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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

Six Oakland County Main Streets ace their tests

What does it take to be declared a perfect downtown Main Street?

Six Oakland County communities have been told they're perfect when it comes to their Main Streets and carrying out the mission of working to make their core go-to destinations for great shopping, eating, working and living and community gathering places.

Farmington, Ferndale, Lake Orion, Ortonville, Oxford and Rochester all received perfect 10 out of 10 scores on their accreditation from the National Main Street Center in Washington, D.C..

Each community has its own character: Ferndale with its eclectic, hipster vibe, Rochester with its upscale feel mixed with history, and all the rest their local style and appeal.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson recognized the accomplishments of the Oakland County Main Street programs (half a billion in investment in 11 years) last week at the Rust Belt Market on Woodward and 9 Mile in Ferndale, a poignant example of concerted DDA efforts to keep Main Streets thriving.

"The perfect scores attained by these six Main Street communities in their annual evaluation attests to the hard work of many in our downtown areas involved with our Main Street Oakland County program," Patterson says in a statement. "This is a wonderful and well-deserved recognition."

The 10 criteria for scoring were:
Broad-based community support for downtown revitalization
A clear mission and vision statement for the downtown
A downtown revitalization work plan
A historic preservation ethic recognizing the importance of sense of place
A downtown management organization
An adequate operating budget
Paid professional program manager
Ongoing training for staff and volunteers
Reporting of key investment statistics
National Main Street membership

Oakland County was the first county in the United States to operate a county-wide Main Street program, Main Street Oakland County.

Main Street is a trademarked program of the National Main Street Center in Washington, D.C. In addition to the perfect score recipients, members of Main Street Oakland County are: Franklin, Highland, Holly, Pontiac, and Walled Lake. Berkley, Clarkston, Clawson, Hazel Park, Leonard, South Lyon, and Waterford are in the Main Street Oakland County mentoring program.

Since Main Street Oakland County's formation in 2000, there has been more than $560 million of new investment in Main Street Oakland County communities, over 5,100 jobs created, 551 new businesses opened, and almost 170,000 volunteer hours logged, according to the county.

Source: Pam Tremble, executive assistant, Oakland County
Writer: Kim North Shine

GM plans $130M high tech lab and data center in Warren

General Motors Corp. may build a $130 million data center, information technology lab and technology center at its Cadillac building in Warren.

The plans are part of an announcement made Wednesday by the Michigan Economic Growth Authority, which approved a state brownfield tax credit of $10 million for the expansion and redevelopment of the building.

The project would create about 25 jobs and put the state's third-largest city in the position of attracting new economy workers to replace the manufacturing jobs eliminated by modernized car-making.

"I think this is an indicator to companies that in Warren and in the metro area we have a lot of highly skilled people who are ready to move in to these jobs, and they will be high paying jobs, highly skilled jobs, jobs where people have a future," Warren Mayor Jim Fouts says. "The future is with information and data and the internet. We don't want to be dependent upon the old industrial concept. We want to move into the 21st and 22nd century."

In all the investment - should it be completed as planned - along with other upcoming GM projects in Warren amounts to nearly $500,000 million and hundreds of jobs, Fouts says.

"I really think this is the tip of the iceberg with the state turning around and getting out of the economic malaise it's been in."

The Michigan Economic Growth Authority, or MEGA, offers refundable tax credits against the Michigan Business Tax to companies expanding or relocating their operations in Michigan. Tax credit agreements are awarded on the basis on the strength of projects, including jobs created and amount of investment.

Source: Warren Mayor Jim Fouts; Michigan Economic Growth Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Nearly $200M federal grant accelerates high speed rail in Metro Detroit

Metro Detroit and Michigan's high speed rail system moved into the fast lane this week with the announcement of nearly $200 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve lines from Dearborn to Kalamazoo.

The grant goes toward the purchase of tracks, signals and other rail infrastructure that will address congestion points and separate rail and freight trains -- currently the reason train travel is slower than ideal. The changes will allow trains to travel up to 110-mph along certain portions of the line. This will also decrease the travel time between Chicago and Detroit by one hour on what is known as the Amtrak Wolverine line. The 135-mile-long corridor will receive $196.5 million in funding while a separate $2.8 million will pay for a new train and bus station in Ann Arbor to serve Amtrak and other local transit providers.

Michigan will also receive funding to purchase the latest in locomotives and coaches as part of a joint application with Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri. The new cars will be added to Amtrak's Wolverine, Blue Water, and Pere Marquette lines.

The projects are expected to start next year and be completed by 2013 or 2014. Once the new rail network is built, Michigan workers and residents will have greater access to high speed rail than most states. According to the Michigan Municipal League, 69 percent of Michigan residents and 71 percent of employers would be within 15 miles of a station, including Pontiac, Detroit, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Jackson, Albion, Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.

The announcement comes at a time when ridership on the trains is rising substantially, an illustration that high speed rail is desired by Americans and will be a part of American life across the nation, as Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said during the accelerated high rail funding announcement in Detroit Monday.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and other transportation advocates say the high speed rail projects will mean jobs and economic development, but critics complain that Michigan is not a high speed rail or mass transit kind of market and the money is a waste.

"Accelerated rail service has the ability to enhance our economy, environment and overall quality of life," Gov. Snyder said in a statement. "An investment of this magnitude can spur economic development in our communities with rail stations, and provide access to a 21st century rail system that will help Michigan citizens compete in a global economy. Reliable, fast train service is attractive to businesses that want to locate or expand near it. This investment in our rail system is critical to Michigan's recovery."

Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin says the funding caps many years of working in unison.

"Here in Michigan, we have been fortunate enough to have strong bi-partisan support for high-speed rail. Our political leaders on both sides of the aisle fully understand how important this money is to creating jobs, increasing affordable transportation options, and jump-starting our economy."

Source: Sara Wurfel, spokesperson for Gov. Rick Snyder; Dan Gilmartin, executive director, Michigan Municipal League
Writer: Kim North Shine


Southfield-based company helps local governments to share services

As officials at all levels of government look at sharing services to save money, companies such as ImageSoft, Inc. in Southfield have the goods to show them how.

ImageSoft is hosting a summit on the topic of shared services June 8 in Lansing. Oakland County Deputy Executive Robert Daddow will be keynote speaker and share Oakland's success stories of shared services in a presentation titled: "Shared Services – Politics Versus Reality."

While fire and police and similarly high profile departments are often the targets of consolidation, the focus of ImageSoft's Enterprise Content Management software is documents and work flow-labor intensive, costly and often inefficient areas that come with serving the public.

Scott Bade, president of ImageSoft, a 15-year-old company recognized as one of Metropolitan Detroit’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For and winner of the 2010 Best Fit Integrator Award from the Center for Digital Government, says the software is ideal for human resources, billing and other financial areas, permitting and even dog licensing.

The software doesn't eliminate paper but cuts it and the processes that go with it way back. Data entry duties are saved, the need for multiple servers can be eliminated, as can the space and IT staff they require. The idea is to eliminate redundancy and cut costs without sacrificing quality of services, he says.

The software lets communities share data collection and storage, hardware, and expenses, and allows for processes to be centralized and knowledge shared.

"The software in general is going to save money because it makes your staff 20-30 percent more efficient, Bade says. "Unfortunately in a lot of cities the adoption rate is pretty low…A lot of that is changing because of shared services."

Shared services is not a new concept, but recently more and more bodies of government are taking a hard look at it as they look to slash budgets, especially as the proposed state spending plan needs to make up a $2 billion shortage. Gov. Rick Snyder is asking communities to put the shared services concept into practice as a money saver.

Bade says Oakland County is a prime example of sharing services successfully. In addition to Oakland County using ImageSoft, Washtenaw County is using it to share services with Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. With the system they share storage, a server, and disaster recovery. Grand Traverse County uses the software to collaborate with Traverse City as do cities on the west side of the state, Bade says. ImageSoft also provides similar software solutions for banking, health care, courts, insurance and other organizations with vast amounts of document requirements.

Separately, cities in Macomb County have banded together to talk consolidation, and other cities are combining libraries, police dispatch, and other areas.

The summit is free and is geared toward state, county and local government officials of all levels and areas of expertise. It will be held from 7:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. at the James B. Henry Center for Executive Development and will include continental breakfast and lunch.  For more information or to register go to
www.imagesoftinc.com/government-summit-2011.html

Source: Scott Bade, president ImageSoft Inc.
Writer: Kim North Shine

Northville firm cited in nat'l award for innovative job creation

Michigan was one of three states to receive the top award from a national economic development organization that tracks innovation by state agencies in attracting business, and part of the credit goes to Northville-based TSC Michigan for being a major investor and job creator.

The Gold Shovel Award was given to the state of Michigan by Area Development, which ranked TSC, maker of lithium-ion battery electrolytes, as one of the state's top 10 investors. The company invested $31.1 million in 2101 and created 279 jobs.

Two other Gold Shovels went to Indiana and South Carolina while states such as Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia (like Michigan, home to more than nine million residents), won Silver Shovels.

Michael Shore, spokesman for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. calls the Gold Shovel Award "a significant achievement. We beat ten Sunbelt states to win this award."

He says there is "great value" in the award considering that Michigan competes daily against other states, provinces and even nations.

According to Area Development, the award recognizes state economic development agencies "that drive significant job creation through innovative policies, infrastructure improvements, processes and promotions that attract new employers as well as investments in expanded facilities. The Gold Shovels are presented annually to the states that have achieved the most success in terms of new job creation and economic impact."

Shore says the award shows Michigan is writing a new economic story.

"Michigan, despite more than a decade of severe economic stresses, remains one of our nation's real centers of manufacturing, engineering, and R&D excellence. We've won significant new investments in recent years, good enough to earn Silver Shovels four times since 2006, a recognition that we are a serious competitor on the national scene despite our difficulties," he says.

"This helps to change the narrative about Michigan. Whether we're talking with in-state, out-of-state or overseas-based businesses, the Gold Shovel award presents a truer picture of all that Michigan can offer: a competitive business climate,  a talented workforce, a strong work ethic, world-class educational institutions, and a quality of life that very few can even dream of matching."

Source: Michael Shore, spokesman Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Area Development
Writer: Kim North Shine

Vintage Pontiac neighborhood vital to Oakland County's urban core

With stately, tree-filled streets, its homes built in the Arts & Crafts era, Tudors and Cape Cods, Pontiac's South Boulevard area is a trip back in time, a tour through the years from the days the first homes were built in the early 1900s until the last ones went up in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The neighborhood at South Boulevard and Franklin Street is one of many vintage neighborhoods in the city and across the county, all of them the focus of the Oak Street Home and Neighborhood Fair this Saturday. It's the third year of the fair, which brings together home professionals and various home improvement and preservation organizations together with the owners of homes built in 1960 and before. There also will be advice and information on access to landscapers and financial assistance for home improvements.

The Oak Street fair runs from 4-7 p.m. in the area of South and Franklin near Woodward. The fair is free and will offer kids activities.

"Our urban neighborhoods are an extremely important component of Oakland County's quality of life," County Executive L. Brooks Patterson says. "The fair raises awareness of these neighborhoods and brings resources directly to homeowners."

The Franklin South Boulevard neighborhood specifically will be the site of home renovations and improvements being completed Saturday by Rebuilding Together Oakland County, the local branch of a national nonprofit that takes volunteers into older neighborhoods to complete preservation projects and improvements.

"When we come away at the end of the day, there's going to be six to 10 homes that have been given revisions, painting, shrubbery," says Ronald Campbell, principal planner and preservation architect for Oakland County Planning and Economic Development.

The boulevard will also be changed when the day ends. ITC Holdings Corp. of Novi, an electricity transmission company, has donated nine red oak trees and will plant them in the median on South Boulevard.

"There's tremendous investment in these neighborhoods both in terms of infrastructure and in private investment," Campbell says. We want them to understand the opportunities to protect that investment."

Source: Ronald Campbell, principal planner and preservation architect for Oakland County Planning and Economic Development
Writer: Kim North Shine

Propane-powered vehicles deliver for Wright & Fillippis

Goods delivered by Rochester-Hills-based healthcare supplies provider Wright & Fillippis are getting to their destinations on propane power as the company converts 25 percent of its fleet to this clean form of fuel.

That means 12 of Wright & Fillippis' trucks and vans will run on propane as they deliver goods in Michigan. About half the vehicles have already been converted and are on the road and a propane station is up and operating at the company's headquarters.

"They're hoping to convert the entire fleet eventually," says Matt Sandstrom, mobility division manager for the Clean Energy Coalition, an Ann Arbor-based non-profit that steers companies through the process of converting to alternative fuels, whether for transportation or building.

The Wright & Fillippis fleet conversion came out of a partnership with the coalition through a $15 million grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

Wright & Fillippis and the Clean Energy Coalition worked with Roush CleanTech, a Plymouth Township company that designs and manufactures liquid propane autogas fuel systems for a variety of light and medium Ford vehicles. The technology, which reduces vehicle operating costs and vehicle emissions, is available to consumers through authorized Ford dealerships.

The Wright & Fillippis project is one of several clean-fuel conversions being directed by the coalition through a $40 million agreement with the Department of Energy, says Sandstrom.

Of all the clean fuel projects, about a third are propane, he says. The others are compressed natural gas, electric, and hydraulic hybrid, he says. The type of fuel used depends on the type of fleet and uses of the vehicles, and the coalition guides companies through the learning process to select what's best for them.

Companies working with the Clean Energy Coalition include Frito-Lay, which is converting 90 of its vehicles, about half of its Michigan fleet, to propane, and U-haul, which is converting 30 vehicles.

"It should be very clear that this is not R&D. This is a deployment of these technologies… They've already been true and tried," Sandstrom says.

For Wright & Fillippis, propane autogas will result in the use of 48,000 fewer gallons of gasoline, the elimination of 931,200 pounds of carbon dioxide released, and a savings of $3,000 per converted vehicle, or $36,000 total thus far.

Source: Matt Sandstrom, mobility division manager, Clean Energy Coalition
Writer: Kim North Shine

Northville and Wayne County's near-$1 million trail to link town and country

A paved trail that will go past rivers, over wetlands, by an arboretum and into neighborhoods and downtown Northville is as close as ever to reality.

After several years of planning and rounding up funding for the trail that will connect the City of Northville and Northville Township and also lead to Hines Park, the Rouge River, and beyond, Northville Township is seeking bids to complete the $950,000 project. Bids are due May 5.

The trail begins north of Verona Lane and runs the along the east side of Sheldon Road, where a current trail ends. It follows Sheldon past the Bennett Arboretum and ends at 7 Mile, providing an outlet into downtown Northville.

The Bennett Arboretum Pathway path is eight feet wide and 2,100 linear feet long and goes over hilly terrain, through woods and water, and will include a bridge, boardwalks, viewing platforms and educational components about water quality and such.

"The goal is to get people involved in their natural resources," says Jill Rickard, civil engineer for Northville Township.

In addition, trail users could use it as a way to get to dinner or the farmers market, shops or work in downtown Northville.

The project is being funded by a $450,000 grant from Wayne County's Rouge Project Office and a $500,000 grant from Wayne County. The city and the township will split any additional costs.

Source: Jill Rickard, civil engineer, Northville Township
Writer: Kim North Shine

Dearborn Town Center brings new business to downtown

They built it and they're coming. The Dearborn Town Center, an urban redevelopment that opened last December on the site of the vacant Montgomery Ward's department store in east Dearborn, the city's downtown, is attracting new tenants and customers, bringing on a revival as hoped.

"There's been a significant uptick in business there," says Melissa Kania, director of the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority. "There is so much interest there."

The main tenants of the Dearborn Town Center at the corner of Schaefer and Michigan Roads are the Oakwood Health System and Midwest Health and their 500 employees. The Kresge Eye Institute is located there as well.

Since then, the center has spun off eating establishments, coffee shops, and more to the 162,000 feet of office and retail space that was to be used just for that, Kania says.

This summer comes the downtown's first parking deck, one outfitted with energy efficient lighting and car-charging stations. With plans for public artwork through the Midwest Sculpture Initiative and plans to create an artists' live, work, and sell space, Kania says, "we feel like so many great things will keep happening to attract more and more people to Dearborn."

Source: Melissa Kania, director of the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine


Hungry for outdoor dining? Menu expands in downtown Rochester

Like so many cities, downtown Rochester business owners are eager to say hello to the good weather and al fresco dining by opening their sidewalk cafes.

In Rochester, there's at least three new sidewalk dining choices. The cafes could have opened April 15th, but the weather had other ideas.

So as soon as possible, Sanders' ice cream and candy store is opening an outdoor area, as is Tower Pizza. The former Andiamo's Italian, which became a Rojo Mexican restaurant last year, will also for the first time throw open its large wooden shutters on downtown. Penny Black, a restaurant opened in November in the former downtown post office and named after the first postage stamp, offers an outdoor patio at busy 4th and Walnut Street this year. Penny Black's owners also operate The Hills restaurant in Rochester Hills. 

"We didn't have a restaurant there all last summer, so that was a pretty dead corner for us," says Kristi Trevarrow, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Development Authority.

Downtown Rochester's retail vacancy rate is still low at three percent, and its downtown office space vacancy rate is 20 percent, or about 120,000 square feet, she says. New owners of the office space are taking an active approach to finding new tenants.

"We're excited when it's time for the outdoor dining to return," she says. "It adds more interest. It put more people on the streets. People walk or drive by and want to stop and be a part of the activity."

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

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