McKinley's Liberty Square rehab nabs first tenant
The restaurant, which has yet to be named, will be run by Tobias Wacker and Joanna Hong out of 1,200 square feet on the first floor of Liberty Square. They hope to open in the fall.
“Light, airy and healthy” is the theme of both the food and the architecture of the new restaurant, Wacker said in an e-mail interview.
“The store will be very architectural, modern, sleek and urban,” he said. “While the food is obviously our main product, we also want to create a space that customers want to spend time in.”
Wacker and Hong are recent graduates of U-M’s Masters in Urban Planning program, and have been working on the restaurant project full-time. Wacker said the location and the renovation of Liberty Square played into the decision to locate there.
They looked at South University and State Street as well as Liberty, Wacker said. He said the location “is the best of both worlds: Close enough to campus to attract students, but also in the heart of ‘professional’ Ann Arbor.”
“Being in a newly rehabbed building is great because the high quality of the building enhances our own store and makes interior construction significantly easier,” he added.
The lease leaves about 9,600 square feet of first floor retail space available for rent, and McKinley’s national leasing director April Davis said she’s close to signing two more tenants - one restaurant and one office user.
“We expect to have more leases done very quickly,” she said.
The building also has more than 29,000 square feet of office space in the basement, currently being donated to University of Michigan students developing high-tech startups.
The Liberty Square project is the latest, and perhaps last for some time, of McKinley’s efforts to revitalize the block of Liberty east of Division. It completed a renovation of an old bank building into McKinley Towne Centre at the corner of Liberty and Division in early 2007. The building is home to Google and Bar Louie, and more recently became the new home of Tios Mexican restaurant.
Liberty Square, which is adjacent to a city parking structure, also was an old bank building before its renovation, which was completed this spring.
With the two projects, McKinley owns most of the block of Liberty between Division and the Michigan Theater. One building sits between the two rehabilitation projects, home to a clothing store and a record store. McKinley had a purchase option on the site a few years ago which has expired, and Davis said there are no plans to seek to buy that building.
McKinley officials have said the construction of new student housing projects nearby pushed the redevelopment of Liberty Square forward (Ann Arbor Business Review, March 5).
The new tenants are counting on the continuing and increasing vitality of the area.
Wacker continued: “We feel that there is a tremendous momentum in terms of development in this area. We believe that with all the new mixed-use and commercial projects this area will become a new activities hub for the city.”
Wacker said the architecture of the restaurant will take advantage of large windows, doors and outdoor seating to create an open environment, working with Ply Architecture.
Reporter Dan Meisler can be reached at email@example.com. Photo by Robert Ramey: The newly renovated Liberty Square building.