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Lincoln Park plans public space, pavilion downtown

Vacant land in downtown Lincoln Park, the subject of debate and discussion now for at least five years, may become a public event space and pavilion.

The Lincoln Park Downtown Development Authority plans to hire a consultant to draw up a blueprint for a re-use of the spot on Fort Street. The location is seen as a prime one for attracting visitors to downtown for fun, eating and shopping.

The DDA owns the vacant land, part of it occupied by the Dorsey Building at 1673 Fort Street. The building is in disrepair and needs to be demolished. The vacant lots next the building are also owned by the DDA, which had that land cleared when the historic Mellus Newspapers Building could not be saved. The other building has also been demolished.

This long process has paved the way for a park and public gathering space. The DDA's executive director, Madhu Oberoi, says a meeting held this week to discuss a public use plan for the property was well attended by residents and business owners.

"We got great responses. The consensus was that the public space was a great idea and the covered pavilion/gazebo is definitely needed downtown for events," she says. "It was felt this would be a catalyst for new development. The level of excitement was definitely there."

Source: Madhu Oberoi, executive director, Lincoln Park Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Ferndale to add bike lanes on Livernois Road

A one-mile stretch of Livernois Road in Ferndale is shrinking in size as part of a "road diet" that will reduce the street to two lanes and make room for bicycle travel.

A $118,092 Transportation Alternatives Grant from the Michigan Department of Transportation  is helping cover the cost of the project that stretches from 8 to 9 Mile Road.

Lanes will be repainted, buffered bike lanes constructed, bike racks added and a mid-block crosswalk built.

The rebuild of the road also includes the addition of on-street parking.

Altogether, city officials see changes as building on Ferndale's efforts to promote all forms of transportation and to design roads that promote businesses by making it easier for customers to reach them.

Source: Ferndale Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Brass Aluminum Forging embarks on $8.6M rehab of Ferndale brownfield

A vacant industrial site in Ferndale will be cleaned up and returned to the tax rolls after a growing local business renovates the property and brings new jobs to the site.

Brass Aluminum Forging's plan to re-use the building at 965 Wanda will come with an $8.6-million investment. The project got the go-ahead this week when the Michigan Economic Development Corp. approved a local and school tax capture of nearly $718,000, money that will help cover the cost of renovations.

The building will be shared by Brass Aluminum Forging and other tenants that lease space.

The company, which makes valve bodies, weapon components, air and hydraulic fittings, and architectural details and provides items that can be forged as well as other processes and products, expects to hire 50 new employees to work at the new site. Building tenants are expected to hire another 50 employees.

The city of Ferndale's Brownfield Development Authority requested the 965 Wanda site be a recipient of the the MEDC's Michigan Strategic Fund's economic development and community revitalization projects.

Source: Kathy Fagan, spokesperson, MEDC
Writer: Kim North Shine

Roundabouts planned for Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills

The city of Farmington Hills is planning to redesign a mile-long stretch of Orchard Lake Road into a series of roundabouts and boulevards as a way to improve traffic safety, promote economic development and encourage bicycle and pedestrian travelers.

The reconstruction could start in the spring on the the busy stretch between 13 and 14 Mile roads. The five-lane Orchard Lake Road is a major entry into the city, and part of the larger Northwestern Connector Project of the Road Commission for Oakland County and the Michigan Department of Transportation. The purposes are to improve traffic safety, including reducing severity of traffic crashes by slowing traffic, to stimulate economic development and to promote ease of use for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Details of the plan will be presented at an April 23 meeting at Farmington Hills City Hall.

Source: City of Farmington Hills Engineering Division
Writer: Kim North Shine

Dearborn builds splash pad as family amenity

The city of Dearborn is installing a splash pad and spray park on the east side of the city, giving current residents a free and fun activity and potential residents an amenity that might make Dearborn a good place to call home.

Construction on the splash pad at Hemlock Park is expected to begin this spring and opening day will come this summer, no later than the Fourth of July.

The splash pad will have two dozen shooting, squirting and spraying water features from colorful shapes. A 20-foot umbrella will stand near the splash pad as will six park benches. A decorative iron fence will surround it all.

Vortex Midwest out of Williamston, MI will build the splash pad. The city plans to add a splash pad to west Dearborn in the future as planners look for ways to add aquatic recreation to city amenities.

"We’re pleased to add the splash pad to our recreational options," says in a statement announcing the splash pad construction, " and know that families, especially those with young children, will find it a perfect way to spend a summer afternoon."

Source: city of Dearborn
Writer: Kim North Shine

Grosse Pointe Park to build second city-run movie theater

The city of Grosse Pointe Park, in cooperation with a nonprofit community foundation, will build a second movie theater at the city park.

This theater will be added to the existing movie theater, which shows first-run films and is a draw for all five communities in the Pointes. Construction on the second screen, which will seat 60-65 people,  will begin this spring.

It is seen as one more way to satisfy locals used to two resident-only city parks that include a free ice rink and warming house, a splash pad and pool, fitness center, gyms and putting green -- amenities not often often found in other cities.

The Grosse Pointe Park Community Foundation is raising about $300,000 of the $450,000 cost to enlarge the theater.

Tax dollars will cover $75,000 and profits from the theater, which charges less than commercial theaters, will cover the rest.

Source: City of Grosse Pointe Park and Grosse Pointe Park Community Foundation
Writer: Kim North Shine

State backs Dearborn Artspace artists' community

Plans for City Hall Artspace Lofts in Dearborn, a community where all kinds of artists could live, work, learn, and sell, took a significant step forward with the approval of housing tax credits from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

The proposal, which is a collaboration between the city of Dearborn, the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority and a Minneapolis-based nonprofit real estate developer, Artspace, would renovate Dearborn's historic City Hall, now Plans for City Hall Artspace Lofts in Dearborn, a community where all kinds of artists could live, work, learn, and sell, took a significant step forward with the approval of housing tax credits from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

The proposal, which is a collaboration between the city of Dearborn, the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority and a Minneapolis-based nonprofit real estate developer, Artspace, would renovate Dearborn's historic City Hall into 46 affordable housing units for artists and their families. City Hall Artspace Lofts at 13615 Michigan Avenue would also have room for a cafe, working studios, incubator space, galleries and creative businesses.

The project encompasses City Hall, which includes the adjacent West Annex and the concourse. Altogether, it would also provide Dearborn with a community gathering and performance space indoors and out. City Hall was sold to Artspace in August, and city offices will move to a municipal complex west of the current City Hall.

The project comes with a $16 million price tag, and the tax credits from MSHDA, which amount to $7.6 million in upfront equity, are a significant step in chipping away at the capital campaign required to bring a Dearborn Artspace to reality.

With support from the state, the final phase of fundraising can begin with a target date of summer 2014 for construction on a project that Artspace calls one of the most unique of the 33 it's completed around the country in the last 30 years.

Artspace President Kelley Lindquist cited the City Hall Artspace Lofts project as unique in the organization’s portfolio.
“Artspace has a long history of saving and repurposing historic buildings from warehouses to schools to hospitals, but this is our first opportunity to renovate a city hall,” Artspace president Kelley Lindquist said. “I’m thrilled we can help Dearborn preserve this important building, and grateful to the very active and engaged community leaders and artists who are helping make this possible.”

Source: Melissa Kania, executive assistant, East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority; and Melodie Bahan, spokesperosn, Artspace
Writer: Kim North Shine

New diner steps in for closed one in downtown Clawson

RJ's Diner is soon to open in the downtown Clawson spot long occupied by Grumpy's.

RJ's will be a 50's era diner and serve comfort foods like meat loaf and mac & cheese, according to the Clawson Downtown Development Authority.

Opening day at the new restaurant at 230 S. Main Street is expected before winter, after recipes are perfected, renovations are complete and employees are hired.

It's "always sad to see one business leave but so nice when another relocates and finds their new home here," says Joan Horton, executive director of the Clawson DDA.

Source: Joan Horton, Clawson Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Age-friendly, plug-in ready neighborhood planned for Auburn Hills

A residential development in Auburn Hills is planned to be much more than another new subdivision.

The Parkways, a project of The Moceri Companies, is meant to create public use spaces, become an entry into the city's emerging downtown district, promote alternative electric vehicle usage and offer specially-designed multi-generational housing in one neighborhood.

City officials say the mix of housing styles and design of the neighborhood keep in mind the city's goals of offering more "age-friendly" and senior living options and promoting the inclusion of alternative energy technology in new construction.

The Parkways is also believed to be the largest residential development in Michigan to wire all property with electric vehicle plug-ins.

"This project was intentionally designed to meet Auburn Hills’ formal commitment to become an Age-Friendly Community with a variety of housing opportunities, parks, sidewalks and complete street considerations,” says Steven Cohen, director of community development for the city of Auburn Hills. “This private investment by The Moceri Companies to build a multi-generational development is a huge victory for the city.  It’s a game changer for Downtown Auburn Hills.”

As for electric vehicle wiring, Cohen says, "If considered when a project is first built, preparing for electric vehicles is very easy and inexpensive.  By prepping these garages with proper wiring, new residents within this development will only need to add a charging station on the wall if they buy or lease an electric vehicle.  It’s like adding a garage door opener and the costs are now very similar.  Having proper infrastructure in place will help this technology succeed. It just takes forward thinking.”

The Parkways will be made up of 76 townhouse, 72 stacked, flat units and a three-story 160-unit senior care complex.

The market value of The Parkways, which will be built on 21.5 acres of property west of Adams road and north of the Clinton River Trail, is expected to be $75 million. Previous plans for a major housing development by another company foundered during the recession, and the property went into foreclosure and then back into the city's hands.

A partnership with the city and Moceri means part of the land will become a two-acre public park and the major road through the property will be designed as a boulevard an eastern gateway into downtown Auburn Hills, where major projects such as student housing, will be completed soon.

Construction on the first of five phases is scheduled to being in the spring of 2014 and be completed by the end of 2017.

Source: City of Auburn Hills
Writer: Kim North Shine

Four new developments coming online in Auburn Hills

Auburn Hills -- and its developing downtown area -- is in a mini-construction boom with four new projects partially or mostly complete.

The developments are an outgrowth of increased enrollment and demands for housing and other services for students and staff at Oakland University, Oakland Community College, Baker College and Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

* The University Center will open in January and replace a restaurant and bar with a two-story building dedicated to educating local high school and college students. The first floor will have two classrooms in 4,800 square feet and host classes for colleges and universities located in Auburn Hills. The second floor will be home to the Avondale Academy run by Avondale Schools.

The University Center is a partnership between the city's TIFA, Avondale Schools, Oakland University, Oakland Community College, Baker College and Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

* The DEN, Downtown Education Nook, will be a relaxing hang-out for students to study individually or in groups and like the University Center open in January. The 1,564-square-foot facility is connected to a historic log cabin and will have two fireplaces and five study rooms.

* Auburn Square Apartments: 97 apartments consisting of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. The $9 million project will include 6,100 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, helping to increase foot traffic in the downtown area. Apartments are already leasing and move-in should begin in January.

* A public parking structure will be owned and operated by the city and its Tax Increment Financing Authority. It will have space for 233 vehicles, with spaces connected to common hallways that lead to each floor of apartments. It should be open for business in November.

All four projects are the result of work by the city's Tax Increment Financing Authority, which captures increases in the tax base in a designated zone and dedicates them to public improvement projects in partnership with private and other public investors.

Source: Barbara Fornasiero, spokesperson, city of Auburn Hills
Writer: Kim North Shine

Ice ice baby! Downtown Farmington gets new rink

Downtown Farmington is complementing its growing retail scene and historic downtown gathering spaces with a new ice rink.

The rink is expected to be completed in December and will be located at Riley Park in the heart of downtown. It's being built by Serv Ice Refrigeration, the same company that laid the rink in Campus Martius in downtown Detroit, says Annette Knowles, director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority.

The George F. Riley Foundation, for whom the park is named, donated $100,000 toward the construction of the rink,which sill cost about $300,000. Fundraisers continue to raise the rest of the money and engineering firm, Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment are donating services for the project.

“Our family is quite pleased at how Riley Park in downtown Farmington has become a hub for families and friends to gather together and has also become a center for key events in Farmington. The Riley Foundation’s commitment to create the Riley Ice Rink creates a fourth season for activity in downtown. We are excited to be able to support this worthwhile enhancement for families and friends enjoying the quality of life in our community," the Riley Foundation says in a letter.

Knowles says the community has expressed a desire for a downtown rink in visioning sessions and other public meetings and that she expects the rink to be a "cool" addition to the city.

"Job creation will be hard to measure at this point, but we do know that seasonal maintenance will be necessary. Spin off business opportunities exist," Knowles says. "For example, we would love for someone to come forward with skate rentals that we do not have to manage."

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director, Farmington Downtown Development Authority

Writer: Kim North Shine

Boutique hotel moving in to downtown Wyandotte Sears store

The vacant Sears department store in downtown Wyandotte is on its way to becoming a boutique hotel.

The owners of The Hotel Sterling in Monroe plan to spend $2.5 million to renovate the inside and out of the three-story building on Biddle Avenue, keeping in tune with the historic, cosmopolitan style of this hotel in downtown Monroe, says Natalie Rankine, director of the Wyandotte Downtown Development Authority. The renovation began last month and will be completed in two phases. Opening day is expected in late 2014, she says.

The first phase will cover the exterior, the basement and the first and second floors of the building, turning them into 21 hotel suites, a lobby, business center, conference and banquet facility and hotel offices. The second phase will make over the third floor and add 12 suites as the market dictates.

City and state economic development officials see the hotel's potential to improve the business climate, increase commercial investment and create jobs. 

The Wyandotte DDA purchased the property in 2012 for $530,000 and sold it to The Hotel Sterling owners Ken and Rebecca Wickenheiser for $350,000. With donations from the Downriver Area Brownfield Consortium to help pay for property cleaning, the DDA will spend about $200,000 on the redevelopment.

"We are excited to embark upon this project with the Wickenheisers. Ken and Rebecca have an incredible knowledge of architectural design and understanding of historic preservation," says Rankine. "These traits combined with the great business model they've already developed for the Hotel Sterling Monroe will make this project a perfect fit for our downtown."

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. put in $445,000 toward the hotel to seal the deal with the hotel owners and bring investment and jobs to the city.

Rankine says construction will require 20 temporary jobs and running the hotel will create 5 permanent jobs.

Source: Natalie Rankine, director, Wyandotte Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Food Truck grants heat up business plans

Two metro Detroit food trucks are sharing in state economic development grants meant to support a burgeoning industry in Michigan.

The $77,775 in grants awarded by the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which predicts food truck businesses will be a $2.7-billion industry by 2017, went to Southfield-based Detroit Pommes Frites and Plain and Fancy Food from Pontiac.

With matching grants from each winner, a total of $144,246 is being invested in the 10 food trucks.

The grants are part of the 2013 Mobile Cuisine Startup Program, which is designed to help new or growing businesses that "offer easily accessible and unique food options to patrons in public spaces and contribute to the local economy by working with other local businesses and farms. The intent of this program is to assist with community and economic development by increasing pedestrian traffic in downtowns and traditional commercial cores," according to the MEDC announcement of the winners.

MEDC president and CEO Michael Finney says "today's grants will help food entrepreneurs from around the state launch their business ideas, grow, and create jobs in Michigan."

Other winners included MI Fresh Start in Traverse City, The Organic Gypsy in Kalamazoo, Roaming Harvest in Interlochen, Dia De Los Tacos in Marquette, Taco Now in Flint and Pure F2T in East Lansing.

Source: Kathy Fagan, Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Writer: Kim North Shine

Federal grant funds speedier trains between Dearborn and Kalamazoo

A 135-mile stretch of railway that runs from Dearborn to Kalamazoo will undergo $9 million in improvements to prepare it for a 110-mph regional commuter rail service between Detroit and Chicago.

The federal TIGER grant announced this week is one of several meant to create jobs and improve mass transit infrastructure in the Midwest and across the country. The Michigan Department of Transportation will oversee the project.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Service will run on an AMTRAK line that will eventually provide higher-rate service on a Pontiac and Ann Arbor line through Michigan, to Chicago and other parts of Illinois and Indiana.

“These transformational TIGER projects are the best argument for investment in our transportation infrastructure,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement announcing a total of $474 million in grants. “Together, they support President Obama’s call to ensure a stronger transportation system for future generations by repairing existing infrastructure, connecting people to new jobs and opportunities, and contributing to our nation’s economic growth.”

In Dearborn, where an intermodal passenger rail station is to open in mid-2014 on Michigan Avenue near Brady, mass transit improvements are seen as a way to "draw more visitors, businesses and residents" and "support the city's largest institutions and their employees: Ford, U-M Dearborn and The Henry Ford: America's Greatest History Attraction," says Dearborn Mayor John B. O'Reilly.

Source: Nick Schirripa, spokesperson, Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kim North Shine

Auburn Hills wants to generate alternative energy use

The city of Auburn Hills is stepping up again in support of alternative energy use, this time by purchasing police cruisers and other city vehicles that run on propane and natural gas and also by passing a resolution to prevent fuel waste and support alternative fuel use in general.

The decision comes after the Ann Arbor-based Clean Energy Coalition provided the city with numerous recommendations spelled out in a Fuel Forward Fleet Study. It showed how the city could save money and reduce emissions by retrofitting city vehicles to be powered with natural gas or propane gas. It also made other recommendations such as reducing police car idling times and building an alternative fuel infrastructure.

The city council adopted the recommendations and also purchased eight propane auto gas units for the new 2013 Dodge Charger police pursuit vehicles, a fuel dispenser, a year's worth of propane fuel, and a jet and vacuum truck for street and sewer cleaning.

Ron Melchert, the city's director of public works, says about $4,000 will be saved over the 4.72 years, the average life of the police vehicles.

Melchert says the city will see a return on investment in two and a half years and reduce the city's reliance on foreign oil as well as decrease its greenhouse emissions by 13 percent.

The latest move follows the city's decision two years ago to promote  electric vehicles by encouraging and supporting the inclusion of electric vehicle plug-ins at local businesses and with contractors and builders.

The city's attempts to boost alternative energy has made it a model for other cities, Mark Rabinksy, project manager for Clean Energy Coalition, says in a statement.

“The city of Auburn Hills has shown time and again they are a leader in Michigan. No other city in the state has been more active in promoting the use of electric vehicles and now, by supporting the advancement of other forms of alternative fuels, the city is paving the way for other municipalities to do the same."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Ron Melchert, director of public works, city of Auburn Hills
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