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Stone Works opens on Grosse Pointe Woods' Mack Ave.

Stone Works is bringing interior design and masonry work for indoors and outdoors to a storefront in Grosse Pointe Woods.

The store can serve as showroom and planning site for home and commercial projects. Stone Works is scheduled to open mid-June on Mack Avenue in place of a closed Verizon store.

"We've had very vibrant activity along Mack Avenue," says the city's building department director, Gene Tutage.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Gene Tutag, director, Grosse Pointe Woods building department

Local leaders honored at 2nd annual Regional Transit Awards dinner

With southeast Michigan's Regional Transit Authority underway and M1-Rail about to break ground, a crowd of over 150 transit advocates had considerable cause for a buoyant mood as they strolled the stately gardens and ballroom of the Grosse Pointe War Memorial at Transit Riders United's second annual Regional Transit Awards dinner on May 21st.
 
"Developing a quality regional transit system is a marathon, not a sprint," said Megan Owens, TRU's Executive Director. "It's important to pause and recognize progress, and the people who are making a difference."
 
The Citizen Activist of the Year Award went to Neil Greenburg, whose Freshwater Railway website depicts a fictional Michigan rail system. Greenberg, a self-taught professional transit cartographer and operations consultant, developed the site to garner support for transit by offering a visual experience of the possibilities. Tools to rally public support are needed now more than ever, according to Greenberg.
 
"It's too early to say 'Mission Accomplished'," he said.  "We are at the beginning, not the end."
 
Michele Hodges, who until recently served as Executive Director of the Troy Chamber of Commerce, won the Corporate Transit Champion Award for engaging business, education, and labor leaders in the successful fight against former Troy mayor Janice Daniel's attempt to reject federal funding for the Troy Transit Center.
 
The Unsung Hero Award went to former legislator Marie Donigan, who worked to establish the RTA and make state laws and funding sources friendlier to transit. Donigan continues her transit advocacy work, recently helping to coordinate a 2-day Metro Detroit Transit Workshop.
 
Dennis Schornack, Senior Strategic Advisor to Governor Snyder, won Most Effective Public Servant Award for his work shepherding the RTA legislation through the political process.
 
A Transit Employee of the Year Award went to Detroit Department of Transportation bus driver Michael Childs, who was nominated by a rider for being on-time with a big, welcoming smile every day, despite an increased workload owing to recent cuts in DDOT funding and service.
 
Ann Arbor Transit Authority's new AirRide program, which now provides daily round-trip service between Ann Arbor and Detroit Metropolitan Airport, won the Exemplary Innovation Award.
 
The TRU board sprung two surprises: a Transit Opportunities Award for the entire RTA Board, and an Above and Beyond Award for Owens for her work at TRU.
 
Winners were selected by a panel of 4 judges, including Clark Harder, former legislator and Michigan Public Transit Association Executive Director, Heather Carmona, chief administrative officer of M1 Rail, Sue Zielinsli, managing director of Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility & Research & Transformation at the University of Michigan, and Polly Sedewa, transit activist and past TRU board member.

Writer: Nina Ignaczak 

Royal Oak's Monty's Beef Co. is where the healthier beef is

A beef from the Piedmonte region of Italy and prized there and in the U.S. for its quality is being sold from a new market in Royal Oak.

Monty's Beef Co. opened June 1 at 324 E. Fourth St. in downtown Royal Oak  and specializes in Piedmontese beef from a herd of cattle imported from Italy and raised humanely by a rancher in mid-Michigan.

It is sold at the store, online and by phone to customers -- whether for home use or by restaurants -- looking for cattle raised organically, fed well, not pumped with chemicals and known for producing meat that's as flavorful as prime, aged beef but with less cholesterol and fat.

The owners Jon and Rachel Leemis spent many months researching the beef industry, looking for purer, higher quality beef.

Their Monty's Beef Co. will sell directly or through orders that can be picked up in the store or delivered. Monty's has a Steak of the Month Club and gift packages as well as its regular menu of choice cuts.

In Italy, the Piedmonte breed of cattle graze in the Alps. The beef has been eaten there for centuries and is said to be tastier and healthier and considered superior to North American cattle breeds.

It can be found occasionally on menus in the U.S., but the owners of Monty's Beef Co. hope to make Piedmonte beef a menu staple.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Rachel Leemis, owner, Monty's Beef Co.

JABS Gym brings BoYo to Birmingham

A new gym that combines yoga and boxing into one workout has moved into Birmingham's burgeoning Rail District.

JABS Gym opened last month at 2285 Cole with a boxing ring inside and an intimate workout studio, where BoYo is taught and combines the stretch, strength and inner calming of yoga with the high-impact cardio of boxing.

Besides BoYo, owners Willie "Fortune 500" Fortune, a pro boxer, David Tessler, a yoga expert, and his wife Meagan Tessler offer kickboxing and boot camps with group and individual classes and workouts.

There is also a weigh room and workout equipment.

The opening is filling out the Rail District, a mixed use development just east of downtown Birmingham off Maple Road, where there are townhouses, successful retailers and service-oriented businesses such as the Robot Garage and Goldfish Swim School and soon-to-open restaurants such as Griffin Claw Brewing Co.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Meagan Tessler, co-owner, JABS Gym

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
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