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Urban farm now part of State Fairgrounds plan

The latest twist in the "Save the State Fairgrounds" drama is all about urban farming.

Hantz Farms is proposing to take over 40 acres and turn it into Detroit's first major urban commercial farm. The deal is contingent on the Huron Clinton Metro Parks Authority taking over control of the 135-acre parcel at the southeast corner of Woodward Avenue and 8 Mile Road.

"At this point we don't have any final plans for it right now," says Patty Russ, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Dept of Technology, Management & Budget. She adds that a decision will be made within the next month.

The Huron-Clinton Metro Parks is considering a takeover of the State Fairgrounds, which is owned by the state of Michigan. Part of the proposed deal would include the agency taking over the annual Michigan State Fair for $1 per year, while creating a year-round Metro Park, the first in the city of Detroit. The park could include amenities such as a fishing area, cross country skiing, and athletic fields.

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 land 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.

Source: Patty Russ, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Dept of Technology, Management & Budget
Writer: Jon Zemke

Weekly newspaper moves to purchase Red River Artist Center

The Telegram is in negotiations to purchase the Red River Artist Center in downtown River Rouge.

The move would fill the building with staff from the weekly newspaper that focuses on the Downriver area. It would also maintain some smaller studio spaces for artists and small businesses.

"This condenses our three-year time frame to eight months (for filling up the building)," says Rick Manore, coordinator and founder of Red River Artist Center.

Manore started working on the Russell Industrial Center-style organization last year with city officials to turn the vacant, former home of U.S. Steel Information Systems, 10750 W Jefferson Ave., into a low-cost incubator for small businesses and artists. The idea is to breathe some new life into the city's central business district. Think of the rebirth of Royal Oak, Ferndale, and Detroit's Midtown neighborhood.

Artists and creatives started taking up residence in the two-story, 1960s-era building last summer. The structure's 25,000 square feet of office space features more than a dozen 15-by-15-foot spaces that go for as little as $155 a month. The Telegram is the main tenant, bringing in a number of full-time employees.

Source: Rick Manore, coordinator and founder of Red River Artist Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

Metro Airport gets $8M for noise enclosure

Metro Airport has received an $8 million federal grant to fund the construction of a Ground Run-Up Enclosure to mitigate noise from the region's major airport.

The enclosure is a big, boxed-in area where crews can test engines without waking the neighbors. Aircraft need to have their engines tested after repairs but before going back into service, a process that can take anywhere from a few minutes to nearly an hour.

"Mostly what it does is reflect the noise straight into the air," says Michael Conway, director of public affairs for Metro Airport.

To do this effectively, the project's price tag clocks in at $10.34 million. This pays for the lights, water connections, a 43-inch cement slab, and high concrete walls that are formed specifically to muffle noise before it wakes the neighbors.

Currently those tests are performed in open areas near the runways. The structure will measure 350 feet by 300 feet and be located just north of taxiway A-5. It will absorb, deflect, and muffle most of the noise from the testing, enough so that it can be done at night.

Other airports with similar noise enclosures include Oakland/Pontiac, Chicago O'Hare, and Memphis.

Work is set to begin later this year.

Source: Michael Conway, director of public affairs for Metro Airport
Writer: Jon Zemke

Plymouth looks at geothermal for Cultural Center

Plymouth is expecting significant cost savings through implementing a big-ticket green item in one of its facilities.

The city is considering switching its heating and cooling system from natural gas to geothermal at its Cultural Center. The facility houses an ice rink, meeting rooms, banquet rooms, and its recreation department offices.

It would cost about $1 million to remove the existing mechanisms and install the geothermal units. Geothermal is seen as the top-of-the-line energy efficient heating and cooling system. The city expects to make its investment back within 8-12 years and then enjoy significant savings after that.

"The energy savings is what does it for us," says Paul Sincock, city manager for Plymouth.

The circa-1972 building at 525 Farmer Road is served by a boiler that runs on natural gas and electricity for heating. It also uses three 100-ton compressors for the refrigeration system to keep the ice sink cool.

The city expects to make a decision on the project by April 19.

Source: Paul Sincock, city manager for Plymouth
Writer: Jon Zemke

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.

Excerpt:

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.

Excerpt:

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.

Excerpt:

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.

The
$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
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