121 E. Catherine is located on the northwest corner of 4th and Catherine in Ann Arbor. The site is located adjacent to the Old Fourth Ward and Ann/Fourth Historic Districts. The site is currently a surface parking lot managed by the DDA as a paid parking lot. The lot contains 49 parking spaces serving neighborhood businesses. Additional public parking is provided on-street and in the Ann Ashley Structure two blocks to the west. The site is seasonally used for public events.
Key adjacent uses include the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, Kerrytown Shops, Community High School, and Washtenaw County municipal buildings. Immediately to the north is Braun Ct. The county owns the surface parking lot to the south of the site.
For most of the twentieth century, the area was a predominately Black neighborhood centered around several Black-owned businesses at Ann St and North Fourth Ave. The Kayser Block building,just south of the site, was home to the Colored Welfare League which housed Black-owned businesses and community organizations such as the early Dunbar Community Center. In 1959, the city council adopted an Urban Renewal Plan for the area, but it was vetoed by the Mayor. The area also narrowly escaped plans for a Packard-Beakes Bypass in 1972. By 1960, the businesses on Ann St had shifted towards entertainment which led to concerns about safety, suspected unlawful activity, and a greater police presence. The “old neighborhood” would ultimately be shaped by the civil rights and fair housing policies of the 1960s and 70s, the desegregation of the Ann Arbor Public Schools in the 1970s, and issues of parking. In 1980, the predominantly Black Second Baptist Church moved to a new location in the Water Hill to better accommodate its ever growing 700-member congregation. New investment in the late twentieth century sparked the growth of an eclectic commercial district and brought with it the double-edged sword of revitalization and gentrification.
The site is currently zoned as D2, Downtown Interface District which allows a building height of 6 stories and 400% Floor Area Ratio(FAR) with affordable housing premiums. From a financial perspective, the site is suitable for a 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) deal. The Ann Arbor Housing Commission is considering this site as a potential 100% affordable development project. Although there is the potential for a developer partnership with market rate units and 20% affordable. While a variety of parking options have been explored for this site, off-site parking or surface parking are the most feasible options. The projected $8 million 3-story underground public parking structure would need to be financed by the city.
The city is subsequently working on a downtown parking analysis and downtown housing market study. The results of those studies will be integrated with community feedback in December 2020 report out.