South Main Street: Ann Arbor, Michigan


South Main Street is downtown Ann Arbor's center of activity and community gathering place. The continuous rhythm of detailed masonry building storefronts right at the sidewalk's edge contributes to an exciting pedestrian environment. The City of Ann Arbor's continuous efforts to preserve these buildings — most housing locally owned businesses — ensures that the street's unique appearance and character remain intact.

Designated Area

Three blocks between William Street to the south and Huron Street to the north.

The Ark, a popular music venue, is one of the many local businesses that contribute to the vibrant nature of South Main Street. Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Planning Excellence

Dominated by locally owned, independent businesses, South Main Street exudes a strong sense of place and local culture. Additionally, new mixed-use development and special events occurring along the street throughout the year attract residents and visitors of all ages.

South Main Street becomes pedestrian-only several times a year for festivals and parades, including Festifools. Photo courtesy of Myra Klarman.

Defining Characteristics, Features

Protected Historic District 

  • The Main Street Historic District, adopted by the City Council in 1989, protects all of the historic buildings on the street, which represent approximately 80 percent of the buildings (more than 40 properties) along the three blocks
  • Historic, 19th and early 20th Century buildings fronting Main Street are well preserved and represent façades from various styles including Commercial, Italianate, Beaux Arts, Moderne and Art Deco.
  • The First National Bank Building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is an Art Deco building that was the tallest building in Ann Arbor at the time of its construction.

Commitment to Planning and Compatible Development

  • In 1824, town founders Elisha Rumsey and John Allen purchased 640 acres of land and register the town plat; central business district develops along Main Street and around courthouse square
  • City approves Downtown Development Authority, a tax increment finance district, in 1982 to fund streetscape and infrastructure improvements including parking structures; reauthorized in 2003, Authority now develops and supports transportation alternatives and sustainability initiatives
  • City now updating 1988 Downtown Plan to emphasize Smart Growth initiatives, increased downtown density, and greater use of transportation alternatives
  • Two- to four-story buildings are oriented to the street with zero setbacks, architectural details and transparent first floors; similar height of first floors creates a sense of visual continuity

Smart Growth Emphasis

  • Ann Arbor leads state in providing both affordable and market-rate downtown housing, including upper-story residential loft conversions along street 
  • Mixed uses along designated blocks: retail, restaurants, office and upper-story residential
  • Most parking located on streets adjoining South Main Street so as to not detract from pedestrian experience
  • Enterprising restaurateurs have taken sidewalk dining a step further by installing front window panels that can be raised like garage doors during warm weather for more sheltered dining experience
  • Ann Arbor's transit hub located one block east of Main Street; access to University of Michigan campus provided by free bus service for students and go!pass holders
  • Ann Arbor Downtown Plan, adopted by the city Planning Commission in June 2009,  calls for continuing vehicle parking exemptions, adding bicycle parking requirements, and  increasing density in the core area through zoning bonuses that encourage inclusion of pedestrian amenities, residential units in upper stories, affordable housing, LEED certified buildings, and potentially, transfer of development rights

A nighttime walk down South Main Street features aromas from sidewalk cafes, live music from night clubs and music venues, lighted trees, and lampposts festooned with colorful posters. Photo courtesy of Kirk Westphal.

Vibrant Activity

  • Dominated by one-of-a-kind businesses. For example, on one side of one block are a small T-shirt shop, Greek restaurant, art gallery, low- and high-priced gift shops, coffee shop, karate instruction studio, custom tailor, European-style bistro, and stir-fry restaurant
  • Strong support for local businesses from consumers and Think Local First, a group that encourages locally-owned businesses committed to making Ann Arbor a healthier and more vibrant place to live
  • Downtown Development Authority promotes downtown business activity and economic revitalization with over 100 projects and $60 million invested in downtown for mixed-use developments, walkability, and parking developments
  • Main Street Association organizes more than a dozen events on street each year
  • Streetscape improvements in 1980s included widened sidewalks, intersection bump outs, trees and pedestrian crossings