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Grandpapa's renovates Detroit site, plans to make 125 hires

Pork rinds aren't normally associated with economic development in Michigan, but they're taking center stage in the latest round of tax abatement deals brokered by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Grandpapa's, a manufacturer and distributor of snack products, plans to invest $4.18 million in renovating and expanding his operation on the 5800 block of East 8 Mile Road. That includes purchasing and renovating a 130,000-square-foot facility next to its current operations.

"There is some work than needs to be done, but nothing major," says Michael Robin, president of Grandpapa's. "The building is in great shape."

The 40-year-old business will continue to make pork rinds and popcorn snacks at its current facility. It will transfer its other production work to the new location. The privately held Grandpapa's is also exploring an opportunity to produce fish and poultry food for export to Africa and Asia.  

The company currently employs 23 people but plans to hire 73 more in its first year, and up to 125 over the next five years. In return it will receive a five-year $368,000 state tax credit. The city of Detroit is considering a tax abatement of $347,000.

Robin, a lifelong Detroiter, says it was his great working relationship with the city and Wayne County officials that made it attractive to him to expand in Detroit. He also sees it as a way of helping to improve his community.

Source: Michael Robin, president of Grandpapa's
Writer: Jon Zemke

Brownstown Middle School plans green projects

Brownstown Middle School is going for the green building trifecta by installing a wind turbine, solar panels, and a green roof.

The Woodhaven-Brownstown School District received $670,000 in federal grants to install the three sustainability projects this summer that will help generate clean energy for the school and teach its students about science, biology, and environmental issues. The green roof promises to be the biggest teaching tool.

"They are putting a football field-sized green roof on top of the building," says Andrew Clark, the assistant principal at Brownstown Middle School who is helping organize the project with Ann Arbor-based Energy Works Michigan. "There will be five different types of grass."

Those types will range from resilient vegetation that grows year-round to plants that flourish during the warm months of the year. Next to that will be six solar panels that will generate electricity for the school.
Students will monitor and study the power generation.

A 60-foot tall wind turbine will be installed in front of the school. The school's staff will also use it as a teaching tool for students who want to learn about wind energy. Clark says the turbine will create minimal noise that won't impact the surrounding neighborhood.

"They assured us that the noise it would generate would be less than the ambient noise that the wind makes," Clark says.

The projects are expected to begin construction after school lets out this summer and be ready to go in time for classes this fall.

Source: Andrew Clark, the assistant principal at Brownstown Middle School
Writer: Jon Zemke

Lincoln Park writes final chapter for Mellus building

Leslie Lynch-Wilson can't do much but shake her head as the Lincoln Park resident watches her downtown change, providing a playbook on how not to be sustainable.

The Lincoln Park Downtown Development Authority followed through on its promise to demolish the historic Mellus Newspaper building last week, despite a strong recommendation from state officials to preserve it and offers from business owners to renovate it and create jobs. Most of the former home to the Downriver community's local newspaper has now been trucked off to a landfill.

"It's sad," says Lynch-Wilson, president of the Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance and an advocate of saving the building that was on the National Register of Historic Places. "There was so much talk of recycling items in the old building. What I observed was just tearing it down and sending it to a landfill."

She adds that the only parts she saw recycled or reused were a brick she took home and a piece of galvanized pipe she saw the demolition contractor load into his pick-up truck. The rest went off to a local landfill in a handful of semi-trucks. She points out that a number of the historic interior fixtures, its metal panels, windows, and an Arts & Crafts-style interior door could have easily been saved to help restore other similar buildings, but local officials did nothing.

"The city is 30 years behind the times," Lynch-Wilson says. "They don't think about these things."

City officials originally talked about turning the Fort Street property into a parking lot, but then promised to build a pocket park or green space there when the controversy over tearing down the structure hit its peak. Lynch-Wilson says no architectural plans for a park have been produced, no money has been set aside, no one has stepped up publicly to spearhead the pocket park project, and local officials are starting to talk about a parking lot again even though there is a sea of parking in front of and behind the buildings left on that block.

"They're talking about laying off 18 police officers this year," Lynch-Wilson says. "No one has money at the city and everybody knows it."

The city is now looking at tearing down what Lynch-Wilson calls one of the few brick Victorian buildings in the city, even though it is still privately owned. She says the vacant house at 1132 Lafayette Street is listed as built in 1922 but she believes it dates from between 1890 and 1905 and was moved to its current location when the neighborhood was subdivided from farmland in the early 1920s. A public hearing on its proposed demolition is set for June 21.

"It's one of the two brick Victorian homes of that period that we have left," Lynch-Wilson says.

Source: Leslie Lynch-Wilson, president of the Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance
Writer: Jon Zemke

Downtown Ferndale welcomes new biz, national award

Downtown Ferndale is running out of room for all of the feathers it's collecting in its cap. The inner-ring suburb is welcoming a number of new small businesses to its city center and has just scored a national award for its vibrant downtown.

Ferndale received the 2010 Great American Main Street Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, one of five cities from across the U.S. It's the first member of the Main Street Oakland County group to win the award and the first in the state since Bay City took it home in 1999.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which oversees the national Main Street program, praised the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority for its "stellar" record of reinvestment and new employment. Commercial vacancies have dropped from 30 percent to six percent over the past decade as the city has spurred the redevelopment of even the toughest blights into shining examples of what is possible in the suburb.

Downtown Ferndale has also seen a number of new independent, small establishments pop up to lower the vacancy rate, with a dozen more thus far this year. That's not unusual for a city known for its small, meaning 500 employees or less, businesses.

Source: Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

EMU begins work on Pray Harrold renovation project

One of Eastern Michigan University's major construction projects is getting underway now that work crews are beginning a renovation of the inside of the Pray Harrold building.

Excerpt:

Construction crews are starting to warm up for work on Eastern Michigan University's Pray Harrold building, but they probably won't be immediately visible.

The home to the university's College of Arts & Sciences is showing all of the signs of construction, such as being fenced off, along with the obvious absence of students and faculty. However, a majority of the work for the $42 million project will take place in the interior. The exterior work isn't set to begin until the end of the construction timeline in mid-2011.

"It's an internal bones-oriented project to turn the second floor into prime student space," says Geoff Larcom, a spokesman for Eastern Michigan University.

Read the rest of the story here.

Ann Arbor aims to switch 75% of streetlights to LEDs by 2011

Some cities aim to one day have LED street lights. Ann Arbor aims to convert 75 percent of its street lights to LED. By next year. The city is also planning to install them in a number of its buildings this summer, so it can serve as a municipal showcase of their virtues.

Excerpt:

LED lights are already a staple in downtown Ann Arbor's streetlights, but the next generation of energy efficient lighting is about to become the go-to municipal light bulb in Tree Town.

The City Council has approved a $218,000 contract to install 88 LEDs in the ornamental streetlights along West Stadium Boulevard. The city is also inline to take advantage of a state grant that will allow it to replace many of the high-powered lights at its buildings throughout the city, such as the garage lights in fire stations and the lights at the Mack Pool.

"It's going beyond streetlights," says Andrew Brix, energy programs manager for the city of Ann Arbor. "This is the new frontier."

Read the rest of the story here.

Detroit says bye to City Fest, hello to New Center Park

Detroit's New Center neighborhood isn't aiming to be a one-shot-and-out place. Instead it's canceling its big event, Cityfest, so it can focus on holding a number of smaller events at its new park in front of the world-famous Fisher Building.

Excerpt:

Let's get the bad news out of the way: New Center's Cityfest has been canceled, at least for 2010. While the economy and accompanying reduced sponsorship levels have something to do with the cessation of a Detroit tradition, the reality is much more complex.

Now for the good news: Improvements to New Center Park have created a neighborhood venue that will be programmed four days a week. New Center Council president Michael Solaka says that is more conducive to realizing the organization's goal of community and economic development than is a festival that happens but once a year. "Our mission is to develop New Center into a thriving 24-hour neighborhood," he says. "(The park) is an economic development thing as opposed to an image-building event."

Read the rest of the story here.

Greenleaf Trust finishes off Birmingham building

Greenleaf Trust is putting the final touches on its new office building in downtown Birmingham, with plans to open its new Metro Detroit office there in June.

"They start installing the furniture next week," says Patti Owens, vice president and managing director of Catalyst Development, which is in charge of constructing the building. "There is still a lot to do."

The Greenleaf Trust Building promises to be a sight to see on
downtown Birmingham's eastern edge at the corner of Maple Road and Woodward Avenue. The five-story building can be seen from a webcam here.

Greenleaf Trust expects to receive silver LEED certification for the Eckert Wordell Architecture-designed building with environmentally friendly features like a 1,500-square-foot green roof, natural lighting, and numerous water- and energy-efficiency fixtures. That's a big change from the abandoned gas station that used to stand on the lot.

The first floor will be occupied by Zazios, a modern Italian restaurant based in Kalamazoo. The restaurant, set to open later this summer, is applying for a special economic development liquor license. The Birmingham City Commission recently approved a measure allowing for these extra liquor licenses, which go to projects that either build a new structure or improve an existing one downtown.

The second and third floors of the 50,000-square-foot building will be dedicated to office space, some of which will be occupied by Kalamazoo-based Greenleaf Trust. Five rental apartments will go on the fourth and fifth floors.

Source: Patti Owens, vice president and managing director of Catalyst Development
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ferndale wraps up library renovation project

Construction workers will wrap up the renovation of the Ferndale Public Library on the eastern edge of downtown by the end of May.

The library will close its temporary location on May 21 so it can start moving books and other materials to the newly refurbished building on 9 Mile Road, just east of Woodward Avenue. An opening is set for June 28.

"Our hope is it will serve as a focal point for attracting attention to the east of Woodward area," says Doug Raber, director of the Ferndale Public Library.

The library is going for silver LEED certification, thanks to a plethora of environmentally friendly features. Among the big-ticket features are a geothermal heating system, a gray water recycling system, and a partial green roof. The most environmentally friendly factor is the reuse of a circa-1954 structure.

The renovation adds another 10,000 square feet, rounding out the structure to 21,000 square feet. That means more meeting room space fronting 9 Mile, a new area for teens, and a new children's room facing Troy Street.

"It's almost a library within a library," Raber says.

The addition, paid for by a one-mill millage increase last year, will give the library space to bump up its staff from four to 10. It will also provide the funds to double the library's purchasing budget for books and other media, such as audio books and CDs.

Source: Doug Raber, director of the Ferndale Public Library
Writer: Jon Zemke

WMU opens office in Royal Oak

Western Michigan University is extending its presence into Metro Detroit by opening an office in Royal Oak. The university is also looking at partnering to open a campus in Royal Oak and possibly an office in downtown Detroit.

WMU choose Royal Oak because many of its competitor institutions of higher learning have offices in the likes of Troy, Auburn Hills, and Livonia. That left a big void in the heart of Oakland County that needed filling.

"A lot of the signs pointed toward Royal Oak," says Keith Hearit, vice provost for enrollment management at Western Michigan University. "It's also an area that is hip and young-people oriented."

WMU will occupy a suite of offices located at 32820 Woodward Ave., just south of 14 Mile Road. It will become the university's base of operations for student recruitment and alumni outreach. It will also offer coursework beginning this fall.

Hearit and other Western Michigan officials see the potential of partnering with the likes of Oakland Community College to open a joint campus in the city's center.

Source: Keith Hearit, vice provost for enrollment management at Western Michigan University
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rail, international projects dominate TRIP list

Projects centered around rail and international crossings are seen as vital to Michigan's economic recovery, according to a report by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit specializing in transportation issues.

The report lists the Top 50 projects that will help boost Michigan's economy. At the top of that list is the publicly-funded Detroit River International Crossing, followed by a couple more projects that connect Detroit and Windsor. Also included are a litany of mass transit plans, including the Woodward light rail (No. 4) and the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line (No. 27).
Others covering Metro Detroit's tri-county area are rapid transit lines along northern Woodward, M-59 and Gratiot Avenue.

These are expected to create tens of thousands of jobs and attract billions of dollars in investment. All of them are in some sort of planning stages or political flux.

The DRIC proposal is seen as attracting or preserving up to 25,000 jobs in Michigan. The report also calls for constructing a Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal along with making improvements to both train tracks and local roads, upgrading the Ambassador Bridge, and building a Detroit River Rail Tunnel.


Source: TRIP
Writer: Jon Zemke

Allen Park Middle School turns on new solar panels

The energy dials are starting to spin backwards at Allen Park Middle School now that it has installed nine solar panels.

The two-kilowatt photovoltaic solar awning was turned on earlier this spring. It now produces energy for the building and serves as an education tool for students.

"klsdj," says Mark Lowe, an assistant principal at Allen Park Middle School.

A $50,000 Energy Works Michigan Grant made the project possible. Allen Park is the first school district in the state to utilize these grants and install a solar system. It now supplies clean energy for the school (and makes its money when school is out) but also monitors weather conditions and teaches students about alternative energy and the weather.

The system was installed in the Middle School Pride Club Courtyard between the lunchroom and the art room and is visible to the public.

Source: Allen Park Public Schools
Writer: Jon Zemke

Dearborn explores waste-to-energy plant feasibility

The city of Dearborn is soliciting proposals to explore the feasibility of a waste-to-energy plant.

The project is part of the city's efforts to become more environmentally friendly. Other recent initiatives are moving toward single-stream recycling and considering LED streetlights.
Local officials see the waste-to-energy plant as another feather in the city's tree-hugging hat.

"Do we have enough waste to create enough energy to support the industrial facilities in the city?" says David Norwood, sustainability coordinator for the city of Dearborn.

The waste-to-energy plant isn't your normal dirty Detroit-style incinerator. Dearborn is looking at gasification plans that don't actually burn the refuse. The city is also looking at an anerobic digestor for its sludge waste.

The proposals are due by May 24 (more information here) and a decision on the feasibility of this idea is expected to be made before the end of the year.

Source: David Norwood, sustainability coordinator for the city of Dearborn
Writer: Jon Zemke

Birmingham debates minimum downtown height rules

While most so-called progressive cities in Michigan are struggling with capping building height, Birmingham is looking at ways to make them taller.

The city's planning commission is looking at reforming its ordinances to allow additional floors on its downtown buildings for residential space. It's also looking at setting a minimum height for structures in the downtown area. That's an about face in conventional wisdom in local planning, where public officials regularly bend to the whims of people who want to freeze their one- and two-story city centers in amber.

The first ordinance change calls for allowing downtown construction projects to build one story higher than rules allow. However, the catch is that extra story must be for residential purposes and have a 10-foot setback.

The other ordinance change would mandate that all buildings must be at least two stories tall. The idea is to make the downtown more dense and urban, steering it away from the suburban-style planning habits of the mid-to-late 20th Century.

Source: City of Birmingham
Writer: Jon Zemke

Green Alley construction begins; Motor City Brewing Works to move its front door

Detroit's Green Alley is growing in Midtown, right in front of the new door for the Motor City Brewing Works.

Excerpt:

"From trashways to greenways" is the vision behind the Green Alley project spearheaded by Tom and Peggy Brennan of Midtown's Green Garage. Funded as a demonstration project by the Kresge and Americana foundations, the project re-imagines what 220 feet of alley space can be in Detroit: a well-lit garden walkway connecting a business to its parking lot and providing outdoor space for residents to linger.

The Brennans, whose Green Garage is next door to the alley, were inspired to look at alleys differently by years spent living in Tokyo, where crowded primary streets mean that oftentimes the most interesting galleries and eateries can be found fronting an alley. "This is a big deal in my mind for people to see new and different possibilities for alleys all over the city," says Tom.

Read the rest of the story here.
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