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$12 million medical center a shot in the arm for Trenton

An eyesore of a hospital that once was the lifeblood of downtown Trenton is coming back to life in the form of a new medical center.

The nearly 10-acre property on the bank of the Detroit River is called Riverside Commons, and it will pump $12 million in new investment into Trenton and bring 163 permanent, full-time jobs when it opens, according to the Michigan Economic Growth Authority. It has approved a request from the Trenton Brownfield Redevelopment Authority to capture $2,224,250 in school and local taxes for the project.

Riverside Commons is moving into a refurbished building that housed Henry Ford Hospital, which closed in 2002 and "has become something of an eyesore," city administrator Bob Cady says.

Construction is expected to begin within days and will lead to a new exterior and renovation of the interior, including removal of asbestos. An opening date has not been set.

Riverside Commons will include doctors' offices on the front side, a rehabilitation facility in the center, and senior housing or eldercare to the rear of the property, on the riverfront. There may also be a teaching component for respiratory therapy students, Cady says.

A few years ago the city invested about $2 million in improvements to downtown that make it more attractive and easier to navigate for pedestrians and drivers.

"It's our hope that this will help our downtown area with the jobs that will be created and the traffic that will be generated," he says. "It could be a real shot in the arm for downtown."

Source: Bob Cady, city administrator, city of Trenton
Writer: Kim North Shine

Walkers, cyclists may like changes coming to Grosse Pointe, Dearborn

Projects coming courtesy of the federal government will bring changes to streets, sidewalks and commercial areas in Grosse Pointe and Dearborn.

The changes, part of federal Transportation Enhancement Grants distributed by the Michigan Department of Transportation, will basically make busy areas of the two cities more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly and ideally more attractive to locals and visitors.

The $575,105 Dearborn project will realign the Dix-Vernor business corridor and improve pedestrian safety. The realignment will change the angle at which Vernor Highway intersects Dix Avenue. In addition, a streetscape project will add ADA-compliant curb ramps, pedestrian stereo lighting, benches, trash receptacles and landscaping and also provide space for added parking. The city is paying $228,442 while the federal grants cover $342,663.

"Working with MDOT and Wayne County, we will be able to create a modern, pedestrian-friendly intersection that will be safer and more attractive to residents and visitors alike while boosting our business district," Dearborn Mayor John O'Reilly, Jr. says in a statement announcing the grants. "This is a great example of how a partnership between local and state government can set the stage for community improvements and economic growth."

In Grosse Pointe, a $969,029 project will also add ADA-compliant curb ramps, decorative sidewalks, bike racks, benches, trash receptacles, scored concrete crosswalks, landscaping and decorative lighting. The changes will improve pedestrian safety and mobility and improve the appearance of the neighborhood.

The city is paying $329,470, the federal government $639,559.

The grants fall under a federal law that requires 10 percent of federal surface transportation funds be used for transportation enhancement projects for community investment in projects such as streetscapes, bicycle paths and historic preservation.

Source: Jeff Cranson, director of communications, Michigan Department of Transportation; Grosse Pointe City Manager Peter Dame; Dearborn Mayor John O'Reilly, Jr.
Writer: Kim North Shine

Downtown Rochester $1M streetscape re-do is on

The final piece of funding for a massive redo of Rochester Road in downtown Rochester is in place.

A $523,778 federal grant - combined with a matching amount from the city - will set off a project that will modernize the street, lights and sidewalks while preserving history and enhancing safety, appearance and usefulness.

Rochester Road, the city's main thoroughfare through downtown, is one of Michigan's most admired Main Streets. The million-dollar-plus streetscape project will include new LED street lighting fixtures, pedestrian benches, trash receptacles, reconstructed crosswalks and sidewalks, and more. New street lights and posts with the energy saving bulbs will be replaced along the stretch from Second Street to the Paint Creek Bridge. The old lights, if financially feasible, will go into alleys, says Kristi Trevarrow, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Development Authority.

During construction, which will begin in April and end in September 2012, it is expected that the original brick-paved Rochester Road will be uncovered. Those bricks will be used to make new planters, not only repurposing what could be waste but adding greenery to the city, says Trevarrow.

In addition,the sidewalks will be restored to their original exposed brick walkways. Crosswalks will be made of stamped concrete that slows cars and have downward facing lighting for pedestrians - both for safety. Street signs will also have backlit illumination.

Bike racks will be constructed into the new planters and the streetlamps.

The project has the potential to draw visitors and business to the area and also make Rochester another example of how to build a thriving downtown. But it only began because the state-owned Rochester Road was due for maintenance improvements. The Michigan Department of Transportation helped the city obtain the federal dollars.

"We thought this was a great opportunity to do things we've been wanting to do," Trevarrow says.

Source: Kristi Trevarrow, executive director, Rochester Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Oakland County Airport first LEED-certified terminal in Michigan

Oakland County's new and improved airport opens next week with a facility that's a better match for the high-flying clientele that comes in and out of it. It's also an example of how to build an eco-conscious airport.

The new Oakland County International Airport is one of a handful of LEED-certified general aviation airport terminals in the country, Michigan's first and Oakland County's first LEED-certified government building. LEED is Leadership and Energy in Environmental Design, a coveted distinction from the US Green Building Council.

All told, the project cost $7.5 million, with $2 million coming from federal government.

The green, energy-saving features include wind and solar power sources, geothermal heating and cooling, and LED and fluorescent lighting. There are also electric car charging stations and a living wall in the lobby. The wall, where a collectible bi-plane hangs from the ceiling, is made of green plants watered by captured rainwater, says Airport Director David Vanderveen.

Solar panels and wind turbines will save about 15 percent in energy usage, Vanderveen says. The geothermal heating and cooling, which pulls 55-degree water from the earth so that energy is saved by not having to  cool or warm water to reach ideal building temps, will save 50 percent or more in energy costs, he says.

The new airport building will house airport administration, US Customs, an office for the Waterford Police Department, and also have a conference room available to airport users and the community, Vanderveen says.

Customs can now process 70 passengers instead of 20. "It will make things much easier for the international travelers and even for our basketball team, the Pistons," he says.

The new airport replaces a 50-year-old facility that was out of date, not compliant with disabled accessibility laws, had leaky roofs and windows, and asbestos. The changes also include new parking lots and airport entrances. The new airport will be dedicated next week during an invitation-only event, and then opened to the community on Aug. 28 from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., when 15,000-20,000 visitors are expected.

"It was a worn-out, dysfunctional building," Vanderveen says. "Oakland County has over 700 foreign firms from 33 countries. Virtually every Fortune 500 company comes through this airport. You only have one chance to make a good impression and it can either be positive or negative. We obviously want the impression to be positive, especially when we're welcoming visitors from around the world."

Source: David Vanderveen, director Oakland County International Airport
Writer: Kim North Shine

5 Metro Detroit cities share in $1.06M grant for new lighting tech

Light bulbs that are part of a million-dollar-plus investment from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation could flip the switch on job creation, energy savings and environmental protection.

Through the MEDC's Advanced Lighting Technology Demonstration grants, 14 Michigan communities are sharing the $1,066,429 pool. They're committing to updating their bulbs to higher tech, energy saving designs and, when possible, to buying them from Michigan manufacturers. The object is to save money (taxpayer dollars) on energy costs, prevent greenhouse gases by replacing old-style inefficient bulbs and create jobs that involve the nuts and bolts of updating, replacing and maintaining the new bulbs.

Melanie McCoy, general manager of Wyandotte's municipal services department, says the LED project will be completed in tandem with a solar panel installation on city buildings.

"What we're going to do is actually a fabulous project," she says.

The $100,000 grant will pay for part of a project to replace existing street lamps and pedestrian walkway lights along a path that leads from the public library, down Biddle Avenue through downtown and up Eureka Road for several blocks to the high school.

The project, which will go out to bid as soon as the city searches for Michigan companies that can benefit, will be completed by next July. At the same time the city will use its own funds to add solar power generators to the library and a water department building.

"This is a combination of a renewable energy project together with an energy efficiency project," McCoy says.

MEDC President and CEO Michael A. Finney says in a statement announcing the award of the grants that "the energy and cost savings benefits plus the maintenance savings due to the longer life of the lamps are impressive with the newer technology lighting that's now available. These benefits are more important than ever to local governments in reducing operating expenses."
"In addition, manufacturing of advanced lighting technologies is a growing industry in Michigan and has the potential to create a new source of jobs and investment for local and state economies."

The types of lighting to be used in the government facilities and on public transportation vehicles include LEDs, or light emitting diodes, AKA solid state lighting; induction lighting, and plasma lighting.

The recipients of the grants must collect data and report their energy savings, cost savings, jobs created. The Michigan Energy Office will require that funded grantees regularly collect, track, and report metrics data related to energy savings, cost savings, jobs created and emissions reductions.

Besides Wyandotte, other metro Detroit recipients are Roseville, $81,074; Hazel Park, $50,150; Farmington Hills, $81,405; and Detroit, $100,000.

Source: Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Melanie McCoy, city of Wyandotte
Writer: Kim North Shine

Downtown Birmingham adds 15 new spots to shop, eat, hang

A mix of local and national retailers, restaurants and other businesses are making downtown Birmingham their address.

A recruiter hired by the city's Principal Shopping District has attracted some of the newcomers. The Principal Shopping District functions somewhat like a downtown development authority but does not capture taxes as traditional DDAs do or buy or purchase land. The PSD uses funds from a special assessment on commercial properties to operate. That includes marketing downtown Birmingham and hiring a recruiter to find national retailers.

One is Paper Source, a Chicago-based stationery and paper supply store that has 44 locations, with seven opening nationally this year. Paper Source is filling the space occupied by Sherman's Shoes at 115 West Maple.

About 15 businesses, from restaurants and candy stores to salons and clothing stores, have opened recently or are expected to open soon.

Look for Detroit Guitar, which is under construction at 243 W. Maple and will bring music lessons and music gear in funky surroundings to downtown in September.

What Crepe?, a Euro dining eatery, is moving into 167 Old North Woodward. Sanders, the ice cream and candy store, is relocating just down the street to 172 North Old Woodward. Shish Kabob and Subway are adding to eating options, as are three bistros: Townhouse, Bella Piatti and Churchills. Revive, a men's clothing store, is coming to 163 W. Maple, where Adventures in Toys once was. Salons, H202 and Nude, opened in May on Hamilton Row.

"We definitely have had an uptick in businesses coming in," says John Heiney, director of Birmingham's Principal Shopping District.
Last year there was a net increase of 15 businesses, including spas, a florist, a jeweler, home decorating stores and food establishments.

"We seem to be on a similar pace this year," he adds.

The recruiting effort is focusing on national retailers looking for boutique-size operations of 2,500 square feet or less, he says. Apparel stores are the main focus. City Manager Bob Bruner has been on the job since February and comes from Ferndale, which is known for a vibrant downtown.

"We hope the national retailers will join our excellent local retailers," Heiney says.

Source: John Heiney, director, Birmingham Principal Shopping District; Birmingham City Manager Bob Bruner
Writer: Kim North Shine

Transform Woodward ponders light rail beyond Detroit

Southern Oakland County communities are contributing to a study that will look into what it will take to embark on transit-oriented development along Woodward Avenue.

The major thoroughfare ties the communities together and would be an obvious extension of a light rail line that is expected to be constructed along Woodward from downtown Detroit to 8 Mile Road.

The study was commissioned by the Transform Woodward group convened by the nonprofit Woodward Avenue Action Association, or WA3, and will identify land use and zoning and master plan changes needed to support transit oriented development along the South Oakland County portion of Woodward.
Royal Oak based LSL Planning Inc. will complete the study.

The Transform Woodward Task Force is made up of elected officials, employers and institutional partners from Berkley, Birmingham, Ferndale, Huntington Woods and Royal Oak.

In announcing the plans to initiate a "transit-oriented development framework," WA3 says the creation of "improved public transit that includes a rapid transit service along the Woodward corridor, including governance, and funding through a regional transit authority, is a significant step toward a larger system that will support the development of jobs and business investments throughout the region, linking Oakland County."

Jana Ecker, chair of the task force and city of Birmingham planning director, says in a statement announcing the consultant's hiring, "We look forward to working with them as we complete the initial data gathering phases and begin to broaden our engagement with the communities along this historic All-American Road."

The task force and LSL Planning will outline existing conditions, transportation patterns, and needs and goals of each community as well as the Southern Oakland County region while building broad support and attempting to ensure that each city's unique character is preserved.

Source: Lori Ella Miller, spokesperson, Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Kim North Shine

Auburn Hills prepares for wave of electric vehicles

Auburn Hills is preparing for a world where electric vehicle chargers are commonplace in new construction, where they're as prevalent in parking lots as handicapped spots and where there will be an interconnected network of charging stations similar to the cell phone towers that have made communication so instant.

The city that's home to Chrysler Group has passed an ordinance, believed to be the first in Michigan and patterned off the best practices of communities in other states, that will encourage developers, builders, home owners and business owners, to make electric car charging stations a regular part of construction.

The Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Ordinance passed on July 11th will also offer guidance during construction and ideally save time now and money in the future, says Steven Cohen, director of community development for Auburn Hills.

"Our main goal was to raise awareness about the infrastructure that's needed to support electric vehicles," Cohen says. "We want to share with homeowners, developers and also with municipal planners throughout the state that this is something that's coming.  We want to support this technological innovation in the auto industry."

He says an ordinance like this one encourages, but does not require, property owners to "rough in" their home garages or parking lots for future charging station installations. It cuts red tape and makes them easy to install. Making an electric charging station part of a home garage is simple and similar to the electric lines and circuits needed to power something like a refrigerator or air conditioning unit, but is much cheaper to install when the home is being built.

"The electric vehicle is not going to take over the market, but there's going to be a sizable segment of motorists that will demand a convenient network of charging stations.  Michigan communities will need to prepare for this anticipated consumer demand and be ready when it comes," Cohen says.

By 2015, all automakers will offer electric vehicles as the federal government encourages alternative forms of energy in an effort to lessen America's reliance on gasoline, Cohen says.

"This innovation is good for Detroit, good for Michigan, and good for America," Cohen says. "We encourage Michigan communities to proactively plan for and adapt to this paradigm shift in how vehicles will be refueled. Thousands of electric vehicles, like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, will be on the road before we know it. It is very exciting."

Source: Steven Cohen, director of community development, city of Auburn Hills

Writer: Kim North Shine

Next stop: Dearborn. New train station pulling in

Construction on a new train station in Dearborn could be weeks away now that several key agreements are signed.

The $28.2-million project formally known as the Dearborn Intermodal Passenger Rail Facility will be located on Michigan Avenue west of the Southfield Freeway and replace an old, outdated station that takes riders across the railroad tracks.

The new station will feature a bridge over the tracks.

"The bridge will be a safer way to cross," says Barry Murray, Dearborn's director of economic and community development.
The new station will be served by Amtrak and provide quick access to some of the city's top institutions, including Henry Ford Hospital, The University of Michigan at Dearborn, The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village, and the west end of downtown.

Murray says conference calls this week with federal rail officials will hopefully result in the release of the federal funds that are part of an economic stimulus grant.

Key agreements that were reached and required for the release of the money include the hiring of the architectural firm, Neumann Smith, and the construction manager, Tooles & Clark.

"We're very hopeful the grant will be obligated sometime very soon, maybe 30 days is a good number to put on it," Murray says. "It's really hard to say for sure. We've been saying 30 days for a long time, but I think we're really close."

Source: Barry Murray, director of economic and community development, city of Dearborn
Writer: Kim North Shine

Garden City DDA eyes vacant Penske building, sees chance to rebrand busy street

A big white empty building that fronts Ford Road in Garden City could be a diamond in the rough for the community's downtown in the making.

The 1960s-era Penske building, which is owned by Sears Holdings and was once an automotive repair business, sits surrounded by a parking lot in front of a K-mart, the first in Michigan.
While it screams has-been, some city officials and the Downtown Development Authority see opportunity and are negotiating with Sears on a purchase or lease of the property, says Stacey Tobar, interim director of the Garden City Downtown Development Authority.

The building can no longer be used for its original purpose due to zoning changes, and at 14,000 square feet it is too large for most business owners looking for new digs.

It's with that in mind that the city is talking about several options, including renovating the building for a shared workspace or business incubator, where small companies, work-from-homers and the like can share space, equipment and possibly ideas, Tobar says.

There is also talk of using it for a Farmers Market, moving the DDA or Chamber of Commerce offices there, or relocating the library to the space. Retail is also a possibility.

"We have made an offer. We've begun the real estate portion. It may take a month to get through their hierarchy," Tobar says. "Even then we've got to look at our expenses as well, inspect the building, make sure this makes sense."

"Nothing is in stone at all," she adds. "It might take a year or two to get it where it's looking inhabitable. We understand that it's not a compete turnkey thing. We'll have to go in and clean it out, renovate it…but there's definitely a lot of potential."

Source: Stacey Tobar, interim director, Garden City Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Come walk - or run, skate or bike - across Macomb County and beyond

A final nine miles of pavement - along with a some pretty major major - are the finishing touches on the Macomb Orchard Trail.

The 23 1/2-mile, multi-use, non-motorized paved path crosses Macomb County and beckons walkers, runners, skaters, bikers, stroller-pushers and the like to a pathways that will take them across the county and for many miles outside.

"It's opening up a whole regional trail system," says John Crumm, director of planning for the Macomb County Department of Roads.

The final nine miles are being laid in Armada and Richmond. A bridge is also being built over the Clinton River, and a soon-to-be announced park will open in Romeo in a brownfield where now stands an unattractive county road department service center, says Crumm.

The building in Romeo will become an access point, park, and parking lot, he says. "It will immensely improve that neighborhood."

There will also be many more access points on the trail, including more for the disabled.

The work should all be done this summer, Crumm says.

The Macomb Orchard Trail ties together Macomb County communities and their natural features. It connects to Oakland County at Dequindre Road and leads into Rochester to Paint Creek.

The trail is also a link in a statewide system to connect the Great Lakes, rivers and such, this one a piece of the path between Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Source: John Crumm, director of planning, Macomb County Department of Roads
Writer: Kim North Shine

Roadwork on Woodward makes it more walkable

Woodward Avenue in Berkley and Royal Oak is in the process of changes that should make one heavy pedestrian spot a less challenging one to walk safely.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is spending $400,000 to improve Woodward Avenue and 12 Mile Road. While safety is MDOT's main concern, the changes could also make the intersection even more inviting to pedestrians who frequent the dozens of businesses along the stretch.

The construction, which will primarily affect the median and Michigan left turn lanes, started this week and could finish in time for the Woodward Dream Cruise, which runs Aug. 17-22, and attracts thousands of collector car owners and spectators to this part of Woodward. If incomplete by then, it should be done by Labor Day, says MDOT spokesman Rob Morosi.

Some of the conditions at the pedestrian-heavy area along this wide swath of road traveled by speeding cars, "raised red flags," Morosi says.

The existing median will be widened so there's a safe place to wait while crossing the wide road. Left turn lanes will be shortened so cars can't go so fast next to the median. Stamped concrete at the crossings will make crossing locations clearer to pedestrians and drivers, and new crossing signals will have the added feature of a countdown clock to make it clear if there's enough time to make it across the road. Additionally, sidewalk ramps will be improved.

Source: Rob Morosi, spokesman Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kim North Shine

Garden City turning to outdoor sculpture, streetscape, to enhance downtown

With two major commuter roadways running by it, it's easy to pass through Garden City without even noticing.

City planners are working on turning heads (safely, of course) and bringing in more foot traffic to the city's downtown near Ford and Middlebelt roads.

A multi-faceted project will bring outdoor sculptures to the downtown district, saysinterim DDA director Stacey Tobar. .At its main intersection, the city will add landscaping along with decorative circular planters and an LED-lit "Welcome to Downtown Garden City" sign.. It all will replace an underused gazebo that's been there for years and was demolished last summer, she says.

The $125,000 project comes from funds captured by the Garden City Downtown Development Authority for the use of promoting the downtown and building the commercial tax base.

Ten new sculptures will be displayed throughout the downtown district. Assistance is also coming from the Sauvé Foundation and Brighton artist John Sauvé, who finds artists to make the sculptures. The theme is a surprise, though the city will consult on where the sculptures will go.

Others changes are being made to make the downtown more walkable. A celebration is planned for July 14 during Night of Artists and Stars. From 6 p.m. - 11 p.m. there will be a sculpture crawl, a display of Garden City students artwork, promotions at businesses and the introduction to the apples, which will be auctioned in the fall. In addition, musicians will perform and a Movie at the Moose will end the evening with the showing of a movie on the massive white wall of a business on Ford Road.

"Garden City has struggled in terms of finances. We had a millage that failed," Tobar says. "Some people may wonder why we are doing this. We want to give our community a fresh look, bring people in, attract sponsors, entice new development."

Source: Stacey Tobar, interim DDA director, Garden City
Writer: Kim North Shine

Rochester DDA microloan program puts money where retail is

Retailers are being enticed to downtown Rochester with the offer of loans with no payback for two years and business start-up assistance from Oakland University.

The micro loan program was announced last week and loans may be made starting in the fall, says Kristi Trevarrow, director of the Rochester Downtown Development Authority.

"Basically the idea is the DDA is putting in $100,000 and we're looking for private investors to fund an additional $400,000," Trevarrow says.

The fund will offer two-year loans of up to $50,000 with payback coming at the end of two years and a 12-percent interest rate, which is how private investors will see a return on their put-in.

"What it does is it gives time to get your business going," she says.

It also gives the retailers access to Oakland University INCubator's "kitchen cabinet," she says. The incubator provides answers, guidance, connections, "areas where we identify issues where they need assistance before the end of the two-year period."

The requirement for the loan is to be a retail business operating in Rochester's DDA district, which is bordered on the north by Woodward Avenue, the west by Helen Street, the east by Elizabeth, and the south by Diversion.

Trevarrow says she and others behind the micro loan program have not located any other cities doing something similar.

"We're kind of the guinea pigs to see how something like this will work," she says.

Source: Kristi Trevarrow, director, Rochester DDA
Writer: Kim North Shine

Plymouth's $2M streetscape cruises toward completion

Downtown Plymouth is closing in on finishing a $2 million streetscape overhaul aimed at keeping its vacancy rate low and its vibrancy rate high.

"The last time the streets were done was in 1995 and it was starting to a look a little old," says Plymouth DDA Director Tony Bruscato. "And of course there's competition in downtowns for customers. Farmington and Northville and other cities were upgrading their downtown streets. You have to be competitive. You want people to come to your downtown and look at it favorably."

Bruscato likes to think it's just the latest in a line of good decisions that have kept  Plymouth's vacancy rates among the lowest, even in the most barren economic conditions, and businesses thriving day and night.

"We've been doing pretty well so we want to keep it that way," he says.

The streetscape projects include repaving, infrastructure changes, the installation of LED traffic lights on arms instead of wires, more walkable and safe crosswalks, and other work.
Some of the work was done last year; everything will be completed this year, the first phase finishing by May 27 in time for the first of Plymouth's outdoor concerts. They attract 3,000 - 5,000 people, Bruscato says.

The second and final phase will be completed in June, he says.

By then, every street in the downtown will have been touched, he says.

Source: Tony Bruscato, director, Plymouth Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine
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