The City of Ypsilanti began redevelopment of Water Street in 1999. With the City's first developer, Biltmore Properties, backing out of negotiations in 2004, many citizens have criticized the Water Street project as a debacle that could sink the city, when more than $13 million in bonds used to acquire and prepare the site for development come due. The City spent a large part of 2006 working with Freed and Associates, but failed to secure a commitment from Freed to develop the site. The City announced on December 8, 2006, that Freed was leaving the project. Freed cited over-exposure in a poor Michigan economy and down residential market as their reason for leaving the project, and announced within days that they were abandoning a high-end condominium project in Troy. The mood in Ypsilanti following this announcement has ranged from concerned to accusatory.
- The City's December 8 announcement: http://cityofypsilanti.com/news/WaterStreetUpdate12082006
- Ann Arbor News, Saturday, December 9: http://www.mlive.com/news/aanews/index.ssf?/base/news-3/116565054844450.xml&coll=2
- East-Cross.com: http://www.east-cross.com/?p=337
- MarkMaynard.com: http://markmaynard.com/index.php/2006/12/10/and_then_he_said_it_s_nothing_personal_y
- Ypsi-Dixit: http://www.ypsidixit.com/blog/archives/2006/12/open_mike_frida_18.html#comments
The goals of the Water Street redevelopment are numerous. The City's FAQ mentions,
- cleanup of environmental contamination
- provide a significant addition to the City's tax base
- create a new riverfront park linking Riverside Park to Waterworks Park
- increase in owner-occupied housing units
- provide new customer base for downtown businesses
While few object to any of these goals per se, the methodology of this plan has been criticized at great length. Site contamination was discovered, after site acquisition, to be much more significant than originally thought, though many outside of the decision-making process believe these conditions to have been predictable. With the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority boundaries extended to include the Water Street site, the new homes will see an extra 2 mills in property tax, providing an extra barrier on selling them. State grant money has been diverted from Water Street to install an elevator in the Riverside Arts Building. All this while, the City declared that everything was going according to plan and nothing was out of the ordinary, irritating critics who felt that problems needed to be acknowledged in order to work towards a solution.
Further reading on the Water Street Redevelopment Project: