EDITORIAL: North Main Street should be a welcoming gateway into Ann Arbor
Steve Pepple | AnnArbor.com
That’s why the community should welcome recent action by the Ann Arbor City Council to appoint a North Main-Huron River Corridor Vision Task Force. Efforts to improve this important corridor into the city are long overdue. We hope the impetus from this task force will be just what North Main Street needs to begin a process of rebirth.
Among other things, the task force’s efforts will focus on a new future for the property at 721 N. Main, which currently houses the city’s fleet services facility. That’s as good a place to start as any. Improvements there could then potentially radiate up and down the street — which, for all its eyesores, has tremendous potential.The blighting influences that greet visitors to Ann Arbor as they enter town on North Main Street are well documented, most recently in a column written by Paula Gardner, news director for AnnArbor.com. Yet that stretch also has assets that ought to make it a prime candidate for redevelopment, including Argo Pond, which runs virtually the length of the corridor, and Bandemer Park. The city also is looking at the riverside MichCon property, off of Broadway Street, as a potential new park, and that could help bolster the area as well.
We cannot make a case that Ann Arbor puts out the proper welcome mat to visitors approaching the city from any direction. Whether you’re talking about Washtenaw, South State Road or Jackson Avenue, none of these provide a first impression of the city that lives up to the charm of our downtown, neighborhoods or University of Michigan central campus.
Still, North Main Street stands out for the complete lack of appeal with which it greets those driving into town off of US-23 and M-14. And for all the talk about the need to improve this sad stretch, it continues to languish. We recall back in the early 1990s when the NEW Center, which works to support the mission of local non-profits, opened its building on North Main at the location of the former Lansky scrap yard. There was optimism at that time that it would spark further changes, but the street remains surprisingly unaffected in the nearly two decades since.
Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com
We particularly should note that efforts to improve this area wouldn’t just lay out a better welcome mat to visitors. It also could give residents greater visibility and accessibility to the river and adjoining parks. For instance, access to Bandemer is particularly troublesome because people are illegally and dangerously crossing railroad tracks at some points to get there.
At a time when the city is directing its attention to North Main, there also are rumblings of interest in the private sector that could lead to new investment along the corridor. We’re encouraged by the broadness of representation that the city wants to bring to the task force, which is expected to include someone from the city's Park Advisory Commission, a member of the Planning Commission, one resident from the Water Hill neighborhood, a resident representing the North Central area, one resident from the Old Fourth Ward, one resident representing the Broadway/Pontiac neighborhood, two business and property owners from the area, and someone from the Huron River Watershed Council.
The task force will work over the next year to develop a vision for North Main Street and nearby areas along the Huron River. It is expected to make its recommendations to City Council by the end of July 2013.
North Main Street has suffered neglect for a long period, and we have no illusions about the amount of time, effort and investment that will be required to turn it around. But just as the blight stares all of us in the face every time we drive along the street, so does the potential. We look forward to what vision the task force defines for North Main, and what steps it suggests to start a reclamation.
(This editorial was published in today's newspaper and reflects the opinion of the Editorial Board at AnnArbor.com.)