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Riley Park ice rink opens in downtown Farmington

The Riley Park Ice Rink in downtown Farmington is seen as keeping winter from putting a freeze on business and keeping the heart of the city pumping when temps plunge.

Barring too-warm temps, the 4,800-square-foot, refrigerated rink opens this weekend as a fundraising campaign to maintain and market the volunteer-run rink.

During warmer months, Riley Park hosts the Farmington Farmers & Artisans Market, Rhythmz in Riley Park and the Harvest Moon Celebration.

As the rink opens for its second year the hope is to keep Riley Park and the businesses that surround it thriving all year long and to foster the feeling of a quaint, downtown park and ice rink as a place to have fun before or after dinner, a coffee, or shopping. Annette Knowles, executive director of the city's downtown development authority, describes the vibe of the park and downtown in winter as "Currier and Ives-like."

"The Riley Park Ice Rink creates a winter destination in downtown Farmington. Until the rink came, the programming in the park was for three seasons, not four," says Knowles. "Now, we have a cool, fun place for families to connect and play.  And the rink is surrounded by restaurants where skaters can warm up and get a snack or inviting boutiques and stores to purchase accessories to keep you warm on the ice."

The ice rink opened in 2013 thanks to a major contribution of $100,000 from the Riley Foundation. Local businesses such as Wright Beamer, Dagwood’s Deli, S3 Architecture, John Cowley and Sons Irish Pub, and OHM Advisors contributed to the project as did the community, with Farmington residents chipping in $10,000.

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

House-made, small-batch brews on tap at Farmington Brewing Co.

The fermenters are fermenting and the taps that will serve what the owners jokingly refer to as happiness are in and operating at the soon-to-open Farmington Brewing Company.

Opening day, however, comes Nov. 15, after renovations to the 1,600-square-foot space at 33336 Grand River in downtown Farmington are complete.

The bar arrived recently. Not long after, the taps were installed. Several suds varieties, IPAs, Blood Orange Wheat and Raspberry Stout among them, are brewing.

The owners, Jason Schlaff, Jason Hendricks and partner Gary Schlaff, plan to open in mid-November, several weeks behind schedule, but with beer the former home brewers expect to be proud to serve.

Schlaff and Hendricks are environmental engineers and chemists and hobby brewers who decided to combine their knowledge of chemistry and beer into a business.

The brewery will not serve food, but is working with local Farmington restaurants on delivery service agreements.

Source: Jason Hendricks, brewer and partner Farmington Brewing Company and Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Farmington Road next big downtown development project

A rebuild of Farmington Road is the next big project to make downtown Farmington into an inviting place for businesses and customers alike.

Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority, says the new Farmington Road streetscape will spruce up the the city's main thoroughfare, make it easier to travel and reach businesses, whether by car of foot and, ideally, help local businesses grow and attract new clientele.

One goal of the rebuild is to give restaurants more sidewalk space for outdoor seating.

"We've got our work cut out for us," Knowles says, "but next year we hope to be starting construction."

The project is largely funded by federal grants through the state and will require local, state and federal approvals of the construction plan, which is being drawn up by OHM Advisors and Grissim Metz Andriese Associates.

The Farmington Road streetscape comes on the heels of of the rebuild of Groves Street, a major makeover of a tired shopping center there and the redesign of Riley Park, a downtown gathering spot.

"We're not resting on our laurels or closing the book," Knowles says. "There's always something that needs attention. That's kind of challenge for any community.

"We are providing all of these investments into the downtown to keep us positioned to businesses that need to grow or are looking for attractiveness for relocation."

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

Farmington Brewing Co. builds downtown house of suds

Renovations are underway for a brewery that's coming to Grand River Avenue in downtown Farmington.

Farmington Brewing Co. will open, possibly in September, at 33336 Grand River in a space previously occupied by a coffee shop. The renovations of the 1,600-square-foot space will make room for beer-making barrels and a bar that runs the length of half the space.

Four, five-barrel fermenters (a barrel is equal to two kegs) will be just behind be the bar and be the focal point of the room.

"Our equipment will be directly behind our bar. We think it adds to the ambiance of the space to have all the equipment there. We will not be brewing during serving hours, but customers will see where we do the work," says Jason Hendricks, partner in Farmington Brewing Co. with Jason Schlaff and his father Gary Schlaff.

Hendricks and Jason Schlaff started home-brewing beer about five years ago, says Hendricks.

The two are environmental scientists and chemists, while Gary Schlaff works in marketing for a TV station.

"We started out as home brewers and began experimenting more and more and developing the recipes of beer we like to drink," Hendricks says. "As friends and family started to enjoy it along with us we decided to expand our horizons."

"It's something we love to do," he says. "We figure if you do what you love you never work a day in your life."

Farmington Brewing Co. will not serve food. It will instead partner with local restaurants to deliver food to its guests who want a meal to go with their beer. Nearby restaurant menus will be kept on hand and delivery will be made quick and easy by Farmington Brewing Co. employees.

Opening day hinges on regulatory approvals, mostly, says Hendricks, but the target date is mid-September.

The opening is much anticipated by locals, says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority. She hopes the brewers can be a part of the city's annual Harvest Moon Festival.

Facebook posters regularly ask when it's coming and say they can't wait.

It is located across the street from the Grove Street redevelopment that is remaking a tired strip mall into a more attractive retail district for new businesses.

Source: Jason Hendricks, co owner, Farmington Brewing Co.
Writer: Kim North Shine

Re-do of Riley Park improves downtown Farmington gathering spot

Riley Park in downtown Farmington is in the final stages of a redesign that will make it more useful and better equipped to handle the crowds and traffic it pulls for downtown events.

The redesign brings in more sidewalks, paved pathways and a decorative and practical paved compass rose and will also save money on the replacement of grass after busy spring and summer events such as concerts, artists markets and storytimes.

The improvements to Riley Park, which was designed about 10 years ago as more of a passive park than an active one, were brought on by the addition of an ice skating rink last winter. The redesign will allow for an easy transfer from winter use to summer use.

"We had to provide some improvements so the park could accept the ice rink every year," says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority. "We always looked at it as an opportunity to re-examine our uses for the park throughout the year."

"Ten years ago, since the park was designed, the uses have changed and are much more intense than what the park was designed for."

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director, Farmington DDA
Writer: Kim North Shine

 

Musical institution opens new location in downtown Farmington

The 94-year-old Hewitt's Music has packed up its instruments and everything else and opened a new store in downtown Farmington.

It left Dearborn last month and opened at 23330 Farmington Road in mid June. An grand opening party is planned for July 18 and 19.

Hewitt sells and rents musical instruments and supplies. It's also given lessons to generations of music students. It is also in the repair business.

Just a few years shy of being in business nearly a century, the owners decided to add an Oakland County location to its lineup of stores. Hewitt's also has locations in Rochester and South Lyon and in Big Rapids. The original Hewitt's opened in Detroit in 1920.

Source: Hewitt's Music
Writer: Kim North Shine

Grand Bakery & Cafe opens in downtown Farmington

The business mix in downtown Farmington is growing with the arrival of Grand Bakery & Cafe.

The newly opened business bakes breads, muffins, cakes, pies, cookies and bars on site and also serves fresh-made soups, sandwiches and salads that can be eaten in or taken away, including to nearby Riley Park. Grand Bakery & Cafe serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and also offers catering.

Farmington's newest restaurant option is located at 38321 Grand River Avenue.

Source: Farmington Downtown Development Authority
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

Metro Work Space adds co-working office in downtown Farmington

In a sign that co-working is  more than a passing trend, Metro Work Space is opening a second location in downtown Farmington next week.

The furniture and supplies are being moved into the 100-year-old, historic building with wood floors, high tin ceilings and "overall charm" this week, says Todd Luhtanen, who owns and operates Metro Work Space with wife Bev Luhtanan.

The 2,500-square-foot office at 33316 Grand River is in the heart of downtown Farmington and offers a different feel and will serve a different clientele than the original Metro Work Space at 8 Mile and Merriman in Livonia, he says.

"We see the demand, but we also different markets. The Livonia office is ideal for people who are meeting across metro Detroit. It's close to highways, central," he says. "Downtown Farmington is completely different. It's a downtown community with all the things happening, people working, restaurants, stores.

"In Farmington we're really targeting people who are already in Farmington and want an office," he says. "There really isn't anything affordable."

Both offices provide a workspace, wi-fi, equipment, supplies and services for the cost of a membership that also brings with it access to networking and business management that will schedule conference rooms and meet other needs, even coffee.

"Some people are seeing it as a cheap alternative when they first sign up," he says, "but once they see it and work here they realize there's additional value."

Metro Work Space is one of about 10 co-working spaces in metro Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Their clients are the growing number of mobile and at-home workers, whether employed by a company or self-employed.
According to DeskMag, co-working has increased 117 percent globally in the last year, and Luhtnanen cites Michigan's strong entrepreneurial culture as a reason for co-working to grow. Nearly 20 percent of graduates from Wayne State and Michigan State universities and the University of Michigan have started their own businesses.

"We're really excited about our own growth, plus the overall growth in co-working," he says. Co-working is still in its infancy in the Midwest, while out west or on the East Coast it's a given way to work.

"People here are [finally] seeing the value of a co-working space. We're here in michigan as opposed to silicon valley or somewhere out west where people really get the co-working.

"People are seeing they can get the feeling of a coffee shop, the getting out into the community, the being around human beings, but without all the negatives of a coffee shop."

Source: Todd Luhtanen, founder and owner, Metro Work Space
Writer: Kim North Shine

Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers opens in Farmington Hills

Flint-based Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers has plans to take a bite out of the metro Detroit burger business with a new location in Farmington Hills.

It's the second location for the company, Spartan Pastabilities LLC, which opened the first Freakin' Unbelievable in May 2012. It quickly made plans to expand and franchise its "burger customization" concept in upscale casual settings.

The Farmington Hills outlet of Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers opened last week at 29206 Orchard Lake Road. The second location cost about $1 million to renovate and will create 10 full-time and 20 part-time jobs.

The new store is designed with digital menu boards so that the always-changing specialty burgers -- Upper Crust Burger, Down Under Burger, Ancho BBQ Burger and many others -- can easily be updated. Burgers also come with gluten-free buns or in vegetarian versions, and regional craft beers will be on tap and sold by the bottle. Create your own burger contests for a placement in the line-up is part of the restaurant's concept as well.

The interior is meant to be more inspiring than a typical burger chain. A monochromatic color scheme is mixed with corrugated metal, intricate tile work, pendant lighting and a  four-foot chandelier.

Company owner Brett Skaggs is optimistic his burger can compete with national biggies, which are located nearby.

"We believe our burger is better," he says, "and we believe that locals want to support a company that's based right here in Michigan."

Source: Megan Spencer and Brent Skaggs, Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers
Writer: Kim North Shine


Farmington DDA readies for downtown residential living

The Farmington Downtown Development Authority is taking on the role of property redeveloper with the goal of increasing residential living options  downtown.

The DDA is seeking a private developer via a request for proposal to build a second phase of condominiums at The Orchards condos on Slocum Drive just off downtown's main thoroughfare, Grand River, and Farmington Road.

The first phase of the mixed-residential project was completed in 2006, but after the housing market collapsed the second phase was never completed, says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington DDA.

When the market began to bounce back, the DDA board decided to purchase the property to retain control over what would happen with it, she says. The DDA purchased the property for $95,000 in October.

“Introducing more development that is appealing to those seeking to reside in a downtown environment will help create a more robust economic base to support the business community," she says. "All signs indicate that development of this nature will again meet market demand."

The RFPs are due by March 7 and two inspections for prospective bidders are set for Jan. 13 and 15.

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

Ice ice baby! Downtown Farmington gets new rink

Downtown Farmington is complementing its growing retail scene and historic downtown gathering spaces with a new ice rink.

The rink is expected to be completed in December and will be located at Riley Park in the heart of downtown. It's being built by Serv Ice Refrigeration, the same company that laid the rink in Campus Martius in downtown Detroit, says Annette Knowles, director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority.

The George F. Riley Foundation, for whom the park is named, donated $100,000 toward the construction of the rink,which sill cost about $300,000. Fundraisers continue to raise the rest of the money and engineering firm, Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment are donating services for the project.

“Our family is quite pleased at how Riley Park in downtown Farmington has become a hub for families and friends to gather together and has also become a center for key events in Farmington. The Riley Foundation’s commitment to create the Riley Ice Rink creates a fourth season for activity in downtown. We are excited to be able to support this worthwhile enhancement for families and friends enjoying the quality of life in our community," the Riley Foundation says in a letter.

Knowles says the community has expressed a desire for a downtown rink in visioning sessions and other public meetings and that she expects the rink to be a "cool" addition to the city.

"Job creation will be hard to measure at this point, but we do know that seasonal maintenance will be necessary. Spin off business opportunities exist," Knowles says. "For example, we would love for someone to come forward with skate rentals that we do not have to manage."

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director, Farmington Downtown Development Authority

Writer: Kim North Shine

Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers to open in Farmington Hills



Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers
, a Flint Township gourmet burger restaurant that has landed on best burger joint lists and been called one to watch in the fast-casual restaurant concept, is opening its first metro Detroit location in Farmington Hills in late November.

Founder and president Brent Skaggs, who operates two other separate restaurants besides the Flint Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers, says Farmington Hills was chosen for a foray into metro Detroit for a number of reasons.

"We are franchising the concept. We started that in July this year. We wanted to go into a metro market," says Skaggs, who opened the Flint Township store in 2012. "We felt like Detroit metro was a great place and as we started looking around we found that Farmington Hills had the traffic counts, the demographics and we just liked the feel of the city."

He is hoping to have a freakin' unbelievable experience by besting nearby national burger chains, including Five Guys and Smashburger, with his selection of Angus beef burgers that come with a selection of 43 toppings, served on a brioche bun.

"We definitely will have competition, but we are a Michigan-based company so we're excited," he says.

Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers is getting noticed nationally. It ranked 12th on fastcasual.com's Top 100 America's Top Movers & Shakers at the National Restaurant Association convention in Chicago, and industry publication, BurgerBusiness, called the restaurant one of the top new burger joints in 2012. The second Freakin' Unbelievable Burgers will move into a former Burger King on Orchard Lake Road and be renovated to fit the fast casual concept, an upscale version of fast food. Think Panera Bread, Skagg says, counter service in a sit-down arrangement.

"The materials we use in the booths are nicer; so is the type of lighting. It's really a place you can sit down, watch a game, get a cold beer, a glass of wine…There's china, real forks. There's no tipping," Skaggs says. "It's a place you can get a burger fast and to go if you want, or to stay and enjoy if you want."

Once opened, the restaurant will employ 20 full-time employees, Skaggs says, and 20-30 part-timers.

Source: Brent Skaggs, president and founder, Freakin Unbelievable Burgers
Writer: Kim North Shine

Detroit Sandwich Co. to open take-out shop in Farmington Hills



Mark Friday - great name, huh? - has a family history in the restaurant business and a love for Detroit. That has brought him to the place of opening the Detroit Sandwich Co. next week in Farmington Hills.

The Detroit Sandwich Co. at 29801 W. 9 Mile Road will add to the takeout options for the Farmington-Farmington Hills area with a menu that includes a turkey chipotle sandwich, chicken sliders, pasta and meatballs, a signature meatball sandwich, lobster ravioli and a chicken bacon salad.

"I'm always tempted to add more things, things I love, but we don't want to do too much. We want to put out quality food. If you do too much it can bring down quality," Friday says.

The Italian side of the menu comes from Friday's Italian heritage - he's part Italian and African-American with a 100 percent Italian grandmother. He and his wife have been dreaming of restaurant ownership for a while. They looked into a Subway franchise, but "it's like being a manager while you raise the money. There's no creative freedom."

"My wife and I have prayed on it and it kept growing and growing," Friday says.

He almost signed a deal for his business to be located in a spot near downtown Farmington. It would have required a loan and a major renovation. When the deal fell through, he happened to spot the perfect space down the road, no loan required, minimal renovations and with a feel that matched his vision.

"It's a really good space for us to start and learn and grow and open up locations," says Friday, who is training four employees this week in preparation for opening day.

Initially the Detroit Sandwich Co. will be take-out only and then add delivery, he says. The cozy spot with a 20 by 19-foot kitchen, an 8 by 9-foot walk-in kitchen and a 14 by 9-foot counter has fresh colors of paint on the walls. It will have digital menus on TVs and and be decorated with vinyl wall coverings showing downtown Detroit's skyline.

"I used to live in Detroit. I love the city. I go downtown when I can," says Friday, who sees the city and the burbs as one Detroit.  "I chose the name because I want to support the city even though i can't open up in the city yet."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Mark Friday, owner, Detroit Sandwich Co.

New Farmington bookstore wants to offer all things steampunk

Off the Beaten Path, a bookstore and way more, is moving onto the main drag in downtown Farmington, building on its reputation as a go-to for all things steampunk.

Steampunk is an an emerging and fascinating literary genre and subculture where the Victorian era meets Sci-fi. Steampunkers participate heavily by dressing up, taking on characters and by sharing their own skills and artisan know-how in making clothing and accessories, knitting, crocheting, leather-working and turning out other artwork during Thursday Night Craft Nights at Off the Beaten Path. The same community comes together at festivals, for movie-making, exhibitions and conventions.

Off the Beaten Path's owner, Salathiel Palland, is a steampunker and mother of two. She's moving Off the Beaten Path Bookstore and Emporium less than a mile from her former location down the street on Grand River. While her special event nights, crafting sessions, pop-ups, combat exhibitions, were a major draw for the store that opened in 2010, foot traffic was minimal. The new location in the heart of downtown Farmington should change that, she says.

Th new store at 33314 Grand River will open July 13th. The front half of the store will be a bookstore with new and used selections, including H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The back half will be a stage, crafting area and emporium, she says.

"Steampunk is very DIY, Do It Yourself. "What I love about having the products in my store is they're not only from Michigan-based artisans, 80 percent of it, clothing and everything, is locally handmade. It's awesome. It's stuff you can't get with your normal mall experience or at your normal store," she says.

"My goal is to have the largest collection of steampunk clothing, accessories, and products in the state…I've i've had people come as far from Ohio, Indiana and Illinois…It's a one-stop shop for the steampunk experience."

Source: Salathiel Palland, Off the Beaten Path
Writer: Kim North Shine

Oakland Comm. College completes $6.3 million renovation

Oakland Community College  has completed a $6.34 million restoration and renovation of its Student Center on the Farmington Hills campus.

Besides making repairs to prevent years of leaks in the building, the renovations entailed new ceilings and lights and an overhaul of the campus bookstore. New study spaces were created, as was a new office for the Student LIFE programs.

A new theater and performance hall with a separate entrance were added to the building.

"We now have an ideal gathering space for our students, one that is inviting, promotes fellowship and has good study spaces," says OCC President Jacqueline Shadko.

The new student center also has display areas for students art work and graphic designs.

"It is our firm belief that an attractive campus environment not only enhances, but positively fosters the quality of the quality of the education experience for our students," Chancellor Timothy Meyer says in a statement. "Maintaining and improving our facilities would not be possible were it not for the confidence and support shown to OCC by the citizens of Oakland County, who have voted three times over the past 18 years in favor of providing OCC with the additional millage funds that make these types of projects possible.”

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Selvia Hines, marketing and communication, Oakland Community College

Grove Street to get $1.1M makeover in downtown Farmington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oakland County opens business center for entrepreneurs

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Michigan cities redevelopment ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public opinion sought on revitalization of Grand River corridor

Grand River, the rather suburban, nondescript swath of road that runs through Farmington and Farmington Hills, may be changing into a more welcoming, walkable, attractive Main Street.

The Grand River Corridor visioning process is an ongoing plan to revitalize the stretch of road between Mayfield in Farmington to 8 Mile in Farmington Hills, including parts of 8 Mile Road. The cities of Farmington and Farmington Hills are working together on a plan that could enter the construction and make-over phase as soon as October and be completed by April.

The public is invited to see the current plan and ideas on March 13, from 5-8 p.m. at the Botsford Hospital community room in Farmington Hills.

The purpose is to tie in public input to a working proposal to make Grand River a livable, working, gathering spot that's easy to navigate whether by car, bike or foot. Already about 300 ideas from business owners, city officials, planning consultants and various stakeholders have gone into the current, changing plan to rework the roadway into a more inviting commercial corridor.

“The planning team will showcase the visioning plan in written and graphic forms,” said Aaron Domini, Senior Planner with OHM Advisors. “This is the community’s chance to review the plan, provide feedback, and help shape the future of this important project."

For more information, go to www.fhgov.com/grandriver.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Nate Geinzer, assitant to Farmington Hills city manager

Peterlin's Restaurant & Bar in Farmington brings two visions, jobs

Zach Peterlin and Kim Decapite are in the dating phase of their relationship, but they've already figured out how to marry their experience into a restaurant and bar in Farmington.

Peterlin's Restaurant & Bar opened about six months ago at the corner of Farmington Road and 9 Mile "and it's been even better than we thought. You never know. Starting a business is a big gamble," Peterlin says.

He says the reasons the customers are coming have to do with value for fresh-made food, customer service that is as much a business cornerstone as the menu, and with backgrounds that he and Decapite bring to the table.

Peterlin, an honors graduate in hospitality management from Northern Michigan University and an experienced chef in corporate and independent restaurants, brings a passion for original and creative foods.

Decapite, with her experience in fine food shops such as Alban's Bottle & Basket in Birmingham and for the last eight years at Joe's Produce and Gourmet Market in Livonia, has perfected a face-to-face, customer-comes-first attitude.

"It's hard to compete with the Subways and Little Caesars and their $5 meals. But it's all processed," Peterlin says. "I think we've found the right price point and we have the quality."

Peterlin also brought with him customers he had cultivated while working as a chef for other restaurants. They chose to open in Farmington because they live there and because they knew there was market potential, he says.

Peterlin and Dicapite met during a food and wine pairing course, and decided about a year ago to go into business for themselves.

"I had gone to work for J Alexander's right out of school and learned a lot. But I wanted to try to the independent thing. So I went to work for smaller, independents. I found out I like doing the independent thing, being creative and doing something that's special, Peterlin explains. "We think we've hit the right combination: a good price point, fresh food, great customer service. In these times you have to give people value and you have to give them what's going make them come back."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Zach Peterlin, co-owner, Peterlin's Restaurant & Bar

Annoying, little bugs create growth for Rapunzel's Lice Boutique

Little lice - and the families who so desperately want to get rid of them - are responsible for the big growth of the Rapunzel's Lice Boutique, which opened its fourth salon last week in Farmington Hills.

Owner Sarah Casello-Rees, who opened the first boutique in Ann Arbor in 2009, says, "We've been doubling our growth every year."

Sure the ipads, lego tables and TVs have attracted notice for the family-oriented salons but for Rapunzel's growth has come because those pesky head bugs have built up a resistance to traditional treatments and parents want to avoid pesticides to treat a problem that can consume hours, days, weeks, looking for lice and picking nits.

The determined removal specialists at Rapunzel's use a heat treatment and manual removal, a one-time process that is guaranteed.

Rapunzel's started as a mobile operation called the Lice Brigrade in 2008.

"When we opened our first boutique we thought the name was a little too militaristic. We wanted something more comforting," says Casello-Rees.

About 15 employees work for the company and there are more job openings for removal technicians who are paid $25-$35 an hour.

Rapunzel's recently started offering a benefits package to employees.

"As an owner of the company we strive to offer outstanding customer service to the families…and what's equally important is being a good employer," Casello-Rees says.

Employees receive health care coverage and a retirement plan.

"When we started in 2008 we were at the lowest point in our economy, so to do this is no small feat…I call it a recession proof business because people are always willing to pay to get ride of their parasites," says Casello-Rees. "

The Farmington Hills location on Farmington Road opened in response to the large number of Oakland County customers traveling to other shops in other counties.

Besides the Ann Arbor location, which is on Plymouth Road, there are boutiques in Sterling Heights on Metro Parkway and in Grand Rapids.

"It's just like a salon…The only difference is we don't cut hair or wash hair….Licensed hair sons can't treat head lice or service customers with lice," she says. "The hair industry is thrilled we are here….That's where we a get lot of referrals."

And with all the amenities, "the kids love coming there."

"They sometimes ask to come back," she says. "Usually the parents aren't too keen on that."

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Sarah Casello-Rees, owner Rapunzel's Lice Boutique

Investors, DDA plan several changes to downtown Farmington

The Farmington Downtown Development Authority is working with an investment firm that specializes in repositioning old or unused yet promising commercial spaces.

At the same time that the firm, Manifold Ventures, takes over a shopping center that is anchored by TJ Maxx. Other improvements to downtown are unfolding.

Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington DDA, says Manifold Ventures, was attracted by the DDA's offers to contribute funds toward facade improvements to a closed store and by the financial assistance they offered toward the interior renovation.

"Manifold Ventures seeks to acquire buildings that exist in excellent locations but are in need of repositioning or recapitalization," says a statement distributed by Knowles. "The owners believe Farmington matches their vision of creating a walkable community with great potential."

She says as the space occupied by TJ Maxx is renovated Manifold will look for high-quality tenants that contribute to a new vision of downtown Farmington, one that's more walkable and accessible to different transportation options.

Work should begin in early spring 2013 and will coincide with improvements to Grove Street and a project that will add parking spaces to the center of downtown.

“Our vision is to help transform Farmington into a walkable neighborhood community, with integrated shopping, dining, and recreation,” Ricky Singh, Manifold Ventures principal, says.

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Annette Knowles, executive director, Farmington DDA

Painting With a Twist opens second location in downtown Farmington

The attraction of painting over a glass of wine has proven so strong that one metro Detroit business, Painting with a Twist, is thriving at a second location.

Owner Michelle Lewis has added a downtown Farmington location at 33033 Grand River Ave. Her first was in Ferndale at 320 W. 9 Mile.

Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority, says "it's a fantastic business" and part of several changes lighting up downtown Farmington's Grand River Avenue.

"Michelle Lewis is a very sharp woman," she says. "What she's done is bring a business that's serving as a destination, something we all would like to have."

Painting with a Twist pairs groups - or individuals - with an artist who teaches them how to work with a brush. Often parties are held that have the students sipping on beverages they bring. Everyone leaves with a canvas of their own creation.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director, Farmington DDA
Writer: Kim North Shine

Farmington's DDA purchases restaurant to provide development opportunity

The closing of one of Farmington's long-established restaurants is being seen as an opportunity to shape the development of the city's downtown as it moves through a resurgence.

Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington DDA, says the DDA decided to purchase the parcel that includes Dimitri's restaurant, 33200 Grand River, as a way to control what comes to the stretch of road that is downtown Farmington's Main Street. The cost: $430,000 to be paid back to the City of Farmington, which approved a loan to the DDA earlier this month.

"The DDA does have an interest in bringing something to downtown that will really add to the energy and excitement that's going on here," said Annettesaid. "We are looking to kick it up a notch…We are looking to attract a restaurant or redevelopment project that will really contribute to the progress being made."

Now the DDA is entertaining potential buyers, and Knowles is holding open houses for the spot "so people can come through casually, without pressure. One open house was Aug. 14. The next is Monday, Aug. 20, from noon to 2.

"Interest has been pretty brisk," Knowles said. "We have had numerous folks come who are interested in the restaurant component…We're still debating and discussing the options and opportunities."

The proactive development approach gives the DDA and city officials control over a crucial spot of downtown, one that is across the street from a city park and pavilion that hosts summer concerts and events throughout the year.

"It does have a good location in a central part of downtown that's accessible and walkable," Knowles says.

The restaurant is 3,000 square feet, she says, and "there's room for expansion. The building could be re-used or demolished, depending on the proposals that come in.

What's known for sure is that a parking lot will be added behind the building, part of a larger plan to improve parking options downtown, Knowles said.

"The bigger picture is there are a lot of redevelopment opportunities here," she said. "This is one we where we hope to start a major trend of investment in our community."

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

The TM Group business consultancy opens new HQ in Farmington Hills

Farmington Hills is the new headquarters of TM Group, a business technology consulting firm that has combined two of its locations into one headquarters designed to foster collaboration, and even fun, among its employees.

The 6,700-square-foot office at the Farmington Hills Corporate Campus at 12 Mile and Halstead roads brings together executive management, sales and marketing, client support, and consulting and developing under one roof.

Their new workplace combines largely naturally lit offices, meeting rooms, a training room, library, media room, contemporary kitchen and a "refresh room" where employes can watch TV, listen to music, play video games or just relax and destress, the company says in a statement announcing the newly designed headquarters.

"May began our 29th year as a highly successful Michigan-based business technology consulting firm – a tremendous milestone of achievement and a great time for us to consolidate in this new corporate headquarters.  We are one of only a handful of Microsoft Dynamics partners worldwide who have nearly three continuous decades with the same management team, product family, and with the most tenured team of certified Dynamics consultants in our area,” says Judy Thomas, president of The TM Group, which calls itself a highly acclaimed provider of Microsoft Dynamics ERP and CRM solutions.
“We made a special effort to provide a more updated environment for our team and a welcoming environment for our clients, prospects, and visitors.”

Source: Jennifer Swiderski, spokesperson, TM Group and Automation Alley
Writer: Kim North Shine

Panasonic sets up R&D center - and 60 jobs - in Farmington Hills

A Motorola facility in Farmington Hills has been vacant since it closed four years ago. Soon, however,  it will be filled with the sounds of engineers and other employees researching and developing new ways for drivers to interact with automotive sound systems.

The Panasonic Automotive Systems Co. of America will hire 60 full-time employees initially, says Teri Arbenowske, economic development director for the city of Farmington Hills, and as time goes on more will be added.

The Japanese electronics company has leased 90,000 square feet of space, previously used by Motorola, in a corporate park in the 12 Mile and Halstead area. Mercedes Benz and Greenpath are located in the same corporate park. It is renovating the space, where engineers will research and develop human machine interfaces, vehicle sound systems and electronics for electric/hybrid vehicles.

"This will be work with advanced software, testing of vehicle sound systems. The exciting thing about this is the number of jobs and the type of jobs," Arbenowske says.

The state awarded Panasonic a $500,000 Business Development Program incentive to expand its Southeast Michigan operations, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corp. It says the company is investing $8.16 million to establish the research and development center. The city is has also approved tax abatements for the project.

"They're looking for high tech jobs, skilled engineers," Arbenowske says. "That's what we really need in Michigan, is to bring more engineers in to develop new products…A lot of our grads leave Michigan and we need companies that can keep that talent here."

Mayor Barry Brickner shared his excitement over the company's arrival in a statement: "Farmington Hills is thrilled to welcome Panasonic Automotive Systems of America to our City. Panasonic will provide jobs and will create excitement and growth in the business community.”

Source: Teri Arbenowske, economic develop director, city of Farmington Hills
Writer: Kim North Shine

DIA brings art to the streets of metro Detroit communities

Art is in the streets, outside libraries, shops, restaurants, city offices, churches, banks, coffee shops, parks and many other outdoor spaces as the Detroit Institute of Arts expands its Inside/Out art project to more metro Detroit communities.

Now in its third year, the project is a way to promote art - all reproductions from the DIA's collection - while creating the reciprocal benefit of drawing visitors to the DIA to see them in person. The DIA has arranged free admission on set Sundays for residents of the communities where the outdoor art is displayed.

There are 80 works can be found in the cities of Clarkston, the Bloomfields, Eastpointe, Roseville, Farmington, Farmington Hills, the Grosse Pointes, Mount Clemens, Southfield, Taylor, Wayne and Wyandotte. Click here for locations.

The Inside/Out project is in third year, and besides installing the pieces of art outdoors it is cluster the works so that they are within walking or biking distance, generating pedestrian traffic through the communities with the open air galleries.

The DIA is working with the communities to plan bicycle and walking tours.

Source: Detroit Institute of Arts
Writer: Kim North Shine

LTU students re-imagine a struggling suburban shopping center

A project by students at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield has focused on how to revive one struggling corner of a major intersection at 8 Mile and Grand River, just one of many examples of shopping centers that have gone dark as population and business has shifted to outlying suburbs. The intersection is a meeting point of Detroit, Livonia, Farmington Hills and Southfield.

In conceptualizing how the corner would be best re-used, the students working under the direction of Ralph Nunez and Mark Nickita decided to connect a new development to Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills. They also decided to make the river that runs west of the property one focal point, rather than a hidden, missed opportunity.

"The shopping center there has basically gone dark," except for one restaurant, the Nibble Nook, Nunez says.

Along with Nickita, who is also mayor of Birmingham and an architect and urban planner, Nunez took suggestions for sites to redevelop from the 8 Mile Boulevard Association, a nonprofit focused on revitalizing the mile road that splits Detroit from the suburbs. The university and the association have worked together in the past, bringing students real-life situations to learn from and giving the community a potential real-world revitalization.

Ideally, such projects could be put into practice, eliminating the ramp-up time and expenses of pre-planning for professional redevelopment. James R. Smith, corporate director of planning & business development for Botsford Health Care, was among the jurors who critiqued the final concepts designed by the 12-14 students.

The students, playing architects, city planners, market researchers and more, had to determine whether to demolish what's there and start over, to completely renovate and work with the building now there or redevelop the property with a combo of demolition and renovation. They chose the last approach. They designed plans with consideration for pedestrian use, parking, amenities to attract workers from the hospital or nearby businesses, and more. They decided to dedicate a portion for senior housing and make the rest professional offices, retail, and physical therapy practices. In addition, they wanted to build on the work of nearby cities to make the river more of a useful attraction, Nunez says.

Tami Salisbury, executive director of 8 Mile Boulevard Association (8MBA), says the proposals, which included reconfiguring roads to join the property to the medical center, were impressive. Salisbury and Smith, from Botsford, were jurors on the proposals. 8MBA provided potential project locations for the students. The organization has also worked with other universities.

"We're a nonprofit so the price is right," she says. "And what's nice is students come to us with a fresh perspective and new thinking."

While development money is tight, she says, "the next step is to put our heads together so we can make the students' vision a reality."

Source: Ralph Nunez, adjunct professor, Lawrence Technological University, and Tami Salisbury, executive director, 8 Mile Boulevard Association
Writer: Kim North Shine

Streets for all. Designing cities that welcome all forms of transportation

Streets for everyone. The Michigan Complete Streets initiative gained momentum in 2011 in metro Detroit and around the state as cities enacted changes or made plans to design roads and sidewalks that take pedestrians, cyclists and drivers into account. The Michigan's Complete Streets movement got props for being a role model nationwide. Separately from Complete Streets, cities and various nonprofits worked on the same goal: streets that accommodate all. It's been a process playing out for a few years now so expect to see more bike lanes, new style crosswalks and other changes coming to a town near you.

Michigan is national leaders in street design that serves cars, bikes and pedestrians
http://www.metromodemedia.com/devnews/0317micompletestreets0201.aspx

Streetscape grants from Royal Oak's WA3 help unify Woodward Corridor
http://www.metromodemedia.com/devnews/woodwardcorrgrants0194.aspx

Royal Oak's non-motorized transportation plan is out for public feedback
http://www.metromodemedia.com/devnews/1110royaloakwalkride0232.aspx

Walkers, cyclists may like changes coming to Grosse Pointe, Dearborn
http://www.metromodemedia.com/devnews/0901fedtransgrants0223.aspx

By Kim North Shine

$100,000 grant + $100,000 donation = 850 new trees in Oakland County

A grant of $100,000 and a donation of the same amount from ITC Holdings, a Novi company, are helping Oakland County green things up a bit.

Some 850 trees are being planted in 20 locations around Oakland County, part of a greening of the county master plan, says Bret Rasegan, supervisor, Oakland County Planning and Development.

"It's a way to support our green infrastructure vision," Rasegan says. A countywide inventory of greenspaces has been completed and used for a map that shows how a system could be interconnected, he says.

The grant, part of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, comes through the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and will pay for the planting of trees along the Rouge Watershed in the cities of Novi, West Bloomfield and Farmington Hills.

ITC, or International Transmission Company, is the largest independently-owned electricity transmission company in the nation, and it decided to give a boost to the grant by pitching in a $100,000 contribution.

Because of the donation from ITC, the county can plant more than double the number of trees it had hoped to with the grant, Rasegan says.

The trees will be planted in parks, along roadways and roundabouts, at a dog park, golf course and municipal complexes.

Source: Bret Rasegan, supervisor, Oakland County Planning & Development
Writer: Kim North Shine

5 Metro Detroit cities share in $1.06M grant for new lighting tech

Light bulbs that are part of a million-dollar-plus investment from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation could flip the switch on job creation, energy savings and environmental protection.

Through the MEDC's Advanced Lighting Technology Demonstration grants, 14 Michigan communities are sharing the $1,066,429 pool. They're committing to updating their bulbs to higher tech, energy saving designs and, when possible, to buying them from Michigan manufacturers. The object is to save money (taxpayer dollars) on energy costs, prevent greenhouse gases by replacing old-style inefficient bulbs and create jobs that involve the nuts and bolts of updating, replacing and maintaining the new bulbs.

Melanie McCoy, general manager of Wyandotte's municipal services department, says the LED project will be completed in tandem with a solar panel installation on city buildings.

"What we're going to do is actually a fabulous project," she says.

The $100,000 grant will pay for part of a project to replace existing street lamps and pedestrian walkway lights along a path that leads from the public library, down Biddle Avenue through downtown and up Eureka Road for several blocks to the high school.

The project, which will go out to bid as soon as the city searches for Michigan companies that can benefit, will be completed by next July. At the same time the city will use its own funds to add solar power generators to the library and a water department building.

"This is a combination of a renewable energy project together with an energy efficiency project," McCoy says.

MEDC President and CEO Michael A. Finney says in a statement announcing the award of the grants that "the energy and cost savings benefits plus the maintenance savings due to the longer life of the lamps are impressive with the newer technology lighting that's now available. These benefits are more important than ever to local governments in reducing operating expenses."
 
"In addition, manufacturing of advanced lighting technologies is a growing industry in Michigan and has the potential to create a new source of jobs and investment for local and state economies."

The types of lighting to be used in the government facilities and on public transportation vehicles include LEDs, or light emitting diodes, AKA solid state lighting; induction lighting, and plasma lighting.

The recipients of the grants must collect data and report their energy savings, cost savings, jobs created. The Michigan Energy Office will require that funded grantees regularly collect, track, and report metrics data related to energy savings, cost savings, jobs created and emissions reductions.

Besides Wyandotte, other metro Detroit recipients are Roseville, $81,074; Hazel Park, $50,150; Farmington Hills, $81,405; and Detroit, $100,000.

Source: Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Melanie McCoy, city of Wyandotte
Writer: Kim North Shine

DTE Energy's community gardens expand

DTE Energy's community gardens are growing by four acres and possibly hundreds of new volunteers this year.

Farming season for the 10 DTE Energy Gardens kicked off in Southfield earlier this week, starting a multi-faceted project that provides food to Gleaners Community Food Bank. The gardens also offer volunteers the opportunity to get involved in their communities, to get more exercise and to learn about gardening. The gardens also serve as aesthetic buffers around DTE facilities.

Last year, the 10 gardens produced 44,000 pounds of food for Gleaners and its food banks. With extra land and more volunteers - as many as 1,000 total - the amount of food grown is expected to increase this year, DTE Spokesman Scott Simons says.

DTE Energy and Gleaners started the program at two electric substations in 2008 and have since expanded to company properties in Allen Park, Birmingham, Farmington Hills, Frenchtown Township, Plymouth Township, Pontiac, Southfield, Lyon Township, Washington Township and Westland.

Source: Scott Simons, spokesman, DTE Energy
Writer: Kim North Shine

Six Oakland County Main Streets ace their tests

What does it take to be declared a perfect downtown Main Street?

Six Oakland County communities have been told they're perfect when it comes to their Main Streets and carrying out the mission of working to make their core go-to destinations for great shopping, eating, working and living and community gathering places.

Farmington, Ferndale, Lake Orion, Ortonville, Oxford and Rochester all received perfect 10 out of 10 scores on their accreditation from the National Main Street Center in Washington, D.C..

Each community has its own character: Ferndale with its eclectic, hipster vibe, Rochester with its upscale feel mixed with history, and all the rest their local style and appeal.

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson recognized the accomplishments of the Oakland County Main Street programs (half a billion in investment in 11 years) last week at the Rust Belt Market on Woodward and 9 Mile in Ferndale, a poignant example of concerted DDA efforts to keep Main Streets thriving.

"The perfect scores attained by these six Main Street communities in their annual evaluation attests to the hard work of many in our downtown areas involved with our Main Street Oakland County program," Patterson says in a statement. "This is a wonderful and well-deserved recognition."

The 10 criteria for scoring were:
Broad-based community support for downtown revitalization
A clear mission and vision statement for the downtown
A downtown revitalization work plan
A historic preservation ethic recognizing the importance of sense of place
A downtown management organization
An adequate operating budget
Paid professional program manager
Ongoing training for staff and volunteers
Reporting of key investment statistics
National Main Street membership

Oakland County was the first county in the United States to operate a county-wide Main Street program, Main Street Oakland County.

Main Street is a trademarked program of the National Main Street Center in Washington, D.C. In addition to the perfect score recipients, members of Main Street Oakland County are: Franklin, Highland, Holly, Pontiac, and Walled Lake. Berkley, Clarkston, Clawson, Hazel Park, Leonard, South Lyon, and Waterford are in the Main Street Oakland County mentoring program.

Since Main Street Oakland County's formation in 2000, there has been more than $560 million of new investment in Main Street Oakland County communities, over 5,100 jobs created, 551 new businesses opened, and almost 170,000 volunteer hours logged, according to the county.

Source: Pam Tremble, executive assistant, Oakland County
Writer: Kim North Shine

Oakland Community College invests $1.3 million in campus improvements

As enrollment hits record levels at Oakland Community College, it is investing in improvements to campus facilities.

The latest project, $1.3 million, will pay for improvements at the Orchard Ridge campus in Farmington Hills and the Royal Oak campus.

In Farmington Hills, exterior sealant and glazing on bricks will be replaced while the other project will replace lintels and brick masonry supports above doors at three buildings.

In Royal Oak, a shower is being converted into a science lab and multipurpose classroom and one of two parking structures on the edge of downtown will receive a new payment system on the first floor.

"We have in excess of 29,000 students enrolled, the highest we've ever registered," says George Cartsonis, director of communications for OCC.

Oakland Community College has five campuses and is the largest community college in Michigan -- 25th largest in the U.S., Cartsonis adds.

Source: George Cartsonis, director of communications, Oakland Community College
Writer: Kim North Shine

Smart meters spreading across Oakland County

Installation of high-tech electric meters that will change the way DTE Energy receives power usage information and increase customers' control over energy use has begun in Oakland County.

Over the next several months about 350,000 meters will be placed at homes and businesses in 25 communities: Berkley, Beverly Hills, Bingham Farms, Birmingham, Clawson, Farmington, Farmington Hills, Ferndale, Franklin, Hazel Park, Huntington Woods, Lathrup Village, Madison Heights, Northville, Novi, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Rochester Hills, Royal Oak, Royal Oak Township, Southfield, Southfield Township, Troy, Walled Lake, and Wixom.

This portion of the installation of the "smart" meters come at a cost of about $168 million, half of it from a Smart Grid Investment Grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The meters will form what DTE Energy is calling "the backbone" of its SmartCurrents program. DTE's matching $84 million grant helps achieve a nationwide effort to update the country's electrical grid.

The meters will provide detailed information about energy usage directly to DTE, recognize power outages without customer input, and allow DTE to quickly locate and repair outages and other service problems. The meters will nearly eliminate estimated billing and allow for service to be remotely connected or disconnected rather than requiring appointments with  technicians.

In addition, technology will be wired into the meters to allow customers to better manage their energy usage and bills. The SmartCurrents technology can be tied to similarly "smart" appliances, thermostats, and such. The DOE funding will allow DTE Energy to offer an in-home display product and special thermostats to nearly 1,500 customers. Check out smartcurrents.com for more information.

DTE has installed about 250,000 meters so far in Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township, Commerce Township, Grosse Ile, Harsen's Island, and West Bloomfield Township. By early 2012 a total of about 600,000 meters will have been installed.

Source: Scott Simons, spokesman, DTE Energy
Writer: Kim North Shine


Main Street Oakland recognizes top downtown projects

An assortment of projects, seen as prime examples for how to carve out thriving a downtown, are winners of the 2011 Main Street Oakland Awards.

Among the more than 25 winners were:

The Farmington DDA's Grand River Avenue Streetscape Promotion Campaign, which won the Outstanding Brand & Imaging Campaign Effort/Strategy.

In the design category, Patti's Place in Lake Orion won Outstanding Facade/Building Rehabilitation Award for projects between $10,000 and $50,000. The Village Mall in Farmington won the same award for a project of more than $50,000.

Ferndale took home several awards, including the Pedestrian Alley Project, a cooperative effort between the city, the DDA, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Foley & Mansfield, which won the Outstanding Private/Public Partnership Award. The Lofts on 9 in Ferndale won the Outstanding New Construction Project Award and the Ferndale DDA won the Special Achievement award, in addition to businesses that took home awards.

Creekfest in Ortonville won the Outstanding Special Event Award.

A Special Partnership Award went to Pontiac Mayor Leon Jukowski, the Pontiac DDA and the Pontiac Downtown Business Association.

The Outstanding Core Area Downtown Master Plan went to the Walled Lake DDA Design Committee and Beckett & Raeder, Inc. for the Walled Lake DDA Lakefront Area Framework Plan.

Main Street is a program of the national Main Street Center in Washington, D.C.

Farmington, Ferndale, Franklin, Highland, Holly, Lake Orion, Ortonville, Oxford, Pontiac, Rochester, and Walled Lake are MSOC communities. Berkley, Clarkston, Clawson, Hazel Park, Leonard, South Lyon and Waterford participate in the mentoring program.

Oakland County was the first in the U.S. to operate a county-wide Main Street program that works with 32 downtowns deemed to be distinct or historic. Since Main Street Oakland began in 2000, according to the county, there has been $560 million in investment in 11 downtowns, more than 5,000 jobs created, and 529 businesses established.

For more information or a complete list of 2011 Main Street Oakland Award winners, go to www.mainstreetoaklandcounty.com.

Source: Stephen Huber, Oakland County Economic Development and Community Affairs
Writer: Kim North Shine

Virtual 8 Mile shows sky-high views of the 3D street-level

Technology and marketing are converging in a push to promote business, transportation, and commercial development along 8 Mile.

If Virtual 8 Mile, an application developed by the Eight Mile Boulevard Association and Plymouth-based Luna Tech Designs, goes as planned the 27-mile corridor can be viewed on a 3D virtual interface using Google Earth.

Ideally, visitors to the site can zoom in on member businesses, which also will get Google priority listings during searches for businesses of their type.

The $5,000 in funding for the application came from the Michigan Dept of Transportation.

Virtual 8 Mile will also show visitors development possibilities and real estate opportunities, including details and photos of available land and property, along the stretch of road that cuts through Wayne and Oakland counties.

In addition, the site shows improvement projects, including facade renovations and median gardens, and public transportation routes and other information that can make patronizing a business or starting one easier.

For a business such as the Belmont Shopping Center, which now is viewable by visitors, "it is another way to promote an existing tenant mix and is also a business attraction tool for vacancies," says Tami Salisbury, executive director of the 8 Mile Boulevard Association.

The 13 communities bordering the Eight Mile corridor, which spans Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, stand to gain from increased exposure, Salisbury says.

"It really is a snapshot of 8 Mile, what's going on there and the potential that is there," Salisbury says.

In a larger sense, she says, the project helps the association in its mission to change the reputation, accurate or not, that 8 Mile Road is a has-been.

"It's equally as important to change the mental landscape as it is to change the physical landscape," Salisbury says. "We are changing mental perceptions people have of 8 Mile by showing them these physical transformations."

Source: Tami Salisbury, executive director, Eight Mile Boulevard Association
Writer: Kim North Shine

Oakland County makes energy efficient upgrades, saves $4 million

Window replacements, new weather stripping, new heating systems, and heating and cooling system management are all energy efficient improvements that Oakland County plans to make in its buildings.

And with those improvements, savings are estimated at $627,000 a year on utility bills for those buildings, according to a recent audit.

Art Holdsworth, director of facilities management for the county, says that although the audit turned up significant potential savings and improvements, it also determined that the county was already doing a lot of things right. "The audit was very complementary to the campus and what we've been doing here. We've gone a long way toward green activities and energy conservation."

The $200,000 audit, done a few months ago, was paid for by a $4.8 million Energy Efficiency and Conversation Block Grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy. More than $3.5 million worth of energy retrofit projects were identified, of which at least $2.5 million will be covered by the grant.

Some examples of pending projects include tightening building envelopes through new weather stripping, new windows, and additional insulation; replacing inefficient heating and cooling systems; replacing light bulbs; and improving energy monitoring systems, such as controlling on and off times for heating and cooling.

Holdsworth says the Dept. of Energy likes to have EECBG recipients using half their funds by the end of June, so over the next few months, the county will issue requests for proposal for the projects.

"Clearly the energy savings is very important because the county and local governments are seeing their revenues plummet, property devaluation, and so on," he says. "At the same time, if we can be environmentally friendly on top of the energy savings, and pursue them both hand in hand, then that's a real win-win."

With other energy management technology, Oakland County has already saved about $4 million in utility bills over the last few years. These energy savings are part of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson's OakGreen Program and Challenge announced in May to encourage local governments, businesses and residents to reduce their energy consumption 10 percent by the end of 2012. For more information on the OakGreen Program and Challenge, click here.

Source: Art Holdsworth, Director of Facilities Management, Oakland County
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Diversifying economy boosts Oakland County's bond rating

Seven years ago, Oakland County executive L. Brooks Patterson saw a headline proclaiming that 200,000 jobs had left Michigan. He turned his director of economic development onto a research project: look into what new sectors of business were being developed.

By the next year, they had a program - Emerging Sectors, dedicated to growing new economy jobs.

Now, six years after that program took effect, the county is reaping awards in addition to the jobs now in place -- Emerging Sectors was among the reasons the county's AAA bond rating was reaffirmed on the $3 million Bloomfield Township Combined Sewer Overflow Drainage District bonds and $1.2 million Highland Township Well Water Supply System bonds.

What this means for the taxpayer is millions of dollars in savings. With a higher rating, there's less interest on the bonds, and taxpayers end up paying less. "It's a reflection of the confidence by Wall Street of how Oakland County is managing in these tough times," Patterson says.

And, "It gives me as an elected official bragging rights," he jokes.

Through Emerging Sectors, the county focused on growing the health care sector and worked to diversify the county's job base. "When we're done, we won't be recession proof, but we will be recession resistant because we have diversified our economy among many sectors," he says. "Wall Street saw that."

"It's proof that we can and we will manage our way through these very tough times," he says.

The sale of bonds was approved earlier this year for inspection and rehabilitation of the Bloomfield Township system; the Highland Township system will see 6,500 feet of new water main to connect two well water systems.

Source: L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County executive
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Farmington Hills to dedicate greener City Hall next week

Farmington Hills' new city hall -- with a range of energy-efficient features -- will be shown off at an open house and re-dedication ceremony next week.

The celebration comes after an 18-month renovation of what had been a hodge-podge of buildings and additions to the original 1950s building. It hardly made for efficient working or energy-saving conditions. The new city hall boasts a laundry list of new, green features -- glass, skylights and translucent wall panels to let in daylight; a 40-well geothermal heating system; solar thermal hot water heating; solar photovoltaic system; a green roof; native landscaping; and many other features.

"We tried to make this building as sustainable as our budget would allow," says city management assistant Nate Geinzer. "Using less energy also saves us money, and allows us to use those dollars in other places."

He estimates that the project is about 95 percent complete, with a few punch list items still to be taken care of. No cost savings quite yet, but models of the project estimate the city will save about $30,000 in energy annually off of the previous average of $80,000 each year. The heating system is also estimated to be 68 percent more efficient.

The project came in just under the $8 million budget, with the solar photovoltaic panels covered by a block grant, and the rest allocated by the city over time so as not to raise taxes. The price works out to have about a 20-year payback with energy savings, according to the models.

Geinzer says the old building, built in the 1950s, had leaky roofs and old wood windows -- "You could practically fly a kite in the office," he jokes. Plus, between the original building and six or seven different additions over the years, he estimated, the hall used 14 different HVAC systems. "That alone was worth going to one geothermal system," he says.

The city hall also serves as a means to educate the public and to give them ideas about what they can do in their own homes, he says. He hopes to track energy savings live on the city's Web site and via other informational postings throughout the hall.

The public space has also seen other improvements, including wider corridors, and the work space is more efficiently organized.

The city is working toward LEED gold certification for the project; the design submissions are in and construction items are soon to be submitted. The city will probably know by early next year whether the building has accumulated enough points.

The re-dedication will be next Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 5:00 p.m. The city hall is at 31555 Eleven Mile Road at Orchard Lake Road, and has public parking access from both Eleven Mile and Orchard Lake roads. To learn more, click here.

Source: Nate Geinzer, Farmington Hills management assistant
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Local sculptor sees his "Pyramid Earth" relocated to Oakland Comm College

Local artist and Oakland Community College faculty member Kegham Tazian is leaving his mark on his employer, after an art piece of his was moved to the Orchard Ridge Campus.

Tazian, a Farmington Hills resident and also the first art faculty member hired by the Orchard Ridge Campus more than 40 years ago, created the eight-foot tall "Pyramid Earth" for TRW Automotive, an auto supplier in Sterling Heights, about 15 years ago. When the plant closed, one of his students happened to know someone who worked there, and was able to connect the piece to his art professor. That student, Charlie Neff, paid for the sculpture's transportation and granite base, Tazian says.

The sculpture is an interpretation of the globe, a relief of the western hemisphere on an upright background.

Tazian says everyone wants to leave their mark, whether it's helping others or creating something that will be around long after you're gone, and art is how he does so. Plus, being on display at a college gives more people the chance to enjoy it, he says.

"I think it enhances the environment," he says of public art.

Tazian teaches sculpture, painting, design, and drawing among his classes at OCC. He has other pieces on display at the college and throughout metro Detroit, including the Farmington Hills Library and St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Dearborn.

Source: Kegham Tazian, artist and Oakland Community College professor
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Farmington Hills offers green building incentives

The city of Farmington Hills wants to share its wealth and make homes and businesses more energy-efficient in the meantime.

Federal funding is still available for property owners looking to make environmentally sound improvements. The stimulus money came from the
U.S. Dept of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program, with the purpose of reducing fossil fuel emissions and total energy use and improving energy efficiency.

"There's a broad range of improvements that qualify for the program," says city management assistant Nate Geinzer. Those include heat pumps, hot water heaters, new windows, and other technologies. "We know as exciting as energy efficiency can be in a home -- the idea of reducing energy costs appeals to most people -- economy-wise, not everybody has the capital to invest. Our EECBG funds provide a little extra incentive to take these measures."

The city has been getting multiple applications per week, he says, and had awarded $14,000 by the end of last quarter since its launch in December. He expects there will be money to award through the busy fall season, even with an onslaught of people tightening up their homes for winter.

Farmington Hills has also set aside money to fund energy audits, although those have been of less interest; Geinzer believes families with limited amounts of money to spend on energy efficiency would invest in a product before an audit. "But for homeowners who know there's a lot to do in a home, but don't know where the best dollars could be spent, an energy audit is a good way to go," he points out.

The city received a total of $791,300 from the Department of Energy, of which it set aside about $50,000 for its energy efficiency improvement incentive program, as well as a separate fund for its building energy audit incentive program. Other improvements include renewable energy and energy enhancements at city hall, the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office, and public information dissemination.

Download an application
here.

Source: Nate Geinzer, management assistant for the City of Farmington Hills
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Numerous construction projects recognized with Engineering Society of Detroit awards

Social significance and innovation are part of what made several local construction projects stand out enough that they were recognized by the Engineering Society of Detroit.

The Construction and Design awards are awarded annually to projects either located in Michigan or built by local companies. The projects were selected based on the quality of the overall design; use of unique engineering solutions; innovative construction techniques and sustainable design; use of environmentally safe products; and economic and social impact.

In the metro area, award recipients were the College for Creative Studies'
Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education (Detroit) and JARC's Nusbaum House (Farmington Hills), a group home for adults with disabilities. Robert Stevenson, chair of the committee in charge of selecting the winners and senior vice-president of GHAFARI Associates, says CCS's building was socially significant because of its location in Detroit and the schools involved. "From a design standpoint, it was well done," he says. "Some of the things they did were interesting, like how they brought in light, how they handled utilities."

Recognized with honorable mentions were
Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital and Wayne State University's Marvin I. Danto Engineering Development Center in Detroit. Wayne State's engineering building includes outdoor walls that actually lean inward from the top down, but Stevenson says what also makes that building interesting is its housing of high-tech testing. "It's important because it's an important research center here in southeast Michigan," he says. "And then to put that on a college campus and make it look good -- we thought that was a challenge."

Winners from the last few years have had a focus on green and sustainable features. Since the awards are given by a peer group of other architects, that will hopefully foster more innovation, Stevenson says. Teamwork also plays a large part, and that's why the owner, contractor, and designer are all recognized. "We're not an (American Institute of Architects) award -- it's not a beauty contest," he says. "We're looking beyond the skin."

Source: Robert Stevenson, Engineering Society of Detroit award committee chair
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Greenpath Debt Solutions begins construction on new Farmington Hills HQ

The ground is broken and the construction fences are up around the site of the future home for GreenPath Debt Solutions.

The non-profit that specializes in financial counseling (think dealing with bankruptcy or foreclosure) is building a new headquarters in Farmington Hills, not far from its existing headquarters on 12 Mile Road. It will house the company's 400 employees, with enough room to accommodate foreseeable growth.

The four-story building
will be situated on a 10.5-acre plot just east of Halstead on the south side of 12 Mile Road. The planned 125,000 square-foot structure will house both the non-profit's headquarters and call center, and will come complete with high ceilings to deaden noise.

GreenPath is going for LEED certification by incorporating lots of natural light in the building and preserving a two-acre wetland on the property. The structure was designed by Harley Ellis Devereaux. Work is expected to take up to a year to complete.

Source: GreenPath Debt Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Q&A with Ron Campbell on the Oak Street Fair

Preserving and improving existing building stock will be a central theme to this year's Oak Street Fair in Hazel Park. The event will focus on helping Oakland County's urban stakeholders revitalize their neighborhoods through sustainable rehabilitation and playing to the area's strengths, such as its local character.

The free event will be held in Scout Park from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Ron Campbell, a principal planner/preservation architect for Oakland County Planning & Economic Development, is helping organize the event and Oakland County's Oak Street program. He agreed to answer a few questions over email about the event and preservation of the region's housing stock.

In a sentence or two, could you sum up what people attending the Oak Street Fair could come away with in regards to improving their home and their neighborhood?

Oak Street and the Oak Street House is a generic term that we are applying to any house built before 1960. We want these home owners to realize that their homes are unique. The issue of keeping and maintaining a house built in 1890 is going to be different than it will be for a house built in 1930, which will be different than for a house built in 1950. Homeowners should come away understanding that maintenance and repair can be very cost effective and there are resources available from experts who understand and have worked with older homes, which is far different than new construction. We want to build a resource bank of knowledgeable and skilled people to share with homeowners.

Metro Detroit's urban housing stock is aging and in many cases crossing the century mark, but many of its building and housing policies, practices, and even conventional wisdom are geared toward new housing. Could you name one policy or idea that either already is or could help bring more of a focus on making the most of the building stock that we have?

A good example that comes to mind is Oakland County's Oak Street program. The primary purpose of Oak Street is to make homeowners and local officials more aware of the economic and social value embodied in established neighborhoods. Also, there are many existing programs/movements focusing on the existing housing stock. The Community Development Block Grant Funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has also provided focus to the importance of existing neighborhoods and homes. But by far the best-known one is the green movement or sustainable design. If it makes sense to recycle soda cans and bottles, how much more sense does it make to recycle our buildings. The greenest house in America today is one that you don't have to build –because it already exists. Building green is more than using Energy Star appliances and bamboo flooring. It is far more environmentally friendly to repair than replace. Fairgoers will find exhibitors to show how you can be green, save money, and have curbside appeal for your home.

Historic preservation is a term that everyone in Metro Detroit seems to easily identify with but is not the best at when it comes to practicing its ideas. The state also recently passed enhanced historical preservation incentives. How much of an impact could these incentives have on making local stakeholders more preservation inclined?

There are various incentives for historic homes, including tax credits, which are effective for those stakeholders, but those incentives apply only to a very small percentage of the existing housing stock. While historic preservation is a component and tool within the Oak Street program, Oak Street is more of a smart rehab program than a historic preservation program. We would certainly advise homeowners to the principals of historic preservation when they repair and remodel their homes; but it would be more with an eye to the economic and environmental sense it makes. The more we can help people realize the extent of the investment our neighborhoods represent and the benefit that we all receive when that investment and unique character that distinguishes their house or neighborhood from others is protected, then the more new and innovative programs will be available to help this larger population.

Name an idea, policy, or mindset from elsewhere that you would like to see this region adopt?

We don't have to go too far to find examples of strong and vibrant neighborhoods. They are sprinkled throughout this region. What helps neighborhoods stand out comes from the housing stock being maintained and the intrinsic character of the houses and neighborhood being preserved. Recognizing what the important features and character are is difficult to put a finger on, but it includes everything from architectural style to walkability. Oak Street is envisioned to help homeowners and neighborhoods discover theirs and provide the means to protect it.

Source: Ron Campbell, principal planner/preservation architect for Oakland County Planning & Economic Development
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland, Macomb counties push forward green programs

Oakland and Macomb counties are pushing toward a more sustainable government with a recent spate of announcements for environmentally friendly programs. Those programs include a website dedicated to information activities on sustainability, cutting energy costs through efficiency improvements, and challenging local residents and businesses to cut energy use by 10 percent within the next two years.

That last one is called the OakGreen Challenge and was issued by Oakland County Executive L Brooks Patterson just before the county's second annual Green Summit in mid-May.

The program is similar to Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje's Green Energy Challenge. That initiative, announced in 2005, calls for Ann Arbor to use 20 percent green energy by 2010 for municipal operations and by 2015 for the whole city. The city is now on a path to reach 30 percent green energy usage by the end of the year.

Not to be left out of the energy efficiency fun is Macomb County, which recently announced that it has saved taxpayers $44,400 in energy costs through implementing energy efficient improvements. Those savings took place in the first two months of contracting electrical power from First Energy for nine buildings that draw power from its main powerhouse, plus the Administration Building. The savings are projected to hit $600,000 over the next two years.

Macomb County also recently launched Green Macomb, a website dedicated to green initiatives and information. Think of the efforts being undertaken to create everything from energy efficiencies to clean water initiatives.

Source: Oakland and Macomb counties
Writer: Jon Zemke

Main St Oakland County marks $540M in investment

For those who think of sprawlville development in Sticks Township when Oakland County comes is mentioned, keep the county's main street program in mind.

Main Street Oakland County recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with some impressive numbers in its 11 downtowns.

  • $540 million of investment
  • More than 4,000 jobs created
  • 407 new business established
  • Over 2.7 million square feet of floor space (primarily retail)  constructed
  • $6 million-plus in cash sponsorships for events and programs
  • More than 129,000 volunteer hours

And those downtowns don't include two of the county's most vibrant – Birmingham and Royal Oak. Main Street Oakland County includes downtowns in Farmington, Ferndale, Franklin, Highland, Holly, Lake Orion, Ortonville, Oxford, Pontiac, Rochester and Walled Lake.

It's all part of Oakland County Executive L Brooks Patterson's vision of diversifying the economy so it can become more resistant to economic downturns.

"In his (Patterson's) mind he calls it balance," says Bob Donohue, program director for Main Street Oakland County. "In my mind it's called the right focus."

He adds that developing and redeveloping property and businesses in the county's urban centers is a "key part" of its overall economic policy. Accomplishing this includes creating a sustainable environment that emphasizes making the most of a downtown's assets through practices like historic preservation.

For instance, Main Street Oakland County communities generated $19 million in new investment and attracted 19 businesses that created more than 300 jobs last year. Although the construction of 11 new buildings played a part, the renovation of 237 others proved to be the main driver of that economic opportunity.

Source: Bob Donohue, program director for Main Street Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington Hills' Riley Skatepark wins design award

Riley Skatepark is earning mainstream props after becoming an instant hit with the skating crowd when it opened last summer.

The Farmington Hills-based skatepark received a Facility Design Award from the Michigan Recreation & Park Association. The award recognizes the skatepark's innovative design, functionality, aesthetics, and positive community impact. It also helps that there isn't a comparable skatepark within reasonable driving distance.

"There really is nothing in the Midwest that compares to it," says Bryan Farmer, recreation superintendent for Farmington Hills.

Riley Skatepark goes beyond the typical concrete hills, ramps, and rails that dominate the stereotypical skate parks in the Midwest. Riley has an eight-foot-tall cylinder that resembles a sewer pipe built into the ground instead of above it and a variety of in-ground features resembling concrete pits and ditches. The idea is to give the park a "West Coast" feel that most local skaters have yet to experience in Metro Detroit.

The 29,000-square-foot venue is the newest attraction at Founders Sports Park at 35500 Eight Mile Road between Gill and Halstead roads, near the Farmington Hills Ice Arena. It attracts about 150 people a day and hosts a number of skateboarding events. A national competition is set to take place there in 2011.

"Pretty much all day long there are people there," Farmer says.

Source: Bryan Farmer, recreation superintendent for Farmington Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Grand Dry Cleaners gets ready to open in Farmington

Grand Dry Cleaners expects to move into its new home on Grand River Avenue in downtown Farmington by the end of the month, now that construction is largely finished on the Grand Building.

The ground floor of the 6,300
-square-foot structure will serve as its home while the second floor will house three loft-like apartments. There will also be one indoor parking space for one of the apartments. Those are expected to open up later this year.

St. Clair Shores-based Infuz Limited Architects designed the brick-clad building, which is set to serve as a principal piece of the eastern entrance to downtown Farmington. Its two tall stories, balconies, corner entrance, and tower-like features promise to make it one of downtown's marquee buildings.

The building is coming online shortly after Farmington finished the first phase of its streetscape project along the eastern half of Grand River.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority and Grand Dry Cleaners.
Writer: Jon Zemke

GreenPath plans to build new HQ in Farmington Hills

GreenPath Debt Solutions is building a new headquarters in Farmington Hills not far from its existing headquarters on 12 Mile Road.

The non-profit that specializes in financial counseling (think dealing with bankruptcy or foreclosure) plans to build the new structure so it can house the company's 400 employees. That's enough room to accommodate the organization's expected growth for the foreseeable future.

The 4-story building will be 125,000 square feet and sit on a 10.5-acre plot just east of Halstead on the south side of 12 Mile Road. It will house both the non-profit's headquarters and call center, and will come complete with high ceilings to deaden noise and lots of natural light.

GreenPath plans to go for LEED certification. Among the green features is the preservation of a two-acre wetland on the property.

GreenPath has contracted Harley Ellis Devereaux to design the building and is in discussions with Steelcase to provide furnishings. Construction is set to begin in March and to take one year to complete.

Source: Andrew K Johnson, 
communications and public relations manager for GreenPath Debt Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington Hills promotes green building incentives

Federal stimulus funds are making Farmington Hills a more sustainable community. The city is offering green building and sustainability incentives for local residents and businesses.

"We know we can't do it by ourselves," says Nate Geinzer, management assistant for the city of Farmington Hills.

The city's new Energy Efficiency Incentive Program is trying to reduce fossil fuel emissions and total energy use by creating more energy efficiency in the building, transportation, and other sectors.

The program is designed to empower residents and businesses to make informed decisions regarding energy efficiency improvements through a comprehensive energy audit. It will provide cash incentives to those interested in conducting the audits or installing eligible energy efficient or renewable energy products in existing buildings. Think Energy Star appliances, solar panels, insulation, and everything else that makes someone want to hug a tree.

It will also provide an extra incentive to individuals putting off needed improvements due to financial or other reasons, and expand the market for advanced energy efficiency and renewable energy technology.

For information on the program, call the Farmington Hills Green Efforts Committee or the Farmington Hills Building Division at 248-871-2450 or click here.

Source: Nate Geinzer, management assistant for the city of Farmington Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Transit update: PBS documentary, investment, and Farmington Hills

Mass transit in Metro Detroit is taking a couple of baby steps forward.

First, the Farmington Hills City Council decided not to leave SMART, instead putting the question of whether to remain a member of the transit agency to voters in August.

"It was frustrating that they felt they needed to even debate this since they have been a part of SMART for so long," says Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United, a local mass transit advocacy non-profit. "But they did realize that transit is part of the community and something it couldn't do without."

Secondly, a new PBS documentary about mass transit in Metro Detroit called Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City examines how Detroit, a grim symbol of America's diminished status in the world, may come to represent the future of transportation and progress in America. It asks whether it is time to fundamentally change the way Detroiters — and by extension all Americans — get around.

Third, the latest data on stimulus spending show that investment in mass transit has created twice as many jobs as investment in highways. The analysis from Smart Growth America shows that every billion dollars spent on public transportation created 16,419 jobs, in comparison to 8,781 for highways.

Source: Megan Owens, executive director
of Transportation Riders United
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland County receives $1M federal brownfield grant

--This article originally appeared on May 28, 2009

Three looks like the charm for Oakland County and big federal brownfield grants.

The EPA recently gave Oakland County a $1 Million Coalition Assessment Grant, making it the third such award the feds have given to Michigan's richest county. It will help local communities and developers perform environmental assessments on contaminated or obsolete land.

Money from previous grants helped turn an old gas station in Wixom into a new strip mall. These funds also allowed an old illegal dumping ground just outside of the Palace of Auburn Hills to be turned into a large multi-use project, creating space for retail, a bank and a hotel.

"We're open to almost any type of project," says Brad Hansen, environmental program coordinator for Oakland County.

Half of the money will be evenly split between Farmington Hills, Ferndale, Hazel Park, Madison Heights and Pontiac. The remaining $500,000 will be available for projects in other county communities.

The Oakland County Brownfield Coalition plans to focus much of these funds on the Woodward Avenue, 8 Mile Road, and 10 Mile Road corridors. A number of prominent organizations in these areas, such as the 8 Mile Boulevard Association and Woodward Avenue Action Association, helped land the grant as part of the Oakland County Brownfield Initiative.

Source: Brad Hansen, environmental program coordinator for Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Grand Building rises in downtown Farmington

Grand River Avenue in downtown Farmington is getting a brand new building this fall now that construction is in full swing on the Grand Building.

Grand Dry Cleaners is building a 6,300-square-foot structure that will serve as its home on the first floor. The second floor will house three loft-like apartments. There will also be one indoor parking space for one of the apartments.

"They have the ability for a loft look with the high ceilings," says Vincent Cataldo, president of St. Clair Shores-based Infuz Limited Architects, the designer of the building.

The brick-clad building is set to serve as a principal piece of the eastern entrance to downtown Farmington. Its two tall stories, balconies, corner entrance, and tower-like features promise to make it one of downtown's marquee buildings.

"The intent is to bring some energy to that entrance of downtown," Cataldo says.

Construction is expected to wrap up by the end of the year.

Source: Vincent Cataldo, president of Infuz Limited Architects
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington Hills Parks win environmental award

Farmington Hills green spaces are getting green awards for not going the extra mile to make their grass as green as possible.

The city's park system and gold club were recognized for their environmental stewardship by the Michigan Department of Agriculture. The Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program recognizes organizations for enhancing wildlife habitats and going above and beyond environmental compliance.

That could mean preventing pollutions and protecting waterways by using less fertilizer that contributes to water run-off pollution and reducing the maintained areas of the golf course. Other areas of recognition include conserving energy. For instance, the city received an energy audit of all of its buildings.

The city also created a new chemical storage room for its golf course, so spillage is contained in one area. Fertilizer and lawn maintenance is also limited to areas away from waterways and only done a few times a year.

"We have very good turf," says Bill Wright, parks supervisor for Farmington Hills. "People are shocked when they hear that."

Only 52 of the 230 properties participating in the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program have met the criteria for certification in Michigan. Farmington Hills is the first municipal park system to receive it.

Source:
Bill Wright, parks supervisor for Farmington Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington puts final touches on downtown streetscape

They're getting ready to stretch the ribbon in Farmington so it can be cut on the downtown streetscape project next weekend.

The city recently finished paving and striping the $3.2 million project. Construction workers are putting the final brick pavers, lamp posts, and signage in place this week.

"They're wrapping up the final details," says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority.

The project rebuilt Grand River Avenue between Farmington Road and Warner Street, making the byway friendlier to pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists. It also expanded the sidewalk area, adding bump-outs around parallel parking spaces and installing new sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, trash cans, and decorative streetlights.

City officials are now applying for grant funding to complete the original scope of the project, which called for doing the same sort of work on Grove Street between Grand River and Orchard Street and adding a boulevard.

"We're very hopeful that will happen," Knowles says.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Downtown Farmington streetscape nears completion

One side of the tracks, errr…, road is finished in the downtown Farmington streetscape project, and the other isn't far behind.

Work crews have finished the north side of the road, and are about to finish off the water-and-sewer section of the south side soon. The whole project is expected to wrap up by October, with an Oct. 24 ribbon cutting scheduled.

"I expect over the next couple of weeks we'll see the real visible parts come in," says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority.

The visible parts include the curbs, brick pavers, planters, and trees. Most of that is already installed on the north side of the street.

The multi-million dollar project is rebuilding Grand River Avenue between Farmington Road and Warner Street, making the byway friendlier to pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists. It will expand the sidewalk area, add bump-outs around parallel parking spaces, and install new sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, trash cans, and decorative streetlights.

The original plan called for doing the same sort of work on Grove Street between Grand River and Orchard Street. That has now been put on hold for at least a year until the city finds financing.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland County workshop focuses on green downtowns

The last of three workshops aimed at the revitalization of downtowns in Oakland County is set to go down on Friday, August 14.

The "Lead Your Downtown from Brown to Green" workshop will focus on tackling sustainability issues, such as historic preservation and eco-friendly development.

"As the title says, we're trying to take downtowns from brown to green by letting them (local stakeholders) know what they can do in this economy," says Bob Donahue, executive director of Main Street Oakland County.

A number of topics, including how to make best use of brownfield sites, effective historic preservation, and how to incorporate green-building practices, such as LEED standards, will be covered. Other subjects will include tapping into farmers markets, the cost-effectiveness of LED lights, and how best to employ urban forestry.

Main Street Oakland County is encouraging local architects, planners, preservationists, developers, city officials, and community activists to attend. The cost is $75 per person. The workshop will be held between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. in the Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road, west of Telegraph, in Waterford.

Source: Bob Donahue, executive director of Main Street Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office to expand

The Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office is picking up steam this summer, with plans to become supercharged by this fall.

So far six communities have joined the program run by the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, including Ferndale, Lincoln Park, Roseville, Grosse Pointe Woods, Madison Heights, and Farmington Hills. Another two or three dozen municipalities have it on their agendas for late this summer or early fall.

"We expect that by the end of the month we'll have 15-20," says Brittany Galisdorfer, program director for the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office.

There are no upfront costs for smaller communities. The program will help participating municipalities fill out grant applications and go after projects that will make them more sustainable.

One of the early favorites is switching street lights from normal incandescent bulbs to LEDs. It's a tactic Ann Arbor and Pontiac have successfully deployed to capture significant electricity and maintenance savings. Farmington Hills wants to buy a foreclosed home and turn it into an eco-friendly showcase for local residents.

Source: Brittany Galisdorfer, program director for the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland County pushes for land bank to deal with foreclosures

Oakland County is beginning to publish its stock of foreclosed buildings electronically to prepare them for auction. However, at least one Oakland County official would like to see this process changed -- with a land bank.

Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner sees a number of things wrong with the auction process. It's why he is pushing for Oakland County to form a land bank, as many other Michigan communities have done, to handle its problem properties.

"There are some perils with the auction approach," Meisner says.

For instance, speculators are scooping up large batches of these homes and, at best, turning them into rentals. More than people like to admit end up falling further into blight and becoming eyesores, weakening what were once otherwise strong neighborhoods. Meisner says this sort of speculation is the junk food of the real estate market, supplying short-term profits at the expense of long-term investment.

"We're rolling up our sleeves and trying to get families in those houses," Meisner says.

He adds that a land bank gives local officials the power to package parcels and sell them to a developer or even ensure that individual buildings end up in the hands of local residents. Right now he is trying to build up awareness about the idea, and hopes to begin a legislative push for one later this year.

Source: Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington's McNut Building gets a new face

Work on the McNut Building is wrapping up in downtown Farmington. What once was a dreary single-story structure is now a spic-and-span, 2-floor building, thanks to a new façadectomy.

"There are a couple of details that need to be tweaked, but it's ready to be photographed," says Steven Schneemann, owner of S3 Architecture, which designed the new façade.

The century-old structure next to the Civic Theatre served as the home of Books Abound near the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Farmington Road before going vacant a few years ago. An ugly mid-20th Century façade covered it for most of that time.

A new face returns it to its original brick look, with a second story false front to boot. The nearby Exchange Building underwent a similar transformation last year.

The 1,600-square-foot structure is being renovated to accommodate an office tenant. The space is still available.

Source: Steven Schneemann, owner of S3 Architecture
Writer: Jon Zemke

Main Street Oakland County brings in AIA Michigan for workshops

Main Street Oakland County is bringing in a big gun to help keep the investment in its downtowns going - the American Institute of Architects Michigan.

The renowned association for architects is helping Oakland County with issues vital to vibrant city centers, such as sustainability, revitalization, and preservation. AIA Michigan members will provide advice about how to best take advantage of tools and opportunities that spur growth and development.

"The idea is to help businesses understand what is going on," says Ron Campbell, principal planner/preservation architect of Oakland County and president of AIA Michigan.

The first workshop will be held Friday, June 19 and will focus on dealing with and taking advantage of today's economic situation. It will also take a macro view of development in downtowns, including how to find the best design and identify financing.

The downtowns present opportunities for all sizes of projects and firms," Campbell says.

The workshop will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road, west of Telegraph Road, in Waterford. Architects, planners, preservationists, Main Street staffers, developers, business and building owners, community officials, and downtown stakeholders and activists are invited. For information, click here.

Source: Ron Campbell, principal planner/preservation architect of Oakland County and president of AIA Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Riley Skate Park ready to roll in Farmington Hills

Skateboarding will reach new heights when the Riley Skate Park opens in Farmington Hills on June 29, hopefully.

"The weather slowed us down with the grading and landscaping," says Bryan Farmer, recreation supervisor for Farmington Hills
.

The $850,000 skate park has rolled down a long, winding path to get where it is today. Ground broke late in 2007 and work has gone through a fit-and-start or two since then. But it's practically all done now, and the Oakland County suburb has something special to show for it.

Going beyond the typical concrete hills, ramps and rails that dominate the stereotypical skate park in the Midwest, it has an 8-foot-tall cylinder that looks like a sewer pipe built into the ground instead of above it and a variety of in-ground features resembling concrete pits and ditches. The idea is to give the park a "West Coast" feel that most local skaters have yet to experience in Metro Detroit.

The 29,000-square-foot venue is the newest attraction at Founders Sports Park at 35500 Eight Mile Road between Gill and Halstead roads, near the Farmington Hills Ice Arena. About 200 skaters a day are expected.

The skate park is named after George Riley of the Riley Foundation, who gave $500,000 toward the project. Organizers are still working to raise more money to add extra features, such as Web cameras and lights.

For information on the project, contact Farmer at (248) 473-1805 or BFarmer@fhgov.com.

Source: Bryan Farmer, recreation supervisor for Farmington Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland County to hold workshop on zoning flexibility

Oakland County officials want local governments to become more flexible in their zoning rules and master plans, and now they're ready to teach them how to do it.

The county wants municipalities to be ready to welcome and facilitate growth from new economy firms; hence, it will hold a Technology Planning Toolkit workshop on Monday, June 8.

"We hope they can use this as a basis when they update their own planning documents," says Bret Rasegan, planning supervisor for Oakland County.

It introduced this program as a way of making local governments friendlier to knowledge-based firms. By streamlining the old bureaucracy, the hope is to make these cities more attractive for new economy start-ups and their new jobs. For instance, buildings zoned for one purpose can be diversified to include a number of uses.

"It's very important, especially with how quickly the market is changing," Rasegan says.

The free workshop will be held at the Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road, west of Telegraph in Waterford. For information, call (248) 452-2166 or send an email to browningj@oakgov.com.

Source: Brett Rasegan, planning supervisor for Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Main Street Oakland County hosts downtown preservation workshops

Oakland County's downtowns have spent decades turning themselves into some of Michigan's most vibrant urban centers, and the county isn't going to allow a few bad economic years to retard that progress.

That's why Main Street Oakland County is being proactive this summer, with three workshops aimed at helping keep these downtowns thriving and continuing their development momentum. And this is while those downtowns are in slightly better shape than the overall state economy.

"The whole thing is about how to make it in a tough economy," says Bret Rasegan, planning supervisor for Oakland County.

The workshops will feature local, state, and national experts for a range of urban issues, such as preservation and obtaining grants. The idea is to help downtown stakeholders get new perspectives on these topics and see how they can help each different downtown.

The first workshop, set for June 19, will tackle issues like dealing with declining property values in a down economy and financing projects in a tough credit market. The second (July 17) will examine how to encourage new economy development in the downtowns and take advantage of historic assets. The last one (August 14) will tackle sustainability issues like LEED architecture.

All will be held at the Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road in Waterford. For information, call (248) 858-1848.

Source: Bret Rasegan, planning supervisor for Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Shovels signal streetscape construction start in Farmington

Construction crews are starting to swarm Grand River Avenue in downtown Farmington, ready to begin work on the city's streetscape project later this week.

Those crews have already been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work and expect to put shovels in the ground either this weekend or early next week, ahead of its scheduled mid-May start. Construction will go on throughout the summer and finish up this fall.

"It came on us really fast," says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority. "They awarded the bid a couple of weeks ago and they wanted to get started as soon as possible."

The multi-million dollar project will rebuild Grand River between Farmington Road and Warner Street, making the byway friendlier to pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists. It will expand the sidewalk area, add bump outs around parallel parking spaces, and install new sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, trash cans and decorative streetlights.

The contractor plans to build the north side of the street first, finishing it in time for the city's Founders Festival in July. The south side will be built during the late summer/early fall.

The planned work for Grove Street between Grand River and Orchard Street has now been put on hold for at least a year until the city finds financing. The Grove portion will receive the same type of improvements, but a boulevard will be added.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Downtown Farmington's McNut building gets new façade

Downtown Farmington is putting on a new face this spring as the McNut building undergoes a facadectomy. The single-story structure next to the Civic Theatre is about to get its original look back, and a second story to boot.

"Something that fits in with the historic architecture of downtown Farmington," says Steven Schneemann, owner of S3 Architecture, which designed the new façade.

The century-old structure served as the home of Books Abound for years near the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Farmington Road before going vacant a few years ago. An ugly mid-20th Century façade covered it for most of that time.

The 1,600-square-foot structure is being renovated to accommodate an office tenant. The space is still available. A second story false front will top the brick façade. A similar job was done to the nearby Exchange Building last year.

The project is expected to wrap up by July.

Source: Steven Schneemann, owner of S3 Architecture
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington breaks $3.2M Grand River streetscape project into 2 phases

Upgrading downtown Farmington's streetscape is a big job, big enough that the city wants to take it in two bites now.

City leaders have split the original $3.2 million project into two phases. The first calls for redeveloping Grand River Avenue between Farmington Road and Warner Street this year. The planned work for Grove Street between Grand River and Orchard Street has now been put on hold until the city finds financing. Farmington's Downtown Development Authority has now stepped in to help pay for the first phase.

"The project is out to bid as we speak," says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington DDA. "We're looking at a mid-May start."

The project will wrap up by this fall. Even though it has been broken into two smaller chunks, the details of the overall plan remain the same.

The project will rebuild Grand River, making it friendlier to pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. It will expand the sidewalk area and add bump outs around parallel parking spaces, and install new sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, trashcans and decorative streetlights. The Grove portion will receive the same thing, but a boulevard will be added.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland County downtowns receive $67 million in investment

Even though the real-estate market is down, investment in some of Oakland County's most vibrant downtowns is up significantly. New investment for 12 downtowns registered at $67 million in 2008 compared to $51 million the year before.

This investment came in downtowns that are part of the county's Main Street program. Those downtowns include Rochester, Walled Lake, Ferndale, Farmington, Keego Harbor, Pontiac, Lake Orion, Holly, Highland, Ortonville, Oxford and Franklin.

More than 590 full-time and 291 part-time jobs were created through this investment. Another 29 new businesses also set up shop in these downtowns. 200 buildings were renovated and over 166,280 square feet of new space was created.

Downtown Ferndale was a big winner of this investment. More than $19 million came into the inner-ring suburb, creating 220 new jobs and 75,352 square feet of new space. Some of its big-ticket projects include the Lofts on the 9 and new offices for Foley Mansfield.

The Main Street program started in 2000 and has helped usher in more than $518 million in total investment in those 12 downtowns.

Source: Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington Hills gears up to build new, green City Hall

Get ready for more construction in Farmington Hills this spring, this time the city itself will be doing the building.

City officials are nailing down the final details for plans to renovate City Hall this year. Construction is set to begin this spring and finish by the end of 2010.

The current City Hall is a mishmash of buildings and additions that have been cobbled together since the first 6,000-square-foot building was built in the 1950s. It currently scores a 38 on the Energy Star scale of 100.

The new City Hall would score significantly higher as the city plans to make it a gold level LEED certification. The environmentally friendly features are expected to save $9 million in energy and operation costs.

City officials have been allocating money for this project for years, so taxes won’t have to be raised to pay for the project.

Source: Gillian Pines, spokeswoman for the city of Farmington Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Oakland County pushes new home buyer program

Oakland County officials are trying to help solve the foreclosure crisis and its ripple effects by getting people to buy into it.

The county is sponsoring a new homeownership program that will hold a workshop Saturday morning in Waterford. The idea is to get low- to moderate-income families to buy some of the vacant, foreclosed homes in the county. The program hopes to help mitigate housing and blight problems while preserving local tax base.

Oakland County officials see the low prices created by the crisis as an opportunity to create new homeowners from people who weren't able to afford their own place in a more successful economy.

The county plans to make this possible with no-interest loans for down payment assistance, closing costs, home improvements or other financing for home-buyers who pre-qualify for a fixed-rate mortgage. The loan can represent at least 51 percent of the purchase price while the county will finance up to the remaining 49 percent of the purchase and rehabilitation costs up to $100,000 as long as home-buyer puts down at least $2,000.

The money to make this possible is coming from the foreclosure money provided by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program late last year. Other cities have focused this money on things like demolition while Oakland County is focusing on preserving its local building stock, a.k.a. tax base.

The workshop will be held at 9 a.m. in the Oakland County Executive Office Building Conference Center, 2100 Pontiac Lake Rd., just west of Telegraph Road. Registration is not required. For information, click here or call 248-858-1529.

Source: Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Riley Skate Park 70 percent done, set to open this summer

Riley Skate Park might not look like much now, but it will definitely be a sight to behold in a few short months, according to Bryan Farmer, a recreation supervisor with Farmington Hills.

The skate park is nearly 70 percent complete and construction is set to resume this spring. Farmer expects it to be done and open by June. A number of skateboarding teams and vendors from across the U.S. have already inquired about it.

"We have had a lot of skateboarders interested in coming out for the grand opening," Farmer says.

Riley promises to be one of the most innovative skate parks to come around southeast Michigan in a long time. It goes beyond the normal concrete hills, ramps and rails of the standard Midwestern skate park. It includes features such as an 8-foot-tall cylinder that looks like a sewer pipe built into the ground instead of above it. There are also a variety of in-ground pits and ditches, giving the park a "West Coast" feel.

Local officials are raising money to bring in extra features such as lighting and webcams to the 29,000-square-foot park. Riley occupies a corner of Founder's Sports Park at 35500 Eight Mile Road between Gill and Halstead roads near the Farmington Hills Ice Arena.

More than 722,000 people come through the park each year. That number is expected to dramatically increase after the skate park is finished. City officials believe the skate park will become a regional attraction, bringing in nearly 200 people each day.

The skate park is named after George Riley of the Riley Foundation who gave $500,000 toward the $850,000 project. For information on the project, contact Farmer at (248) 473-1805 or BFarmer@fhgov.com.

Source: Bryan Farmer, a recreation supervisor with Farmington Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington Hills plans to build new, environmentally friendly city hall

It seems like a little more space is added onto Farmington Hills' City Hall every few years. The original 1950s structure has received 4-5 additions, increasing the space from 6,000 square feet to 34,000 square feet.

"Some of them have been little dinky things," says Nate Geinzer, management assistant for Farmington Hills.

Little things that have created big inefficiencies and bigger headaches for city officials. It's the main reason why city officials plan to renovate the existing structure and add yet more space. It's a project that promises to make the City Hall more efficient and greener.

"We're looking at everything and anything," Geinzer says. "We're still pretty early in the design phase."

One thing city officials agree on is that they want the new City Hall to be as environmentally friendly as possible. City officials are aiming for gold LEED certification with the project. Among the green stripes they are looking at are geothermal heating, solar panels and a green roof.

For now city officials are conducting public meetings to see what city residents and employees want. They have yet to decide on how big the addition will be, let alone what environmentally friendly features they will use.

Plans are to start construction in the spring and finish by end the of year in 2010.

Source: Nate Geinzer, management assistant for Farmington Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Main Street Oakland County welcomes new members

Main Street Oakland County already includes the county's big names in downtown development, such as Ferndale, Farmington and Rochester. Now it's welcoming some smaller names into the fold, namely Clawson, Clarkston, Hazel Park and Franklin.

The first three cities are joining Main Street Oakland County's Mentoring Program while Franklin becomes a member of the Downtown Development Program. Other members of Main Street Oakland County include Highland, Holly, Keego Harbor, Lake Orion, Ortonville, Oxford, Pontiac and Walled Lake.

Main Street Oakland County uses a four point approach to spur economic development and job creation in these city centers. Those include fine tuning organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring. These techniques have helped land $451 million in investment, create 2,782 new jobs and 344 new businesses since 2000.

Oakland County's 32 downtown include some of Michigan's most vibrant urban centers, including Royal Oak and Birmingham. Main Street Oakland County is the first county organization to work with the National Trust Main Street Center, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Source: Oakland County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Victorian home in downtown Farmington to become fine dining establishment

What was once Mrs. Lovill's Tea Cozy is about to become Ginger's in downtown Farmington.

Ginger Wiechers is doing some light remodeling to the old yellow Victorian home turned business on Grand River Avenue in downtown. The building, which once housed Ms. Lovill's, will become a café and gourmet food restaurant within the next 45 days. Wiechers previously owned Ginger's Coffee Connection in West Bloomfield.

"I like to think of it as pampered dining," Wiechers says. "That's my goal."

She intends to keep the old single-family home "that looks like something from another era" largely as it is. During the winter Wiechers plans to rehab an old barn in the backyard and turn it into another part of the business by next year.

Source: Ginger Wiechers, owner of Ginger's
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington to present details of downtown parking study on Monday

Right now there are 2,370 parking spots in downtown Farmington. City officials, however, hope to squeeze out a few more in their new long-term parking study.

City officials will present the details of the study and how they hope to use it at 6 p.m. Monday in Farmington's City Hall. That means they will show how many spots the city has, make suggestions on how to better manage those
parking spaces and discuss how to create more spots in the future.

One of the city's main goals is to search for ways to reconfigure existing parking lots to increase occupancy and ease of access.

"If you combine three lots next to each other can we gain any spots by combining them?" says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority.

The city is also looking at creating parking decks as a long-term solution. Knowles says that if downtown is built out as the master plan calls for in the coming years, the city will need to double the number of parking spaces to service that growth.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Riley Skate Park construction begins in earnest, to finish by early next year

The earth is moving in Farmington Hills, more specifically, at the new Riley Skate Park.

Although ground was broken in May, construction workers have just begun getting to work on the project. Construction should be finished by the end of the year or next spring, depending on the weather.

Riley is on one of the most innovative skate parks to come around southeast Michigan in a long time. It goes beyond the normal concrete hills, ramps and rails of the standard Midwestern skate park. It includes features such as an 8-foot-tall cylinder that looks like a sewer pipe built into the ground instead of above it. There are also a variety of in-ground pits and ditches, giving the park a "West Coast" feel.

Local officials also are raising money to bring in extra featrures such as lighting and webcams to the 29,000-square-foot park. Riley occupies a corner of Founder's Sports Park at 35500 Eight Mile Road between Gill and Halstead roads near the Farmington Hills Ice Arena.

More than 722,000 people come through the park each year. That number is expected to dramatically increase after the skate park is finished. City officials believe the skate park will become a regional attraction, bringing in nearly 200 people each day.

The skate park is named after George Riley of the Riley Foundation who gave $500,000 toward the $850,000 project. For information on the project, contact Bryan Farmer at (248) 473-1805 or BFarmer@fhgov.com.

Source: Bryan Farmer, a recreation supervisor with Farmington Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke

Voters approve Farmington downtown streetscape project

Voters gave the green light during Tuesday's primary to new lights in downtown Farmington.

The Farmington Streetscape Improvement proposal calls for rebuilding Grand River Avenue between Farmington Road and Warner Street. That stretch of road will receive the lion's share of upgrades, except for a boulevard set to be developed on Grove Street between Grand River and Orchard Street.

The $3.2 million project will expand the sidewalk area and add bump outs around parallel parking spaces, while installing new sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, trashcans and decorative streetlights.

The idea is to make downtown, particularly Grand River Avenue, friendlier for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians as well as more aesthetically pleasing. Local leaders hope this will help encourage vibrancy and increased business investment in downtown.

Work is expected to begin next spring and finish up by the fall. The project will be done in three phases, which will allow Grand River to be open during construction.

While voters were kind to Farmington's plans for downtown they weren't so nice on the other side of 275 in Belleville, where a downtown streetscape proposal was voted down.

Belleville's project called for tearing up its Main Street and replacing everything with new infrastructure, such as new water mains, concrete street, brick paver sidewalks, trees, decorative lighting and fancy fencing.

The $5.8 million project would have encompassed Main between Huron River Drive and Lake Bridge, along with South Street up until the railroad tracks. All in all, seven city blocks would have received a makeover.

Source: Vincent Pastue, city manager for Farmington and the city of Belleville
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington to hold final public info meeting for streetscape vote

The last public information meeting about the proposed streetscape improvements for downtown Farmington is set for Friday, a few days before Tuesday's vote on the project.

The designers of the project and local officials will be on hand to take questions from 5-7 p.m. at the Sundquist Pavilion in Riley Park. Voters will decided whether to give the green light to the $3.2 million project during Tuesday's primary election.

City officials have been fighting to keep the project afloat, holding meetings and releasing a video depicting what the new streetscape will look like if and when it's installed next year.

The proposal calls for rebuilding Grand River Avenue between Farmington Road and Warner Street. That stretch of road will receive the lion's share of upgrades, except for a boulevard set to be developed on Grove Street between Grand River and Orchard Street.

The project will expand the sidewalk area and add bump outs around parallel parking spaces, while installing new sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, trashcans and decorative streetlights.

The idea is to make downtown, particularly Grand River Avenue, friendlier for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians as well as more aesthetically pleasing. Local leaders hope this will help encourage vibrancy and increased business investment in downtown.

Source: Krista Wolter, marketing and promotions coordinator for the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Holocaust Memorial Center plans to expand in Farmington Hills

Even though the Holocaust Memorial Center is something that everyone should visit sometime in their life, it's "not a place for children," in Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig's opinion.

The founder and CEO of the museum is heading up the campaign to add a children's gallery in the museum.

"The present museum is not geared toward children under the age of 12," Rosenzveig says. "We don't recommend it for them because it can be so horrifying."

The new 18,000-square-foot addition would fix that problem while still conveying the lessons of the Holocaust. The new wing is estimated to cost between $5 million and $6 million.

Fundraising to pay for the new wing will begin later this summer and construction could begin as soon as this fall. Work could be done as soon as the fall of 2009.

The Holocaust Memorial Center, founded in 1984, is the first museum of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. It moved from its original home in West Bloomfield to Farmington Hills four years ago.

The center's new home is in an award-winning facility designed by Nuemann Smith. The striking 51,000-square-foot structure cost about $17 million to build.

Source: Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig, founder and CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Museum
Writer: Jon Zemke

Exchange Building renovation complete in downtown Farmington

There's nothing like a good old-fashioned facelift to bring back that youthful glow. Unless, of course, you're Joan Rivers. For vintage buildings, however, it can mean the difference between decrepit and aesthetically appealing.

That's the case with the Exchange Building, 33314 Grand River Ave., in downtown Farmington. Workers have just finished replacing the façade of the old home to the Farmington Downtown Development Authority. The new face is now more in line with the building's late-19th Century origins.

"It looks pretty good," says Steven Schneemann, owner of S3 Architecture, the firm that designed the project. "It's a great addition to the downtown."

The downtown Farmington-based architecture firm used historic photographs and reclaimed brick in the facadectomy. However, the new face isn't everything that it seems because it makes the one-story building look like it has two stories. The second story of the former Farmington Exchange Bank is just a façade where office space might eventually be added behind it.

The developer renovated the 1,500-square-foot building inside and out and is looking to lease the available office space.

Source: Steven Schneemann, owner of S3 Architecture
Writer: Jon Zemke

Old building to get new lease on life in downtown Farmington

When Ken Strom bought 33405 Grand River Ave. in downtown Farmington he says it was easily "the ugliest building in the whole city."

"When I bought it eight years ago it had the ugliest paint job you had ever seen," Strom says, adding the entire late-19th Century structure was in a state of disrepair equal to its exterior.

That's not the case today. Strom is gearing up to run the last leg of a restoration race, breathing new life into the building at the southwest corner of Grand River and Farmington Road. He has invested $150,000 making the building level, renovating the inside and putting on a new roof, among other things.

He plans to start a $100,000 renovation of the exterior later this month that will include new windows, awnings, flower boxes, doors and a new paint job. "It will have vibrant colors," Strom says.

It will be an exterior worthy of the hardware, furniture and bookstores that once called the building home. Today Strom's Kitchen Master and Beyond Salon call the ground floor of the two-story structure home. Seven apartments are on the second floor.

And when it's all said and done, Strom thinks he will have one of the most beautiful buildings in town.

Source: Ken Strom, owner of 33405 Grand River Ave.
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington to start construction on Shiawassee Park next year

Plans to improve Shiawassee Park in downtown Farmington are set to pick up later this year so construction can begin early in 2009.

City officials want to make Shiawassee Park more accessible to downtown Farmington, especially for pedestrians. The $1-million project will build a walking bridge over the Seeley Drain, a tributary of the Rouge River, creating a connection between the park and downtown.

Linking the park and downtown is expected to increase foot traffic from walkers and joggers to downtown and the park.

The existing staircase connecting the two is old, steep and imposing. The new bridge will be inviting, barrier free and handicap accessible. A switchback ramp will be built on the downtown side of the bridge with observation decks overlooking the park. New pedestrian lighting will also be added to the park.

"It's still the same project," says Vincent Pastue, city manager for the city of Farmington.

Source: Vincent Pastue, city manager for Farmington
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington makes Grand River streetscape project video available online

Improving a community isn't always as easy one would think. Take the downtown Farmington streetscape improvement plan. What would seem like a sure-thing is now up for an election this August to determine its fate.

City officials aren't letting it go down without a fight though, arguing how such a project is necessary to take the downtown to the next level. The latest volley is the releasing of a video depicting what the new streetscape will look like if and when it's installed next year.

The $3.2 million proposal calls for rebuilding Grand River Avenue between Farmington Road and Warner Street. That stretch of road will receive the lion's share of upgrades, except for a boulevard set to be developed on Grove Street between Grand River and Orchard Street.

The project will expand the sidewalk area and add bump outs around parallel parking spaces, while installing new sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, trashcans and decorative streetlights.

The idea is to make downtown, particularly Grand River Avenue, friendlier for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians as well as more aesthetically pleasing. Local leaders hope this will help encourage vibrancy and increased business investment in downtown.

Source: Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Farmington set to release downtown parking study at end of month

It's coming. They promise its coming. It is the long-awaited parking study for downtown Farmington. When? The end of June.

All of the actual information gathering is done and the study is actually being finalized this week. It should be realized next week.

The survey addresses the status of parking in Farmington's downtown area, its immediate needs and long-term requirements. It also details ways to improve and expand parking options to help grow local businesses and make them more accessible to local residents.

This study is part of Farmington's wider effort to make downtown more pedestrian friendly. Last summer Dan Burden, the executive director of Walkable Communities Inc., took a tour of Farmington, suggesting local officials make downtown more walkable by expanding the sidewalks and shrinking the roads. This would give more room to pedestrians, encourage foot traffic and at the same time slow down traffic, making everyone feel safer.

Sounds good to us.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority

Writer: Jon Zemke


Riley Skate Park breaks ground in Farmington Hills

You can almost hear the sound of grinding wheels on concrete as ground is broken on Riley Skate Park in Farmington Hills. Construction crews have begun work on one of the most innovative skate parks to come around southeast Michigan in a long time.

What makes this skateboarding facility stand out beyond the normal concrete hills, ramps and rails of the standard Midwestern skate park? Riley offers unique features like an 8-foot-tall cylinder, that looks like a sewer pipe built into the ground instead of above it. there are also a variety of in-ground pits and ditches, giving the park a "West Coast" feel.

Local officials are also trying to expand the 29,000-square-foot park's amenities beyond the hard infrastructure and into the technological world.

"We would like to have web cameras, lighting, sound and other amenities placed throughout Riley Skate Park to provide a top notch experience in a skateboarder's dream park," says Bryan Farmer, a Farmington Hills recreation supervisor heading up the skate park project.

Riley will occupy a corner of Founder's Sports Park at 35500 Eight Mile Road between Gill and Halstead roads near the Farmington Hills Ice Arena. More than 722,000 people come through the park each year. That number is expected to dramatically increase after the skate park is finished. City officials believe the skate park will become a regional attraction, bringing in nearly 200 people each day.

The skate park is named after George Riley of the Riley Foundation who gave $500,000 toward the $850,000 project. For information on the project, contact Farmer at (248) 473-1805 or BFarmer@fhgov.com.

Source: Jill Pines, spokeswoman for Farmington Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke


Farmington/Farmington Hills continue discussions about merging services

Leaders from Farmington and Farmington Hills may have set aside talks of merging the two municipalities but all is not lost yet for advocates of regionalism and economic efficiency.

"We're still talking about advancing shared services," says Vincent Pastue, city manager for Farmington.

Among the services the two cities are looking to share are programs for seniors, after-school and cultural arts. However, both government units already work together on all of those things.

The latest round of talks about consolidating the Farmingtons began in recent months when a study by Plante Moran made a strong recommendation for merger. Officials from both cities jumped on the idea and launched investigations, but differences in costs and budgets derailed progress... for now.

The case for merger, however, remains strong. Farmington Hills would have increased its overall tax base, adding $4.5 million in taxes and 10,000 people to its $80 million budget and population of 82,000. Jurisdictional lines would have been simplified, government streamlined and redundancy eliminated.

Farmington Hills would add a badly needed downtown, instead of trying to build a new one in a cornfield. Not to mention it would improve the city's image by becoming one with what Money Magazine called the 55th-best community to live in America last year.

Farmington residents would enjoy a tax cut from 14.4 mills to 10.22 mills. Harnessing the resources of the much larger Farmington Hills would also allow for more development in the mostly developed older suburb.

Source: Vincent Pastue, city manager for Farmington
Writer: Jon Zemke


Farmington moving forward with vote on downtown streetscape

Its official, the people of Farmington will get to decide whether or not they want their downtown to undergo a makeover next year.

The City Council approved language for a ballot item for the $3.2 million streetscape improvement project. The vote will be held during the primary election on Aug. 5, and if approved, the project will go forward next spring.

The proposal calls for rebuilding Grand River Avenue between Farmington Road and Warner Street. That stretch of road will receive the lion's share of upgrades, except for the boulevard set to be developed on Grove Street, between Grand River and Orchard Street.

"It will improve the flow and safety of traffic through downtown Farmington," says Vincent Pastue, Farmington's city manager. "It will also enhance the comfort and safety of pedestrians."

The project will expand the sidewalk area and add bump outs around parallel parking spaces, while installing new sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, trash cans and decorative streetlights.

The idea is to make downtown, particularly Grand River Avenue, more efficient for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians as well as more aesthetically pleasing. Local leaders hope this will help encourage vibrancy and increased business investment in downtown.

Source: Vincent Pastue, city manager for Farmington
Writer: Jon Zemke


The Orchard in downtown Farmington ready to close out phase I

One more condo, that's all Steven Schneemann needs to sell to close out the first phase of The Orchard condos in downtown Farmington.

So far 15 of the 16 brownstones have sold since opening in 2005. If the last unit sells this summer, the developer has plans to start the second phase of construction next year.

"It's going to be dependent on sales," says Schneemann, who also owns Farmington-based S3 Architecture, that designed the condos.

The units are a classic brick town home built for a dense, urban area that stresses walkability and community. They are located on Slocum Street, 1.5 blocks south of Grand River Avenue behind the Ace Hardware.

The units come in either 1,215 square feet or 2,200 square feet and are priced at $149,900 and $219,900 respectively. Each unit comes with bamboo floors, a balcony, high ceilings and large skylights. The floors are considered environmentally friendly because bamboo grows so quickly and the skylights reduce the need for interior lighting and electricity.

"Natural light was very important in all of these units," Schneemann says. "You can go into any unit and not turn on the lights, and there is a great view out of every window."

There is also a large underground parking garage underneath the building. It's big enough that each condo can have at least one parking space. More are available upon request and the garage is heated and secured. Some of the units also have private elevators built into them to connect the main home to the garage, making it handicap accessible.

Source: Steven Schneemann, developer of The Orchard
Writer: Jon Zemke


Exchange Building in downtown Farmington to get new façade

We can rebuilt it. Make it bigger, younger and prettier than it was.

Work revamping the façade of the Exchange Building, 33314 Grand River Ave., is set to begin later this spring or early this summer. The project calls for replacing the existing façade of the old home of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority with one that is more in character with what the building's late 19th Century origins. And that will be a welcome change to the face of downtown.

"It's pretty dumpy. It's not real nice," says Steven Schneemann, owner S3 Architecture, the firm that is designing the project.

The downtown Farmington-based architecture firm will use historic photographs and reclaimed brick to bring the façade back to its former glory. The new face of the one-story building will also be made to look like it has two stories. "Sort of like a Hollywood set," Schneemann says.

The idea is to eventually add a second floor to the 1,500-square-foot building, which was originally built to be the Farmington Exchange Bank. The project will completely replace the front and back facades and also renovate the interior office space.

Source: Steven Schneemann, owner S3 Architecture
Writer: Jon Zemke


Meetings set for development of regional transit plan

Improving regional transit, it's one of those phrases everyone likes to say but few seem to want to put the hard work into doing.

Until recently. Maybe it's those $4 a gallon gasoline projections.

Within the last few years regional leaders have worked to streamline and integrate rival transit authorities, establish commuter rail lines and propose light rail lines. But putting all of these pieces of the transit puzzle together is arguably the most important aspect of improving overall regional transit, which is exactly what Metro Detroit's Regional Transportation Coordinating Council (what's left of DARTA) is trying to do.

The council, led by transit czar John Hertel, will host regional transit planning open houses in the tri-county area in early April. Hertel's group is developing a regional transit plan for Metro Detroit as a basis for applying for federal funds (the mother's milk of mass transit initiatives) and is hosting the meetings to get public input on developing this vision.

The first meeting will be held on April 8 in downtown Detroit at the SEMCOG Conference Room in the Buhl Building, 535 Griswold. That will be followed by meetings in Oakland County (April 9) and Macomb County (April 10).

The Oakland County meeting will be held in the Oakland County Board of Commissioners Auditorium, 1200 North Telegraph Road, in Pontiac. The Macomb County meeting will be at 15 Main in Mt. Clemens.

For information, contact the Regional Transportation Coordinating Council at drmt2006@sbcglobal.net or at (313) 393-3333.

Source: Megan Owens, executive director of the Transportation Riders United and John Swatosh, deputy director of the Regional Transportation Coordinating Council
Writer: Jon Zemke


Farmington looks to gussy up downtown businesses

Farmington looks like the picturesque small suburban downtown, but local leaders think it can look even better.

The Farmington Downtown Development Authority is encouraging local businesses and property owners to take advantage of established county and new local façade-improvement programs. To get the word out about it, the DDA is hosting a expert panel on improving business appearance at 7 p.m. today in City Hall, 23600 Liberty St.

"We just looked at this as an opportunity to assist our downtown businesses," says Annette Knowles, director of the Farmington DDA.

The DDA and city officials are establishing a signage and façade improvement programs to help gussy up the face of downtown: its businesses. The façade improvement program will cover up to 20 percent of an improvement project's costs and offer assistance. The signage program will offer up to $500 in matching funds to improve signs.

These programs compliment others from Oakland County, such as the Main Street Oakland County Design Assistance Program and the Oakland County Business Center Assistance Program.

A number of other Metro Detroit downtowns have utilized such programs to great success. Downtown Detroit's façade program was instrumental in revitalizing the district in time for Super Bowl XL.

For information, contact Knowles at aknowles@downtownfarmington.org or (248) 473-7276.

Source: Annette Knowles, director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke


Farmington to release downtown parking study

It's been a long time coming but Farmington officials expect to present the findings of a long term downtown parking study as soon as the end of the month.

"There's a light at the end of the tunnel," says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority. "At this point we're really close. It won't be long until we get this all wrapped up."

The study will address the status of parking in the downtown area, its immediate needs and long-term requirements. It will also detail ways to improve and expand parking options to help grow local businesses and make them more accessible to local residents.

The consultants have finished the study and city officials are currently assessing the recommendations. They expect to review and revise for the rest of the month before presenting the results to the public either at the end of this month or in early April.

This study is part of Farmington's wider effort to make downtown more pedestrian friendly. Last summer Dan Burden, the executive director of Walkable Communities Inc., took a tour of Farmington, suggesting local officials make downtown more pedestrian friendly by expanding the sidewalks and shrinking the roads. This would give more room to walkers and at the same time slow down traffic, making everyone feel safer.

The DDA is heading up an streetscape improvement initiative that would, among many other things, make sidewalks wider and install crosswalks to make downtown more accommodating to non-motorized traffic.

Burden also suggested incorporating traffic circles into downtown's street grid, specifically the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Grove Street, along with the intersection of Farmington Road, Orchard and Alta streets. The circles would slow down vehicles, calming traffic for pedestrians while also cutting down significantly on the stop-and-go traffic created by stop lights. Think Washington, D.C.'s, Dupont Circle or Detroit's Campus Martius on smaller scales. However, traffic circles are not part of the proposed streetscape improvements.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke


Farmington to market its downtown as destination

Downtown Farmington has a lot going for it these days. New streetscape improvements lined up, restored historic theater and small town vibrancy. Even Money Magazine named it as one of its Top 100 places to live in the U.S..

But the problem for Farmington residents is making sure everyone else knows that. Enter city officials, who are gearing up for a significant marketing push later this year.

"We have a lot of events and they are a big strength of downtown," says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority. "But we have to succeed in getting word out to the potential patrons of our businesses."

The DDA recently hired Krista Wolter as its marketing and promotions director (at $44,000 annually) to handle marketing efforts and event coordination. It expects to launch a branding campaign later this spring on top of its normal marketing efforts.

The idea is to let Farmington residents define themselves before others do, and to let it coincide with the launch of major projects, such as the streetscape improvements.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke


Riley Skate Park construction to begin this spring in Farmington Hills

"Dude that half-cab over that nine set was sick!"

Shovels are about to go into the ground in Farmington Hills, prepping the way for local skateboarders. Skater-to-English dictionaries, however, will be your own responsibility.

Work on the Riley Skate Park is set to begin on May 12 and finish by the end of this summer. Riley promises to be a step above the normal concrete hills, ramps and rails of the typical Midwestern skate park.

It will offer unique features such as an 8-foot-tall cylinder that looks like a sewer pipe built into the ground instead of above it. A variety of in-ground features that look like pits and ditches made of concrete will give it a "West Coast" feel, according to Bryan Farmer, a Farmington Hills recreation supervisor heading up the skate park project.

The 29,000-square-foot park will occupy a corner of Founder's Sports Park at 35500 Eight Mile Road between Gill and Halstead roads near the Farmington Hills Ice Arena. City officials estimate about 200 people will visit skate park each day when it opens.

The skate park is named after George Riley of the Riley Foundation who gave $500,000 toward the project. The skate park is expected to cost $850,000, but Farmer and other organizers hope to raise more to add extra features, such as webcams and lights.

For information on the project, contact Farmer at (248) 473-1805 or BFarmer@fhgov.com.

Source: Bryan Farmer, recreation supervisor for Farmington Hills
Writer: Jon Zemke


Farmington to present downtown streetscape improvements

Plans to turn downtown Farmington into a pedestrian friendly and aesthetically pleasing place may be largely done but city officials are still looking for an opinion or two on what the final product should look like.

To accommodate this, the city is holding a public meeting on Feb. 25 where it will present the plans for its $2.7 million streetscape project. The development will expand the sidewalk area and add bump outs around parallel parking spaces, while installing new sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, trash cans and decorative streetlights.

The idea is to make downtown, particularly Grand River Avenue, more efficient for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.

"We want to improve the traffic flow on Grand River while improving pedestrian safety and comfort," says Vincent Pastue, Farmington's city manager. "We want to create a buffer between traffic and pedestrians."

Grand River Avenue between Farmington Road and Warner Street will receive all of the upgrades except a boulevard, which will go on Grove Street between Grand River and Orchard Street. New designs on what the actual streetscape will look like will be on display at the meeting.

The project is set to go out to bid in early April, start construction in mid May and finish within three to four months. Local leaders hope this will help encourage vibrancy and increased business investment in downtown.

The meeting will be held in the Maxfield Training Center, 33000 Thomas St. at 7 p.m. For information, call (248) 474-5500.

Source: Vincent Pastue, city manager for Farmington
Writer: Jon Zemke


SMART planning to make improvements to streamline service

Catching the SMART bus is about to become much easier, at least if Hayes Jones has anything to say about it.

The newly hired general manager of the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation is looking at a couple of ways to use new technology to make traveling on the authority's buses easier and faster.

Among the innovations that could be in place before the end of the year is using a MapQuest-like feature on the authority's web site to plan out trips. The tool would not only tell patrons which buses to take but when they stop at their destinations or transfer to other buses.

Another possibility is putting the buses routes into real time. That would allow patrons with smart phones or laptops to check when their bus is on time or not.

The idea behind the two innovations is to eliminate waiting time for passengers and streamline their bus-riding experience. Jones also said at a recent meeting for Transportation Riders United that he and his staff are looking for ways to be more customer-service oriented by getting rid of small inconveniences and adding new services.

Source: Hayes Jones, general manager of the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation

Writer: Jon Zemke


Farmington DDA moves into new, bigger office space in historic storefront

As Farmington grows so does the city's Downtown Development Authority. So much so that the agency moved to double the office space in its new location in the downtown Cook & Company Building.

"We needed to think about our long-term needs and find a place that would suit us," says Annette Knowles, director of the Farmington DDA.

The move to the second floor of 3316 Grand River Ave. increases the authority's space to 1,200 square feet. It will allow for one of the DDA's employees who works from home to move into the office plus make room for another employee the agency expects to hire this year. The new space is next door to the DDA's old home and above the Bridal Panache store and Gala restaurant.

The Victorian-era building is one of the signature structures in downtown Farmington. It was originally built in the late 19th Century and an addition was constructed in the early 20th Century.

Source: Annette Knowles, director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke


MDOT looking for input on state's five-year transportation plan

State officials are looking for regular Joe's (or Josephine's) to give their opinion on where state transportation should go and how they want it to get there. The solicitation is part of the annual comment period for the Michigan Department of Transportation's Five Year Plan.

The plan covers how Michigan intends to spends its resources on transportation issues, such as road construction and mass transit, in the next five years. In the past this has mainly focused on road construction, but this year the emergence of the Detroit to Ann Arbor commuter rail project, Ann Arbor to Howell commuter rail project, Detroit Transit Options for Growth Study (aka Woodward mass transit line) and a host of local greenway initiatives are giving locals a variety of subjects to pontificate on.

You can make your opinion known where it counts here. The deadline for public comments is Dec. 21.

Source: Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Jon Zemke


Feds honor Metro Detroit's 100-mile network of greenways

It's not always a bad thing when the feds are paying attention to you. Such is the case when the Federal Highway Administration recognized the Michigan Department of Transportation with an award for "exceptional environmental stewardship" of its 100-mile network of trails and greenways in southeast Michigan.

"This award reflects our commitment to making non-motorized trails available as a transportation mode," says Kirk T. Steudle, director of MDOT. "Trails are a part of the transportation mix that is essential to protecting the health and well being of Michigan residents, and greenways contribute to enhancing quality of life."

The award largely recognizes the efforts of the Southeastern Michigan GreenWays Initiative. The public and private partnership has helped organize efforts to finance and develop a 100-mile network of greenways across Metro Detroit since 2001. The regional effort involves more than 75 municipalities in Warren, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe Washtenaw, St. Clair and Livingston counties.

Greenways provide recreation, transportation, conservation, tourism and economic benefits by creating non-motorized trails in developed areas that nurture and preserve green space. The GreenWays Initiative has worked to expand and enhance local greenways, helping leverage more than $82 million in investments in greenways from public and private sources. Although great progress has been made in recent years, Metro Detroit's greenways system is still behind leaders like Indianapolis, leaving plenty of work for southeast Michigan's leaders.

Source: Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Jon Zemke


Farmington Hills Riley Skate Park set to break ground in spring

Every time a skate park opens in Metro Detroit, the community claims it's "thinking outside the box" by offering something other than another basketball court or baseball diamond. But Farmington Hills actually does have something to crwo about when it opens Riley Skate Park next year.

Most local skate parks feature the normal concrete hills, ramps and rails that give refuge to the skaters who might otherwise be gliding away from cops and angry shop keepers.

Riley takes things a step further, offering unique features like a 8-foot tall cylinder that looks like a sewer pipe built into the ground instead of above it. A variety of in-ground features that look like pits and ditches made of concrete give it a "West Coast" feel, according to Bryan Farmer, a Farmington Hills recreation supervisor heading up the skate park project.

"It brings in these elements that we don't have in this area," Farmer says. "In terms of skate parks, the kids are getting fired up about this one. I get calls all of the time asking when it will open."

Shovels need to go into the ground first for that to happen. Construction is set to begin on the 29,000-square-foot park next spring and wrap up by the end of summer. It will occupy a corner of Founder's Sports Park at 35500 Eight Mile Road between Gill and Halstead roads near the Farmington Hills Ice Arena.

More than 722,000 people come through the park each year. That number is expected to go up after the skate park is finished. City officials estimate about 200 people will visit skate park each day when opens.

"It's going to be a regional attraction that will bring in people from all across the Midwest," Farmer says.

The skate park is named after George Riley of the Riley Foundation who gave $500,000 toward the project. The skate park is expected to cost $850,000, but Farmer and other organizers hope to raise more to add extra features, such as Web cameras and lights.

For information on the project, contact Farmer at (248) 473-1805 or BFarmer@fhgov.com.

Source: Bryan Farmer, recreation supervisor for Farmington Hills
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


Farmington to make downtown more pedestrian friendly

Downtown Farmington is set to become more pleasing to pedestrians, motorists and the eye next spring when the city starts construction on its streetscape project.

The $2.7 million development will expand the sidewalk area, adding bump outs around parallel parking spaces. There will also be new sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, trash receptacles and decorative streetlights.

"We're going to give it more of a downtown feel with on-street parking and a spacious boulevard," says Vincent Pastue, Farmington's city manager.

Grand River Avenue between Farmington Road and Warner Street will receive all of the upgrades except the boulevard, which will go on Grove Street between Grand River and Orchard Street. City officials are still working on designing what the streetscape will look like. They expect to put the project out to bid in early April, start construction in mid May and finish within three to four months.

The idea is to make that section of downtown friendlier to pedestrians by expanding the area that is safe to walk and calming traffic. It is also expected to help traffic flow by making driving, parking and walking areas more visible. And of course the improvements should make the area more aesthetically pleasing.

Source: Vincent Pastue, Farmington's city manager
Writer: Jon Zemke


8 Mile Boulevard Association hands out first façade grants

The 8 Mile Boulevard Association has started giving out the first of its façade grants for its newly launched façade-improvement program and is looking for a few more businesses.

Among the first to receive the grants is Lewis Tire Service at 317 E. 8 Mile Road in Hazel Park. The grant is helping provide new planters, awnings, benches and signage for the store. A few more of the grants are in the works for businesses along 8 Mile between John R Street and Ryan Road. The association is also looking for a few businesses take part in the program on the Detroit side of 8 Mile in that same area.

The program is giving out $95,000 in grants to restore business facades along both sides of 8 Mile. Tami Salisbury, executive director of the 8 Mile Boulevard Association, says the grants will hopefully help erase the perceptions of 8 Mile as a dividing line. The association chose that particular section of 8 Mile because it’s where Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties meet. The grant program is also accompanied by improvements to the intersection at 8 Mile and Dequindre.

Businesses participating in the program will receive free architectural consulting from Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson Associates. The businesses will oversee the improvements and the 8 Mile Boulevard Association will review the project after it’s finished and reimburse 50 percent of the expenses up to $10,000.

The Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan donated $50,000 to the program while the city of Detroit gave $35,000 and the 8 Mile Boulevard Association contributed $10,000.

For information, call (313) 366-3388.

Source: Tami Salisbury, executive director of the 8 Mile Boulevard Association
Writer: Jon Zemke


Farmington begins effort to improve downtown

City officials will begin a three-pronged approach to improve downtown Farmington within the next few months that could lead to a lot of people walking and driving around in circles.

By the end of August, the city will receive the results of a parking study on making downtown more walkable with improvements such as traffic circles. In addition, they are gearing up to launch a branding campaign for the city and downtown. All these initiatives are expected to gain momentum by the end of this summer or early this fall.

Dan Burden, the executive director of Walkable Communities Inc., took a tour of Farmington earlier this summer, suggesting then to make downtown more pedestrian friendly by expanding the sidewalks and shrinking the roads. This would give more room to walkers and at the same time slow down traffic, making everyone feel safer.

"We know that in the future walkable communities will be successful and ones that are not will be challenged," says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority.

Burden also suggested incorporating traffic circles into downtown's street grid, specifically the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Grove Street, along with the intersection of Farmington Road, Orchard and Alta streets. The circles would slow down vehicles, calming traffic for pedestrians while also cutting down significantly on the stop-and-go traffic created by stop lights. Think Washington, D.C.'s, Dupont Circle or Detroit's Campus Martius on smaller scales.

The study will address the status of parking in the downtown area, its immediate needs and long-term requirements. It will also detail ways to improve and expand parking options to help grow local businesses and make them more accessible to local residents.

By summer's end, the city and DDA are also planning to launch a branding campaign that will incorporate both the downtown and the city as a whole. The goal is to spread the word about Farmington and why it was listed as one of the top places to live by Fortune magazine.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke


Money names Farmington, Plymouth in top 100 places to live in U.S.

Plymouth and Farmington are so Money!

Just about everybody thinks their town is one of the best places to live in America, but a top-100 ranking in a nationwide magazine doesn't hurt when making that argument. That would explain why Farmington and Plymouth residents have a little more swagger in their step after Money Magazine named them in their Best Places to Live: Top 100 for 2007.

They were two of three Michigan municipalities, the third was Saline at No. 59, on this year's list, which "focused on smaller places that offered the best combination of economic opportunity, good schools, safe streets, things to do and a real sense of community."

Plymouth Township ranked the highest of the state's towns at No. 37. Although the city of Plymouth and Plymouth Township are two distinct municipalities, the difference is more akin to what separates New and Olde Springfield in the famous "The Simpsons" episode.

Money magazine called Plymouth "a quiet community with a firm commitment to providing outdoor recreational space, demonstrated through the opening of multiple parks and the upkeep of a township-owned golf course." It also highlighted the new Bosch technical center that created 400 new jobs and its "short commute to Detroit."

Farmington made the rankings at No. 55 because it exhibits "a strong commitment to family and community, as evidenced in the large number of initiatives and events focused on bringing the town together." The magazine also points out Farmington's vibrant downtown has been enhanced with amenities such as the Civic Theatre and recent additions Sundquist Farmington Pavilion and Riley Park. It's also an "easy commute" to Ann Arbor and Detroit.

Source: Money magazine
Writer: Jon Zemke


Farbman's Michigan Now! program offers free office space to growing companies

Taking a page from the "Only we can solve our problems" playbook, Southfield-based Farbman Group is starting the Michigan Now! program to attract, retain and grow new businesses in Metro Detroit.

The program is offering office and commercial space at greatly reduced rates, or even free in some cases, to businesses and entrepreneurs in growth industries both in and out of state.

"Now is the time for businesses to play a role in moving our state forward. We cannot sit by idly and place the burden solely on the shoulders of government," David Farbman, co-president of Farbman Group, says in a statement. "The old way of doing business is no longer working for Michigan and business owners have the power to make a positive impact. The state is its own greatest resource. We have creative and well educated individuals, tremendous real estate spaces and a wealth of natural resources that simply need to be connected."

The idea is that by defraying the rental costs will free up capital in start-ups, allowing them to focus their resources on improving their business. It also hopes that the reduced rates will be big enough incentives to attract out-of-state businesses to Michigan. Farbman Group hopes growing businesses like this at the grassroots level will help boost the state’s sagging economy in the short and long term.

The program will also offer to match up these companies with local banks, consulting firms and attorneys to help them grow their business. So far about a dozen such organizations have signed up to take part in the program.

Applications for the program are due by July 31. More information can be found online at michigannow.net or by calling 866-NewMich (642-4639).  

Source: Farbman Group
Writer: Jon Zemke


Rail service could bring $719 million in investment to Michigan

A study by the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative states upgrading passenger rail service across the Midwest could provide up to $719 million in investment, $3.5 billion in user benefits to Michigan, 6,970 new jobs, more transportation choices and a significant reduction in pollution.

Nine states from across the Midwest, including Michigan, are part of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative, which is pushing for the creation of a 3,000-mile Midwest Regional Rail System, similar to systems on the east coast. Trains running out of a hub in Chicago would travel to nine Midwest states at speeds up to 110 mph, making travel times competitive with driving.

The proposed system would have three routes in Michigan that would connect Chicago to Metro Detroit, Port Huron and Grand Rapids. The study estimates the system would generate $23.1 in user benefits, such as time savings, and $4.9 billion in investment in the Midwest during the project's first 40 years. Of that, Metro Detroit could see as much as $315 million in user benefits.

Passenger rail service, provided by Amtrak, ridership in Michigan has increased steadily wince 2002 from 447,000 passengers to 673,000 passengers in 2006. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments is also moving forward with plans to create a commuter rail line connecting Detroit, Dearborn, Metro Airport, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor by the end of this year. 

For information on the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative study, visit michigan.gov/mdot/0,1607,7-151-11056---,00.html

Source: Michigan Department of Transportation


New Botsford cancer center gets go-ahead in F. Hills

The Farmington Hills Planning Commission approved plans for the new $15.5 million Botsford Hospital cancer center.

Excerpt:

Botsford plans to build the 30,000-square-foot cancer center on the east side of the Botsford Inn property on Grand River Avenue. Some wings added to the Botsford Inn in the late 20th century will be torn down to provide room for the center. The historic portion of the inn will be restored and renovated as part of the cancer center construction project.

Read the entire article here.

Locally-based national retail investment firm bets on Northville

Lormax Stern Development Co., based in W. Bloomfield and Farmington Hills-based Grand Sakwa Properties, Inc. joined to form the Equity Alliance Fund. The team is investing $400 million in retail centers across the country, including Benton Corner in Northville Twp.

Excerpt:

Construction has already begun on Benton Corner and will include a CVS drug store, a Huntington Bank, a grocery store, a restaurant and small retail outlets.

The 65,000-square-foot shopping center is scheduled for completion in 2008.

Read the entire article here.



Greenways network taking shape for entire region

$89.5 million in funding will eventually result in a network of bike and pedestrian paths through the entire 7-county region. $15.3 million of that total stems from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan's Greenways Initiative.

Excerpt:

The project's scope could be huge. A Rails-to-Trails Conservancy study reported the potential for 2,400 miles of trails in southeast Michigan. "That's the big vision," says Anne Weekley, vice president of the community foundation. The GreenWays Initiative-funded projects will total about 100 miles — double the existing routes — when completed.

Read the entire article here.

Tiger sculptures appear in Metro Detroit this spring

Large sculptures of tigers will begin appearing across Metro Detroit en masse after opening day.

The fiberglass Tigers are a fundraiser and public-art project for the Children’s Charities Coalition, which is made up of four Oakland County-based charities. At least 80 tigers will appear throughout Metro Detroit, although most of them will be in Birmingham and Bloomfield. The tigers are approximately 4 feet tall and 100 pounds and will be displayed in front of businesses between April and June.

“Our inspiration was the Detroit Tigers, but we have all sorts of tigers,” said Gigi Nichols, public relations director for The Community House, which is part of the Children’s Charities Coalition. “They’re not necessarily tigers that have something to do with baseball, although some of them do.”

Money raised from the sculptures will go toward the four charities that make up the Children’s Charities Coalition: Child Abuse and Neglect Council of Oakland County, The Community House, Orchards Children’s Services and Variety The Children’s Charity.

For information, call (248) 594-6403.

Source: Gigi Nichols, public relations director for The Community House


4 new community banks to open this year

Community Banks are jumping into high-growth mode. Four are scheduled to open this year--one each in Troy, Novi, Farmington Hills and Detroit.

Excerpt:

Donald Snider is president and CEO of Detroit-based Paper Plas Inc., a DaimlerChrysler supplier, and chairman of First Spirit Bancorp Inc.

He said years of frustrations with a variety of big banks with his current and past businesses — he used to own a McDonald's franchise in Detroit and Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in Illinois and Georgia — convinced him that a community bank can fill a niche larger banks can't.

Read the entire article here.

"Farmington Forward" to hold public planning sessions

The 40-member steering team of the "Farmington Forward" planning process will hold a public session on April 24.

Excerpt:

The schedule for the day is:

  • 1:30 p.m. -- Parents

  • 3 p.m. -- Farmington Public Schools staff

  • 4:15 p.m. -- Farmington Public Schools staff

  • 5:30 p.m. -- Parents/community members

  • 7 p.m. -- Parents/community members

    Call (248) 489-3339 to RSVP.

  • Read the entire article here.

    Mass transit ridership jumps in southeast Michigan

    More and more people are catching rides on Metro Detroit’s mass transit systems, which saw significant jumps in ridership in 2006.
     
    The Detroit Department of Transportation, Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, The People Mover and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority all saw ridership increases between 5 to 50 percent.

    The number of people riding the People Mover jumped 50 percent, while SMART and DDOT each registered 10.5-percent and 5-percent increases, respectively. AATA ridership jumped 13 percent.

    DDOT                  2005 = 34,724,028           2006 = 36,488,952  (+5%)
    SMART                 2005 = 10,176,391           2006 = 11,251,836 (+10.5%)
    People Mover      2005 = 1,558,646             2006 = 2,340,511   (+50%)
    AATA                    2005 = 4,856,895             2006 = 5,488,317   (+13%)

    "They’re all fairly significant climbs," said Janet Foran, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Transportation.
     
    Overall, people riding mass transit in Michigan jumped 8.4 percent in 2006 to 93.1 million rides. The state’s seven urban transportation systems accounted for 78 million rides. DDOT and SMART provided slightly more than half of the total number of rides in the state, or 47.9 million. 
     
    "Public transportation is a critical factor in providing mobility to Michigan residents," says Kirk T. Steudle, the state’s transportation director. "We attribute the rising numbers to several factors, including the ever-present issue of higher (and fluctuating) gas prices and effective local marketing efforts in larger, urban areas such as Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor."
     
    Southeast Michigan, long dependent solely on buses for mass transit, is also working on two projects to diversify mass transit options by the end of the year. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments is planning to establish a commuter train line connecting Detroit, Dearborn, Metro Airport, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor by the end of year. Ann Arbor-area leaders are also working to get another commuter rail line up and running north from the city into Livingston County along the U.S. 23 corridor by June.
     
    Source: Janet Foran, spokeswoman for MDOT

    TRU holding contest: what will mass transit look like in the future?

    Transportation Riders United, a Metro Detroit non-profit mass transit advocacy group, is holding a design contest on what the future of mass transit in Metro Detroit could look like in 2025.
     
    "Detroit in Transit: Visions of a Region on the Move" is looking for drawings and designs of what Detroit’s future transit and transit-oriented neighborhoods would look like with convenient, high-quality rapid transit.
     
    "What we’re really hoping to do is launch a public conversation about what rapid transit can do to revitalize a city like Detroit," says Megan Owens, executive director of TRU.
     
    TRU is looking for artists, designers, urban planners, architects, students and others to submit designs and drawings. The contest has three categories. The first is to design transit vehicles on a streetscape. The second is looking for architectural designs of transit stations incorporated into a streetscape. The third is for designing vibrant neighborhoods and intersections around transit stops.
     
    Submissions are due by April 30. Finalists will be revealed and displayed during a gala event during National Transportation Week, between May 13 and 18. For information on the contest, visit detroittransit.org/design-contest.php or call (313) 963-8872.
     
    Source: Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United

    Farmington kicks off long-term parking study

    The city of Farmington and its Downtown Development Authority will issue Requests for Proposals for a long-term downtown parking study.

    Excerpt:

    The goal of this study is to develop a long-term strategy that would evaluate future demands for parking based on in-fill development scenarios, evaluate current parking supply and demand, address parking and pedestrian access strategies, and develop options to maximize surface parking "solutions" for current and future demands.

    Read the entire article here.

    Farmington moving forward Shiawassee Park improvement plans

    City officials are still working on plans to make Shiawassee Park accessible to downtown Farmington for pedestrians and hope to start construction in 2008. The city expects to complete plans for the project this year and put it out to bid early next year.
     
    The $1-million project will build a pedestrian bridge over the Seeley Drain, a tributary of the Rouge River, creating a pedestrian- and handicap-accessible connection between the park and downtown. Connecting the park and downtown is expected to increase foot traffic from walkers and joggers to downtown and the park.
     
    The existing staircase connecting the two is old, steep and imposing. The new bridge will be inviting, barrier free and handicap accessible. A switchback ramp will be built on the downtown side of the bridge with observation decks overlooking the park. New pedestrian lighting will also be added to the park.
     
    The city has received a $500,000 federal grant last year and is applying for a $350,000 state grant for the project. The city would provide a $150,000 match.
     
    Source: Office of the city manager for Farmington

    Farmington Hills raising funds for public skate park

    Farmington Hills is raising funds from local businesses towards the construction of a 29,000 square-feet concrete skate park to be built on Eight Mile.

    Excerpt:

    A final push is under way to raise the final $250,000 before the end of February so the skate park can be built this fall. The project is expected to cost about $850,000 and $500,000 of that amount was donated by Farmington Hills philanthropist George Riley, and the Riley Foundation.

    Read the entire article here.
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