Development News

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Students, staff embrace Oakland U bike share program

A fleet of 60 purple bikes have been carrying students and staff around Oakland University's campus this semester, after the university expanded its bike share program.

Last year, OU tried a pilot bike share program using abandoned or unclaimed bikes, and due to that program's success more students are cruising around campus on the matching bikes. It's not uncommon to see a faculty member riding one, either, says OU's Director of Campus Recreation Greg Jordan.

The two-wheelers are a mix of residents and commuters; residents may use a bike to get from their residence hall to class, but commuters may also have to park relatively far away. "There's a large concentration of bikes in the parking lots, just as many as over in the residence halls," Jordan says.

Among the shifts in culture he's seen so far are an overall increase in bicycle use on campus, meaning resident students are bringing their own to keep on campus, and commuters are bringing theirs on the backs of their vehicle. "Since parking is a challenge on campus, when you're in the parking structure or in a non-central parking lot, people are pulling their bikes off, riding to class and locking them," he says.

Not only do walkers and riders decrease congestion around campus, but the program increases physical fitness. "We're trying to encourage healthy lifestyles, and riding a bike is part of that," he says. "We're trying to improve lifestyle on campus, trying to make parking and getting around campus more enjoyable."

Programs exist on other campuses, some with checkout systems, but Oakland's is free, based on the honor system, and can by used by anyone who spots an available bike. Jordan says the university may consider designated bike lanes in the future.

To learn more about the bike share program, click here.

Source: Greg Jordan, director of campus recreation for Oakland University
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

General Dynamics finishes $11M Maneuver Collaboration Center

Building defense systems is a complicated game, and that's why everyone needs to be on the same page.

That's the premise -- and even the name -- behind a recently completed addition to the General Dynamics Land Systems facility in Sterling Heights, the Maneuver Collaboration Center. The new space allows the company to innovate, engineer, and build the technology in one spot, from beginning to end, typically in less than 30 days, and has the technology to foster working together either in a large group or virtually.

Because the enemy is always changing, the defense industry needs to be able to turn projects around fast, says Sonya Sepahban, senior vice president of engineering, design and development for GDLS. "We have a strong heritage of building the best combat systems in the world," she says. "We have to stay a step ahead."

The addition added another 10,000 square feet to the building, doubling its size and better bringing together technologies and the virtual community. It's been in use for the past few months, having broken ground in November, and the finishing touches were expected to be completed by this week.

Sepahban says at the end of the day, the company is there for the warfighter and his or her safety and effectiveness. The space is designed to encourage creativity and innovation, with open spaces, computer ports for virtual collaboration, and displays of current projects -- "everything we can think of to remove barriers for communication," she says.

Not only is the addition an $11 million local investment, it also allows all kinds of vendors and suppliers to approach them with new ideas, Sepahban says. "This is really more about the smaller businesses and innovators out there," she says. "This provides a virtual community where everyone who has a great idea can engage with us and see what our needs are."

Among the facility's features are collaboration rooms, a Vehicle Center, an Innovation Lab, and the Warfighter Integration Lab.

Green features include water-efficient plumbing fixtures, energy-efficient lighting, lighting-control systems, and green furniture and flooring.
The entire GDLS headquarters complex is in the process of obtaining LEED certification by early next year. GDLS is a subsidiary of General Dynamics, based in Falls Church, Va.

Source: Sonya Sepahban, senior vice president of engineering, design and development for General Dynamics Land Systems
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Kroger to reopen downtown Grosse Pointe store next month

Downtown Grosse Pointe's Kroger is scheduled to reopen next month, after virtually tearing down and rebuilding the grocery store over the last year.

"Things are going very well," says Dale Hollandsworth, director of consumer communications for Kroger Michigan. "We are hoping for an opening in mid-November. Considering the extent of that remodel, it's actually quite phenomenal."

He's hesitant to call the project a "remodel," as it was basically a re-build of what had been a small, somewhat cramped store. Next month's work schedule will likely include interior work such as installing fixtures, shelving, and cases.

The Cincinnati-based supermarket had planned on adding a second floor to the one-story building, but decided to keep the original footprint and expand the basement area. The whole project tackles 22,000 square feet of interior space and the rear parking lot.

The revamped version will have a more open shopping area with new aisles and displays. The basement will be turned into a food preparation area and a place for other behind-the-scenes work. The parking lot will be re-striped so the spaces are larger.

Hollandsworth says a grand opening celebration will take place when the store is ready to open.

"We're looking forward to getting it back open and serving the people of that neighborhood," he says. "We know they've been traveling to other stores for several months, so we're happy to reopen and serve the community again."

Source: Dale Hollandsworth, consumer communications, Kroger Michigan
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

WA3 offers streetscape grants to improve Woodward corridor

The Woodward Avenue Action Association has $40,000 to give away in mini-grants for benches, signage, crosswalks, or other projects that will improve the region's M-1 corridor.

The 2010 Woodward Avenue Action Association Streetscape Grant Program funds, provided through the Federal Highway National Scenic Byway program, will be awarded in amounts of $5,000 to $15,000 depending on the project. Different this year is that funding can be used for implementation of the plans, a request WA3 had heard from applicants previously, says WA3 outreach and promotions coordinator Nicole Brown.

The projects could include everything from a welcome sign to a particular neighborhood, or adding benches and trash cans to a downtown. "It's the small things that really enhance a community's image and make it more livable," Brown says.

The deadline is Nov. 15, and groups who plan on applying do have to meet with the association. Eligible applicants include the cities, townships, and counties along Woodward Avenue, nonprofit venues, district organizations, and chambers of commerce.

"We are excited to see what these groups are eager to have funded," Brown says. "And, we're really excited to see the final impact this project will have on the community, particularly because it takes it from being just a design element to actual implementation, so members of the community can see their dollars at work."

Applications are available here or by calling (248) 288-2004.

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

Auburn Hills lands $200K to improve energy efficiency

With nearly $100,000 in grant money, and a near-equivalent amount in matching funds, the city of Auburn Hills will be making its buildings more energy-efficient.

The city was among communities that received a Michigan Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant for energy efficiency projects, sourced from federal stimulus funding awarded by the Bureau of Energy Systems. For Auburn Hills, that means new electrical meters, new lighting, an energy audit, and an energy system that can be controlled remotely.

Dan Brisson, the city's m
anager of facilities and roads, explains that the funds will be used on four phases, the first being lighting upgrades. Afterwards, the city will work on upgrading its energy-management system, for which an employee can log on via the Internet and view and control temperatures and occupancy schedules from there. "It's kind of a programmable therm for home, but with a broader scope," Brisson says.

The administration building, for example, is currently made up of 17 different heating and cooling zones, so one side of the building could be cool enough for heat while the other side is warm enough for the A/C. Plus, if someone forgets to dial back the heat or A/C before leaving for the day, that can be rectified from a computer.

Also to be installed are individual electric meters on six of the city's facilities, which are currently connected to one meter. This will also help measure how efficient each of the buildings are, explains city water resources coordinator Shawn Keenan.

"That's going to help us better measure our energy use for each of those buildings, as it works toward achieving energy efficiency goals the city has," he says.

The funds will also be used for a more comprehensive audit on the city's community center.

The state funding received for the project was $97,553, with the city matching almost as much. But Keenan estimated a savings of at least $9,556 each year, as well as a reduction of 106,181 kilowatts and 90 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

"A lot of this work was planned before the grant, and the grant is allowing us to do more, more quickly," Keenan says. "We share all of our ideas to come up with good solutions that are really sustainable."

Brisson hopes the projects will be nearly wrapped up by the time temperatures start to drop, so the city can take advantage of the new heating technologies. Not only are the improvements good for the Earth, but they make good business sense, too, he says.

"We have utility bills just like the homeowner," he says. "We don't want to pay more for electricity if we can make improvements. Anything we can do that makes economic sense to reduce energy consumption and take a green initiative, we're going to try to do."

Sources: Shawn Keenan, water resources coordinator and Dan Brisson, manager of facilities and roads, city of Auburn Hills
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Downtown Royal Oak developer puts new bar on ice

OK, let's get the obvious pun out of the way -- a new bar in downtown Royal Oak promises to be the "coolest" place in town.

But seriously -- Luigi Cutraro, owner of the new Fire and Ice bar, inside the Sky Club above Sangria restaurant, says he wanted to do something "trendy and cool" by opening a bar completely made of ice. It's the first one in Michigan, and only one of a handful in the country.

Fire and Ice officially opened last Friday, after a soft opening over Labor Day weekend during Royal Oaks' Arts, Beats and Eats festival. "The first thing that comes out of their mouths is 'Wow,' " Cutraro says of visitors to the bar.

Cutraro started thinking about an ice bar, popular in Europe and colder climes, after seeing one at the winter Olympics in Vancouver this year. It's not a money-making venture, and in fact it was a nightmare setting up the refrigeration system, he says, as the bar is pretty much a 600-square-foot freezer, kept at 16-22 degrees. "It was worth it, but it was a lot of work," he says. "We plan on keeping it. We've found this thing is perfect for private parties."

He says he's found many bars are offering the same old thing, and he wanted to do something different. "That's what we're missing in our area," he says. "We all do the same thing, especially the night life. You don't have to be in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles."

The bar, designed by Fenton-based Icon Ice, can accommodate up to 25 guests, who can wear provided parkas and gloves if they choose. Cutraro says the furniture, and even the glassware, is made out of ice as well.

"There are not many places where you can drink your drink, and then eat it," he jokes.

Source: Luigi Cutraro, owner of Fire and Ice
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Birmingham upgrades downtown parking garages

Downtown Birmingham's Pierce Street parking garage will soon have a smoother ride up to your car, and be better lit while doing so.

The city plans to install LED lights in the structure's 227 fixtures, replacing old high-pressure sodium bulbs, for a cost of $350,000; $125,000 of that will be federal stimulus money.

Brendan Cousino, assistant city engineer for Birmingham, says he received the final design last week for review, but expects the contract to go out for bid within the next three weeks or so. "The lighting is roughly 25 years old. It's outdated, and we're repairing lights on a regular basis."

He says replacing lights will not only improve the garage's energy savings, but the quality of light in the garage as well. LED lights use a fraction of the electricity of normal bulbs, and they also last several years longer than normal street lights. The city of Birmingham expects to save $18,000 in electricity annually, plus thousands more dollars in maintenance costs.

Also in the Pierce Street parking structure, plans are to replace the elevators this coming summer, first with the elevator at the Brown Street entrance, scheduled to close Oct. 25, and then on the Pierce Street side, scheduled to close in January. The project will run just under $410,000; the elevators currently in place are original to the early 1960s building.

"It's just time," Cousino says. "They've reached the end of their service life."

In another parking structure, the North Old Woodward parking deck, resealing the exterior has been completed, and very smoothly, too, Cousino says, coming in on time and budget. The city added some other work to that job, at the Chester Street parking structure, including replacing some stairs and decking worn down by regular use, for an additional $77,000 or thereabouts to the original $499,000.

And although parking structure maintenance may seem low on the priority list, the interior of a structure is one of the first things a visitor to Birmingham sees, after all. "We hope to maintain a high level of customer service here," Cousino says. "Overall, our goal is to extend the life of these structures as much as possible, and replace as much equipment as possible before it fails."

Source: Brendan Cousino, assistant city engineer for Birmingham
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Downtown Utica wraps up work on park, pedestrian bridge

Much of the work on Utica's hike-and-bike trail and river walk is wrapping up for the season, with the pedestrian bridge soon to come, also.

Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan says the manufacturer ran into a couple of glitches that delayed the project a bit, but the city is still set to take delivery of the bridge by next month. The hike and bike trail is being finished up, installation of the canoe livery is expected to be completed this month, and the riverfront park and the river walk are also scheduled to be about 2/3 done by mid-month.

"We'll have an unveiling of everything and a grand opening by next spring," Noonan says.

The bridge, a component of the 70-mile hike-and-bike trail throughout Macomb County, will connect the Macomb Orchard Trail to downtown Utica as well as the Clinton River Trail in Oakland County. It will provide pedestrians and bicyclists with a safe place to cross the river without having to navigate the busy Van Dyke/M-59 intersection.

The project is funded with grants from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Michigan Department of Transportation's Transportation Enhancement program, with matching funds from the Utica Downtown Development Authority and support from the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

"We're wonderfully excited," Noonan says. "It's going to be absolutely gorgeous."

Source: Jacqueline Noonan, mayor of Utica
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

West Bloomfield conservatory opens with numerous green features

Sure, every conservatory has plenty of green on the inside -- but landscape firm Planterra has included a slew of green features in its new building.

The new greenhouse, which is selling its inventory to retail customers for the first time in years, has features that range from the high-tech weather station on the roof to simply orienting the building so it faces south to let in light and heat, explains Planterra president Shane Pliska. Facing south allows the building to get by using very little lighting and heating, and having the northwest corner built into the earth shelters it from the elements.

"What this building orientation allows us to do is essentially operate in the middle of the winter, in the middle of the day, without any heat on at all," he says. "The solar heat gain that we can get inside this building is significant."

During the summer, shade curtains and ventilation keep the building cool.  Another feature is recycling both rainwater and runoff water from inside the greenhouse, which goes through the pervious floor into a cistern to be reused. This is not a new technology, Pliska points out, but something farmers used years ago.

A new innovation, however, is a weather station on the roof that controls the vents, shade curtains, and hot water heating, and can adjust to the actual weather statistics outside, instead of trying to control everything from an indoor thermostat. "And, of course, because this is a greenhouse, we have natural light just about everywhere," he says. "We don't even need to use our lights throughout the day."

The new building replaces the old greenhouses that were cobbled together, he says; it's not a square footage increase, but a more efficient use of space. Also, much of the greenhouse was recycled, and some of the wood was used for the interior finishes of the new building.

Pliska, who works at Planterra with the CEO, his mother, Carol, and the chairperson, Larry, his father, calls the new building a "dream facility." Although making the decision to incorporate green technology is good for the planet, he says, in many cases it's practical.

"We do it because it truly make sense to recycle our rainwater," he says. "It's really really good water for our plants, so why wouldn't we want to use that water? For us to have a weather station instead of a thermostat, yes, there's a cost, but at the same time it really makes a lot of sense."

The doors of the $3 million, 23,000-square-foot facility officially open Oct. 5.

Source: Shane Pliska, president of Planterra
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Reduced rate art studio space available in downtown Mt. Clemens

One Mt. Clemens business is turning empty space into creative space.

According to David Case, president of Fox Photography in downtown Mt. Clemens, the office space on the floor above his family's photography business has been largely vacant as a result of most of the title company tenants vacating after everything went online; two still rent space there
to take advantage of proximity to the county building.

After asking around and re-evaluating the rent they were asking, Case partnered with the Anton Art Center to offer a reduced rate to artists for studio space, turning it into an arts incubator of sorts. "It's very affordable space, it's in town, and it's close to the art center," Case says.

Plus, with each signed lease, Case will make a contribution equal to the first month's rent to the Anton Art Center. So far, a jewelry designer has moved in and more have come to look at the remaining five spaces.

Photography being an art in itself, Case says the business is sensitive to the needs of artists making a name for themselves. "The town has been smacked hard, and there's not a lot of retail in town right now," he says. "We need some bodies. Usually when a town turns around, artists come first."

The spaces range in size from 80-360 square feet. The rental rate is $1 per square foot per month, on a month-to-month basis. Utilities are commonly shared between the studio tenants.

Source: David Case, president of Fox Photography
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Downtown Grosse Pointe storefronts get facelifts

Robert Wood, owner of Grosse Pointe-based Robert Wood & Associates, says both buildings, on Kercheval, are getting old and were ready for a revamp. The single-story Blockbuster building has new overhangs, a repaired roof, new lighting, and drainage. Faulty drainage can lead to a lot of an old building's problems.

"It always surprises when you open up these old buildings, but everything was solid behind the facade," Wood says. "You never know what you're going to get into when you peel the face off the building. You kind of hold your breath and hope that there's nothing major."

The Ann Taylor Loft building is next for a facade redesign, but there's an issue to work through: A neighboring building's condition is causing Wood and his team to reevaluate the original plan to pull the brick off the facade. Instead, they may tuck point and save it, but they'll likely have to come up with a new plan, which will probably have to go back to the city for re-approval, Wood says.

"It is an upscale store, and the building right now doesn't reflect that."

Something else to keep in mind as he works on the building is that most of the traffic comes through the back door, from municipal parking lots a block from the main street. "You really end up with two fronts to the building," he says. "Trash cans, lighting, all of that has to look equally good. It encourages people to park in the back and off the street."

Among the renovations are updated windows and doors, to make the building more energy-efficient and to be ADA-compliant. Plus, the business of restoring old buildings, as opposed to knocking them down and building new ones, is not only green, but saves time and money, and preserves the past, he says.

"It's good for the city, and it's good for the whole block," Wood says.

Source: Robert Wood, owner of Robert Wood & Associates
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Wayne County wins economic development award for Aerotropolis

Wayne County's Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) is flying high after it received an Excellence in Economic Development Award Tuesday in recognition of the Detroit Region Aerotropolis.

At the International Economic Development Council annual conference in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this week, the Aerotropolis was recognized in the category of Regionalism and Cross-Border Promotion, for communities with a population greater than 500,000. It also received an Honorable Mention in the category Multi-Year Economic Development.

The Detroit Region Aerotropolis Initiative includes four cities, three townships, two counties, Wayne County's Airport Authority, and private partners. The idea is for everyone to work together as a unified regional alliance to promote the region. In the past few years, almost 6,000 jobs and $1 billion in investment have been created by projects looking to be in the Aerotropolis.

The Excellence in Economic Awards program annually recognizes the world's best economic development programs and partnerships, marketing materials, and the year's most influential leaders for their efforts in creating positive change in urban, suburban and rural communities. The IEDC is dedicated to helping economic development professionals create high-quality jobs, develop vibrant communities, and improve the quality of life in their regions.

Source: Wayne County
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Work wraps on Inkster's Human Services building

A local developer hopes his project not only puts a new face on Inkster's portion of Michigan Avenue, but also brings about a resurgence.

Boji Group president Ron Boji is wrapping up work on the first phase of the Michigan Avenue development, a Department of Human Services Wayne County office building he began constructing two years ago. That will be ready for occupancy Oct. 1, and workers will physically be in the building by Dec. 1.

Two other portions of the project are set to begin in the next few weeks -- a new YWCA building and retail center, which will include a Secretary of State office and a restaurant. A house and laundromat have been demolished to make way for the construction, which should start in about three weeks with a planned wrap-up by May, Boji says.

Then, with the construction of the new YWCA, the old building will be retrofitted for a justice center, with an Inkster police station and 22nd District Court. He expects the retrofit to start next June and be ready by February 2012.

Boji credits the success of the project so far to the collaboration between the county, city, state, and his company: "It was a team effort," he says. "It was a concerted effort among everybody to make it happen."

The location of the project, at Michigan Avenue and John Daly Street, had previously been an abandoned automotive dealership. All four parts include 100,000 square feet of office and retail space, and the whole price tag comes to about $25 million. Its brownfield designation earned it $1.2 million in Michigan Business Tax credits. The county also awarded $850,000 in neighborhood stabilization funding from the county. The YWCA property was also awarded $750,000 in neighborhood stabilization funding. Another $8.5 million came from Recovery Zone bonds.

Boji says that as a developer, sure, he's excited about building and making a few bucks to do it, "but this is different. We're actually putting a face on Michigan Avenue for the next 50-plus years. We're reshaping how it will look."

Source: Ron Boji, president of The Boji Group
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Habitat Oakland moves forward on Pontiac, Madison Heights projects

Families are beginning to move into this year's Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County homes projects, and several more are under construction in Madison Heights and Pontiac.

The three new Madison Heights homes, the first for the city, came about when the city utilized federal Neighborhood Stabilization Funds to raze three houses earlier this year, and donated the land to Habitat for Humanity. Sally LePla, Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County's executive director, says one family has moved into the first home, with walls raised on the second and work to start on the third by the end of this week.

The organization tries to do a one-week blitz, a flurry of building to build the shell of the house, and the inside can then be done more slowly. "We always love to get families in by Christmas," she says. "Habitat's mission is about people, not the buildings."

Six home renovations and five new builds were on the docket for this year for Pontiac. Work is finishing up on three rehabs, with a family already moved into another. The Pontiac projects are in several different neighborhoods; each needed some TLC and upgrades, such as energy-efficient windows and doors, LePla says.

"Habitat is committed to being green, and part of being green is recycling," she says. "Recycling existing homes is a challenge, but is also meets our goal of reusing materials."

The hand-up, not hand-out model -- requiring future homeowners to work on other houses and their own, and paying the mortgage that Habitat owns -- also means that the families are partners with Habitat for 20 or 30 years. LePla says she'd love to work with other cities next year, but they build homes only where they are welcome.

"It's been exciting to see new building going on in the neighborhood," she says. "It creates a spirit of hope in a time when southeast Michigan has been struggling to keep its heads above water."

Call (248) 338-1843 or click here to sign up, donate, or learn about becoming a partner homeowner.

Source: Sally LePla, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County
Writer: Kristin Lukowski
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