Like most caffeine-dependent students at this institution, I make my rounds to Espresso Royale on South University Avenue before my morning lecture. Once I reach for the door handle, I glance to my right and notice a sea of orange, ripped up pavement and vacant storefronts. You may ask, am I in the first-ranked college town in the country? You bet I am. But South University Avenue’s appearance may make you wonder, “How is this the case?”
The construction on South University Avenue has lasted for too long. But make no mistake, the area was in desperate need of a facelift. What is commonly regarded as a hub of Central Campus has been losing its flair at a rapid rate, and new construction projects intend to reverse this trend. The area is in disrepair and with new developments springing up, there is a fair chance the high concentration of construction will take longer than anybody expects. But maybe this wait will eventually be worth it.In a July article, the Daily reported the construction on South University Avenue would be complete by mid-August. Approaching October, the pavement improvement project is not done, weeks after the first football game. As MLive reported in May, South University Avenue is in the beginning stages of a dramatic streetscape upgrade. This means the sound of dump trucks hauling concrete won’t end anytime soon.
The street repair construction is ongoing but has taken a scaled-back form. What once was an impassable street from East University Avenue to around Washtenaw Avenue is now limited to the strip between East University Avenue and Church Street. Pedestrians are free to traverse the sidewalk, but car traffic is still limited. Nonetheless, South University Avenue remains an eyesore and I constantly have to take a detour while driving.
The changing ecology of businesses has dramatically shifted as well. Middle Earth, the novelty shop in business for more than four decades, shut its doors two and a half years ago. BurgerFi surreptitiously closed at the end of last school year for reasons unbeknownst to practically anyone. Ulrich’s Bookstore, though not closing it’s business, is in the midst of relocationing further down South University Avenue. The list goes on and on. The change in tenants over the past four years exacerbates the uncertainty of South University Avenue, and the rebound since has been incredibly prolonged.
Developers have not capitalized on what could be a thriving restaurant scene. Though a few choice establishments still exist, they’re too far and few between for the area to count as a bona fide destination. As a result, business gets lost to the trendier South State shopping district. Make no mistake, South State Street has also changed considerably over the past few years. Even my neighborhood –– the intersection of State and Packard streets –– has transformed; old establishments are leaving and new ones are struggling to remain. But the difference between South State Street and South University Avenue is abysmal — South State Street (between East William Street and Huron Street) is home to far fewer vacant storefronts — if practically any at all.
One important distinction between South State Street and South University Avenue is the number of high rises. While South State Street is practically bereft of high rise apartments, South University Avenue is the campus mecca for such edifices. And more continue to spring up, including at the 611 E. University Ave. address, limiting foot traffic on the street’s intersection with South University Avenue.
The new high rises plan on opening up more ground-level retail, which would surely bring much needed business to the area. While student housing is an important concern, I worry the currently insatiable demand for these properties will dwindle at some point. If this occurs, the lack of focus on making South University Avenue a leisurely destination will see its consequences. The cycle will continue again: not much to do, more traffic cones and undesirability.
After exiting the doors of the coffee shop to head to class, I take one final look over South University Avenue. As cars drive by, dust fills up the miasmic air leaving the city block covered. The low visibility makes it difficult to see beyond the orange traffic cones. On the other side lies the hopefully not-too-distant future of this current state of mishigas.
I can’t bear to see another orange traffic cone on South University Avenue ever again. After the construction finally ends, hopefully the situation will improve.
Levi Teitel can be reached at email@example.com.