Jim Brady’s Detroit Plans Revealed

Way back in March, 2015 it was announced that Tom Brady (not that Tom Brady) of Diamond Jim Brady’s in Novi had purchased the former Vellum building on Main Street with the intent to create a new outpost of his Jim Brady’s Detroit restaurant concept.


The former Vellum Building today

I expressed some reservations about the 1950’s lux throwback theme in my Spring Restaurant Roundup a couple months back but I’ve never been to the Royal Oak location (a third spot in downtown Detroit is targeted for 2017) and will give the benefit of the doubt to anyone that would like to invest in our fair city.  The Royal Oak restaurant features modern takes on American classics and it appears the Ann Arbor spot will be more nightlife oriented than Vellum with three levels of space and two large bar areas.


Jim Brady’s Detroit Royal Oak Location

Brady filed plans with the Historic District Commission on June 24th to make renovations to the building including a new storefront, mechanical and facade improvements and all new dining spaces.  I’m excited about this because the building at 209 South Main was built way back in 1868 and is in need of some restoration.  Plans include rehab of the 3rd floor windows and the installation of a decorative cornice that at least imitates the way the building looked in the 19th century.

Jim Brady's

Image from HDC plan submission by Rossetti Architects.

The cornice isn’t nearly as elaborate as the original but they are difficult elements to re-create.  For the dreamers, what if Brady gets with Governor Synder (who lives in the condo on the top floors of the Four Directions building next door) to replace the whole cornice to the way it looked originally?


Jim Brady’s will occupy the north half of the 4th building down as seen in this view looking south down Main Street from Washington in the early 1900’s.

Probably pie in the sky but a blogger can dream.  Regardless, I’m glad to see the investment in the building and I wish the restaurant the best of luck, I’ll be sure to check it out.

The Library Lot: Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying

“Get busy living or get busy dying” – Andy Dufresne, banker, wrongly accused, rock hound, urban planner?

I’ve been hesitant to touch this one but with the recent news that a proposal could head to the ballot in November, it’s time to weigh in.  The library lot, most specifically the proposed development on top of it, is probably the most controversial item on the city’s agenda in 2016 not associated with shooting Bambi’s relatives.


To quickly bring you up to speed, the so-called library lot is the parcel immediately to the north of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library on 5th between William and Liberty.  All the way back in 1991, the area was studied for a public park with mixed use development behind it.  The space was still a surface parking lot when the 2006 Calthorpe Report came out and furthered the same notion, now with an underground parking garage with a “town square” and residential development above.  The city actually followed through on the first part of this plan and began construction of the Library Lane Parking Garage in 2009, opening to the public in 2012.  The garage goes 4 stories underground, contains 711 spaces and was built to potentially accommodate a future building above.  During construction the city issued a Request for Proposals (“RFP”) for development of said building.  Six proposals were submitted and the one to that rose to the top was a 15-story hotel and conference center presented by Valiant Partners out of New York.  The public park space was strangely absent and the proposal was eventually shot down, mainly due to the fact that the city was financially on the hook for the conference center component but also stemming from a variety of political factors.

That brings us to present day(ish), where the city has one again issued an RFP on the library lot.  The city hired CBRE to market the site (for an exorbidant fee I might add, I work in this space, that’s highway robbery) and initially received 9 proposals.  This time around, projects were required to include 12,000 square feet of public space for a park or plaza.  All proposals included a hotel and/or residential component ranging from 8 to 18 stories and some public space although oddly most did not include the full 12,000 square feet.  These initial proposals were hewn down to 5 and then to 2 finalists in December 2015 before finally the project from Chicago-based Core Spaces was chosen as the preferred alternative in January 2016.

The Collective on 5th

The city is currently negotiating the sale and soliciting public input so the project continues to evolve but here’s the basic overview.  Dubbed The Collective on 5th, the project is a 17 story, 180 foot tall, 352,496 square foot building with 360 apartments, 131 hotel rooms, 3,353 square feet of retail/restaurant space, and 20,198 square feet of office space with a 12,000 public plaza out front.

The Collective Site Plan

Final approval of the sale and site plan is no foregone conclusion, sale of public land requires 8 city council member votes and only 7 voted to even begin negotiations of a sale. Additionally, a group of active citizens, the Library Green Conservancy, has been collecting petitions to bring the measure to a city-wide ballot in November.  I generally feel we elect council members to do this work for us and make decisions based on the best information at hand while representing the needs of their consitituents.  However, if there’s any chance of this going to general election, the populace needs to be educated on the facts (hence, you know, this blog).

The petitioners, led publicly by Alan Haber (and bless their hearts and their conviction, I disagree with them but this is democracy at its best), present a very simple alternative to potential signers: Do you want a downtown central park or another tall, ugly building?  If you frequent the downtown YMCA, the Farmers Market or any of a number of other downtown area haunts you’ve likely seen them or been approached, as I have, several times.  Faced with that basic choice, the signing residents, which skew to a grayer demographic, somewhat obviously prefer a park.  What I’m attempting to do here is present the actual data points I think one needs to make a decision on a proposal such as this.  Like the petitioners, I won’t try to hide my own bias but I will show the whole picture as best I can.

Core Proposal Library Green
Basics 17-story Mixed-Used Building Public Park/Plaza
Public Space 12,000 SF Plaza 16,600 SF Plaza
Public Space Responsbility Privately Maintained by Core Maintained by City of Ann Arbor
Apartments 360 units of market rate housing not targeted at students (potential workforce housing component) None
Hotel 131 rooms None
Office 20,198 SF (1 floor) None
Retail 3,353 SF on Ground Floor None
One Time Economics $10 million to city plus $5 million for 200 parking spaces in garage (optional) $0 to city, assumes majority of money privately raised to build park/plaza in future
Ongoing Economics $2.5-$3M in property taxes per year, no plaza upkeep $0 in property taxes, city plaza upkeep
Pros Economics, Active Use, Need for More Downtown Housing & Hotel Competition, Privately Maintained Plaza Larger Public Plaza, No Tall Building, Land remains public
Cons Tall Building, Removal of Public Parking Spaces, Smaller Plaza Economics, Wasted Infrastructure/Opportunity

The root of the issue for me comes down to the public space and economics.  The library lot isn’t that big, it has a parking garage below it and assorted ramps, elevators and stairwells.  It can support a fairly small park that’s really more of a plaza as it’s not built to accommodate large trees or heavy sod and plantings.  I’ve advocated for a downtown park in the past, we could use a public commons space in Ann Arbor, but if you’re thinking of this as a central park with all the amenities we need, I’m sorry to disappoint.  This is more of an urban plaza, a little larger than Liberty Plaza around the corner which is just over 10,000 square feet.  As such, with the Core Proposal you get up to $15 million dollars in a one time payment and up to $3 million per year in property taxes plus a 12,000 square foot park/plaza!  The alternative is no money to the city and a 16,600 square foot park/plaza!  Money certainly isn’t everything but those economics are tough to ignore.  Think about our school, infrastructure and affordable housing needs.

Library Lot Park

Now if you have nostalgia for a bygone time and simply can’t stand tall buildings in Ann Arbor, I know where you’ll stand.  I get it, it’s a big building.  It does, however, conform with zoning height limits making it comparable to newer buildings and still well below infamous towers like Tower Plaza or University Towers.  There’s actually more than a dozen buildings within a few blocks of here with 10 or more stories so it’s not as out of context as some would argue.  It will also bring a beehive of activity to the heart of town, activating the park, providing permanent jobs and hundreds of patrons for local businesses throughout the downtown area.

I truly think this project is a fair compromise in regards to the park and the economics are eye popping.  It’s important to remember that growing outward with sprawl is inefficient and more expensive long term and that we are restricted in that sense through our Greenbelt program.  Thus, we have to increase density and grow within the city limits, namely in appropriate transit corridors and in the downtown core.  If you’re simply anti-growth period, consider that Michigan state law limits property tax increases and that government expenses outstrip tax revenue without new development.  Without new development we will almost certainly have to payer higher taxes or cut services.  Of course, that doesn’t mean it has to be this development but we can’t stay static, you either get busy living or get busy dying.  This is smart growth with multiple uses in the heart of downtown across from Blake Transit Center that also provides a public amenity.  No development is perfect but this one checks a lot of boxes.  It should receive a little more tweaking by planning, council and the public through this process but ultimately this should be a project that deserves to move forward.

Downtown Apartment Development Pipeline

There has been a lot of new development in downtown Ann Arbor in recent years and the vast majority of that has been apartments, much of it catering to students.  I thought I would assemble a summary of what’s been completed and what’s on the table.  This is only formally announced rental developments and thus does not include condominium projects.  There are a couple of other things in the works on both the student and market rate apartment side that could be added to the list in the near future.

Property Status Year Built Market Units Beds Parking Spaces
Sterling 411 Lofts Completed 2008 Student 97 318 109
Zaragon Place Completed 2009 Student 66 264 40
Landmark Completed 2012 Student 173 606 146
Zaragon West Completed 2012 Student 120 200 40
Varsity Completed 2013 Student 181 415 148
615 S Main Completed 2014 Market 156 186 132
Ann Arbor City Apartments Completed 2014 Market 155 205 73*
Sterling ArborBlu Completed 2015 Student 113 242 48
Foundry Lofts Completed 2016 Student 209 512 114
The Madison Proposed 2017 Market 24 33 11
611 E University Proposed 2018 Student 90 343 56
The Calvin Proposed 2018 Student/Market 124 310 108
618 S Main Proposed 2018 Student/Market 229 588 163
The Collective on 5th Proposed 2019 Market 360 540** 200
Average       150 340 99
Total       2,097 4,762 1,388
Total Student       1,402 3,798 972
Total Market       695 964 416

So 2,097 total units encompassing 4,762 beds could conceivably be added to the market in a roughly 10 year time frame.  Is this a lot?  Considering there was essentially no units added in the downtown area in the preceding 30+ years, I don’t think so but let’s take a look at a couple numbers.

Everyone asks me about student housing and for good reason, student high rises are the biggest thing changing the skyline of Ann Arbor right now.


The Foundry

Including The Foundry which just opened last month there have been 2,557 beds of private  student housing built in the greater downtown area since 2008.  If you add in the Munger Graduate Residences built by the university and The Courtyards (a private student development on north campus) you come up with a total of 4,085 beds.  In that time the University of Michigan has added 4,117 students.  Actually seems just about right.  There’s another 1,241 beds proposed by 2019 while enrollment is expected to grow anywhere from 749 to 2,352 students depending on which trend analysis you use.  Based on the rhetoric from the administration, I would assume the lower end of that spectrum, perhaps 1,000 or so, many of them graduate students.  Still, this seems to buck the thinking that new housing is pulling many kids out of neighborhood homes.  Long term I think that is a theme but it seems that to date and in the short term future, housing supply is meeting growth.

Additionally, our own research at my day job shows that occupancy in off campus housing at U of M was 98.6% for the 2015-16 school year (national average is 95.3%) with rent increases averaging 7.8% over 2014-15.  Pretty strong market.


618 South Main

The market rate apartment side is harder to gauge compared to say, population growth, but the numbers are modest anyway.  There have been just two developments with 311 units and 391 total bedrooms between them, Ann Arbor City Apartments and 618 South Main.  Both are 100% occupied with rising rents.  I was told by management at 618 that the lease up was the fastest for a new development project they’ve ever been involved in.  Given the macro demand for urban living and relative lack of supply, it’s pretty easy to surmise there is still a substantially untapped market for market rate apartments catering to young professionals, empty nesters and essentially anyone else looking to rent an apartment.  Granted the rents are out of reach for many but that tends to be the case with new construction (and that’s a whole other blog anyway).

Against my better judgement (I’m guilty of reading too many MLive comments) I included parking numbers in the table as well.  I actually think the ratios of parking spaces to units/beds is not out of line but I realize many people disagree (that’s perhaps another blog as well).  It’s important to remember we don’t want to really encourage driving downtown but rather the use of more efficient, sustainable transit.  Also, the hope is these buildings will still be here many years from now and research shows the use of private automobiles decreasing substantially in the future.  It’s all about smart growth folks.

In summary, it really doesn’t seem that student housing is overbuilt, at least not yet, but new buildings will have to start attracting tenants from older properties rather than relying on natural enrollment growth.  Downtown apartments, however, seem to have plenty of runway with demand almost certainly far outstripping supply.


* Ann Arbor City Apartments is built on top of a public parking garage in partnership with the city.  There are 251 total spaces. 73 available for full access, 73 available for nightly access and 105 public spaces.

** Total number of bedrooms have not been established for The Collective on 5th, the proposed development on the Library Lot.  This number assumes 50% of the units to be one bedroom or studio units, 50% to be two bedroom units based on the number of units projected and target demographic.