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Brass Aluminum Forging embarks on $8.6M rehab of Ferndale brownfield

A vacant industrial site in Ferndale will be cleaned up and returned to the tax rolls after a growing local business renovates the property and brings new jobs to the site.

Brass Aluminum Forging's plan to re-use the building at 965 Wanda will come with an $8.6-million investment. The project got the go-ahead this week when the Michigan Economic Development Corp. approved a local and school tax capture of nearly $718,000, money that will help cover the cost of renovations.

The building will be shared by Brass Aluminum Forging and other tenants that lease space.

The company, which makes valve bodies, weapon components, air and hydraulic fittings, and architectural details and provides items that can be forged as well as other processes and products, expects to hire 50 new employees to work at the new site. Building tenants are expected to hire another 50 employees.

The city of Ferndale's Brownfield Development Authority requested the 965 Wanda site be a recipient of the the MEDC's Michigan Strategic Fund's economic development and community revitalization projects.

Source: Kathy Fagan, spokesperson, MEDC
Writer: Kim North Shine

Lawrence Tech breaks ground on residence hall at Southfield campus

An $11.6-million residence hall with room for 160 Lawrence Technological University students is expected to be ready for move-in by fall of 2015.

An April 7 groundbreaking marks the start of construction on a 47,545-square-foot, two-story building near the university's largest parking lot along the Northwestern Highway Service Drive.

The dorm will increase on-campus residential capacity by about one-third. Currently there are about 600 students living on campus. As the school's athletic programs and student activities grow, so too does the demand for housing on campus.

The new residence hall will be designed in a pod-style of five pods that sleep 32 students in 16 double-occupancy units. Each pod will have its own common lounge with fireplace and kitchen. All pods will share a cafe and retail space, laundry room, game room, multi-purpose and meeting rooms on the first floor.

“The building is designed to encourage students to be out of their rooms with plenty of space for interaction and collaboration," says LTU President Virinder Moudgil. "One of the goals is to get new students involved in campus life by fostering collegiality."

Source: Eric Pope, spokesperson, Lawrence Technological University
Writer: Kim North Shine

Roundabouts planned for Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills

The city of Farmington Hills is planning to redesign a mile-long stretch of Orchard Lake Road into a series of roundabouts and boulevards as a way to improve traffic safety, promote economic development and encourage bicycle and pedestrian travelers.

The reconstruction could start in the spring on the the busy stretch between 13 and 14 Mile roads. The five-lane Orchard Lake Road is a major entry into the city, and part of the larger Northwestern Connector Project of the Road Commission for Oakland County and the Michigan Department of Transportation. The purposes are to improve traffic safety, including reducing severity of traffic crashes by slowing traffic, to stimulate economic development and to promote ease of use for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Details of the plan will be presented at an April 23 meeting at Farmington Hills City Hall.

Source: City of Farmington Hills Engineering Division
Writer: Kim North Shine

Yates Cider Mill opening new location in Orion Twp

Yates Cider Mill, a top metro Detroit destination for cider, donuts, jams, other small-batch foods, and the entertainment experience of watching the cider-making process, is taking the family tradition to a new location in Orion Township.

It's not uncommon to see long lines and crowds at the Rochester Hills mill.The new location is expected to follow suit, building on the business based on Michigan apples.

It will be located at Canterbury Village and is expected to open by the fall, the high season for the cider mill outings.

Owner Mike Titus is also expanding the Rochester Hills operation, opening for the first time for a spring pressing. Opening day is April 15.

And by the first of May Yates will open the Ice Cream Shoppe and sell chocolate and vanilla custards.

Yates, a grist mill that dates back to 1863, is said to be one of the longest continuously operating businesses in the state, and the popularity of the mills, which merge agriculture and economics, is at a high.

Source: Mike Titus, owner, Yates Cider Mill
Writer: Kim North Shine

Troy-based Autobike partners with Grand Rapids TerraTrike

Autobike, the young company from Troy that's reworked and refined automatic shifting technology for bicycles, is going into business with TerraTrike, a Grand Rapids manufacturer of recumbent trikes.

The partnership gives Autobike a whole new market for its technology that appeals to both techies who love gadgets and cyclists who just want an easy ride.

Techies get a ride that's constantly being analyzed for when to shift by a tiny little electronic brain along with a smartphone app and bluetooth synching. Easy riders get a ride without ever having to shift a gear themselves.

TerraTrike's product combined with Autobike's technology adds up to the world's first smart trike, the companies say. The new high-tech model, part of the TerraTrike's Rover line, debuts within weeks.

TerraTrike and Autobike, which builds and sells its own bikes with its automatic shifters, have customers around the country, and they  expect sales to increase after the release of the smart trike.

Source: Autobike
Writer: Kim North Shine

Ferndale's Go Comedy! improv artists take stage as workplace consultants

Go Comedy! Improv Theater in Ferndale has found another stage for its performers' quick wits, teamwork, and senses of humor in workplace workshops.

It's a sideline to its main business of nightly, rotating shows and one of several ways that the theater's improv artists have added to their repertoire. The workshops, which can last an hour or two or a full day, can "train your group to function as a well-oiled machine," says Go! Comedy Improv Theater's Andy French.

The workshops can go to the workplace or the workers can come to the workshop at the Go! Comedy Improv Theater at 261 E. 9 Mile in downtown Ferndale.

“We use hilarious improv games to teach people how to be a crucial part of the team. Learn to cooperate and create together and have a great time doing it,” French says.

Skills to be learned through comedy, quick thinking, and performing include team building, listening and communication, and leadership skills. French says improvisation teaches listening, agreement, cooperation, supporting the ideas of others, give and take, and conflict resolution.

“We use hilarious improv games to teach people how to be a crucial part of the team, learn to cooperate and create together, and have a great time doing it."

Go Comedy! also teaches improv and other classes related to improvisational skills at its studio and rents its space for weddings and special events.

The team, which consists of 25 improvisers and writers, can also be hired to perform at special events. This week the team headlined the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority's monthly B2B Networking Meeting.

"The Go! experts know that the tenets of improv often parallel the ingredients of being solid in business," says the DDA's Chris Hughes. "By using what they teach to developing improvisers, the Go! team helps businesses owners and employers learn how to be better listeners, cooperate with each other, feel more comfortable on the sales floor and succeed, with a bonus of enjoying life."

Source: Ferndale Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Revival in the making for historic Hills Theatre in downtown Rochester

Local history lovers and civic boosters in Rochester are pushing a plan to bring back the 1940s-era Hills Theatre downtown, and the idea got a boost recently when a feasibility study showed it could well be economically viable.

If the idea moves forward, after a major fundraising campaign and renovation Rochester would join several Michigan cities who are turning to "theater-nomics" to add life and dollars to their downtown.

The 820-seat Hills Theatre is located in the heart of downtown at 412-416 S. Main Street, and a renovation could cost between $3-4 million.

The Rochester-Avon Historical Society started exploring the idea about two years ago, and along with the city's Historical Commission worked with a consultant, paying $15,000 to advise on the best use of the theater and how to proceed with a campaign and building plan.

While the crux of the project will rely on private donations, Mayor Jeffrey Cuthbertson has said the city could provide services, engineering and other professionals in the interest of building a downtown entertainment destination.

The supporters of theater revival also expect to ask the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to chip in on Rochester's project as it has in other cities.

Source: Rochester Avon Historical Society and city of Rochester
Writer: Kim North Shine

New and larger Park Grill fires up in Grosse Pointe Park

A look at Park Grill's  Facebook page makes it clear that its absence hasn't gone unnoticed, and since the Grosse Pointe Park Mediterranean eatery reopened Monday, posts of gratitude keep coming.

The family- and friend-run spot in the burgeoning Park business district re-opened this week after an eight-month renovation that enlarged the space and overhauled the aesthetics. The eatery also added to the menu, created an extensive beer list with four on tap, and a specialty cocktail menu with an endless Bloody Mary bar come summer.

"The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and we are excited to see so many loyal customers and new faces come through our doors during our first couple days," says general manager Brian Czerny.

Park Grill is located in a prominent corner spot at 15102 Kercheval Avenue and is one of several new developments joining solidly established businesses in the stretch of blocks with mostly 1920s-era architecture.

The renovated space is nearly twice the size of the old one and will have an outdoor patio. Park Grill, which is owned by the Kokoshi family, Albanian immigrants who turn out some their favorite recipes, can now seat 62 inside, 17 at an L-shaped bar, and 20-25 outdoors.

To keep up with demand, the restaurant has added staff and is still looking for more.

Source: Brian Czerny, general manager, Park Grill
Writer: Kim North Shine

Sea and lake creatures coming to Great Lakes Crossing Outlets

A London-based entertainment company is bringing its expertise in aquariums to the Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills, building an aquatic attraction inside the shopping and entertainment complex.

Sea Life, which has more than 40 aquarium attractions around the world and six in the U.S., will be built in what used to be a GameWorks. Demolition on the space started about two weeks ago. The complicated project will take more than a year with an opening date expected by April or May 2015, says Scott Berlow, general manager of Great Lakes Crossing Outlets.

Sea Life Michigan will give visitors up-close looks at more than 30 displays that are centered around a tropical ocean tank with a walkthrough underwater tunnel.

United Kingdom-headquartered Merlin Entertainments, owners of Sea Life, also build Legolands and numerous other themed attractions in 12 countries and three continents.

Berlow says the company chose Auburn Hills and Great Lakes because of its draw for tourists, including Canadians and because of its connection to international and national auto suppliers who bring families to Michigan to live permanently or on extended stays. He says 21 percent of visitors to Great Lakes Crossing are tourists that have traveled from more than 50 miles away.

"We know Sea Life draws from more than 100 miles," Berlow says. "This is going to be a great attraction. Certainly for a number of miles, there really is nothing that exists like this….They really ID'd the area for a variety of reasons. It's always location, location, location. The access to I-75 was important too."

Berlow says Sea Life builds on the "entertainment" in the Great Lakes motto: Shopping, Dining and Entertainment. Sea Life will be located across from Rainforest Cafe.

"You'd think they'd have a problem with that, but actually they're thrilled." Sea Life complements Rainforest Cafe as well as the Bass Pro Shop, which is also a draw for metro Detroiters and tourists alike. Field trips will be a regular part of Sea Life Michigan, which has a classroom and field-trip educators on staff and places an emphasis on conservation.

The aquarium at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets will, like the others, will be an immersive and educational experience that puts visitors up close to ocean life. But aquarium visitors will also learn about lake species. Sea Life is also  involved in rescue operations.

The plans for Sea Life Michigan call for more than 30 displays of shrimp, sharks, sea rays, sea horses and starfish. The unique Great Lakes element will feature creatures most associated with the Great Lakes region.

"The naysayers would say we've got a foreign company coming into the area…This creates jobs. This is good for business…It's all positive."

Source: Scott Berlow, general manager, Great Lakes Crossing Outlets
Writer: Kim North Shine

Gluten- and nut-free pizzeria opens in Troy



A dad frustrated by the challenge of taking his daughter out to eat without her getting sick from meals that came with nut-free and gluten-free claims has opened his own restaurant in Troy, and he's seeing a rush of grateful customers who share his desire to just enjoy a meal out without worry.

The dad, Gabe Hertz, and partner and pizza specialist, Ken Karapici, opened Renee's Gourmet Pizzeria in February in Troy. The word of mouth in the allergy community has attracted customers from across metro Detroit to Ann Arbor.  Renee's is located at 1937 W. Maple Road. There's room for 60 to eat and there's carryout.

Hertz named the restaurant after his daughter who was diagnosed with nut allergies and Celiac's Disease, a wheat intolerance, at age 5.

"My daughter can't have one speck of wheat or it can put her into two weeks of pain, and I love taking her out to eat," Hertz says. Nuts are life-threatening. She and most people with her carry an EpiPen. "Finally, she said, 'Dad, that's it, I'm not going anywhere else to eat with you. It was a month and a half before she walked in here."

Once he decided to open his own restaurant, Renee became the taste-tester for what the pizzeria would sell: a thin New York style pizza, calzones, soups, Hungarian dumplings, soups, cinnamon sticks and more.

"I've waited for a long time for someone to do this. Finally, I thought, you know if no one else is doing it, I'm going to do it. And no one is doing 100 percent gluten-free and nut-free like we are. Unless you are 100 percent free, you will have cross contamination."

He wanted to open a gluten- and nut-free restaurant that served food just as tasty as anywhere.

"I didn't want to build a gluten-free facility. I wanted to build a good gluten-free facility. Anybody can put out cardboard."

The reaction from parents has been as important as the bottom line, he says.

"It's not uncommon for someone to drive and hour, hour and a half to get here. Imagine there are parents who can finally open a menu and say, 'Wow, we can have anything on this menu!' The parents are in tears. I'm in tears. It's amazing to see, in my opinion, the comfort we give families. I know, if I could find one place my daughter could eat and not get sick, I would go three hours just to get that dinner with her."

Source: Gabe Hertz, co-owner, Renee's Gourmet Pizzeria
Writer: Kim North Shine

Donation boosts OU's industrial robotics and automation programs

Oakland University will build a four-year industrial robotics and automation program thanks to a donation from a leading supplier of industrial robots.

ABB Robotics' $50,000 gift to OU's School of Engineering and Computer Science will prepare future graduates for work in the industry and companies such as ABB. ABB will also offer an internship to OU students. Three members of the ABB Robotics executive team are OU grads.

One of them, Michael Mahfet, vice president and general manager for ABB, says "We might be a little biased, but we know OU is a highly regarded school in the engineering community. We're pleased to be able to play a part in advising the SECS on their new robotics curriculum. Ultimately, it's good for OU and it's good for companies like ours. The automation industry is changing so fast that it's important to have your finger on the pulse of what customers want.”

Dr. Louay M. Chamra, dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science, says OU's relationship with the industry strengthens its push to become a "premier research center in this area."

"There have been strong advances in manufacturing, both in southeast Michigan and across the United States," Chamra says, "and industrial robotics has been at the heart of much of that development."

Source: Automation Alley and Oakland University
Writer: Kim North Shine

Dark Room Photography shooting from new Mt. Clemens studio

Photographer Kelly Zatkoff's' skills have developed into such a solid customer base that she's opening a studio in downtown Mount Clemens.

She and partner Angie Schultz are opening The Darkroom Photography Studio on March 22 at 54 New Street.

"All the endless nights have finally paid off," Zatkoff says in her announcement of the studio grand opening.

The studio will allow her to get creative indoors, and she will continue her off-site shoots of babies, weddings, high schoolers and more.

Source: The Darkroom Photography Studio
Writer: Kim North Shine

Valentine Distilling to triple distillery space in Ferndale

Valentine Distilling's gin is taking a similar path as its vodka. It's winning awards, racking up orders in Michigan and several states, and is on the way to putting the Ferndale craft liquor maker on the world map.

Valentine's latest award, and probably the most significant, came last month when its Liberator Old Tom was named the World's Best Cask Gin by the World Gin Awards in London. Valentine makes a traditional gin, cask gin and whiskey, all released last year. Distribution of its original Valentine Vodka began in 2009.

"We've received many awards, many important ones, but this is a really big one…This came out of London, the home of gin," says founder Rifino Valentine. "I always have high expectations for our products. [We're] not just a local distillery, but this blew us away."

The award is one thing. Keeping up with demand is another. Valentine is in the process of renovating a 15,000-square-foot space in Ferndale into a distillery that will quadruple its output capacity. The new facility is expected to be ready for production in the fall of 2014, says Valentine. At about 5,000 square feet, the current distillery space, which is paired with an often-packed tasting room, will become the pilot distillery, the research and development area, he says.

Research and development is a slow and deliberate process and the reason, Valentine believes, for the success of Valentine Distilling's small-batch spirits.

"We were working on that gin for three or four years," he says. "I never just release stuff to get it out. I want to make sure it's competitive internationally and nationally…That's why it took us years…figuring out the botanicals and figuring out how the taste changed as it aged."

Even before the award, it became clear that Valentine needed to step up capacity.

"My distributors on the East Coast and in Chicago are calling, 'How much can we get and how soon?' "

Michigan is likely to follow suit.

"In Michigan vodka is still really big…The craft cocktail and craft spirit movement is just starting to hit Michigan right now and it's already been going on and is at full steam on the coasts and in cities like Chicago," he says. "So we get a large number of orders in Michigan for our vodka now, but the gin will come.

"The Liberator, we call it a new western gin or an American gin, because the flavor profile strays away from London dry or extra dry. It doesn't just smack you in the face with juniper…It's complex with a beginning, middle and end, with spices like cardamom, coriander and cinnamon."

Valentine, who left a successful career on Wall Street to launch a small-batch liquor company about six years ago, chose Michigan over Miami or other big cities, as a way to help the state by adding a small business to the books. He says the growth and the expansion in space and products was always part of the business plan, but the best part is seeing Michigan's distilleries and craft cocktails take off and make a significant contribution to the local and state economy.

"Looking back on it, it's pretty fun.. Probably five other distilleries have opened or are opening within five miles of us. It's funny to think back to 2008 and actually watch this industry grow. I mean just in the last couple of years alone we've generated a couple million dollars in tax revenue for the state," Valentine says. "It's so neat to see the industry thrive. It's so cool to help the state come back. It's one thing to talk about it, but to actually see it come to fruition is deeply meaningful."

Source: Rifino Valentine, owner, Valentine Distilling
Writer: Kim North Shine

Life Time Athletic bringing luxe workouts to Bloomfield

The national Life Time Fitness corporation will open its first Life Time Athletic in Michigan this summer, a high-end health club with an extra emphasis on service, luxury and exclusivity.

The state's first Life Time Athletic will open at 4106 Telegraph Road in Bloomfield, likely by the third week of June and earlier than the planned Fourth of July opening, says General Manager Beth Bock, a long-time Life Time Fitness employee who has hoped for a decade that a Life Time Athletic would come to metro Detroit. Life Time Fitness has seven clubs in Michigan and 109 around the country.

"This is our luxury brand, kind of our executive brand…This will be a diamond-level club, which is our highest level of membership," she says.

The building comes in at three floors, taking up nearly 75,000 square feet. The club includes higher-end fitness equipment, Bock says. "We have high-end equipment as it is, but this takes it to a whole new level."

At Life Time Athletic the staff-to-member ratio is lower: "We want to anticipate our members' needs," she says. The men's and women's dressing rooms are about luxury treatment with their own whirlpool spas, dry saunas and eucalyptus steam rooms and "every item you can think of. Don't bring a thing from home," Bock says.

There are adult fitness studios for yoga, barre and group workouts and studios for children, who are a crucial part of the Life Time Athletic membership. It includes three hours of daily programming, from yoga and zumba to arts and crafts and language arts for children. Child care can be arranged for different caregivers to do pick-ups or drop-offs.

Life Time Athletic also offers a testing lab, where registered dietitians measure overall health from vital signs to food sensitivity and hormone levels that dictate diets, best times to work out, and more.

Membership also comes with access to special programming and fitness destination trips. "We're not a gym with equipment and four walls," Bock says. "We really are a health club. Education and even entertainment is a part of that."

Life Time Athletic will be hiring 225-250 employees, about 70% of whom will be full-time. Usually just 30-40% of the staff is full-time, Bock says.

"We want full-time, dedicated, career-minded people here to serve the members," she says.

A preview center for the future Life Time Athletic is open at 4036 Telegraph, next door to the construction site for potential members who want to see renderings, plans and learn about membership.

Source: Beth Bock, general manager, Life Time Athletic, Bloomfield
Writer: Kim North Shine

Grosse Pointes get new breakfast & lunch option at Jagged Fork

After a major makeover, a former Biggby's coffee shop in Grosse Pointe Farms has reopened as a breakfast, lunch and brunch spot that's attracting east siders with its offbeat menu and fresh, cozy dining room.

The Jagged Fork opened March 3 on busy Mack Avenue, and after a slow build-up the restaurant was packed by the weekend with customers "who have been so wonderful, so supportive," says The Jagged Fork co-owner Francesco Adamopoulos.

"We're anticipating we'll have big crowds this week. So far I've loved the community. The reception has been nothing but warm. I swear after I talk to people, and I'm thinking about them after they leave, I just feel so good about them. They are just so salt of the earth."

Adamopoulos, who was born into the restaurant business as one of three children of Greek parents who spent every summer in Greece for years running a banquet hall, is a partner in the restaurant with his brother, Stavros Adamopoulos, and a business partner, Tom Teknos. The Jagged Fork is their third restaurant venture; the first being Zoe's House of Pancakes, which is in West Bloomfield and owned by Stavros, and the second, The Hudson Cafe in Detroit. The parents have owned The Hercules Family Restaurant in Farmington Hills since the mid-1980s, after having a restaurant and store in South Africa in the 1970s.

The Jagged Fork's menu borrows from its partner restaurants' menus -- including a Latin-influenced breakfast such as huevos rancheros, a popular turkey burger, and homemade corned beef and hash. Adamopoulos and his chefs make the salsa verde and salsa ranchero in house. The creative menu offers four different kinds of eggs benedict, a long list of unusual and classic omelets, skillet breakfast dishes, sweet and savory crepes, pancakes, waffles, and sandwiches and salads for lunch.

"We've always done chores for the restaurants: peeled potatoes, unloaded fish, set and bused tables. We were born into it."

The owners' decision to move into the vacant Biggby's brings back to life a block at 18480 Mack Avenue. It was quieted at the end of 2012 when the Michigan-based coffee shop failed to reach a lease agreement. The Biggby has since reopened at a new location on Mack Avenue in Grosse Pointe Woods.

Adamopoulos says the location "kind of found us" when the realtor who leased them The Hudson Cafe spot told them about a "great spot in Grosse Pointe" as the owners were contemplating whether to open their next restaurant in Grosse Pointe or Troy.

While all is going well so far, it's stressful being just 27 years old and responsible for the restaurant's success and the financial well-being of a dozen employees.

"When you open a new business you're stressed out, you're scared. There's a lot on the line. I'm a young guy. It's crazy doing something so big at this age," he says. "But the customers really make it fun. When you have customers like we've had this week, it's so much fun to come to work. I've been overwhelmed by the show of enthusiasm."

Source: Francesco Adamopoulos, owner, The Jagged Fork
Writer: Kim North Shine
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