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New homes, lofts, less blight in downtown Pontiac

A $13.7-million government program meant to stabilize struggling cities by targeting crumbling neighborhoods and re-building their decaying urban centers is complete in Pontiac. And, while still in the early stages, it appears to be achieving its mission.

The two-year-old Neighborhood Stabilization Program targeted Pontiac and about 10 other Michigan cities. It has led to the removal of dozens of blighted properties and building of new homes in Pontiac's Unity Park neighborhood, as well as two residential loft developments including the $20 million Lafayette Place Lofts, which sit atop the Lafayette Market and an Anytime Fitness, and the 10 West Lofts. Lafayette Place Lofts, a project of West Construction Services, is the city's largest development in 30 years or more.

The federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program was administered by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority in partnership with the Michigan Land Bank, Oakland County, and the city of Pontiac.

Funds from the program covered the demolition of 50 blighted homes in the Unity Park Neighborhood and the construction of 18 new single family homes there. All have been sold. Local members of the Michigan Association of Home Builders, Michigan Association of Realtors, lenders and developers marketed the homes.

Downtown, the 46 units at Lafayette Place Lofts in the former Sears & Roebuck Store, which opened to residents in December, are expected to be fully occupied within weeks and the Lafayette Market, a speciality grocer and coffee house, is filling the void of a fresh food source and take-out prepared meals for the city. The market and neighbor 24-hour Anytime Fitness, both on the ground floor of Lafayette Place Lofts, are generating traffic downtown.

Also downtown there is 10 West Lofts, another multi-use development in the downtown that has a skyline of historic buildings and a history of struggles.

Altogether, at least 300 construction jobs and 75 full-time jobshave been created.

Several other projects, though not a part of the stabilization program, are ongoing and more development is expected as a number of other initiatives roll out. One, the reconstruction of the main road leading into downtown, will direct motorists into the city instead of around it. Another, the opening of a new transit station, is for now a stop for Amtrak and local buses, but could function as a stop on a commuter light rail line between Detroit and Pontiac -- a proposal that is very preliminary and probably years away.

It all adds up to what may be an economic tide-turner for a city that has gone into bankruptcy, been taken over by an emergency financial manager and held back by the crime, hardship, and poor educational system that come with poverty.
Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Michigan State Housing Development Authority

Construction on Troy's multi-modal transportation station begins

An old Amtrak station in Troy is coming down, and in its place will be a modern transportation station that will be a hub - if all goes as planned - for regional high speed rail and bus service between Michigan and Illinois.

The $6.3 million, 28,000-square-foot project will include a 2,000-square-foot building connected to a pedestrian bridge to the train platform, a docking station for as many as four buses and parking lot to accomodate regular commuters and travelers.

Ground was broken last week at the 2.4-acre site off Maple Road and Coolidge Highway and construction is expected to be completed

Congressman Gary Peters secured the funding for the Troy Multi Modal Transit Facilty, which is one of several projects in metro Detroit, the state and the region. They are part of a reinvestment plan by the federal government to create jobs and also promote public transportation as an economic development tool.
The goal is to offer a modern, safe ADA compliant facillty that is easy to use and promotes greater mobility options through a centralized facility that provides access to intercity passenger rail service, regional bus routes, taxi services and the Troy-Oakland Airport. Dearborn and Pontiac are building a similar stations, and the cities are along a rail line that is eyed for high speed travel between Michigan and Chicago.
The project will create dozens of construction related jobs, and possibly economic stimulus in surrounding neighborhood but no full-time jobs once it is opened as the station will be unmanned, says Cindy Stewart, Troy's director of community affairs.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Cindy Stewart, director of community affairs, City of Troy

Oxford is first Oakland Co. downtown offering free wireless

Oxford has become Oakland County's first community to offer free wireless service across its downtown.

The Wireless Oakland initiative, which sought to set up wireless service in all of Oakland County downtowns as an economic stimulus, has been revived and scaled back after the original plan developed in 2005 "fell victim to recession when private investors backed out," Bill Mullan, a spokesman for the county, says in a news release announcing Oakland Township's going wireless.

Internet Provider Air Advantage is providing the wireless coverage in exchange for access to some of the county's strategically placed communications towers. Air Advantage will also offer competitively priced, wireless broadband services to northern and western parts of the county where there is no such service.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Bill Mullan, spokesman, Oakland County

Changes to Pontiac-Detroit-Chicago rail line topic of state DOT meetings

As plans to improve a 304-mile stretch of passenger rail line that runs through Michigan, Illinois and Indiana move forward, the public is invited to participate in the process that determines what the local impact will be.

For metro Detroiters, the Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac Passenger Rail Corridor could offer connections to places that improve economic situations or quality of life, but it could also affect neighborhoods.

A series of meetings will be held this month and hosted by the three states' Departments of Transportation. The meetings will explain more about the proposal to make changes to the line and also take comments from the public. They will also offer possible route alternatives and identify potential issues that should be considered in the planning. They are required as part of the plan formation and environmental impact assessment to be done before construction can begin.

The rail improvements come as several metro Detroit communities, including Detroit, Pontiac, Troy, Dearborn, and the federal government have invested in new transportation stations that have brought economic benefit to cities around the
country by opening up access to jobs, education and affordable transportation.

According to GreatLakesRail, "the purpose of the program is to improve intercity mobility by providing an improved passenger rail service that would be a competitive transportation alternative to automobile, bus and air service between Chicago and Detroit/Pontiac…The program will provide sufficient information for the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) to potentially support future decisions to fund and implement a major investment in the passenger rail corridor."

The local meeting will be held Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 7 pm. at the Double Tree Hilton Hotel, 5801 Southfield Expressway, Detroit.

Comments about the changes can also be shared online at GreatLakesRail.org or by telephone, 877-351-0853.

Source: Janet Foran, communications, Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kim North Shine

Alternative energy at Oakland County Airport brightens bottom line

All the eco-conscious bells and whistles that earned Oakland County International Airport a LEED Gold certification are also saving the county money by running at about half the utility costs prior to energy-focused rebuild.

According to Oakland County the new airport operates at 44 percent greater efficiency. From October 2011 through March 2012 the average cost of utilities dropped from 49 cents per square foot to 27.5 cents per square foot.

Features such as wind and solar electricity generators, a solar hot water heater, geothermal heating and cooling, fluorescent and LED lighting and, one of the more obvious for passengers, a living wall of tropical plants that clean the indoor air.

“These are real savings,” Oakland County executive L. Brooks Patterson says in a statement announcing the utility cost analysis. “The energy efficient technology is part of the wow factor business and general aviation travelers encounter when they use the new terminal as their gateway to the region.”

“The airport has a great impact on southeast Michigan,” says Oakland County Director of Central Services J. David VanderVeen. He oversees the airport - the second busiest in Michigan. The airport, which is located in Waterford, underwent a $7.5 million update last August. Airport user fees and federal and state grants covered the cost.

“Nearly every Fortune 500 company flies through here in the course of a year and it has a $175 million impact on the region,” he says.

Source: Bill Mullan, media and communications officer, Oakland County
Writer: Kim North Shine

Corned beef and fill-ups now available at Canton Marathon

A longtime chef and caterer is selling his recipes from a Marathon gas station in Canton, an endeavor that's proving to be a winning example of entrepreneurship aided by a quick-moving city government.

Robert Grant's business plan to set up a restaurant in one corner of a gas station was unusual and, he was warned, could be problematic under city code.

"They were amazing," says Grant, who worked in food services at Metro Airport, for Pan Am Airlines and in catering on the campaigns of several Detroit and Michigan politicians. "

The K&L Marathon Deli featuring Fussy Gussie's Corned Beef is located at the corner of Lilley and Warren roads in Canton. It opened three months ago and is attracting nearby residents, office workers and walk-ins. The restaurant, a $1,200 investment, is basically two stainless steel tables as a front counter and prep space with a home refrigerator, hot plate and meat carver behind. In the back of the store, unseen, is the corned beef that so many people come for.

Grant, a culinary arts graduate, proudly displays his certificate of occupancy, food service license and a big poster with the first dollars he made here.

The restaurant name honors Grant's mother, who died in 2006. She left behind a winning corned beef recipe she learned from a Jewish woman she worked for. The ribs, green beans and Coneys "that are as good or better than Lafayette" are also on the menu, along with sandwiches, peach cobbler and other changing specials.

The name also recognizes the owners of the station, 42438 Warren. Owner Ken Merril urged Grant to bring some of his catering favorites into a retail setting. He's done it before in Detroit, but is still hoping to get a restaurant to stick. He's hoping to bring a food truck to Canton, something  he'll go see those previously helpful city officials about, and one day package the corned beef sandwiches.

"He guess he probably smelled the cooking on my clothes one day and he said you could open up something here," says Grant, who was reluctant initially. "I prayed about it and took a chance. I'm so thankful for him and for everyone at the city who made sure I could get my business up and going in 48 hours. Can you believe that? They've given me the opportunity of a lifetime."

Source: Robert Grant, caterer and owner of K&L Deli Featuring Fussy Gussie's Corned Beef
Writer: Kim North Shine

Wyandotte turns up the heat on solar power

It's more than ironic that a coal pile lies within view of a new solar power system in the city of Wyandotte.

The city, which operates its own utility, Municipal Electric, has made a major commitment to moving away from traditional forms of energy and toward alternatives such as solar and geothermal.

One of several projects underway in Wyandotte is the recent completion of two solar-power producing arrays that will take the load off the traditional power generators.

Other projects include changes to LED lighting on city streets and buildings and a free program to provide every Wyandotte property owner with a free energy audit, which includes freebies such as energy-savings light bulbs (as a way to encourage the energy-efficient changes to properties). The program also offers 1.99 percent interest loans.

The object is to create less demand - and strain - on the utility, saving everyone money, says Melanie McCoy, Wyandotte's Municipal Services general manager.

The solar power project came in two parts. One is a larger array built on a city water department settling basin. The other, a smaller solar garden, was placed across the street from Bishop Park.

"This little solar garden is very visual," McCoy says. "The kids at the park can see it. People in the community see it."

She says there are plans to install a kiosk and plaque explaining what the solar garden and the city's alternative energy program is about.

The solar power project, which was made possible by a $3.8 million Energy Efficiency Community Block Grant, is the latest in a series of changes showing the city's commitment to alternative energy, many of those changes prompted by government grants and tax incentives.

McCoy says the changes will eventually pay for themselves, and already they've created jobs - some temporary, some permanent, from consultants and contractors to energy and financial managers. Those jobs in turn have generated spending at local businesses, she says.

It has the ability to generate 212 kilowatts of solar power, enough for about 50 homes, she says. She says it will take about 16 percent of the load off the coal fire generation the city puts out. She says the irony of the new generation of power overshadowing the old school power source of coal - Wyandotte also uses gas to generate power for its residents - is not lost on city officials.

"This is bringing good things to our city," she says. "This has been a great thing for us."

Source: Melanie McCoy, Wyandotte Municipal Services general manager
Writer: Kim North Shine

$21 million investment and 90 jobs come to vacant lot in Sterling Heights

Sterling Heights largest industrial vacancy will be filled in the spring of 2013 with a $21 million investment by AGS Automotive in a bumper system assembly plant that will lead to 90 jobs initially and more later on.

The project is part of an expansion by AGS Automotive, which was considering sites outside the city. Instead, the move to the vacant land and facility on 18 1/2 mile road in the center of the city allows AGS to expand to the new site from its Sterling Drive South in the city. It also restore the business lost when Borg Warner and later Ford Motor/Visteon, closed operations at the site.

The investment includes renovation of the 360,000-square-foot plant on the site, which has received a $900,000 Michigan Business Development grant and will come with other support and incentives from the city.

"This investment will allow AGS's US operations not only to retain their current jobs for the future, but also to significantly grow by tripling the number of jobs over the next few years and adding a number of new leading edge manufacturing processes and capabilities," AGS co-president Joe Leon says in a statement announcing plans for the new facility.

Source: Sterling Heights Department of Community Relations
Writer: Kim North Shine

$15.8 million project will bring Amtrak riders their own line from Pontiac to Chicago

A $15.8 million project will add a new track between Detroit and Dearborn, giving Amtrak passengers and freight cars their own dedicated lines.

The changes to the West Detroit Connection Track, which is the key link between the new Dearborn multi-modal transportation station and Detroit's station downtown, were OK'd by the federal Department of Transportation last week. Feds will pay for half the project and the Michigan Department of Transportation will pay the other half as they look for ways to alleviate a bottleneck on portions of the track.

The West Detroit Connection Track is also a key part of the Detroit to Chicago line, known as Amtrak's Wolverine line.

The project, which will break ground later this year, will alleviate a bottleneck that is increasing waiting times for trains, costing companies money and slowing down travelers.

Carmine Palombo, director of transportation programs for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, says the changes make sense economically because they allow goods and people to move more quickly and efficiently.

"When you have 10 minute and more delays that are caused by the bottleneck that is there now, that is huge," Palombo says.

But metro Detroit and Michigan are still a long way off from trains carrying coffee-drinking, newspaper reading commuters. Improvements such as new stations, including in Dearborn, Detroit, Troy and Pontiac, as well as changes to increase train speeds up to 110 mph, are lining up to make Michigan a train-riding state.

"It's all part of the overall series of events to improve passenger service," he says.

As of now, the line is mostly for travelers and freight. He says a commuter train between Detroit and Ann Arbor is inching along but still far from a done deal.

"Part of what happens now is existing Amtrak trains start in Pontiac and go to Chicago…The problem is the times are not conducive for a lot of commuters .. The times are geared for getting you to Chicago, not points in between. And the costs are not necessarily in step with what commuters want to pay."

He says legislation that will have the state of Michigan financially supporting the train service could change that.
"When that happens we can have a little more say in the schedules and how that service is run," Palombo says.

In the meantime, the feds, who are executing President Barak Obama's High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program, see the project as a way to address congestion of the Midwest Regional Rail Network and promote alternative forms of transportation and to create jobs and spur economic development.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation and Carmine Palombo director of transportation programs, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments
Writer: Kim North Shine

Downtown Lincoln Park sports new streetscape

New sidewalks, street lamps, benches, bike racks, planters, median landscaping and other improvements are done and on display on Fort Street in Lincoln Park.

The four-block area near Southfield Road is designated as Lincoln Park's downtown and the approximate $1 million streetscape is seen as a way to attract businesses and customers by making the corridor appealing to the eye for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike.

Grants from the Michigan Department of Transportation and DTE Energy are covering most of the project cost, which also includes improvements as major as roadway changes and parking lots and as simple as garbage cans, recycling bins. The city's Downtown Development Authority has invested about $250,000 in the streetscape and other improvements, including energy efficient lighting that will save the city tax dollars.

The new streetscape is combined with other economic development projects, including a cooperative effort with neighboring communities to make roads and sidewalks more attractive and walkable and to advertise the cities' connection to I-94 and the Detroit River. Another project has the state assigning extra liquor licenses to Lincoln Park with the goal of attracting restaurants and bars.

Source: Lincoln Park Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

$7.9 million project brings business, jobs to vacant Auburn Hills facility

A vacant building in Auburn Hills was another snapshot of Michigan's dark economy, but with the move-in of a global automotive supplier the picture is brightening.

The April 1 opening of the Teijin Composites Application Center (TCAC) also puts this metro Detroit operation in a position to globally market, develop and apply the latest uses for high volume, high-speed production of carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic composite products, and to increase the use of carbon fiber in automobiles and other products.

The state has awarded $375,000 in tax incentives to open the $7.9 million development center, which will create 25 new jobs and could lead to more. The city of Auburn Hills is offering tax abatements as well.

Teijin, a Japanese conglomerate and leader in the carbon fiber composites industry, established its American division in 2011, the same year it struck a deal with General Motors Corp. to co-develop the advanced carbon fiber composite technologies needed for GM cars, trucks and crossovers.

Teijin's high volume, high speed process for producing the materials is considered an innovative breakthrough in the automotive industry.

The company is also receiving other tax credits and abatements from the state and the city as part of a program that seeks to simply business establishment in Michigan. In addition, Gov. Rick Snyder taking delegations to Asia with hopes of bringing business to Michigan.

“These new flexible incentives, paired with Michigan’s simplified and reduced business tax structure and initiatives to connect employers with talented workers, are creating one of the best business climates in the country,” Michigan Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Michael Finney says in a statement announcing the Teijin project - and others.

Source: Michael Shore, communications, Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Writer: Kim North  Shine

Grants given to bike, pedestrian paths in Rochester, greenways link in Flat Rock

Federal transportation enhancement grants are helping cover improvements to biking and walking paths, and unattractive intersections in the cities of Rochester Hills and Flat Rock.

In Rochester Hills, paths for pedestrians and cyclists and non-motorized vehicles will be added to the intersection of Livernois and Avon roads. The $345,825 project will also pay for aesthetic improvements at the major intersection. The paths and other improvements coincide with installation of bridges for pedestrians and bicycles at the same area and over the Clinton River.

The bridge project by the Road Commission for Oakland County  prompted the city to direct its grant from the Federal Transportation Enhancement fund - $207,495 of the project price - to direct the dollars to the same intersection "and further enhance safety and connectivity," according to an announcement from the Michigan Department of Transportation.
The city of Rochester Hills is putting in $138,330 toward the project.

In Flat Rock, a multi-use path from Huron Park in Flat Rock to Oakwoods Metropark will be funded with a federal transportation enhancement grant of $342,150. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is matching that amount for a total investment of $684,300.

The path will be the final link in the Downriver Linked Greenways Initiative. It will finish the east-west route that connects Oakwoods Metropark to Lake Erie Metropark, providing residents, tourists, recreational and competitive riders, hikers and others with a continuous pathway through Metroparks and waterways.

The grant will pay for trail construction, signs and railroad crossing work.

Overall, the purpose of the grant is to boost interest in Michigan recreationally and economically, according to MDOT, which administers the federal dollars.

"Transportation Enhancement projects boost a community's appeal to residents and businesses," State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle says in a statement announcing the award of more than $1 million in grants to four counties. "Increasingly, new generations demand multi-modal communities, meaning those that offer access to bicycling and walking, which contributes to healthy, active lifestyles, and streetscape projects that improve safety, walkability, aesthetics and economic vitality."

Source: Jeff Cranson, spokesperson, Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kim North Shine

Rochester, Rochester Hills and Auburn Hills to share services

The cities of Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills, and Rochester are looking to preserve residents' quality of life and enhance their business climates by sharing services. By doing so, the communities expect to save money by eliminating redundancies while also providing the services that each is best at.

The three cities formally agreed to regionalizing public works such as road and sidewalk repair, water and storm drain systems management, street lighting and more.

Shared services and consolidation is a move that more cities and counties are taking - a move encouraged by Gov. Rick Snyder - as a lagging economy has led to new thinking on how to preserve public services when there is less revenue to work with.

In a statement announcing the collaboration, which is an extension of earlier shared services (or interlocal) agreements, Auburn Hills director of public services Ron Melchert says: “Each community has specific areas of expertise, specialized skills, knowledge, equipment and tools that are difficult to obtain from other service providers to perform economically, properly and in a timely manner.”

A group of citizens, city staffers and elected officials from the three municipalities formed the Tri-City Sustainability Advisory Committee in 2011. The "overarching goal of the Sustainability Advisory Committee is to ensure an ongoing high quality of life for all residents and a strong business climate for commerce."

Source: Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce
Writer: Kim North Shine

DTE reports big energy savings from conservation programs

Some 200,000 metro Detroiters accumulated a total of $50 million in energy savings in 2011 by participating in DTE Energy's efficiency programs.

The $50 million savings came through programs such as home energy audits that show residents and business owners how to prevent energy waste or add energy efficient features to their homes. Programs such as appliance recycling, low income weatherization assistance and rebates and discounts on energy efficient lighting, thermostats and appliances, says DTE spokesman Alejandro Bodipo-Memba.

DTE Energy launched many of the programs in 2009 - as have all utilities - as the federal government enacted measures in 2008 to promote clean, affordable energy.

"Customer response to our energy efficiency programs continues to be overwhelmingly positive," Trevor Lauer, DTE Energy vice president, Marketing & Renewables, says in a statement announcing the savings. "More than 200,000 of our customers took control of their energy use through these programs and saved millions of dollars as a result."

The breakdown for DTE's metro Detroit power users who participated went something like this:
* More than 76,000 apartments made more energy efficient
* More than 23,000 appliances recycled
* More than 50,0000 home energy audits/consultations completed
* More than 4.5 million discounted Compact Fluorescent Bulbs and 22,000 energy efficiency kits distributed to customers.
* More than 7,000 businesses installed 6,000-plus thermostats, 600 boiler tune-ups and took other energy saving steps.

"We're very proud of the role our energy efficiency programs have played in helping customers save money," Lauer says.
Source: Alejandro Bodipo-Memba, spokesman, DTE Energy
Writer: Kim North Shine

Half-million-dollar MEDC grant to help Macomb-OU INCubator help small business

A $500,000 grant is coming from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to the Macomb-Oakland University INCubator to increase efforts to cultivate businesses and jobs in the areas of defense, homeland security and advanced manufacturing.

Macomb-OU Inc was one of 12 incubators and business accelerators selected to share in $6 million in grants.

Macomb-OU INC will use its half million dollar grant to develop and enhance staffing, operations and programming offered to small businesses.

     "The Macomb-OU INCubator is very grateful for this grant award," director Julie Gustafson says in a statement announcing the grant. "This support will go a long way towards enhancing current programs and developing small business trainings that will better serve emerging companies in Macomb County."

    The incubator is located in a Technology Advancement SmartZone of Sterling Heights, and it provides comprehensive development and innovative support to start-up and emerging businesses in the areas of defense, homeland security and advanced manufacturing.

Source: David Groves, assistant director of media relations, Oakland University
Writer: Kim North Shine
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