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Green Place works with students to build container housing in Southwest Detroit

Empty shipping containers are finding a home in Detroit as homes for people interested in sustainable green building.


Several General Motors employees banded together to found Green Place Detroit, a non-profit that works with middle and high school students to build green homes from shipping containers. A team of Ceasar Chavez Academy students is currently working with Green Placers, architects, and builders to construct a home on a vacant double lot at 1296 Rademacher in Southwest Detroit.

Read the rest of the story here.

U-M opens new tower at Kellogg Eye Center

It's hard not to see the new addition to the Kellogg Eye Center complex. The Brehm Tower promises to create more opportunities for research, innovation, and employment at the University of Michigan.


A new research center at the University of Michigan is opening now that the W.K. Kellogg Eye Center Complex has completed the Brehm Tower.

The $132 million facility will provide 230,000 square feet to expand U-M's capacity for eye-care research and education. Researchers will also be working on how eye sight relates to diabetes and other diseases.

That research is becoming more in demand because it primarily affects older segments of the population. The U.S. population, as well as Michigan's, continues to get older as Baby Boomers reach retirement age.

"This population will be growing significantly over the next 15-20 years," says Dr. Paul R. Lichter, professor and chair of the University of Michigan Dept of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences and director of the W.K. Kellogg Eye Center. "That population is the one that has glaucoma and other ailments we specialize in."

Read the rest of the story here.

Federal stimulus funds $15M expansion of U-M research facilities

The federal stimulus strikes again. This time it's not funding research as much as it is enabling it with a new building at the University of Michigan.


As a new University of Michigan research building opens, another has received funding to begin construction.

The federal stimulus is sending $14.8 million toward the U-M Institute for Social Research to build a significant new addition to the institute's home on Thompson Street. The 50,000 square foot addition will expand the reach of the world's largest academic social science research and survey organization.

It will also create a variety of jobs... estimates suggest as many as 200 more. They will include short-term construction positions as well as long-term research employment.

Read the rest of the story here.

Can Metro Parks save Detroit's State Fair?

Metro Detroit is about to score the green space hat trick now that Huron-Clinton Metro Parks is making moves to take over the State Fairgrounds in Detroit.

The scores would include Detroit receiving its first Metro Park, establishing the first inner-city Metro Park in the region, and saving the annual Michigan State Fair.

"The State Fair has been one of our regional jewels for more than 100 years," says Tim Greimel, an Oakland County Commissioner representing Pontiac, Auburn Hills, and Rochester Hills, who is helping push the deal forward. "It provides family friendly entertainment to hundreds of thousands of people. It would be a great shame if we lost the State Fair."

Under the deal, the state would lease the State Fairgrounds at Woodward Avenue and 8 Mile Road to Metro Parks for $1 a year. Metro Parks would agree to run the State Fair and create a year-round park with the rest of the 135 acres. That park could include amenities such as a fishing area, cross country skiing, and athletic fields.

"One of the challenges southern Oakland County has is the lack of large-acreage parkland," Greimel says. "The alternative is our southeast Oakland County communities would have a vacant eyesore across the road."

One of the major complaints Detroit and the inner-ring suburbs have had is that they pay taxes for Metro Parks, but most of that parkland is at the outer fringes of the region. Turning the State Fair into a Metro Park would go a long way toward remedying that complaint.

The Metro Parks Board of Commissioners tabled the proposal yesterday afternoon and will revisit it after 60 days.

Source: Tim Greimel, Oakland County Commissioner
Writer: Jon Zemke

State tells Lincoln Park to save the Mellus

A Michigan Historic Preservation Officer has sent a strongly worded letter to the Lincoln Park Downtown Development Authority, urging local officials to save the Mellus Newspaper building in the Downriver suburb's downtown.

"The rehabilitation of a historic building utilizing potentially available Historic Tax Credits and Brownfield Tax Credits can have much broader economic benefits to the surrounding area than demolition of the building for vacant property," State Historic Preservation Officer Brian D. Conway writes in the letter. "What we recommend ... is that the building be mothballed for continued marketing to potential developers. That is, minimal repairs should be made to the building to make it safe and to avoid damage from water infiltration and vandalism. The option of making a building sound for future redevelopment is more in line with the stated goals and mission of the Lincoln Park DDA than creating a vacant lot."

Conway's letter also questions the DDA's intentions of purchasing the Mellus, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The letter says the building should have been marketed for redevelopment with adjoining structures instead of moving so aggressively toward demolition, a move that is "in violation of the spirit and intent of the DDA Act."

"Your report provides no discussion of how and for how long the Lincoln Park DDA marketed the building for redevelopment, nor is there any discussion of attempts to package redevelopment incentives, such as federal historic tax credits," Conway writes. "Indeed, because the Lincoln Park DDA's ownership of the building has been so brief, we question how a sufficient marketing effort would even have been possible in such a short time."

Whether or not city officials follow the recommendation has yet to be shown. The DDA's attorney, David Tamsen, sent a letter earlier this week saying that if any member of the DDA board requests a special meeting about the building by Friday, the board will reconsider the issue. Otherwise "the board's previous decision to demolish the buildings will be implemented." Leslie Lynch-Wilson, president of the Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance and a proponent of saving the Mellus, said she expects the demolition will be discussed at the DDA's regularly scheduled meeting on March 11. The future of the historic building remains in flux until then.

Lynch-Wilson maintains the DDA never made a good-faith effort to redevelop the building and bought it with only the intention of demolition. In fact, she believes the buildings could be redeveloped right now but some city officials are stubbornly against any sort of reasonable redevelopment of the Mellus.

"We all know why they bought it. Because Frank Vaslo (Lincoln Park's mayor) wants to tear it down," Lynch-Wilson says.

And so the Mellus building sits awaiting a firm decision on its future. The 1940s-era building at 1661 Fort St. served as the home to Lincoln Park's local newspaper, then owned by William Mellus, for generations. The Mellus still has its original porcelain enameled Moderne commercial building exterior, while the adjacent Pollak (named after Pollak Jewelers and also up for demolition) retains its terrazzo entrance sidewalk.

The buildings had been vacant for several years before the Lincoln Park DDA purchased them last year. Some city officials call them blight, but the Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance argues that their salvation is an important step toward preserving downtown Lincoln Park's heritage and encouraging business and job creation. In fact the LPPA even recruited a developer who wanted to rehab both buildings and another adjacent one the DDA also owns so he could move his business to Lincoln Park. This could have created dozen of jobs. The DDA turned him down because the two sides could not agree on a price for the third building.

Source: Martha MacFarlane Faes, cultural resource protection manager for the Michigan Historic Preservation Office and Leslie Lynch-Wilson, president of the Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance
Writer: Jon Zemke

Utica plans pedestrian bridge over Clinton River

Getting to downtown Utica is about to become much easier, as the Macomb County suburb plans to build a pedestrian bridge over the Clinton River.

The city recently received $303,192 in federal Transportation Enhancement funding to fill the financing gap for the $452,525 project. Work is expected to begin this spring and wrap up by the end of September.

The bridge will connect the Macomb Orchard Trail to downtown Utica as well as the Clinton River Trail in Oakland County. It will provide pedestrians and bicyclists with a safe place to cross the river without having to navigate the busy Van Dyke/M-59 intersection. Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan expects the bridge will have a big impact on several fronts.

"It's nature. It's economic. It's community," Noonan says. "We're just so excited and proud."

The project is one of the final pieces of the Macomb County Bike/Hike Master Plan. Utica and other Macomb County communities have been working on building that series of bike trails and paths for 22 years. This bridge will connect Utica to the Huron Clinton Metroparks at Metro Beach and Stoney Creek.

Source: Jacqueline Noonan, mayor of Utica
Writer: Jon Zemke

Clawson to begin streetscape project in spring

Clawson continues to steadily create a city center in the otherwise suburban suburb. Its latest step is a streetscape project that promises to recreate the sleepy little intersection at Main Street and 14 Mile Road.

The project will revamp the two main streets of Clawson's downtown, including Main between Wolper and Phillips, and 14 Mile between Washington and Bellevue. That involves installing decorative lighting, replacing worn out sidewalks, and installing new landscaping, planters, trees, and bike racks. Brick pavers will also be installed along with the new sidewalks.

"It's a first step," says Joan Horton, director of the Clawson Downtown Development Authority. "This is one of our first brick-and-mortar projects that we have had in a long time."

Previous projects including putting Main on a diet a few years ago. That consisted of shrinking the five-lane road to three lanes and creating two lanes of parallel parking. This resulted in more parking spaces for local businesses, slower traffic, protection for pedestrians, and making the downtown more walkable in general. Clawson plans to also put 14 Mile on a diet in the downtown section soon, too.

"That's very important for us as a downtown and a city," Horton says. "The road needs to be for all sorts of traffic."

The $1.2 million project is being funded in part by $760,398 in recently awarded federal Transportation Enhancement funding. Work is expected to begin this spring and wrap up later in the summer.

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

Belleville streetscape project gets green light

It's been a long journey, but the roads of downtown Belleville are about to be streetscaped this summer.

The city received $458,314 in federal Transportation Enhancement funds for part of a $5.8 million streetscape plan. The project includes a complete revamping of the streets, including below the surface. It will be tackled in two phases this summer.

All of the sewer and water lines and
other underground infrastructure will be replaced in the downtown. Sidewalks will be enhanced with decorative brick pavers, benches, trash cans, bike racks, and new landscaping.

"It's definitely time to do an update," says Carol Thompson, administrator for the Belleville Downtown Development Authority.

No improvements have been made to the downtown streetscape since the early 1990s. Many trees have also been lost to the emerald ash borer in recent years.

The first phase of the project will include South Street from Huron River Drive to the railroad tracks and the Fourth Street Square. The second phase, set to begin after the Strawberry Festival in June, will replace Main Street from the Bridge to Huron River Drive.

This is not the first time plans for the streetscape have been broached. An initiative to have the work done via a bond proposal was defeated last year. This new project is coming mainly from the city's coffers.

Source: Carol Thompson, administrator for the Belleville Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Mass transit scores more federal funds for rail, bikes

A pocketful of money is creating big changes to mass transit in Metro Detroit.

First, SMART is installing $20,000 worth of bike racks away from its bus routes across the metro area. Of that, $16,000 is coming from federal Transportation Enhancement funds. The idea is to provide another amenity for bicyclists who ride its buses so they have a safe place to lock up their bike at their final destination.

"A place a rider might take their bike off the bus and ride it to a specific location," says Beth Dryden,
director of external affairs marketing and communications for SMART.

Some of those locations could vary between big-name destinations like Comerica Park in Detroit or smaller, every-day use places like the Wal-Mart/Meijer commercial center on Maple Road in Troy. SMART expects to spend about $500 per bike rack, which could mean about 40 new places for bicyclists to lock up their bikes across the metro area.

That's on top of $25 million in federal stimulus funds the M-1 Rail project received from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. That money is expected to go a long way towards bringing light rail to Woodward Avenue between the Detroit River and New Center. The funds will be primarily used for road improvements along the corridor.

Transportation Riders United is also teaming up with the chambers of commerce from Troy, Birmingham, and Bloomfield to host a transit conference on Friday morning. The idea is to spread the gospel that improving mass transit will pay big dividends for economic development to the local business leaders, owners, and key stakeholders in the community.

Friday's meeting will be held between 7:30 - 9:30 a.m. at the Troy Chamber Office, 4555 Investment Dr., in the Lower Level Meeting Room. For information, click here or contact TRU's Business Outreach Team leader Kevin Smith at
business@DetroitTransit.org or 313 549 2299.

Source: Transportation Riders United and
Beth Dryden, director of external affairs marketing and communications for SMART
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington Hills' Riley Skatepark wins design award

Riley Skatepark is earning mainstream props after becoming an instant hit with the skating crowd when it opened last summer.

The Farmington Hills-based skatepark received a Facility Design Award from the Michigan Recreation & Park Association. The award recognizes the skatepark's innovative design, functionality, aesthetics, and positive community impact. It also helps that there isn't a comparable skatepark within reasonable driving distance.

"There really is nothing in the Midwest that compares to it," says Bryan Farmer, recreation superintendent for Farmington Hills.

Riley Skatepark goes beyond the typical concrete hills, ramps, and rails that dominate the stereotypical skate parks in the Midwest. Riley has an eight-foot-tall cylinder that resembles a sewer pipe built into the ground instead of above it and a variety of in-ground features resembling concrete pits and ditches. The idea is to give the park a "West Coast" feel that most local skaters have yet to experience in Metro Detroit.

The 29,000-square-foot venue is the newest attraction at Founders Sports Park at 35500 Eight Mile Road between Gill and Halstead roads, near the Farmington Hills Ice Arena. It attracts about 150 people a day and hosts a number of skateboarding events. A national competition is set to take place there in 2011.

"Pretty much all day long there are people there," Farmer says.

Source: Bryan Farmer, recreation superintendent for Farmington Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

It's almost spring, and transit centers are sprouting in Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor is known for flowers and trees sprouting up in the spring, but you can add transit centers to that list now that U-M is joining AATA, SEMCOG, and the city in making plans for a new transit center.


Transit centers are now development du jour in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan recently unveiled plans to develop its own student-transit center. This plan joins others in the works for the Blake Transit Center, Fuller Road Station, and the new stop for the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line.

"Having these stations really transforms our community," says Nancy Shore, executive director of the getDowntown program. "It's really changing the environment so people can be more comfortable when they use these other forms of transportation."

Read the rest of the story here.

Zingerman's expansion, Library Lot become talk of Ann Arbor

Zingerman's is making another go at expanding its Kerrytown headquarters and is making its intentions known to anyone who will listen.


Two of Ann Arbor's biggest project proposals are about to become the talk of the town the Library Lot and the Zingerman's expansion.

The people behind Zingerman's are making another push toward expanding their deli and coffee shop facilities in Kerrytown. They will be holding a public meeting about their plans at 5 p.m. on March 8 at the deli, 422 Detroit St. Zingerman's has grown into a family of businesses with facilities all over the city, but its headquarters remains in the storefront in downtown Ann Arbor.

"We've been doing business there for 28 years in March," says Paul Saginaw, co-founder of Zingerman's. "We'd like to keep doing business here for another 28 years. The original building isn't built for the type of intensity it currently hosts."

Read the rest of the story here.

Astro Coffee shop headed to Corktown

Astro Coffee is gearing up to complement Detroit's famous Slow's Barbeque restaurant in Corktown, and yes, it has heard what happened to the Mercury Coffee Bar.


Construction is underway on Astro Coffee, the shop Daisuke Hughes plans to open on Michigan Avenue in Corktown late this summer.

Hughes left Michigan in 2002. He lived in various cities around the world but kept tabs on Detroit.  Working at highly-regarded Monmouth Coffee Co. in London, he got hooked on coffee culture. A Model D article about what was to be the Mercury Coffee Bar was the impetus he needed to make the move to Detroit in 2008. "The timing was perfect, coming back and walking into a job that I was qualified for," he says.

While Mercury did not last, Hughes plans to take lessons learned and apply them to his own venture. "Now I have a fraction of the rent, which cuts overhead. And staffing at the Mercury was very high -- it will be a much smaller scale at Astro," he says, noting that coffee drinks will likely overlap with Mercury offerings, but food options will be scaled way back. "I've tried hard to keep what was good about it and retain that, and what was clearly not working, shave away and eliminate that."

Read the rest of the story here and how This Old House picked Detroit's Villages community as one of the nation's best places to buy a historic home here.

Greenleaf Trust building rises in Birmingham

It's cold, grey and dreary outside these days, but the Greenleaf Trust Building is really blooming in downtown Birmingham.

Work on the building is entering its final stages as it charges toward a May finish and June grand opening. The 5-story building's exterior is pretty much finished and the interior build-out is set to begin in earnest soon. The construction can be monitored here.

"Construction of the Greenleaf Trust Building is moving along very well," Patti Owens wrote in an email. She is the vice president and managing director of Catalyst Development, which is in charge of constructing the building.

Greenleaf Trust is going for silver LEED certification with environmentally friendly features like a 1,500-square-foot green roof, natural lighting and numerous water- and energy-efficiency fixtures. The Eckert Wordell Architecture-designed structure is also replacing an abandoned gas station at the corner of Woodward Avenue and Maple Road.

The first floor will be occupied by Zazios, a modern Italian restaurant based in Kalamazoo. 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 for its Metro Detroit offices. 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

Please adopt Taylor's $1 historic home

A big piece of Taylor's history is for sale for a small price right now. The city is offering one of the community's first brick homes for $1, but the catch is the buyer has to take it with them.

The circa-1926 home is located on 21528 Northline Road. The city bought the property, which was in foreclosure, to expand the southern portion of Heritage Park. Instead of just tearing down the Arts and Crafts house, city officials wanted to give it one more chance at life by offering up the structure for $1.

The buyer must move the house by the end of May so the city can rip out the foundation and extend the parkland. If a buyer can't be found, then good bye historic house.

The 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom house is rich in Arts and Crafts detail. But like most foreclosures in Metro Detroit, the 2,110-square-foot dwelling needs a bit of TLC. The city bought the structure with Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds and considered moving it to the historic village portion of Heritage Park. That idea was nixed due to budget constraints.

Anyone interested in the home can contact Patrick Depa, Taylor's coordinator of community and economic development, at (734) 374-1352.

Source: City of Taylor
Writer: Jon Zemke
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