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Student-organized concert Saturday to benefit C.S. Mott Children's Hospital

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An outdoor concert at Liberty Plaza in downtown Ann Arbor Saturday night will feature the talents of local musicians and benefit a program that helps patients at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

The proceeds from the concert, organized by Skyline High School senior Nikki Kamouneh, will go to the hospital's Bedside Music Program and that's it's being organized by a high school student.

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Tonight's concert will be at Liberty Plaza at Liberty and Division streets in downtown Ann Arbor.

Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

Kamouneh said a strong love for music and a desire to help those in need were two of her main motivations for organizing this evening's concert. The idea stemmed from a senior project that required students to execute a change in themselves or their community and to create a narrative about it.

"At first I wanted to learn to play piano, as many of my peers seemed to be either learning how to cook or play a new instrument," said Kamouneh. "But after talking to my friends and family, I realized I needed to broaden my horizons, and extend the change to not just me, but to my community."

Kamouneh said the recent death of a family friend from cancer and the loss of another friend made her choose Mott as the organization to benefit from the concert.

Hannah Ashmore, an event planner and fundraiser for Mott, said the Bedside Music Program is part of the Gifts of Art fund, which is funded through philanthropic efforts.

"Musicians go to rooms throughout the hospital to literally visit the bedsides of patients," explained Ashmore. "The soothing, relaxing qualities of music are well-known and this program is a welcome piece of the inpatient puzzle."

Kamouneh has many connections to local musicians which made a concert a natural fit for her project. All the bands are local and include the duos Janet Cannon and Oliver Deperaita, Brandon Kemp and Jamie Seely, Zach Stoner and Jake Martin and the band Creal. "This event would not have been possible if not for the support and guidance of my teachers, my peers, and my family," said Kamouneh, who put up fliers about the concert around her school and neighborhood and in downtown Ann Arbor.

Kamouneh hopes to raise at least a couple hundred dollars through donations at the event at Liberty and Division streets. She is not charging admission.

Lisa Carolin is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Contact the news desk at news@annarbor.com or 734-623-2430.


Ypsilanti DDA awards $20K grant to AATA for improvements at Ypsilanti Transit Center

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The Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority has awarded the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority a $20,000 grant to go toward $500,000 in improvements at the Ypsilanti Transit Center.

At its May 16 YDDA Board meeting, the board overwhelmingly agreed to support the programs and services provided to Ypsilanti by the AATA.

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The Ypsilanti Transit Center on Pearl Street in downtown Ypsilanti.

AnnArbor.com file photo

The DDA board stated that since the AATA has increased its investment in both services and infrastructure to the DDA districts in recent years, it decided to give a grant.

The one-time grant's funds will come from the fund balance reserves of the Downtown, Depot Town and West Cross Street districts.

The grant follows a recent resolution from the Ypsilanti City Council that requested the DDA to consider giving the funds.

Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber, who also sits on the DDA board, said some of the funds will be used to improve the signage at the transit center. Schreiber said the AATA has about $500,000 in planned improvements. Future money could be given to the AATA by the DDA, Schreiber said.

"There was a comment about in future budgeting to have some sort of expenditure for public transportation," Schreiber said. "I will say that $20,000 is not much when you compare it to other revenues for the AATA like from the Ann Arbor DDA, but for the Ypsilanti DDA, which has about a $500,000 budget, it's about 4 percent of the budget. It's a significant monetary transfer."

The Ypsilanti City Council passed a resolution April 23 in support of requesting membership within the AATA. Schreiber said the AATA has passed a resolution acknowledging Ypsilanti's request and further discussion will occur at a later date.

Schreiber said the next step would be for the AATA board to pass a resolution approving the request. The AATA's articles of incorporation, originally approved in 1975 and amended in 1978, would have to be approved by the Ann Arbor City Council, the AATA Board and the Ypsilanti City Council.

Schreiber said he's hopeful the request will be approved.

"I think there's a lot of positive comments," Schreiber said. "The request fits in with their mission and the previous effort of a regional authority. I'm just looking forward to the board's decision and I hope they do accept it. I think it's a great opportunity for Ypsilanti to work with the Ann Arbor City Council and to strengthen regional cooperation immensely."

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for AnnArbor.com.Reach her at katreasestafford@annarbor.com or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.

Police arrest man accused of assault

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Ypsilanti police arrested a man on suspicion of felonious assault early Friday morning.

Another man reported at 5:20 a.m. Friday that the 35-year-old man assaulted him in the 300 block of South Street, police said in a media summary.

Police arrested the suspect. The victim suffered a minor injury.

More information, including the suspect’s city of residence, was not available.

Amtrak train strikes semitrailer in Ann Arbor Township

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Editor's note: This article was updated at 2:50 p.m. with information from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office about at 4:30 p.m. with information from Amtrak.

An Amtrak passenger train struck a semitrailer carrying kayaks on the tracks near North Maple Road and Huron River Drive in Ann Arbor Township Saturday afternoon.

No one was injured in the crash, which occurred about 12:50 p.m., said Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office spokesman Derrick Jackson.

The train struck the semitrailer, splitting it in two, Jackson said. One half lay on the north side of the tracks with kayaks spilled out shortly before 2 p.m. The other half lay on its side on the south side of the tracks.

Jackson said the truck driver had been rerouted to Huron River Drive from his original route, After discovering he could not cross the one-lane bridge over the river because the truck was too heavy and too wide, he tried to back up.

While he was trying to maneuver the rig back across the tracks with the help of another man, the train began approaching and the crossing gate came down. The trailer was still on the tracks when the westbound Amtrak train came through the crossing. The driver was able to get out of the truck cab before the crash occurred.

Passenger Mary Bak, who got on the train in Dearborn, where she lives, said she didn't even feel the crash. “I just noticed we were stopped and then we were told that the train hit somebody.”

Another passenger, Gabrielle Dickson, who also boarded the train in Dearborn, said she heard and felt the crash and then saw the split open trailer and the spilled kayaks. Passengers were told no one was injured, she said.

John Biancke lives near the railroad tracks. He and his wife were working outside when they heard the commotion.

"We were out in the yard and heard a thump and knew that something unusual had happened."

An Amtrak spokeswoman said the train was the Wolverine 353, which runs between Pontiac and Chicago. It was carrying 253 people, including passengers and crew, Vernae Graham said.

The train, which had two locomotives and about six passenger cars, was still blocking the railroad crossing at North Maple Road about 2:30 p.m. Passengers were still on the train.

As of about 4:15 p.m., the train had been cleared to continue on its route, but officials were waiting for the completion of a track inspection before proceeding, Graham said.

The westbound Wolverine runs daily between Pontiac and Chicago three times a day. The 353's scheduled departure from Pontiac was 10:35 a.m. It was to have departed Ann Arbor at 12:17 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 3:38 p.m.

An eastbound Amtrak train was also been delayed by the accident. The Wolverine 350, which runs between Chicago and Pontiac, and had been scheduled to arrive in Ann Arbor at 1:05 p.m., was waiting on a siding near Chelsea, Graham said at 4:15 p.m. About 3:15 p.m., Jackson said the train was stopped somewhere near Chelsea waiting for the track in Ann Arbor Township to be cleared.


View Amtrak-semi crash in a larger map

Ann Arbor freelance journalist Lisa Carolin contributed to this report.

Protesters march against genetically modified foods in Ann Arbor

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Protesters march along Liberty Street in Ann Arbor to show their objection to genetically modified foods.

Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

Hundreds of people marched through the streets of Ann Arbor Saturday to protest the use of genetically modified foods. The protest, dubbed the March Against Monsanto began on the University of Michigan Diag at 1 p.m. and ended at Hanover Square Park on Packard Street.

Monsanto is a $ billion St. Louis, Mo.-based agriculture technology company that sells, among other things, genetically modified seeds for farming. It says its products pose no risk to humans.

People of all ages, including children, were among the protesters, many of whom carried signs with messages like "My family's food is not your experiment," and "Do you know what you are eating?" One little girl wore a sign around her neck stating, "I am not a science experiment."

"I want my kids to be able to eat the food they grow from seeds that can reproduce themselves," said Rebecca Laduca from Ann Arbor, who marched with her husband and their young son who got a lift on his dad's back.

Some protesters called for labeling of genetically modified foods, so that consumers can decide whether to eat it or not.

"We need transparency," said Ann Arbor resident Erin Gelderman. "It's always labeled if something is gluten-free or peanut-free. Why can't they tell us if there are genetically engineered foods in a product?"

The U.S. Senate voted this past Thursday against an amendment to the farm bill that would have let states decide whether to require the labeling of genetically modified organisms.

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A protester chants during what was labeled the March Against Monsanto.

Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

Many scientists say genetically modified foods pose no risk to human health. "GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health," the World Health Organization says on its website. "In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved."

Monsanto also says its genetically modified products are safe."Food derived from authorized genetically-modified (GM) crops is as safe as conventional (non-GM-derived) food," the company states on its website.

Saturday was an international day of protests that included marches in 10 Michigan cities, and 330 marches in more than 40 countries. Kryssi Jones organized the march in Ann Arbor and said the primary goals were to educate people about genetically modified foods and tell them what they can do.

Cale Stoker and his friend Paul Hensler came to Ann Arbor from Adrian to join the protest march.

"I'm carrying this sign to get attention," said Stoker, whose sign included the words, "Grow food not lawns."

"My uncle is a farmer, and I don't want to see him negatively affected by GMOs," said Hensler.

Lisa Carolin is a freelance reporter for AnnArbor.com. Contact the news desk at news@annarbor.com or 734-623-2530.

Ann Arbor needs a site related master planning process

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Recent solutions in downtown development show not only contextual problems, such as insensitivity to concerns of neighborhood, but a general lack of architectural imagination. One reason is the rigidity which results from excessive reliance on zoning. There are better ways to urban planning. Note the word “process” in the title of my remarks. We lack two basic assets: preliminary, documented visions for all sites under consideration and flexibility to change such visions into alternatives when new understanding of the particular circumstances arises.

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The current zoning map of Ann Arbor.

How can this be achieved? By taking advantage of the resources we have available. I identify four: the city planning department, the highly interested citizenry, the professional architects and planners in the region, and the school of architecture and planning at the university. Real estate and other business professionals will become occasionally important resources.

With these entities synergized, development with continuity can be initiated which is much preferable to what we experience now with at hoc confrontations. Consider the following scenario.

  1. The City with input from interested parties identifies all potential sites for urban redevelopment.
  2. Each site is developed toward preliminary design by architecture and planning student teams in their design classes with input by professionals in addition to their teachers. During the 16 years of my teaching here I used often downtown sites. Many of the solutions which we came up with were superior to what exists now on some of these sites or is presently proposed for them.
  3. Why? We had usually several projects for the same site with various perspectives for development and made adjustments according to dialectic and sympathetic argumentation. We could change the ‘rules of the game’ somewhat when we felt that circumstances favored a change in zoning requirements.
  4. The proposals are exhibited in suitable spaces (libraries, warehouse spaces, etc.) for further discussions and input by professionals and laypeople. The proposals will provide evolving frameworks for particular site developments. All involved will have to agree that participation does not constitute any rights of individuals or entities but brings the proposals into public ownership as contribution to the welfare of the city.
  5. After each site has been developed and publicly discussed to the point of reasonable consensus, City awards the site ‘preliminary site master plan approval’.
  6. A small budget is approved by City and funds solicited from the public not for salaries but for expenses of documentation and exhibition of results.

A group of local architects and other professionals recently visited Tubingen, our sister city in Germany. They could see excellent examples of highly flexible urban planning according to site-specific circumstances. Although the background conditions are different, we can learn from some basic principles applied there, and we can find our own approaches derived from them.

My proposal is probably controversial, not least for my own profession. But an approach somewhat like it would provide the opportunity to develop a highly adaptable environment of comprehensive urban planning. The City would retain its powers but could make decisions based on better site related input and on broader consensus because of the many people productively involved before final decisions have to be made.

Kurt Brandle is an Ann Arbor resident and Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Michigan

Young Citizen of the Year nominees for 2013

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The following students were nominated for the AnnArbor.com 2013 Young Citizen of the Year Award. From this list, a panel of judges chose the winner and nine finalists:

  • Ajanay Bradshaw, Lincoln Senior High School
  • Yuxuan Chen, Skyline High School
  • Tya Chuanromanee, Homeschooled
  • Cecilia DiFranco, Skyline High School
  • Melissa Drefts, Whitmore Lake High School
  • Hani Elhor, Ann Arbor Huron High School
  • Jennifer Ezeokobe, Ann Arbor Huron High School
  • Shoham Geva, Skyline High School
  • Kelley Greene, New Tech High School, Ypsilanti
  • Evan Heetderks, Skyline High School
  • Andy Hsiao, Ann Arbor Huron High School
  • Rianna Johnson-Levy, Ann Arbor Community High School
  • Emma Kern, Pioneer High School
  • Sophia Ketchum-Goulding, Community High School
  • Alex Kime, Skyline High School
  • Christa Kuck, Ann Arbor Huron High School
  • Joseph Mazur, Manchester High School
  • Merin McDivitt, Pioneer High School
  • Tevis Robinson, Pioneer High School
  • Anna Rosenfeld, Huron High School
  • Eliza Stein, Pioneer/Community high schools
  • Kate Summers, Community High School
  • Sloan Talbot, Washtenaw Intermediate High School
  • Nicole Zeffer, Skyline High School

Newer Max & Bella's public restaurant boosts business at Ann Arbor Country Club

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The renovated dining room at the Max & Bella's On The Green restaurant at Ann Arbor Country Club.

Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

Twenty-year food industry veteran Aaron Peggs knew the restaurant at the Ann Arbor Country Club needed a drastic overhaul.

Peggs — who was hired by the club’s new owners last year — decided to temporarily close the existing restaurant in the clubhouse, hire and train new staff, roll out an entirely new menu, and change the restaurant’s name.

Max & Bella’s On The Green officially opened in early 2013 and Peggs estimated business has increased by more than 100 percent in the past several months.

“We’ve seen a tremendous growth in business,” he said. “I pretty much came in and structured this like it was a brand new restaurant.”

The semi-private Ann Arbor Country Club is on 200 acres between Ann Arbor and Dexter in the Loch Alpine neighborhood in Webster Township. Club ownership shifted when a West Virginia investment group, A2C2 LLC, bought the mortgage after a bank-ordered sale in 2010. The club’s assets were transferred to the group six months later and the restaurant and golf course were opened to the general public.

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The clubhouse at the Ann Arbor Country Club, where Max & Bella's On The Green opened earlier this year.

Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

Faced with declining golf membership and sluggish business at the restaurant, the new owners hired Peggs as executive chef and operations manager. Peggs trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has operated various restaurants across the country. In 2006, he founded a food consulting business, Team Cuisine LLC, which works to turn around struggling restaurants.

Peggs’ task at the Ann Arbor Country Club: Convince residents in Loch Alpine and neighboring subdivisions to eat at the club instead of driving to other restaurants.

“I thought (they were) missing a lot of opportunity here in the neighborhood,” Peggs said. “Instead of having these people drive to Dexter and Ann Arbor to eat, (we need to) capture that. We have 1,000 homes around us.”

Michael Weikle, who lives in the neighborhood and represents the new owners of the Ann Arbor Country Club, said he’s also trying to convince diners across Washtenaw County to come eat at the “family-focused” restaurant. The biggest challenge, he said, is that people don’t know the club and restaurant exist.

“All of a sudden, we have a chef with the ability to put together a menu and a sous chef (Michelle Taylor) who can execute,” Weikle said. “I want people to say, ‘Let's meet at the club.’ ”

The new menu at Max & Bella’s On The Green emphasizes fresh and seasonal ingredients sourced from local purveyors.

“Everything prior to me came out of a box and can, and now everything is made from scratch with the farm-to-table idea,” Peggs said.

The menu includes appetizers, salads, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and entrees. A kid’s menu also is offered. Peggs said some of his favorite dishes are: Vol-Au-Vent, a grass-fed sirloin with a marsala mushroom base; the wedge salad; and the Salmon En Papillote, which is baked in parchment paper with vegetables and rice. Peggs said meals range from $10 a plate to $30 a plate.

The restaurant now serves Michigan microbrews and has an increased liquor line, including high-end products and liquors from local distilleries.

Peggs said he plans to change the menu seasonally and he’s receptive to feedback or special requests.

“We’re really customer-service based. … I always tell people, if there’s anything they don’t see on the menu and they’re craving it, just let me know and we’ll make it. … We have a lot of talent in our kitchen,” he said.

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A portion of the banquet room at the Ann Arbor Country Club. The club's new executive operations manager plans to grow the events business this year.

Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

As part of the overhaul, the club hired new staff and renovated the dining area. It’s also expanding its events business and plans to host luaus, movie nights by the pool and a lobster boil. Peggs brought in a competition-sized smoker and plans to make ribs, pulled pork and smoked chickens for the outdoor events, which will be open to the public by reservation.

“I have nine different events going at the pool this summer. … I’m trying to think: How can I get more business in here?” he said. “It’s either make or break us right now.”

Instead of hiring a separate catering company for private events, the club can now customize menus and prepare the food. And when the club’s snack shop opens at the pool on Memorial Day weekend, it will have a new menu with healthier options.

“This was the hangout place in the 1970s, and that’s what I’m trying to give rebirth to,” Peggs said. “(We’re trying) to bring back the community and make it a social event place and have it become a safe haven for parents and kids.”

The hours at Max & Bella’s On The Green are: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for lunch, and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday for dinner.


View Larger Map

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at lizzyalfs@annarbor.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lizzyalfs.


Ann Arbor school district will have to pay unemployment insurance for laid-off teachers

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Students work at different stations in a kindergarten class at Mitchell Elementary School earlier this year.

Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com file photo

Cuts to teaching positions are the largest cost savings in the Ann Arbor Public Schools' proposed budget for the 2013-14 academic year.

But if the district is forced to achieve these staffing reductions through layoffs, the cuts will have monetary repercussions.

The school board Wednesday approved issuing layoff notices to 233 teachers, in order to prepare for a possible cut of 50 positions.

The 50 positions carry a price tag of about $4.7 million — more than half of the district's $8.67 million budget shortfall for next year.

For every full-time teacher the Ann Arbor district lays off — or cuts through attrition — the savings in salary, benefits, pension contribution and Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax will be $100,000. But for each laid-off teacher, the district is required to pay about $7,200 in unemployment insurance.

District officials explained workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own are entitled to temporary benefits for up to 14 to 20 weeks paid for by the district. The cost is around $360 per week, for a total expense per employee of about $7,200, said Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources and Legal Services David Comsa.

So despite saving $4.7 million in compensation costs by laying off 50 teachers, the district would be required to add about $360,000 back into its expenses to cover unemployment insurance for the laid-off instructors. So the net savings would be $4.34 million.

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Ann Arbor Public Schools board Vice President Christine Stead speaks during a public hearing at the Ann Arbor District Library.

Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com file photo

The expense of laying off staff was not figured into the $8.67 million deficit projection, a fact which concerns at least one school board member.

Trustee Christine Stead said the act of teacher layoffs will add to the amount of money by which the district must reduce its operating expenses in order to pass a balanced budget for 2013-14, resulting in more agonizing discussions about tradeoffs and which awful cut is better than another awful cut.

"I do want to raise my colleagues' awareness of some of the other impacts that we may have," Stead said at Wednesday's Board of Education meeting.

Stead has been one of the trustees most vocal about trying to save teachers.

The unemployment insurance costs would apply to any employees that are laid off, which could include another 26 FTEs from grounds, maintenance and custodial services and from guidance counselors and central office staff. The school board agreed to keep these positions on the chopping block at a study session on May 15. The gross savings would be about $1.5 million.

The board also looked Wednesday at reductions to office personnel (3.5 to 6.5 FTE), teacher consultants (8 to 8.5 FTE), teaching assistants (4 to 4.5 FTE) and speech and language pathologists (2 FTE) for a savings of $250,000. There also is the possibility to cut two community assistants or paraeducators from each comprehensive high school, one from Ann Arbor Technological High School and one from Roberto Clemente Student Development Center for an estimated gross savings of $347,200.

The cost for unemployment benefits for all of these additional 45 employees could be around $324,000. Combined with the teachers' unemployment insurance, the total cost to the district to lay off staff could be in the realm of $648,000.

Which staffing positions ultimately will be cut is still unknown at this point. It likely will not be clear until the board passes a budget in June.

Trustees have been trying to find ways to look at anybody and anything else but teachers to get to the needed $8.67 million in savings for 2013-14.

The board has until June 30 to approve a balanced budget for the next fiscal year.

Stead touched on the remaining financial unknowns at Wednesday's regular Board of Education meeting as well as Thursday on her blog.

Among the many things still in flux, Stead said, is the potential to lose a portion of the district's special education funding due to the federal sequestration. There also are about five pieces of legislation that have been proposed in Lansing that could permanently decrease money that goes into the School Aid Fund, Stead said.

Another cost that will need to be factored into the district's $8.67 million budget shortfall is the expense of borrowing $10 million to make payroll. The district will be required to pay some processing and interest fees on the line of credit. District spokeswoman Liz Margolis said the district's interest rate is not finalized yet.

A Republican-led School Aid Conference Committee last week approved a 3 percent increase to K-12 education funding in Michigan. It is unknown whether the Ann Arbor Public Schools will see any of this money because, as of Thursday, the proposal on the table was to raise the per-pupil foundation allowance by $60 at the state's lowest-funded schools. Other proposals are still floating around, however, Stead said. The latest idea is to give all districts a $5 to $40 per-pupil boost.

For AAPS, that boost could mean an additional $82,500 to $660,000 in revenue and could save — on the low end — the Pioneer High School theater technician or keep the middle school pools open. On the high end, the boost could preserve high school transportation, the seventh-hour option or 6.5 teaching FTEs — or cover the cost of unemployment benefits for laid-off staff.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at daniellearndt@annarbor.com.

Walking and biking advocates hope to convince MDOT on vision for Ann Arbor's North Main corridor

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Ann Arbor's North Main-Huron River corridor in the context of its surroundings. A citizen-led task force has been studying ways to improve connections and access to the river and will make recommendations to the City Council by July 31.

Courtesy image

A lot of ideas are being kicked around for how to transform Ann Arbor's North Main-Huron River corridor into a vibrant and unique destination that's both safe and accessible.

But while city officials and citizens leading a 14-member task force may have ambitious ideas for achieving those goals with pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists in mind, it's the Michigan Department of Transportation that gets final say on much of what happens on North Main Street.

"It's good to be the king," quipped David Santacroce, chairman of the city's North Main-Huron River Vision Task Force, referring to MDOT at a recent community meeting.

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This map on display at a recent community meeting gives an overview of the 16 different ideas being considered by the task force for the North Main-Huron River corridor. Download the full presentation from the meeting.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

MDOT plans to undertake a major construction project along North Main — a US-23 business route — between Huron Street and M-14 sometime in 2018.

City officials are hopeful MDOT will consider some of the community's ideas for improved walking and biking amenities in conjunction with that project.

Some of the ideas coming out of the task force that can't happen without MDOT approval include reducing traffic speeds along North Main, adding new crosswalks, putting in a roundabout for traffic coming off the highway at M-14, and maintaining a signalized railroad crossing at Lake Shore Drive into Bandemer Park where the current at-grade crossing is at risk of closing.

The task force also has expressed interest in widening the Main Street right-of-way and improving and extending the sidewalk on the east side of North Main from Depot Street to and under M-14 to enhance pedestrian and bike access to West Huron River Drive.

Santacroce said there is a continuing dialogue between the city and MDOT on the many issues along the corridor and he doesn't sense that the relationship is hostile — just two different parties with different issues and different constituencies, and limited pots of money.

Mark Sweeney, MDOT's regional manager in Brighton, declined to comment Friday on the task force's ideas that are still in draft form.

"MDOT has always been on record as supporting complete streets initiatives," he said. "However, we cannot comment on recommendations that have not been officially presented to us by the city."

The task force, which was formed by the Ann Arbor City Council last May, is expected to submit its final report with recommendations to the council by July 31.

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Nearly 100 members of the community packed into the Ann Arbor Community Center for a meeting this past Wednesday to hear the latest plans from the North Main-Huron River task force and give feedback.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

Before that happens, the task force will hold another community meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 12 at the Ann Arbor Community Center.

Nearly 100 people packed the Community Center this past Wednesday night to hear the latest plans from the task force and give feedback. Opinions were mixed about the various ideas on the table — some are more popular than others — but most seemed to agree there's at least room for improvement along the corridor.

"For the most part, I think people were appreciative of the work the task force has done and supportive of most of the preliminary ideas we put out there," Santacroce said. "For some ideas, there were mixed reactions, and probably no one in the room agreed with every one, but the point of the meeting was to make sure the task force had identified all the issues."

Santacroce hopes more people will add their voices online at A2 Open City Hall by the Tuesday deadline for submitting comments.

Erica Briggs of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition said her group is launching an advocacy campaign to convince MDOT to seriously consider ideas for North Main.

"There are some things that we're really going to need to get active on as a community, and the city can only do certain types of advocacy work," she said.

One of the issues the WBWC will be focusing on, Briggs said, is the threat that MDOT could close the only legal railroad crossing off North Main into Bandemer Park at Lake Shore Drive.

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Rough plans released this past week show a pedestrian bridge proposed over North Main and the railroad tracks that act as a barrier to the river. The bridge would start at Wildt Street and go over the road and tracks before spiraling down at the Border-to-Border Trail next to Argo Pond.

Courtesy image

MDOT recently acquired the Norfolk Southern tracks and city officials fear the state might move to close the Lake Shore Drive crossing as a safety measure when it implements high-speed rail.

"We'll be stepping up in the next couple of years and really trying to make sure that people are telling MDOT they do not want to have Lake Shore Drive closed," Briggs said, "and telling MDOT that we need to have the street construction done sooner rather than later."

Briggs said she's excited about ideas like putting in new crosswalks, including a user-activated signal to cross North Main from Bluffs Park to Bandemer Park at Lake Shore Drive. She said it's also important to be talking about slowing traffic coming off the highway onto North Main.

Task force member Darren McKinnon, a representative of the Water Hill neighborhood in the area, said widening the road right-of-way and installing sidewalks on the west side of North Main need to happen before the city can make a case to MDOT for pedestrian crossings north of Depot.

"What we're being told is, if you don't put in a sidewalk, there's nothing to cross to, and so you're never going to get a crosswalk," he said.

But the task force does believe it's possible in the short term to establish new pedestrian crosswalks across Depot at Fourth Avenue and across Main at Depot.

Rough plans released this past week also show a pedestrian bridge proposed over North Main and the railroad tracks that act as a barrier to the river. The bridge would start at Wildt Street and go over the road and tracks before spiraling down at the Border-to-Border Trail next to Argo Pond.

The task force is continuing to look at options for tunneling under the railroad tracks just north of Depot and Fourth Avenue to provide access to a future park at the MichCon site, too. And from there, the tentative plan is to have two pedestrian bridges crossing over the river to Argo Park and the Border-to-Border Trail — one bridge on each side of Argo Dam.

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Two generic images included in a presentation given Wednesday night show what development can look like next to public riverfront amenities, though they're not intended to depict the MichCon site specifically

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The task force's rough conceptual plan for a riverfront park on the MichCon site remains unchanged since March, showing trails along the river and a new canoe livery.

Two generic images included in a presentation given Wednesday night show what development can look like next to public riverfront amenities, though they're not intended to depict the MichCon site specifically.

"They're meant to evoke a vision," said task force member Julie Grand, chairwoman of the city's Park Advisory Commission. "They were just an example of what a private-public riverfront can look like, not necessarily our riverfront — just how private development and public parks can co-exist."

DTE Energy is still sifting through proposals from developers interested in the site. That could include restaurant, retail, residential, commercial office space and medical office uses.

In addition to the MichCon site, the task force will be recommending public open space uses for the former city maintenance yard at 721 N. Main as part of the Allen Creek Greenway.

Other ideas being kicked around include an improved boat launch at Bandemer Park, an improved two-lane bridge to make Bandemer Park more accessible, widening the Border-to-Border Trail at some points, a park-and-ride lot at M-14 and Barton Drive to help take traffic off North Main, and a tunnel under the railroad tracks north of M-14 to link the Barton Nature Area with Bandemer Park.

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No. 10. on the task force's list of ideas is a tunnel under the railroad tracks north of M-14 to link the Barton Nature Area with Bandemer Park. That's an area where many people already cross the tracks illegally. No. 11 is an extension of the sidewalk along the east side of North Main under M-14 to enhance pedestrian and bike access to West Huron River Drive.

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Clark Charnetski of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers gave an update on plans for high-speed rail improvements on the Detroit-to-Chicago line at Wednesday's meeting.

"You may have seen there's some rail sitting out there now waiting to be installed," he said. "Most of the track work will be done this year."

He said the stretch from Kalamazoo to Battle Creek is expected to be up to 110 mph by Christmas, and the stretch from Battle Creek to Dearborn should be done by the end of next year.

"They obviously can't go 110 mph through some of these curves along the Huron River. However, they probably will be going faster," he said.

As for the at-grade crossing at Lake Shore Drive, he said it's not a simple matter, and it's worth noting the newer equipment will be quieter, "so you may not hear the train."

He said the crossing was always pretty safe until earlier this year when a train hit a car stopped on the tracks.

"One of the problems with Lake Shore Drive is that's not just out in the open country. That's in the middle of a railroad yard, believe it or not," he said. "There are multiple tracks, and there may very well be additional tracks put in there, so you could have the crossing blocked when people are switching or doing something, depending what happens, for example, with commuter trains here."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.

Young Citizen finalists devoted to causes from recycling to diversity

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AnnArbor.com is proud to present the 2013 finalists for Young Citizen of the Year. These finalists and winner Andy Hsiao were chosen for their leadership and community service.

The Young Citizen of the Year wins a $2,000 college scholarship from AnnArbor.com. The nine finalists each receive a $1,000 scholarship from the Robert Bruce Dunlap Fund of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

The finalists and winner were selected by the following panel: Connie Dunlap, who created the scholarship fund for finalists in memory of her husband; Scott Menzel, Washtenaw Intermediate School District superintendent; Jan Bacungan, AnnArbor.com executive administrative assistant; Ben Freed, AnnArbor.com business reporter, and Elizabeth Palmer, retail sales account executive.

Following are profiles of the nine finalists.

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Hani Elhor

Age: 18

High School: Ann Arbor Huron High School

Parents: Hassan and Salwa Elhor

Nominated by: Robyn K. Watson

School and community activities: Hani is a peer facilitator at Huron, speaks publicly about the benefits of recycling as a leader for Huron's "Green Team," helped Huron start a recycling program in coordination with Recycle Bank, instrumental in organizing Huron's Student Council Blood Bank, served on Ann Arbor Public Schools Strategic Planning Committee and as a peer leader for the Peer2Peer Depression Awareness Project with the University of Michigan.

College plans: Hani will attend the University of Michigan in the fall and hopes to be a pre-med student.

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Emma Kern

Age: 17

High School: Pioneer High School

Parents: Wendy & Steve Kern

Nominated by: Claire Kitchin Dahl

School and community activities: Emma traveled to Morocco and Alteria last summer as a U.S. State Department "Youth Ambassador." Upon her return to Ann Arbor, she organized a cross-cultural communication program between Pioneer French classes and a youth center in Morocco. It is free for participants. For two years, Emma has served as co-chair of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation Youth Council.

College plans: Emma will attend Emory University.

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Christa Kuck

Age: 17

High School: Huron High School

Parents: : Laurie & Donald Kuck

Nominated by: Robyn K. Watson

School and community activities: Christa is a contributing member and editor for Huron’s "Full Circle" literary journal and winner of several awards. She is a member of Huron’s cross country team and earned her varsity letter in her first year. She has now been selected as captain by her peers and coaches. Christa is also involved in Girls on the Run, her church nursery, helping Alzheimer's patients at Glacier Hills Nursing Home and as a tutor for Huron students and Kids for the Future.

College plans: Christa plans to ttend St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

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Sophia Ketchum-Goulding

Age: 18

High School: Community High School

Parents: Emily Campbell

Nominated by: Mary Thiefels

School and community activities: Sophia has been very active with the Neutral Zone teen center. She has held the Visual Arts Council leader position for over more than two years. She has been integral in decision making, grant writing and group art show facilitation. Sophia is certified as part of the Neutral Zone Lead Team, a group of aspiring youth interested in developing leadership skills in planning and reflection, community building, general group facilitation and team building. She is also active at the First Presbyterian Church, serving and facilitating in the organization of the church's annual market place and holiday craft fair. Sophia has been youth forum leader at Community High School, and has sat on the school's forum council, representing her peers. She has also been a part of the production of "Free Verse," Community High School's literary magazine.

After high school: Sophia will be working for a national service program called City Year in Seattle, WA.

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Shoham Geva

Age: 17

High School: Skyline High School

Parents: Sharon Geva

Nominated by: Lori Roddy

School and community activities: Shoham has received the Varsity Letter in community service, an award provided to people who complete at least 145 hours of community service in a year. She was the lead facilitator of the Youth Owned Record Label at the Neutral Zone, Red Beard Press, and the co-editor of "Teen Spirit" at Skyline. This past year, she was invited through a selective process to join the Neutral Zone Board of Directors. She has also interned to support the Summer Festival to host the first teen battle of the bands event. Shoham participates in Neutral Zone's Students Educating Each other about Diversity.

College plans: Shoham will attend the University of Michigan's Honors and Residential Colleges for political science and economics.

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Alex Kime

Age: 17

High School: Skyline High School

Parents: Glenda Gordon & Glenn Kime

Nominated by: Amy Milligan

School and community activities: Alex is heavily involved in leadership roles at the Neutral Zone. As a lead facilitator of Youth Owned Records, he has spent countless hours working to support teen musicians as they take their first steps in the music business. Alex is also committed to diversity and is involved in both Neutral Zone's Riot Youth (LGBTQQA youth) and Students Educating Each other about Diversity programs. He is a writer and actor and is on the staff of his school literary magazine and forensics team and leads Skyline's Gay-Straight Alliance.

College plans: Alex plans to attend the University of Michigan's Honors and Residential colleges, where he hopes to study creative writing, along with social theory and practice and possibly film studies.

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Kate Summers

Age: 17

High School: Community High School

Parents: Donna Ainsworth

Nominated by: Marshall Thomsen

School and community activities: Kate is heavily involved in the Nicaragua Project, which looks to build an Intercultural Exchange Center and 24-bed hotel within the community of Catarina. She was unanimously elected as one of 10 members of the board for the project and has traveled to Nicaragua four times. She has participated in the Face to Face: Faith to Faith program, which brings together youth from a variety of cultures, including those who have historically been hostile to each other, to exchange ideas and bridge cultural divides. Kate has been very active in the Pioneer Theatre Guild, including serving as its board president. She has been active in Students Educating Each other about Diversity at the Neutral Zone and is the co-editor in chief of Community High School's Communicator online.

College plans: Kate will spend a year in Nicaragua teaching English then attend Clark University in Wooster, Mass.

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Rianna Johnson-Levy

Age: 17

High School: Community High School

Parents: Janet Johnson & Judith Levy

Nominated by: Danny Brown

School and community activities: Rianna serves on Community High School’s School Improvement Team, a group of students, teachers, and parents that meets regularly to improve school life and student success. She is also a star member of Community High School’s 2012 State-Champion Mock Trial Team and a member of the National Honor Society. Rianna is president of the Young Religious Unitarian Universalists of Ann Arbor and is the Social Action Coordinator for the District Youth Steering Committee for the Heartland District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. She is active with Neutral Zone, Habitat for Humanity and Light the Night, and is involved in many other activities.

College plans: Rianna will be attending Yale University.

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Kelley Greene

Age: 16

High School: New Tech High School, Ypsilanti

Parents: Loren Greene

Nominated by: Natalia Harris

School and community activities: Kelley is a member of the Junior National Honor’s Society. She is an active participant in Upward Bound through Eastern Michigan University. She serves as a school tour guide at New Tech High School and leads youth ministry at her church. In 2012, Kelley was awarded the Student Ambassador for Professionalism Award and was part of a group that founded Young Women Making Washtenaw County Better. She serves as an older youth mentor for the Telling It West Willow program and is employed as a youth outreach worker for the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office. She is seeking funding to support a program she designed for the sheriff’s office called the Youth Advisory Council that aims to enhance law enforcement relationships with youth and offer youth a voice.

College plans: Undecided.

Young Citizen of the Year: Andy Hsiao has passion for creative fundraising

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Andy Hsiao is this year's AnnArbor.com Young Citizen of the Year. Hsiao is the founder of Youth Impact, a group that strives to help youths create their own fundraising projects.

Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

Editor's note: The AnnArbor.com Young Citizen of the Year Award recognizes leadership and community service on the part of area high school students. Today, we present the winner and nine finalists.

When Huron High School junior Andy Hsiao first heard about the devastating tsunami in Japan in March 2011, he knew he wanted to help.

Hsiao, then only a freshman in high school, decided to organize a fundraiser for the victims. Soon after, Hsiao set up a Facebook group selling T-shirts with the words “Fight on, Japan!” written in Japanese. Sale of the shirts raised about $3,000 for the cause. The effort was just the beginning of a series of creative fundraisers and volunteer activities that would become the foundation of Hsiao’s Youth Impact student group, formed to raise money for causes across the globe.

It is for Hsiao's work with Youth Impact and other volunteer efforts that he has been named AnnArbor.com Young Citizen of the Year.

Hsiao, 17, started Youth Impact with his friend last summer. Though Hsiao has been a member of Rotary International’s Interact service club for young people since his freshman year in High School — and will be serving as its president next year — he said his goal with Youth Impact was to give volunteers a stronger connection to the causes they serve by allowing them to select and create their own projects, instead of only volunteering for the projects of others. In particular, Hsiao said his goal was to help people use their passions to volunteer.

Andy Hsiao

  • Age: 16
  • Parents: Kaori Ohara and Jimmy Hsiao
  • High school: Huron High School
  • School activities and community activities: School and community activities: Created Youth Impact, a youth service group formed to help students select their own volunteer projects. Under his supervision, the group has held multiple fundraisers. He has volunteered for Fall Chore Day, Perry Nursery School, Clague Middle School orchestra mentoring, chess mentoring, canned food drives and Ele's Place. He is a member of the National Honor Society and has been a member of Rotary International's Interact Service Club since his freshman year. He is a member of the Huron High School Orchestra and chess club and co-founder of the Mitchell Elementary School Chess Club.
  • Nominated by: Lisa Dengiz and James Stanhope
  • College plans: Undecided
“I just wanted to try to get the message across, if you have something you’re committed to, there’s a lot of ways to help,” he said.

Since its official start at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, the club has raised more than $5,000 with two major fundraisers for the Take Heart Association Project, a non-governmental organization that raises money to provide medical care to needy children in Kenya with heart disease.

The first project was a pizza-tasting competition in which participants paid an entry fee to eat and judge donated pizzas by area pizza-makers. The second was the "Youth Factor" benefit show, an "X Factor"-style talent competition made up of students of Ann Arbor high schools.

The idea for Youth Impact came about after a U.S. history project during Hsiao’s sophomore year. Long-term substitute teacher James Stanhope gave students time one day a week to pursue a creative project, based on Google’s 20 percent policy, where workers are allotted a fifth of their work time to explore creative projects. Hsiao, a violin player, decided to organize a classical music benefit concert to raise money for Katariba, a Japanese organization that connected displaced children and teachers with temporary schools after the tsunami.

With support from his teacher, Hsiao recruited performers from the Livonia Symphony Orchestra, the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University to perform. The fundraiser had been the second one of the year to support the cause. Hsiao and his friend Atulya Shetty, an award-winning chess player, had organized an event earlier that year in which participants paid a $10 entry fee to play chess against Shetty. The two events raised about $3,000 total for the organization.

Hsiao said the events were examples of ways he and his friend used their personal talents and passions for a greater good. But he said he realized it was more fun to do projects as a group and decided to start a club to get more people involved.

“I wanted more people to really use their passions to fundraise,” he said.

Stanhope, one of two people to nominate Hsiao as Young Citizen of the Year, said Hsiao’s hard work and humble attitude separated him from his peers, earning high respect from Stanhope.

“He’s a very good leader,” he said. “I think that’s why he’s so impressive because, at such a young age, he had all these skills and talents but understands his place.”

Lisa Dengiz, a social worker, was the other person to nominate Hsiao for Young Citizen of the Year. Dengiz works at Ele’s Place in Ann Arbor, an organization that helps children and teens who have lost a loved one. She said she contacted Hsiao last year after reading about his efforts on AnnArbor.com and invited him and his volunteer group to work with Ele’s Place. She said Hsiao and other members of Youth Impact were eager to learn about Ele’s Place and worked with them to spread awareness of the group’s resources to area teens. She said she was instantly impressed by Hsiao.

“I just think he’s a perfect combination of authentic, sincere, hardworking, compassionate and passionate, all the great attributes we want to see in youth leaders; he definitely is deserving,” she said.

In addition to his work with Youth Impact and Interact, Hsiao is also an honor student, a member of the Huron High School Orchestra and chess club, as well as an after-school orchestra mentor at Ann Arbor’s Clague Middle School and co-founder of the Mitchell Elementary School Chess Club, also in Ann Arbor.

Huron High School Principal Arthur Williams said Hsiao’s sense of responsibility is greater than most of his peers and his rational mind and a genuine caring for others are additional strengths.

“Andy loves life and lives it in a way that will cause the world to be a better place for everybody,” he said.

Long-time family friend Frances Kai-Hwa Wang said Hsiao’s creativity and ability to network and motivate others also distinguish him from his peers and adults as well.

“Fundraising is never easy and to be able to do it at the grassroots level…I think that’s really commendable,” she said.

As he approaches his senior year of high school, Hsiao said he would like Youth Impact to focus on more projects that benefit local organizations, such as Ele’s Place, but the decision will be voted upon by the group as a whole.

When it comes to life after graduation, Hsiao said he is not yet sure where he wants to go to college or what he wants to study, but he said no matter what he does, volunteering will always be a part of his life.

“It’s just a good feeling, you can’t really explain it in words," he said. "It’s always a good feeling.”

Erica Hobbs is a freelance journalist for AnnArbor.com. Contact the news desk at 734-623-2530 or news@annarbor.com.

Ann Arbor area country clubs try to rebuild, grow membership after recession

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Members play a round of golf at the Polo Fields Golf and Country Club.

Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

In its heyday, the Ann Arbor Country Club had about 350 members utilizing its pool and golf facilities in the Loch Alpine neighborhood of Webster Township.

Faced with a declining membership and worsening economic conditions, the club struggled to make mortgage payments and faced a bank-ordered sale of its facility in 2010 as membership dipped below the 120 required by the bank.

Since ownership of the semi-private club shifted to a West Virginia investment group in 2011, the new owners have made a number of capital improvements and lowered membership fees. The club now has about 230 members, with more than 50 percent of those swim-only memberships. The restaurant and golf course are now open to the public.

“Maintenance had been deferred 10 years,” explained Michael Weikle, a representative of the club’s new owners, A2C2 LLC. “We spent a lot of money fixing things and then putting money to keep it open. We felt it could be turned around.”

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The new Max & Bella's On The Green restaurant at Ann Arbor Country Club in Webster Township.

Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

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The patio at the Ann Arbor Country Club's clubhouse in Webster Township.

Courtney Sacco | AnnArbor.com

Ann Arbor Country Club isn’t alone in its struggle to boost membership. Nationwide, hundreds of golf courses and country clubs closed during the recession while others changed membership structures and fees.

A National Golf Foundation report says 160 private and public golf courses closed in 2011. At the same time, about 40 percent of the nation’s 4,415 private clubs experienced a membership decline.

In the Ann Arbor area, a number of country clubs had to respond to the recession in order to remain viable.

In 2010, Ypsilanti Township’s Washtenaw Country Club, one of the oldest country clubs in Michigan, moved from being member-owned into private corporate ownership as a part of the Polo Fields Golf and Country Clubs. Washtenaw Country Club faced $1.9 million in debt when the Berger family, which developed the Polo Fields Golf and Country Club and the subdivision in Scio Township, took ownership.

“It has been a phenomenal learning experience,” said Diana Kuenzli, director of membership and marketing for Polo Fields. “Where most clubs are closing or scaling back, our ownership had a unique vision and said, ‘Let's expand.’ ”

The Berger family renovated the clubhouse and reopened the pool at the newly named The Polo Fields - Washtenaw, which is at 2955 Packard Road. Then they told members they could utilize both clubs while membership fees remained steady. Polo Fields also lowered its guest fees so members can bring more people to the club.

The member-owned and operated Georgetown Country Club on King George Boulevard in Ann Arbor changed its membership structure for a few years in an attempt to bring more people into the club. It offered pool-only and golf-only memberships, but has since reverted back to full memberships.

“We did try diversified marketing,” said Georgetown board member Don Kline.

“(There were) a good five, six years where it was a little dicey and the club wasn’t sure how to best proceed and best serve its members at the same time…(they) looked into possibly selling the golf course to a private party. Luckily, we didn’t have to do that,” he continued.

A 2013 family membership at Georgetown costs $1,425, according to marketing materials. Kline said that was the standard rate for years, until it dropped to $1,395 in 2011 and 2012.

Kline said the club starting experiencing a drop in membership in 2006, but started seeing gains in 2010. It’s poised to surpass its 2006 membership levels this summer.

Meanwhile, membership fees at the Ann Arbor Country Club have dropped 47 percent since 2008, when a full family membership cost $3,800 annually.

Aside from changing membership structures and dropping fees, country clubs made capital improvements and looked to other sources of revenue to try to remain sustainable.

Ann Arbor's private Barton Hills Country Club at 730 Country Club Road completed eco-friendly renovations in 2010, which involved installing a geothermal heating system and LED lighting. It also completed a $1 million renovation of its golf course in late 2012.

The Ann Arbor Country Club debuted a new public restaurant in January and it’s growing its events business. The club plans to host luaus, movie nights by the pool and a lobster boil this summer, which will be open to the public by reservation. (Read more)

Weikle said the new owners made efficiency upgrades at the club, such as updating its heating and cooling systems. The group also made golf course improvements and replaced the equipment.

The Polo Fields is boosting its banquet and events business, and it offers Sunday brunch to the public. It also has golf outings for non-members.

“Rather than passing on the costs of doing business to our membership, we look to alternative revenue streams,” Kuenzli said. “We believe that reinvesting into the club by constantly improving it and doing updates pays off in the end because you still can attract new members.”

Many country clubs across the country are also looking at a new target demographic: families with young children.

Corey Gerhart, general manager and chief operating officer at Barton Hills, said the club is trying to ensure it offers something for every member of the family. The club now has 150 kids in its junior programs and is encouraging kids and young adults to play golf and tennis.

"We are definitely attracting young families," he said.

"We're still in the same business, we've just had to bring a couple aspects in it to stay viable and interesting for our members," he added.

The member-owned private Travis Pointe Country Club, at 2829 Travis Pointe Road between Ann Arbor and Saline, markets a number of social activities targeted at children, including its summer day camp for kids. It hosts social events like movie nights, arts and crafts, teen dances, and a family carnival, according to its website.

Kline said the majority of members at Georgetown Country Club are families and it’s a big selling point for the club. There are barbecues during the summer, a playset near the pool, beach volleyball and tether-ball. The club is preparing to launch a new website and is getting involved on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.

Weikle said there were 39 pool memberships at the Ann Arbor Country Club when the new owners took over, and that’s now up to 130. Ann Arbor Country Club is targeting young families with its renovated pool area.

“Golf has at least stopped declining, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “A lot of courses have gone out and this club survived. I really feel it’s all in place, we just have to get people in to show them.”

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at lizzyalfs@annarbor.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lizzyalfs.

Blight fixes on North Main benefit Ann Arbor's northern gateway

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Demolition crews worked on Ann Arbor’s North Main Street again last week, targeting six vacant houses.

The properties were an eyesore, creating an image of blight for visitors and residents entering the city from M-14.

As those properties come down, we’re reminded of another blighted building on North Main: The former Greek church, which was demolished in September 2012.

Both properties were targeted for ambitious redevelopment by private developers. The church property, where developers planned a mixed-use condominium project called The Gallery, was eventually listed for sale. An affordable housing partnership was created for the development of the other property, with the resulting plans - called Near North - envisioned to replace the six homes and two more, which remain intact.

Those efforts failed too, leaving the community to watch the buildings deteriorate and local government to step in to remove them.

There are other parallels: Neighbors rallied against the original plans. The properties entered foreclosure. And, with the deterioration, both provided examples of why the city and county have to stay focused on blight prevention.

We saw some missteps along the way, like a missed grant for the Near North demolition.

But the result with both properties is positive for the community.

Last week, as heavy equipment moved onto the Near North property, Ann Arbor’s Planning Commission gave unanimous approval to the Kerrytown Place condominium project planned for the Gallery property. It’s a project by a local developer who worked with neighbors to generate plans that they would welcome.

We hope that the newly vacant land a few blocks north of that property finds the same fate: a productive use that neighbors and city officials agree fits on the site.

Detroit man accused in robbery setup of EMU students to appear in court Thursday

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Jamill Devon Passmore

Courtesy of Washtenaw County Jail

A 23-year-old Detroit man facing nine various robbery charges for his alleged involvement in a holdup on Eastern Michigan University’s campus in January is scheduled to appear Thursday in the Washtenaw County Trial Court, according to the docket.

Police say Jamill Devon Passmore helped set up a group of four men who were robbed of Rolex watches, Gucci belts and cellphones outside the university’s Westview Apartments near Rynearson Stadium on Jan. 18.

Passmore and the four men - Charles Bell, William Gholston, Reggie James and Michael Jefferson -- watched a L.A. Lakers-Miami Heat basketball game at Bell’s apartment, according to testimony at the preliminary examination held in March. It was not clear how Passmore knew the men.

All of the men were listed as EMU students on the university’s website except James. Gholston and Jefferson began comparing their Rolex watches while the game was on, according to testimony.

Bell and the other men testified that Passmore kept leaving the apartment to walk to talk on his cellphone. Passmore was speaking with two men he’d driven to Ypsilanti with from Detroit, according to police.

Investigators believe the two men Passmore spoke with approached Passmore and the four other men as they left the apartment and were walking to the parking lot around 1:30 a.m. The men testified they were on their way to meet up with some girls at a party.

Gholston said they were only ten seconds out of the door when two men came up from behind them indicating they had a gun.

They said, “Get on the ground. We’re not playing,” according to Gholston.

“I … froze. I was kind of scared,” Gholston said. “I thought he was (going to) shoot me if I didn’t give him my watch.”

Gholston, Bell and James got down on the ground while Passmore and Jefferson ran, testimony indicated.

The suspects stole Gholston’s Rolex and Gucci belt, James’ belt and Bell’s cellphone.

Meanwhile, Jefferson testified that Passmore attempted to rob him while they ran.

“I slow down,” he testified. “I thought he was running with me.”

When Passmore caught up with Jefferson, however, he assaulted him and demanded his belongings, according to testimony.

“He grabbed the back of my head and slammed me down,” Jefferson said.

Passmore was unable to take his Rolex and fled the scene. Police say he went and met up with the two suspects, one of whom has been identified as Martell Briscoe. Two other men only known as “Dirty” and “Little D” may also have been involved, records indicate.

Police eventually linked the stolen Rolex to Briscoe, who posted a picture of it that same day on his Facebook page. Phone records show Passmore called Briscoe 12 times that night, according to court records.

EMU police Sgt. Charles Mosher testified that Passmore admitted to selling the Rolex at a Hamtramck pawn shop for $1,500.

Authorities also have a recording of a phone conversation Passmore made to an unknown person from jail when he was arrested in Detroit in the middle of February on an unrelated incident.

“Everything … they know everything,” Passmore said to the person on the other end of the phone.

Passmore is charged with four counts of armed robbery, four counts of conspiracy to commit armed robbery and assault with intent to rob while unarmed, court records indicate.

He remains in the Washtenaw County Jail on a $75,000 cash bond, according to jail records. He will appear before Judge David Swartz for a pretrial hearing.

John Counts covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at johncounts@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.


EMU student veterans honor 227 fallen Michigan soldiers

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Yellow ribbons are scattered across Eastern Michigan University’s campus in honor of every Michigan soldier who died post-9/11.

A ribbon, a photo, and an obituary of each of 227 soldiers being honored were pinned last week to the same number of trees around campus in honor of Memorial Day.

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One of the 227 ribbons found on EMU's campus this Memorial Day weekend, honoring fallen Michigan soldiers.

Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com

EMU’s Student Veterans Association members organized the honor for the fallen soldiers this Memorial Day weekend and educate fellow students about the true meaning of the holiday: Paying respect to those who died defending our country.

Josh Curtis, president of the Student Veterans Association and a US Army veteran, said in an email that hearing students talk about Memorial Day weekend plans made him wonder if they understood the reason for the vacation day.

“After talking with many of my fellow SVA members, we decided that we should really do something this Memorial Day to not only honor our fallen brothers and sisters, but to remind the student body of the costs of war and freedom,” Curtis said.

SVA members, with the help of the Military and Veterans Resource Center, put together the 227 ribbons. On Thursday, they posted the assembled ribbons throughout campus in the cold and rain.

“It was very humbling for us and we were proud to be able to honor our fallen,” Curtis said.

SVA members decided to honor Michigan heroes because honoring all of the 6,000 plus nationwide lost in Iraq and Afghanistan wars with individual markers on campus trees would not be physically possible, Curtis said.

Arborcrest holds 32nd annual Memorial Day Observance

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Arborcrest Memorial Park held its 32nd annual Memorial Day Observance on Sunday, providing the Ann Arbor area a reminder of the reason for the holiday weekend.

The ceremony began as three Boy Scout troops marched up to the podium to raise the flag while the estimated 100 people at the event stood for the Pledge of Allegiance.

A barbershop quartet sang the national anthem as the flag was lowered to half-mast in recognition of the lives lost defending our country.

Brian Marl, mayor of Saline, hosted the event. Congressman John D. Dingell, state Rep. David Rutledge, and Miss Washtenaw County Marissa Cowans spoke at the event.

Marl told the story of an Eastern Michigan University graduate who died while serving his country. His story is not unlike that of many other brave soldiers, but that doesn’t make his story any less special, Marl said. Marl spoke of the freedom that so many have died fighting for.

“There has never been in the history of the world a soldier more willing to sacrifice for the freedoms and liberties of complete strangers than that of the American soldier,” Marl said. “On this Memorial Day weekend and every day we should have the courage to stand with them.”

Each speaker emphasized Americans' freedom, which is owed to those who fought to defend it. Dingell expressed the importance in understanding why lives were lost.

“They did it for our freedom and for our liberty,” Dingell said. “They went also to protect the most wonderful democracy of mankind. Be proud of what they did.”

Rutledge echoed similar sentiments saying that Memorial Day is about freedom and hope. Keep the memories of those lost alive, he said.

The quartet performed renditions of ‘America the Beautiful’ and ‘My Country Tis of Thee’ as honor guards dressed in uniform marched out and stood at attention.

Boy Scouts performed the laying of the wreath ceremony and Marl made closing remarks, thanking veterans for their service and asking that the memory of those lost be honored this Memorial Day.

The honor guard gave a 21-gun salute followed by "Taps" played by a single trumpet to close the ceremony.

Chelsea Hoedl is an intern reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at choedl@mlive.com.

Photos from festivities on Memorial Day 2013 weekend

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Friends, families, neighbors and strangers around Washtenaw County enjoyed the weather and each other's company on Memorial Day weekend.

Grills were fired up Sunday as the sun was shining and birds were chirping. The temperature was in the high 60's as many people took advantage of the cooler-but-sunny weather and extended weekend.

Also part of the three-day weekend: Reminders of the reason for the holiday to remember the sacrifices from U.S. soldiers, including an annual service at Arborcrest Memorial Park.

Photos will be added to this gallery.

Ypsilanti schools to post chief financial officer position due to Dedrick Martin leaving

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willow-run-ypsilanti-consolidation.jpg

From left, WISD Superintendent Scott Menzel, Willow Run Superintendent Laura Lisiscki and Ypsilanti Superintendent Dedrick Martin on March 20, 2012, as they announced plans to consolidate the Willow Run and Ypsilanti school districts. The three were going to lead the new district together until June 2015, until Martin accepted a new job.

Danielle Arndt | AnnArbor.com file photo

Ypsilanti Community Schools will not hire another associate superintendent to help lead the consolidated district after receiving news of Dedrick Martin's departure. However, officials will be posting an opening for a chief financial officer.

Ypsilanti Community Schools superintendent Scott Menzel is working to finalize a plan for how he will structure the consolidated district's central office come July 1, the official launch date of YCS.

He was thrown a slight curve ball when current Ypsilanti Public Schools superintendent Martin decided to take a job leading St. Johns Public Schools.

Martin was offered a spot in the new district alongside Willow Run Superintendent Laura Lisiscki as an associate superintendent, working under Menzel, who also is the superintendent of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

Menzel was contracted to provide leadership services to the new district during the "transition period." His contract will expire on June 30, 2015.

Under Menzel's organizational structure, Martin was going to oversee the non-instructional and business office aspects of the new district: finances, technology, facilities and maintenance, human resources, food service and transportation. Lisiscki will head up curriculum and instruction for YCS, including providing oversight of building principals, adult education, alternative education, co-curricular activities, early childhood education and state and federal grants.

The new district would have been financially responsible for honoring the current contracts of Martin and Lisiscki whether or not they were rehired by the YCS district — a fact that made retaining both superintendents controversial.

The contracts had to be upheld because — unlike teachers and other employee groups, the administrators were not affiliated with a collective bargaining unit — and there were no clauses in the contracts stating the employment arrangements could be severed due to economic conditions.

Martin's contract was set to expire in June 2016. However, Menzel said because Martin is taking a new job, it's a voluntary separation and releases the unified district of its obligation to compensate him through the remainder of his contract.

Lisiscki's current contract with Willow Run has an end date of June 30, 2014. Menzel said officials are in negotiations with Lisiscki regarding new contract language. The expectation is she will keep her current salary of $120,000 for the 2013-14 school year, Menzel said. He added this is in line with the promise made to teachers and other employees that they will be able to maintain their existing salary for the upcoming year.

Menzel also said the $120,000 is about what an assistant superintendent in the Ypsilanti Public Schools district earns right now.

Rather than hiring a second associate superintendent to fulfill the responsibilities Martin would have had in the unified Ypsilanti-Willow Run district, a chief financial officer position will be posted. If the district cannot find a high quality candidate, it may explore the possibility of having a retired school administrator fill the position on an interim or temporary basis, Menzel said.

A salary has not been determined yet for the CFO position. Menzel said he expects it would be less than an associate superintendent position but more than a building principal position.

In addition to a CFO and Associate Superintendent Lisiscki, YCS' central office likely will be comprised of:

  • A tech director
  • Facilities/maintenance director
  • Human resources/benefits specialist

"We would like to have a communications specialist, but we are not posting the position yet given current budget constraints," Menzel said.

There is a request for proposals out for a food service provider, he added. Willow Run most recently contracted with a private company, while, as of last fall, Ypsilanti contracted with Saline Area Schools for food service. The transportation arrangement through the WISD consortium will remain in place, Menzel said.

"Individuals who are currently employed by YPS or WRCS who have an interest in posted positions are encouraged to apply for any position for which they are qualified and have an interest," Menzel said in an email. "We have small teams conducting interviews (with questions that are designed to ensure the individuals who are hired embrace the mission, vision and guiding principles adopted by the YCS board).

We have posted the office professional positions (numbers are still being finalized) but, as with everything else, we are streamlining as much as possible in order to ensure that the new district is able to meet its financial obligations, including beginning to pay down the accumulated operating deficit from the former districts."

Combined, Ypsilanti and Willow Run have a deficit of about $12 million. It is still not known how long the unified district will have to pay off this debt or what the new district's operating budget for 2013-14 will be.

Menzel said a number of the central office positions are still subject to change based on available resources and qualified applicants.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at daniellearndt@annarbor.com.

Artists seeking city contract for art installation at Stadium bridges to present ideas June 7

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Four artists from across the country are coming to town June 7 to present their proposals for a new public artwork at the site of the Stadium bridges in Ann Arbor.

The artist finalists for the project will be presenting in person inside the council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St., from 2 to 6 p.m.

The public is welcome to attend.

Stadium_bridges_051413_RJS_001.jpg

Local, state and federal officials, as well as representatives of the business community and others, gathered on May 14 to officially dedicate the new East Stadium Boulevard bridges that span State Street and the nearby railroad tracks.

Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

The contract the artists are competing for is worth potentially $360,000, based on the budget for the project established by the city's Public Art Commission.

The schedule for the artist presentations is as follows:

2 p.m. Presenting Artist: Sheila Klein

Sheila Klein, a Pacific Northwest artist who in 2000 designed Underground Girl, a subway station in Hollywood that continues to be recognized as an award-winning artwork.

3 p.m. Presenting Artist: Matt Passmore with Rebar Group

Rebar Group / Matt Passmore, a California firm, recognized as inventing PARK(ing) Day, a temporary event that transforms metered parking spaces into a park.

4 p.m. Presenting Artist: Volkan Alkanoglu

Volkan Alkanoglu, nominated in 2006 for the Young Architect of the Year Award in the U.K. and is a faculty member at Southern California Institute of Architecture.

5 p.m. Presenting Artist: Catherine Widgery

Catherine Widgery, an award-winning artist who has created more than 30 site-specific artworks in the U.S. and Canada; her work has been featured on the cover of World Sculpture News magazine.

Each artist presentation is expected to last about 30 minutes and there will be additional time for questions. Feedback from the audience will be collected.

For two weeks following the artist presentations, the design proposals will be displayed at the project site and at city hall. The Public Art Commission selected the Stadium bridges reconstruction site and the adjacent Rose White Park as a location for public art.

The commission believes the location of the site and its diversity, in terms of traffic patterns and usage, makes it an ideal backdrop for a highly visible public art project with the potential to become a landmark for the city and its residents. A selection panel, with membership that included residents of the neighborhood, reviewed more than 35 submissions from artists around the country.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.

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