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Issues of the Environment: Turning contaminated Ann Arbor property into 'Broadway Park West'

Marie Klopf
Liz
Marie Klopf

Overview

  • The Lower Town Riverfront Conservancy in January broke ground on Broadway Park West, a transformational project along the Huron River at Broadway Street in Ann Arbor. The project will convert nearly seven acres of currently unused industrial land into a world-class public space. DTE inherited the site in 2001 when it acquired the former Michigan Consolidated Gas Company.  (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.hrwc.org/the-clean-up-and-revitalization-of-former-michcon-property-on-the-huron-river/)
  • This prime piece of real estate along a busy stretch of the Huron River near downtown Ann Arbor, is poised to become the first public space in the city to be developed and operated by a non-profit conservancy. The initial phase of the new 7-acre Broadway Park West should begin in 2024, with construction of a mixed-use residential condo development starting in the same period. 
  • Over the past decade, contamination (byproduct of a former coal-gasification plant) has been removed and remediated. “DTE has been committed to a redevelopment of this site from the start, partnering with the City of Ann Arbor and community members to preserve the urban greenspace bordering the riverfront and creating a world-class public park,” said Jerry Norcia, DTE Chairman and CEO. “This is an exciting example of an adaptive reuse project, which provides important access to the public and serves as a model for the rest of the state. We’re thrilled that this project will serve as a catalyst for continued growth and economic development in this region.”  (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.hrwc.org/the-clean-up-and-revitalization-of-former-michcon-property-on-the-huron-river/)
  • Various stages of brownfield remediation have addressed contaminated soils and halted the potential for environmental pollutants to leach into the Huron River. (The coal-gasification plant was purchased by DTE from MichCon, which owned it since the 1950s.) The Huron River is heavily used for water recreation at this location, and the river is also the primary drinking water source for Ann Arbor. Over the years underground petroleum storage tanks were removed and soil contaminated with coal tar was buried deeply.
  • Environmental experts say the area now is completely safe for human use, but care must be taken during any construction activities to not disturb the capped pollutants that are still present below ground.
  • Notable features of the mixed-use development include 90 luxury condos with high-end amenities. The public infrastructure includes a river trail, canoe/kayak launch, pedestrian bridge over the river, public parking, Broadway Park improvements, River Street construction, traffic controls, utility work, streetscape features and dam repairs. Broadway Park West is a seven-acre public space that will be developed, owned and operated by the Lower Town Riverfront Conservancy. The finished project will include miles of pathways, an ice-ribbon, a pedestrian bridge to the Argo Cascades, event lawns, and a year-round pavilion for community gatherings and entertainment. The centerpiece of the park will be the Commons - a 2-acre, tree-lined elliptical lawn that will sit adjacent to a 1,200-foot riverfront trail, connecting Broadway Park West to the Washtenaw County’s Border to Border trail system. When complete, the project will open up riverfront land that has been closed to the public since the 19 th century. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.hrwc.org/the-clean-up-and-revitalization-of-former-michcon-property-on-the-huron-river/)
  • A critical part of the City’s approval process for the project was the requirement that the developer form an independent 501c3 non-profit entity that would ultimately be responsible for the funding and oversight of the public space. In accordance with that requirement, the Lower Town Riverfront Conservancy was formed in 2020. Since then, the Conservancy has formed an independent Board of Directors, established a collaboration with the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and secured both public and private funding necessary to construct the public space components required by the City.
  •  Marie Klopf is serving as the Conservancy’s first president, taking the role in 2022. Klopf has a long history of service to the Ann Arbor community. A resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Marie has served as a board treasurer for the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and is a past board member for Destination Ann Arbor. Most recently, Marie served as President/CEO of the Ann Arbor Art Center.

Transcription

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And in the not-so-distant future, there's going to be new development along the Huron River across from the Argo Cascades. I'm David Fair, and welcome to this week's edition of Issues of the Environment. Broadway Park West is going to be a seven-acre property that includes mixed-use development and, for the first time, a public space in Ann Arbor that's going to be developed and operated by a nonprofit. That entity is the Lower Town Riverfront Conservancy. Marie Klopf is our guest today, and she serves as president of the Conservancy. And thank you so much for the time today, Marie.

Marie Klopf: Well, thank you for the invitation.

David Fair: For decades, this was a property owned by MichCon until it was inherited by DTE when the utility purchased MichCon in 2001. The plant hasn't been operational for decades, but its adverse environmental impacts were significant. To kind of set a baseline for our conversation, Marie, it was pretty contaminated property, wasn't it?

Marie Klopf: Indeed, it was. It has various products as a result of the coal gasification, which was used to create home heating oil in largely the first half of the 20th century. So, indeed.

David Fair: So, I remember, more than a decade ago, DTE was addressing some toxic sludge that was seeping into the Huron River, and to its credit, the utility did the remediation work. Environmentally speaking, what does testing at the site show today?

Marie Klopf: The remediation work was designed to improve the conditions and to make sure that there were no onsite contaminations that would migrate into the river. So, since the work that DTE accomplished, they maintain monitoring to ensure that it's successful, and they will continue to monitor it going forward.

David Fair: Yeah, and they have some contamination on site, but it has been capped. And they'll continue to monitor to make sure it isn't released into the river in the surrounding environment. We're talking with Lower Town Riverfront Conservancy President Marie Klopf on 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment. Now, Marie, Broadway Park West is going to open up urban greenspace bordering the Huron River. It's going to enhance and expand some other natural features and conservation efforts. How is the project going to better connect the rest of the city of Ann Arbor to the rest of Washtenaw County?

Marie Klopf: Well, it's very exciting because this project is the first of its kind, and it really celebrates Ann Arbor in that it activates a beautiful resource that we've had that has largely been unavailable, let's say, for hanging out by the community. So, this is a seven-acre space that actually will have, like, 1200 feet of frontage on the Huron River. It'll have three points where people can access the water and enjoy it. The centerpiece, if you will, will be a commons called the Commons. It's a big elliptical space that'll be beautifully landscaped where people can come and just hang out, and they can use it for, you know, passive recreation activities during the day. But then, also, it will have a pavilion on it that will be used for conferences, for special gatherings, for events. And I'm very excited to see that it will have, you know, a stage on the back of it with another large, open lawn where they can gather for performances and whatnot during the summertime.

David Fair: You're saying I should practice my guitar?

Marie Klopf: You should practice. We would love to have you out there. That would be...sounds like a first opening act. How about that?

David Fair: Well, at the same time, on this property, Marie, there's going to be a mixed-use development. It's going to include 90 luxury condominiums with some high-end amenities. Now, for a frame of reference, what does high-end mean in today's Ann Arbor prices?

Marie Klopf: Well, you know what? That's a very good question, and that hasn't started yet. So, they are just now...I think they just recently announced that Hunter Pasteur is going to be the developer of the condominium. So, we should be hearing more about that soon.

David Fair: Well, as we talk amenities and higher, and I'm more curious about environmental impact, there's going to be development. But the city of Ann Arbor has set an A2Zero goal and wants to be carbon neutral by the year 2030. So, is this going to be something potentially that is looked at as entirely electric facility? Or how is that going to be structured with the developer?

Marie Klopf: This, as you know, this project has been a very long time in the making. So, it's probably, I think, ten years since that very first conversation happened. So, the site plan has been approved by the city, and we are going to comply with the Dark Skies initiative. So, all of those. I believe that the gas was approved in the original site plan. So, to my knowledge, there will be some gas components to it. But I believe that the focus of this property is to make it environmentally friendly and as close to the A2 plan as possible.

David Fair: WEMU's Issues of the Environment continues, and we're talking the development on the old DTE property along the Huron River in Ann Arbor with Marie Klopf. She is president of the Lower Town Riverfront Conservancy, which is heading up the project. And, Marie, I find this fascinating and innovative that a nonprofit is going to head up development and operation of Broadway Park West. It's the first time that's happened in the city of Ann Arbor. You've previously served as treasurer for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. You've served on the board of Destination Ann Arbor. And you've been president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Arts Center as well. How have those functions served you in leading to this place where you lead the Conservancy?

Marie Klopf: Well, I have to say, I am honored and excited to be working with the Roxbury Group and the Lower Town partners. They have done these types of projects very successfully. Campus Martius would be one in Detroit that they've had a hand in and been involved with, so they know what they're doing. So, when you combine my passion for the Ann Arbor community and being an Ann Arbor person familiar with all the things that make this a great city, and then partnering with someone with so much knowledge and experience, I feel like that partnership will be a win for everybody.

David Fair: And what is it going to mean for the residents and visitors to Ann Arbor to have a nonprofit actually serving as an operational function in this particular location?

Marie Klopf: So, we will not be taking any dollars from the city to make this happen. We'll function as a nonprofit. And we'll do fundraising. We'll have sponsorship opportunities. And we will have events. And we will function as a traditional nonprofit in the way that we manage it. So, this is something that will be done as a nonprofit and benefit everybody in the community without draining the coffers of the city.

David Fair: What is the timeline for start and potential completion of Broadway Park West?

Marie Klopf: So, the remediation work for the public space is, as you know, is happening now. So, if you drive by, you'll see all kinds of activity going on there, and it largely involves removal of the remaining site contamination and adding new, clean soils to bring the site up to recreational use, clean up standards per EGLE. And that work will be done by late spring next year. So, that's not a built environment. Once that's complete, you'll see the rest of the development begin. And part of that is the pavilion that will be part of the conservancy and also the ice ribbon plan. So, people...you know, imagine people skating on this beautiful ice ribbon, all families and everybody in the winter time. So, probably 2024, you'll start to see that built environment. And ideally, in 2025, it's opened fully and available to the community.

David Fair: Do you think that the manner in which this project is being put together and will be completed is something that might serve as a model for other portions of Washtenaw County and perhaps the rest of the state of Michigan?

Marie Klopf: Well, we do hope to be that example--a shining example--of how we can work together with the city and with the community to build environments that are sustainable.

David Fair: Do you think, in the end, that this will be a property that remains clean, that never poses a health issue in terms of the environment or the public health associated with being near and on the location? Is this a property that we can say it's been done? It is fixed.

Marie Klopf: 100%. I want everyone can be very comfortable. We have the greatest minds working on the space. There's ongoing monitoring. We know exactly what the challenges are. And solving those challenges is within our purview.

David Fair: I thank you so much for taking the time today, and I'm particularly pleased you were able to paint such a good word picture of what this is going to look like. So, we will look forward to all of it as we progress into the year and years ahead. Thank you so much, Marie.

Marie Klopf: Thank you so much for inviting me.

David Fair: That is Marie Klopf. She is president of the Lower Town Riverfront Conservancy. It is the first nonprofit to develop and operate a public space in Ann Arbor. For more information on what is and what will happen at the old DTE site along the Huron River as it transforms into Broadway Park West, visit our website at WEMU dot org. We'll get you linked up to all the right places. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, and we bring it to you every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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