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Ford Foundation pledges millions for Woodward light rail

M-1 Rail in Detroit was at the top of the investment list when the Ford Foundation announced it would be injecting $200 million into projects that will promote economic growth across the U.S.

The New York City-based organization plans to invest this money into projects that help both major cities and their suburbs plan for future land-use, enhance transportation, and interweave housing, transportation, and land-use policy. The idea is to help these communities push forward innovative projects that could be used as both economic engines and models for other communities.

The M-1 Rail definitely fits into this category. The three-mile long light rail track on Woodward Avenue between Jefferson Avenue and Grand Boulevard is being privately funded with $125 million from local business interests, foundations, and government agencies. Officials hope to use it as a local match for federal funds to extend the light rail north up Woodward to 8 Mile or even Royal Oak.

The initiative is aiming at communities hardest hit by the fallout of the auto industry crisis. The hope is this money will help local, state, and federal leaders cooperate on and create solutions to revitalize these communities and create jobs as a region.

Other projects mentioned in the Ford Foundation's announcement include redevelopment of the Claiborne corridor in New Orleans and the construction of 25 transit villages along BART in San Francisco's Bay Area. It's also aiming to create regional land banks in the Detroit and Flint areas.

Source: Ford Foundation
Writer: Jon Zemke

Grandpapa's renovates Detroit site, plans to make 125 hires

Pork rinds aren't normally associated with economic development in Michigan, but they're taking center stage in the latest round of tax abatement deals brokered by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Grandpapa's, a manufacturer and distributor of snack products, plans to invest $4.18 million in renovating and expanding his operation on the 5800 block of East 8 Mile Road. That includes purchasing and renovating a 130,000-square-foot facility next to its current operations.

"There is some work than needs to be done, but nothing major," says Michael Robin, president of Grandpapa's. "The building is in great shape."

The 40-year-old business will continue to make pork rinds and popcorn snacks at its current facility. It will transfer its other production work to the new location. The privately held Grandpapa's is also exploring an opportunity to produce fish and poultry food for export to Africa and Asia.  

The company currently employs 23 people but plans to hire 73 more in its first year, and up to 125 over the next five years. In return it will receive a five-year $368,000 state tax credit. The city of Detroit is considering a tax abatement of $347,000.

Robin, a lifelong Detroiter, says it was his great working relationship with the city and Wayne County officials that made it attractive to him to expand in Detroit. He also sees it as a way of helping to improve his community.

Source: Michael Robin, president of Grandpapa's
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit says bye to City Fest, hello to New Center Park

Detroit's New Center neighborhood isn't aiming to be a one-shot-and-out place. Instead it's canceling its big event, Cityfest, so it can focus on holding a number of smaller events at its new park in front of the world-famous Fisher Building.

Excerpt:

Let's get the bad news out of the way: New Center's Cityfest has been canceled, at least for 2010. While the economy and accompanying reduced sponsorship levels have something to do with the cessation of a Detroit tradition, the reality is much more complex.

Now for the good news: Improvements to New Center Park have created a neighborhood venue that will be programmed four days a week. New Center Council president Michael Solaka says that is more conducive to realizing the organization's goal of community and economic development than is a festival that happens but once a year. "Our mission is to develop New Center into a thriving 24-hour neighborhood," he says. "(The park) is an economic development thing as opposed to an image-building event."

Read the rest of the story here.

WMU opens office in Royal Oak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

Read the rest of the story here.

S3 Studios proposes film studio for State Fairgrounds

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

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

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

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

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

Metro Parks is considering a takeover of the State Fairgrounds, proposing a deal where it would lease the land for $1 a year and run the annual Michigan State Fair. At the same time, the organization would work toward turning the property at Woodward Avenue and 8 Mile Road into a year-round Metro Park, the first in the city of Detroit. The park could include amenities such as a fishing area, cross country skiing, and athletic fields.

One of the major complaints Detroit and the inner-ring suburbs have had is that they pay taxes for Metro Parks, but most of that land is at the outer fringes of the region. Turning the State Fairgrounds into a Metro Park would go a long way toward remedying that complaint.

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

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

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

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

Celebrate construction kick-off for Newberry Hall on May 6

It's getting hard to keep count of all of the historic rehabs going on in Midtown, Detroit's most vibrant and dynamic neighborhood. The latest addition to that list of investment is the new life that is being breathed into the Newberry Hall by the Detroit Medical Center.

Excerpt:

It's taken 4 1/2 years to get off the ground, but renovation is now underway at Newberry Hall, the former nurses' housing located on John R at Willis in Midtown. Built in 1898, funded by the Newberry family -- major investors in the Packard Motor Co. -- and designed by Elijah Meijer, the architect who designed the Michigan State Capital among several others, the building has "social importance to Detroit and architectural importance to Detroit," says Ernie Zachary of development and finance consultant firm Zachary and Associates. "It's a really important building and to lose this building would be criminal."

Over the past few years, the developer has changed, but the goal has remained consistent: to renovate the structure into housing. There will be 28 rental units ranging in size from 700 to 900 square feet available for $1.30/square foot. Zachary expects construction to take a year.

Read the rest of the story here.

Woodward sculptures set for downtown Pontiac, Detroit

The Woodward Tribute sculpture project is set to gain momentum this summer, now that plans for one in downtown Pontiac have a green light and another in downtown Detroit are primed and ready to go.

The UAW and General Motors have pledged $10,000 toward the Pontiac tribute sculpture, helping the Woodward Avenue Action Association (which is spearheading the project) meet the $150,000 price tag. Construction is set to begin in late July or early August and complete by the Woodward Dream Cruise.

"Once they break ground it only takes a week or two to install," says Nicole Brown, outreach and promotions coordinator for the Woodward Avenue Action Association.

The non-profit is also finalizing plans for the tribute sculpture in downtown Detroit this spring. Once the location is finalized (near the Spirit of Detroit statue at Woodward and Jefferson avenues) the project will be announced, probably within the next few weeks.

The Woodward Tribute sculptures help raise awareness about the history behind Michigan's Main Street and how important it is to not only the state but the U.S. and the world. The sculptures are normally a robust column a story or two tall that depict part of Woodward's illustrious history.

Ferndale built the first one in its downtown in 2008. More are being planned for other communities along the Woodward corridor.

"We're speaking to several different communities to go forward with a fourth one," Brown says. "This is a great piece of art that helps people see the story of Woodward in an artistic way."

The sculptures are funded by a number of organizations. Those chipping in for the Pontiac sculpture are the Federal Highway Administration National Scenic Byway funds, Oakland County, and Genisys Credit Union.

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

University of Michigan's Five Fellows turn house into public art

Opportunity leads to art in Detroit. In this case, it's a combination of University of Michigan students and Hamtramck's Design99 studio.

Excerpt:

Five University of Michigan architecture fellows, through the help of Design99, purchased the house at 13178 Moran from the city's foreclosure auction for $500 and have turned it into their architectural canvas and a piece of public art for the neighborhood.

Inside you'll find a Q-Bert-esque staircase, a space called the "Tingle Room," another staircase leading up to a skylight, a removable nook in the back, and the garage drilled with 1,000 holes and jammed with 1,000 glass tubes. Each would require more than 1,000 words for explanation.

"We've collaborated but we have five different projects throughout the house," says Ellie Abrons, one of the fellows.

Read the rest of the story here.

Owners transforming former party store into 3 boutique-ready storefronts at Cass and Willis

Another blighted, long-vacant hulk is being renovated into a home for new businesses in Detroit, serving as further proof of why the city's Midtown neighborhood is setting itself apart as the city's most vibrant area.

Excerpt:

The southeast corner of Cass and Willis is abuzz with construction activity as a former party store is being transformed into three storefronts. Leslie Malcomson, who owns the building with her husband Peter, anticipates construction will be completed this summer. The Malcomsons live next door to the property, so she has her fingers crossed that one of their tenants will be an ice cream parlor, but is open to any "small merchant, boutique-type store" moving in.

The units are approximately 1,000 square feet each, with large front windows and awnings. "We want it to look nice. This is our neighborhood," says Malcomson. The project architect is Keith A. Logsdon of Michael Willoughby & Associates.

Read the rest of the story here.

$8M Midtown Loop greenway project to break ground April 15

Transportation options are multiplying in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood now that construction on the Midtown Loop greenway has begun, allowing the emerging community to establish itself as the Motor City's most dynamic neighborhood.

Excerpt:

After seven long years developing plans, raising funds and negotiating easements, University Cultural Center Association (UCCA) is poised to break ground on the Midtown Loop greenway on April 15. The first phase, which runs .85 miles along Kirby between Cass and John R and then south along John R to Canfield, will be complete by October of this year. This fall, a short stretch of the mixed-use path that runs along Canfield between John R and Cass will begin construction and finally, the "loop" will be completed heading north along Cass back to Kirby in the summer of 2011.

Sue Mosey, president of UCCA, says the first phase links together several institutions, which will help generate users right off the bat. The path will link Wayne State University, Detroit Public Library Main Branch, Detroit Historical Society, Detroit Institute of Arts, College for Creative Studies, Detroit Science Center and Detroit Medical Center. "There are enough attractions, enough going on, for people to have an experience, which will encourage people to use it," she says.

Read the rest of the story here.

Urban farm now part of State Fairgrounds plan

The latest twist in the "Save the State Fairgrounds" drama is all about urban farming.

Hantz Farms is proposing to take over 40 acres and turn it into Detroit's first major urban commercial farm. The deal is contingent on the Huron Clinton Metro Parks Authority taking over control of the 135-acre parcel at the southeast corner of Woodward Avenue and 8 Mile Road.

"At this point we don't have any final plans for it right now," says Patty Russ, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Dept of Technology, Management & Budget. She adds that a decision will be made within the next month.

The Huron-Clinton Metro Parks is considering a takeover of the State Fairgrounds, which is owned by the state of Michigan. Part of the proposed deal would include the agency taking over the annual Michigan State Fair for $1 per year, while creating a year-round Metro Park, the first in the city of Detroit. The park could include amenities such as a fishing area, cross country skiing, and athletic fields.

One of the major complaints Detroit and the inner-ring suburbs have had is that they pay taxes for Metro Parks, but most of that land is at the outer fringes of the region. Turning the State Fair into a Metro Park would go a long way toward remedying that complaint.

Source: Patty Russ, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Dept of Technology, Management & Budget
Writer: Jon Zemke

DTE Energy looks for participants for SolarCurrents program

Solar power might not seem like the obvious alternative energy play in precipitation-happy Michigan, but it's one DTE Energy is going for with its SolarCurrents program.

The Detroit-based utility is looking for businesses and educational institutions with large rooftops or ground area to host solar energy installations. The idea is to help DTE meet Michigan's new Renewable Portfolio Standard while lowering energy bills.

"We do realize that solar might not be economically viable today in Michigan, but it may become so in the future," says Irene Dimitry, director of renewable energy for DTE. "There are reasons we are investing solar."

She adds that the costs of solar have been dropping recently thanks to a combination of increased competition, rising economies of scale, and a reduction in the price of materials. Dimitry also points out that Germany generates 3.5 percent of its energy from solar, and that country is not as solar friendly as Michigan.

"They are frequently referred to as one of the success stories," Dimitry says.

DTE hopes to harness photovoltaic systems on customer rooftops or property so it can generate 15 megawatts of renewable energy in Southeast Michigan over the next five years. It plans to invest $100 million in the program.

SolarCurrents requires customers to participate for 20 years. The solar energy systems will be owned, installed, operated, and maintained by the utility. In return, customers will get an annual 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.

DTE is accepting applications until April 29. Interested participants should own a facility with 15,000 square feet of unobstructed roof in good condition or a similarly sized area on the ground.

So far 150 applications have been received. Of those, 80 percent have been from residential properties.

Source: Irene Dimitry, director of renewable energy for DTE Energy
Writer: Jon Zemke

Progress Report: Windows, insulation, heating and cooling up next at Green Garage

The Green Garage is blooming in Detroit's Midtown neighborhood. The old Model T showroom is getting ready to become a showplace for new sustainability-oriented businesses.

Excerpt:

The last time Model D covered the Green Garage, back in December 2009, owners Peggy and Tom Brennan were chugging along with their project, transforming a 1920 building that once served as a Model T showroom into a business incubator and green building model. Earth tubes and water cisterns were installed, most of the ceiling removed to showcase the building's bow tresses, and a three-season room was added to the front of the building. They've since installed a Duro-Last roof and cleaned the interior and exterior brick and woodwork using a non-toxic process of walnut shell-blasting. The interior wood has been coated with low-VOC Defy.

The project is currently going through the brownfield approval process and design is being "taken to the next level of sustainable detail," says Tom. "Our design is solid, but not detailed enough for someone to pound a nail." This process is complicated by the level of efficiency they are working to attain. For example, windows will allow 0.1 air infiltration, be rated 45 R, achieve zero-waste, and will last 100 years.

Read the rest of the story here.

Midtown building undergoing renovation for Computech Detroit offices

Another renovation in Midtown is solidifying the neighborhood's reputation as the most dynamic place in the city. This time, Computech Corp. is turning an old mansion into its new headquarters and bringing lots of jobs with it.

Excerpt:

The 7,000-square-foot building located at the northeast corner of Cass and Kirby is currently undergoing renovations and, come May, will be the headquarters for Computech Corp., an IT company currently headquartered in Bingham Farms, with offices in India, Chicago, Toronto, and Atlanta. "I believe in the city and I believe that it is going to take small entrepreneurs to bring us back," says president Greg Cheesewright, a Toronto native who founded the company 14 years ago.

After Cheesewright conducted an extensive search -- "I went to every single building, I swear, in Detroit," -- he found the right one, and it was city-owned. Its Midtown location will enable Computech to work closely with Wayne State University. "It's an opportunity for me to get people from the university, have them come on as students in summer, train them ... and then get them as employees in four years," he says.

Read the rest of the story here.
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