Ann Arbor, Michigan. March 23rd, 2011.

March 25th UPDATE:

March 23rd:

The ground collapsed outside the gates surrounding construction of the downtown underground parking structure in Ann Arbor around 3:30 p.m. today.

A sink hole could be seen behind the Earthen Jar restaurant, 311 S. Fifth Ave., in a parking lot adjacent to the construction site.

A worker on her cell phone asked for a head count, but another worker at the site said no one was injured.

“There shouldn’t be anyone down there; it’s not stable,” one worker said.

Workers declined to answer questions about the incident or provide their names.

Sim Sethi, whose family owns Earthen Jar, said workers evacuated the restaurant around 3:30.Jerusalem Garden, located next door at 307 S. Fifth Ave., also was evacuated.

Ali Ramlawi, who owns Jerusalem Garden, said he was shaken and angry. Workers at both restaurants use the parking lot where the ground caved in. They stand and park on the spot that collapsed, he said.

“One of us could have been dead today — that’s why I’m angry, and it could have been any of us,” he said.

A note on the door said Jerusalem Garden was closed for the day Thursday, and orange construction barrels and a make-shift fence blocked access to Earthen Jar following the ground collapse.

Construction on the 700-space underground parking lot on South Fifth Avenue began 13 months ago. In a recent story, owners of the two restaurants talked about how their business was suffering during the construction.

The $50 million parking structure is a project of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. DDA Executive Director Susan Pollay called today’s incident a “serious occurrence,” saying a small section of the retaining wall broke. She said there were no injuries.

”The event may have been caused by a large sink hole that developed behind the wall in the parking lot of the house that is located interior to the block behind Earthen Jar,” Pollay said in an email. “We consider this to be a serious occurrence and we understand that Christman is following all appropriate construction protocol to deal with this. Their first efforts are being directed to human safety, and as a preventative measure Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden were evacuated; the small house nearest to the sink hole is already vacant.”

Pollay added she’s confident in Christman Co., the construction manager, and its response to this situation. She said the DDA’s structural engineers will be on site to provide an independent assessment of the situation.

This is now the second time such an incident has happened. There was a similar scare in the fall, when a small breach in the southern earth retention wall created a sinkhole effect next to the Ann Arbor District Library.

Sand began funneling through the wall, which sunk a few bike hoops and a portion of the concrete sidewalk along the northern edge of the library property.

Luckily, no one was hurt in the incident. Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library, gave credit at the time to Christman for how it handled the situation.

“It was, from my understanding, a pretty minor incident,” she said. “It was taken care of immediately and, from the library’s point of view, Christman did a fabulous job of dealing with it and taking responsibility for it. There was no interruption of library services.”

 

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