Opinion: Thompson Block scaffolding finally comes down; a new international bridge needs to go up

By Tony Dearing

AnnArbor.com

Proposed new international bridge:

If you’ve driven over the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit to Windsor anytime recently, you probably concluded what most experts already agree on — that a new bridge is needed. That’s why we continue to support the proposal to build a second international bridge between Detroit and Ontario, and why we’re mildly encouraged to hear Gov. Rick Snyder say that he remains confident a bridge authority will be in place by October to oversee the construction of a new span.

It’s a little baffling to us why this concept hasn’t already made it through the Legislature. Canada is so eager for the proposed New International Trade Crossing bridge that it’s offering to cover all of Michigan’s costs upfront, and to protect the state from any obligation for bonds that will finance the project. Michigan isn’t going to get a better deal than that. The proposal enjoys broad support from business groups and corporations, agricultural interests and labor unions. Four past governors of Michigan – two Democrats and two Republicans – all back this new bridge.

The proposed International Trade Crossing bridge would be located further south and connect directly with Canada’s highway 401, providing a much better flow of traffic across the border.

A drive these days across the Ambassador Bridge makes it obvious how the current span is deteriorating and how much a modern counterpart is needed. The sooner the Legislature approves a new, internationally controlled second bridge, the better. Get it done, lawmakers.

Thompson Block:

We’d be the first to agree it’s taken far too long, but we’re as pleased as anyone to see the scaffolding come down from around the Thompson Blockbuilding in Ypsilanti.

It’s been nearly two years since the historic structure in Depot Town was ravaged by a fire, and it could be another two years before the collapsed portion of the building’s east and south end is rebuilt and the roof restored.

Until then, the 148-year-old structure will remain an eyesore. So we understand the frustration and impatience that some city officials and residents have expressed over the Thompson Block saga, which has stretched on for a couple of decades now.

But as we suggested earlier this year, it was in the best interest of both the city and the owner of the property, developer Stewart Beal, to come to some kind of reasonable agreement that made the building structurally safe and removed the bracing and fencing that extended into River Street, interfering with traffic flow.

That has been accomplished and a city inspector has reviewed and approved the work done on the building so far. Only some minor masonry work remains to be done in order for Beal to comply with a consent agreement by the Sept. 2 deadline that he and the city agreed to.

The future of the building remains uncertain. In April, Beal said he’s changed his plans for redevelopment of the former Civil War barracks from a mixed-use concept to a purely residential approach that would feature 23 lofts, ranging in size from 620 to 1,120 square feet.

Beal faces considerable challenges in making this project happen, and yes, he has certainly tested the city’s patience with the amount of time it’s taken him to restore the building to structural soundness following the fire. But this is the best outcome the city could ask for under the circumstances. The building has been stabilized, traffic is no longer being impeded, and Beal now has the opportunity to show that he can turn his vision for the Thompson Block into reality.