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Ypsilanti aims to empower residents with new side-lot program

Ypsilanti wants to empower its residents by letting some of them purchase the lawns they mow. Talk about grassroots.

The city of Ypsilanti is working to launch a side-lot program where homeowners who live next to vacant lots owned by the city can buy them for as little as $1. Often the lots in question are small city lots where the city razed a blighted building and left a grassy area that more times than not the neighbors take care of.

"We're looking at increasing someone's yard," says Beth Ernat, director of community & economic development for the city of Ypsilanti. "It rewards property owners who have been taking care of the property."

The city hopes selling the lots to local residents will mean generating more property tax revenue and spending less city resources on maintaining vacant land. Similar side-lot programs have been deployed in other Michigan cities, like Detroit, Saginaw and Flint.

"It has worked in very well in other cities," Ernat says. "We think it's worth giving it a try here."

The city of Ypsilanti hopes to have the program ready for launch in October and selling lots in November. Corner lots and lots of big acreage, such as the Water Street properties, are not available. Available lots will first be offered to adjacent owner-occupants who are in good standing with the city regarding property taxes and code violations. For information, contact Ernat at or (734) 482-9774.

"We have received a lot of interest from word of mouth," Ernat says. "We will be notifying every neighbor about this."

Source: Beth Ernat, director of community & economic development for the city of Ypsilanti
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

How Beezy's, Beal made the numbers work to grow in downtown Ypsilanti

News that a local entrepreneur (Bee Roll) and developer (Stewart Beal) are partnering to expand a popular business in downtown Ypsilanti (Beezy's Cafe) is rightly being celebrated. It's the type of move that passersby would say, "That makes so much sense. Why didn't it happen earlier?"

Normally, the problem of filling empty storefront A with growing local business B is a lot easier said than done. Roll and Beal figured out a way to make the numbers add up.

"This is what I would call Ypsilanti hustle," Beal says. "We are both going to work really hard to make this work."

Beezy's Cafe has become an Ypsilanti institution in the seven years since its opening, serving soups, sandwiches and other delicious food to a growing clientele. Despite its success, finding capital to grow has proven difficult, to put it nicely. (You can read more in-depth writing about those challenges here. Roll recently signed Beezy's Cafe up as one of the early adopters to ZipCap to leverage a $10,000 loan. More on that here.)

Last week Beal purchased the former Club Devine building at 21 N Washington St. The vacant structure also happens to be across the street from Beezy's Cafe current home. Beal and Roll plan to expand Beezy's Cafe into 3,000-square-foot of the former Club Devine space later this year or early next year. That space includes a 800-square-foot commercial kitchen, which is four times the size of Beezy's Cafe's current kitchen. It should give Roll ample room to keep up with demand for both her eatery's breakfast, lunch and dinner items, and its catering service.

"I just hope to have the kitchen operational so that I can produce food in a little more space," Roll wrote in an email. "That will potentially raise enough revenue to feed the rest of the growth and keep up with existing bills."

Roll is paying $2,500 a month for the new space of Beezy's Cafe, which include $30,000 worth of improvements Beal is making to the space and rolling into the rent. That comes to a price per square foot that Beal describes as the minimum a commercial property can charge a business and still maintain its status as a functional property that can make further improvements. Beal adds that he has been talking to Roll for years about her business and knows she was looking at expanding into an adjacent property that required at least $150,000 buildings updates. The problem so many retailers like Roll run into is they see empty storefronts in a dynamic downtown like Ypsilanti and then realize they need tens of thousands of dollars in upgrades that the landlords have no interest in making.

"In Ypsilanti the reason buildings are vacant in because the the owners of the buildings don't want to invest in the building to land a tenant," Beal says.

The former Club Devine building was move-in ready. Beal says his development team only needs to put down a new floor in an otherwise pristine space. Which is part of the reason why Beal wanted to move a tenant into 21 N Washington right away. For him it makes sense to bring in an popular business like Beezy's Cafe at an affordable price to anchor his new commercial development.

Beal is now working to fill the second floor and basement of the 22,000 square foot building. He is considering turning the second floor into either an office space or residential lofts, and hopes to fill it within six months. He knows filling the basement will be more of a challenge and hopes to find the right tenant for it in the not-too-distant future.

"She (Roll) brings the fan base and we get the space ready for her to make it work," Beal says.

Source: Stewart Beal, owner of Beal Properties; Bee Roll, owner of Beezy's Cafe
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

Go! Ice Cream targets opening own shop in downtown Ypsilanti

Rob Hess has a dream, a dream that includes opening up a new ice cream store in downtown Ypsilanti. And he would like your help to make it happen.

The Ypsilanti resident has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help him finance the opening of the first permanent home of Go! Ice Cream. Today the fledgling business that makes craft ice cream is sold from the cooler of his tricycle and at the events he caters. Hess aspires to open an ice cream store at 10 N Washington, activating a vacant storefront and deserted alley in downtown Ypsilanti.

"I searched high and low for the right place," Hess says. He adds he spoke to local developer Stewart Beal and other local stakeholders to find the right spot. "I really want a space in downtown Ypsilanti. When you walk through downtown you can see a lot of vacant storefronts."

And that means opportunity for Hess. He has raised a little more than $6,000 of his $30,000 goal as of Tuesday afternoon. If Hess raises the money he plans to have the kitchen ready by early next year and the storefront open to the public by May.

Hess got started making ice cream as a hobby a few years ago. Check out a previous feature on Go! Ice Cream from Concentrate here. The videographer at the University of Michigan quickly got sucked into the craft of making ice cream.

"I got interested in the chemistry behind it," Hess says. "You can do a lot of subtle things to tweak the texture and flavor."

Soon he had a freezer full of his homemade ice cream and no room for any of his vegetables. So he started giving it away to friends and family. They started offering to pay him for it and the entrepreneurial light went off over his head. He started working with Zingerman's, which agreed to pasteurize the ice cream for him, and he had a real business on his hands.

"Once I figured that out I thought, 'Let's see if people will respond to $9 a pint ice cream?'" Hess says.

They responded well. Hess, an avid bicyclists, bought a tricycle to sell Go! Ice Cream's flavors across the city. He now sells ice cream to about 700 people per month and growing. He hopes to grow that number even faster when he has his own store where people can come to him.

Source: Rob Hess, owner of Go! Ice Cream
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at

VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System opens $2M heart value replacement suite

Before now, when veterans anywhere in the Midwest needed a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement, or TAVR procedure, they had to travel out of state or to a private hospital, as the minimally-invasive surgical procedure heart valve surgery wasn't available at a nearby VA hospital. With the opening of the $2M, 1,000-square foot TAVR Suite at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, that will now change. 

"Aortic stenosis is a disease of elderly patients and it's not uncommon," says Dr. Claire Duvernoy, professor of medicine
with University of Michigan Hospital and Health Systems and cardiology section chief for VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. "Because our veterans tend to have other, co-existing medical conditions, they may be too high risk for open heart surgery. This procedure was developed those for whom doing an open heart operation is too risky." 

Beginning in January, these veterans will have access to the TAVR procedure here in Ann Arbor. Duvernoy expects the suite will begin with about one procedure a week an ramp up to two to three each week over time. The VA Ann Arbor Healthcare Systems celebrated a ribbon cutting at the site this week. 

"This is a big step forward," Duvernoy says. "We have our first patient scheduled for January, to allow time for the room to be used and for everyone to get comfortable working there."

One nurse and one nurse practitioner will be hired to manage TAVR patients pre- and post-procedure. University of Michigan Hospital physicians with extensive experience with TAVR will be performing the procedures at the VA. Currently, the university hospital performs more TAVR procedures than any other facility in Michigan. Bringing this service to veterans in the Ann Arbor area and beyond is expected to open up the benefits of TAVR to many veterans with aortic stenosis who might otherwise not have qualified for help with their condition. 

Contact: Dr. Claire Duvernoy, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System
Writer: Natalie Burg

New, 25-unit condo development planned for Kerrytown

If anyone needs proof that demand for downtown living is still on the rise in Ann Arbor, the announcement of Huron Contracting's third Kerrytown condo project in various stages of development should suffice. As his North Main condos near completion and the Kingsley Lane project should break ground in a few weeks, a new, 25-unit condo project has been proposed for N. First St. 

"We're excited," says Tom Fitzsimmons of Huron Contracting. "As long we we can continue to find land in or near Kerrytown and the demand remains strong we'll continue to develop. "

And people seem willing to continue to buy. The North Main development is sold out, and the Kingsley St. project is about 75 percent sold before groundbreaking. Similar to the previous projects, the new N. First development will include on-site parking and a mix of unique, one- to three-bedroom units ranging from 900 to 2,000 square feet each. 

"You're going to be two blocks from Kerrytown, and two to three blocks from downtown," says Fitzsimmons. "With parking on site, it's going to be a fantastic spot." 

Though prices for the new units have not yet been set, Fitzsimmons says his current near-downtown condos are selling for approximately $375 to $400 per square foot. Though the new plan is in the proposal stage, should all go well, Fitzsimmons hopes to break ground in late summer of next year and complete construction in 2016. 

Source: Tom Fitzsimmons, Huron Contracting
Writer: Natalie Burg

Local Habitat for Humanity revitalizes more than just houses

When most people think about Habitat for Humanity, they think about volunteers building houses and renovating them for those in need. For Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley, that's only part of the story, and their commitment to revitalizing more than just houses has landed them a $70,000 grant from Lowe's.

"About three years ago we took a more concentrated approach to investing in the communities in a bigger way than just renovating houses," says Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley Community Development Director Sarah Teare.

That expanded approach includes community planning meetings, visioning, surveys and more to determine how Habitat can help the entire neighborhood become a better place to live. "Long term, we will work with the residents to help make those things that are most important come to life in their community."

The local Habitat affiliate was one of 11 national affiliates and the only in Michigan to receive the grant award from Lowe's. The funds have already been put to use for community planning meetings, home exterior improvements, improvements to a pedestrian and bike path, door-to-door surveys and a clean-up day, all in Ypsilanti Twp.'s West Willow neighborhood. The funds, which came in a combination of cash and Lowe's gift cards, will also help with the construction of a pavilion in the future.

"We hope to give people more of a sense of pride and comfort in their community," Teare says. "We've really seen a lot of connections made and friendships made." 

Source: Sarah Teare, Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley
Writer: Natalie Burg

10,000 sq ft Ypsilanti Town Center renovated for success

A long vacant Ypsilanti Twp. property will soon be getting a makeover, and, should all go according to plans, new tenants. 

"We are going to name it the Ypsilanti Town Center," says Steve Campeau, a partner in the property's redevelopment with Beal Properties. "We want to make it the premier location for office suites in town. We're committed to fixing it up, making it look nice and continuing to add value to the community."

The 9,960-square foot building is divided into 14 suites that Campeau says can be combined or renovated to suit the tenants' needs. The partners are asking $9 per square foot for the commercial space. Formerly a medical building, Campeau says the facility is ideally suited for similar uses, but are available for other uses as well. 

"The township really wants to get this building occupied," Campeau says. "They are working with us to get any kind of business in there." 

Campeau believes the property has been vacant for about seven years. Exterior work is underway on the building now, but the partners plan to wait until tenants have been secured to renovate the interior, so each suite can be built to suit the business's needs. 

Source: Steve Campeau, Beal Properties
Writer: Natalie Burg

Chelsea's St. Louis Center celebrates $2M expansion of adult residence hall

The St. Louis Center in Chelsea opened more than 60 years ago as school for developmentally disabled boys, and has grown and changed ever since. Now, with 52 residents that include men of all ages and women, the center is celebrating a $2 million renovation to their Fr. Guanella Hall for Assisted Living, which adds 2,500 square feet to the 10,065 square foot residence hall. 

"As time has gone on, our population has been aging," says Joe Yekulis, PR director for St. Louis Center. "In 2000, for our 50th anniversary, we said, 'It's great that we've made it for 50 years, but where do we go from here?'"

The decision led to a long-term, $10 million plan the St. Louis Center calls the Three U's: Upgrade, Update and Uplift to renovate the facility to meet the needs of their growing and aging population. Previously, the organization has built a new administration center and a new special needs playground. The expansion of the Fr. Guanella Hall is their most ambitious project to date. 

"I think the impact will be extremely positive," says Yekulis. "It's all about creating a great quality of life for the residents here."

Work on the project broke ground in October and is now about 90 percent complete. The St. Louis Center will celebrate the project with a dedication ceremony on June 8. Most Reverend Bishop Earl Boyea, Bishop of Lansing, as well as other religious leaders and state senators are expected to attend the ceremony, which will include a mass, blessing and ribbon cutting ceremony. The public is welcome to attend.

All funds for the center were raised by the St. Louis Center through donations. The next phase of their Three U's plan is to build an assisted living village on their property for more independent residents.

Source: Joe Yekulis, St. Louis Center
Writer: Natalie Burg

Gift of Life Michigan to double facility size with $12.3M expansion

Gift of Life Michigan has been saving lives for more than 40 years. By next year, they'll be doubling the footprint of their headquarters in Ann Arbor to amplify the quality of and access to organ transplants in our state. A 50,000 square foot, $12.3 million expansion is planned for the organization's Research Park Rd. facility that will connect two existing buildings, and provide room for a surgical center, 250-seat auditorium and memorial area for donor families. 

"There are three things in healthcare that one can always improve upon," says Gift of Life Michigan CEO Richard Pietroski. "There is reducing costs…improving access to a scarce resource, and improving quality. With all our processes centralized, we'll be doing all of that."

With a staff of about 200, Gift of Life now sends teams of employees all over the state. With 145 hospitals of varying resources, coordination can be difficult. With surgical capabilities at Gift of Life's facility, donors can instead be transported to one location for a more streamlined process. 

"About seven years ago, we had an organ recovery team from U-M involved in a plane crash," says Pietroski. "Nationwide, that's something that's happened frequently enough that I'd rather transfer the donor than have teams fly. It's a service to the transplant center and their teams."

While about six months of rezoning and property line changes will preceed construction, Pietroski anticipates construction to be complete by Sept. 2015. About six full-time positions and several more part-time positions will be created by the new facility. 

Currently, 3,300 Michiganders are registered organ donors, indicated by a red heart on their drivers' license. People can become organ donors by visiting the Gift of Life Michigan website.

Source: Richard Pietroski, Gift of Life Michigan
Writer: Natalie Burg

Livonia Builders to bring 32 condos to Carpenter Rd.

New brownstone-style living opportunities will be available in Pittsfield Twp. next year or the following. The 32-unit project, called The Enclave at Arbor Ridge may develop into condos or apartments, depending on the market when they're ready for occupancy. Looking at the current market, they very well could at least begin as apartments.
"The rental market is fantastic," says developer Danny Veri of Livonia Builders. "They're set up so that we could switch them to condos at any time. I might flip them sometime in the future, maybe in five or 10 years."
Either way, The Enclave at Arbor Ridge will include two- and three-bedroom brownstones ranging from around 1,500 to 1,600 square feet. Though the market will determine the final rental rates, Veri estimates they will be around $1,450 to $1,600 per month. 
"I think we're going to pull young professionals," Veri says. "There are a lot of university employees, hospital employees and grad students in the area."
The location was chosen for its freeway access, as well as its surroundings. The one-acre development will sit on an eight-acre site, which includes woods and wetland. Veri anticipates residents enjoying the tranquility provided by the undeveloped area of the property, which sits on the corner of Carpenter Rd. and Cloverland Dr. 
With other development projects underway and planned for the area, Livonia Builders plans to begin construction on The Enclave at Arbor Ridge in 2015, which will last approximately one year. 

Source: Danny Veri, Livonia Builders
Writer: Natalie Burg

$12M Kingsley Lane Condos could add up to 21 units to downtown

The demand to live near downtown Ann Arbor could be fed a bit more with the proposed Kingsley Lane Condos. The long-delayed project has been been submitted to the Ann Arbor Design Review Board. Currently, the development plans include 21 units, but that could change based on the demands of prospective tenants. 
"We started out with an average unit size of 1,000 to 1,100 square feet, but we've already started talking to people about combining units," says Tom Fitzsimmons of Huron Contracting, who is working with developers Peter Allen, Mark Berg. "We've been contacted by about ten people so far. People are interested in larger units."
Regardless of how many units it will ultimately contain, the approximately $12 million project will be about 40,000 square feet and include two new buildings and an existing structure on Kingsley Lane. The goal of the project, says Fitzsimmons, is to build the kind of space people are looking for.
"We're trying to make nice spaces people are comfortable in, so that includes large decks, balconies, lots of indoor and outdoor space and nice master suites," he says. 
If the plan moves forward as planned, Fitzsimmons hopes the Ann Arbor City Council will approve that project in August, and construction would begin immediately. He expects the Kingsley Lane Condo project would then be completed by late 2015.  

Source: Tom Fitzsimmons, Huron Contracting
Writer: Natalie Burg

More than 170 homes included in Scio Twp. development proposal

More than 170 new houses could be built on a Scio Township property if a proposal is approved later this month. Property owner Mark Smith says the project would bring residential infill development that could help stave off suburban sprawl. 
"It's a great location," Smith says of the W. Liberty Rd. property. "You're five minutes to downtown, you're two minutes to the freeway and half an hour to the airport. Going all the way back to when Scio Twp. had a master plan, it always called for this area to be developed in low density housing."
Smith and his wife have been working to develop the 162-acre property for decades, with plans for golf course and single family housing falling through for various reasons. Now, however, he believes the time is right and the property well-suited for housing. 
"It's been in my wife's family for a long time," says Smith. "We live on this property, and it is near and dear to our hearts, and it's a great location relative to the city."
The proposed development would ultimately include 176 houses, though some of those homes already exist on the property. Plans include lots of various sizes, including space for what Smith calls "traditional suburban" homes, and others for transitional neighborhood developments, such as multi-generational and smaller homes. 
A developer has yet to be selected as the Smiths await approval from Scio Township to move forward later in January. He expects the total amount of investment in the project to be in the tens of millions of dollars, and hopes, should all approvals be given, to begin site work this fall and break ground on housing in 2015. 
Source: Mark Smith, property owner
Writer: Natalie Burg

Ypsilanti Freighthouse moves $40,000 closer to renovation

Thanks to the commitments of some local organizations, the Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse (FOYF) are closer to their goal of restoring the historic facility to full use. The volunteer-run group has secured $40,000 in commitments from the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority, Eastern Leaders group and private donors, which will be used as matching funds for a hoped-for $60,000 grant from the State Historic Preservation Office. 
"This is a community building," says FOYF chair Corinne Sikorski. "It's the only and the best place in our community to have groups of people come together. It's a really fun space." 
The FOYF has been working for a number of years to renovate the historic Depot Town building that was once a  part of the Michigan Central Railroad Complex. With the potential $100,000 in funding, should the grant be awarded, they plan to install a required fire suppression system. After completing that project, other necessary renovations to the space include handicap-accessible bathrooms and upgrades to heat and plumbing. When all of those renovations could be completed is currently tentative.
"I'm hesitant to set a date," says Sikorski, who says changes in FOYF board members and volunteers has impacted the project's momentum over the years. "But we're hoping in a year to everything done."
The vision for the renovated Freighthouse is expanded use as a community space, events venue and indoor farmer's market. 

Source: Corinne Sikorski, Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse
Writer: Natalie Burg

Manchester adds $2.9M bridge project to recent rush of development

A much-needed $2.9 million rebuilding project on Manchester's Main Street Bridge is an exciting enough investment for the village, but as it comes on the heels of two other recent development projects, Manchester is set to look and feel like a rejuvenated community. 

"We have a number of projects that are moving foward," says Manchester Village Manager Jeff Wallace. "We're hoping they will make it attractive for people to come shop here and come visit."

The recently announced MDOT grant will replace the critical bridge at the center of downtown Manchester. Though the village has applied for the grant in previous years, deterioration that has caused the village to limit use of the key bridge gave the project urgency. Though the grant is approved for 2016, Wallace says he will appeal to the state for a 2015 start date, armed with an expedited construction schedule from their engineer. 

"[The bridge is] very important because river bisects the village through the middle," Wallace says. "It's important for transportation, but also health and safety, and economic commerce." 

The new bridge will follow a $750,000 streetscape improvement project last year, which resulted in new sidewalks, bump-outs, seating areas and LED streetlights in Manchester's downtown. After the streetscape, but before the bridge project, Mancheter has a $500,000 maintenance project scheduled for 2014 that will replace ramps to enable ADA accessibility in downtown intersections. 

Wallace says the village doesn't plan to end their revitalization efforts there. They are working with community partners to create a trail through the village, invest in the millpond and create a Safe Routes to Schools program. 

Source: Jeffery Wallace, Village of Manchester
Writer: Natalie Burg

Local developer plans near-downtown condo project with Liberty Landings

With so much momentum in downtown Ann Arbor toward increasing walkability, biking and public transit, a car wash seated on a valuable, near-downtown property makes a decreasing amount of sense. Local developer Alex de Parry has proposed an idea to replace the Liberty Car Wash that he says makes much better use of the land. 
"The site was a bit underutilized," says de Parry of Ann Arbor Builders. "It looked like a good site for a condominium.
De Parry's proposal is to build a eight-condominium housing development on the Liberty St. property. Though the project is still in its earliest stages, he hopes to get started on by spring of 2014. 
Thus far, de Parry has been holding neighborhood meetings to gather feedback from citizens about the project. The reception his project has received, he says, has been positive – not only from the neighbors, but also from prospective residents. 
"There is definitely interest," de Parry says. "Everybody wants to live downtown."
Though everybody may want to live near downtown Ann Arbor, de Parry says his semi-customizable, market rate condos will attract permanent residents, as opposed to students. The three-story building will include three two-bedroom units on the first and second floors ranging between 1,100 and 1,300 square feet each. The top floor will include two larger units at 2,100 square feet each.

Source: Alex de Parry, Ann Arbor Builders
Writer: Natalie Burg
52 Investment Articles | Page: | Show All