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Nightlife builds in downtown Plymouth

Downtown Plymouth, known for its history, its ice festival, and boutique shopping, is making a name for itself as a designation for nighttime fun.

Tony Bruscato, director of the Plymouth Downtown Development Authority, says the city has hit the sweet mix of daytime vibrancy with boutiques, shops, restaurants, and soon-to-expand office space with nighttime action that's attracting 20-somethings on up.

The Detroit section of about.com listed Plymouth in its top 10 up and coming neighborhoods for nightlife destinations. Bruscato says it's here and now.

There's live music and a lengthy drink list at 336 Martini Bar, a DJ every Friday at Hermann's Olde Town Grille, the Penn Bar and Grill, Sean O'Callaghan's Pub, the Grape Expectations Wine Bar and more.

The city nighttime vibe gets to pumping even more when the Music in the Air concert series starts in Kellogg Park this weekend.

The concerts attract 3,000-4,000 people, Bruscato says.

"I think Plymouth is a good market. It's a good place to be right now," he says. "I think if you were looking for the cool downtowns Plymouth would certainly be one of those.  We've really turned into a town for nightlife. A younger clientele is coming in. Larger business offices are moving in. Young families are moving in…We've been very lucky."

Source: Tony Bruscato, director Plymouth Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Art is in the air in Dearborn

Dearborn is showing lots of love for the arts as community development groups carry out plans to shape the city's identity around creativity and culture.

There is the addition of three new outdoor sculptures to join the eight already on display as part of the Midwest Sculpture Initiative in the east, west, and center parts of the city. After rounding up interest and determining there is a market in Dearborn, the national nonprofit, Artspace, is working with the city, development officials, and arts groups to build a live and work space for artists.

The project, now entering the third phase, could be at least two years away from completion. The next step is to find an ideal piece of property. If the goals are accomplished, it would be a magnet for other commercial and residential development.

Pockets of Perception is bringing student art into the public eye, letting them express not only their creativity but learn the nuts of bolts of working with local government and business. A Youth Arts Festival was held earlier this month. DearbornSoup came to the city in March, putting out the artists welcome sign by sponsoring soup nights where the money paid for soup goes toward sponsoring entrepreneurs in the arts.

The city is also giving a shout-out to the musical arts with the West Dearborn Downtown Development Authority's Friday Nites in the Park, opening June 17, at Muirhead Plaza each week. Jazz on the Ave, the Wednesday night concerts sponsored by the East Dearborn DDA, come to Dearborn City Hall Park, starting July 13.

"We've got so much going on," says Melissa Kania of the East Dearborn DDA. "We've just got to get people here and keep them here."

Source: Melissa Kania, spokesperson, East Dearborn Development Authority
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

Vintage Pontiac neighborhood vital to Oakland County's urban core

With stately, tree-filled streets, its homes built in the Arts & Crafts era, Tudors and Cape Cods, Pontiac's South Boulevard area is a trip back in time, a tour through the years from the days the first homes were built in the early 1900s until the last ones went up in the 1950s and early 1960s.

The neighborhood at South Boulevard and Franklin Street is one of many vintage neighborhoods in the city and across the county, all of them the focus of the Oak Street Home and Neighborhood Fair this Saturday. It's the third year of the fair, which brings together home professionals and various home improvement and preservation organizations together with the owners of homes built in 1960 and before. There also will be advice and information on access to landscapers and financial assistance for home improvements.

The Oak Street fair runs from 4-7 p.m. in the area of South and Franklin near Woodward. The fair is free and will offer kids activities.

"Our urban neighborhoods are an extremely important component of Oakland County's quality of life," County Executive L. Brooks Patterson says. "The fair raises awareness of these neighborhoods and brings resources directly to homeowners."

The Franklin South Boulevard neighborhood specifically will be the site of home renovations and improvements being completed Saturday by Rebuilding Together Oakland County, the local branch of a national nonprofit that takes volunteers into older neighborhoods to complete preservation projects and improvements.

"When we come away at the end of the day, there's going to be six to 10 homes that have been given revisions, painting, shrubbery," says Ronald Campbell, principal planner and preservation architect for Oakland County Planning and Economic Development.

The boulevard will also be changed when the day ends. ITC Holdings Corp. of Novi, an electricity transmission company, has donated nine red oak trees and will plant them in the median on South Boulevard.

"There's tremendous investment in these neighborhoods both in terms of infrastructure and in private investment," Campbell says. We want them to understand the opportunities to protect that investment."

Source: Ronald Campbell, principal planner and preservation architect for Oakland County Planning and Economic Development
Writer: Kim North Shine

U.S. Census numbers as development tools

While population declines were the mostly the rule, according to U.S. Census data released last week, many metro Detroit communities are using news of their population gains to lure business and attract more residents.

Sterling Heights, Macomb County's second largest city and the state's fourth largest, and Rochester, one of the fastest growing cities in Michigan and Oakland County's fastest with an increase of 21.4 percent from 2000-2010, have already hailed their growth as harbingers of future prosperity.

Rochester officials are calling their population jump from 10,439 in 2000 to 12,711 in 2010 evidence that a formula of mixed housing options, a vibrant downtown, access to trails and water and a solid commercial base has worked and is reason to show other prospective businesses and residents that the city is on solid ground and poised for economic prosperity.

Sterling Heights, which grew 4.2 percent from 124,471 in 2000 to 129,699, in 2010, is spreading word about how it got here.

"Sterling Heights is known as one of the safest cities in America," Mayor Richard Notte says. "Businesses have seen fit to reinvest, build and relocate in our city, as witnessed by $1 billion in development over the past year. Sterling Heights is still experiencing a strong housing market with two residential developments in full swing. And finally, residents choose the city because of our excellent public school systems and proximity to world-class higher education opportunities."

Other population gainers include Birmingham, Dearborn, Macomb Township, Brownstown Township, and Romulus.  Losers include Royal Oak, Pontiac, Ferndale, Warren, Mt. Clemens and Livonia.

Overall, Southeast Michigan lost 2.7 percent of its population, dropping from 4,833,368 in 2000 to 4,704,743 in 2010. However, the number of households remained nearly the same.

A large part of the loss is due to a 25 percent population decline in Detroit. According to SEMCOG, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, population of many of the nations' cities declined. However, many of those same urban centers are experiencing an economic rebirth, according to SEMCOG.

Wayne County, Michigan's most populous county with 1.8 million people, lost 11.7 percent of its residents.  Its neighbors in the tri-county area, Macomb and Oakland, saw population gains. SEMCOG's Southeast Michigan figures cover seven counties in addition to these three: Livingston, Monroe, St. Clair and Washtenaw.

In metro Detroit, Oakland County came up with a 0.7 percent increase in the 10-year span while Macomb registered a 6.7 percent gain.

Whether the population gains were minimal or substantial, communities are celebrating the upticks and awaiting anxiously a demographic breakdown, namely age groups which point to a community's attractiveness and chance for thriving. Those numbers will be released by the U.S. Census Bureau this summer.

Source: SEMCOG, city of Sterling Heights and Mayor Richard Notte, Rochester City Manager Jaymes Vettraino
Writer: Kim North Shine

Wayfinding signs with online synch capability are coming to Ferndale

The first phase of what's known as a wayfinding system begins in coming weeks in downtown Ferndale with the installation of eye-catching, user-friendly signs and the launch of online virtual tours to go with them.

About 30 signs, some illuminated, will be installed mostly along 9 Mile and Woodward and tied to information accessible from any computer or smartphone, letting visitors synch up online information about businesses, history, fun facts, and practical information such as where to park, says Cristina Sheppard-Decius, executive director of the Ferndale DDA, which headed up the project.

Two of the signs will be business directory kiosks, and there will be an online walking tour component.

They come at a cost of about $100,000, mostly from grants and a combination of contributions from the City of Ferndale and the DDA. Another $35,000 in volunteer hours has gone into the project.

Two more signs, funded by Woodward Avenue Action Association, or WA3, will go in this fall.

Designs will mimic a marquee such as Radio City, freshened up and stylized yet classic. Troy-based ASI Signage Innovations helped design and manufactured the signs.

Eventually, signs will be located throughout the city, including at its entrances.

Sheppard-Decius says she and other city planners have seen how well wayfinding systems work in other cities. Traverse City and Kalamazoo have nice ones, as does Madison, Wisconsin with its standout system of signs that make you feel like a veteran visitor, she says.

With the number of visitors to downtown Ferndale, the signs make getting around easy and fun and make the city more inviting.

"It's one of those things communities covet. It always seems to come up around town…that when you're a visitor you can't seem to find your way. If you're a resident you have the upper hand. To a visitor it's a blank slate," she says.

Besides, she adds, this is something that makes the city look good while answering repeated requests for better ways of navigating Ferndale. The signs put its best face forward.

"[It's] how we present ourselves," Sheppard-Decius says. "How people get around our city comes up many times at focus groups and in surveys. This is the answer to that."

Source: Cristina Sheppard-Decius, executive director Ferndale DDA
Writer: Kim North Shine

Iconic Rochester Grain Elevator elevated in the history books

The Rochester Grain Elevator has been added to the National Register of Historic Places after more than a year of work by local historians, volunteers and city officials.

The designation not only generates the possibility of drawing visitors to the city's historic landmarks, it bolsters Rochester's image as a vibrant, contemporary community that honors of its past history.

Located in a paint-thin red barn plastered with worn ads for feed, the building looks out over the city's modern-day business district .

"It was once the center of all business and agricultural life in Rochester," Mayor Jeffrey Cuthbertson says. Today it operates as a supply store -- one of the, if not the, city's longest operating businesses, Cuthbertson says.

"I think that this is part of maintaining our historical character,"  Cuthbertson says. "I think that when people come to Rochester they feel a real sense of place. The elevator is one of those iconic buildings that contribute to that."

Groups involved in pursuing the historic designation include the Rochester/Avon Historical Society and the Rochester Historical Commission. The project has the endorsement of Lawrence Smith, owner and operator of Rochester Grain Elevator, which has been owned by his family for 55 years.

Source: Rochester City Manager Jaymes Vettraino and Rochester Mayor Jeffrey Cuthbertson
Writer: Kim North Shine

Auburn Hills earns award for riverwalk plans

The vision of a riverfront park system linked to a regional trail network was enough for the city of Auburn Hills to take home a planning award for its Riverwalk master plan.

The city was awarded the Planning Excellence 2010 Award from the Michigan association of Planning last month. Brian Marzolf, Auburn Hills' recreation director, says the idea of a park-to-park trail has existed in the city's master plan for about 15 years, so it’s exciting that it's finally coming to fruition, especially with the latest vote of confidence.

"It's been talked about and been a vision in people's minds over time, but as most good planners know, you can't build anything unless you build a plan," he says. "This is a great step for us to get that plan in place. We're getting closer to actually create something exciting."

The Riverwalk will eventually connect to downtown, and to the regional Clinton River trail, which runs through Oakland County. "It creates more connections, and more opportunities for people to use them," Marzolf says.

Marzolf says the city is in the process of doing the legwork necessary for the project, including gaining some easements between the existing Riverside and River Woods parks, and securing funding for the project. He hopes to have select design consultants by spring, bid out the project next fall, and be constructing the Riverwalk by 2012 and 2013.

To come up with the plan, the city solicited input from residents, business owners, elected officials and planners. Among its features will be landscaping and infrastructure that will improve the riverfront's environmental quality.

Source: Brian Marzolf, recreation director, City of Auburn Hills
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Pontiac unveils latest Woodward Tribute sculpture

A tribute sculpture commemorating Pontiac's role in the history of Woodward Avenue is to be fully in place today, with a celebration planned for next week.

The Pontiac Tribute, the second such monument along Woodward, was installed last month to raise awareness about the history behind Michigan's Main Street and its importance to not only the state but the U.S. and the world. The sculptures are robust columns that depict part of Woodward's history. Ferndale's was installed in 2008.

The final touches on the sculpture are expected to be put in place today. It will also be absorbing light so it can be turned on, says Nicole Brown, outreach and promotions coordinator for the Woodward Avenue Action Association, the organization behind the effort. "The significance of it in Pontiac is celebrating transportation heritage," she says.

The tribute came about as a result of a lot of hard work, Brown says, and a laundry list of supporters and sponsors, including the city of Pontiac, Oakland County, and the Michigan Department of Transportation. "People are really excited about it," Brown says. "It's something positive that's happening in the city of Pontiac. It's been received really well, from residents and members of the business community."

Pontiac's Tribute is at the corner of Woodward and Whitmore, in the area commonly known as the "teardrop." Negotiations are currently ongoing with Detroit for its tribute, with an announcement expected later this year about its location. The ultimate goal is to have one for each city along Woodward to recognize each of their unique contributions.

The Pontiac Tribute's $150,000 price tag was funded in part by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration's National Scenic Byways funds and other contributors.

WA3 and the city of Pontiac are hosting a public tribute illumination reception on Wednesday; click here for details.

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

WA3 breaks ground on Woodward Tribute in Pontiac

From Chief Pontiac to the Pontiac car brand, the eponymous city was vital to Woodward Avenue's history. A tribute sculpture is soon to commemorate that role.

Ground was broken Wednesday for the Pontiac Tribute, the second along Woodward, to help raise awareness about the history behind Michigan's Main Street and its importance to not only the state but the U.S. and the world. The sculptures are robust columns a story or two tall that depict part of Woodward's history. Ferndale's was installed in 2008.

The structures "tell the story of that community's contribution to Woodward," says Nicole Brown, the outreach and promotions coordinator for the Woodward Avenue Action Association, which is spearheading the project. "The one for Pontiac tells the story of Pontiac's rich automotive history -- its heritage in terms of transportation. It's acknowledging the past and what that area contributed to Woodward, and the world."

Pontiac's Tribute will be at the corner of Woodward and Whitmore, in the area commonly known as the "teardrop." Ground is expected to be broken for the Detroit Tribute later this year. The ultimate goal is to have one for each city along Woodward to recognize each of their unique contributions.

"We're really excited about the project," Brown says. "It's something the community can rally around. It's something that acknowledges what a great city Pontiac was, is, and will be into the future."

The Pontiac Tribute's $150,000 price tag will be funded in part by the Federal Highway Administration National Scenic Byways funds and other contributors. The monument is expected to be completed by mid-summer.

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

Detroit Zoo renovates landmark water tower

The animals will continue marching around the Detroit Zoo water tower, but with a new graphic and a new coat of paint on the tower.

The colorful tower at Woodward Avenue and 10 Mile Road in Royal Oak will have the existing graphic steamed off and then be power washed, scraped, and hand-painted, says Patricia Mills Janeway,
communications director for the Detroit Zoo. The graphic is starting to look a little ragged, with the decal coming off in places. "(Passers-by) will definitely notice that it's more spruced up," she adds.

The hand-painting will reduce any overspray that can float down on cars and other things below, she explains. A new graphic, 40 feet by 270 feet and made of adhesive vinyl, will then be applied to the tower. The "critter parade" logo of animals and humans walking across a plain at dusk is nearly the same as the original, except the elephant will be replaced with a rhino. (Detroit's elephants have since retired to an elephant sanctuary.)

"People are used to seeing that critter parade," she says. "They recognize it and love it, and we love it."

The $200,000 makeover is expected to be complete by mid-July, weather permitting.

And here's some Detroit Zoo water tower trivia: It was built in 1928, but only supplied water until 1984. Now its sole purpose is to be a giant, round zoological billboard.

Source: Patricia Mills Janeway,
communications director for the Detroit Zoo
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Downtown Mt. Clemens welcomes 3 new falcons

Two young peregrine falcons making their home at the Macomb County Administration Building stretched their wings on a day a little windier than what they could handle.

No worries, though -- Harwell and Martha are doing fine, having been taken to a Michigan Department of Natural Resources & Environment rehab facility to develop more wing strength before returning to their parents, Hathor and Nick, and brother, Packard.

"They only had the strength to go down," says Christine Becher, the nesting peregrine falcon coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources & Environment. "They don't have enough muscle power yet to get back up to where they came from."

The three young falcons were officially named and tagged for identification earlier this month. The names were chosen to honor Ernie Harwell, the recently deceased longtime Tigers' baseball announcer; the Packard Motor Car Company; and Martha Griffiths, Michigan's first female lieutenant governor. The trio, born on May 12, are Hathor and Nick's third set of offspring in as many years.

Hathor and Nick have made their home on the 11th floor of the county building, a height close enough to the cliffs on which falcons choose to build their nests in the wild. Birds who hatch on building perches tend to make their own homes on similar perches later on, Becher explains.

Peregrines usually won't nest the first year after their birth, and they don't necessarily stay close to home. Other pairs have made their nests in buildings and bridges in Detroit, Monroe, Flint, and surrounding areas. "There's quite a few nesting around here that are Ontario birds," Becher says.

Source: Christine Becher, nesting peregrine falcon coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources & Environment
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

New plans surface for Chelsea's historic livery buildings

Local residents are rallying around the historic-yet-endangered Chelsea Livery buildings, developing some innovative adaptive reuse plans that call for a diverse set of mixed uses.


A new plan for renovating the historic livery buildings in downtown Chelsea has surfaced, thanks to the friends group working to preserve the vacant structures.

Downtown Chelsea-based Dangerous Architects has put forward a plan that would turn the livery's three buildings into a mixed-use development complete with space for retail, restaurants, and residential. It was the only submission for the the city's request for proposals for the building. The Chelsea Downtown Development Authority, which had once planned to raze the livery, will entertain the proposal on Thursday.

"The three main buildings are historic," says Scott McElrath, president of Dangerous Architects. "The structures and their foundations are strong. There is no reason to take them down."

Read the rest of the story here.

WA3 starts Woodward Maintenance Fund

The Woodward Avenue Action Association normally engages in maintaining the reputation and brand of Woodward Avenue. However, now it is taking a more active part in the physical appearance of Michigan's Main Street.

The non-profit has created the Woodward Maintenance Fund. The fund will help local municipalities deal with the extra costs of major events and other infrastructure improvements to make it prettier for people who use the corridor all the time.

"It will make Woodward as beautiful as possible and as appealing to everyone as possible," says Nicole Brown, outreach and promotions coordinator for the Woodward Avenue Action Association.

Some of the projects the fund will support include tree planting, fixing public lighting, and installing public art. It will also supply extra maintenance service during special events.

The initial funding ($10,000) for the project came from monies raised during the 2009 Community Foundation Arts & Culture Challenge. The Woodward Avenue Action Association expects to raise even more money from local foundations and philanthropists.

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

Belleville streetscape project gets green light

It's been a long journey, but the roads of downtown Belleville are about to be streetscaped this summer.

The city received $458,314 in federal Transportation Enhancement funds for part of a $5.8 million streetscape plan. The project includes a complete revamping of the streets, including below the surface. It will be tackled in two phases this summer.

All of the sewer and water lines and
other underground infrastructure will be replaced in the downtown. Sidewalks will be enhanced with decorative brick pavers, benches, trash cans, bike racks, and new landscaping.

"It's definitely time to do an update," says Carol Thompson, administrator for the Belleville Downtown Development Authority.

No improvements have been made to the downtown streetscape since the early 1990s. Many trees have also been lost to the emerald ash borer in recent years.

The first phase of the project will include South Street from Huron River Drive to the railroad tracks and the Fourth Street Square. The second phase, set to begin after the Strawberry Festival in June, will replace Main Street from the Bridge to Huron River Drive.

This is not the first time plans for the streetscape have been broached. An initiative to have the work done via a bond proposal was defeated last year. This new project is coming mainly from the city's coffers.

Source: Carol Thompson, administrator for the Belleville Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke
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