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Work set to continue on Macomb County trails

There are 44 miles already completed, with 26 left to go on the 70-mile loop of trails Macomb County officials plan finish over the next few years.

The county is expecting to build new pathways on two of its major trails – the Macomb Orchard Trail and the Metro Parkway Trail. Construction is set to begin in Utica and Harrison Township this summer. Next summer, Mt. Clemens, Shelby/Utica, and New Baltimore will see improvements.

John Crumm, program manager of Planning and Environmental Services for Macomb County, said a seven-mile section in the middle of the trail will have a new layer of stone, which is currently too soft for bikes. "We're going to fix that this summer, so it's solid for them to ride on," he says.

Also coming are additional trails in Harrison Township, which will connect the neighborhoods to the Metro Parkway Trail, and eventually to Selfridge Air Force Base, which will have 2.5 miles, some along the Lake St. Clair shoreline. The Air National Guard and Air Force have recently granted tentative approval for a bike path, although particulars still have to be worked out regarding security.
Crumm says the many reasons behind the $30 million pathway project -- including a vehicle for fitness, quality of life for existing residents, and, hopefully, a draw for future residents -- balance out the amount of work needed for applying for grants. He'd love to see bed and breakfasts, restaurants, and even bicycle supply stores along the route. "It's an economic engine for our local municipalities," he says.

Source: John Crumm, program manager of planning and environmental services for Macomb County

Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Birmingham building goes from baked goods to bucks

Birmingham's former Baker's Square restaurant has a new, but not unfamiliar, tenant. Shore Mortgage, already a presence in the city and metro area, has moved its Direct Lending Division to the 5,145-square-foot building.

Shore Mortgage president Robert Rahal says moving into a formerly vacant building was an "important step" toward both the company and Birmingham's goal of redeveloping the city's corridors and promoting growth. "Shore Mortgage is committed to the communities in which we are located and in which we service," Rahal says via e-mail.

Thirty employees will move to the building, in Birmingham's Triangle District, and another 100 more could be brought on board.

As the Triangle District is centrally located, "we selected this building for its easy accessibility to our growing Shore Mortgage and affiliate divisions campus, its strategic location close to major thoroughfares and to our employee community at large," Rahal says.

the space provided parking for employees and is within walking distance to the rest of the commercial and downtown district.

"By redeveloping a vacant commercial building, we are confident of the economic future of the area," he adds.

Robert Rahal, president of Shore Mortgage
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Northville, Detroit score downtown streetscape grants

Three local communities will benefit from Michigan Department of Transportation grants, which allow investment in trail and streetscape projects.

Grants were awarded to projects across Michigan, with
downtown Northville, downtown Lake Orion, and Detroit's Midtown neighborhood landing investment dollars.

  • The city of Northville will make improvements to its downtown visual character, walkability, safety, and accessibility, while helping promote economic vitality. The streetscape project area includes Main Street, between Wing and Hutton streets, and Center Street, between Cady and Dunlap streets. Improvements include sidewalks, street lighting, benches, trash receptacles, street trees and landscaping, consistent with the work the city has previously done on its Town Square project. The project cost is $1.3 million, including $685,880 in federal funds and an equivalent in matching funds from the city.
  • The village of Lake Orion and Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority will enhance Broadway Street, from M-24 to Shadboldt, and Flint Street between Lapeer to Anderson. This includes replacing streetlight globes and installing brick pavers, benches, bike racks, trees, and tree grates. The project cost is $684,535, including $444,948 in federal funds and $239,587 in a match from the Lake Orion DDA.
  • The city of Detroit, in partnership with Wayne State University, will construct a streetscape project on Anthony Wayne Drive, from Warren Avenue to Palmer Street. This includes building ADA-compliant sidewalks, street lighting, trees, bike lanes, benches, and trash receptacles, which will improve safety, security, and walkability. The project cost is $704,855, including $563,884 in federal funds and $140,971 in a local match from Wayne State University.

Source: Michigan Dept of Transportation
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Interior work begins on downtown Royal Oak's Flute House

The exterior is "all but finalized" on Royal Oak's Flute House, says architect Keith Phillips, and the interior is now beginning to take shape.

Phillips, co-founder of Brighton-based The Think Shop Architects and the designer of the building, said work continues at the downtown high-end flute store. "Currently we are installing the digitally fabricated black Polyurea exterior cladding where the exterior vapor barrier is showing on the entry cube as well as the residence above," he says in an e-mail. "We are continuing to fit out the interior of the structure, with every day getting us a bit closer to our goal, yet we are still a ways off."

The two-story red-and-off-white building on South Main Street next to B&B Collision will serve as a high-end flute store and the residence of Ervin Monroe, the retired principal flutist for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The retail portion will be on the ground floor, while Monroe's home will be on the second.

The building started out as home to Alegra Print & Imaging in the mid-20th century, and has since played host to a body shop and brick emporium. It will house a 5,000-square-foot retail shop on the ground floor. The residential space above measures out to 2,100 square feet.

Source: Keith Phillips, co-founder of The Think Shop Architects
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Macomb County receives nearly $2 million in grants for wetland restoration

Macomb County's wetlands will get a boost this fall after the county receives nearly $2 million in grant funding to make environmental improvements.
The county's Planning and Economic Development Dept is in the final stages of approval for two grants. The federal Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act has made $1.5 million available for the restoration of nearly 500 acres of coastal marshland in Harrison Township in and near Metro Beach Metro Park. The EPA is awarding about $150,000 through its Restoring the Lake St. Clair Corridor through the Green Streets Program.
Gerry Santoro, Planning and Economic Development Department senior planner, explains that the coastal marshlands have changed over time because of increased hard surfaces in the watershed from development, which causes soil erosion to happen at a much faster rate, and an aggressive, invasive grassreed plant, phragmite, which is replacing much of the natural bullrush and cattail marshes.
"What the [Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration] grant is for is to restore or to return the natural waterflow in the coastal marshlands near Metro Beach," he explains. "What we're doing is sort of a dual effort, to try and remove the phragmite plants and also to restore the natural waterways closer to what was natural, and to restore those habitats for birds and for fish."
With 1.4 million residents, the Clinton River Watershed is the most populated in the entire Great Lakes region. It is also one of the fastest growing. Part of the restoration initiative is to work with developers to offset any harmful effects on the environment, he says. Also, the economic downturn has allowed local and county governments to take a second look at development patterns and try to make them smarter, which will help with the area's longevity and attractiveness to young people and visitors, he adds.
Santoro explained that the grant actually takes effect late this summer or fall, starting with monitoring, then engineering and investigating actual changes.

The county is also in pursuit of matching funds through other sources, which would bring funding to $1.7 million.

Gerry Santoro, senior planner for the Planning and Economic Development Dept in Macomb County
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Oakland County Executive Office Building receives Energy Star rating; $4M in savings

Saving money is nice, but being green and being a leader are also behind the decision of Oakland County's government to invest in energy efficient methods and technology.

Actions such as reducing lighting, adjusting thermostats, and even using moisture sensors to prevent over-watering have earned the Oakland County Executive Office Building, on Pontiac Lake Road in Waterford, an Energy Star rating from the Environmental Protection Agency. Those actions have also reduced energy consumption on the government campus by 10 percent, saving about $4 million.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson wants the energy consumption reduced by another 15 percent in the next five years, said Oakland County Director of Facilities Management Art Holdsworth; Patterson issued an OakGreen Challenge to all communities, businesses, and homes in the county to reduce consumption 10 percent by 2012.

"We've been doing things like this ... as a way of doing what we can to get our energy costs down and be more green," Holdsworth says. "All these things, in total, are a significant energy savings."

Years ago when the county bought the building from the Oakland County Intermediate School District, it installed double-paned windows and other energy-efficient technologies during the building renovation, to the tune of several million dollars. So the green efforts aren't really a matter of making back its investment, but doing the right, and smart, thing.

"Oakland County always prides itself on being a leader, and leading by example, especially among local government, and demonstrate to the private sector it can be done," Holdworth says.

The U.S. Dept of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program awarded the county $4.8 million in November to use over the next three years for energy-efficient measures, he explains. "With $4.8 million, we're able to do an awful lot of things over the next couple of years," he adds. Planned projects range from replacing old light bulbs to geothermal heat and photovoltaic solar energy panels.

Meanwhile, Oakland County will open its first LEED certified building in 2011 as it begins to construct Michigan's first green airport terminal. The new terminal at Oakland County International Airport in Waterford will feature sustainable options such as wind power generating technology, geothermal heat, and landscaping that uses rain water irrigation. A number of recycled materials will be used in the construction. The terminal will be smaller than the former building but the space will be used more efficiently. It will include airport offices, a U.S. Customs Service office, and a high-tech telecommuting meeting room to reduce travel time and costs.

Source: Art Holdsworth, director of facilities management for Oakland County

Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Greenpath Debt Solutions begins construction on new Farmington Hills HQ

The ground is broken and the construction fences are up around the site of the future home for GreenPath Debt Solutions.

The non-profit that specializes in financial counseling (think dealing with bankruptcy or foreclosure) is building a new headquarters in Farmington Hills, not far from its existing headquarters on 12 Mile Road. It will house the company's 400 employees, with enough room to accommodate foreseeable growth.

The four-story building
will be situated on a 10.5-acre plot just east of Halstead on the south side of 12 Mile Road. The planned 125,000 square-foot structure will house both the non-profit's headquarters and call center, and will come complete with high ceilings to deaden noise.

GreenPath is going for LEED certification by incorporating lots of natural light in the building and preserving a two-acre wetland on the property. The structure was designed by Harley Ellis Devereaux. Work is expected to take up to a year to complete.

Source: GreenPath Debt Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakwood upgrades Heritage Hospital surgical center

Oakwood Healthcare System is making an expensive and expansive upgrade to its Heritage Hospital in Taylor.

The Dearborn-based health-care provider is renovating and expanding its surgical center. The $31 million project will improve orthopedic care, with a focus on joint replacement technology and clinical services.

"Heritage Hospital hasn't had a major improvement to its operating rooms since it was built," says Jeff Gielniak, director of architecture and construction for Oakwood Healthcare System. "This replaces the operating rooms with state-of-the-art technology."

The new and improved surgical center will feature 12 patient suites, eight operating rooms, and 40 private pre- and post-operative rooms. There will also be a new dedicated entrance with a canopy, parking lot, common areas, and registration suites for all scheduled patients and guests.  

"It's a major change to the campus that allows us to take the hospital to the next level," Gielniak says.

Source: Jeff Gielniak, director of architecture and construction for Oakwood Healthcare System
Writer: Jon Zemke

US Farathane starts work on Auburn Hills HQ

The circa-1995 Oakland Technology Park in Auburn Hills is enjoying a reinvention of sorts. The commercial area is welcoming new businesses and buildings to its 211 acres.

US Farathane recently broke ground on its world headquarters in the Oakland Technology Park. The automotive plastics company will combine two of its locations there, a move that is expected to create 300 new jobs over the next five years. Construction is expected to finish later this year.

The Oakland Technology Park's ownership changed from Chrysler to Southfield-based General Development and Premier Equities during Chrysler's bankruptcy. The switch makes a portion of the land acreage open for development again.

Source: City of Auburn Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Downtown Plymouth streetscape project wraps up

Work is wrapping up on this year's phase of the downtown Plymouth streetscape project late this week.

The Plymouth Downtown Development Authority is spending $2 million to revamp the Wayne County suburb's streetscape, making it more pedestrian friendly and improving its overall aesthetics. The first phase, worth $500,000, of the two-year project rehabbed the intersection of Main Street and Penniman Avenue.

"It's looking great," says Tony Burscato, director of operations for the Plymouth DDA. "We have this new decorative compass and concrete intersection that we think will be quite popular for some time."

Other improvements include a resurfacing of the streets, realignment of new brick crosswalks, LED traffic lights, and countdown crosswalk signals.

Next year, the DDA plans to do the same for the intersection of Penniman and Ann Arbor Trail.

Source: Tony Burscato, director of operations for the Plymouth Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

WA3 debuts a virtual Woodward Avenue

You don't have to travel down Woodward Avenue to experience Michigan's Main Street anymore, now that the Woodward Avenue Action Association has released WAVE.

The Woodward Avenue Virtual Experience offers a 3D virtual tour of the M-1, accessible from a web browser. The virtual experience (think Google Earth) offers not only a similar tour to what one might experience walking up Woodward, but also offers information on destinations, available properties, businesses, and development opportunities.

"We wanted to think of something that was really different but everybody could use, too," says Nicole Brown, outreach and promotions coordinator for the Woodward Avenue Action Association, a non-profit advocacy organization for
the communities along Woodward. "This isn't just for tourists. This is also for people who want to start a business here."

Users should expect to be able to find out what properties are for sale or lease along Woodward, their zoning or land-use regulations and economic development, and historic preservation tax incentives. There will also be a bevy of information about events, attractions, dining, sporting events, entertainment, and tours on Woodward.

"This is one of the things that will keep growing as we develop the funding for it," Brown says.

WAVE is designed and maintained by Luna Tech Designs, which used Google Earth technology to create it. The Sterling Heights-based firm has made similar virtual experiences for other local communities, including downtown Plymouth and Detroit. A $15,000 Michigan Centers for Regional Excellence grant paid for WAVE.

Source: Nicole Woodward, outreach and promotions coordinator for the Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Jon Zemke

Downtown Clawson begins streetscape project

The new downtown Clawson streetscape will pave the way for a new and improved infrastructure for businesses, pedestrians, and stakeholders in the Oakland County suburb.

Workers are removing old tree stumps and taking down the old cobrahead streetlights at the intersection of Main Street and 14 Mile Road. The $1.2 million project, funded partly with $760,000 in federal cash, will revamp Main between Wolper and Phillips Street and 14 Mile between Washington and Bellevue Street. Work should wrap up by the time the weather starts to turn cold.

"We hope to be planting trees this fall," says Joan Horton, director of the Clawson Downtown Development Authority. "That will be one of the last parts of the project."

Other to-dos include decorative lighting, replacing worn out sidewalks and laying brick pavers, and new landscaping, planters, trees, and bike racks.

This is the first time downtown Clawson's leaders have made improvements to the city's center. A few years ago they put Main on a diet by shrinking the five-lane byway to three lanes. The idea was to create more on-street parking for businesses and to slow traffic to protect pedestrians. Similar plans to put the downtown section of 14 Mile on a diet are also in the works.

Source: Joan Horton, director of the Clawson Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

DTE's SolarCurrents program hits $1M mark

DTE Energy's SolarCurrents program is hitting significant milestones, meaning more solar panels going up all over Metro Detroit.

The program, which started in September, has provided more than $1 million to customers who want to help cut the costs of installing solar panels. That means 55 installations worth about 250 kilowatts of renewable electric capacity. Another 200 applications under review would add another 1,300 kilowatts.

"We have dedicated $25 million toward SolarCurrents," says Scott Simons, a spokesman for DTE Energy. "There is a lot of opportunity for our customers to take advantage of it."

The idea behind the program is to make these systems more affordable for customers and to help DTE meet Michigan's new Renewable Portfolio Standard. Those taking advantage of the program receive 50 percent of both the value of the Renewable Energy Credits upon installation and the remaining RECs as a credit on their bills for the next 20 years.

This program combined with federal tax credits and incentives covers more than half of the installation costs for solar panel systems. For more information, click here.

Source: Scott Simons, spokesman for DTE Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke

Progress Report: Midtown's Forest Arms declared watertight, vertical gardens installed

The trend in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood is to turn its biggest eyesores into its biggest development hits. The ongoing restoration of the Forest Arms apartment building is proving to be the prettiest idea this summer.


The ambitious renovation of the Forest Arms apartment building has made some progress, with developer Scott Lowell characterizing the fire-damaged structure as "weather-tight." "The structure and roof are completely water-tight, which is a great situation," he says. Next on the agenda will be reconfiguring the apartments into a more-modern floorplan. He anticipates that this next phase will begin in the fall and that construction will take a couple more years to be complete.

Read the rest of the story here.

CVS to keep façade on downtown Ann Arbor space

Building a new CVS in downtown Ann Arbor won't be easy, but the developers will probably be able to pull it off without many passersby noticing.


What promises to be downtown Ann Arbor's first façadectomy doesn't look like it will be an easy process. CVS Pharmacy plans to tear out everything except the fa
çade in its new home next to the University of Michigan's campus.

The national pharmacy chain will be moving into 209 S State, which is the 2-story building between the State Theater and Buffalo Wild Wings. The challenge is that the building behind the storefront facade is a former single-family home.

"There isn't much historic work worth saving other than masonry facade," says Aaron Vermeulen, principal of Ann Arbor-based O-X Studios, which was redesigning the building a year ago before CVS purchased it. That sale became final last week.

Read the rest of the story here.
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