Coming Soon: New Openings Planned Downtown

Downtown Ann Arbor is constantly in a state of flux, businesses opening and closing, rents going up, owners retiring, young entrepreneurs trying to break in.  It’s sad to see old standbys close but also exciting to see new concepts try to make a go of it.  I’m always curious as to what’s going on when I see a storefront papered over, contractors laboring mysteriously behind the scenes, hopefully bringing something exciting to the block.  As a (very lax and part time) blogger of the haps downtown I try to ask around and dig through city documents to see what’s going on.  I thought I would share a few upcoming openings, some more exciting than others.

“Bar Star” – 220 S Main St


The former home of Elmo’s T-Shirt Shop (now operating just down the street on Liberty) will be converted into a high end cocktail bar with the working title of Bar Star per construction documents.  This swanky spot comes from the owners of Melange and is being designed by local shop Synecdoche Design.  The interior appears to have a very modern theme with an open concept and chef’s table.  Critics may label as it as just another emblem of gentrification but it’s a substantial investment in the space and I look forward to checking it out.

 “TBD Sports Bar” – 309 S Main St


This one I’ve been waiting on expectantly for some time, The Melting Pot closed here in November of 2015 and I hoped for a fairly quick turnaround as the space is relatively turnkey for a restaurant/bar.  After a misfire or two (I heard the owner of Tavern & Tap in Lansing had the space under contract at one point) there’s now a yet unnamed sports bar in the works.  I don’t have a whole lot to go on here, mostly looking at a building permit, but it appears that the proprietor is the owner of Shalimar next door.  The space will be opened up a bit, occupy all floors of the building and feature a rear patio on the second floor, much like Jolly Pumpkin next door.

Kosmo – 308 S Ashley St

The second outpost of local Korean spot Kosmo will open in the former Lucky Monkey Tattoo parlor.  Personally thrilled for this as it’s about 100 feet from my office, look forward to exceptional bibimbap.  This one was already covered by the Ann Arbor News here.

Fred’s – 403 E Washington St


Another one recently covered by the News but the old Babo location at the corner of Washington and Division is being re-positioned as Fred’s.  This comes from Fred Lelcaj, brother of Babo owner Sava Lelcaj who recently ran a much smaller version of Fred’s on South U.  I never got to try the old spot so excited to check it out downtown, should be open by the time you read this.  (Side note, perhaps the closing of Babo will free up Sava to launch another concept downtown?  Here’s hoping.)

Roasting Plant – 312 S State St


Testing the depths of Ann Arbor’s seemingly insatiable demand for coffee shops, NYC-based Roasting Plant will open their second Michigan location at State and North University (RP has a very popular spot in the First National Building on Campus Martius in downtown Detroit).  I believe this space was most recently the northern portion of Amer’s Deli, they’ve consolidated (along with Chicago Reds and Yogurt Rush, you can really cover all your bases here) into the southern half of the building.  Roasting Plant’s shtick is a custom pneumatic roasting system called Javabot.  I’ve been to the Detroit location, it looks cool and makes a good cup of joe but the competition in that nook of A2 will be stiff, Comet and lab are right nearby for high end stimulation, Espresso Royale, Sweetwaters, Elixir Vitae and of course Starbucks offer a more traditional coffee experience.

Core Spaces Leasing Office – 306 S State St

Pretty boring but in case you were wondering what’s going on in the old Work Gallery Space on State Street, it’s a leasing office for Core Spaces, developer of The Calvin on Huron and conceivably The Collective on Fifth, the building planned for the library lot.  Positive here is that they will renovate the space and only be there a short time, hopefully setting it up nicely for a new tenant (note: I understand the building permit has been temporarily denied as they work on some accessibility issues).  In better news, the gallery has moved to larger space in McKinley Town Center on Division Street

Exscape Smoke Shop & Vape Lounge – 607 E William St

I don’t vape so this opening excites me about as much as a leasing office but for those who do, you’ll have a new option in the former Menna’s Joint space on William just west of State Street.  Exscape has eight locations, primarily in college towns, including one in East Lansing.

Collegian Leasing Office – 1112 S University Ave

The venerable Village Apothecary shut down seemingly overnight back in 2015 and the building (along with many of the others on South U) is probably not long for this world.  There are plans in the works for a redevelopment of much this stretch by developer Hughes Properties, there are two student towers in the planning stages right now.  I understand that most, if not all, of this block will eventually be torn down but for now Hughes is going to use the space as a leasing office for Collegian North and Collegian East.  Not looking to rent a student apartment?  It appears there will also be an ATM, so you know, there’s that.

Smoke’s Poutinerie – 1300 S University Ave


This is the corner space in the newish Landmark Building at the corner of South U and Forest once home to World of Beer and briefly another bar called Dick Tyler’s Tavern.  The Toronto-based purveyor of gravy fries is growing rapidly with locations planned for Detroit, Ann Arbor and East Lansing.  Honestly this sounds like a great spot for them, this is classic, relatively inexpensive drunk food.  The menu looks absurd, ah to be 22 again.

Odds & Ends

Another business in the Landmark building, Tim Horton’s closed down in late 2016 to make way for MVMNT, an indoor cycling studio which had their grand opening on January 20th.

No word on the former Kai Garden at 116 S Main St although they did recently complete an interior demo and clean out of the building.

Siris, the BBQ and cigar lounge on North Main is still in its seemingly perpetual “coming soon” mode.

Eve in the Bell Tower Hotel closed back in September 2016 after a flood in the restaurant.  Unfortunately it appears the damage was extensive and the closure is permanent.  Eve is looking for a new location and no news regarding the future of the Bell Tower space.

Not sure what’s going on at the old Carter’s Auto Service on Ashley that was once planned as a brewpub.  The building has been cleaned up and painted so certainly some improvement there.

I’m sure I missed a bunch of future openings, hit me with a comment or or social media if you have word on any fun new business developments.  Also, follow me on Twitter for updates like this in real time.

On the RTA and Success in 2018

Back in November the proposed funding for the Regional Transit Authority Master plan failed at the ballot box dashing the hopes of transit proponents and supporters of regionalism across Southeast Michigan.  While certainly a setback, it provides an opportunity for the RTA to step back, reassess and tweak the plan and marketing for another vote in 2018.  Below are a few suggestions and considerations for the next go round.


First of all, planning an entire mass transit system essentially from scratch for a region containing some 5 million people across 4 counties is a massive undertaking.  The RTA staff and their consultants did an admirable job but there’s always room for improvement.

Refocus on Rail

The current plan relies on Bus Rapid Transit (“BRT”) in the primary corridors, namely Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan Avenue.  At first glance it makes a lot of sense.  BRT is cheaper and more flexible and those roads are massive, 100-120 feet wide through much of the city, up to 200 feet of ROW further from the city center and in the suburbs.  However, these are long corridors, Pontiac to Detroit is some 30 miles making this one of the longest BRT lines in the US.  There’s over 25 intermediate station stops.  Projected travel time is 70 to 80 minutes.  That’s an untenable commute for your average suburbanite with a choice.  BRT is primarily a substitute for light, city rail, think the Chicago L or the New York City Subway.  Those systems work mainly within the city itself, extending out to a few inner ring, city-adjacent suburbs.  To go further out you need to take a regional train, something faster with fewer stops.

There’s a lot of rail infrastructure in place already with clear rights of way in and out of downtown Detroit from a time when the area actually had a commuter rail network.  The trip from Pontiac took 60 minutes on the train (or 41 minutes express) over 50 years ago.  There’s rail going north to Pontiac, east to Mt Clemens and Port Huron, west to Ann Arbor and Plymouth and south to Toledo.  The RTA is only planning on the Ann Arbor service and I think that’s very disappointing.  A relatively high speed train from Troy to downtown Detroit in say 30 minutes or so (essentially possible in the 1940’s so hopefully manageable now) is a truly compelling commute option for your average worker or Tigers game attendee.  Twenty stops on the bus?  Not so much.  I would want to see the other radial routes as well but the Woodward main line makes all kind of sense to start with.  Lastly, and I’ve discussed this previously on this blog, the lines need to go into downtown.  A train to New Center is all but worthless and you’re not going to get travelers that have a choice.  I would love to take the train from Ann Arbor but I’m not going to drive, bus or Uber to the station here, hop the train for an hour and then take a 20 minute Qline ride on the back end to work or play.  That’s just not realistic.

Prepare for and Embrace New Technologies


I hear from transit detractors all the time that autonomous cars and other emerging technologies are going to eliminate the need for public transit.  That’s not true at all but it’s an objection that needs to be met head on and there are potentially some ways to utilize more tech going forward in the plan.  This is a plan where much of the infrastructure is 10 or more years away yet the tech isn’t all that strong by today’s standards.  Essentially buses with drivers, GPS tracking and signage and shared ticketing with a smartphone app, etc.  Basic things that most major cities have had for years.

This is the home of the auto industry and hopefully home to the future of autonomous vehicles.  Think to the future, think bigger.  Work with Ford’s Chariot service, plan for autonomous vehicles, cars, buses, trains.  Partner with the GM-backed Lyft service for first and last mile connections.  You want votes, aspire and inspire.

Highlight Property Value Increases

Not everyone is going to use public transit especially in the cradle of the automobile.  If you want to get voters on board in places like Macomb County you’re going to have to convince them there’s something in it for them.  With two years to educate folks, focus on what’s important to them.  It’s been well documented that proximity to transit boosts property values and while that was certainly a bullet point in the plan, perhaps it needs to be more of a focus.  Use studies, show heat maps to give people actual potential numbers to consider.  This goes back to my previous point about rail though, the impact of fixed rail transit on property values is much clearer than that of BRT.

Progressive Tiered Millage Rate

This idea is a little more out there and I don’t even know if it’s legal.  The RTA was asking for 1.2 mills from every property owner in the four county region.  I get the argument for regionalism and a working public transit system is good for everyone but it’s still really hard to convince someone living in rural Washtenaw County of the benefits of this system to them.  They’ll see little to none of the property value increases I mentioned above and they’re very unlikely users.  How about a millage that’s tiered based on proximity to service?  A little complicated to be sure and I have no idea if the math works, but something like 0.5 mills withing a mile of a regular bus route.  1.0 mills within a mile of a rapid bus or train line.  2.0 mills within a half mile of a rapid bus or train line.  If you’re more than a mile from any service you pay nothing.


The backbone of the RTA’s plan is solid and I think fundamentally a BRT-based system is a good place to start.  High speed rail in and out of DOWNTOWN I think is an absolutely necessary part of the service as is increased technology and autonomous vehicle elements.  The rest is just marketing.  The RTA has two years to make changes and improve their outreach and education, this blogger wishes them the best of luck.