The most common questions I get generally run along the lines of “What’s going on with that construction site or vacant lot or empty storefront or project I read about a while back?”. The desolate swath of land on Glen between Catherine and Ann across from Angelo’s slated for a mixed-use project called The Glen certainly fits the bill.
First announced in mid-2015, I’m happy to report that The Glen is still moving forward, albeit glacially. The site plan is in its 4th review with planning, engineering in its 6th review and the traffic impact study (which appears to be the particularly sticky wicket here) is sitting in an impressive 8th review.
To provide a little background, the site was once home to the Glen Ann Service Station, two older homes and a small commercial building that formerly housed Da Vinci’s Pizza. The buildings were demolished in stages through the mid to late 2000’s. Although technically in the Old Fourth Ward Historic District, you might not know it other than glorious Angelo’s across the street and a couple of remaining single family homes. The area is dominated by two large UM garages, a couple of 1960’s low to mid-rise apartment properties and several other large campus or medical buildings of varying age and quality. Suffice to say, this weedy patch of dirt represents an opportunity for a breath of fresh air in this corridor.
Back in 2005, Chicago-based developer Joseph Freed & Associates received approval for a PUD to build a 9-story mixed-use building including ground floor retail, 1-2 floors of office and apartments above. The state’s Historic Preservation Review Board actually rejected the proposal to demolish the historic homes still remaining on the site. Freed filed suit and the final settlement allowed the development to move forward with some modifications in 2017. Locals will know Freed as the group behind the fairly mediocre (although I think solid in concept) Ashley Terrace condominium project at Ashley and Huron and the redevelopment of Arborland Mall in the late 1990’s. The Great Recession killed their plans on Glen (and caused a complete implosion of the company culminating in developer Larry Freed being found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 230 years in prison in 2016). Ultimately the lots were sold to new owners for $2.5 million in 2014.
Fast forward to the present day and the current developers, a group led by Craig Singer and Fred Goldberg, are slogging through a plan to build a 9-story mixed-use building anchored by a 162-room boutique hotel. The building will also feature 24 apartments on the top two floors, just over 5,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor and 252 underground parking spaces. While around the same height, the project is 33% smaller than the old Freed project due to several setbacks which include 5 large outdoor terraces.
The big question marks here appear to be vehicular access to the site and traffic concerns. As the always well informed and level headed MLive commenters are all too happy to bring up, traffic tends to snarl on Glen at rush hour and a roundabout at Fuller and Maiden Lane has been in planning since 2011 to help alleviate some of those concerns. If this project and the proposed development at 1140 Broadway (subject of a future post) were to move forward, it seems the construction of the roundabout would be a necessity. Traffic is complex and tends to be overblown by us average citizens because it impacts us in an out-sized way depending on our particular schedule. In reference to this project there is a 234-page traffic impact study prepared by one Tapan Datta of Wayne State University, a man with a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering with a focus on Transportation. Between that and the now 8 reviews by our industrious planning staff, I feel confident they’ll get this right. My two cents: make the developers for The Glen and 1140 Broadway chip in for the street improvements to smooth this out.
The Glen is really just the type of project we’re looking for in Ann Arbor. Perhaps a few stories too tall for the old guard but really not out of line for the area and a welcome dense mix of uses including a new hotel option in the greater downtown area, neighborhood retail and a few apartment units. Plus, lots of parking, but mostly underground! I’ll be honest, I’ve never liked the architecture, kind of a Frankenstein trying to blend the historic elements of the Old Fourth Ward with the modern design of the Medical Campus and a lot of different uses to accommodate in one building. Neumann Smith had a tall order to fill here and I think they’ve done their best but it’s unlikely to win a Pritzker.
That said, architecture is highly subjective, the plan is strong, the location is ideal, the materials are of good quality and I see no reason this project shouldn’t move forward once all the boxes are checked with city staff. Let’s get this in front of council so we can see some hammers swinging, I say best of luck, tired of looking at that overgrown dirt patch.