Monday morning, Ann Arbor residents joined federal and local legislators to commemorate the grand opening of the new Blake Transit Center on Fifth Avenue.

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s $8.1 million project included demolition of the previously existing transit center to build a 12,019 square-foot facility that lawmakers and contractors hope will become a social hub in the downtown area. In addition, architects employed sustainable and eco-friendly initiatives and designs for the new building.

The center is the first step in the AAATA’s plans to modernize and increase public transportation in the area. Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti passed a millage early May to include more night and weekend bus routes, extend routes to Ypsilanti and offer more services for elderly and disabled passengers.

“Today’s grand opening ushers in a new era for public transportation in Ann Arbor,” AAATA CEO Michael Ford said. “The new Blake Transit Center represents a unique opportunity to promote Ann Arbor as the home of one of Michigan’s effective, efficient, environmentally-friendly public transportation services.”

The building received the LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its environmental excellence, and it also complies with guidelines required under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Some of the environmentally-friendly features of the building include the use of storm water collected from the roof in public restrooms, heated driveways and sidewalks to decrease snow-salt usage and the reuse of materials from the former transit building in the new facility.

Contractors and managers of the center also partnered with small Ann Arbor-based and Detroit-based businesses in excavating and facilitating the building. Managers chose these companies under the guidelines of federal programs devoted to fostering growth in local economies and helping minority individuals and women run businesses. The center received $7 million in federal funds towards the renovation project.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) spoke at the event on the importance of mass transit to help move communities forward. He said though he loved to see American automobiles on the road, mass transit is critical in helping those that can’t afford their own vehicle.

Dingell also congratulated the Ann Arbor community for its achievement, and noted that this is one step of many to improve quality of life in the city.

Quoting Churchill, he said, “It is not the beginning of the end, it is perhaps the end of the beginning. More needs to be done and has to be done quickly.”

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje echoed Dingell’s observations, speaking on the affordability of public transit for citizens. He also brought up the federal funds the AAATA received to build a new train station in Ann Arbor.

“I think that this is one of the best things that we can do for our city in the future, it helps everyone, it lifts all boats,” Hieftje said.

Larry Krieg, Ypsilanti representative on the AAATA’s board of directors, was in attendance at the event. He said he was excited to see the center transform into a social gathering site over the next few years and was proud of the eco-friendly and user-friendly features of the building.

“The whole thing is so accessible to mobility challenges, that’s a very important thing,” Krieg said. “People say that if a system, a building or a transportation system, works well for disabled people, it’ll work better for everyone else.”

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