Ypsi visitor's bureau member alleges 'backroom' dealings

Sep 4, 2015 at 12:52 pm

The dynamic between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti wasn't always so lopsided. A generation ago, Ann Arbor had its share of relatively affordable housing, quirky little businesses, and a scrappy countercultural contingent. These days, much of that is gone, replaced by high-rises, expensive restaurants, and pricey art galleries, and the city now draws in workers by day from nearby Dexter, Chelsea, and Milan. Meanwhile, Ypsilanti has gone from a sleepy, fading Midwestern town with a cheap diner and a Wobbly hall into something approaching what Ann Arbor used to be, except it's surrounded by Ypsilanti Township, and that dynamic is so strained that a petition drive a few years ago sought to change the township's name to "Ford Lake."

So when tensions run high in eastern Washtenaw County, the conflict often breaks down along these lines. (See last year's eruption: "Poor people, get out of Ann Arbor.")

We got another look at it this week, thanks again to Mark Maynard, the Ypsilanti blogger and podcaster who follows Ypsi politics closely. He posted a blog about remarks by Alicia Ping of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, who alleged that her colleagues had attempted to broker a "backroom" deal that would "close the Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (YACVB) and effectively shift its ... budget to the Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (AAACVB)." Ping added that the meeting involved "veiled threats" "in hopes of securing a deal that would see the Ypsilanti bureau defunded and closed."

If this all sounds like a lot of inter-city bickering, bear in mind that there is about $5 million at issue here, money collected from a tax on hotel accommodations. The county keeps 10 percent, and the remainder goes to the convention and visitor bureaus for Ann Arbor and Washtenaw. Ann Arbor gets 75 percent of the money; Ypsi gets 25 percent, or about $1.1 million.

What troubles people like Maynard is the idea that Ypsilanti can be effectively marketed as part of the "greater Ann Arbor region." As any visitor to Ypsilanti knows, Ypsi isn't exactly overrun with the kind of urban environment Ann Arbor is. And that presents special challenges (and, yes, opportunities) to anybody choosing to market that city as a destination.

In the end, Maynard suspects that it's less about unified marketing than it is Ann Arbor's Chamber of Commerce types drooling over another $1 million do add to their marketing budget. He may just be right.