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MDOT goes sustainable with I-696 retaining wall

The long, grey concrete walls along the expressway might not look like instruments of sustainability, but the Michigan Dept of Transportation will be changing more natural slopes into retaining walls in Metro Detroit's below-grade expressways.

MDOT is spending $9 million in federal stimulus funds to build a new retaining wall along I-696 between I-75 and Gratiot Avenue in Oakland and Macomb counties this spring. The idea is to prevent erosion, cut down on maintenance costs, and absorb more water runoff.

"We have erosion problems from mowing very steep slopes on the depressed freeways," says Nanette Alton, a registered landscape architect with MDOT. She adds that mowing these embankments creates deep ruts, not to mention even more carbon emissions from the mower.

Those ruts cause erosion during heavy rain storms. Topsoil washes into storm sewers, clogging them, and eventually making its way into the Great Lakes. That creates even more bad environmental spin-off effects.

"What we're trying to do is reforest the slope so we don't have to mow it anymore," Alton says. "That saves us a lot in maintenance costs."

After the walls are in, MDOT will fill the new, smaller green space with specially selected landscaping and organic compost. The compost absorbs several times its weight in water, preventing erosion and giving the 55,000 new plants time to take root.

The plants are a combination of native and invasive species. The best plants can not only survive the harsh conditions of living next to a freeway, but also block noise pollution.

"We need the most vigorous, hearty plants that we can find," Alton says.

Work is expect to wrap up in the fall of 2011.

Source: Nanette Alton, a registered landscape architect with
Michigan Dept of Transportation
Writer: Jon Zemke

DTE Energy looks for participants for SolarCurrents program

Solar power might not seem like the obvious alternative energy play in precipitation-happy Michigan, but it's one DTE Energy is going for with its SolarCurrents program.

The Detroit-based utility is looking for businesses and educational institutions with large rooftops or ground area to host solar energy installations. The idea is to help DTE meet Michigan's new Renewable Portfolio Standard while lowering energy bills.

"We do realize that solar might not be economically viable today in Michigan, but it may become so in the future," says Irene Dimitry, director of renewable energy for DTE. "There are reasons we are investing solar."

She adds that the costs of solar have been dropping recently thanks to a combination of increased competition, rising economies of scale, and a reduction in the price of materials. Dimitry also points out that Germany generates 3.5 percent of its energy from solar, and that country is not as solar friendly as Michigan.

"They are frequently referred to as one of the success stories," Dimitry says.

DTE hopes to harness photovoltaic systems on customer rooftops or property so it can generate 15 megawatts of renewable energy in Southeast Michigan over the next five years. It plans to invest $100 million in the program.

SolarCurrents requires customers to participate for 20 years. The solar energy systems will be owned, installed, operated, and maintained by the utility. In return, customers will get an annual credit on their energy bill based on the system size, as well as a one-time, upfront construction payment to cover any inconvenience during installation.

DTE is accepting applications until April 29. Interested participants should own a facility with 15,000 square feet of unobstructed roof in good condition or a similarly sized area on the ground.

So far 150 applications have been received. Of those, 80 percent have been from residential properties.

Source: Irene Dimitry, director of renewable energy for DTE Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke

Q&A with U-M prof on potential real-estate rebound

Real estate prices are hitting new records, and Metro Detroit is leading the way. That means obtuse problems and opportunities.

Dennis Capozza, a University of Michigan professor of finance and real estate, says housing prices have fallen to 1988 levels. The last four years of losses have wiped out gains of the last 10 years, leading Capozza to call Metro Detroit the canary in the coal mine for the housing crisis that is now overrunning Las Vegas, Phoenix, inland California metros, and many south Florida metros.

Capozza agreed to answer some questions over email about the current real-estate environment and what we can expect to see from it in the near future.

If Metro Detroit was the canary in the coal mine for the housing crisis, should we expect it to be at the forefront of the recovery, too?

No, Detroit will recover slowly.

Lots of people are obtaining once-in-a-lifetime real estate deals today. Could the low-to-non-existent housing payments being achieved today translate into more disposable income and a stronger local economy 5-10 years from now?

Yes, the less we have to spend on housing the more we have available for other goods. That is the adjustment that is taking place; but a lot more families are still saddled with mortgages they can no longer afford so the transition will take time.

Lots of local and out-of-state investors are picking up surplus property today. How can we expect this will reverberate through our local economy?

I have not looked at these data on out-of-state investors but I would guess that most of them are serving as intermediaries for investors liquidating foreclosed properties.  If so, the properties will be quickly resold to local buyers.

Where is the bottom for the Metro Detroit real-estate market? Have we hit it yet and if not when could we realistically expect to?

Our forecast calls for real (inflation adjusted) prices to continue to decline at a slower rate for 1-3 more years, barring a significant recovery in the auto industry or highly targeted government programs. However, long-term recovery hinges on Michigan being able to replace the auto industry with a vibrant new industry, which often takes decades.

Source: Dennis Capozza, a University of Michigan professor of finance and real estate
Writer: Jon Zemke

Progress Report: Windows, insulation, heating and cooling up next at Green Garage

The Green Garage is blooming in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood. The old Model T showroom is getting ready to become a showplace for new sustainability-oriented businesses.


The last time Model D covered the Green Garage, back in December 2009, owners Peggy and Tom Brennan were chugging along with their project, transforming a 1920 building that once served as a Model T showroom into a business incubator and green building model. Earth tubes and water cisterns were installed, most of the ceiling removed to showcase the building's bow tresses, and a three-season room was added to the front of the building. They've since installed a Duro-Last roof and cleaned the interior and exterior brick and woodwork using a non-toxic process of walnut shell-blasting. The interior wood has been coated with low-VOC Defy.

The project is currently going through the brownfield approval process and design is being "taken to the next level of sustainable detail," says Tom. "Our design is solid, but not detailed enough for someone to pound a nail." This process is complicated by the level of efficiency they are working to attain. For example, windows will allow 0.1 air infiltration, be rated 45 R, achieve zero-waste, and will last 100 years.

Read the rest of the story here.

Zaragon Place gears up for downtown Ann Arbor sequel

So when does Zaragon Place 3 come out in downtown Ann Arbor? It's a question worth asking now that plans for Zaragon Place 2 have been made public.


The developer behind the original Zaragon Place thinks it was such a success that it's starting to push a sequel through the city approval process.

Chicago-based Zaragon is proposing to build a 14-story high-rise with 99 rental units and ground-floor retail space. There will also be a fitness center and on-site parking garage. The structure would go up at the southeast corner of William and Thompson streets, next to the Cottage Inn Restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor.

Read the rest of the story here.

Developers plan 2nd phase of Windsong townhomes

New, privately funded construction is beginning in Ann Arbor now that the developer of Windsong is preparing to build the rest of the 32 townhomes on the city's south side.


Most developers these days run long on plans and short on financing. The people behind Windsong are claiming they have both.

A partnership between Excel Realty Group (Shaker Heights, Ohio) and Epic Development (Altamonte Springs, Florida) is pushing for city of Ann Arbor approval to build the second phase of a town home development on Stone School Road just north of Elsworth Road. Peter Jobson, president of Excel Realty, says they have the ever-elusive financing lined up and are ready to start working this summer.

"Ann Arbor is a strong market," Jacobson says. "It's probably the strongest market in Michigan. This product is not offered elsewhere in the marketplace so we're seeing a strong demand for it."

Read the rest of the story here.

New $14M Royal Oak cinema has green gusto

Emagine Entertainment is lining all of its financial ducks in neat rows as it gets funding to build a new movie theater in downtown Royal Oak.

Right now the Plymouth-based firm is planning to begin construction this summer. It's also making design tweaks for LEED certification and incorporating big green features like solar panels.

"We're going to build a very green entertainment complex," says Paul Glantz, founder and chairman of Emagine Entertainment. "I think it will be well received in the marketplace. Folks will value that in Royal Oak."

Emagine is also putting the final touches on an application for brownfield tax credits from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Glantz plans to pair that with a Small Business Administration loan and some traditional financing to make the deal work.

Glantz expects the tax credits, which the Royal Oak Downtown Development Authority supports, to be approved within the next few weeks. He hopes to have the construction cash in hand shortly afterward so he can break ground in June or July. That's key so he can kick construction into full gear before the extra costs of winter construction come into play.

"We're trying to get the building closed before the weather hits," Glantz says.

Emagine Entertainment plans to build a 10-screen movie theater complete with food, alcohol, and bowling options. The new complex will go on the parking lot on 11 Mile Road just east of Main Street behind the Main Art Theatre.

The plans call for a two-story, 73,000-square-foot brick and limestone clad building that will resemble its theaters in Novi and Canton. It will show first-run movies and is not expected to provide direct competition with an indie-and-foreign movie house like the Main Art Theatre.

The new cinema's entrance will face the back of the Main Art Theatre, while the section facing 11 Mile will have windows similar to a traditional storefront but will otherwise be an inactive space. Traffic will be routed off of 11 Mile around the theater and then out onto Troy Street.

The $14 million project will house 1,680 seats and 16 lanes of bowling. There will also be a private party area/meeting room on a second-floor mezzanine level over the main entrance. The theater is expected to create 40 new full-time jobs and another 60 part-time positions.

Source: Paul Glantz, founder and chairman of Emagine Entertainment
Writer: Jon Zemke

Auburn Hills sets sustainable example; green roof on police dept

Auburn Hills city leaders are making the effort to talk the sustainability talk and walk a greener walk.

The city has incorporated a number of environmentally friendly features in its facilities as a way of showing potential investors that green building has plenty of benefits. That has led to a number of privately funded sustainable-oriented projects that wouldn't have necessarily been, such as Metro Detroit's first LEED certified dental office.

"We're really surprised that a lot of developers and engineers are not aware of them," says Pete Auger, city manager for Auburn Hills.

Storm water management is one of the principal green features on Auburn Hills' municipal campus. The 57-acre parcel has seven rain gardens, a couple of filtration ditches, and a bioswell, all of which absorb large amounts of water. The Auburn Hills Police Dept's shooting range also has a green roof to soak up the rain water runoff.

The city has also installed LED street lights on its municipal campus. LED lights are seen as the gold standard for energy efficient lighting.

"We had a five-year payback on that," Auger says. "It's been quite successful for us."

Source: Pete Auger, city manager for Auburn Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Beaumont urology center is a model of earth friendliness

It's not easy being green, even more so in a hospital. But Beaumont Hospitals has found a way to do just that in its new Women's Urology Center in Royal Oak.

$1.6 million project capitalized on as many sustainability opportunities as possible in the 4,200-square-foot building. That's not necessarily as simple as regular construction because of all of the regulations and nuances that must be followed in medical buildings.

Among the green features are cork flooring (which also helps with sound absorption), cabinetry made from recycled products, low VOC paints, and recycling options throughout the building. Even
urinary sample containers will be sterilized and recycled so they don't end up in a landfill.

"It doesn't sound like a lot, but it's a lot as far as hospitals go because we use a lot of resources," says Donna Carrico, a nurse practitioner and clinical director of the Women's Urology Center.

This is the first center in the Midwest dedicated and designed exclusively for women's urological care and sexual health. It evaluates and treat maladies associated with urinary frequency or urgency, urinary incontinence, interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome, unexplained pelvic pain, vulvar pain, sexual problems or pain associated with sex, and post-cancer treatment for vaginal discomfort or dryness.

A $5 million gift from Susan E. Cooper of Birmingham, a long-time member of the Boards of Directors of Beaumont Hospitals and the Beaumont Foundation, made construction of this center possible.

Source: Donna Carrico, a nurse practitioner and clinical director of the Women's Urology Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County expands into Madison Heights

For years, the Oakland County chapter of Habitat for Humanity has concentrated its efforts almost exclusively on Pontiac. That changes this year as the non-profit begins building houses in Madison Heights.

Madison Heights utilized federal Neighborhood Stabilization Funds to raze three houses recently and has donated the land to Habitat for Humanity. The organization plans to build two bungalows and a ranch home there in mid-April.

"The city has been so gracious to us," says Sally LePla, executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County. "We can't wait to break ground."

The non-profit is not forgetting about Pontiac. It built nine homes and renovated two more last year in the Oakland County seat. It plans to renovate another six homes and build five more there this year. The organization doesn't usually take on renovations because of acquisition costs, but the housing crisis has enabled it to do so recently.

"It's sort of taking Habitat back to its roots," LePla says. "The founder for Habitat started with renovating houses."

The organization is starting a new Home Prep Program that will help qualify families to take over its new and renovated homes. For information on participating in that program, contact RaJon Taylor at rtaylor@habitatoakland.org or at (248) 338-1843 ext 303.

Source: Sally LePla, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Hyatt Place Detroit earns environmental certification

The latest hotel to earn the Green Lodging Michigan Steward certification is right here - Hyatt Place Detroit in Auburn Hills.

Green Lodging Michigan, a joint effort of the Michigan Dept of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth (
DELEG) and its Dept of Natural Resources and Environment, encourages hotels, resorts, motels, and bed & breakfasts to become more earth friendly. Think resource conservation, alternative energy, and conducting an audit. So far 78 facilities have been certified and 31 are in the application process.

"That's something (energy audits) we always recommend they do but not a lot of them follow through on," says Roger Doherty, program manager for Green Lodging Michigan.

The Hyatt Place Detroit in Auburn Hills is in the midst of an energy audit. It has already implemented several initiatives, including a linen and towel reuse program, low-flow water fixtures and
efficient lighting, and recycling.

"We've been happy with the growth up to this point," Doherty says. "It seems to be growing faster this year."

Source: Roger Doherty, program manager for Green Lodging Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Michigan International Speedway implements Terracycle upcycling program

Michigan International Speedway is turning its trash into cash for charity now that it has partnered with TerraCycle to recycle its everyday refuse.

TerraCycle upcycles drink pouches, potato chip bags, candy bar, cookie, and energy bar wrappers, pens, markers, highlighters, and other goods not easily recycled that often go into landfills. However, with this program MIS can bypass that and still collect its $200.

In exchange for this material, TerraCycle makes a contribution to MIS Cares, the NASCAR track's charity arm. TerraCycle then uses the debris to create everyday products such as pencil bags, laptop cases, flower pots, and toys.

"Our business development director is always looking for ways to be more green and recycling more involved with what we do," says Dennis Worden, spokesman for MIS. "We have become accustomed to it over the last few years."

MIS Cares raises money and distributes it through grants to non-profit groups in the region, such as Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Boys and Girls Club of Lenawee County, Hospice of Lenawee, Boy Scouts Great Sauk Trail Council, Allegiance Heart Center in Jackson, Mich., the Ryan Newman Foundation, and The Conservation Fund.

Source: Dennis Worden, spokesman for Michigan International Speedway
Writer: Jon Zemke

New businesses open in downtown Birmingham

New businesses are crowding into downtown Birmingham just in time for the weather to break. The list includes everything from a wine bar to a brand-name coffee shop.

Leading the list is a new Biggby Coffee at 112 S Old Woodward. The new coffee shop, which claims to be the fastest growing coffee franchise in the Midwest, is replacing an old Caribou Coffee. A Great Harvest Bread Co joins Biggby, opening up its doors at 137 S. Adams.

A number of restaurants and bars are opening this spring, too. Mirage Cafe, specializing in Mediterranean cuisine, is opening at 297 E Maple in the old Maple Leaf Cafe space. South Bar plans to open at 2110 S Old Woodward in May and Tallulah Wine Bar & Bistro is setting up shop in a long-time vacant retail space at 155 S Bates.

Tallulah and Delux Bar & Grill plan to expand their outdoor patios into parking spaces this summer to accommodate more seasonal seating. Birmingham allows businesses to rent on-street parking spaces and build temporary patios on them. This creates more dining space, clears the sidewalk for pedestrians, and generates revenue for the city.

Source: Andrea Foglietta, marketing and event manager for the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Jon Zemke

Midtown building undergoing renovation for Computech Detroit offices

Another renovation in Midtown is solidifying the neighborhood's reputation as the most dynamic place in the city. This time, Computech Corp. is turning an old mansion into its new headquarters and bringing lots of jobs with it.


The 7,000-square-foot building located at the northeast corner of Cass and Kirby is currently undergoing renovations and, come May, will be the headquarters for Computech Corp., an IT company currently headquartered in Bingham Farms, with offices in India, Chicago, Toronto, and Atlanta. "I believe in the city and I believe that it is going to take small entrepreneurs to bring us back," says president Greg Cheesewright, a Toronto native who founded the company 14 years ago.

After Cheesewright conducted an extensive search -- "I went to every single building, I swear, in Detroit," -- he found the right one, and it was city-owned. Its Midtown location will enable Computech to work closely with Wayne State University. "It's an opportunity for me to get people from the university, have them come on as students in summer, train them ... and then get them as employees in four years," he says.

Read the rest of the story here.

Ypsilanti Freighthouse construction gears up for summer

The redevelopment of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse is asserting itself in Depot Town now that construction crews are stabilizing the structure.


Construction workers will be able to do some heavy lifting on the Ypsilanti Freighthouse this summer now that they're literally laying the foundation for it this spring.

Workers are currently laboring away on the first phase of the $500,000 redevelopment project. That phase includes restoring foundation stone and pouring concrete piers to support new steel beams that will serve as the building's rib cage.

"That will stabilize the building," says Ed Penet, chair of the building committee for the Friends of Ypsilanti Freighthouse.

Read the rest of the story here.
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