The Sale of Maynard House
The Grand Budapest Hotel of Ann Arbor is turning into student housing.
by Jan Schlain
From the December, 2016 issue
Maynard House Management, LLC
September 20, 2016
RE: change in ownership of Maynard House
My parents Helen and Norris Post built the Maynard House and opened it as a residential, office and retail property in 1961-1962. After nearly 55 years of association with Maynard House and its residents, it was a difficult decision to make but we have decided to sell Maynard House to a new owner who promises to make significant investment into the property and bring in outside management assistance to help provide great customer service and a promising future for the property and all residents.
Both [office manager] Ashleigh Nesmith and [maintenance manager] Bob Pierson will be continuing to serve the new management company Redstone Residential and owners, 400 Maynard Street apartments, so you will have familiar faces when you stop by the office to pay rent or make requests.
We are confident you are in good hands with the new ownership and management company. Best wishes to you in your endeavors.
Maynard House Associates LLC
Slipped under the door of every tenant in the ten-story apartment building that afternoon, the memo sounded reassuring. But residents soon found cause for concern.
On Friday, September 30, a longtime tenant ran into Bob Pierson in the hallway. She told him that her closet door needed work but said it wasn't urgent. Pierson told her he'd take care of it Monday.
On Monday, "Bob came to my door and said, 'I have to apologize,'" recalls the resident, who asked not to be named for fear of offending the new management. "I said, 'For what?' He said, 'I can't fix your closet door. I've been fired.'
"I said, 'Come on in. You're not going to tell me that standing out in the hall.' He said, 'I have to leave as soon as I gather my stuff.'"
Pierson had maintained the eleven-
story building at 400 Maynard St. for thirteen years. But at 10:30 that morning, he says, the building's new managers fired him.
"They told me
I made too much money," Pierson recalls by phone. "They told me they could replace me with a nineteen-year-old student they pay $12.50 an hour."
Given the building's age, "several things need replacing," Pierson says. But he didn't think it would be him.
"Maynard House was the Grand Budapest Hotel of Ann Arbor," emails David Erdody, the building's resident manager for more than twenty years. "I met and became friends with so many interesting people from all over the world--international scholars, a Nobel Laureate, New Yorker magazine staff and others from the Knight-Wallace fellowship--and, of course, all the awesome permanent residents."
The buyers who paid nearly $10 million for Maynard House are interested in none of that. Based in California, with a family connection to the giant Toll Brothers building company, they've changed the name to "400 Maynard Street." They're marketing it as "Ann Arbor's premier student housing experience"--and asking $4,000 a month for a two-bedroom penthouse.
"I was only going to stay a few years," recalls the long-term tenant. "But everything was right here. I moved around the building three times.
"We knew Garry. He was here quite a bit," this person says. But "he didn't say goodbye to anyone."
Reached by email, Garry Post declined to discuss the building or the sale. According to his Facebook page, Post and Hill, his business partner and husband, have moved to Colorado. But Jeffrey Post, Garry's younger brother, was happy to share his memories of Maynard House and their parents.
Jeffrey, who now heads the family's Post Realty, sees their mother's vision in Maynard House. Born Helen Stegeman in 1925 in the Upper Peninsula, she grew up on Brockman and graduated from University High School and the University of Michigan. She met Norris Post there, and they married in 1948.
The couple built Maynard House with Helen's brother, Jack Stegeman, and a fourth partner. Though Jeffrey wasn't even in kindergarten at the time, he knew it well growing up and says it reflects her modern flair.
When Maynard House opened in 1962, the Ann Arbor News ran a series of articles praising everything from its prime location and "sculpted form" to the "clear as crystal" TV reception from its shared antenna. Even hiring a resident manager warranted a story--and a photo of Norris Post and Jack Stegeman on the terrace of one of the two rooftop penthouses. Even then, they rented for $400 a month.
Jeffrey Post points out the "sweeping curves" on the facade's white masonry panels, which form wavelike crests beneath the gold-anodized windows. "If you look closely at the building it is pebbly," he says. "You wouldn't do that kind of texture today because it would be too expensive."
For all its style, though, Ed Gottschalk believes the architecture "was ahead of its time." The Posts hired him to manage Maynard House in 1981--after raising their children in Ann Arbor, they had moved to North Carolina to manage an auto parts supply company they had purchased there. Gottschalk looked after it for them until their return in the early 2000s.
"When my wife and I came, there was kind of a mixed bag of management--lots of changeover," recalls Gottschalk, who still manages his own campus properties. "There was no on-site management and some empty apartments."
The Gottschalks created short-term leases for visiting professors and other guests of the university, including for about a dozen furnished "executive apartments" scattered around the building. The place filled up, and it's been that way since.
"I started a book," said Gottschalk, "not using names, but I called it 'Tenants I have known.' I never finished it." He remembers a famous astronomer living there (although he couldn't remember his name), and one visiting prof who asked him to remove all the furniture, set up a pup tent in the apartment, and lived in that.
Gottschalk says three Nobel Prize winners lived there, but Erdody could only remember one--physicist Martinus J. G. Veltman (whose prize came after he'd moved back to his native Holland). Erdody also remembers several visits by Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor of the New Yorker, a legal scholar from Rwanda, and "a Russian journalist who was very critical of Putin."
The guy in the pup tent would have been of professional interest to another group of Maynard House tenants: ten or so therapists rented apartments for use as session rooms. "My husband and I have been here for twenty-eight years," says clinical social worker Emily Miller, who shares a fifth-floor unit with her clinical psychologist spouse Jerry.
For the Freudians who use free association in their practices, a sky view is important, so most of their unit numbers end in "06" or "03"--the corner offices facing Central Campus rather than looming neighbors Tower Plaza or Zaragon West. Clinical psychologist Arthur Brickman, who has practiced in the building for twenty-two years, is in Suite 606.
"It was a place that became easily woven into people's lives," says Brickman. When Bob Pierson was fired, Brickman and other tenants took him out to lunch at Knight's Steakhouse to thank him for his work.
Brickman, the Millers, and the other therapists will not be far behind him. Along with the sale notice, they had a second letter slipped under their doors.
"[O]ver the next year we will be adding lounges, TVs, a gym and a rooftop deck to our building," it read. "We are so excited about all of the positive changes coming our way! Unfortunately all of the apartments on levels 2-10 are no longer able to be zoned as commercial spaces and ... at the end of your current lease, 400 Maynard will not be renewing. All offices will be remodeled and converted back to one-bedroom apartments."
The zoning explanation is apparently a smokescreen--Ben Carlisle, until recently the city's interim city planning manager, says that he doesn't "see any zoning provision that would prohibit an office use in that district"--but all the therapists are preparing to relocate as their leases end.
"We're being booted out on our asses," says one therapist. Another describes a fierce competition over the most coveted alternative locations.
"Every Realtor in town knows about our problem," laughs Brickman. Some, including the Millers, have bought condos across the street in Tower Plaza. Brickman is part of a group that's looking at space on Main St. downtown.
Erdody describes his role at Maynard House as "the first responder." He's not kidding. Twice he's had to deal with dead bodies in apartments, and he responded to one building fire that began in the incinerator. Pierson says there were problems with the plumbing and air conditioning, and the roof was deteriorating.
But Erdody planned to move to an apartment near the athletic campus at the end of November; once he leaves, the building will no longer have a resident manager. It's now a pin on the map of Redstone Residential, a Utah-based company that manages student housing in college towns across the country. The longtime tenant says they've been instructed to submit maintenance requests by email and to pay the rent by PayPal or electronic check.
"Some people will be vacating," says this tenant. "I was talking with a student who lives here. Apparently she can't stay because the rent's too high." The older tenant will probably follow her.
Redstone was hired by the new owners, an investment group represented by Adam Barzilay. A thirty-something University of Pennsylvania and Harvard grad, Barzilay is partner and director of acquisitions at MJW Investments in Santa Monica, California. He is also the son of Zvi Barzilay, chief operating officer and president of Toll Brothers until he retired at the end of 2011.
Reached by email, Adam Barzilay politely declined to be interviewed for this story. His bio on MJW's website says he is "responsible for the acquisition of student housing and value-add multifamily investments throughout the country"--$150 million worth since 2013. According to the city assessor, $9,964,386 of that went to the purchase of Maynard House.
Since 2009, seven student high-rises have sprouted around campus. Construction recently started on an eighth, next to the Graduate Hotel on Huron, and a ninth has been approved on East University.
Now the chase for student dollars seems to be entering a new phase: national firms buying existing buildings from local owners like the Posts. MJW's website lists more than a dozen small student apartment complexes around the county.
But Maynard House is different. It had student residents, but was never primarily student housing. And unlike downtown's generic new high-rises, its design and management reflected the tastes and values of the individuals who built it.
The new owners will make needed changes, including a new roof and heating system. But "what we're losing is a sense of community," says one of the long-term tenants. "This building is a metaphor for what is happening downtown."
Erdody says he's reminded of Robert Caro's book The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. "That's what this is," he says. "The destruction of the neighborhood."
Jeffrey Post worries about "developers who come in who have no concern for Ann Arbor and care only about return on investment." He says it seems clear that the people who built the Foundry Lofts and other new student high rises "don't understand what Ann Arbor is about."
He believes that his folks did care when they built and tended to Maynard House. And that's a consoling thought: "I will always be able to point to Maynard House and say, 'Mom and dad had a hand in that.'"
[Originally published in December, 2016.]
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