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Jul 10

Bridge Over Troubled Water Street

Comments (0) 12:00 AM posted by admin |

I’m often a day late and a dollar short, but at least I don’t mix my metaphors.

On July 25th from 4PM to 7PM, the new Water Street development team of Joseph Freed & Associates will be on hand to talk about and answer questions regarding the Water Street project slated to commence on Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti. There will be planners, architects, engineers, and possibly even a guy making balloon animals for the children. They will be also soliciting your input on the vision for the project.

For those of you too young to remember, the Water Street project started off in 1999 as a plan to clean up and turn 40 acres of under utilized property into a more economically viable use. The cost of the project was supposed to be $3M-$5M for land acquisition and clean up. There were going to be 400 units including green space and a new City park. After the first public input on the project, the RFP issued in 2001 included a requirement of 100,000 to 150,000 square feet of commercial space. After Biltmore Properties were selected to be the developer, the requirement for commercial space disappeared.

As often is the case, things didn’t go according to plan. The land acquisition cost the City $12.8M. By the time 2001, rolled around the the feasibility of making this a economically viable project forced the density to increase from 400 to 847 units with over 60% of the units being less than 1005 square feet. The plan was for the City to clean up the site and hand it over to Biltmore Properties as a greenfield rather than a brownfield. As the clean up continued, it became apparent there was more contamination that previously thought. By December of 2004, the strategy of the City handling the clean up was scrapped. In an effort to reduce the cost of the extra remediation, the City revised the RFP to include commercial space again because the requirements for cleaning up commercial space are less stringent than those for cleaning up residential space. Michigan Avenue would once again have first floor commercial space.

After nearly four years of working with Biltmore Properties without a contract, the City ended their relationship with Biltmore sighting Biltmore’s lack of expertise in developing commercial space. Because the City and Biltmore had worked together for so long without an agreement, the City agreed to pay $725K for land use plans, conceptual site plans, landscaping plans, conceptual architectual elevations, as well as phasing plans. The reasoning behind the payoff was that it would avoid litigation and the new developer would be able to use this information in the new development.

In an August 1, 2005 Ann Arbor News Article, it was reported that the $385K cash payment portion of the settlement would come from State grants the City already has. The Water Street FAQ from October of 2005 confirmed that there would not be any general funds used for the project.

By the time the FYE 2006-07 was released, it included a line item for a payment of $205K out of the general fund as part of the Biltmore settlement. After an interview done by me with the Ypsilanti Courier on May 18th in which I questioned the communication between the City and its citizens regarding the aforementioned $205K, the City updated their Water Street FAQ just six days later to state “the City’s general fund will be used to support the Water Street Project beginning in 2006 to fund the purchase of the due diligence materials.”

As an aside, the FYE 2006-07 budget that was approved in June of 2006 included the elimination of one Police Support Officer as well as the elimination of one Police Records Clerk.

As part of another interesting twist, the City refinanced the $13.1M in bonds in April of 2006 because they could not make the $463K payment that was due this year. As a result of the refinancing, the debt grew to $15.6M.

Now what does all this mean?

It really means that I do not understand the mathematics behind Water Street. Unfortunately, the July 25th meeting with Freed and Associates will not explain that part of the puzzle, but please come and offer your input.

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