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January 22, 1988 - Image 16

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1988-01-22
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-qw mr lowr

Changing skyline
Like it or not, Ann Arbor is
getting a face lift

By Peter MooneyE
P eople who have lived in Ann Arbor for more
than five years have noticed a change.
Establishments that were once as much of an
institution as the University such as the Pretzel
Bell and Joe's Star Lounge are now nothing more
than memories. In fact, in the very spot that Joe
served beer to any one who looked over 16 years+
old, now stands one of the city's newest additions
- the One North Main building. The structure is
part of the city's current building and development
boom which started nearly five years ago and has
given city residents such structures as Liberty
Square and 1220 South University housing both a
new McDonald's and a new Kinko's.
While no one questions the economic benefits
the development spurt has generated, many have
criticized the direction it has taken, and some
contend the designs of these buildings are altering
the city's look for the worse. Liberty Square is
perhaps the primary example of this trend. The
eight-story parking structure/shopping mall that
towers over neighboring buildings along East
Liberty St. became the target of harsh criticism
almost immediately after it opened in the summer
of 1986.
Its name then was Tally Hall, and the main
criticism of it was its decor. "I can't figure out
what sort of aesthetic taste Tally Hall was trying to
appeal to and, apparently, neither could anyone
else," said fourth-year Rackham graduate student
Greg Diamond. "Eating in Tally Hall was like
being mugged by a glow stick," he said referring to
the fluorescent neon tubes which originally hung
from the ceiling.
Residents living near the building have also
voiced complaints. "I think it is a white elephant, a
project that never should have been built. It shows
a lack of understanding of what people like," said
Chris Crockett, president of Ann Arbor's Old
Fourth Ward Association, a group concerned about
how the development boom has affected the
downtown area. One of the building's major
problems, most often pointed at by Liberty Square
store owners, is that a bank occupies all the
building's street front store space. Passers-by
cannot see ground-level shops, which many
shopkeepers believe has hindered their business.
Liberty Square store owners also cite poor interior
design and the building's lack of retail outlets as
two reasons it has never caught on as a shopping
To address some of these problems, the
building's owners - the Formidable Group of
Farmington Hills - decided to remodel Tally Hall
last summer and change its name. Beginning last
October, the renovations removed the neon
fixtures, improved lighting, replaced cafeteria-style
tables around the lower level eatery area with
booths, and covered the original pink trim with
wood paneling. Several store owners have
Mooney is a Daily opinion editor, Handelman is
a Daily photographer

Photos by Karen Handelman
welcomed the changes. John Evarts, co-manager of
The Steak Escape restaurant, believes the building
will eventually succeed. He has been in Liberty
Square for two and half years and recently signed a
lease for another year. He also said the Formidable
Group has committed to landing retail stores as
early as next spring.
B ut Liberty Square is not the only new building
to come under heavy criticism. According to
Crockett, One North Main and 301 E. Liberty are
"both just massive, ugly buildings." Hobbs and

"People I talk to love the place," Benson said. He said the
Hobbs and Black style of set backs were constructed to avoid
a "blocky" design which had begun to predominate
architectural styles downtown. According to Benson, more
stringent design standards would discourage businesses from
locating in the city and detract from potential economic
Another complaint about the recent construction is that it
confounds the city's established focal points. Local Architect
Norm Tyler, a member of the Ann Arbor Historical
Commission, said the intersection of Main and Huron,
where One North Main stands, was considered the center of
town as the site of the Washtenaw County Courthouse.
Tyler said One North Main fails as an effective focal
point. "The proportions are awkward, it doesn't work well,"
he said. Tyler said Liberty Square has similar problems
because it blocks downtown's view of Burton Tower, itself a
focal point.
But not everyone disapproves of these new structures.
Edward Surovell, a local realtor and member of the planning
commission, said the new buildings reflect the tastes and the
economic realities today. "When you look at a new building
you see 1987. When you look at a building built in 1922,
you see that era," he said. Surovell pointed out that
architectural distinctiveness costs more than buildings which
look alike.
Some view development as happening too quickly and
witnout proper controls. Others see it as essential to Ann
Arbor's continued prosperity.
Gwen Nystuen, a member of Ann Arbor's Planning
Commission, said that while she does not oppose
development, she fears the city may lose too much open
space if the current pace continues. "(The developers) use
land to the maximum permissible extent. They're using the
properties more intensively than they used to, she said.
Recent city studies have indicated a steady loss of open
space in the city, but Nystuen doubts city officials will
rezone Ann Arbor to require less intensive use of land
because of downtown's already extensive development. She
also feels local merchants and developers would probably
attempt to block any efforts to slow or discourage
Nystuen said unbridled development will make downtown
less attractive to pedestrians and that she does not want to
see Ann Arbor "become like the downtown of a big
city." Nystuen's concern about the city's atmosphere and
feel is shared by others. Many fear Ann Arbor will lose its
human scale if development progresses too quickly and that
the early 1900s and 1920s style architecture which
dominates State and Main Streets will become overshadowed
by what opponents consider less distinguished modern
Diamond says the emphasis on professional offices and
condominiums in downtown is creating a glitzy, shopping
mall atmosphere downtown which reminds him of
Westwood, Calif. He said development excludes students,
and therefore detracts from University life. Diamond also
said the high price of the condominiums may lead to
unsellable space if an economic downturn occurs.
New parking structures nave also begun to dot the city's
skyline. Although some city residents despair over the
prospect of more parking structures in the city's skyline,
many feel this growth is necessitated by the development
boom. A common complaint among residents is that the
new buildings do not provide enough parking, causing those
who use them to park in surrounding neighborhoods.
Ralph Snyder, President of the South University
neighborhood association, believes that the major
problem with that street's development is the lack
of parking for the 1220 building. To alleviate this
problem, Snyder recommends the city provide
permits to residents of neighborhoods bordering the
downtown and campus areas. Nystuen agrees that
parking is needed but does not want to see the
streetscape dominated by parking lots and
structures. As an alternative, she recommends
underground parking. On

The 1220 building, according to Tyler, is an
improvement visually over the gas station which it replaced.
The head of the University's Ph.D. program in architecture,
Prof. Harold Borkin, agrees with Tyler's accessment, though
he finds the South U. building to be "a little gaudy."
Beside 1220 South University and the Bagel Factory's
new facade, South University is expected to get an even
newer look. Ann Arbor City Council accepted a proposal
last summer allowing for the construction of a new
shopping mall on the street - the Galleria. In addition to
shopping, the building will also provide rental units and
parking. George Parron, owner of the Brown Jug restaurant,
and head of the South University merchant's association,
said the Galleria should draw more people to South

'If the prosperity of the city and a growing
economy did not depend on a growing
population, I wouldn't like change either. I
would want things to remain the same."
- Edward Surovell, a member of the Ann
Arbor Planning Commission
University and that it would be benefit all stores along the
street. He said the street is taking on an increasingly modern
appearance, which will be enhanced when Village Corner
remodels its store front, which appeals to customers.
Those who oppose the changing look of the city want
Ann Arbor officials to exert more control over development.
But current zoning laws give the planning commission little
control. over the appearance of downtown buildings. Crockett
says she wants the city to adopt design standards which
would give it greater influence over architectural designs in
downtown, saying that this has worked in other cities. She
said Alexandria, Va. exerts extensive control over the
appearance of buildings. But Nystuen said she doubts such
an architectural review could ever gather enough support to
pass in Ann Arbor because it would require a substantial
change in zoning laws.
One way the city can regulate architects and developers is
via Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), which allow
developers to ignore certain zoining laws in exchange for
granting the city more control over construction materials
used and other aspects of a building's external features. The
city can also wield power over developers who opt to avoid
legal suits against the planning commission when it
allegedly oversteps it authority.
Ethel Potts, a candidate for city council in Ann Arbor's
Fifth Ward, wants the city to use the PUDs more
aggressively to control the design of buildings. She also
believes that the city has a responsibility to'protect Main
St.'s older buildings. She said building anything similar to
these structures, with ornate trim and and attention to detail,
would be prohibitively expensive today.
Historical districts like the city's Old Westside are
another way in which Ann Arbor can control development.
According to Overhiser, the city can regulate the altering of
building exteriors in these districts judged to have historical

significance. Tyler said
preserve its past. "One of
Arbor is that some of the
said. Tyler said that the
possible historical districts
other residents are mo:
the aesthetic effects develo
pointed out that the devel
to the vitality of Ann A
prosperity of the city and a
on a growing population,
would want things to re
eleven-story building c
William St. was the first
Main in over half a cent
healthy. It has vast areas
Nystuen agrees that th
business climate is still
recent construction. Develk
the group responsible for
downtown has enough of
types of developments. B
resurgence in national eco
he has seen similar office
"I've always believed th
downtown will be housing,
There is broad agreeme
more housing should be b
of that housing and wheth
or condominiums remair
Commissioner Sam Offei
proposal for an 11-storey
on the corner of Main and
with a needed boost. But
must receive city council
begin. Offen also said ther
an apartment complex call
William and First, and
subsidized to make the r4
income residents.
Besides zoning and the
can influence developmei
developed by a steering co
and city council. A draft c
recommended, among oth
short-term parking structur,
along downtown streets, b
housing and offices, and
department store. The plan
neighborhoods from encro
abatements to encourage k
housing projects. According
Downtown Development A
consider supporting the
conference center to draw 1
Opinions are divided
development. Overhiser b
remain strong into the 19
will depend on the plannii
According to Surovell, th
interest rates, b
proximity to D
intersection of th
the city remains at
Nystuen, on t-
has largely run its
more changes in d
development co
Developer Belche:
down is approac
historically occui
appears to be over

The Campus Theater marquee annouces its
pending destruction.
Black, a locally-based architectural firm, is
responsible for the look of these buildings as well
as most other downtown development projects. The
firm's designs follow a consistent pattern - brick
structures with upper stories gradually receding in
from the perimeter.
It is exactly this style Crockett criticizes. "One
North Main looks like a big sumo wrestler
squatting in a corner. I don't think Hobbs and Black
put their best foot forward," she said. Repre-
sentatives of Hobbs and Black could not be reached
for comment.
Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce president
Rodney Benson said most business people like the
firm's designs. He added that almost all office space
in One North Main has been leased.

The Bagel Factory and the 1220 South University complex: the latest
additions to this already trendy street.

v North Main: Architectural aboration or the shape of things to come?




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