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Maurer family takes on 3 more rehabs in downtown Ypsilanti

The dynamic historic preservation duo of Eric and Karen Maurer are at it again in Ypsilanti. This time the couple has bought three more foreclosed and neglected downtown storefronts with grand plans for revitalizing them into mixed-use structures filled with people, businesses, and jobs.


The Maurer family empire is now three more addresses strong after buying 120, 122 and 124 W Michigan Avenue in downtown Ypsilanti.

Eric and Karen Maurer are two of Ypsilanti's biggest landlords, buying and rehabbing a number of historic structures into apartments and retail space. This latest purchase of three foreclosed commercial buildings expands the couple's holdings to seven downtown storefronts, including the Mack & Mack and Kresge buildings that now house the Ann Arbor SPARK East incubator and J Neil's Mongolian Grille, respectively.

The Maurers plan to rehab their latest acquisitions into loft apartments on the second and third floors, ground floor retail space and some basement office space. That will mean a dozen new loft apartments and room for three separate storefronts.

Read the rest of the story here.

$30M in federal funds set aside for building retrofits

The greenest construction projects involve an existing building. It's an idea that wasn't lost on the latest round of federal stimulus grantmakers and the $30 million Michigan received as a result.


The numbers are impressive: about $452 million in federal stimulus funds split between 25 communities/states to help retrofit existing structures into more energy efficient buildings. Michigan is one of those areas, roping in $30 million.

The details of how that money will be put to work and where are still being sorted out. However, the macro impact has the potential for not only shrinking carbon footprints but helping contain suburban sprawl.

"The idea is to go into these houses and retrofit them so they're more energy efficient," says Sam Offen, director of energy program for the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. "It will allow them to stay longer because they will be more habitable."

Read the rest of the story here.

Birmingham Covington School installs wind turbine

Birmingham's Covington School has cut the ribbon on a new wind turbine that will serve as not only an alternative energy generator but an education tool.

The Windspire, manufactured in Michigan, is not your normal wind turbine. It stands 30 feet high and is shaped like a vertical cylinder. It's made to harness winds at speeds of about 10 mph in urban areas.

It will supply electricity for the school, which is actually on Covington Road in Bloomfield Hills. At its engineering technology lab, students will be able to monitor activity and use that information as part of its curriculum.  

A number of local organizations helped make the installation happen, including Mariah Power, Centerline Electric, Rauhorn Electric, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, American Fence, TMP Associates, Peter Basso and Associates, and GreeningDetroit.com.

John Carlos, CEO of TechTown-based GreeningDetroit.com, is a parent at Birmingham's Covington School. He is also part of the school's Proud Dads organization, which harnesses parents' abilities to improve the school. That was an easy task for Carlos to determine.

"It was an easy match to find the niche to help out the school," Carlos says.

Source: John Carlos, CEO of GreeningDetroit.com
Writer: Jon Zemke

Macomb County recognizes 71 Green Schools

Today 71 schools across Macomb County will receive the coveted Green Schools designation recognizing their efforts to become more environmentally friendly.

That number is nearly double the count from last year, when 43 schools earned the same honor. Macomb County officials hope that number continues to grow as more go for the designation.

"We're trying to get the schools that aren't participating involved," says Brian Brdak, a Macomb County Commissioner who has helped quarterback the program. "Once we get them involved this will become a self-sustaining thing."

One of the ways to up participation is by awarding each designated Green School a flag that tells the world about its sustainability-oriented tendencies. The program's organizers also are hoping that elementary and middle school students taking part in the program today will bring it to their future schools tomorrow.

Candidates can start recycling programs, become more energy-efficient, or build natural wildlife habitats. All must meet at least 10 of the 20 criteria to achieve the designation.

Macomb County's Green Schools Initiative has served as the template for a larger program for the tri-county area of Metro Detroit. The three counties have formed the Southeast Michigan Green Schools Initiative, which works to implement more sustainable practices.

Source: Brian Brdak, Macomb County Commissioner
Writer: Jon Zemke

Kroger begins work on downtown Grosse Pointe store

Another new grocery store is well on its way to Grosse Pointe, sort of, now that the downtown Kroger has begun a renovation project.

"We're closing the store for nearly a year to virtually rebuild the same store there," says Dale Holandsworth, spokesman for Kroger.

The Ohio-based supermarket is revamping its location on Kercheval Street after downsizing the plans a bit. Kroger originally planned on adding a second floor to the 1-story building, but decided to keep the original footprint and expand the basement area.

The whole project tackles 22,000 square feet of interior space and the rear parking lot. The revamped version will have a more open shopping area with new aisles and displays. The basement will be turned into a food preparation area and a place for other behind-the-scenes work. The parking lot will be re-striped so the spaces are larger.

The end result will be a "radically different" store, according to Hollandsworth. It will look a lot like the store at Maple and Lahser roads in Oakland County, he adds.

The project could be done in time for the holidays and by the end of winter at the latest.

Source: Dale Holandsworth, spokesman for Kroger
Writer: Jon Zemke

New facades in line for downtown Grosse Pointe

Some of downtown Grosse Pointe's old retail buildings are in line to get some new facades.

First up is the Blockbuster video store on Kercheval. The single-story storefront is really a conglomeration of buildings with the oldest dating back to the 1920s. It has a crumbling brick front and a real need for other exterior touch-ups.

"It's just pretty tired," says Robert Wood, owner of Grosse Pointe-based Robert Wood & Associates. "It's one of the worst buildings in the village."

Wood is designing the new facade. He expects to replace the crumbling brick and spruce up the exterior so it fits with the downtown's character. The back entrance, where 75 percent of the average customer traffic enters and exits, will also be redesigned.

He hopes to start work as soon as possible and have it finished within two months. The business will remain open during construction. If everything goes according to plan, the Ann Taylor Loft store facade next door will be next to go later this summer.

"We'll probably be looking at that one next," Wood says. "You hope to start a trend and the other building owners start redoing their fronts."

Source: Robert Wood, owner of Robert Wood & Associates
Writer: Jon Zemke

Saab opens new HQ in Royal Oak

The ribbon is cut and the workers are moved in at Saab Cars North America's new headquarters in Royal Oak.

The Swedish automaker took over the former home of Ronnisch Construction Group on the north side of the inner-ring suburb. The construction firm had taken an old industrial building by the railroad tracks between 14 Mile and Normandy Roads and turned it into edgy office space.

The 13,300-square-foot building now has all of the modern, contemporary amenities that people normally find in downtown Royal Oak or Metro Detroit's other vibrant city centers. Saab has invested another $2.4 million to move 60 jobs from its marketing, sales, and product evaluation arms into that office.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp approved a $1.2 million tax break over five years to make the deal happen.

Source: Saab Cars North America
Writer: Jon Zemke

Livingston Land Conservancy targets Round Lake property

The Livingston Land Conservancy is looking to expand its reach and consolidate some of its land around Hartland Township's Round Lake.

The non-profit is raising money to purchase 30 acres of woodlands that border the lake near the Oakland County border. It has already negotiated a purchase price of $125,000 and is in the midst of raising $100,000 of that sum. So far $80,000 is already in the bank account.

"It's a beautiful area that will be preserved forever," says Sara Thomas, president of the board of the Livingston Land Conservancy.

The conservancy already has 540 acres in 10 different parcels in areas like Brighton, Oceola, Putnam and Handy townships under its protection. This is similar to the way Ann Arbor protects its natural areas with a greenbelt.

Wal-Mart gifted 10 acres on Round Lake off Blaine Road to the non-profit a few years ago. Now the non-profit is trying to acquire the acreage that is also adjacent to another five acres it controls.

"Our goal is to get about 45 acres total," Thomas says. "To protect property like that with shoreline is pretty significant."

For information on the fundraising initiative, contact Thomas at (810) 229-3290 or info@livingstonlandconservancy.org.

Source: Sara Thomas, president of the board of the Livingston Land Conservancy
Writer: Jon Zemke

Birmingham's rehabbed Lincoln Hills Clubhouse opens

Work on the Lincoln Hills Golf Course clubhouse is finished and the new structure is now open.

"This is a state-of-the-art facility," says Andy Dombrowski, assistant manager of golf operations for the city of Birmingham. "They did a tremendous job."

The club house needed it. The existing building was basically replaced from the ground up. That included ripping out and replacing some inner block/brick walls that have suffered significant deterioration. Gone is the leaky roof and the lack of air conditioning.

The renovated structure features new counters, doors, windows, roof, decorative fencing along 14 Mile Road, a covered storage area for carts, landscaping around the building, HVAC system, and updated restrooms. The parking lot is also repaved.

The golf course, which is owned and run by the city, is located at 2666 W 14 Mile Road.

Source: Andy Dombrowski, assistant manager of golf operations for the city of Birmingham
Writer: Jon Zemke

Owners transforming former party store into 3 boutique-ready storefronts at Cass and Willis

Another blighted, long-vacant hulk is being renovated into a home for new businesses in Detroit, serving as further proof of why the city's Midtown neighborhood is setting itself apart as the city's most vibrant area.


The southeast corner of Cass and Willis is abuzz with construction activity as a former party store is being transformed into three storefronts. Leslie Malcomson, who owns the building with her husband Peter, anticipates construction will be completed this summer. The Malcomsons live next door to the property, so she has her fingers crossed that one of their tenants will be an ice cream parlor, but is open to any "small merchant, boutique-type store" moving in.

The units are approximately 1,000 square feet each, with large front windows and awnings. "We want it to look nice. This is our neighborhood," says Malcomson. The project architect is Keith A. Logsdon of Michael Willoughby & Associates.

Read the rest of the story here.

Near North development prepares for construction in Ann Arbor

Near North is nearly there when it comes to nailing down its financing so it can break ground on the north side of downtown Ann Arbor. The affordable-housing project just received another $250,000 grant from the federal government.


Financing is starting to fall into place for the Near North development on the northern edge of Ann Arbor's downtown area. The affordable-housing development recently nailed down $250,000 more in funding from the feds and expects to hear on the rest by mid May.

"We're hoping to break ground in August or September," says Bill Godfrey, developer of Near North.

But first Three Oaks and Avalon Housing, the two organizations behind the development, are waiting to hear if the development qualifies for the $10 million in state brownfield and affordable housing tax credits. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority is expected to pass judgment by mid May on the $11-million project.

Read the rest of the story here.

Ann Arbor green lights LED streetlight pilot project

Energy-efficient LED streetlights are multiplying throughout Ann Arbor, thanks to a new partnership between the city and DTE Energy.


LED street lights are starting to spread from downtown Ann Arbor into the city's neighborhoods.

The city has recently partnered with DTE Energy to perform a pilot project for neighborhood LED streetlights. The two institutions will split the $44,800 bill to install 58 cobrahead LED streetlights in the student-housing-dominated neighborhood just south of the University of Michigan.

"Some students had previously raised concerns about the quality of streetlighting," says Andrew Brix, energy programs manager for the city of Ann Arbor. "We had been looking for an opportunity to try out LEDs in an area where DTE owned the lights. This worked out perfect."

Read the rest of the story here.

Oakland U goes green with $2.7M geothermal project

Oakland University is getting ready to break ground on its greenest building yet, thanks to a multi-million dollar grant.

The $2.7 million federal grant will pay for a geothermal heating system for the new $63 million Human Health Building. The project also includes a huge solar water heating system.

"That is one of the largest, if not the largest, solar water heating systems in the Midwest," says Jim Liedel, energy manager for the facilities management department at Oakland University.

Both of those systems are big-ticket items in green building and go a long ways toward achieving gold-level LEED certification. Geothermal uses a well to draw upon the earth's constant temperature before the frost line. Solar heating systems pipe water through tubes in solar panels to heat them to near room temperature, thereby requiring less energy to provide hot water, for instance.

The geothermal heat pump and roof-mounted, solar thermal hot water array will provide the 160,000-square-foot facility with summer dehumidification of ventilation air, as well as cooling, heating, and domestic hot water.

Construction should start this summer and wrap up in 2012. The building will go on a vacant parcel of land on the northwest corner of the university's campus. It will house the School of Nursing and the School of Health Sciences.

Source: Jim Liedel, energy manager for the facilities management department at Oakland University
Writer: Jon Zemke

Karmanos and Crittenton open new cancer center

Karmanos Cancer Center and Crittenton Hospital Medical Center have opened a new shared facility in Rochester Hills that boasts a bevy of green features.

The new $16 million building features 30,000 square feet of state-of-the-art cancer treatment space. Patients will be able to receive advanced radiation treatment, chemotherapy, diagnostic imaging, and on-site laboratory testing. Seventeen employees staff the facility and that number is expected to grow later this year.

The center also has a number of sustainable features such as a white roof, occupancy sensors, and energy-efficient lights. All of these features were designed by Albert Kahn Associates and installed by Barton Malow, including the daylight harvesting system.

"The lobby has a lot of glass so you get a lot of natural light," says Larry Dziedzic, senior project manager for Barton Malow. "As the day gets brighter the daylight harvesting system shuts down the lights you don't need."

Source: Larry Dziedzic, senior project manager for Barton Malow
Writer: Jon Zemke

Birmingham installs LED lights in parking garage

Birmingham plans to launch its first LED light project this year when it installs the ultra-efficient bulbs in the Pierce Street Parking Garage.

The city plans to spend $350,000 switching out the old high-pressure sodium bulbs with LEDs, starting late this summer and finishing before the winter arrives. The parking garage has 227 light fixtures that were installed in 1986.

"They're pretty close to the end of their useful life," says Brendan Cousino, assistant city engineer for Birmingham.

LED lights use a fraction of the electricity of normal light bulbs because 95 percent of the energy they use creates light the human eye can see. In comparison, only 50 to 60 percent of energy used by regular bulbs makes visible light. LEDs also last several years longer than normal street lights.

The city of Birmingham expects to save $18,000 in electricity annually, plus thousands more dollars in maintenance costs. Other Metro Detroit cities are already enjoying similar benefits from their LED projects, including Pontiac and Auburn Hills. Ann Arbor is close to being finished with replacing all of its street lights with LEDs.

Bids for the project are expected to go out midway through the summer. About $125,000 in federal stimulus funds are helping to pay for the project.

Source: Brendan Cousino, assistant city engineer for Birmingham
Writer: Jon Zemke
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