping containers for use by Washtenaw County musicians, artists, and other performers. It gained some momentum last spring, when it beat out 60 other businesses to win $5,000 in the first Pitch Ypsi competition.


Grove continues to operate on a much smaller scale with rented space in Ypsi Township. But partners Rick Coughlin, Breck Crandell, and Erich Freibel, with help from their advisory board, will be looking to step up marketing efforts, raise money via crowdfunding and a more traditional business loan, and, ultimately, locate and purchase their own property. The partners' leap of faith, paired with the novelty of their concept, could make for an interesting year, and one I'm hoping they come out ahead in when it's over.


Brianna Kelly, On the Ground Ypsi project manager: Since the controversial International Village proposal is set to expire at the end of December, Ypsi's long-vacant Water Street property is expected to once again be available for new development opportunities. Those who have spoken out against the International Village proposal, a mixed-use residential and commercial development with an emphasis on housing Chinese international students, have argued that any proposed development on Water Street should strongly consider the community's input. The public property has accrued a large debt, which will be paid off by residents through a recently passed millage.


My hope for 2018 is that Ypsi's residents and elected officials can come together to identify a plan for Water Street that will benefit the whole community. I would like to see a development that has the potential to better the lives of people who already live in Ypsi, rather than those who have yet to move there.


Jenn McKee, contributing writer: The holidays are always a time for comfort food entertainment (It’s A Wonderful Life again, anyone?), but the New Year always sparks a hunger in me for new adventures. Thankfully, the University Musical Society (UMS) seems to be providing me with just that in 2018 with an edgy theater series fittingly titled No Safety Net. Four productions from around the country and the world will arrive in Ann Arbor and tackle social issues likely to force me far from my comfort zone.


Ars Nova’s Underground Railroad Game, playing Jan. 17-21, depicts two middle-school teachers whose interactive role playing evolves into a complicated romance. The U.S. premiere of BRONKS/Richard Jordan Productions’ Us/Them, playing Jan. 24-28, was built from interviews with children who were held hostage (with their parents) by armed Chechen separatists in 2004, on the first day of school. The U.S premiere of (I Could Go On Singing) Over the Rainbow, playing Jan. 26-Feb. 3, features Glasgow-based performance artist FK Alexander singing alongside Judy Garland’s final recording of Over the Rainbow and over self-described "noise band" Okishima Island Tourist Association. And They, Themself and Scherm, playing Jan. 31-Feb. 2, stars trans actor Becca Blackwell – who appeared in UMS' presentation of Untitled Feminist Show in 2016 – sharing a deeply personal story of being adopted into a Midwestern religious family, being trained to be a girl, getting molested, and exploring what makes someone a man. Let the perspective-stretching begin!


Elizabeth Pearce, contributing writer: The expansion of Washtenaw County's Border-to-Border (B2B) trail will continue in 2018 and I'm eagerly anticipating the additions. The trail is intended to eventually span almost all of Washtenaw County, connecting Chelsea to Ypsi, but new trail construction in 2018 will be focused between Delhi Metropark and Dexter-Huron Metropark. A major part of this work will be connecting an existing trail in Dexter-Huron Metropark to Zeeb Road, a 1.2-mile long span that will include two bridges over the Huron River. Work on part of the trail through Pinckney and Waterloo recreation areas will also continue in 2018, ultimately forming the "Waterloo Loop" that will connect Pinckney, Stockbridge, and Chelsea.


I personally can't wait to have more options for biking and running from my home in Dexter, and to be able to bike from Dexter to Ann Arbor and back on fully non-motorized pathways. The fear that many bikers experience navigating the curves of Huron River Drive will soon be a thing of the past.


Sarah Rigg, innovation and development news writer: Of all the issues I reported on for Concentrate in 2017, one of the most intriguing is self-driving vehicle technology. I sometimes run into people who are nervous or skeptical about the future of self-driving cars, and I have to break it to them that autonomous vehicles are already here. For instance, NAVYA, a French-based company that recently started building autonomous shuttles in Saline, already has dozens of their shuttles operating around the globe.


The issue affects me personally since I live in Ypsi Township's West Willow neighborhood, where the American Center for Mobility is using existing roadways to test autonomous vehicles. My neighbors and I didn't love the road construction that caused difficulty getting in and out of our neighborhood, but I'm interested to see what will happen with this technology in 2018. If we can't have those flying cars that science has been promising us for decades, I'd say a self-driving car that can take away much of the stress of commuting is the next best thing.


What are you most looking forward to in Washtenaw County in 2018? Tell us in the comments or on Facebook.

Photos by Doug Coombe.
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