City Council considering 9-story hotel in Old Fourth Ward

City Council is in the process of approving a nine-story development on a vacant lot next to the Medical Campus.

City Council is in the process of approving a nine-story development on a vacant lot next to the Medical Campus. Buy this photo
Emma Richter/Daily

 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 - 8:33pm

A new nine-story development, currently engaged in the City Council approval process, may be built on a currently vacant site next to the University of Michigan’s Medical Campus.

At its Nov. 20 meeting, the council unanimously approved the zoning necessary for the development, and Catherine Ann Development, the Bloomfield Hills company responsible for the project, will bring its designs to the council on Dec. 18 for a public hearing and final approval.

The development, which is estimated to cost $40 million, will sit atop a half-acre of land that used to be home to a gas station and then a laundromat before a development project was approved in 2005. The project was dropped for financial reasons, and the site has been vacant since then. For the past few years, Catherine Ann Development has been working on a design for the space, and it’s now proposed a mixed-use building with retail and restaurant space. However, its focus will be the building’s hotel — according to Catherine Ann spokesman Tom Shields, the company believe this development will fill a hole in the current Ann Arbor infrastructure.

“Ann Arbor is probably one of the few major university towns that doesn’t really have a signature hotel. Even though most people in Ann Arbor are developing apartments and condos, they saw that as a real opportunity," Shields said. "They thought the location was perfect, and the timing was perfect."

The site is located at Glen Avenue and Ann Street, adjacent to the Medical Campus and University Hospital. Shields said the company hopes to service people who are coming to town specifically for the hospital, but also to the broader University and city community.

“(It’s) a combination — for those people who are coming to Ann Arbor for University events or for business looking for an upscale, boutique type of hotel to stay in, and then combined with people who are in town to visit patients who are at the University Hospital, combined with also the ability to have conferences and a convention space which could be used by people who are involved in the hospital or medical community,” Shields said.

There has not yet been any collaboration with the University on plans for the building — as it is a completely private project — but Shields thinks there will be outreach in the future. He hopes to build the relationship between the school and Catherine Ann Development, which will likely continue to operate the hotel once construction is completed.

On the University’s end, there is not yet much thought being given to the effects of the development. In an email statement to The Daily, Jim Kosteva, University director of community relations, wrote the University does not comment on private development projects.

“We would not speculate as to the potential impact of the development on patients, faculty or other implications for campus,” Kosteva wrote.

Though Shields and the rest of Catherine Ann Development are optimistic about the effects their hotel will have on the community, some concerns remain.

There will need to be some reorganizing of traffic near the development. According to MLive, Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, the council’s liaison to the Planning Commission, talked of possibly converting the block of Ann Street in front of the site to a two-way street at the Nov. 20 council meeting.

“In terms of traffic, which is one of the largest issues of neighborhood concern, the plan proposes a car entrance / exit off Ann, which is a one-way and creates a unique vehicle circulation along Ann, Glen, Catherine and Ingalls," Ackerman said. "Some neighbors have suggested converting Ann to a two-way, while others worry that change would only exacerbate existing issues.

The site is in the Old Fourth Ward — a historic district of Ann Arbor. The project needed approval from the city’s Historic District Commission, and at first it didn’t receive it on the grounds that the proposed building did not fit the area’s historic look.

The development company returned after the verdict to apply for a notice to proceed, saying the site, as it currently sits, is a hazard to the public due to environmental contamination in the ground from the former gas station and laundromat that once sat on the site. Because its plan included cleaning up this contamination — the company intends to dig four stories into the ground for a parking structure — Catherine Ann Development argued it should be allowed to proceed with its project.

The commission granted it permission. According to commission staff member Jill Thatcher, this decision has received mixed reviews from the ward residents.

“Some residents of the Fourth Ward have not been in favor of it; some have been fairly supportive of it. We definitely heard both sides on this one, and we are still hearing both sides on this one," she said. "Yeah, it’s a lot taller than the historic buildings in the neighborhood."

Catherine Ann Development knows if its project receives final approval in December, it will be entering a community that may be slightly wary of its presence. To remedy that, Shields said, the company has made a $500,000 contribution to the city's affordable housing fund and a $14,800 contribution to improve several of the city’s parks.

“It was part of our discussions with the city, what we can do to be a good neighbor," Shields said. "And I noticed that there’s a number of housing projects that do make contributions to affordable housing, so (we) wanted to be a part of that."

If the development plan is approved at City Council next month, Shields said, the company will plan on beginning construction sometime next year. The project should take about a year to complete.

“We don’t want to take anything for granted as we’re still working through that City Council process,” he said.