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Ferndale wraps up library renovation project

Construction workers will wrap up the renovation of the Ferndale Public Library on the eastern edge of downtown by the end of May.

The library will close its temporary location on May 21 so it can start moving books and other materials to the newly refurbished building on 9 Mile Road, just east of Woodward Avenue. An opening is set for June 28.

"Our hope is it will serve as a focal point for attracting attention to the east of Woodward area," says Doug Raber, director of the Ferndale Public Library.

The library is going for silver LEED certification, thanks to a plethora of environmentally friendly features. Among the big-ticket features are a geothermal heating system, a gray water recycling system, and a partial green roof. The most environmentally friendly factor is the reuse of a circa-1954 structure.

The renovation adds another 10,000 square feet, rounding out the structure to 21,000 square feet. That means more meeting room space fronting 9 Mile, a new area for teens, and a new children's room facing Troy Street.

"It's almost a library within a library," Raber says.

The addition, paid for by a one-mill millage increase last year, will give the library space to bump up its staff from four to 10. It will also provide the funds to double the library's purchasing budget for books and other media, such as audio books and CDs.

Source: Doug Raber, director of the Ferndale Public Library
Writer: Jon Zemke

WMU opens office in Royal Oak

Western Michigan University is extending its presence into Metro Detroit by opening an office in Royal Oak. The university is also looking at partnering to open a campus in Royal Oak and possibly an office in downtown Detroit.

WMU choose Royal Oak because many of its competitor institutions of higher learning have offices in the likes of Troy, Auburn Hills, and Livonia. That left a big void in the heart of Oakland County that needed filling.

"A lot of the signs pointed toward Royal Oak," says Keith Hearit, vice provost for enrollment management at Western Michigan University. "It's also an area that is hip and young-people oriented."

WMU will occupy a suite of offices located at 32820 Woodward Ave., just south of 14 Mile Road. It will become the university's base of operations for student recruitment and alumni outreach. It will also offer coursework beginning this fall.

Hearit and other Western Michigan officials see the potential of partnering with the likes of Oakland Community College to open a joint campus in the city's center.

Source: Keith Hearit, vice provost for enrollment management at Western Michigan University
Writer: Jon Zemke

Rail, international projects dominate TRIP list

Projects centered around rail and international crossings are seen as vital to Michigan's economic recovery, according to a report by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit specializing in transportation issues.

The report lists the Top 50 projects that will help boost Michigan's economy. At the top of that list is the publicly-funded Detroit River International Crossing, followed by a couple more projects that connect Detroit and Windsor. Also included are a litany of mass transit plans, including the Woodward light rail (No. 4) and the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line (No. 27).
Others covering Metro Detroit's tri-county area are rapid transit lines along northern Woodward, M-59 and Gratiot Avenue.

These are expected to create tens of thousands of jobs and attract billions of dollars in investment. All of them are in some sort of planning stages or political flux.

The DRIC proposal is seen as attracting or preserving up to 25,000 jobs in Michigan. The report also calls for constructing a Detroit Intermodal Freight Terminal along with making improvements to both train tracks and local roads, upgrading the Ambassador Bridge, and building a Detroit River Rail Tunnel.

Source: TRIP
Writer: Jon Zemke

Allen Park Middle School turns on new solar panels

The energy dials are starting to spin backwards at Allen Park Middle School now that it has installed nine solar panels.

The two-kilowatt photovoltaic solar awning was turned on earlier this spring. It now produces energy for the building and serves as an education tool for students.

"klsdj," says Mark Lowe, an assistant principal at Allen Park Middle School.

A $50,000 Energy Works Michigan Grant made the project possible. Allen Park is the first school district in the state to utilize these grants and install a solar system. It now supplies clean energy for the school (and makes its money when school is out) but also monitors weather conditions and teaches students about alternative energy and the weather.

The system was installed in the Middle School Pride Club Courtyard between the lunchroom and the art room and is visible to the public.

Source: Allen Park Public Schools
Writer: Jon Zemke

Dearborn explores waste-to-energy plant feasibility

The city of Dearborn is soliciting proposals to explore the feasibility of a waste-to-energy plant.

The project is part of the city's efforts to become more environmentally friendly. Other recent initiatives are moving toward single-stream recycling and considering LED streetlights.
Local officials see the waste-to-energy plant as another feather in the city's tree-hugging hat.

"Do we have enough waste to create enough energy to support the industrial facilities in the city?" says David Norwood, sustainability coordinator for the city of Dearborn.

The waste-to-energy plant isn't your normal dirty Detroit-style incinerator. Dearborn is looking at gasification plans that don't actually burn the refuse. The city is also looking at an anerobic digestor for its sludge waste.

The proposals are due by May 24 (more information here) and a decision on the feasibility of this idea is expected to be made before the end of the year.

Source: David Norwood, sustainability coordinator for the city of Dearborn
Writer: Jon Zemke

Birmingham debates minimum downtown height rules

While most so-called progressive cities in Michigan are struggling with capping building height, Birmingham is looking at ways to make them taller.

The city's planning commission is looking at reforming its ordinances to allow additional floors on its downtown buildings for residential space. It's also looking at setting a minimum height for structures in the downtown area. That's an about face in conventional wisdom in local planning, where public officials regularly bend to the whims of people who want to freeze their one- and two-story city centers in amber.

The first ordinance change calls for allowing downtown construction projects to build one story higher than rules allow. However, the catch is that extra story must be for residential purposes and have a 10-foot setback.

The other ordinance change would mandate that all buildings must be at least two stories tall. The idea is to make the downtown more dense and urban, steering it away from the suburban-style planning habits of the mid-to-late 20th Century.

Source: City of Birmingham
Writer: Jon Zemke

Green Alley construction begins; Motor City Brewing Works to move its front door

Detroit's Green Alley is growing in Midtown, right in front of the new door for the Motor City Brewing Works.


"From trashways to greenways" is the vision behind the Green Alley project spearheaded by Tom and Peggy Brennan of Midtown's Green Garage. Funded as a demonstration project by the Kresge and Americana foundations, the project re-imagines what 220 feet of alley space can be in Detroit: a well-lit garden walkway connecting a business to its parking lot and providing outdoor space for residents to linger.

The Brennans, whose Green Garage is next door to the alley, were inspired to look at alleys differently by years spent living in Tokyo, where crowded primary streets mean that oftentimes the most interesting galleries and eateries can be found fronting an alley. "This is a big deal in my mind for people to see new and different possibilities for alleys all over the city," says Tom.

Read the rest of the story here.

New Thompson Block plan includes bar, microbrewery

Battle plan for Ypsilanti's Thompson Block redevelopment project, take three. This time, plans for a performance venue and microbrewery promises to be the charm for the controversial project in Depot Town.


Developer Stewart Beal has two businesses lined up, consuming a lot of space in the Thompson Block project.  He hopes to initiate a three-phase plan for the redevelopment of the historic structure in Ypsilanti.

The 3-story building at the eastern edge of Depot Town suffered heavy fire damage last fall and is now supported with elaborate scaffolding that extends into the street in some places. Beal plans to complete the first phase, retreating from the street, by November. The second would include building out the undamaged section of the building and then the burnt part for the third phase.

Read the rest of the story here.

Ann Arbor stadium bridge groundwork to be laid this summer

The Stadium Boulevard bridges aren't coming tumbling down yet in Ann Arbor, but city officials see their replacements coming next spring.


You won't be able to see the work being done on the Stadium Boulevard Bridges from State Street this year. All of that activity is taking place behind the scenes where city officials are finalizing plans and lining up funding for the spans above State.

Last year, city workers removed part of the 92-year-old bridge after one of the beams began failing. Now it is only accessible by two lanes of traffic on what has become one of the city's most obvious failing (but still safe for the time being) pieces of infrastructure. 

"When a structure gets to this point it's very, very hard to say how much longer it's useable," says Homayoon Pirooz, a project manager with the city of Ann Arbor.

Read the rest of the story here.

S3 Studios proposes film studio for State Fairgrounds

S3 Entertainment Group is the latest organization to join the effort to save the Michigan State Fair by proposing to turn the State Fairgrounds into a film studio complex.

The Ferndale-based film studio has made a proposal to the state, which controls the 135-acre parcel, to invest millions of dollars into the State Fairgrounds infrastructure and continue operating the State Fair. That would mean a minimum of $500,000 annual commitment to improving the grounds and investing $4 million to build two, 20,000-square-foot sound stages in the next few years.

"We have the ability to get a studio up and running within the next 6-8 weeks," says Jeff Spillman, CEO of S3 Entertainment Group.

He adds that a large number of jobs will be created with this project now dubbed State Fair Studios. It would also generate revenue for the state through a lease that would eventually lead to the sale of the land. Spillman declined to discuss terms of that potential lease.

This latest plan is now competing with a plan for Huron-Clinton Metro Parks to take over the property and another for Hantz Farms to install a 40-acre urban farm on the land. Spillman says he and his investors are open to keeping the Joe Dumars Field House and urban farm at the fair grounds as part of their project.

Metro Parks is considering a takeover of the State Fairgrounds, proposing a deal where it would lease the land for $1 a year and run the annual Michigan State Fair. At the same time, the organization would work toward turning the property at Woodward Avenue and 8 Mile Road into 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 Fairgrounds into a Metro Park would go a long way toward remedying that complaint.

Hantz Farms is proposing to take over 40 acres and turn it into Detroit's first major urban commercial farm. The firm also has plans to turn large swaths of abandoned urban prairie in the city into commercial farms, too.

The Metro Parks board is set to vote on the idea next week. If it doesn't pass then Spillman says he and his investors are ready to step in right away with their plan.

"From what I understand (the Metro Parks plan) doesn't have the votes to go forward."

Source: Jeff Spillman, CEO of S3 Entertainment Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Construction begins on The Plaza in Bloomfield

Mixed-use development is coming to the tony municipality known for its mansions - Bloomfield Hills.

A.F. Jonna Development Co. broke ground on The Plaza earlier this week. The development at the corner of Long Lake Road and Woodward Avenue will bring retail and office space into a building that promises to fit into the traditional architecture of the Oakland County suburb.

"We've done this a few times and had really good success with it," says Arkan Jonna, owner of A.F. Jonna Development Co. "We did this to maximize the land because it is so expensive."

The two-story building will feature space for retail on the ground floor and 20,000 square feet of Class A office space on the second floor. The 18,000 square feet of retail space is expected to accommodate up to eight retailers.

"It will be an old world English Tudor design," says David Lord, director of leasing for A.F. Jonna Development Co.

An old gas station and restaurant were razed and their parcels combined to make way for the new complex. Construction is expected to last six months.

Source: Arkan Jonna, owner of A.F. Jonna Development Co and David Lord, director of leasing for A.F. Jonna Development Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ford House takes control of Ford Estate

The future of the Henry Ford Estate in Dearborn is secured now that the University of Michigan-Dearborn has worked out an agreement to transfer control of the historic structure in Dearborn to the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House.

Ownership will transfer over the next 15 months, until July of next year. In the meantime a group of advisors, including historic restoration architectural firm Chambers, Murphy, Burge, will confer on the best strategy for preserving the historic site.

"All of the plans will be coming together over the next year, including the plans for the capital campaign to pay for it," says Ann Fitzpatrick, vice president of communications for the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House.

The estate will close in July of 2011 to allow for restoration work on its buildings and grounds to begin. It will reopen in phases to celebrate milestones in Ford Family history: Henry Ford's 150th birthday in 2013, the Ford Estate's 100th anniversary in 2015, and Clara Ford's 150th birthday in 2017.  

"It's a great resource now," says Ken Kettenbeil, director of communications for the University of Michigan-Dearborn. "It will be an even better resource when it reopens in 2013."

Source: Ann Fitzpatrick, vice president of communications for the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, and Ken Kettenbeil, director of communications for the University of Michigan-Dearborn
Writer: Jon Zemke

Macomb County opens reference research center

The old Macomb County Library building on Hall Road has reopened as the Wayne State University Macomb Education Center.

Wayne State took over the 29,000-square-foot building last year and invested $3.4 million into breathing new life into the circa-1979 structure. Today it primarily hosts classes for Wayne State students, but it also houses the Macomb County's Reference and Research Center.

"The building is beautiful," says Sandy Casamer, manager of the Macomb County's Reference and Research Center.

Renovations include new paint, carpet, light fixtures, restrooms, and a new layout to the single-story building at 16480 Hall Road. The Reference and Research Center offers 75 databases to the public, as well as access to databases from Wayne State University. It also maintains a 2,000-volume reference collection, Wi-Fi, and 12 internet terminals for public use. Databases are accessible through its new Web address.

Source: Sandy Casamer, manager of the Macomb County's Reference and Research Center
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland Schools Technical Campus adds solar, wind systems

The Oakland Schools Technical Campus in Clarkston is going for a twofer in alternative energy, installing both a solar- and a wind-power system.

Over the last year, Oak Electric has been working with the school to get approvals for permits and to sort out engineering issues. The foundations for the solar panels and the wind turbine have been poured and installation of the actual equipment will begin next week. Both systems should be up and running by the end of May.

The school district is spending $36,000 to install a two-kilowatt ground-mount solar system, which will be installed first. Next is a 2.4 kilowatt Skystream wind turbine that will stand 45 feet tall.

Both systems will be used to power the campus. They will also be used as teaching tools for students to learn about the ins and out of alternative energy.

Source: Gary Pipia, president of Oak Electric
Writer: Jon Zemke

Downtown Auburn Hills offers free Wi-Fi

Downtown Auburn Hills is now laptop friendly after installing free Wi-Fi service for the quaint city center.

The new service allows anyone with a laptop or a smartphone to surf the Internet with wild abandon. This came about as one of the recommendations of the city's 2009 HyettPalma Economic Enhancement Strategy for the Downtown.

"That's what people said they wanted to see if they moved down to the area or work there," says Peter Auger, city manager for Auburn Hills.

Local leaders also see the service as a way to make the area a desirable destination. Other suggestions include increasing business development, making public improvements, and marketing and managing the downtown.

"We'll see where it goes," Auger says. "If it reaches the point where we should increase the bandwidth, that's a good story."

Auburn Hills-based Netarx, a Wi-Fi vendor, used Cisco equipment to make the service operational. The total price for installation came to $43,358.78, which was funded by the city's tax increment finance authority.

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