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Game Over: Pinball Pete’s Demolition

Game+Over%3A+Pinball+Petes+Demolition
Jack Lewis

To most who have lived in Ann Arbor, the name Pinball Pete’s sparks memories of fun-packed evenings filled with skeeball, table hockey, Dance Dance Revolution, and, of course, pinball. The beloved arcade has been a mainstay of Ann Arbor since the mid-’90s. Its overwhelming popularity has attracted not only hardcore gamers but also families, students, doctors and even attorneys.

“Everyone seems to come here,” Mike Reynolds said, the co-owner of Pinball Pete’s. “It’s an environment where they come, they feel safe, and they have fun.”

The company Pinball Pete has been around since the 1970s, having originated in what used to be a donut shop in East Lansing. Its current South University location was a major upgrade for Reynolds and his longtime business partner, Ted Arnold. There, the pair consolidated the games they’d collected at two smaller locations and re-established their iconic pink elephant logo. This arcade became the company’s flagship, its doors wide open to all since 1996.

Now — almost 30 years after its grand opening — Pinball Pete’s faces demolition. The proposed project, pitched by Myefski Architects and Landmark Properties Management Group, describes the complete removal of the Pinball Pete’s property, making way for a 17-story high-rise residential and retail building.

The tower will include 211 rental apartment units and 2,000 square feet of ground-level commercial tenant space. The sidewalk in front of the area will also be extended and a new streetscape will be added along University Avenue. The tenants of this building are likely to be students.

This renovation doesn’t just concern Pinball Petes. The plans dictate that the entire Galleria Mall will be removed; including an Amazon building, a Starbucks Coffee and a U.S. Postal Service building.
News of this development spread quickly and was met with persistent resistance from fans — many were worried that the project would mean the end of Pinball Pete’s. Online petitions drew numerous complaints and immense support for the arcade.

“We don’t need more expensive high-rise apartments in Ann Arbor,” Shauna Paulson said, a supporter of one such petition on Change.com. “Ann Arbor is becoming more prohibitively expensive every day and Pete’s is one of the last affordable places around here.”

Reynolds was impressed with the unyielding support from his fans.

“It’s wonderful,” Reynolds said. “I think that they’ve had a very reasonable impact on the developers… They’ve never met this sort of resistance.”

On December 5, 2023, the Bonner Advisory Group held a public meeting in the Ann Arbor District library. Over 100 advocates and fans attended the meeting and voiced their strong opinions about the project.
“These games are important,” one supporter said. “And it’s important to keep them accessible to the community.”

Other attendants were concerned about the development’s impact on the city’s character.

“As you create more gaudy high-rises and private parking, you’re ruining the very reasons a person might want to move to this city,” Another commenter said.

Pinball Pete’s is no stranger to adversity. During the COVID-19 pandemic in December 2020, Reynolds started a GoFundMe campaign to save the institution from closure. Community members rushed to his aid, and the campaign quickly raised over $125,000 with over 2200 individual donations.

Though touched by the community’s heartfelt support, Reynolds believes that whatever happens to the building is out of his control. He says that the developers have discussed their plans for the area with him and he has listened. Reynolds will miss the space but he assures fans that Pinball Pete’s will remain in business.

“There’ll be a clock that’s started for all the businesses here,” Reynolds said. “From Starbucks to the post office to us on how long we have to relocate.”

For now, Pete’s neon pink elephant remains illuminated above the arcade doors. As Ann Arbor awaits a final decision about the future of this historic block — gamers, students, and attorneys alike — continue to gather in the iconic basement that has welcomed them for decades.

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About the Contributor
Malcolm London, Journalist
Malcolm is an aspiring journalist with a passion for the greater good. By day, he writes articles and performs for the Community Ensemble Theatre. By night, he fights crime and commits admirable acts of heroism. With the shadows as his only ally, Malcolm has single-handedly turned the crime-riddled streets of Ann Arbor into a joyful utopia. This is his first year on staff.

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