Ruth Ann Jamnick Ypsilanti Township Supervisor

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Panel recommends cooperation as way of Ypsilanti's future

by Janet Miller | Ann Arbor Business Review
Thursday May 29, 2008, 1:47 AM

Paul Schreiber, Ruth Ann Jamnick, William D. Kinley and Robert E. Guenzel.

Video quotes from the Michigan Leaders Speak event
• See the entire panel discussion

The idea of consolidating the city of Ypsilanti with Ypsilanti Township has lingered hot and cold for 60 years. It was sizzling again last week when a four-member panel of business and community leaders met to discuss the future of Ypsilanti.

"To most folks, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township are indistinguishable. With nearly 100,000 people, it's a powerhouse combined," said William D. Kinley, president of Ypsilanti-based Phoenix Contractors Inc., and a member of the panel. As such, it could go head-to-head in the retail market with the likes and Saline or Ann Arbor.

Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber, Ypsilanti Township Supervisor Ruth Ann Jamnick, Washtenaw County Administrator Robert Guenzel and Kinley discussed several topics, including consolidating the two municipalities, during a Michigan Leaders Speak breakfast panel May 22 at Barton Hills Country Club.

Any formal move to combine the two communities should come from the people, not the politicians, Jamnick said. "It should come from the people of the community, and I haven't heard that. ... There's been this huge, old war among us. People in the city don't want to have anything to do with the township, and people in the township don't want to have anything to do with the city."

It's time to move on, Kinley said. Both communities would benefit from a merger or consolidation, he said. "Memory goes deep, but it's time to get over it. ... The benefits would far outweigh all of the disagreements."

While the two communities should remain separate, they can work together, Jamnick said. "To be economically vibrant, we don't have to merge."

While a formal consolidation would require voters in both communities to approve a merger, there's already evidence of informal consolidation as the two communities work together, Schreiber said. There's discussion about forming a regional fire department, and even adding Pittsfield and Ann Arbor to become a fire district, he said.

Some other points covered by the panel:

• Despite its imminent closing, little is known about the future of the ex-Visteon plant that borders I-94, managed by Automotive Components Holdings (ACH). "ACH is playing its cards close to the chest," Schreiber said.

Unlike Pfizer, which has worked with the community to try and identify a buyer, ACH has been silent, Guenzel said. "Pfizer was much more cooperative and the community was able to mobilize once they knew. The problem with (the ex-Visteon plant) is that it's been dragged out and there's been no real communication to the community. There are significant brownfield issues, but it's a great opportunity: It's on the freeway and it's very visible."

• While Ypsilanti struggles with the rest of the state in the current economic slump, there are some bright spots. "We have some young and exciting developers buying property for lofts," Schreiber said. "It's the wave of the future." They will be a magnet for young professionals and young entrepreneurs who demand quality rental housing.

Development in Ypsilanti Township is centered south of I-94, in the Whittaker Road/Stony Creek area, Jamnick said. She disagreed with criticisms that this draws away business from downtown Ypsilanti. "Ypsilanti Township sees it as compatible with the city, not competitive," she said. "We believe we are being good partners with the city. The south side of the township used to grow soybeans and corn. Now it grows rooftops."

The current economic climate notwithstanding, the Ypsilanti area offers potential, Guenzel said. "I would describe the Ypsilanti area as strong and full of opportunity. It's the gateway to Wayne County, and I think the substantial growth in Wayne County will spill over into Ypsilanti. We're committed to grow business there."

Paid for by Friends of Ruth Ann Jamnick 7776 Lake Crest Drive Ypsilanti, MI 48197