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Ypsilanti city council considering $300 million water street development

A birds-eye view of the Water Street property owned by the city of Ypsilanti
City of Ypsilanti
City of Ypsilanti
Ypsilanti Director of economic development Beth Ernatt says International Village LLC is proposing to develop roughly 30 acres of the water street property. She says some of the adjacent land is included in existing easement agreements.

The Ypsilanti city council will meet on Tuesday to consider whether to green-light a major residential and retail development adjacent to the city’s downtown area on property currently owned by the city.

In May, the development company, Troy based International Village LLC, headed up by Amy Xue Foster, presented the city council with rough plans to build housing and storefronts aimed at attracting international students and inspired by “eastern” design.

City of Ypsilanti Director of Economic Development Beth Ernatt says she expects the final budget for the proposal to be around $300 million. She says 40 percent of the project’s funding is slated to come from foreign investors seeking visas to relocate to the United States. The EB-5 Immigrant Investor program allows foreigners to apply for permanent U.S. residency if they invest half a million dollars in a U.S. commercial project that creates 10 full-time jobs in the U.S.

Ernatt says at Tuesday’s meeting, the council will vote on whether to accept a purchase agreement from International Village LLC, which would allow the project to proceed to the next phase of planning. She says the project could create up to 2,500 jobs when completed.

“We haven’t had that kind of job growth since Big Three [automotive] production in the city,” Ernatt said. 

Yet critics of the EB-5 program say it favors the world’s wealthiest people and allows them to buy their way into the U.S. The Washington Post reports that in 2016, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services agency issued 8,500 EB-5 visas. The program began in 1990, but became more popular after the economic recession. 

Eb-5 investments are managed by regional centers which serve as a go-between for project developers and foreign investors. Projects funded partially by EB-5 investments are sometimes stalled by red tape and never end up happening.

“That’s something we need to continue to evaluate,” Ernatt said. “There’s been projects that have never gotten off the ground and then there’s been projects that have been very successful.”

If the purchase agreement proposal is approved by the council, the project's future is still far from certain. The final development plans would have to be approved by the council at a future meeting, after a development plan is agreed upon and more public hearings.

Ernatt says the city is considering selling roughly 30 acres of the city-owned water street property to International Village LLC for $1,000 per acre for the development project.

The Water Street property is still contaminated with industrial pollution. Ernatt says the city would be tasked with overseeing cleanup efforts at the early stages of development, if such a plan is approved.  

The property is a long-standing debt burden for the city of Ypsilanti. Voters in the city approved a 2.3 millage proposal to help pay off the debt on the property on the August 8 election. Previous millage proposals had failed.

The city council meets at 6:00 pm Tuesday for a public meeting to discuss the purchase agreement proposal and a presentation by International Village LLC.

There is a petition with fewer than 50 signatures asking the city council to reject the purchase proposal, citing a lack of public input in the negotiations to this point, and a desire for the project to include affordable housing, which was not included in the International Village presentation to city council in May.  

Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Public, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.
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