The Ypsilanti City Council held a working session last Monday and heard a proposal from the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Department to put a recreation center fronting on Michigan Avenue and the Huron River on the 12 acres at the northwest corner of the 38-acre Water Street site.
That site, recently cleared of defunct businesses and designated an official “brown field” site by the state of Michigan, is currently a financial drain on the city, as outlined in Mayor Paul Schreiber’s September 2011 report to the council.
Schreiber’s report shows payments on the bond will cost $1.2 million in the current fiscal year and are projected to cost $1.31 million and $1.34 million in fiscal years 2013 and 2014, moving up to $1.38 million for fiscal years 2015-2017. The property is for sale.
According to Robert Tetens, director of WCPARC, the proposed recreation center would be comparable to the Meri Lou Murray Center on Washtenaw Avenue near Platt Road in Ann Arbor and would bring many benefits to Ypsilanti and eastern Washtenaw County.
He said surveys showed a demand for a 50-60,000 square-foot facility, and building a recreation center in the eastern part of the county has been in WCPARC’s plans for years.
Tetens said such a facility benefits the health of those who use it, draws people who then stay to shop or eat in the neighborhood, creates a stronger sense of community and reduces crime and juvenile delinquency.
Furthermore, Tetens said studies have shown a recreation facility can increase the competitive marketing advantages of nearby residential, retail and office buildings.
Tetens’ plan showed the recreation center, its open space, parking and public park would take up a 500-foot wide and 1,200-foot deep piece of the parcel.
Tetens asked the council to either donate part of the Water Street parcel to the project or provide a very low cost long-term lease. Tetens pointed out WCPARC’s collaborations, such as constructing the “border-to-border” trail, which includes land belonging to the county, the city of Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan, local hospitals and Eastern Michigan University.
The Water Street site, Tetens said, would enable the B2B trail to run from Riverside Park to Water Works Park — another benefit for local and county residents.
Tetens also reported the Meri Lou Murray Center has about 1,000 visitors a day and asked the council to consider the positive impact many people could have on downtown Ypsilanti.
According to the WCPARC website, the Meri Lou Murray Center provides a track, a pool, a gymnasium, cardiovascular and weight training rooms, lockers and a party center. The annual fee for a county resident is $220 and the daily fee is $7.
Council member Ricky Jefferson asked whether there would be any lowering of fees in consideration of the high unemployment rate in Ypsilanti, and Tetens said it would certainly be feasible.
Council member Daniel Vogt asked Tetens to supply the council with “any relevant data on how such a rec center affects economic development, in areas as similar to Ypsilanti as possible.”
Tetens said he would supply “rafts of data,” and would include an assessment of the competition — that is, similar facilities at Washtenaw Community College, EMU, the YMCA in Ann Arbor and at U of M.
City Manager Ed Koryzno described the next steps: City staff will provide their comments to council at its next meeting, and the rest of the process would be the same as if this were a private project.
There will be a write-up of the proposal and the council would revise and eventually approve it or not, he said.
Tetens asked the council to make a decision by January 2012.
REGULAR CITY COUNCIL MEETING
At its regular meeting Monday, which began shortly after 7 p.m., Ypsilanti City Council took several actions. It approved minor revisions to the snow removal ordinance, renaming it “snow emergency,” designated 10 commercial signs as of historical significance and accepted a $65,500 refund from the Michigan Municipal League.
The council also heard a presentation from Terri Blackmore, executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation study about the proposed transformation of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to a countywide transportation authority.
Blackmore asked the council to name a member to the board of the new authority to participate in planning for the transition.
Schreiber nominated himself, with council member Peter Murdoch as alternate. The council took no action on the proposed agreement Blackmore presented.
According to Blackmore, the agreement among the cities of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, the AATA and Washtenaw County, sets out terms and conditions for the transition to a countywide transportation authority.
Blackmore also briefly described a survey the AATA will conduct later this month to determine how county residents feel about a new transportation millage. The results will be available in December.
At the close of the meeting, Schreiber summarized the benefits of the recreation center discussed at the working session: It can draw other development, he said, and would thus be a positive contribution. It would be a positive first step in developing the Water Street site, although admittedly not bringing in revenue from the sale of the land.
Koryzno said the council would conduct further discussion in a working session.
Finally, the council approved the mayor’s three nominations: Phil Hollifield to Planning Commission and Anne Brown and Halle Brown to the Recreation Commission.
Lois Richardson was the only Council member absent; she was attending a Michigan Municipal League meeting.
The council website, http://cityofypsilanti.com/bd_city-council, contains the packet for the Oct. 4 meeting, including the complete proposal from WCPARC and the proposed agreement related to the county-wide transportation authority.