Ypsilanti’s Cross Street, a major commercial thoroughfare linking Eastern Michigan University to Depot Town, is getting a $1 million makeover under the “Cross Street corridor non-motorized enhancement project,” which the Downtown Development Authority has been working toward for five years.
The project is slated for completion in August and is intended to make the area safer, strengthen ties between EMU and Depot Town, attract new residents and businesses and increase pedestrian traffic, while updating walkways to meet the Americans with Disability Act standards.
In a 2010 Michigan Department of Transportation press release, State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle said, “Transportation improvements are often the ‘behind the scenes’ projects that can dramatically increase the success of a community in attracting residents and businesses.” Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Steudle as Director of MDOT in January 2011.
The project is divided into two parts: East Cross Street in Depot Town, from Rice Street to River Street; and West Cross Street, from Washington Street to Normal Street. Construction started late this month in Depot Town to try and minimize disturbance to summer events scheduled in the area such as Elvisfest and the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.
Renovations to the area will include: new trees and perennials able to withstand salt and harsh roadside conditions, safer
and uniform streetlights, rain gardens to collect stormwater and filter it into the ground and bumpout curb extensions to slow traffic and shorten crosswalk distances.
The MDOT reported the state awarded $769,736 to the city of Ypsilanti. DDA Director Tim Colbeck said in a press release the city and the DDA contributed a total of $242,000 in matching funds.
Federal law requires 10 percent of national surface transportation funds be set aside for Transportation Enhancement project grants, which provide a maximum of 80 percent of the necessary project funding, with state and local government and the private sector being responsible for the remainder.
For 34 years, Lynn Radtke and her partner Jim have run Apple Annie’s & Jim MacDonald’s Vintage Clothing & Antiques, located at 29 E. Cross St. in the heart of Depot Town. A sign in their shop window read: “Sidewalk sale moved inside due to no sidewalk.”
Radtke is unhappy the project calls for the removal of most of the trees on East Cross Street in Depot Town. The DDA project description said, “Trees needing to be removed in the current streetscape will be relocated within the district as feasible.”
“The ambiance, the flavor of all Depot Town, I think, has changed with the trees gone,” Radtke said. “Because [they] warmed up all the buildings. It’s just not as inviting anymore with the trees gone. One thing I didn’t know that was going to be a downside of the trees being gone is they muffled quite a bit of the car traffic.”
Radtke said she is trying to embrace the project now that it’s underway and construction is moving quickly with crews working weekends.
Colbeck agrees construction is moving along well on both ends of Cross Street and said anyone away from the area will be greatly surprised by the changes being made.
In an article posted on AnnArbor.com Colbeck said: “The timing is perfect, with this streetscape being five years in the making. I’m excited because at the same [time] you’re going to see a couple key buildings that are vacant be renovated.”
Colbeck is referring to the now defunct Magazine Rack Adult Bookstore and Ted’s Campus Store – two of the three property owners who were awarded $10,000 grants for renovations from the DDA and Eastern Leaders, a partnership between EMU and civic and private sector leaders.
Rois Savvides, owner of Tower Inn restaurant, located at 701 W. Cross, the third $10,000 facade grant recipient, is investing an additional $50,000 in his business. He said they plan to change the menu, logo, uniforms and décor and add an outdoor dining area. Savvides and his wife Nathalie, both EMU graduates, have owned the business since 1997.
“Community is very important to us,” said Savvides. “We are very loyal. We live here in Ypsilanti. We see people that come here all the time, same people.”