Development News

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Dearborn deemed "Redevelopment Ready" and part of Michigan Main Street program

In less than two weeks time, it has been announced that the city has both earned a Redevelopment Ready Communities certification as well as having been named to the Michigan Main Street program. Each distinction serves to further development opportunities throughout Dearborn, from its main drag of Michigan Avenue and on out to the city limits.

On Thursday, Jan. 18, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced that Dearborn had been awarded the Redevelopment Ready Communities certification, something the city had been working toward for over two years. The city become the 16th community in the state to receive the certification, and the first to do so in Wayne County.

According to the MEDC website, becoming a Redevelopment Ready Community formally recognizes that Dearborn has both a vision for its future and a plan for how to get there. It demonstrates that the community is worthy of private investment.

"We’re proud to have earned the designation as a Redevelopment Ready Community," Dearborn Mayor, John B. O’Reilly, Jr. said in a statement. "This certification conveys a clear message that Dearborn has efficient and customer-friendly practices that make it possible for developers and businesses to succeed with their plans to invest in our city. Now, from the moment we are contacted by investors, they get the sense that we are here to help."

On Tuesday, Jan. 30, the MEDC also announced that Dearborn is one of six Michigan communities named to its Main Street Program. Dearborn is joined by Cheboygan, Dundee, Eaton Rapids, Kalkaska, and Flat Rock in the designation. The program helps communites become more development-friendly and more attractive as a destination.

These recent announcements complement an already robust development news year for the city, with current projects that include Ford Motor Company's Wagner Place, streetscaping enhancements, a senior housing development, and more.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Local musician opens record store in Warren's historic district

After four or five years of hauling his vinyl album collection from record convention to convention, John Lehl was ready to settle down. Passing through the city of Warren's historic district, Lehl saw a For Rent sign hanging in the window of a storefront across from Kuhnhenn Brewing. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lehl opened Village Vinyl in April 2017. He characterizes it as a little record shop with a little bit of everything, including vinyl records, CDs, and cassettes, but also t-shirts, posters, coffee mugs, and more.

Lehl carries all kinds of music, though if he did have a specialty, it would be in the punk, hardcore, and metal genres. Which makes sense: Lehl is a member of some of the region's most legendary hardcore and punk bands, including Negative Approach, Easy Action, and the Meatmen.

"I always wanted to open my own shop, it was just a matter of figuring out how to do it and finding the time to do it," says Lehl. "I play in bands and we're on the road a lot. But vinyl is kind of hot right now, so I wanted to strike while the iron's hot."

He got his start selling vinyl albums on Ebay. It was at the urging of Meatmen frontman Tesco Vee that Lehl began lugging boxes of vinyl to sell at record conventions. The business, he says, snowballed from there.

Lehl believes that the city's historic district has a lot of potential for growth. A Warren resident himself, Lehl has long thought that the historic district could one day become a destination. And Village Vinyl could help nudge that growth along. While commercial corridors like Woodward and Gratiot avenues have their fair share of independent record stores, the centrally-located Village Vinyl helps fill a gap somewhere in between the two.

Village Vinyl is located at 5972 Chicago Rd. in Warren.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Retro-themed club Boogie Fever Cafe and Disco to celebrate grand re-opening in Ferndale

What's old is new again. Or is it: what's new is old again. Either way, Boogie Fever Cafe and Disco, that venerable retro-themed dance club in downtown Ferndale, is making a comeback.

In 2014, after 15 years of Boogie Fever, co-owners Mark McConnell and Rob Potter decided to reboot the Woodward Avenue nightspot as Twisted Tavern, a more contemporary club and restaurant. But after just three years of operating Twisted Tavern, McConnell and Potter are bringing the Boogie back.

"We realized that running Boogie Fever is what's in our wheelhouse," McConnell says. "And that's what the people wanted, so we're going to give them what they want."

The retro-themed dance parties are back, and so, too, is the light-up dance floor. There are some slight differences from its first iteration, with McConnell and Potter keeping some of the Twisted Tavern upgrades. McConnell says the decor is a little less cheeky, and a little more chic. The cafe features windows that open up to the sidewalk, and the kitchen will be serving dishes a step above the average bar food, including Ahi Tuna.

What remains the same is Boogie Fever's emphasis on entertainment. The establishment is open Wednesday through Saturday, with each night featuring a different theme. Wednesdays are trivia nights. Thursdays include half-off bottles of wine, and could eventually become New Wave night, featuring early 1980s-era MTV music videos and dance parties. 
There's an acoustic open mic night in the cafe on Fridays, and will eventually host classic rock cover bands on the club side. And Saturdays are reserved for the big Boogie Fever dance parties, with a DJ playing music from the 1970s and 80s, and some from today.

McConnell seems excited to bring back the Boogie Fever brand. Marveling at people's enthusiasm for the club, he says that people are flying in just for the grand reopening party. The demand is there.

"When you work for yourself, you have to recognize trends," McConnell says. "We have a lot of people that work here. We owe it to them to be the best that we can be.

The Boogie Fever grand reopening party is Saturday, Jan. 20. The cafe and club assume regular hours Wednesday, Jan. 24.

Boogie Fever Cafe and Disco is located at 22901 Woodward Ave. in Ferndale.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Michigan-sourced butcher shop expands operations in Ferndale

Farm Field Table is a butcher shop with a mission. And with a planned 2,500 sq. ft. Expansion on the table, the Ferndale-based purveyor of Michigan-sourced meats hopes to further its cause of supporting the state's small and independent farmers.

Farm Field Table is owned by twin brothers Matt and Mike Romine. They got their start in the meat business four years ago, when they opened the Mule Foot gastro pub in Imlay City. Soon, their father started farming mule foot hogs to supply their kitchen. Then, the idea of the brothers opening their own butcher shop started to take form. 
They opened Farm Field Table in Ferndale at the end of 2016.

The Ferndale location operates as a butcher and retail shop, serving walk-up customers but also some of the area's most notable chefs. Co-owner Matt Romine says that a significant portion of their customers are the restaurants that routinely make "Best restaurants of metro Detroit" lists, restaurants like Selden Standard and Chartreuse, both in Detroit.

Farm Field Table butchers and sells beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and rabbit, and sometimes goat, turkey, and goose. One hundred percent of its products are GMO-, antibiotic-, and hormone-free, and one hundred percent of its products come from Michigan farms.

"We select farms for quality. The beautiful coincidence is that in search of the best flavor, we find the animals that are treated the best," Matt says. "It's also good for sustainability, both in economic and ecological impact."

With its expansion, the Romine brothers hope to broaden and grow their base of customers. They've purchased $300,000 worth of equipment, and now they're waiting for their lease to finalize so they can open up the expansion, adjacent to their current location, and put that equipment to use.

"To capture smaller restaurants, you have to control costs better, and lower costs," Matt says. "This will allow us to do that."

"Our goal is to support as many farms as we can."

Farm Field Table is located at 1030 Woodward Heights Blvd. in Ferndale.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Art gallery and gift shop opens in Berkley, showcases Michigan makers and international artisans

There's a new shop in downtown Berkley, one that peddles stories much as it does wares.

Vitrine Gallery & Gifts opened Saturday, Dec. 9, and owner Susan Rogal is eager to share the stories behind the products she sells. Rogal carries a range of items, from artwork to beauty products, handmade jewelry, and food.

Each piece either comes from Michigan makers or international artisans and all on a Fair Trade standard. Attached to the items she sells are photos and profiles of the people who make them. There's a monitor above the register that plays videos of the makers themselves, as well as music videos of local bands.

In telling these artists' stories, Rogal wants to connect her customers to the makers, transporting them to different studios around the world, and all from her shop on Coolidge Highway.

"That personal touch is something we've lost. Everything is mass-produced these days," Rogal says. "I watch the videos playing, and it renews my energy. It reminds me why I'm doing what I do."

Vitrine also serves as the studio for Rogal's other business, ArtWear Detroit. The company takes local artworks and puts them on clothing, accessories, and housewares, which are available at the store. The shop has become the flagship store for Kari Hughes's Buy the Change line, too. Hughes travels the world and collects the stories and products from women, and also on a Fair Trade basis.

The storefront shares a building, and interior doorway with Holy Cannoli and Rogal plans many a collaboration with the bakery in the years to come.

Rogal is high on her Berkley location. She's worked hard to make the design of the store as appealing as the art itself. Berkley is on the cusp of something big, she says and deserves the attention.

"I work out of a lot of co-op galleries, and everybody's talking about Berkley," says Rogal. "Berkley is synonymous with having a lot of great places to shop. We're just one more."

Vitrine Gallery & Gifts is located at 2758 Coolidge Hwy. in downtown Berkley.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

From the firehouse to the kitchen, former Highland Park fireman opens BBQ spot in Utica

Eddie Smoke's BBQ is gearing up for its grand opening celebration on Saturday, Jan. 6. Barbecue-lovers are in luck, however, as Eddie Smoke's has been operating under a soft opening for several weeks now, and is currently offering its barbecue carry out on a daily basis.

Eddie Smoke is Eddie Armstrong, a former Highland Park fireman-turned-entrepreneur. Armstrong started smoking meats at just 10 years old. Following an incident when Eddie burnt a hole in the bottom of his dad's gas grill by using charcoal, Armstrong's father chose to stoke his son's interest in the art of barbecue rather than discourage it, and bought his son a meat smoker.

Armstrong pursued barbecue as a hobby, often cooking for his firehouse in Highland Park, where he served for ten years. As interest in his hobby grew, Eddie began to cater events, and would eventually purchase a food trailer. He would soon begin to pursue his business full-time and retire from the Highland Park Fire Department.

Armstrong first christened his business Pig Out BBQ, and could often be found staked out at the intersection of Southfield Road and I-696. Though business went well in the summer months, the cold rain and snow of Michigan's other seasons proved difficult for an outdoor barbecue trailer.

"We did extremely well when it was warm out but not when we were in bad weather. We needed a brick and mortar location to serve our customers year-round," Eddie says. "We picked Utica because of the location. Our intersection, Hall, and Schoenherr is one of the busiest in Macomb County."

With the move, Armstrong re-branded as Eddie Smoke's BBQ, and he's now begun to build a new customer base in a new town. They serve a wide range of barbecue in a uniquely Eddie Smoke-style, taking barbecue methods from all over the country and combining pieces of them to make its own style.

Their ribs are their specialty, Eddie says, though he's also proud of their chicken tips, a unique spin on the old rib tip standby.

Eddie Smoke's BBQ is located at 13461 Hall Rd. in Utica.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Custom training company in Troy wins design award for corporate headquarters

Lisa Toenniges, CEO of Innovative Learning Group, believes in the power of design. She and her company have been rewarded for that belief, having recently been given the Best of MichBusiness award in the category of Designing Stars for its corporate headquarters in Troy. The award was given at the 2017 Best of MichBusiness Awards and Gala held on Nov. 30 at the MGM Grand in Detroit.

ILG bought their current headquarters in 2014 and spent the next two years going over architectural and design details, making sure that they got it right. They would leave their original Royal Oak headquarters for the 10,000 sq. ft. space in Troy in February 2016.

Toenniges worked with a team of local firms to bring her vision to life, including design firm Young & Young Architects in Bloomfield Hills, builder Kelly Building & Development Company LLC in Birmingham, workplace interior design and furnishing company is in Royal Oak and interior designer Melody Smith in Birmingham. What resulted was a space that Toenniges characterizes as modern and sophisticated, with elements that are changed quarterly to keep it interesting for both staff and visitors.

"Innovation is in our name, so it's a great thing to have our team in an inspiring environment," says Toenniges. "It's good for creativity and fosters collaboration."

Toenniges founded Innovation Learning Group in 2004, and has since grown the company from six employees to 19, with a compound annual growth of 16 percent. The company creates custom learning and performance support tools to train employees of mid- to large-size companies.

The future of her industry, Toenniges says, is augmented and virtual reality and how to apply that to learning solutions.

"I have the philosophy that if you come to a space 40 to 60 hours a week, it's got to be a great space," Toenniges says.

Innovation Learning Group is located at 1130 Coolidge Hwy. in Troy.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Detroit's Build Institute to begin teaching small business classes in Ferndale

The Build Institute, an entrepreneurial empowerment organization based in Detroit, is branching out from its urban core and into the suburbs. The organization has partnered with the City of Ferndale to bring its popular small business classes up Woodward Avenue and across Eight Mile Road.

Build and Ferndale are partnering to host an eight-week business and project planning class called Build Basics. The class covers a wide ranging host of topics regarding what it takes to open a business, including licensing, financial literacy, market research, cash flow, and more. Over the course of the class, registrants will develop and leave with a completed business plan.

Build Basics is available to residents of Ferndale, people employed in the city, or people considering or intending on opening a business in Ferndale. Classes are available on a sliding scale, depending on income and household income, and range from $100 to $300.

The organization warns potential applicants that interest in the program is high, and that people will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Classes will be held at Rust Belt Market every Wednesday from Jan. 10 through Feb. 28, from 6 to 9 p.m.

To apply for Build Basics Ferndale, click here.

The Build-Ferndale partnership is also producing the GROW Peer Roundtable, where Build facilitates a forum for Ferndale's second-stage business owners. An advisory group will lead discussions on growth.

The roundtables will meet twice a month, every other Wednesday from Jan. 10 through March 21, from 3 to 5 p.m. at Rust Belt Market.

It costs $150 to enroll in the GROW Peer Roundtable. Applications are available to Ferndale-area entrepreneurs with businesses that are progressing toward breaking even or generating positive cash flow.

To apply GROW Peer Roundtable Ferndale, click here.

Rust Belt Market is located at 22801 Woodward Ave. in Ferndale.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Go Comedy Improv! to host 24-hour charity fundraiser in Ferndale

Bob Wieck can never have too much comedy in his life. An improviser and member of the Resident Cast at Go Comedy! Improv Theater in Ferndale, he performs almost every week and says his favorite sound in the world is laughter.


11 years ago, Wieck started Snow Day, an annual 24-hour improv marathon that takes place at Go Comedy. And while he may have originally started it for the laughs, there's more meaning to the event now.


For Snow Day's first two years, it was about stage time. Wieck and some friends wanted to take advantage of the quiet period during the holidays to perform, and Planet Ant Theatre in Hamtramck agreed to let him create a set list for an evening. All the performers pitched in a dollar to rent the theater and the night was a surprising success. In year two, shows were selling out. By year four, Wieck moved it to Go Comedy to accommodate the larger crowds.


But when Wieck counted up the money from ticket sales one year and realized he made a profit, it didn't feel right to pocket it—that's not why he started Snow Day. "I didn't do it to make money," Wieck says. "Before the third year, my grandfather passed away, so I donated the extra money to his hospice."


That tradition has continued. Every year, all the proceeds from ticket, raffle, and drink sales go to charity.


Four years ago, Wieck's friend and fellow improviser Tim Hayden passed away. Hayden's sister, Nancy Edwards, herself a writer, actor, and improviser now based in Los Angeles, started the Tim Hayden Scholarship Fund in his memory, which provides a stipend to a college-bound drama student from Kettering High School where Tim taught. She approached Wieck to see about donating to the fund and how they could raise even more money. That's when Snow Day became a 24-hour marathon.


This year, the proceeds will be split between three charities: The Tim Hayden Scholarship Fund, Gilda's Club of Metro Detroit, which provides support to cancer patients, and The Diana George Jacokes Endowment Fund, started this year in memory of the mother of Pj Jacokes, co-owner of Go Comedy, and resident cast member Peter Jacokes, and which support the education of young women at Mercy High School.


Of course, Wieck still wants Snow Day to be as fun as it was during those first years. He does this in part by getting as many different performers from the community to play. "With 24 hours, it gives me a lot of room to schedule newer troupes to perform in front of audiences," Wieck says.


Less experienced improvisers can also perform in an improv jam or with the 26 Hour Players, a collection of the sleep-deprived attendees who stayed up throughout the entire marathon. None of this will be at the expense of quality, Wieck promises, who schedules blocks with a mixture of seasoned and less experienced improvisers. "The intent is that no matter what time you catch a show, you'll get your money's worth."


There will also be a variety of acts and sets that people of any age or comedic persuasion can enjoy. The marathon begins with the theater's flagship show, The All-Star Showdown, an interactive game show much like "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"


From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. there will be a "family friendly block" where kids under 10 get free admission. There will be a live recording of the podcast "Transmissions From the Darkside" in which the hosts review the iconic 80s horror anthology show Tales from the Darkside. And at 8 p.m. there will be a one-time performance of a sketch show based on an audience suggestion that is written, rehearsed, and performed within 24 hours.


Snow Day has become Wieck's passion. In the future, he wants to include stand-up and other forms of comedy. His goal is to raise more money each year. And he plans on doing it as long as he can.


"Even if for some reason, I could no longer improvise, I'd still want to organize Snow Day," he says. "I'd still be involved even if someone had to roll me out there and introduce troupes."

Snow Day, a 24-hour improv marathon for charity, will take place from 8 p.m. Jan. 13 through 10 p.m. Jan. 14 at Go Comedy! Improv Theater. You can purchase tickets here.

New website highlights Macomb County, east side parks and trailways

There are plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities throughout Macomb County, so a local leadership group has developed a website to help people discover and navigate the numerous options. It's called Eastside Out, and it's helping people connect with the outdoors and each other.

Melissa Roy is executive director of Advancing Macomb, the group that developed the site. It's a milestone moment, she says. Now in its third year, Advancing Macomb is starting to implement initiatives developed by the group over the course of its first two years.

Eastside Out is one of those initiatives. Advancing Macomb has identified five trailheads from which people can begin outdoor adventures in Macomb County, whether by foot, bicycle, boat, ski, or snowshoe. The trailheads are Heritage Park, Macomb Community College, Macomb Orchard Trail, Mount Clemens, and Stony Creek, each with numerous activities available.

When visiting the website, users click on a trailhead, which then describes connected trailways, lists amenities, offers a map with associated paths, and suggests local businesses and landmarks to visit. The site also highlights a featured adventure, with this month's being a 13 mile-long cross-country skiing or snowshoeing excursion at Stony Creek Metropark.

"We have a lot of great recreational options on the east side, but not everybody knows about them or how to access them," says Roy. "This is a great way to explore the east side."

In choosing the name Eastside Out, Roy says the group wanted to choose a name that was more inclusive, inviting people to explore not only Macomb County but the entire east side of the region, from the city of Detroit to the tip of the state's thumb.

"We wanted to get away from some of the provincialism that exists in the region and include everybody," says Roy.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Lawrence Tech to give $3.5 million in scholarships to Southfield Public Schools students each year

Lawrence Technological University is diving into community engagement in a big way 3.5 million big ways, in fact. 
The Southfield-based university has announced that it will set aside $3.5 million a year, to be given as half-year scholarships to 50 Southfield Public Schools students each year, giving back to the community it calls home.

The scholarship is called the Blue Devil Southfield Scholars program.

In addition to the scholarships, LTU is developing summer camps and another programming for SPS middle school students and workshops for SPS teachers. Also planned is a mobile app to improve engagement between the community and SPS.

For LTU President Virinder K. Mougdil, the program is a win-win. LTU gets to give back to the community where its students and faculty work and live, all the while enrolling students in the STEAM Science, Technology, Engineering, Architecture & Design, and Mathematicsan academic curriculum that it has championed from the school's very beginnings.

One of the main goals of the program is to get schoolchildren interested in STEAM-related careers while they're young.

"Teaching STEAM is our main focus at LTU. We have been one of the best at it since our founding in 1932. It has always been our focus," says Mougdil. "Now we get to reach kids at a young age, during their formative years."

"The scholarship is an incentive for the kids to get involved with STEAM early on."

LTU will begin working with SPS students at the beginning of the university's spring semester in January 2018.

Southfield Public Schools is tasked with creating the committee, made up of teachers, principals, and other staff members, to select the 50 Blue Devil Southfield Scholars to receive the scholarships.

A news conference was held Tuesday, Dec. 12, at the Southfield Public Schools John W. English Administration Center to announce the program.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Urban marketplace with more than 60 local vendors opens in West Downtown Dearborn

Stacey Grant and Amanda Lawson want to celebrate all things local, so they opened the Made Metro Collective, and just in time for the holidays. The self-described local urban marketplace features products from more than 60 vendors, including coffee from Common Grace Coffee Co., albums from Stormy Records, and jewelry from Rebel Nell.

Even Dearborn's museums are well-represented at Made Metro, with The Henry Ford, Dearborn Historical Museum, and Arab American National Museum each maintaining a presence at the market.

Grant and Lawson are so focused on local commerce, in fact, that Grant emphasizes that their arrival in West Downtown Dearborn is meant to complement the city's retail community, and not draw customers away from spots that already exist. She wants people to know that places like Dearborn Novelty Art in the Monroe-Carlyle corridor and the shops in East Downtown Dearborn deserve their patronage, too.

What Grant does want, however, is to support and grow the local economy. Which she believes, in turn, will support local people.

"I don't make anything. I'm just making the space for other people who make things," says Grant. "This is more about community development through retail."

Grant and Lawson found a 3,400 sq. ft. space in downtown Dearborn, in a storefront next to Bar Louie. It all came together pretty quickly, maybe five weeks, says Grant. Originally contemplating a pop-up location in someone else's venue, Grant and Lawson decided that their own space on Michigan Avenue would be the best way to ensure success.

Made Metro Collective opened its doors at the beginning of December and will remain open until the end of January. It hasn't been decided yet if they'll stay open past then.

"The outcome of us staying open past January isn't up to us. It will be determined by the community response," says Grant. "If not, we can be happy this happened in the first place."

Made Metro Collective is located at 22275 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Fast-paced gastropub, craft beer and cocktail bar celebrates grand opening in Troy

Though they've been operating under a soft opening for a few weeks now, gastropub and craft beer and cocktail bar Eats and Crafts is preparing for its grand opening celebration in Troy. The celebration will occur this Friday and Saturday, Dec. 8 and 9, with beer pairings and appetizer samples.

Eats and Crafts is a fast-paced gastropub and casual dining spot, complete with a scratch kitchen, circle bar, and garage doors, says the restaurant's general manager Ryan Pino. There are 24 beers on tap, the majority of which are craft beers and 13 of which are from Michigan breweries. Craft cocktails and martinis are hand-crafted and made with fresh fruit and garnishes. Michigan wine, too, is on the menu.

The food menu offers a wide variety of options and features something for everyone, says Pino. There are traditional appetizers like calamari, boneless chicken wings, and nachos. Entrees range from Angus steak burgers to pasta dishes to fresh Norwegian salmon. Fresh ingredients are a focus.

The restaurant also offers brunch on the weekends.

"It's a concept that is very different than anything else in the area," says Pino. "It's something that's going to draw people from the surrounding area."

Jeff Forman, the managing partner of the restaurant ownership group, agrees.

"It's in a location that doesn't have a lot of sit-down restaurants in its vicinity," Forman says. "There's a lot of residential area around the restaurant with people that want a healthy place to eat."

Despite having hired more than 30 employees, Eats and Crafts is still actively searching to fill out its staff. For more information regarding hiring, the gastro pub can be found online.

Eats and Crafts is located at 1950 E Square Lake Rd. in Troy.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Clinton River Trail adds 4.5 miles of recreational trailways through Pontiac

After several years of haggling, the city of Pontiac has acquired 4.5 miles of an abandoned rail line to convert into a recreational trail system. The sale was made possible thanks to a Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Grant and a matching donation from the Canadian National Railway Company, the seller of the property.

The former rail line, already stripped of its ties and rails, is now part of the Clinton River Trail, adding 4.5 miles to the already 16 mile-long system of trails and pathways. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Thursday, Nov. 16, drawing city, county, and state officials, as well as members of the volunteer group Friends of the Clinton River Trail, to celebrate the addition.

Dubbed the North Spur, the new trail stretches from the Clinton River Trail at Opdyke Road and on up north to Pontiac's Jaycee Park, running between wooded areas and wetlands.

While the trail is already welcoming walkers, its condition is not yet suitable for most recreational bicyclists, says Friends of the Clinton River Trail President Fred Phillips. A couple of bridges are currently unsuitable for use, as well.

"Converting this abandoned rail line into a trail allows us to connect the Clinton River Trail with a number of schools, parks, and neighborhoods throughout Pontiac," says Phillips.

The addition of the North Spur is especially significant because it will eventually allow the Clinton River Trail to connect to downtown Pontiac without the use of sidewalks, on which the current trail system currently relies. That trailway connection is planned at a later date.

Phillips says that the next step for the trail is to contract with an engineering firm to come up with designs and cost estimates for physical improvements. Bringing the bridges up to code is a priority.

The original 16-mile span reaches across Oakland County, from Sylvan Lake to the west and on east through Pontiac, Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills, and Rochester.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Rochester Hills couple builds gourmet catnip company from scratch

Rochester Hills couple Rich and Lisa Jackson launched gourmet catnip company Skinny Pete's Gourmet Catnip this fall, though they've been developing their products and working the floors of trade shows for longer than that.

It was in 2014 when Rich, a professional director and visual effects artist -- wife Lisa is a producer -- was sitting at a coffee shop, working on an illustration of a cat. While listening to National Public Radio on his headphones, a story came across detailing a growing industry: Gifts for pets.

Around that same time, Rich noticed that wild catnip was growing in their garden. Imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit, the Jacksons saw an opportunity. And thus the seeds for Skinny Pete's Gourmet Catnip company were sown.

The Jacksons say there are two main focuses of their business. Their catnip is a high-quality, organic catnip. So much so, in fact, that they say that it makes for a good tea suitable for human consumption.

The other aspect that separates their product from the pack is the Skinny Pete packaging. The gourmet catnip is sold in packages of three varieties: Blue Meowy Wowy, Furmaceutical Grade, and Purruvian Pink. The catnip comes in artfully designed tins, keeping the product fresh and fresh-looking.

"We have three cats at the house, and they each respond to the catnip differently," says Rich Jackson. "Panda responds as if its a stimulant. The one we call Skinny Pete gets real lethargic. And Tucker gets real lovable and affectionate."

"Cats that ingest it act differently than the ones inhaling it."

Though they've only been officially on the market for a month or so, the Jacksons say that the response has been fantastic. The main bulk of their sales come directly from their website, though they also sell at local independent retailers. The Jacksons sell cat-related apparel and poster on their website, as well.

"One thing we've noticed with our clients is that they really love their cats," says Lisa Jackson. "There are real emotional connections there."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.
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