Development News

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Northville streetscape project casts new light on downtown

Downtown Northville's streetscape project is on track to finish the first portion by this fall, and will pick up again in the spring.

As of last week, the sidewalk on the south side of Mary Alexander Court had been replaced, with the sidewalk on the north side of the street underway now. The street is also set to get a coat of asphalt this week.

Lori Ward, Northville's Downtown Development Authority Director, says the goal is to be out of Mary Alexander Court by the city's Victorian Festival this Friday. Things seem to be on track. Work is expected to continue for another month before the weather turns.

Northville was one of three communities to receive Michigan Department of Transportation grants, which provide for investments in trail and streetscape projects, to help fund the construction. The $1.3 million price tag is split between $685,880 in federal funds and a matching amount from the city.

The city has been keeping residents informed of the progress at the DDA's website, where weekly updates are posted.

The current work doesn't impact much of the downtown, but people are starting to notice the changes, Ward says. "I think it's nice they're starting to see the changes installed, and know that the rest of it's coming," she says.

The area being improved includes Main Street between Wing and Hutton streets, and Center Street between Cady and Dunlap streets. Improvements include sidewalks, street lighting, benches, trash receptacles, and street trees and landscaping, consistent with the work the city has previously done on its Town Square project.

The facelift will replace a 32-year-old streetscape, of which many of the amenities are outdated and deteriorating, says the DDA's website.

Source: Lori Ward, director, Northville Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Watson Engineering expands Taylor facilities

Local companies are among those receiving Michigan Economic Development Corp funding through the Michigan Economic Growth Authority board, allowing them to expand and relocate so they can stay in Michigan.

Among the recipients are a brownfield project in Taylor, for which $221,220 will support the demolition of two vacant commercial structures to make way for a 40,000 square-foot industrial facility to expand operations of Watson Engineering. That project will also include environmental remediation, a new parking lot, storm water management, and landscaping.

Michigan brownfield programs provide incentives to invest in property that has been used for industrial, commercial, or residential purposes and to keep that property in productive use or return it to productive use. Brownfield incentives can be used for functionally obsolete, blighted, or contaminated property.

Source: Michigan Economic Development Corp
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Royal Oak develops non-motorized transit plan

Royal Oak residents want to hear from you about how you think it could be easier to bike around the city.

An open house is planned for 7 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Royal Oak Farmer's Market, 316 E. 11 Mile Road. Bicycle boulevards, road diets, and bike lanes are all up for discussion. Specifically, the planners want to know where people bike and walk, where they wish they could bike and walk, and what can be done to improve the transit experience in the city.

Todd Scott, a Royal Oak resident and bike activist who says he's been pushing for a non-motorized plan for some time, says he hopes the end product of the meeting is to have a plan that guides the city on what residents want as far as making roads bike-friendly and walkable.

"How do we encourage people to bike more?" he says. "We don't want to build bike lanes and not have them filled with cyclists. This will be a plan to get that done."

Scott says he often hears from people who know about cycling paths in Metro Parks, for example, but don't want to load up the car just to go for a bike ride. "They want to see more in the urban areas," he says. "It's pretty exciting. There's lot of opportunity and potential in Royal Oak."

The Active Transportation Alliance is working with the city of Royal Oak to help develop the non-motorized plan; contact Marissa Dolin at or (312) 427-3325, ext. 292 for more information.

Source: Todd Scott, Royal Oak resident and cyclist
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Detroit Zoo water tower renovation complete

The landmark Detroit Zoo water tower got a facelift just in time for fall.

The colorful tower, at Woodward Avenue and 10 Mile Road in Royal Oak, had the existing graphic steamed off. The tower was then power washed and scraped, and then given a new design. The design hews to the original theme of animals and humans walking across a plain at dusk, but this time the elephant was replaced with a rhino. (Detroit's elephants have since retired to a sanctuary.) The $200,000 makeover was finished Aug. 24.

"The water tower -- one of the most visible landmarks in the region -- was in desperate need of work, both structurally and aesthetically, for some time," Patricia Mills Janeway, the zoo's communication director, writes in an e-mail. It had been 12 years since the tower was last wrapped.

The work took a little longer than expected due to inclement weather, but the end result was worth it: "We are very happy with the way it turned out," she adds. "Many of our visitors, members, donors and neighbors have told us that they are happy we kept the 'critter parade' design."

The tower no longer stores water; its only purpose is a giant billboard. Janeway estimates the advertising value of the tower at more than $100,000.

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

Metro Detroit rail projects begin to take form

After receiving feedback from the community, the Woodward Light Rail project will hopefully be taking another step forward in the next few months in regards to its design.

With several plans suggested, Transportation Riders United (TRU) is advocating that the train run in the left lane of the road whenever possible, instead of sharing the right lane and running the risk of being delayed behind parked cars, buses, and other traffic impediments, says TRU Director Megan Owens.

One of the major details of the plan that still has to be worked out: Where the track should be laid on Woodward? According to TRU's research, a quicker and more reliable system comes from track in the center lane.

"A challenge is finding a balance between being a downtown circulator, and also wanting to have the beginning of real rapid transit," Owens says. "If you're going more than a mile or two, you want it to be quick enough to be convenient for you."

The public comment period ends Monday; visit TRU's website for more information. Owens says it will probably take a few months to compile the information and then proceed.

"We're not quite breaking ground yet, but this is a critical step forward," she says of the light rail.

Other upcoming meetings address Michigan's rail transit from a broader sense. The Michigan Department of Transportation is developing a Michigan State Rail Plan to build a long-term vision for both passenger and freight rail transportation throughout the state; a public meeting is set for 4-7:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at Michigan State University's Detroit Center, 3408 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Michigan by Rail is also hosting a public forum Wednesday at Fairlane Center South, at U-M Dearborn, from 6-8 p.m., to discuss present and possible future rail systems.

Amtrak exists for passenger service, plus there are freight tracks, but not really a plan for using that resource throughout the state, Owens says. Wednesday's meeting will discuss some of the places in Michigan people would like to be able to visit by train and how that could best be done. One example is a way to get up north on the weekend without sitting in traffic on I-75.

High-speed regional trains, commuter trains, light rail, and buses all play a part in mass transit. "It really all fits into the similar idea of giving people in Michigan, and in Detroit, choices as to how to get around," she says. "We can't do everything all at once, but it is important to continue to support and advance all these different transportation options."

Plus, the benefits go beyond easy transit: jobs, revitalization of urban areas, decrease in air pollution, and less dependence on foreign oil. "It's costly and complicated to get all the pieces done, but to have the future we want for our city, we really need all these options," Owens says.

Source: Megan Owens, director of Transportation Riders United
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Oakland U prepares to start work on Mt. Clemens campus

Oakland University is celebrating its new building, and future satellite campus, in downtown Mt. Clemens with a reception to turn over the building's keys.

Developers Gebran S. Anton and Stuart Frankel have been vacating the Towne Square Building, 20 South Main Street, after announcing that it would be given to the university to be used as classrooms. The building, valued at about $2 million, was built in 1984. It's two stories, 25,422 square feet, and constructed of brick and glass.

The reception will be from 10-11:30 a.m. Sept. 22.

Minor renovations will be needed to convert the space from offices to classrooms, and the university is working with Macomb County to utilize Neighborhood Stabilization funding, available through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants. A total is still being worked out; the final amount could determine if the building will be open in time for summer classes or fall classes.

Arthur Mullen, executive director of the Mt. Clemens Downtown Development Authority, used a variety of adjectives to describe how he feels about the university's new building coming to the area: geeked, stoked, thrilled. "We're glowing with excitement," he says. "I think having students in our downtown helps our redevelopment efforts along drastically."

He also plans on putting together a residential website for students and other people interested in living there to allow them to explore the houses available within a quick walk of the classroom building. "We want to encourage young adults to move into downtown, and use our downtown," he says.

Source: Arthur Mullen, executive director, Mt. Clemens Downtown Development Authority; Oakland University
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Oakland Comm College finishes Royal Oak project

Exterior improvements are wrapping up at Oakland Community College's Royal Oak campus.

The four exterior entrance ways couldn't all be done at the same time, since the building was continuously used for classes; hence the project's November-to-present timeline. Work on the fourth entrance at the corner of Lincoln and Washington is almost done and should be completely wrapped up by this November, says OCC spokesman George Cartsonis.

The $1.5 million project also includes outdoor lighting and landscaping, and was funded through the college's property tax millage, earmarked for building restorations, technology upgrades, scholarships and development of new academic programs. "It has dressed up the entrances, and makes the campus even more welcoming than it was before," Cartsonis says.

Source: George Cartsonis, spokesman for Oakland Community College
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Ferndale library nearly doubles in size, offers green features

The Ferndale Public Library opened up its doors after a renovation last month, offering green features, a bigger collection, and plenty of space to spread out and be comfortable.

Library director Doug Raber says that one of the construction outcomes he'd hoped for is already happening: It's becoming a destination. He says he recently saw someone in the library reading her own book -- which is great, because it means she was visiting just to use the building.

"We have people that come to the library, are spending time here reading and working on laptops -- definitely more so than before we renovated," he says.

Compared to last August, circulation is already up 40 percent, and there have been quite a few applications for new library cards, according to Raber.

The entire building has Wi-Fi and the new children's room offers space to spread out and read. Also, a new meeting room facility is available for community groups.

The library, on Nine Mile Road on the eastern edge of downtown, nearly doubled in size, to 21,000 square feet. The addition, paid for by a one-mill tax increase last year, provided space to increase staff and the funds to double its purchasing budget for books and other media.

Patrons appreciate most the overall comfort of the building. "It's a very comfortable place to be," Raber says. "People like it. They like the fact that there are places to go and sit down, there are places to study. They've been commenting on how much they like the place, more than anything else."

Patrons were formerly crammed into tight quarters, with the children's section very close to the adults and vice-versa. "Now people can spread out and be more comfortable," he says.

The library is going for silver
LEED certification for its environmentally friendly features, including a geothermal heating system, a gray water recycling system, and a partial green roof. There are a few odds and ends that still need to be taken care of -- furniture and new book display shelving -- but nothing that affects its overall function.

Source: Doug Raber, director, Ferndale Public Library
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Pontiac, Detroit to make mini-parks out of parking spots

Parking spot enjoyment has taken off in Grand Rapids and other big cities across the nation and world, and now Sean Mann wants to get people loving parking in southeast Michigan.

Parking should be appreciated not just because you grab the space right in front of the coffee shop, either. Park(ing) Day encourages people to make a mini-park out of a metered spot for one day -- Sept. 17 this year -- to celebrate public spaces with friends.

Sean Mann, founder and program coordinator of Let's Save Michigan, a project of the Michigan Municipal League, says a few communities in southeast Michigan, including Pontiac, Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti, and also in Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Traverse City, will likely be participating in this quirky day of awareness. There's still plenty of time to sign up, and parking spots don't need an elaborate makeover. A couple of lawn chairs and a potted plant will do.

With graduates fleeing the state, oftentimes what they're looking for is a better quality of life above jobs -- and that includes public places. "It's a fun way to highlight bringing people together to show they can create those places," Mann mentions. "Our whole campaign is about moving Michigan forward."

The end-of-summer event also allows for one last (hopefully) warm-weather celebration before the mitten state gets cold and dark.

Click here to learn more or to sign up.

Source: Sean Mann, Let's Save Michigan, founder and program coordinator
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Choice Neighborhoods program offers $65 million for neighborhood revitalization

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will give neighborhoods a boost through a special $65 million initiative.

Choice Neighborhoods has 15 planning grants worth $3 million in total, and 19 implementation grants totaling $62 million. Governments and nonprofits are eligible, and so are for-profit developers who apply jointly with a public entity.

The idea of the Choice Neighborhoods initiative is to transform distressed neighborhoods and public and assisted projects into viable and sustainable mixed-income communities by linking housing improvements with appropriate services, schools, public assets, transportation, and access to jobs, according to the website. Early childhood education is also a priority.

Nancy Finegood, executive director of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, sees the value in city-nonprofit partnerships. "It would be a wonderful opportunity for any kind of neighborhood project to revitalize the neighborhood and do some restoration of both homes and commercial properties," she says.

Click here to learn more. The deadline is Oct. 26.

Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Nancy Finegood,
executive director, Michigan Historic Preservation Network
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Madonna U building upgrades to LEED gold

Madonna University officials were hoping its new Franciscan Center building would be silver LEED certified, so when it was awarded gold status last month, it made the designation that much more, well, golden.

The building, home to the university's science and media studies, opened in time for fall classes last year. It’s the first new building on campus in four decades, offering classrooms, offices, audio and television studies, a cafe, and a student gathering area in its 65,000 square feet.

The 4,500-student university was sure it had earned silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, but last month brought home the gold from the Green Building Certification Institute, making it the first in Livonia.

Madonna University President Sr. Rose Marie Kujawa says that because they’d never done a LEED-certified building before, they wanted to set a goal that was reasonable, and shot for silver status.

"We worked very diligently to earn every point that we could, only to find out we were just two or three points away from gold," she says.

And because the point system determining LEED level -- certified, silver, gold, and platinum -- is ever-evolving, they took a closer look at anything additional that could be done to earn an extra point or two, such as using green maintenance products or managing the building's energy in a particular way. The $20 million invested in the building’s environmentally friendly features resulted in recycled carpeting, natural lighting, motion-detecting lights, low-flow plumbing, and cork and bamboo floors.

Not only is the recognition to the university’s planning and commitment, but it also speaks to its Franciscan values as a Catholic university. Plus, the building looks nice, too. Sr. Kujawa says those involved the planning process didn’t think a green building had to look like a factory, and the architects successfully designed it around the campus’ pond, using a lot of natural light.

"Everyone who's heard about it is thrilled," she says. "It's not just good for Madonna University, it's good for the environment, city, everyone associated with city, everyone associated with green building concepts. We're very happy."

Source: Sr. Rose Marie Kujawa, president of Madonna University
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Basco rehabs downtown Ferndale building

A crumbling facade and rotting steel didn't stop Roger and Sergio Basmajian from renovating a building in downtown Ferndale.

320 W. Nine Mile Road is almost ready to be occupied, barring some minor work and paperwork, by Painting with a Twist, a kind of self-serve painting studio. Redeveloper Roger Basmajian says although he had some unexpected rebuilds instead of repairs, the improvements, including the facade, brick, windows and awning, had a good end result.

"We did a whole new facade for that building," he says. "At the end of the day it was just not in good shape."

His company, Basco of Michigan has redeveloped a handful of properties in the Ferndale and Royal Oak area, knew what they were dealing with when they began work on that two-story, 7,800 square-foot building in downtown Ferndale.

"The steel in the back was all rusted from years of neglect, and that’s why we tore everything down," he says. But, "We were determined to make it work."

Source: Roger Basmajian, co-owner of Basco of Michigan
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Mt Clemens welcomes five new businesses

Sure, having a business downtown is good for visibility and traffic, but it also gives owners the chance to be a part of a community.

So says Arthur Mullen, executive director of the Mt. Clemens Downtown Development Authority, as to one of the reasons five new businesses have moved into downtown spaces recently.

"I think a lot of businesses are choosing downtowns because they’re not alone," he says. "Fellow businesses owners are working together to help each other."

Since the beginning of the month, five new businesses have joined the restaurant, retail and office space downtown: Bodhi Seed Yoga & Wellness Studio, the MINDs Eye Bookstore, marketing firm Hunch Free, TGM Skateboards, and Handbags of Hope.

"I think that they're looking for a good location to invest, and they think Mt. Clemens is that good location," Mullen says. "We're always excited when someone is willing to try their idea in Mt. Clemens. They chose us for a reason."

Source: Arthur Mullen, executive director of the Mt. Clemens Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Inkster, Ypsilanti, Detroit, I-275 trail score pedestrian grants

It's all about the infrastructure. Not only will Inkster build a streetscape project and Detroit a walk/bike path, but because of state and federal grant money, portions of the I-275 Metro Trail will be also be reconstructed. Ypsi even got a slice of the community improvement pie.

The Michigan Department of Transportation announced the
federal Transportation Enhancement grants Tuesday, for which Inkster will receive almost $600,000 in state and federal funding for a planned streetscape project. The intersection of Michigan Avenue (US-12) and Inkster Road will be improved about a block in all four directions, with decorative brick pillars, fencing, benches, decorate stamped concrete, and landscaping.

Kimberly Faison, special projects manager for the city of Inkster, says the project will help to define the city’s downtown, at that intersection, with an emphasis on trees, shrubs and perennials. And with traffic whizzing by on Michigan Avenue, "Sometimes our downtown gets missed, especially with the speed," she says. "Our residents have a lot of pride in the community."

The city has also acquired three easements in that area, which will be made into a green space, which will include seating areas.

Improvements done last year, including ramps and cross lights at pedestrian intersections, make the area more walkable, she says, while the streetscape is also expected to help calm traffic. Bus shelters are also a part of the expanded project, and the city hopes to receive future funding for a greenways project down the line.

Faison says Inkster's residents know the city has businesses worth visiting and space worthy of being rehabilitated and reoccupied, and this will help put them on the map. "The project really is exciting for us," she says. "We see this as a shot in the arm."

Elsewhere in the metro area, Detroit will get funding for a nearly 1-mile portion of the Connor Creek Greenway, to include a bike/walk path, seating areas and trees. Eighty percent of the $358,376 will be covered by federal funds, with the rest made up by a match from the city.

Portions of the I-275 Metro Trail, in Canton Township, Van Buren Township, and Romulus, will also be rehabilitated, including the addition of a boardwalk over wetlands and signage. That project is nearly $4 million, covered by federal and state funding.

Finally, Ypsilanti also received a grant for streetscape projects.

Statewide, a total of $10 million was awarded to 11 counties for non-motorized trail improvements, roadway streetscape, parks and water quality.

Source: Kimberly Faison, special projects manager, city of Inkster; Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Emagine Entertainment breaks ground on downtown Royal Oak cineplex

Shovels went into the ground Tuesday for Royal Oak's new movie theater, shortly after Emagine Entertainment closed on the land.

"Everything's on track and we're ready to go," says Paul Glantz, Emagine's founder and chairman. "This baby's been gestating for a long time. It's time for it to be born."

The $14 million entertainment center will offer more than a first-run theater: Food, liquor, and bowling are also in the plans. It's expected to create 100 full-time jobs in the kitchen, at the ticket counter, and in the food-service area.

The 10-screen complex, 73,000 square feet spread over two stories, will be located on the parking lot on 11 Mile Road just east of Main Street, behind the Main Art Theatre. The project will house 1,680 seats and 16 bowling lanes. There will also be a private party area/meeting room on a second-floor mezzanine level over the main entrance.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is offering up a $1.25 million brownfield tax credit towards the project.

Plans are for the theater to be up and running by April, to get all the kinks worked out before next summer's blockbuster season starts. "We're hoping to build it very promptly so it can open next spring," he says. "I'm ecstatic we're moving forward."

Source: Paul Glantz, founder and chairman of Emagine Entertainment
Writer: Kristin Lukowski
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