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Choice Neighborhoods program offers $65 million for neighborhood revitalization

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will give neighborhoods a boost through a special $65 million initiative.

Choice Neighborhoods has 15 planning grants worth $3 million in total, and 19 implementation grants totaling $62 million. Governments and nonprofits are eligible, and so are for-profit developers who apply jointly with a public entity.

The idea of the Choice Neighborhoods initiative is to transform distressed neighborhoods and public and assisted projects into viable and sustainable mixed-income communities by linking housing improvements with appropriate services, schools, public assets, transportation, and access to jobs, according to the website. Early childhood education is also a priority.

Nancy Finegood, executive director of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, sees the value in city-nonprofit partnerships. "It would be a wonderful opportunity for any kind of neighborhood project to revitalize the neighborhood and do some restoration of both homes and commercial properties," she says.

Click here to learn more. The deadline is Oct. 26.

Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Nancy Finegood,
executive director, Michigan Historic Preservation Network
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Madonna U building upgrades to LEED gold

Madonna University officials were hoping its new Franciscan Center building would be silver LEED certified, so when it was awarded gold status last month, it made the designation that much more, well, golden.

The building, home to the university's science and media studies, opened in time for fall classes last year. It’s the first new building on campus in four decades, offering classrooms, offices, audio and television studies, a cafe, and a student gathering area in its 65,000 square feet.

The 4,500-student university was sure it had earned silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, but last month brought home the gold from the Green Building Certification Institute, making it the first in Livonia.

Madonna University President Sr. Rose Marie Kujawa says that because they’d never done a LEED-certified building before, they wanted to set a goal that was reasonable, and shot for silver status.

"We worked very diligently to earn every point that we could, only to find out we were just two or three points away from gold," she says.

And because the point system determining LEED level -- certified, silver, gold, and platinum -- is ever-evolving, they took a closer look at anything additional that could be done to earn an extra point or two, such as using green maintenance products or managing the building's energy in a particular way. The $20 million invested in the building’s environmentally friendly features resulted in recycled carpeting, natural lighting, motion-detecting lights, low-flow plumbing, and cork and bamboo floors.

Not only is the recognition to the university’s planning and commitment, but it also speaks to its Franciscan values as a Catholic university. Plus, the building looks nice, too. Sr. Kujawa says those involved the planning process didn’t think a green building had to look like a factory, and the architects successfully designed it around the campus’ pond, using a lot of natural light.

"Everyone who's heard about it is thrilled," she says. "It's not just good for Madonna University, it's good for the environment, city, everyone associated with city, everyone associated with green building concepts. We're very happy."

Source: Sr. Rose Marie Kujawa, president of Madonna University
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Basco rehabs downtown Ferndale building

A crumbling facade and rotting steel didn't stop Roger and Sergio Basmajian from renovating a building in downtown Ferndale.

320 W. Nine Mile Road is almost ready to be occupied, barring some minor work and paperwork, by Painting with a Twist, a kind of self-serve painting studio. Redeveloper Roger Basmajian says although he had some unexpected rebuilds instead of repairs, the improvements, including the facade, brick, windows and awning, had a good end result.

"We did a whole new facade for that building," he says. "At the end of the day it was just not in good shape."

His company, Basco of Michigan has redeveloped a handful of properties in the Ferndale and Royal Oak area, knew what they were dealing with when they began work on that two-story, 7,800 square-foot building in downtown Ferndale.

"The steel in the back was all rusted from years of neglect, and that’s why we tore everything down," he says. But, "We were determined to make it work."

Source: Roger Basmajian, co-owner of Basco of Michigan
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Mt Clemens welcomes five new businesses

Sure, having a business downtown is good for visibility and traffic, but it also gives owners the chance to be a part of a community.

So says Arthur Mullen, executive director of the Mt. Clemens Downtown Development Authority, as to one of the reasons five new businesses have moved into downtown spaces recently.

"I think a lot of businesses are choosing downtowns because they’re not alone," he says. "Fellow businesses owners are working together to help each other."

Since the beginning of the month, five new businesses have joined the restaurant, retail and office space downtown: Bodhi Seed Yoga & Wellness Studio, the MINDs Eye Bookstore, marketing firm Hunch Free, TGM Skateboards, and Handbags of Hope.

"I think that they're looking for a good location to invest, and they think Mt. Clemens is that good location," Mullen says. "We're always excited when someone is willing to try their idea in Mt. Clemens. They chose us for a reason."

Source: Arthur Mullen, executive director of the Mt. Clemens Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Inkster, Ypsilanti, Detroit, I-275 trail score pedestrian grants

It's all about the infrastructure. Not only will Inkster build a streetscape project and Detroit a walk/bike path, but because of state and federal grant money, portions of the I-275 Metro Trail will be also be reconstructed. Ypsi even got a slice of the community improvement pie.

The Michigan Department of Transportation announced the federal Transportation Enhancement grants Tuesday, for which Inkster will receive almost $600,000 in state and federal funding for a planned streetscape project. The intersection of Michigan Avenue (US-12) and Inkster Road will be improved about a block in all four directions, with decorative brick pillars, fencing, benches, decorate stamped concrete, and landscaping.

Kimberly Faison, special projects manager for the city of Inkster, says the project will help to define the city’s downtown, at that intersection, with an emphasis on trees, shrubs and perennials. And with traffic whizzing by on Michigan Avenue, "Sometimes our downtown gets missed, especially with the speed," she says. "Our residents have a lot of pride in the community."

The city has also acquired three easements in that area, which will be made into a green space, which will include seating areas.

Improvements done last year, including ramps and cross lights at pedestrian intersections, make the area more walkable, she says, while the streetscape is also expected to help calm traffic. Bus shelters are also a part of the expanded project, and the city hopes to receive future funding for a greenways project down the line.

Faison says Inkster's residents know the city has businesses worth visiting and space worthy of being rehabilitated and reoccupied, and this will help put them on the map. "The project really is exciting for us," she says. "We see this as a shot in the arm."

Elsewhere in the metro area, Detroit will get funding for a nearly 1-mile portion of the Connor Creek Greenway, to include a bike/walk path, seating areas and trees. Eighty percent of the $358,376 will be covered by federal funds, with the rest made up by a match from the city.

Portions of the I-275 Metro Trail, in Canton Township, Van Buren Township, and Romulus, will also be rehabilitated, including the addition of a boardwalk over wetlands and signage. That project is nearly $4 million, covered by federal and state funding.

Finally, Ypsilanti also received a grant for streetscape projects.

Statewide, a total of $10 million was awarded to 11 counties for non-motorized trail improvements, roadway streetscape, parks and water quality.

Source: Kimberly Faison, special projects manager, city of Inkster; Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Emagine Entertainment breaks ground on downtown Royal Oak cineplex

Shovels went into the ground Tuesday for Royal Oak's new movie theater, shortly after Emagine Entertainment closed on the land.

"Everything's on track and we're ready to go," says Paul Glantz, Emagine's founder and chairman. "This baby's been gestating for a long time. It's time for it to be born."

The $14 million entertainment center will offer more than a first-run theater: Food, liquor, and bowling are also in the plans. It's expected to create 100 full-time jobs in the kitchen, at the ticket counter, and in the food-service area.

The 10-screen complex, 73,000 square feet spread over two stories, will be located on the parking lot on 11 Mile Road just east of Main Street, behind the Main Art Theatre. The project will house 1,680 seats and 16 bowling lanes. There will also be a private party area/meeting room on a second-floor mezzanine level over the main entrance.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is offering up a $1.25 million brownfield tax credit towards the project.

Plans are for the theater to be up and running by April, to get all the kinks worked out before next summer's blockbuster season starts. "We're hoping to build it very promptly so it can open next spring," he says. "I'm ecstatic we're moving forward."

Source: Paul Glantz, founder and chairman of Emagine Entertainment
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Ford, DTE Energy team up to build state's largest solar panel system

Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne will be getting a renewable energy transformation.

The plant will be converted into one of Michigan's largest solar power generation systems, teaming up with DTE Energy and Xtreme Power to capture renewable energy. The 500-kilowatt solar photovoltaic panel system will be installed as a team effort between Ford and Detroit Edison, which will allow the facility to store 2 million watt-hours of energy, enough to power 100 homes for a year, via batteries. Xtreme Power, of Austin, Texas, is supplying the on-site energy storage and power management system.

That energy will help power the production of fuel-efficient small cars. A secondary, smaller solar energy system will be integrated at a later date to power lighting systems at Michigan Assembly.

Jennifer Moore, manager of corporate news for Ford Motor Company, says Ford looks at the energy it uses not only in its cars, but in its facilities that make cars. "As part of our overall sustainability efforts, one of the things we take a look at is energy efficiency in our facilities around the world," she says. "We use alternative energies in a number of our facilities around the globe. The use of renewable energy is something we've looked at for a long time."

The solar energy installation is part of Detroit Edison's pilot SolarCurrents program, which calls for photovoltaic systems to be installed on customer rooftops or property. This project was funded by a $3 million investment from Detroit Edison's SolarCurrents program, a $2 million grant from the Michigan Public Service Commission, and approximately $800,000 from Ford.

The systems at Michigan Assembly are expected to save an estimated $160,000 per year in energy costs. Installation begins later this year.

Ford also will install 10 electric vehicle-charging stations at Michigan Assembly, for electric switcher trucks that transport parts between facilities, also provided by Xtreme Power.

Moore says Ford is also investigating whether car batteries have a second life as storage units. And, while vehicles make the obvious environmental footprint, the automaker still seeks to lessen that footprint and make its facilities more energy-efficient.

"It is genuinely part of our overall sustainability efforts as a company," she says.

Source: Jennifer Moore, manager of corporate news for Ford Motor Company
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Dearborn lands climate action plan grant

For the city of Dearborn, a $50,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Energy means a plan.

A climate action plan, that is, to take an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions for both the community and the government and then plan for ways to reduce them, says Dearborn's sustainability coordinator, Dave Norwood. The specifics will depend on the city department -- legal will have different ways to be more energy-efficient than, say, the department of public works -- and the city hopes to work with large corporate partners around town, such as Oakwood Hospital and Medical Center, and AAA.

Among the things they'll be measuring include vehicle miles traveled and electricity consumed, Norwood says. "We're looking to save the taxpayers dollars, and be more efficient with taxpayer dollars," he says.

In all, the DNRE is awarding $246,547 in Community Pollution Prevention (P2) Grant funding to five municipalities for projects that focus on climate action planning. Dearborn, Hazel Park, Southgate, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor are all grant recipients, receiving about $50,000 each.

The grant requires municipalities to develop a greenhouse gas inventory and a plan that addresses emissions, climate, and energy challenges. The cities will be required to match the state funds by at least 25 percent.

Norwood says the city would also assess itself on bike-ability and walk-ability and look at the zoning ordinances to see how greenhouse gas emissions are affected through the development of neighborhoods. The city also hopes to form a mayor's environmental commission for information about ideas and trends.

The things that could be coming to Dearborn down the line include geothermal heat, solar panels, and boilers that need to be replaced, depending on what's most needed and has a quick payback.
And the city plans to utilize urban gardens and farms that are already in place.

Norwood points out that when he started more than a year ago, he had no budget. "Now we can start doing more, leveraging dollars in a wiser fashion," he says. "This P2 grant is a great opportunity. This is going to be very good for the city."

Source: Dave Norwood, sustainability coordinator, city of Dearborn
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Lockharts BBQ opens in downtown Royal Oak

Pushed back from a spring opening, Lockhart's BBQ in downtown Royal Oak is due to open its doors early next week.

The owners of the Royal Oak Brewery and Detroit Beer Company have been working on opening a barbecue restaurant in downtown Royal Oak. Lockhart's BBQ will specialize in traditional southern barbecue that is smoked and made to order on site. Partner Drew Ciora is a native of Texas.

The restaurant is on the ground floor of the old Consumers Gas building at 202 E Third St., kitty corner from the Royal Oak Brewery. The 1920s-era building was recently renovated. The eatery will occupy 5,000 square feet on the ground floor, which equates to enough room to seat 147 people, including the outside patio. An estimated $700,000 was spent on the project.

Source: Lockhart's BBQ
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Pontiac unveils latest Woodward Tribute sculpture

A tribute sculpture commemorating Pontiac's role in the history of Woodward Avenue is to be fully in place today, with a celebration planned for next week.

The Pontiac Tribute, the second such monument along Woodward, was installed last month to raise awareness about the history behind Michigan's Main Street and its importance to not only the state but the U.S. and the world. The sculptures are robust columns that depict part of Woodward's history. Ferndale's was installed in 2008.

The final touches on the sculpture are expected to be put in place today. It will also be absorbing light so it can be turned on, says Nicole Brown, outreach and promotions coordinator for the Woodward Avenue Action Association, the organization behind the effort. "The significance of it in Pontiac is celebrating transportation heritage," she says.

The tribute came about as a result of a lot of hard work, Brown says, and a laundry list of supporters and sponsors, including the city of Pontiac, Oakland County, and the Michigan Department of Transportation. "People are really excited about it," Brown says. "It's something positive that's happening in the city of Pontiac. It's been received really well, from residents and members of the business community."

Pontiac's Tribute is at the corner of Woodward and Whitmore, in the area commonly known as the "teardrop." Negotiations are currently ongoing with Detroit for its tribute, with an announcement expected later this year about its location. The ultimate goal is to have one for each city along Woodward to recognize each of their unique contributions.

The Pontiac Tribute's $150,000 price tag was funded in part by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration's National Scenic Byways funds and other contributors.

WA3 and the city of Pontiac are hosting a public tribute illumination reception on Wednesday; click here for details.

Source: Nicole Brown, outreach and promotions coordinator for the Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

MDOT brings Metro Trail to I-275

The state is already planning for improvements to bike paths next year, starting with the "non-motorized spine" linking communities in Wayne County.

In all, about 5.5 miles of the Metro Trail will be reconstructed. Projects will begin in the spring and will include rehab of six bridges and two boardwalks, a new pedestrian signal at Ecorse Road, and new signage.

Work is scheduled on the I-275 Metro Trail (along Hines Drive where needed), and on Michigan Ave. The rehabilitation was made a priority by both the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Metro Region Nonmotorized Advisory Committee, says Kari Arend, an MDOT communications representative, in an e-mail. The path has fallen into disrepair since its construction back in the 1970s, and MDOT began planning efforts to rehabilitate the path about four years ago.

MDOT "recognizes the need to serve a variety of transportation modes," she writes.

Also on the plate is work on I-94 south to the Lower Huron and Willow Metroparks, which includes rehab and connection to those parks.

Metro Trail links not only communities and counties, but other path systems, roads, and future routes. Future plans call for extending the path north up M-5 to link to Oakland County trail systems, and eventually extending the trail into the city of Monroe.

Rehab, with regular maintenance, can extend the trail's life by another 30 to 40 years. "Following completion of the trail upgrades and linkages, it is hoped many more users will use this non-motorized option," Arend writes.

Also planned are extensions of an M-5 project from 13 Mile to 14 Mile and from 14 Mile to Maple Road. Current plans call for the use of Meadowbrook and 13 Mile to connect the M-5 path to the existing I-275 trail, which ends at Meadowbrook in Novi.

Tree, shrubs, and other plants are being incorporated to reduce erosion and improve drainage and aesthetics. Boardwalks will be constructed in wetland areas to avoid damage to the environment.

Source: Kari Arend, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

State Rep. Switalski pushes through Complete Streets law

What makes a street complete -- bike lanes, accessible bus stops, pedestrian crossings?

Yes, yes, and yes. Earlier this month, Michigan became the 14th state to adopt Complete Streets legislation, which incorporates sidewalks, bike lanes, special bus lanes, crossing opportunities, and other features that benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and users of public transportation, into road planning.

State Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, one of the bill's sponsors, says another thing to consider is the flow of young people leaving Michigan. What he's seeing more and more is young professionals first moving to a new location -- Chicago, say, or the east coast -- and then looking for a job, instead of the other way around.

"They want to live in sustainable communities, to use different modes of transportation to get to work and places of leisure," he says. "In many places in Michigan, there is only one way to get around, by automobile."

"Transportation policy, when it comes to planning our communities, is a critical piece of transforming Michigan into a place that is desirable for young professionals to live, and a piece of the puzzle to turning our economy around."

Switalski explains that the state will develop a model Complete Streets policy for communities to use as a guide to interpret based on their own situations. In the past, the Michigan Department of Transportation hasn't been required to take the communities' desires into consideration; if the community has adopted a Complete Streets policy, they have to work together.

Somewhere, there's a compromise -- there can't be an industrial corridor next to bike trails, but a downtown doesn't have to have a six-lane highway, either. "What this is really doing is putting [forward] a new way of thinking about transportation policy," he says. "This is not a mandate, but a completely different way of looking at possibilities to move people and goods around the state."

Also, cities and townships will be encouraged to look at Complete Streets when updating their master plans.

Cyclists were among the supporters of the bill, as were senior advocates and healthy lifestyle groups. In Switalski's community of Warren, there are many senior citizens that may not have someone to take them to the pharmacy or grocery store.

"A lot of senior citizens feel trapped in their homes," he says. "They don't have options. It's not safe for them to walk across Van Dyke."

Plus, in many new developments, there are no sidewalks or walking paths, which makes it hard for students to even walk to school anymore. "Kids get dropped off or get a bus, but there is no other way," he says. "I believe many, many people will benefit from this [legislation]."

Source: State Rep. Jon Switalski
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Downtown Ferndale makes room for 11 new businesses

A small, empty storefront? Not in downtown Ferndale. Not for long, anyway.

The inner-ring suburb has had a banner summer, business-wise, with four new businesses opening, another seven coming, and several more in lease negotiations.

"Especially given the economy, it's showing that all the years of working to establish a stronger business base for the economy, getting all the wheels in motion, is helping us continue to grow despite a down economy," says Cristina Sheppard-Decius,
executive director of the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority. "We're in a position where we're still viable, there's still growth happening."

The new businesses include Rouge, a quirky nail and makeup salon; Visions of Canada, offering what it bills as the world's thinnest glasses; business and information technology consultants Ardent Cause; and Hybrid Moments, a used vinyl and clothing store.

A bakehouse and microcreamery, a painting shop, an espresso bar, and a vodka distillery are yet to come. The range of products and services "follows our mantra of being entrepreneurs and creative business owners," Sheppard-Decius says.

She said a good two-thirds of the people who patronize Ferndale businesses are from outside of the area, mostly those who live up and down the Woodward or I-696 corridors. "It's pulling in a very diverse economy of people," she says. "They're finding something unique."

Also, it's the smaller retail spaces that are going fast, sometimes being leased again within a couple of weeks. That's also a reflection of how small firms are flourishing: "There are a lot of creative minds out there," she says.

Source: Cristina Sheppard-Decius, executive director of the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Birmingham-Troy transit center preps for fall groundbreaking

The combo rail, bus, car, bike, and pedestrian facility that will serve Birmingham, Troy and the entire area has secured its funding and is now working out the kinks for construction.

The transit center received $8.4 million from the Federal Railroad Administration earlier this year, bringing to the total to about $10 million, more than the $7 million planners hoped to build it with.
Other funds came from stimulus money and Michigan Department of Transportation matches. "We've got more money than we originally anticipated," says Jana Ecker, planning director for city of Birmingham.

Birmingham and Troy had also set aside money to contribute, just in case, but it's looking like that won't be needed after all. "The way things have been going with the funding, I think we're going to be OK," Ecker says.

Planners can't pinpoint a construction schedule yet because it's hard to tell when the Federal Railroad Administration is going to actually deliver the money. "We've been giving them oodles and oodles of paperwork," Ecker says. "It was great when we got all the funding in place, but we still have a lot of hurdles and hoops to jump through to get everything coordinated and wrapped up."

The next site plan review meeting is scheduled for Sept. 8, which should give them preliminary approval. Details have remained mostly unchanged, and include a pedestrian tunnel and areas for traffic from bicycles, automobiles, buses and the planned northern extension of the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line.
Optimistically, Ecker hopes to see a late fall groundbreaking.

The proposed site is in Birmingham's emerging Rail District. The cities plan to create a transit oriented development district around the station that would roughly be bordered by Crooks, Adams, Maple Road, and Lincoln Street.

Ecker says there will likely be joint planning in the transit center area in the form of a transit center district, which could make help increase development in the surrounding area. "People are so happy to see something's actually going to be done," Ecker says.

Source: Jana Ecker, planning director for city of Birmingham
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Detroit Edison to build 500-kw solar system at Monroe County Comm College

Monroe County Community College will soon be home to a 500-kilowatt, $3-million photovoltaic renewable energy system to benefit both the college and customers of Detroit Edison.

The 20-year agreement will not only provide the utility's customers with renewable energy from the sun, but also give students at MCCC a chance to see live and up close just how renewable energy works. "We're supporting the educational initiatives of the college," says Detroit Edison marketing program manager Ray Zoia. "We're going to be providing them with access to the facility, for the purpose of educating students."

He also expects there will be a kiosk of information so students can see how the system works, how much energy it's generating, and other details. MCCC's system will generate enough energy to power about 100 homes in a year.

The system will be installed on the east side of campus and should be up and running by spring. It's part of Detroit Edison's pilot SolarCurrents program, which calls for photovoltaic systems to be installed on customer property or rooftops over the next five years. The goal is to generate 15 megawatts of electricity throughout Southeast Michigan.

The utility-owned energy program is new, but it's part of the overall renewable energy program that all utilities have to invest in. Zoia says the utility has funding for about 40-50 projects over the next five years through surcharges on customer bills for the purpose of renewable energy.

"This is part of our commitment to renewable energy," says media relations representative Len Singer. "The solar program is fairly new, but it's really encouraging to be seeing the kind of response that we're getting to be able to move forward."

Detroit Edison, a a subsidiary of DTE Energy, also recently announced that it is planning to build a 200-kilowatt, $1 million solar installation on the roof of a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan parking structure in downtown Detroit.

In return for providing space for the utility-owned system, customers will get an annual payment or 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.

Source: Ray Zoia, Detroit Edison marketing program manager
Writer: Kristin Lukowski
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