That vacant lot on Michigan Avenue
by David Stringer
The former Steeb Dodge dealership and neighboring gas station just west of Ann Arbor St. were torn down in 2006. When developer Michael Concannon's planned Village Marketplace + Lofts stalled in the recession, it spent an ugly couple of years as an abandoned mudscape of weeds and security fencing. Now it stands as a parklike expanse of grass and clover, featuring a large "For Sale" sign.
The property is now owned by six lienholders--contractors owed money by Concannon and awarded the property after a December 2010 sheriff's sale brought no bidders. According to Joe Szabo, one of the lienholders, Concannon owed the six more than $900,000, and they have put in roughly another $100,000 in taxes, maintenance and improvements. Szabo, who owns Insta-Lawn Sod Farms in Milan, says he spent $60,000 seeding and mowing the property: He's been doing business in Saline for twenty-five years, and his sense of pride means he wants the place looking nice.
Swisher Commercial listed the property a year ago at $1.2 million, and sellers are currently asking $800,000. According to Swisher realtor Tony Caprarese, they are considering another price adjustment in the near future. Caprarese says there has been some interest in the environmentally cleaned up property, which is ready to go with underground water, sewer, and stormwater facilities--but Szabo notes that there is a big difference between "some interest" and a concrete offer.
Saline city councilmember David Rhoads says he has been in contact with an interested developer; though Rhoads doesn't identify him, rumor has it that the party is Ann Arbor's Alex du Parry. Rhoads, who describes his role as "facilitator," says the developer has in mind a project similar in size and scope to Phases 1 and 2 of Concannon's abortive effort, which would have contained 60,000 square feet with stores on the first level and condos on the second and third, "but much more attractive--more in harmony with the look of downtown Saline." At this point, however, nothing has been formally offered or proposed.
Meanwhile, thanks to Szabo, neighbors are enjoying the current bucolic scene. Earlier this summer, one South Lewis Street resident was seen there, photographing butterflies.
[Originally published in November, 2012.]