We are beginning a series of short biographies about the Ann Arbor DDA Board members to help convey a bit about the people who volunteer their time & talent in support of our fabulous downtown.
Our first interview is with Al McWilliams, one of the newest members of the DDA. Al owns Quack!Media in downtown Ann Arbor.
Have you spent your entire life in Ann Arbor?
I grew up in the North ‘burbs (and Mexico). Though I visited Ann Arbor a lot in high school, I didn’t land here until 2000 as a Junior in college. I transferred to EMU from SMU in Dallas because Dallas is a terrible place. Also, I really wanted to live in Ann Arbor. I’ve also spent fair amounts of time living in Florida, California, Georgia and Spain, the last being every bit as great as you think.
What’s so special about Ann Arbor?
Ann Arbor offers an urban lifestyle without being surrounded by 100 miles of suburbs. That’s why I came here, and that’s why I’m still here. It’s really that simple. I like walking or taking the bus to work. I like crowded streets and culture past 8pm. I like the Symphony Orchestra and UMS and punk shows at the Pig and I can walk to all of them. I like that on a day that is 5 degrees, Main Street is busy with business people at lunch time, and revelers at midnight. I like that two miles to the west of that commotion there’s a working farm, on a dirt road, with cows.
Why is downtown a good place to create/grow a business?
My staff likes that stuff, too.
Do you live in or near downtown? How do you get to downtown?
I live in the 4th ward. On a nice day I’ll do the 30-minute walk, but I usually take the 3 minute bus ride.
Downtown keeps evolving, but its essence remains unchanged. What cool thing about downtown has stayed the same over time? What cool thing about downtown is different than it used to be?
People don’t think about it that often, but even 14 years ago when I moved here the Main Street area was very, very different. The Liberty St. corridor hadn’t really connected fully, Main St. was about half as dense with businesses as it is now and west of Main there were only a few active buildings. Now, the block between Main & Ashley is full on every street, day and night. When we moved into our offices on Main, they had been vacant since the early 1970s. Now, it’s four small businesses with 10-20 employees each. The aggregate effect of that growth is visible when you walk down the street. It happened gradually so it’s hard to notice, but step back and really think about what things were like, even just 10 years ago, and there’s been enormous progress.
Connect with Al on social media: