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Auburn Hills wants to generate alternative energy use

The city of Auburn Hills is stepping up again in support of alternative energy use, this time by purchasing police cruisers and other city vehicles that run on propane and natural gas and also by passing a resolution to prevent fuel waste and support alternative fuel use in general.

The decision comes after the Ann Arbor-based Clean Energy Coalition provided the city with numerous recommendations spelled out in a Fuel Forward Fleet Study. It showed how the city could save money and reduce emissions by retrofitting city vehicles to be powered with natural gas or propane gas. It also made other recommendations such as reducing police car idling times and building an alternative fuel infrastructure.

The city council adopted the recommendations and also purchased eight propane auto gas units for the new 2013 Dodge Charger police pursuit vehicles, a fuel dispenser, a year's worth of propane fuel, and a jet and vacuum truck for street and sewer cleaning.

Ron Melchert, the city's director of public works, says about $4,000 will be saved over the 4.72 years, the average life of the police vehicles.

Melchert says the city will see a return on investment in two and a half years and reduce the city's reliance on foreign oil as well as decrease its greenhouse emissions by 13 percent.

The latest move follows the city's decision two years ago to promote  electric vehicles by encouraging and supporting the inclusion of electric vehicle plug-ins at local businesses and with contractors and builders.

The city's attempts to boost alternative energy has made it a model for other cities, Mark Rabinksy, project manager for Clean Energy Coalition, says in a statement.

“The city of Auburn Hills has shown time and again they are a leader in Michigan. No other city in the state has been more active in promoting the use of electric vehicles and now, by supporting the advancement of other forms of alternative fuels, the city is paving the way for other municipalities to do the same."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Ron Melchert, director of public works, city of Auburn Hills

State grants available for food trucks & farmers markets

Farmers market organizers and food truck operators have a chance to get some green -- $10,000 to $50,000 -- from the state if they can prove their business is unique, innovative and will be successful at making their communities a place with a special vibe and feel.

The state and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation wants to promote food entrepreneurship as a means to promote a sense of place in Michigan communities by awarding matching grants through the Farmers Market Grant Program and the Mobile Cuisine Start-Up Program.

“Farmers markets and food trucks improve our downtowns and bring vitality and economic growth to our communities,” says MEDC President and CEO Michael A. Finney in a statement announcing the grants. “These grants will support food entrepreneurs and local markets, strengthen communities and create jobs in our state.”  

The state will award up to $200,000 in grants to farmers' markets and up to $100,000 to food trucks.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Kathy Fagan, communication specialist at Michigan Deparment of Economic Development

Dearborn transit station design moves along

While construction moves ahead on a new transit center in Dearborn, the focus is on how to develop the land in and around the station and how best to connect it to the community.

The station is scheduled to open in 2014 on Michigan Avenue in west Dearborn and, if all goes well, to be a stimulus for economic development and even a local attraction.

The station is multi-modal, a place where trains, buses, taxis will pick up and drop off passengers. It will be a stop on an Ann Arbor to Detroit Amtrak line which is also undergoing improvements to the tracks and the trains in preparation for high speed rail service between Detroit and Chicago. It can also be a spot for bikers and pedestrians to pick up public transit or carpools. In addition, the center is seen as a way to link Dearborn's neighborhoods to its commercial thoroughfares and landmarks such as The Henry Ford and the Ford Performing Arts Center and major employers and schools such as University of Michigan Dearborn and Henry Ford Community College.

The project is part of a federal transportation plan to stimulate transit-oriented development, which promotes public transit and transit centers as magnet for economic prosperity by leading to the creation of businesses, improvement of neighborhoods and quality of life and by connecting cities and bringing about a sense of place. Dearborn received the largest federal grant in Michigan, $28.2 million, to build the station.

 Focuses of the recent public input meetings included what parts or features of the city should connect to the transit station and how it should be designed.

One design could create pedestrian paths rich in landscape with a splash fountain for play, benches and other amenities that make the station a place for the community to come together.

Dearborn was chosen as one of five cities to receive planning and design assistance from the MIPlace Partnership.

The MIPlace Partnership is a collaborative effort of the Michigan Municipal League, Michigan State Housing Development Authority and Michigan State University.

For more information, click here to see the conceptual plan.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: City of Dearborn

Soccer and lacrosse complex expanding in Pontiac

A regional soccer and lacrosse complex that includes the largest indoor soccer site in North America is expanding, adding indoor and outdoor fields on a piece of property in Pontiac that was once a General Motors Corp. workplace.

Ultimate Soccer Arenas will build on 14.6 acres along Centerpoint Parkway behind and next to the Ultimate Soccer Arenas complex on East South Boulevard an roll fields for lacrosse, a traditionally East Coast sport that's taken off in metro Detroit and Michigan.

The expansion will add nearly 70,000 square feet and a fourth field and seating to the indoor facility, making it the largest non-professional sports facility in the world, says George Derderian, co-owner of Ultimate Soccer Arenas along with Tom Korpela. Ultimate Soccer Arenas opened in 2007 and moves about 1 million people through in a year and about 20,000 people use it at a time 10 or more times a year.

In addition to youth soccer and lacrosse events, the facility is the site of high school and collegiate soccer and lacrosse, high school and college graduations, after-school education and various community and cultural activities. It also is the home field of the Michigan Bucks, a minor league amateur soccer team, and the Detroit Mechanics pro disc team.

Construction will begin this summer and be completed in time for the fall sports season. About 100 construction jobs will be created and 20 full-time jobs.

The outdoor portion of the former automotive-industry property, which has been cleaned up and developed by RACER Trust, will be turned into a synthetic turf fields for lacrosse and soccer and enough bleacher seating for 2,500 spectators and 600 parking spaces.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: George Derderian, co-owner, Ultimate Soccer Arenas

HAWK signals in Macomb County may make busy streets safer for walkers

A new kind of pedestrian crossing may be coming to Macomb County and making at least two busy streets there safer for pedestrians.

The crossings called HAWK otherwise knowns as High Intensity Activated Crosswalks - were first used in Ann Arbor in 2010 and have resulted in a fewer pedestrian car accidents, says Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Rob Morosi.

In Macomb County there will be public meetings to discuss the two proposed crossings at wide, busy intersections, both on Gratiot Avenue between Quinn and 15 Mile roads in Clinton Township.

The second meeting to discuss the proposal is set for 4-6 p.m. Tuesday June 25 at Parker Elementary School in Clinton Township.

A HAWK signal is controlled by the pedestrian and gives walkers more time to cross and clearer warnings and instructions about when and how quickly to cross.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Rob Morosi, spokesman, Michigan Department of Transportation

$1 million in redevelopment grants coming to Macomb County

The Environmental Protection Agency is sending $1 million Macomb County's way so that local economic development officials can redevelop brownfield property that may be contaminated.

A brownfield is land that can be difficult to redevelop, reuse or expand because of  pollution or perceived pollution. The upside is that brownfields let developers use municipal infrastructure that's already in place and also preserve open space.

“Brownfield sites create special challenges due to the expense involved with environmental cleanup,” says Stephen Cassin, executive director of Macomb County Planning and Economic Development. “These funds will help put some of our vacant properties back into new use while creating investment and new jobs in our key industrial areas.”

Macomb County and one of 240 communities nationwide, and the only county chosen in Michigan, to receive the grant from the EPA's Revolving Loan Fund.

In coming weeks and months, county officials will begin to identify and prioritize sites that have the most redevelopment promise.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Stephen Cassin, executive director, Macomb County Planning and Economic Development

Is "community solar" next frontier in alternative energy?

Research into ways of opening up opportunities to ordinary citizens and businesses interested in building solar energy generators is underway, thanks to a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Think of it as the community garden of alternative energy. It lets shareholders or investors participate in a shared generation or renewable energy site in exchange for some benefit based on their investment, possibly savings on utility costs or profit. The concept is not a new one in cities such as Seattle and other parts of the Northwest.

“Renewable energy resources, such as community solar, offer many potential community, economic, environmental, national security, and societal benefits for the state,” MEDC President and CEO Michael A. Finney says in an announcement of the grant. “Through this study, we can identify ways to make community solar a growing solution for locally-owned clean energy.”

The $33,304 grant to the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association will be used to perform a Community Solar PV Garden Feasibility Study that will help the MEDC's Renewable Energy Demonstration Program determine what the barriers are to forming community solar projects.

Barriers include high up-front costs and lack of optimal places to install solar gardens.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Kathy Fagan, spokesperson, Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Car Condo proposal in Pontiac could restart vacant GM property

A vacant brownfield in Pontiac where General Motors once operated could be the site of an auto-related business trend -- car condos. Basically storage sites and gathering places for car lovers, car condos not only provide a place to safely keep a car but also to service it.

The proposal for M1 Concourse calls for a complex of four to six buildings, each one with 14-16 garages that can be tricked out by owners. Other possibilities for the 89.5-acre property include entertainment aspects such as an amphitheater and restaurants for visitors who bring may come for car shows or special events.

The initial part of the plan to re-use the site at Woodward Avenue and South Boulevard has been OK'd by city officials but still has other approvals to clear as developers work to re-use the property.

At an announcement of the project Wednesday, city and county officials expressed support for the M1 Concourse and RACER Trust.

RACER, Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, was created by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court settlement to help clean up and redevelop former General Motors properties in 14 states.

The car condo concept has taken off in other cities around the country, especially developments known for high-priced cars kept by deep-pocketed owners who want a club of like-minded car lovers.

Woodward Warehouse, a much smaller version of what the M1 Concourse could be, opened last summer in Royal Oak not far from the avenue that carries the Woodward Dream Cruise. It is finding a market in storage, detailing, rebuilding, event hosting and member socializing.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Bill Callen, RACER Trust

Grove Street to get $1.1M makeover in downtown Farmington

Construction started this week on a project to turn a beat up, outdated main street in downtown Farmington into a boulevard streetscape of greenery, decorative lighting and stamped walkways.

The $1.1-million Grove Street Reconstruction Project will also add parking to downtown and make over a tired strip retail center as well as connect it to a major pedestrian crosswalk that will lead to another shopping center.

Water mains will also be replaced and a plaza space with seating will be part of the new downtown layout.

The goal of city officials and the Downtown Development Authority is to make downtown more attractive, walkable, and busy as well as match it to a streetscape already redone. The plans call for turning a swath of pavement into a boulevard separated by a center island with angled parking along parts of it.

Mayor Tom Buck says the project is as much about attracting families to downtown as it is attracting small businesses and boosting the local economy.

The project will completely remove and replace Grove Street from Grand River to Main Street. The work was delayed in 2009 due to the costs. It is expected to be completed in two phases over a 10-week period and ready to use sometime in July.

Writer: Kim North  Shine
Source: Annette Knowles, executive director, Farmington Downtown Development Authority

Oakland County opens business center for entrepreneurs

Oakland County is trying to make starting a business or taking it to the next level easier for entrepreneurs by offering free, walk-in business counseling.

The One Stop Shop Business Center at the Oakland County Executive Office building, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road, in Waterford will open May 9 and offer regular walk-in hours after that. The hours for May 9 are 9:30-noon and 1:30-4:30. The business center is on the first floor of Building 41W.

“We usually operate on an appointment-only basis but many entrepreneurs walk into our One Stop Shop with questions on how to get started with their business idea,” says Greg Doyle, supervisor of the One Stop Shop Business Center. “By designating special walk-in days, we hope to reach more entrepreneurs and help them understand their next steps as well as present the resources we can make available to them. Our aim is to get them started quickly in a way that makes the most sense to their unique situation.”

Counselors at the business center can answer specific questions, suggest planning tools and give direction on where to go to solve problems or achieve goals. All sessions are confidential. The counselors have expertise in business development, community planning, financing and market research.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Greg Doyle, supervisor, One Stop Shop Business Center

Oakland County adds fresh foods market to downtown Pontiac

An effort to increase Pontiac residents' access to fresh, healthy foods is spreading in Oakland County with the opening of a third goverment-run market.

The newest market will operate one day a week on Tuesdays and sell fresh fruits and vegetables at a low cost.

The markets are a project of the Healthy Pontiac We Can! Coalition and the Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency.

Two other markets sell on Fridays and Saturdays, and all three share recipes for meals using fresh foods, lead cooking demonstrations and offer free samples.

"This market is a part of Oakland County's strategy to improve the quality of life of our residents through healthier lifestyles," says Kathy Forzley, Oakland County Health Division manager and health officer. "Consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables decreases the risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and some cancers."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Kathy Forzley, Oakland County Health Division

Downtown Rochester seeks public input on parking improvements

Downtown Rochester is coming off a complete rebuild of Main Street, and now city planners see this as an ideal time to determine if parking options downtown also need updating.

To figure it out, the Rochester City Council and the Rochester Downtown Development Authority have gone the survey route, asking anyone with an opinion on what's needed and what's not when it comes to parking. The survey, which also includes an open-ended question, is getting high responses and also yielding useful information not necessarily related to parking, says Kristi Trevarrow, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Development Authority.

"We're getting an insane response, over 100 surveys in the first 40 minutes. We're at almost 800 now," she says.

The Main Street makeover, which was completed in November and included a re-do of downtown sidewalks and the addition of amenities to make being in downtown easier and more convenient, took out all parking meters.

Before deciding whether to replace those and make any other parking changes, say structures, kiosks, or re-arranged lots, the survey was sent out. The city council, planning commission and the DDA will review the findings April 10.

"It's fast. We don't want this to be a long, drawn-out thing…We want it to be a working document," says Trevarrow.

The changes will affect not only immediate parking needs, but attempt to plan for the future. The last parking study was done in 2003 and determined that the parking as it was was adequate.

"If a big development were to come in, maybe residential with retail or a large company, we want to be prepared," Trevarrow says. "The economy is snapping back. At some point there will be a development. We want to be prepared and have that answer when the time comes."

Want to share your thoughts? See the survey here.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Kristi Trevarrow, executive director, Rochester Downtown Development Authority

Getting Michigan cities redevelopment ready

Just over 35 cities and townships in Michigan are joining a new state program that teaches them how to prepare their communities for redevelopment and attract the kind of development they want.

Of the cities accepted into the first round of training and certification in the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's Redevelopment Ready Communities program, eight are in metro Detroit. Ann Arbor is also on the list.

It, along with Lathrup Village and Novi, will receive a formal Redevelopment Ready Communities evaluation that could lead to certification as a Redevelopment Ready Community. This means they either have outlined or have plans to outline their redevelopment strategies and draw development to fit their community. This designation could also make them eligible for redevelopment grants.

Dearborn, Clawson, Farmington Hills, Hamtramck, Wixom, and White Lake Township will receive best practice training and assistance and could move onto the certification process later.

They all will learn how to creatively re-use space, support and attract economic innovation, and devise devise plans that bring in redevelopment investment and in turn rebuild thriving communities for employees, residents and recreation.

The program was originally launched by the Michigan Suburbs Alliance in 2003, and its success led to the state program.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Kathy Fagan, spokesperson, Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Unearthing the Clinton River as economic development in Pontiac

The vision is to have a river running through downtown Pontiac, one with restaurants, offices and shops alongside and perhaps small boats bringing in people and, ideally, ripples of prosperity.

The Clinton River is currently covered up, piped underground beneath a parking lot and the Phoenix Center, a deteriorating city-owned structure that could come down if the vision to daylight the Clinton River is actually pursued. The river opens up on either side of downtown.

As it is now, the Phoenix Center is used only occasionally.

"By daylighting the Clinton River, if it winds up with a river walk along it, it's going to be something that can be used everyday," says Bill Watch, chairman of the Urban Land Institute Michigan.

The idea of daylighting the river, something done in other cities, including Kalamazoo, is being explored with a feasibility study in a partnership between the Urban Land Institute, Oakland County and the city of Pontiac.

In June, students from the institute's Larson Center for Leadership, 34 of them considered business leaders, will come up with a document that outlines what it would take as far as a process, expenses and time to uncover the river.

The student leaders work in real estate, development, planning and other areas and will complete the "Daylighting the Clinton River" feasibility study in order to graduate from Larson.

In part they will determine if the benefits of uncovering the river outweigh the costs. One cost barrier is out of the way as the county has agreed to pay for the demolition of the Phoenix Center, which has seen better days.

"Oakland County had come to us in the fall and they wanted ULI's help to study this," Watch says. "This is something they've been thinking about.The county wants to do something for downtown Pontiac. It's a sort of legacy project."

Uncovering the river, if approved, wouldn't take all that long, he says. It's bringing the investors and companies and residents in to build there, work, and live there.

"It's not going to happen tomorrow. It will be years or even decades," he says. "But this is going to be something that could provide an attraction. It will give Pontiac a feature to bring people in."

The Clinton River was once a scenic gathering place for downtown Pontiac, but it also came with flood issues. It was paved over, built on and covered with drainage projects in an era when the economic draw of having a town on a river -- if well designed -- was less appreciated.

San Antonio's Riverwalk was a flood control project turned top tourist attraction for the Texas city.

"On a smaller scale this is what the Clinton River could become," Watch says. "Kalamazoo daylighted the river there and we'll be looking to them to learn about their experience."

Oakland County  Executive L. Brooks Patterson has called for daylighting the river for several months now, telling the Oakland Press in June, "Every city would love to have a river running through it, and the ones that do use it very well. The river becomes a focal point....I think that's in Pontiac's future."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Bill Watch, Michigan chairman, Urban Land Institute

Ferndale's Park + adds up to easier parking

Crowded downtown parking is both a curse and a blessing.

What is a blessing for businesses busy with customers can be a curse to those customers circling, searching for coins or winding up with expired meter tickets. Parking can be also be a deterrent at times for businesses working to keep good employees.

The city of Ferndale and the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority are trying to make the whole process of parking easier with the new Ferndale Park + system. The new system will include multi-space pay stations, rather than individual meters, and will take cash, coins, credit cards or ParkMobile, a pay by phone or online parking service.

The pay stations, called Luke II's, will be solar-powered and cover about 900 spaces in 13 parking lots. The parking design has changed too, into a concentric layout that makes the most convenient spaces available to consumers.

The system is expected to go into service by mid-February, after signage and such is complete. Improvements such as increasing the number of available spaces will be ongoing. Some individual meters will remain.

The concentric system will prioritize parking spaces and set rates according to the users. More affordable parking spaces on the edges of parking lots will cost less (ideal for employees), and closer-in spots will go at new, higher rates. Employees can also buy parking passes.

"Instituting all of the components of Ferndale Park+ is a very big step to improving the parking experience in downtown Ferndale," says Ferndale City Manager April Lynch. "Park+ allows us, as managers of the system, to get more use out of every space we have, while planning for future upgrades and the addition of more spaces."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Chris Hughes, Ferndale Downtown Development Authority
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