State of the Union: A Four-Month Michigan Journal Investigation

By ELIZABETH BASTIAN and CHRIS ZADOROZNY, Sports Editor

The past few months have generated much excitement concerning The Union at Dearborn, a collaborative project that will bring 500 beds to the campus of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. However, a four-month investigation has revealed some information that may be vital to students looking to lease a bed within the next few years.

Announced in late September, the project is being constructed from the former Henry Ford hospital buildings at 760 and 780 Town Centre Dr., which were sold to Urban Campus Communities (UCC). They are currently developing the buildings into what will becomeThe Union at Dearborn.

“The Union on Dearborn is a great example of how successful private, public partnerships can work to enhance a community and bring new residents into the city,” said Larry Winokur, managing partner at UCC and attorney at Dickinson-Wright, a law firm based out of Troy.

Union at Dearborn (Chris Zadorozny)

Union at Dearborn (Chris Zadorozny)

Among the amenities, the new project is said to have for students include a fitness room, business lounge, theater room, meeting rooms, common lounge areas, and laundry rooms on every floor with lounges, according to the Union’s website.

Also included in the apartments are wood cabinets, granite countertops, GE refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave and stove, a living area with a flat screen HDTV, along with a fully furnished apartment. Included in the furnishings are a full size bed, under-bed chest, desk and desk chair, sofa, loveseat, coffee table, and bar stools. Although The Union is owned by UCC, Asset Campus Housing (ACH) will manage the complex, which is comprised of five separate buildings. According to the ACH website, the Houston, Texas-based company manages over 50,000 beds in the nation.

The Dearborn housing project is not the first of its kind for Urban Campus Communities. The Union at Midtown, another UCC project, was built to house Wayne State University students in Detroit. Construction finished in August of 2011. The complex opened that same month, but closed six months later because of a burst water pipe according to a press release from building management.

“Due to the events of January 16, 2012, it has become necessary to immediately vacate your apartment and relocate you to alternative housing. During demolition and reconstruction, the facility cannot provide you the services we promised and a peaceful environment to live in. Therefore everyone needs to vacate the facility by Sunday evening January 29, 2012.”

Under management by Campus Advantage (CA), a company based out of Austin, Texas, The Union at Midtown closed its doors to the 150 students that lived there. According to Jennifer Cassidy, a representative of CA, both management and ownership made accommodations to all residents in finding additional housing options.

Tripti Nagar, a junior majoring in psychology at Wayne State, was looking to rent a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with a friend in the Midtown complex. She never leased or stayed in the apartments, but did know two people who stayed there during the pipe burst.

“My two friends had to evacuate the building for the flood, however, they were accommodated for housing with Wayne State University,” said Nagar.

Up until November 30, 2012, Campus Advantage managed The Union at Midtown, but it’s now managed by ACH. The Midtown apartments, which have been closed since the pipe incident, are currently undergoing renovations according to an email with a Union at Midtown representative. The office is set to open sometime this month for pre-leasing in time for students to move in under new management in August of 2013.

Union at Midtown (Courtesy Unionatmidtown.com)

Union at Midtown (Courtesy Unionatmidtown.com)

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was sent to Wayne State, asking about the contracts between the school and the property. The request was returned, and we were told that the university was not involved with the project in any way.

Upon searching for any lawsuits in both the Wayne and Oakland County court systems, it was discovered that none were filed against Campus Advantage, Urban Campus Communities, or Wayne State University regarding the pipe burst. Emails to UCC regarding both projects went unreturned.

Matthew Myers, a sophomore majoring in Criminal Justice and Digital Forensics at UM-D, already knew about the pipe burst at the Midtown complex. But that didn’t stop him from putting down a $400 payment to reserve an apartment.

“I hope that since construction is still continuing on the Dearborn campus, that the Union will be able to recognize what happened with their water pipes at Wayne State,” said Myers.

In October, two separate FOIA requests were submitted to the city of Dearborn to find out if the blueprints and contracts were the same for both The Union at Midtown and The Union at Dearborn. The FOIA regarding the blueprints found that they weren’t approved by the city of Dearborn, nearly two months after construction had already begun.

Steve Peets, a junior studying Mechanical Engineering at UM-D was alarmed when informed about the problems with The Union at Midtown.

“The Union is being built at a very fast pace, so I feel that mistakes would be easy to make,” said Peets. “Having the crew set to finish by next year made me a bit nervous, but hearing that they failed on this same project already makes me worry quite a bit about how this build will turn out.”

Although the University is not involved in the project, they will be leasing space in the complex. “The Victor’s Den” will likely become the new “University Center” and a new gathering space for students.

According to Stuart Davis, Senior Vice President of ACH, there will be a shuttle to transport students to and from campus, but isn’t sure about arrangements for after-hours transportation to local businesses. He also says that any medical emergency on site will be handled by local 911 emergency personnel.

“We will not have a (certified first aid) staff person on site. While all of your employees are trained on crisis management which includes limited first aid issues, any severe illness or injury would be managed through 911 emergency services who are trained, qualified and certified to respond to severe illnesses and injuries,” says Davis.

“If I was [sic] building a house I wouldn’t want to use a company with a bad reputation. I was looking forward into [sic] the UM-D housing but not sure anymore,” said UM-D senior Alyssa Harden, who is studying mathematics. “Now I feel it would be a waste of money if something wrong will just happen to our student housing since that company obviously does a lousy job.”

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