Arbor Hills Crossing: Shades of downtown
by Sally Mitani
If you're wondering what's up with that rusty-looking metal grillwork over the store entrances at the not-quite-finished Arbor Hills Crossing shopping center, this is what the investors' brochure says about it:
"Here, a retro symbol of car culture, the highway billboard, is reclaimed addressing the two site scales--the auto traffic at Washtenaw and the pedestrian traffic through the retail center." In other words, it's not some leftover construction scaffolding; it's an ironic postmodern architectural comment. Arbor Hills Crossing is trying to integrate the best aspects of suburban malls like Briarwood and urban settings like downtown's Main Street, and it's using its architecture to represent that.
Jaimie Bulla, development manager of the project, says that Arbor Hills was designed to be, first of all, "pedestrian friendly and walkable." It's divided into four buildings, all of which "conform to the scale of city blocks. Each building is a slightly different size and layout, but the materials--the brick, mortar and steel--are the same," providing visual cohesion, but not cookie-cutter replication. Between the buildings and parking lots are landscaped walkways, and the southern boundary is a forested wetland. To the west is County Farm Park, ribboned by its long bike path.
Those who remember Briarwood's opening in 1974 should appreciate the contrast. Briarwood was considered a grand improvement on Ann Arbor's first destination mall, Arborland, just down the road from Arbor Hills. Neither mall gave much thought to making its outdoor areas pedestrian friendly: they were great big boxes plunked down in vast parking lots. Why wouldn't their architecture advertise that they were built for people with cars? Ample parking was the point. Briarwood's great leap forward was to create spacious interior spaces with gracious proportions, high-quality materials, abstract sculpture, and a (now gone) fountain.
Bulla works for Development Management Associates in Chicago, a cog in the wheel of developers and construction engineers that brought Arbor Hills into being. The shopping complex is owned by the local Campus Realty and Chicago-based North Shore Properties
Asked if we could talk to anyone from the local contingent, Bulla says, cheerfully, "Nope! That's why you're talking to me!" But it's no surprise that Campus Realty is involved in an architecturally ambitious project; the company's founder, the late Jack Stegeman, specialized in thoughtfully designed student apartments, from the spiffy, sixties-modern Charter House at South University and Washtenaw to the stately, bay-windowed Amsterdammer at the far end of the same block.
Bulla says that Arbor Hills is unique among the projects he's worked on for the care the owners are lavishing on making the spot visually appealing, not only to lure new high-end national retailers to Ann Arbor, but to convince some well-known downtown businesses to establish outposts here. Cafe Zola was one of their big gets, though Building B that will house it is the last building to be finished, with nothing in it open in mid-September.
Here's what was open:
Building D houses lululemon, the high-end national yoga-wear brand so subtle that it doesn't even use its name on its outside signage, just its horseshoe-shaped logo. The company website says the logo is a stylized "A" and stands for "athletically hip." Next to it is Madewell, a hipster cousin of J.Crew, featuring a lot of high-priced denim and brown leather. Its website says it's been around since 1937, though that's actually the founding date of the original no-nonsense work clothing company that J.Crew bought and repurposed in 2006. Next to that is Paper Source, a Chicago-based chain of quality paper and scrapbooking supplies (a spokesperson says Paper Source "knows and respects" Hollander's, and believes that Ann Arbor's "vibrant and robust creative community" can support two paper stores). Hot Mama is not a maternity wear store, but a store for postpartum moms, to make them feel, well, hot again. "Premium denim, comfortable and trendy," says Sarah Winslow, the manager.
Building C houses brands that are perhaps a little better known: Anthropologie is the postgraduate version of Urban Outfitters--and, in fact, is owned by it. The North Face outdoor gear is seen so much around town, it surely needs no introduction, except to say here's a whole store of it, and Sur la Table is the long-awaited kitchen store that no one seems to have been able to get off the ground since Kitchen Port closed. (Pssst: it also has restrooms.)
Building A is anchored by Arhaus. Though not yet open, it promises to be a more suitable setting for the company's fine furniture, all made to its own designs, than its previous spot in Arborland. The rest of Building A's stores are the local ones, all hidden from street view: Glassbox Coffee & Juice, quite a bit larger than the original on South U; Randy Step's eighth Running Fit (and the third in Ann Arbor); and Saline-based My Urban Toddler, which sells the maternity clothes that Hot Mama doesn't, as well as children's clothes, a few toys, breast-feeding equipment and even a selection of chew beads--they're jewelry for mom to wear, and kid to chew on, and not bad-looking for such an oddly dual-purpose accessory.
Building D, 3070 Washtenaw.
lululemon, 973-6454. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m. lululemon.com
Madewell, 477-6995. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m. madewell.com
Paper Source, 794-9100. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m. paper-source.com
Hot Mama, 531-6806. Mon-Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m. shopmama.com
Building C, 3050 Washtenaw
Anthropologie, 975-0214. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m. anthropologie.com
The North Face, 477-9252. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. thenorthface.com
Sur la Table, 531-0300, 531-0304 (culinary events). Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. surlatable.com
Building A, 3010 Washtenaw
Glassbox Coffee & Juice, 276-1918. Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
My Urban Toddler, 585-0788. Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. myurbantoddler.com
Running Fit, 548-6299. Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. runningfit.com
[Originally published in October, 2013.]