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Coffee and juice bar moves into downtown Northville

A man with a name that's pretty close to perfect for his line of work is opening a coffeehouse and smoothie bar in downtown Northville.

Johnny Coffey is the man behind Northville Roast, which opened last month at 133 W. Main, Suite 222, on the downtown square.

He is hoping to make a success of the storefront that's been home to other coffee shops by mixing it up with fresh-roasted beans and adding twists such as bringing in musicians and serving smoothies and fresh juices.

Northville Roast celebrated the opening at Northville's Memorial Day parade and, as Coffey says, "We are so excited to be re-launching your much anticipated hometown coffee shop."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Johnny Coffey, owner, Northville Roast

Oakland Comm. College completes $6.3 million renovation

Oakland Community College  has completed a $6.34 million restoration and renovation of its Student Center on the Farmington Hills campus.

Besides making repairs to prevent years of leaks in the building, the renovations entailed new ceilings and lights and an overhaul of the campus bookstore. New study spaces were created, as was a new office for the Student LIFE programs.

A new theater and performance hall with a separate entrance were added to the building.

"We now have an ideal gathering space for our students, one that is inviting, promotes fellowship and has good study spaces," says OCC President Jacqueline Shadko.

The new student center also has display areas for students art work and graphic designs.

"It is our firm belief that an attractive campus environment not only enhances, but positively fosters the quality of the quality of the education experience for our students," Chancellor Timothy Meyer says in a statement. "Maintaining and improving our facilities would not be possible were it not for the confidence and support shown to OCC by the citizens of Oakland County, who have voted three times over the past 18 years in favor of providing OCC with the additional millage funds that make these types of projects possible.”

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Selvia Hines, marketing and communication, Oakland Community College

Michigan-based MJR building $16M theater in Troy

Oak Park-based MJR Digital Cinemas is opening its next theater in Troy, creating jobs and drawing an estimated 800,000 visitors annually to the spot that will also introduce a new concept in movie-watching.

The MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 will be located at the corner of Maple and Livernois roads and house 16 screens and 3,200 seats.

Ground will be broken on the 74,000-square-foot facility in September, and  opening day is expected by late April 2014.

The $16-million project will also dedicate one of its theaters to the MJR Epic Experience, a new concept that focuses on designing a theater around extra comfort and a higher level of customer service. The 460-seat theater will have a larger screen and larger, overstuffed leather seats with more space between seats. The Epic Experience Theater will also come with the MJR Studio Bar & Lounge.

“Troy has great demographics and is the perfect community in which to build a brand new and truly state of the art facility,” MJR CEO and founder Michael Mihalich says.
 
The Troy Grand will be MJR's ninth theater in southeast Michigan.

“The city of Troy is so proud to partner with MJR in transforming the Maple Road-Livernois corner into a first-class entertainment destination,” Mayor Dane Slater says.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Cindy Stewart, city of Troy; Dane Slater, Troy mayor; Michael Mihalich, CEO, MJR Theaters

Is "community solar" next frontier in alternative energy?

Research into ways of opening up opportunities to ordinary citizens and businesses interested in building solar energy generators is underway, thanks to a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Think of it as the community garden of alternative energy. It lets shareholders or investors participate in a shared generation or renewable energy site in exchange for some benefit based on their investment, possibly savings on utility costs or profit. The concept is not a new one in cities such as Seattle and other parts of the Northwest.

“Renewable energy resources, such as community solar, offer many potential community, economic, environmental, national security, and societal benefits for the state,” MEDC President and CEO Michael A. Finney says in an announcement of the grant. “Through this study, we can identify ways to make community solar a growing solution for locally-owned clean energy.”

The $33,304 grant to the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association will be used to perform a Community Solar PV Garden Feasibility Study that will help the MEDC's Renewable Energy Demonstration Program determine what the barriers are to forming community solar projects.

Barriers include high up-front costs and lack of optimal places to install solar gardens.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Kathy Fagan, spokesperson, Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Hamlin Corner mega sports bar opening in Royal Oak

Hamlin's Pubs, a metro Detroit restaurant and sports bar chain, is opening what it describes as a sophisticated sports bar with live entertainment on the ground floor of the Wooodward North Lofts in Royal Oak.

Hamlin Corner, named after its corner spot in the loft and retail development, opens May 23 in the renovated 6,700-square-foot space at 386 N. Main near 11 Mile Road, a location that's been disappointedly vacant for six years.

Besides a redone interior with rich colors and dark woods, there will be sidewalk seating with restaurant windows opening to the patio. The restaurant capacity is about 300 customers, and a DJ stand and dance floor are part of the design by the owners who have years of experience in restaurants.

The menu will be "locally inspired," manager Anthony Mancini says, and offer burgers, sandwiches, soups, heartier entrees and specials like mussels and 50 beers on tap. It'll also give the ambitious Woodward North Lofts project more life and activity.

Giancarlo DeAngelis, majority owner of Hungry Howie's pizza restaurants, and Anthony Mancini co-own Hamlin Corner. Mancini will be the operating manager, continuing the growth of Hamlin Pubs, which has six other locations: Lake Orion, Rochester Hills, Troy, Clarkston, Chesterfield and two in Shelby Township.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Anthony Mancini, owner/manager, Hamlin Pub Royal Oak

Car Condo proposal in Pontiac could restart vacant GM property

A vacant brownfield in Pontiac where General Motors once operated could be the site of an auto-related business trend -- car condos. Basically storage sites and gathering places for car lovers, car condos not only provide a place to safely keep a car but also to service it.

The proposal for M1 Concourse calls for a complex of four to six buildings, each one with 14-16 garages that can be tricked out by owners. Other possibilities for the 89.5-acre property include entertainment aspects such as an amphitheater and restaurants for visitors who bring may come for car shows or special events.

The initial part of the plan to re-use the site at Woodward Avenue and South Boulevard has been OK'd by city officials but still has other approvals to clear as developers work to re-use the property.

At an announcement of the project Wednesday, city and county officials expressed support for the M1 Concourse and RACER Trust.

RACER, Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, was created by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court settlement to help clean up and redevelop former General Motors properties in 14 states.

The car condo concept has taken off in other cities around the country, especially developments known for high-priced cars kept by deep-pocketed owners who want a club of like-minded car lovers.

Woodward Warehouse, a much smaller version of what the M1 Concourse could be, opened last summer in Royal Oak not far from the avenue that carries the Woodward Dream Cruise. It is finding a market in storage, detailing, rebuilding, event hosting and member socializing.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Bill Callen, RACER Trust

Downtown Northville has a new bridge to Main Street

An elevated walkway that connects downtown Northville's Main Street to a parking area is done, later than expected, but to the excitement of city and DDA officials who see it as a way to make the central business district more accessible and attractive.

The nearly $800,000 project, the Comerica Community Connection, is a pedestrian bridge styled with an historic downtown feel that connects the Marquis parking lot to Main Street near Comerica Bank and keeps downtown visitors from cutting through businesses or having to go around the block.

The walkway, which was first planned about five years ago, is one of several improvements for downtown and was spearheaded by the Northville Downtown Development Authority.

There are also street scape enhancements, new downtown signage and electric car charging stations done or on their way.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Northville Downtown Development Authority

Dubai investors and Farbman Group upgrade Parklane Towers in Dearborn

A 1970s-era office complex in Dearborn is under new ownership and management as plans to transform the Parklane Towers into a full-service, amenity filled-office and retail center unfold.

The 490,000 square-foot buildings that are perhaps the city's tallest, most prominent structures, are now owned by Dubai-based Fairlane Ventures and will be managed by the Farbman Group from Southfield.

"Fairlane Ventures has ties to Dearborn and has been looking to invest in a quality asset in the state of Michigan for sometime," says Michael Kalil, COO of the Farbman Group.

The plan is to make changes to the building that make it more attractive to current and prospective tenants looking for amenities such as a new fitness center, a new, larger conference center, a redesigned lobby and tenant services such as on-site dry cleaning and child care that comes with special rates and accelerated placement at the nearby Rainbow Childcare.

“We are thrilled to leverage our best-in-class services to increase occupancy and further improve overall operations for these dynamic, recognized buildings. It’s the perfect opportunity for us to partner with savvy investors from overseas who believe in the strength of southeast Michigan and the ongoing revitalization of Detroit,” Kalil says. “To advance our strategic growth, we will continue forging new international relationships as more investors and developers from around the world recognize the opportunities offered right here in Detroit.”

In addition to managing the Parklane Towers for Fairlane Ventures' investors, Farbman will also manage 15 buildings totaling 500,000 square feet at the Fairlane Commerce Park in Dearborn.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Andrea Trapani, IdentityPR, and Michael Kalil, COO Farbman Group

Deck Art celebrates skateboards as art in downtown Rochester

Skateboarders and downtown shops have had a rocky relationship through the years, but downtown Rochester is celebrating skateboarding -- and art -- with Deck Art 2013.

Deck Art invites anyone to buy a blank board -- the canvas -- for $20, decorate it and have it displayed in local businesses for special public exhibitions.

Deck Art is May 16 and 17 and starts with an art crawl beginning at the South Street Skateshop. It takes visitors in and out of businesses, which will offer special promotions. They can see more than 200 pieces of skateboard art spread throughout downtown.

The South Street Skateshop is the host. The city and the Rochester Downtown Development Authority supports and helps promote it as Deck Art nights are a way to fill downtown, bring in business and give the community something to do just as the weather turns nice. There will be food trucks each day, and entertainment.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Rochester Downtown Development Authority

Grosse Pointe Athletic Club expanding space, adding classes

The Grosse Pointe Athletic Club is adding 2,000 square feet of space and introducing classes at the 18-year-old business that maintains a loyal following of locals who gravitate toward hometown entrepreneurs.

Dr. Carlos Borrego, a lifelong Grosse Pointer who left radiation oncology several years ago to earn a master's degree in public health and become a consultant, was first an investing partner in the private club. In 2006 he took over as owner operator.

"I was between jobs and took over the job of streamlining the club, making it paperless, building in efficiencies," he says. "I was enjoying it so much."

It gave him the opportunity to offer trainers who could specialize in clients' needs, depending on age, activities, and injuries, as well as tie their training and workout to healthy lifestyles.

"This was never really on my radar," he says, "but it's been a wonderful thing. The thing about GPAC is it's really a neighborhood business and with a very loyal customer base who see it as a part of the community, which was all the more reason to expand and become a bigger part of the community."

The club at the corner of Fisher Road and Maumee in the Fisher Road shops will increase from 3,500 to 5,500 feet by taking over a former hair salon.

Borrego is replacing most equipment with new models in the the current space and using the new space for classes, most likely spinning, yoga, zumba and pilots, he says. The new club will open late September. There will be additional trainers and instructors in the new space, a former hair salon.

The building's owners are redoing the facade, the streetscape and landscape and there will be more parking and free parking in front and in back.

"It will be new inside and outside," he says.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Dr. Carlos Borrego, owner/operator, Grosse Pointe Athletic Club

Commercial Progression moves to larger office in downtown Northville

A Northville website design and development company that's just turning five is celebrating its success with a move into a larger office in downtown Northville.

Commercial Progression's new office at 115 North Center Street, Suite 203, brings together the company's team of web developers, graphic designers and freelancers who specialize in Drupal, a content management system for mobile or desktop uses. The firm calls itself The Drupal Experts.

A motto of Commercial Progression is to "help you leverage and turn great ideas into reality."

Alex Fisher founded the company in 2008 and not only helps businesses and entrepreneurs build websites they can manage but guides them through digital strategy that speaks to long term goals and success.

"We're a full-service Drupal shop, providing assistance at every step," Fisher says, "from before there's even a test site to many years hence."

Clients include National Geographic Ad Sales, TRW micosites event platform, the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology and School of Nursing, Motawi Tileworks and many others.

The company is hiring as more clients sign on.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Alex Fisher, founder, Commercial Progression

Snogo mixes up self-serve ice cream concept

A new self-serve, self-top ice cream bar with a smorgasbord of choices has opened on Fisher Road in Grosse Pointe Farms.

Serving your own ice cream from a wall of different flavors and picking out the toppings, from cookies to fruit to sauces and nuts, is trendy but not so new.

Snogo, however, is taking some of the bite out of the concept, which usually has consumers paying by weight and paying a pretty penny for it. At Snogo there is no weighing, just a set price per cup, to keep it more affordable and fun, says owner David Cracchiolo.

Snogo seems to be in an ideal location, across from a high school with a swimming pool and athletic facilities that go seven days a week at all hours.

Snogo opened a few weeks ago and has been so busy more employees are already being hired.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: David Cracchiolo, owner, Snogo

Downtown Birmingham's First Thursdays offer nighttime shopping

Birmingham's business development officials have been studying shoppers and retail trends for many months now, trying to figure out how to improve on downtown Birmingham as a shopping and free-time destination.

One question asked: When do you want to shop? The answer: evenings, after work or school.

That's when many downtown shops are closed. So in the interest of finding out if nighttime shopping will actually generate traffic, about 45 downtown stores will stay open until 9 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, says John Heiney, director of Birmingham's Principal Shopping District.

The response will show if a mostly daytime downtown -- other than restaurants and movies -- will fly.

First Thursdays will run through September during the summer months, when strolling store to store at night is more likely. There will be a theme each month along with sales and special events and activities in stores and around downtown to promote First Thursdays.

Birmingham's Principal Shopping District, which is made up of downtown businesses and employs a retail consultant to keep downtown thriving, is hosting the event and "wants to get shoppers thinking about shopping in the evening," Heiney says.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: John Heiney, director, Birmingham Principal Shopping District

Grove Street to get $1.1M makeover in downtown Farmington

Construction started this week on a project to turn a beat up, outdated main street in downtown Farmington into a boulevard streetscape of greenery, decorative lighting and stamped walkways.

The $1.1-million Grove Street Reconstruction Project will also add parking to downtown and make over a tired strip retail center as well as connect it to a major pedestrian crosswalk that will lead to another shopping center.

Water mains will also be replaced and a plaza space with seating will be part of the new downtown layout.

The goal of city officials and the Downtown Development Authority is to make downtown more attractive, walkable, and busy as well as match it to a streetscape already redone. The plans call for turning a swath of pavement into a boulevard separated by a center island with angled parking along parts of it.

Mayor Tom Buck says the project is as much about attracting families to downtown as it is attracting small businesses and boosting the local economy.

The project will completely remove and replace Grove Street from Grand River to Main Street. The work was delayed in 2009 due to the costs. It is expected to be completed in two phases over a 10-week period and ready to use sometime in July.

Writer: Kim North  Shine
Source: Annette Knowles, executive director, Farmington Downtown Development Authority

New dance school goes back to basics in downtown Rochester



A former professional dancer and classically-trained dance teacher is opening a studio this month in downtown Rochester with hopes of replacing the competitive, reality TV twist of some dance studios with one that's focused on classical education and performance.

Cindy Raffel, 27, will bring her experience as a dancer and choreographer with companies around the country and as a certified K-12 dance instructor to her 2nd Street Studio of Dance. It will open with a ribbon-cutting on May 17th, with three days of free classes that day through the 19th. By July, classes for ballet, tap, jazz, modern dance and hip hop and other forms of dance will begins.

The studio at 100 E. 2nd Street is 5,600 square feet of space with three dance studios and classes for children and adults.

She plans to keep prices low, partly by eliminating the competitive dance aspect that can come with so many costs. Classes themselves will be affordable, she says.

Raffel, who's danced with ballet and theater companies in places such as Virginia, where she is from, and Florida, where she was with the Tampa Ballet, moved to Michigan in September after her husband, Tom, received a tenure-track position at Oakland University. They bought their home in Rochester and really dug downtown, she says. They loved Rochester and after hearing about the vacant RARA building -- Rochester Avon Recreation Authority -- she decided to open the studio she's dreamed about for years.

"Obviously with dance I started as a kid and I always wanted to have a dance studio…As an elementary schooler I was making up a show, picking out a costumes and showing my parents my choreography," she says. "It was always in the back of mind because I didn't know how far my professional career would go. When we decided to move here, we bought a house really quickly. I thought, this is going to be where we're settling down. I should for it. Lo and behold there was this vacant building waiting for me.

The studio "is literally steps away from Main Street," she says. "For me it's a great location only because it is a great area…but for all that's going on. You can walk out the door and be at a parade. Amazingly enough the house that we bought in August is exactly halfway between the university and the studio."

Before finding a place to open, she had been researching what was missing in the local dance scene.

"It's kind of hard as an outsider looking in…The dance world is so much word of mouth," she says, "But I think people are looking for something kind of different. something that's not competitive…I want dance to be a fun, happy experience. I want it to be enjoyable for everyone, including the parents."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Cindy Raffel, owner/instructor, 2nd Street Studio of Dance
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