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.
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.
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.
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.