Water Street is a 38 acre site on the south side of Michigan Avenue, just east of the Huron RiverPrior to the 1800s, native Americans inhabited the land around Ypsilanti and the river, and a Potawatomi trail would have passed through what is currently the Water Street areaIt has a rich history with some of its first settler occupants in the 1800s being a flouring mill  along the river and the Worden brothers who invented a whip socket. In the 1900s the land began to be developed and over the next 100 years it was the site of many industries and businesses such as a railroad, a lumber mill, a plastics factory, a heating and cooling business, restaurants (such as Chop Suey) and car dealerships. The stretch of land along Michigan Ave. became a hub for car dealerships starting in 1912 when the first car dealership opened. This area has been referred to as "The Amazing Quarter Mile" and was eventually added to the Ypsilanti historic district. Various businesses occupied the buildings on Michigan Ave. such as Ypsilanti Savings Bank, Markham's Restaurant, Moorman's Lumber Yard, Serbay Motors, Silkworth's Gas Station and Auto Repair, Sesi Lincoln Mercury.

The City of Ypsilanti began redevelopment of Water Street in 1999. With the City's first developer, Biltmore Properties, backing out of negotiations in 2004, many citizens have criticized the Water Street project as a debacle that could sink the city, when more than $13 million in bonds used to acquire and prepare the site for development come due. The City spent a large part of 2006 working with Freed and Associates, but failed to secure a commitment from Freed to develop the site. The City announced on December 8, 2006, that Freed was leaving the project. Freed cited over-exposure in a poor Michigan economy and down residential market as their reason for leaving the project, and announced within days that they were abandoning a high-end condominium project in Troy. The mood in Ypsilanti following this announcement has ranged from concerned to accusatory.

For the proposed International Village development, look here

News accounts

The goals of the Water Street redevelopment are numerous. The City's FAQ mentions,

  • cleanup of environmental contamination
  • provide a significant addition to the City's tax base
  • create a new riverfront park linking Riverside Park to Waterworks Park
  • increase in owner-occupied housing units
  • provide new customer base for downtown businesses

While few object to any of these goals per se, the methodology of this plan has been criticized at great length. Site contamination was discovered, after site acquisition, to be much more significant than originally thought, though many outside of the decision-making process believe these conditions to have been predictable. With the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority boundaries extended to include the Water Street site, the new homes will see an extra 2 mills in property tax, providing an extra barrier on selling them. State grant money has been diverted from Water Street to install an elevator in the Riverside Arts Building. All this while, the City declared that everything was going according to plan and nothing was out of the ordinary, irritating critics who felt that problems needed to be acknowledged in order to work towards a solution.

Further reading on the Water Street Redevelopment Project:

Updates, post-2008:

The above generally covers the 2000-2008 period of Water Street. As of January 2014, the site remains a major factor in Ypsilanti's public finances and civic awareness. Major events and topics include:

Updates, post-2014:

Report: Water Street site too contaminated to build $12M affordable housing

Ypsilanti officials respond to 'overreaching and absurd' Water Street contamination report

Ypsilanti approves $50K for Water Street contamination testing, record review

New Water Street tax moving forward following Ypsilanti City Council vote

Ypsilanti to fence off contaminated area of Water Street

Water Street contamination derails affordable housing project; new development proposed

Water Street contamination prompts Ypsilanti to close Border To Border Trail

Ypsilanti sues 'Water Street Commons' organizer over sculpture park

Pollution concerns derail another Water Street project in Ypsilanti

Updates, post-2017:

Cleanup of contaminated Ypsilanti Water Street redevelopment site gets $4.3M boost

New life for Water Street? 2 new developers make pitches for contaminated Ypsilanti lot

Issues of the Environment: Working toward a safe and usable Water Street property in Ypsilanti