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Birmingham's Shain Park expansion plans to go before City Commission on Dec. 10

Newly revised plans for the renovation of Shain Park in downtown Birmingham will go before the City Commission Dec. 10. The plans call for expanding and renovating the green space while adding 210 underground parking spaces.

Designs for the park include an expansion south onto a surface parking lot across Henrietta Street from The Townsend Hotel. The city expects to spend $7.5 million to install two levels of underground parking on the site and then expand the park's green space over it. The new underground parking garage will increase the total number of parking spaces on that space from 150 to about 210.

The plans also call for another $3.5 million investment to improve the park's infrastructure, such as aesthetically pleasing walkways and a band shell on the expanded portion. City officials hope to break ground next year and work it in with nearby sewer and street work. The construction will likely tie up the park for one to two years.

Source: Dennis Dembiec, director of engineering and public service for Birmingham
Writer: Jon Zemke


Birmingham/Troy transit center plans for development, possible streetcar line

There might not be a wrong side of the tracks when it comes to Troy and Birmingham but there definitely is a difference.

Look to the east and there is Troy in all of its sprawling, suburbanized glory. To the west is the more urban Birmingham with its grid-like neighborhoods standing in stark contrast to the subdivisions of its eastern sister. But local leaders have a plan to connect these two very different communities by creating a rail line from Troy's Somerset Collection and Pavilions of Troy to Birmingham's booming downtown and Triangle District.

Connecting these institutions is a planned transit center in Birmingham's emerging Rail District and a proposed small mass transit line. The transit center would be the stop for the proposed northern leg of the Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line.

The Rail District is planned to become a dense urban environment built with mixed-use structures similar to downtown and the Triangle District. That's a big change in direction for a place that has historically been an industrial area surrounded by traditional neighborhoods.

The proposed small mass transit line would utilize a permanent form of transit, such as streetcars. It would connect major institutions in both communities, such as downtown Birmingham, Somerset Mall, Pavilions of Troy and Troy's Civic Center.

Source: University of Michigan/Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum
Writer: Jon Zemke


Users climb aboard Wireless Oakland, whole county coverage by next year's end

Now that the Wireless Oakland project has made free Wi-Fi, cordless Internet, available in seven communities, its organizers are gearing up to increase the coverage area to include the rest of the county by the end of 2008.

Leaders of the effort are encouraged by the useage statistics they have seen in the 18.5 square miles covered in Birmingham, Royal Oak, Madison Heights, Oak Park, Pontiac, Wixom and Troy. So far users have been logging 60,000 sessions per week in the area. That's well above the 21,000 sessions per week expected by this point in the project.

"We've had incredible useage," says Phil Bertolini, deputy county executive and CIO for Oakland County. "We've had 19 million minutes used since March. They're using 1 million minutes a week now."

The next step to making free Wi-Fi available to the whole county is finishing planning and engineering work for the initiative. Officials must also nail down private financing for the project before the end of the year.

Making Oakland County wireless gives free Internet access to the county’s 1.2 million residents and 300,000 daily visitors. Free Internet service is being offered at a 128Kbps by MichTel Communications, which will charge fees for faster download speeds and additional services.

Source: Phil Bertolini, deputy county executive and CIO for Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke


Environmentally friendly AAA branch in Birmingham set to open Nov 19

Chalk up another win for green building now that AAA Michigan is gearing up to open its new environmentally friendly branch in Birmingham on Nov. 19.

The new structure is the city's first building to go for certification for LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It sports a number of green features, such as high-efficiency mechanical systems, low-wattage light fixtures and energy efficient windows. The building's exterior is also designed with sun shades to keep it cool in the summer and light shelves to bring in more natural light.

"It's making use of the growing technology that benefits the environment," says Jim Rink, a spokesman for AAA Michigan. "That's something that we're committed to and we're glad to see it come to fruition."

The two-story structure is being built at corner of Woodward Avenue and Forest Street in Birmingham's emerging Triangle District. The building feature's a distinctive 40-foot glass tower in the center of its front façade. The 9,100-square-foot full service branch will house 32 employees.

Source: Jim Rink, spokesman for AAA Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke


Burton-Katzman seeks approval for Birmingham Place plans

Senior citizens will soon have a choice on where they want to live in downtown Birmingham if plans for the proposed Birmingham Place building are approved this fall.

Bingham Farms-based Burton-Katzman Development Co. wants to build a four-story apartment building for senior citizens on the 100 block of Brown Street between Pierce and Henrietta streets. It would join The Regency at Elm as the second senior-oriented residence in downtown Birmingham.

"It's a senior building that is oriented toward seniors that want to stay in an urban environment," says Chuck DiMaggio, senior vice president for Burton-Katzman. "That way they can avail themselves to all of the amenities that downtown Birmingham has to offer."

The idea is to offer the building's residents the opportunity to be within walking distance of everything that in downtown, providing for a cosmopolitan lifestyle.

The 60,000-square-foot structure will have 17,000 square feet of ground floor retail space with 50 rental apartments on the three floors above it. The ground floor space will be available to a variety of uses, including traditional retail, restaurant and office spaces. Birmingham Place will replace a couple of one and two-story office buildings that will be razed.

Burton-Katzman, which is also behind the 325 Old Woodward building in downtown, hopes to get site-plan approval for the project this fall and begin construction as soon as next summer. Construction is expected to last 12 to 14 months. Since Birmingham Place is already being used as the name of another building, Burton-Katzman is working on a new name for the structure.

Source: Chuck DiMaggio, senior vice president for Burton-Katzman
Writer: Jon Zemke


New bank building set to rise in Birmingham's emerging Triangle District

The new building planned for Birmingham's downtown is about to change names and become a little bit bigger.

The development that has been known as the LaSalle Bank building on Woodward Avenue will probably be renamed the Bank of America building now that the sale of LaSalle to Bank of America is a go.

The building's developer is also working with city officials to turn the structure that will be bordered by Woodward, Brown and Peabody streets from three to four stories.

A Bank of America branch is set to occupy the first floor of the 80,000 square-foot building. The second floor will be set aside for a health club while the third and fourth floors will be used for Class A office space.

"Right now I am negotiating with at least two companies for the health club and there has been a lot of interest in the office space," says Harry Blackward, the developer. "The building would not have been built without Bank of America. It was the driving force behind this."

Blackward razed a couple of old structures to make room for the new building, including a 1920's bowling alley that later became a furniture store. A little strip mall was also torn down. Blackward hopes to start construction later this month or in early November and plans to finish in late 2008.

The new structure will feature a drive-through section and some space for a restaurant on the ground floor. Blackward also wants to widen the sidewalk on the Brown Street side so he can plant trees.

The building fits with what city leaders hope to see built in downtown and the Triangle District, an area just east of downtown bordered by Woodward Avenue, Adams Road and Maple Road. The area, which is in the shape of a triangle, has recently experienced development pressure, yet has lacked a clear vision and framework for growth.

Birmingham's new master plan for the Triangle District is expected to spur development on surface parking lots and underutilized properties, which dominate the landscape, to create a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use district similar to downtown. A couple of developers, including Blackward, are working with city officials to make their projects taller, denser and more urban to fit in with the district.

Source: Harry Blackward, developer of the LaSalle/Bank of America building
Writer: Jon Zemke


Birmingham's Barclay Inn preparing for major renovations, expansion in Triangle District

The tip of Birmingham's Triangle District is in line to get a major makeover as the Barclay Inn plans to gut and expand its hotel at the site on the southeast corner of Woodward Avenue and Maple Road.

The preliminary plans call for razing and replacing much of the 1950s-era hotel with a more dense building while preserving the hotel's five-story tower. The new 30,000-square-foot structure will have space for retail on its first floor facing Woodward and hotel rooms above it. Details about how many rooms and what amenities it will feature are in the design process.

"We are literally working on it right now," says Chris Enright, president of the Christopher Enright Architects, which is designing the building.

The building is being expanded to fit in with the city's plans for the Triangle District, an area just east of downtown bordered by Woodward Avenue, Adams Road and Maple Road. The area, which is in the shape of a triangle, is experiencing development pressure, yet has lacked a clear vision and framework for growth. The new master plan for the area is expected to spur development on surface parking lots and underutilized properties, which dominate the landscape, to create a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use district similar to downtown.

The current hotel there started out as a Barclay Inn but eventually became a Holiday Inn Express. It returned to Barclay Inn two years ago. Once the site plans for the renovation/expansion are approved by the city, the developer hopes to begin construction midway through next year and complete work within 9 to 12 months.

Source: Chris Enright, president of the Christopher Enright Architects
Writer: Jon Zemke


North Old Woodward construction to bring smiles to pedestrians, motorists

Walking and driving through downtown Birmingham is about to become easier and more enjoyable now that construction on North Old Woodward Avenue is scheduled to wrap up next week.

The $2.5-million project is rebuilding the thoroughfare, considered the city's Main Street, between Oak Street and Ring Road on the north side of downtown. For pedestrians, this means new sidewalks, crosswalks, trees and plants. Medians meant to help calm traffic and give walkers a refuge while crossing the street are also being installed.

For motorists, the upgrades include new pavement, curbs and gutters as well as a widened road to accommodate angled parking. The 10-foot-wide median is large enough to plant trees but will be wide enough to allow for left-turns, making it both functional and aesthetically pleasing to motorists.

The road will be partially closed for one day next week so work crews can finish laying new pavement. Once that is done, the overall project will be complete.

Source: Paul O’Meara, assistant director of engineering for the city of Birmingham
Writer: Jon Zemke


Sav-On Drugs plans to build new location on Woodward in Birmingham

Plans are in the works to reinvigorate a small stretch of Woodward Avenue just south of downtown Birmingham.

Sav-On Drugs plans to tear down the old Birmingham Drugs storefront at 33877 Woodward and build a new pharmacy there. The new building, on the west side of Woodward at Ruffner Street, would be one story tall with a 40-foot tower.

The pharmacy will occupy 11,651 square feet on a parcel that is a little less than one acre in size. Sav-On also plans to build a parking facility that will hold up to 46 vehicles behind the store facing Ruffner.

The project has received preliminary site-plan approval from the city's planning commission. It is adjacent to the southern tip of Birmingham's Triangle District, an area just east of downtown bordered by Woodward, Adams Road and Maple Road. The area, which is in the shape of a triangle, is experiencing development pressure.

City leaders came up with the Triangle District to spur development on surface parking lots and underutilized properties, which dominate the landscape, to create a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use district similar to downtown.

Source: City of Birmingham
Writer: Jon Zemke

First phase of Old Woodward construction finishes up in downtown Birmingham

Construction on North Old Woodward Avenue in downtown Birmingham is one step away from completion now that city workers have finished paving it and opened it back up to traffic.

"We're excited about it," says Paul O’Meara, assistant director of engineering for the city of Birmingham. "We think it will really look nice when it's done."

The $2.5-million project is rebuilding the thoroughfare between Oak Street and Ring Road on the north side of downtown. Among the improvements are new sewer and water lines, road medians, sidewalks, crosswalks and a complete repaving of the road.

This is the first of two phases. The next phase focuses on finishing off smaller-ticket items, such as installing new curb and gutters, finishing building the median, planting trees, etc. The entire project is set to wrap up later this fall.

The 10-foot-wide median is large enough to plant trees and will have gaps in it to allow for left-turns. The road has also been widened to accommodate diagonal parking. City officials expect the project to be completely finished by November.

Source: Paul O’Meara, assistant director of engineering for the city of Birmingham
Writer: Jon Zemke


Woodward Avenue Action Association hands out façade grants

Five communities along the Woodward Avenue corridor will receive $57,000 in grants from the Woodward Avenue Action Association to improve the aesthetics along Michigan's oldest highway.

These grants, funded by $60,000 from the federal National Scenic Byway, will help create a number of enhancements along the corridor, ranging from new gateway signs to creating a Woodward Tour School. Woodward earned its designation as National Scenic Byway in 2002. It's one of three National Scenic Byways in Michigan and the only one in one of the state's major metro areas.

"This is a great example of how the America's Byway designation provides funding to help communities implement projects they otherwise may not be able to do alone," says Heather Carmona, executive director of the Woodward Avenue Action Association.

Among the recipients of the grants are the cities of Pontiac, Ferndale and Highland Park. The organizations of the Preservation Wayne and Model T Automotive Heritage Complex also received grants out of 10 total institutions that applied for them this year.

Preservation Wayne, Detroit's oldest and largest preservation society, will use its $15,000 grant to create the Woodward Tour School. The group has won awards for its tours highlighting Detroit's history. The tour school will help extend the society's reach up along the Woodward corridor's 27 miles into Oakland County.

"The mini-grants have allowed Preservation Wayne to look beyond our primary program area of Detroit and Wayne County, to enhance the connectivity between Woodward communities to enhance the cultural tourism capacity," says Francis Grunow, director of Preservation Wayne.

Highland Park received $15,000 to install new trash receptacles along its stretch of Woodward and make community banners over the highway. Pontiac, where Woodward ends, will use its $12,000 to create a welcome/gateway sign on Woodward. Ferndale is using its $10,000 to help construct the first of its Woodward Tribute Sculptures.

The Model T Automotive Heritage Complex will use its $5,000 grant to help make signage at the historic Piquette Plant in Detroit's New Center neighborhood. The plant, which made the first Model Ts, has been turned into an automotive museum.

The city of Berkley and Detroit's University Cultural Center Association received $20,000 in grants last year for crosswalk and greenway improvements, respectively. Woodward Avenue Action Association is working to raise more funds through corporate contributions and events to continue the program next year. For information, call (248) 288-2004.

Source: Heather Carmona, executive director of the Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Jon Zemke


Birmingham approves Triangle District; first project prepares to move forward

Within two days of Birmingham approving its Triangle District, a developer resubmitted plans to take advantage of the city's new zoning rules. Plans for the $25-million development, The Regency at Elm, allow for an increase to four stories and 100 condos.

"We've been on the sidelines waiting for this zoning to be approved," says Ronald Hughes, president of Bingham Farms-based Hughes Properties, which is behind the project. "That has really enabled us to go forward with this plan because the former zoning wouldn't let us build to this height."

The Triangle District is a master plan for development in an area just east of downtown bordered by Woodward Avenue, Adams Road and Maple Road. The area, which is in the shape of a triangle, is experiencing development pressure, yet has lacked a clear vision and framework for growth.

The new master plan is expected to spur development on surface parking lots and underutilized properties, which dominate the landscape, to create a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use district similar to downtown. City planners and local residents have been working on the district since early this year.

The new master plan is available on the city's website. For information, call (248) 644-3869.

Source: Jana Ecker, planning director for the city of Birmingham and Ronald Hughes, president of Bingham Farms-based Hughes Properties
Writer: Jon Zemke


The Regency at Elm will bring 100 new condos to Birmingham

Yuppies and hipsters aren't the only people who will get to enjoy Metro Detroit's revitalizing downtowns. Senior citizens in the Birmingham area will soon get the chance to enjoy the city's downtown amenities once The Regency at Elm is finished in 2009.

"It's really the first luxury, senior living facility in the Birmingham / Bloomfield Hills area," says developer Ronald Hughes, president of Bingham Farms-based Hughes Properties.

He expects to break ground for the $25-million development in April or May of next year and finish construction by the summer of 2009. The building, located at the southeast corner of Elm Street and Maple Road, will be the first major development in Birmingham's emerging Triangle District.

That section of the city has been dominated by a more traditional suburban-style infrastructure that provides more space for vehicular activity than pedestrian. However, developers have been transforming that area into a more walkable, urban area in recent years.

The Triangle District is just east of downtown and within easy walking distance of a number of different local institutions. In fact the area’s emerging walkability was a primary reason Hughes chose the location.

"It's just fabulous with Kroger across the street and downtown down the street," he says.

The building will house 100 independent-living condos made specifically for retirees. Parking spaces under the structure will be available for its residents, along with a number of amenities, such as exercise rooms, a pub and large dinning and living rooms. About 20,000 square feet of the building's 151,000 square feet will be dedicated to this type of community space.

The condos will range in size between 830 square feet and 1,700 square feet with either one or two bedrooms. The developer is willing to work with the future residents to make bigger spaces if they so desire.

The Regency at Elm will be built on the site of the old Hamilton Funeral Home. The local institution had been in business there since the early 1940s until recently when the owner retired. That retirement allowed Hughes to come in and take advantage of Birmingham's rapidly expanding downtown market.

A sales center for the development will open up at northeast corner of Maple and Elm, overlooking the building site, in November. For information on the development, call Hughes Properties at (248) 647-2600.

Source: Ron Hughes, president of Hughes Properties
Writer: Jon Zemke


Birmingham plans to move forward with Shain Park expansion plans

To paraphrase the famous cliché, Birmingham gets to have its parking and enjoy more green space, too...
 
...now that its plans to expand and renovate downtown's Shain Park are moving toward approval.

The City Commission is expected to review the plans this month (August). Those plans call for expanding the park south to a surface parking lot across Henrietta Street from The Townsend Hotel. The city expects to spend $7.5 million to install two levels of underground parking on the site and expanding the park's green space over it. The new underground parking garage will increase the total number of parking spaces on that space from 150 to about 210.

"It was not that expensive to go another level down and it would add another 60 parking spaces," says Dennis Dembiec, director of engineering and public service for Birmingham.

The plans also call for another $3.5 million investment in improving the park's infrastructure, such as aesthetically pleasing walkways and a band shell on the expanded portion. City officials hope to break ground next year and work it in with nearby sewer and street work. The construction will likely tie up the park for one to two years.

Source: Dennis Dembiec, director of engineering and public service for Birmingham
Writer: Jon Zemke


Sales are brisk at Eton Street Station in downtown Birmingham

While many developers are fighting through a cold housing market in the dog days of summer, Crosswinds Communities are enjoying sales brisk enough at its Eton Street Station development in downtown Birmingham to warrant a visit from Mr. Plow.

So far 89 units of the 123-unit development have sold. Since the developers knocked $100,000 off the price in March, homes have been selling at about two or three units a month. That's a pretty good rate considering the sluggish market and starting price of $249,990, according to Jim Agemy, director of sales for Crosswinds Communities. "In the last few months we have been doing very well," Agemy says.

The brownstone-style lofts are built at the corner of Eton Street and Villa Road. Each unit includes a two-car attached garage, brick exteriors, 90% high efficiency furnace, Anderson windows and doors, walking distance to downtown Birmingham.

For information, call (248) 258-8887.

Source: Jim Agemy, director of sales for Crosswinds Communities
Writer: Jon Zemke

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