From the bridge’s west side, there’s also a distant view of grass, trees, and the river. But the foreground isn’t nearly as picturesque: an asphalt parking lot, a graffiti-covered garage, and a concrete slab where a building once stood. And instead of an inviting path, the entire property is guarded by a tall chain-link fence.
Parking lots can easily become parks—and at fourteen acres, this bend in the river could be a jewel in the city’s necklace of riverfront refuges. Or they can be redeveloped, filled with homes or businesses where residents or restaurant-goers drink in river views. So much open space, so near downtown, might be worth tens of millions of dollars. Yet the site’s owner, DTE Energy, is in no hurry to sell.
The answer lies beneath. DTE has owned the property since 2001, when it acquired MichCon. The Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. was formed in 1937 by merging smaller utilities, including the Ann Arbor Gas Company. And until the first natural gas pipeline reached Michigan that year, this was Ann Arbor’s gas-manufacturing plant, where workers heated coal in a partial vacuum, collected the flammable gas, and piped it to residents’ homes. The gas lit Ann Arborites’ lights and heated their stoves, but manufacturing it produced noxious byproducts, including carcinogenic coal tar. Some of these wastes were left here, and the land cannot safely be reused until those highly polluted “hot spots” are cleaned up.