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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.

Excerpt:

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 fašade 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.

Excerpt:

What promises to be downtown Ann Arbor's first fašadectomy doesn't look like it will be an easy process. CVS Pharmacy plans to tear out everything except the fa
šade 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.

Sun Engineering grows, moves into downtown Saline

Sun Engineering is enjoying its moment in the spotlight, breathing new life into one of downtown Saline's long-time vacant buildings.

Excerpt:

Sun Engineering is moving to downtown Saline to grow its company, now that it has bought and is refurbishing the old R&B building.

The nearly 70-year-old building will become the home to the defense contractors engineering and manufacturing operations. That means 15 new employees for right now and probably another dozen by the end of the year.

"It looks like a new shop," says Andrew Warner, president of Sun Engineering and a University of Michigan graduate. "We'll be doing some remodeling so it looks even better."

Read the rest of the story here.

Ford Foundation pledges millions for Woodward light rail

M-1 Rail in Detroit was at the top of the investment list when the Ford Foundation announced it would be injecting $200 million into projects that will promote economic growth across the U.S.

The New York City-based organization plans to invest this money into projects that help both major cities and their suburbs plan for future land-use, enhance transportation, and interweave housing, transportation, and land-use policy. The idea is to help these communities push forward innovative projects that could be used as both economic engines and models for other communities.

The M-1 Rail definitely fits into this category. The three-mile long light rail track on Woodward Avenue between Jefferson Avenue and Grand Boulevard is being privately funded with $125 million from local business interests, foundations, and government agencies. Officials hope to use it as a local match for federal funds to extend the light rail north up Woodward to 8 Mile or even Royal Oak.

The initiative is aiming at communities hardest hit by the fallout of the auto industry crisis. The hope is this money will help local, state, and federal leaders cooperate on and create solutions to revitalize these communities and create jobs as a region.

Other projects mentioned in the Ford Foundation's announcement include redevelopment of the Claiborne corridor in New Orleans and the construction of 25 transit villages along BART in San Francisco's Bay Area. It's also aiming to create regional land banks in the Detroit and Flint areas.

Source: Ford Foundation
Writer: Jon Zemke

Proto Manufacturing plans to rehab Taylor site, create 46 jobs

Proto Manufacturing plans to renovate an 18,800-square-foot building as part of its plan to move its operations to Taylor.

The Ypsilanti-based firm plans to invest $5.25 million into renovating and expanding the structure. The project includes installing a new roof, interior infrastructure improvements, and upgrades to its office and showroom spaces. The new space will allow the company to move from its temporary location to the new facility in Taylor.

"It needs some work," says Robert Drake, sales manager for
Proto Manufacturing. "It's an older building."

There are plans to install new machinery and equipment at the facility, which will also include in-house laboratory services that provide residual stress measurement, stress mapping, and related services in a controlled environment.

The company focuses on the development and application of non-destructive evaluation technology measures and maps residual stresses for customers in the aerospace, alternative energy, medical device technology, defense, power-generation, nuclear, and automotive industries. It also designs, develops, and manufactures its own line of x-ray tubes.

Proto Manufacturing also considered alternative sites in South Carolina, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee. The state agreed to a
$586,814 tax abatement over seven years. The city of Taylor is also offering a tax abatement.

Source:
Robert Drake, sales manager for Proto Manufacturing
Writer: Jon Zemke

Hampton Inn & Suites opens near Metro Airport

Metro Detroit's Aerotropolis is a little bit bigger now that Cooper Hotels has opened a new hotel.

The new Hampton Inn & Suites is a 126-room, 38-suite facility located on the 31700 block of Smith Road. This lodging offers complimentary high-speed Internet access, in-room refrigerators and microwave ovens, coffee makers, and 37-inch HD televisions.

The Memphis-based hotel chain opened its first hotel at Metro Airport, a Hilton Garden Inn, a decade ago. It now has three properties at Detroit's Aerotropolis which employ 150 people  and offer 442 living spaces.

Cooper Hotels owns 24 hotels in seven states, 15 of which are Hilton Family of Hotels franchised properties.

Source: Cooper Hotels
Writer: Jon Zemke

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.
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