A Downtown Park?

The idea of a park in downtown Ann Arbor has been around a long time but has come to a head recently with the ongoing discussions of selling the so-called Library Lot to a private developer for a mixed-use project.  Proponents of keeping the land for a park are even calling for a public vote in the fall.

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For a variety of reasons, I don’t think the Library Lot should be a park.  It’s essentially mid-block, it’s not large enough to be the significant central park it should be and the parking structure underneath prohibits large growth vegetation.  Furthermore, the parking garage was built to house a building on top and it’s an ideal location for the dense project that’s been proposed by Core Spaces.  Backing away from it now would be a disaster and cost the city the $10 million it will receive for the land plus millions more in tax dollars for years to come.  Taking the decision out of city council’s hands is also a little ridiculous, we elect these officials to make city decisions, let’s let them do their jobs.  (More info on the planned project can be found here.)

However, I’m all for a downtown, central park.  I just think the Library Lot is the wrong location.  The right location is directly across the street.  I’m talking about the Federal Building.  This building, arguably one of the ugliest in Ann Arbor, is an awful use of one of the most prominent sites in the city.  Even more criminal is some of the beautiful buildings that were torn down to make way for it including the beautiful Masonic Temple.

The Federal Building was built in 1977, a closed off, low slung building with a large parking lot in the rear.  Essentially, a travesty of urban architecture during a time period that saw altogether too much of that.

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The site it sites on is much larger than the Library Lot and would have access to Liberty, Fourth and Fifth.  The rear of the site could be sold to the AAATA to expand the Blake Transit Center with a desperately needed additional bus lane and perhaps more indoor waiting area space.  This would essentially be a western extension of Library Lane and would help take buses off Fourth.  The remainder of the site could be used for the park.

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The benefits are obvious, an expansion of the transit center, green space to counter two larger nearby developments and filling the need of a downtown meeting place that the community needs.  The big and even more obvious problem is what to do with the existing Federal Building.  I would suggest building a new, more functional urban building in one of a few locations.

In my opinion the best location would be the the site just two blocks north of here, the southeast corner of Fifth and Huron.  That property is owned by First Martin and has been held for an office development for a long time.  It’s directly across the street from City Hall and the Courthouse.  It’s also a location where modern architecture would not be too out of place if a new building went that direction.  Another good option would be the County-owned site at the southwest corner of Main and Ann.  That location is across the street from the Washtenaw County Courthouse and has direct access to the Ashley and Ann Parking Garage (which can be expanded to house an additional 375 cars if necessary).

Is this all a pipe dream?  Perhaps but it could be done and the results would be outstanding.  I would say the citizens of Ann Arbor that want a downtown park should consider using their time and effort towards this end, perhaps petitioning their federal representatives instead of continuing their pursuit of a park on the Library Lot.

8 thoughts on “A Downtown Park?

  1. I disagree strongly with your misunderstanding of the architects intent of designing the federal building the way he did. Are you even aware of his reasons for the shape?
    At the time of the federal buildings construction, there were very few large buildings in Ann Arbor. You could walk around the central city and still walk in sunshine. Not like today, where one often has to cross the street if one wants some warming rays. In winter, not only does the sun feel great, but stepping the building, which is on the SOUTH side of Liberty, away from the street prevents the typical wind tunnel effect in winter that chills pedestrians to the bone. So, the building was built with function taking precedence over form
    No blocking the sun, nor creating strong winds there during the winter. It’s design also prevents the tunnel effect which is taking over our central city, but still allows a massive building. I smile every time I walk on Liberty street past the building and say thanks to the foresight and skill of its architect.
    Feel free to contact me to discuss further. We could even take a stroll past the building.

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    • Bobby – First of all, you’re the first comment on the blog, so welcome and thanks!

      Although I suppose the setback design allows for greater sunlight to hit the street (certainly welcome and I do walk this block almost every single day), the building is oriented north-south so that the sun should never be behind the building to the south where the design would really be beneficial.

      And that would be a minor positive to a building that is otherwise a blank walled monolith with a service vehicle parking lot in the heart of downtown.

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  2. BTW, I 200% agree with you regarding the Library Lot. At this point, a large building makes the most sense. Also, I question how different the Library Lot Plaza will be from Liberty Plaza. With little to no attempt by the city to make it appealing to the general population other than for occasional events, I almost never feel comfortable taking advantage of it for a respite. Other than the foul language and smoke, its overwhelming hardscape is unwelcoming.

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  3. It is a interesting approach to imagine the Federal Building not being there with its service vehicle parking lot. Maybe in a coming Trump administration the Federal Center will be closed down and the land returned to the City. At that time we could reconsider the best location for a Central Park and community commons. For now, the central location, as best we can do, is the Library Lot. You seem not to have considered the present plans, designs for the Center of the City block. The draft 5 year pubic use development plan (BIO Ann Arbor, in the Best Interest Of Ann Arbor) was submitted to the City Council and they we unwilling even to open a discussion or acknowledge a public use alternative. That is why the question should be taken out of their hands — as it is being done via the Petition to put the community commons question on the November ballot. The just experienced Downtown Earth Day in the park-to-be was a very successful community event..that could not have happened in the CORE big building proposal…The public land is not large enough for both a public event and gathering place and a massive commercial enterprise. During the education campaign for the November vote there will be much opportunity for community discussion, and for you to broaden your perspective on the value and need for downtown public space and how to deal with the problems people might imagine. For more information look at a2central park.org or the Ann Arbor Committee for the Community Commons on face book, or call 734 657 8083, or megiddo@umich.edu

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    • I was hoping you would pipe in Alan. I appreciate the fight you’ve put up for what you believe in but I do feel its misguided at this point.

      Are there any funds for the park and its upkeep? The Core proposal isn’t perfect but it does provide for a 12,000 square foot plaza/park and then provides $10M to the city plus millions more in property taxes going forward.

      Perhaps we should be mandating that some of the funds from the sale go towards a larger future downtown park? Or a mini TIF that captures some of the tax revenue? I feel this would be much more constructive at this point.

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  4. Pingback: The Library Lot: Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying | DOWN

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