Development News

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Ferndale nets 26 new businesses in 2010, says DDA

The amount of investment in downtown Ferndale increased by $3.3 million from 2009 to 2010, according to statistics released by the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority.

The $7.8 million expended in 2010 included 37 building rehabs, the opening of 40 new businesses, and the 7,000-square foot addition to the Ferndale Public Library. With businesses lost in 2010, the net gain of new businesses was 26, the DDA stats say.

The bottom line is an 85 percent increase in investment and proof that Ferndale has the ability to grow even during a puttering economy. While job creation numbers declined by 28% from this year over last, there was still a net increase of 204 new jobs, according to the DDA stats.

Cristina Sheppard-Decius, executive director of the Ferndale DDA, says the sunny numbers in this cloudy economy have much to do with "a lot of work for many years up to this point."

It helps that there is more interest in general from business owners who want to set up in downtown locations. Just because the economy turns sour, especially in Michigan, she says, "we can't just stop. We have to keep the dream going."

Source: Cristina Sheppard-Decius, executive director, Ferndale Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Woodward Avenue gets 50 new signs, All American Road designation

More than 18 months of regional planning and state-local cooperation culminates this week with the installation of federal All American Road signs along a 27-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue.

A total of 50 signs worth $45,000 will be installed as part of the 2009 All American Road project, a U.S. Dept of Transportation program that awards funding for roadways deemed worthy of distinction and therefore dollars that make the roadways more appealing, useful, recognizable and memorable. Many such roadways around the country have been deemed scenic parkways, historic routes and such. The majority of Woodward signs will be installed this week by the Michigan Dept of Transportation (MDOT) with a few not coming until spring.

Royal Oak-based WA3, the Woodward Avenue Action Association, is the local administrator of the program and worked with MDOT, all cities along the route, and DTE on the best placement and process for the sign installation

"The intent is to really bring awareness that this is an exclusive and important designation so that when visitors are here they say, 'Wow I've seen that in other parts of America,' and they understand this is an important part of history," says Heather Carmona, executive director of WA3.

"They're very different signs, not your typical MDOT road sign...It was a long process, 18-20 months. It was very challenging to get these different signs, but MDOT was very accommodating," Carmona says. "We were able to do something that was outside of the box and get something that was eye catching and appealing and safe."

A prototype sign is located at McDonald's on Woodward near 13 Mile.

Of the 50 signs, 23 will be installed in Detroit. The remainder run north through Oakland County communities.

Source: Heather Carmona, executive director of the Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Kim North Shine

Signs Now moves U.S. headquarters to Plymouth Township

Signs Now, one of two main divisions of Allegra Network, has moved its leadership team from Sarasota, Florida to Plymouth Twp, bringing together its Northville and Florida operations under one roof, as the company branches into marketing and visual communications.

The move into an industrial building in Plymouth Twp consolidated Allegra's signs and print brands divisions. Allegra is one of the world's largest marketing, print and graphics communications companies and ranks in the top 200 of franchise companies worldwide.

Previously, the headquarters for its print brands operated from a 16,000-square-foot space in Northville and Signs Now was run from a 6,000-square-foot space in Sarasota.

"We ended up buying a 67,000-square-foot building that allowed us to bring those operations together," Allegra Network majority owner Mike Marcantonio says. "Plymouth Township has been great to work with. It is really a business-friendly community."

About 50 employees work at the new Plymouth headquarters, some hired since the move, and more are expected to be hired as the company adds new services, Marcantonio says. The company has about 20 employees in Florida and other parts of the country. Some employees remained in Florida. Top leadership came to Michigan and will work in offices carved out of the former industrial building. The other part of the building is ideal for operations and will be used for training franchisees and "rolling out new products."

Plymouth will be the site of administrative offices for company leadership, franchise training, research and development, and also house a number of related businesses, from commercial art provider Progressive Art & Frame Design to the new marketing and visual communications arm that will offer small- to medium-sized companies marketing and advertising services typically not available from large agencies.

"We're developing a marketing resource center here in Plymouth," Marcantonio says.
This will lead to the hiring of marketing strategists, social media experts, designers and other jobs, he says.

Allegra is privately owned by an investor group including Marcantonio, former vice president of Domino's Pizza, and Thomas S. Monaghan, the founder and former CEO of Domino's Pizza and founder of Ave Maria University.

Source: Mike Marcantonio, majority owner Allegra Network
Writer: Kim North Shine

Lofts moving into downtown Wyandotte

A downtown loft development is the first of its kind to grow out of the creation of Wyandotte's Neighborhood Enterprise Zone.

Gilbert Rose, the managing partner of Newton Investment Co. LLC, the loft project developer, says the enterprise zone's offer of discounted taxes on renovations and improvements was "quite the enticement to make this investment in the city."  Pairing it with financial backing from the Wayne County Home Loan program sealed the deal.

The Lofts at Willow Tree project will cost at least $300,000, Rose says.

"The City of Wyandotte is eager to make this project and others like it happen so that more and more downtown places will be occupied by people," he says.

The four two-bedroom lofts will be rented, overlook downtown, and located at 3005 First St. Architect Tom Roberts will design the lofts and construction should begin by April and finish within four months, Rose says.

The Lofts at Willow Tree gets its name from the longtime Willow Tree women's clothing store, which is also owned by Rose. They will be built on the second floor of the building, above the clothing store, which faces Biddle, Wyandotte's main downtown drag. The apartments will also overlook Biddle but will be entered from First St. They are in the space formerly occupied by Barry & Co., a hair salon that moved to away to a first-floor, downtown location two years ago.

"We think lofts will be very attractive. We have great tenants now who love living in downtown Wyandotte," Rose says. "We put up a couple of signs for the Lofts at Willow Tree and we've had a ton of calls. We are very excited. We think after we do this, we'll see more and more of this."

Source: Gilbert Rose, managing partner Newton Investment Co. LLC

Writer: Kim North Shine

Rust Belt Market artists' venue planned for downtown Ferndale

Chris and Tiffany Best have been among the crowds drawn to Ferndale's four main art shows over the years so they've seen the pull -- and the market -- that Ferndale has on talented artists and consumers looking to buy local artists' creations.

"The shows all have the same great vibe, and we kept seeing the same artists over and over, the handmade merchandise and vintage pieces. We thought it's a shame that they only have four times a year to come out and no place to sell other than wholesale to retailers where they have no face-to-face time with their buyers," says Tiffany Best, a 25-year-old Oxford resident who spends a lot time in Ferndale, including at her job at Flip Salon and with friends on the weekend.

And so with the idea of giving artists and their buyers a permanent place to meet, the Bests are launching the Rust Belt Market, a year-round art market and artists' incubator, to be located in the former Old Navy clothing store on Woodward and 9 Mile.

The 15,000-square-foot building will be divided and leased, says Cristina Sheppard-Decius, director of the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority.

And Rust Belt Market is the kind of development that can add to the eclectic, round-the-clock feel of the city.  Law practices and offices have considered the site, but ideally, Sheppard-Decius says, the building will be used for ventures that "contribute to the energy of Ferndale."

At Rust Belt Market, artists would lease space on weekends or for longer blocks of time and the lease would include storage space. "The response to this has been overwhelming," Tiffany Best says.

She says lease negotiations for the 5,000 square feet  -- possibly with the option of expanding into more square footage should artists want a workspace as well -- should wrap up over the next month. After that the building owner will take a month to divide the space structurally, and a month afterwards the Bests would be done with their own renovations. The goal is to open around May, Tiffany Best says.

Tiffany Best, the owner of Earthy Girl gardening, and Chris Best, a 32-year-old licensed builder, don't want to compete with Ferndale's outdoor art shows such as the DIY Street Fair in September. They want to complement them by holding special events, perhaps fashion shows or exhibitions, during fair times.

Tiffany says she and Chris see staying in Michigan and cultivating an art spot here as a way to pay back their state and to join in with other Michigan residents who are ready for an economic rebound.

"We see an obligation to the state, kind of like a marriage. You don't leave when the going gets rough and when you stick it out you get to see what's wonderful on the other side. We feel the state and its citizens are ready for a new beginning. The creative class is here to stay. We want to create a development that will bring people together, get them out of the big box stores and in contact with quality, handmade goods that have a story, products that let you invest in a person by wearing or displaying what that person has made with their own hands."

Sources: Tiffany Best, partner in Rust Belt Market LLC and Cristina Sheppard-Decius, director Ferndale DDA

Writer: Kim North Shine

Case for Detroit light rail grows with $25M federal grant, 23% growth in Amtrak ridership

A system of regional mass transit in southeast Michigan has moved further down the track thanks to a $25 million federal grant and an Amtrak ridership survey that shows the number of train commuters continues to increase.

"I believe that southeast Michigan is as close as it has ever been to implementing higher levels of transit," says Carmine Palombo, transportation director for SEMCOG, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. 

He says SEMCOG and the Michigan Department of Transportation "continue moving forward on the commuter rail project from Ann Arbor to Detroit. Amtrak ridership on the Pontiac to Chicago line is up significantly. These are all positive signs that could lead to enhanced transit being in our future in the not too distant future."

The positive prognosis comes after the award of a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the building of the Detroit Light Rail Line. The grant comes from the Transportation Investment Generating Recovery - TIGER, a program of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. 

The first phase is the construction of a light rail line that runs 3.4 miles along Woodward and has 12 stations connecting downtown Detroit to Grand Blvd in the New Center area. The second phase would extend the light rail line 5.9 miles from Grand Blvd to 8 Mile Road near the Michigan State fairgrounds.

Separately, according to a report from the Michigan Dept of Transportation (MDOT), Amtrak ridership and ticket revenue increased again.

From October to December, 130,683 passengers took trains on the Pontiac/Detroit-Chicago corridor -- or Wolverine line -- for an increase of 22.7 percent from a year ago. Ticket revenue increased 26 percent to $4,949,889, according to MDOT. Ridership and revenue also increased on the Blue Water train that goes between Port Huron and East Lansing and the Pere Marquette line between Grand Rapids and Chicago. 

Janet Foran, a spokesperson for MDOT, which helps fund the Pere Marquette and Blue Water lines, says "certainly there is a lot more effort in southeast Michigan to get new projects off to a start, one being the Woodward light rail line…Clearly there is much more defined interest train travel."

Palombo and Foran say, as always, funding will have to follow the interest.

Source: Carmine Palombo, director of transportation for SEMCOG and Janet Foran, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Transportation

Writer: Kim North Shine

Rochester Fire Dept goes solar-powered

The Rochester Fire Department has tipped its hat to environmentalism and financial responsibility by installing a solar paneled roof on its building.

The project was completed in January and is believed to be the first of its kind in Michigan and one of the first in the United States.

"The environmental aspect is obviously an important piece of this," City Manager Jaymes Vettraino says. "But the City Council was really moved by the dollars. They asked to show if money could be saved, and it could."

The roof, which generates solar power, came at the recommendation of New Energy Solutions, a consultant hired by the city to identify areas where energy costs could be saved or improved. That relationship began following a free energy audit provided by the Michigan Dept of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth through a clean energy grant program.

The roof was installed by Allen Brothers Roofing's recently-founded branch company, LUMA Resources, which formed as a solar products division. Federal and state stimulus grants were used to help LUMA transfer from traditional to solar roofing. The company, based in Rochester Hills, was lauded for its new economy innovation and for adapting to clean and renewable energy by President Barack Obama during the 2011 State of the Union address.

The roof cost $41,000, $22,000 of which was covered by DTE's Solar Currents program, which supports efforts to use alternative, clean and renewable energy. Energy from the fire department's solar panels will be returned to DTE's power grid. 

The final cost to the city was $19,000, and the roof is expected to save $150,000 in energy costs over the next 25 years, he says. The fire department, which was ideal because of its westward-facing roof, is a test vehicle for the city.

"We're very excited about where this could go,"  Vettraino says. "We're very happy with the product so far. Obviously if it keeps going like it is, we'll keep saving money."

Source: Jaymes Vettraino, Rochester City Manager
Writer: Kim North Shine

Record number of new businesses open in downtown Rochester in 2010

The year 2010 saw 36 new businesses come to downtown Rochester, for a net gain of 26 new businesses, dropping the retail vacancy rate to a mere 3 percent, says Kristi Trevarrow, executive director of the Rochester Downtown Development Authority.

"We're pretty proud of that,"  Trevarrow says.

Recruitment efforts, incentives and other projects that make downtown more appealing, including bike racks used by downtown workers, are part of the DDA strategy to pump up downtown.

The new businesses will be witness to one of the city's most popular events, the Fire & Ice Fest, which runs this weekend and becomes a venue for another business-boosting plan of the DDA: the Sweet Deals discount card.

This is the first year that Fire & Ice is running three days, bringing visitors snow tubing hills, fireworks, and ice sculptures carved this year in the theme of toys and a light show, among dozens of other activities.

Trevarrow says downtown businesses report this as being a top sales weekend. The hope is to feel the warmth again come February when the Sweet Deals discount card will give users 15 percent off at some 25 downtown restaurants, salons and shops.

Source: Kristi Trevarrow, executive director, Rochester Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Streetscape grants from Royal Oak's WA3 help unify Woodward Corridor

Five cities and communities with Woodward Avenue as their spine now have money to spend on projects to make their street fronts more appealing, inviting and useful.

The money, $53,000 split among them, comes from the
Woodward Avenue Action Association (WA3) via Federal Highway Administration Scenic Byway funds. WA3, a Royal Oak-based economic and community development organization with the mission of improving the visual, economic, function and historical character of the 27-mile long avenue, hands out the grants as part of its Streetscape Grant Program.

The 2010 recipients run from Detroit north through Oakland County and up to Berkley. In 2009, WA3 awarded $118,000 in mini grants.

"We're looking for areas that can enhance Woodward as an entire corridor and also help communities fulfill their individual goals," says Heather Carmona, executive director of WA3. The projects are not only aesthetic but practical, she says.

And the added bonus is that the grants bring federal tax dollars back home. Woodward Avenue, a history-rich and storied thruway, is designated an All-American Road, making it eligible for the funding.

The allocations were:
  • City of Berkley - $8,000 for median improvements
  • Ferndale Downtown Development Authority - $10,000 for Wayfinding Kiosks, high-tech, outdoor directories
  • Arden Park-East Boston Historic District - $7,000 for historic entry grates
  • The Park District (between 6 and 8 Mile roads) - $5,000 for beautification
  • South Oakland county - $13,000 for median improvements
The program provides a simplified process to generate physical improvements for Woodward as a connected region by celebrating and promoting the byway and the communities it runs through.

Source: Heather Carmona, executive director, Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Kim North Shine

One of nation's largest plumbing suppliers moves into new digs in Sterling Heights

One of the nation's largest suppliers of pipes and plumbing products is moving into larger digs in Sterling Heights, renovating the exterior of the building and making other improvements that amount to $3.6 million.

The 360,000-square-foot space lets the company, The Macomb Group, consolidate some of its operations.

The Macomb Group, which also supplies fittings and valves, is moving into the former Collins & Aikman facility on Van Dyke near 15 Mile Road.

A MEGA tax credit from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation is keeping the company in the state rather than consolidating elsewhere, possibly out of state.

Luke Bonner, Sterling Heights economic development manager, says the decision "truly demonstrates Macomb Group's long-term commitment to Sterling Heights."

Source: Luke Bonner, Sterling Heights economic development manager
Writer: Kim North Shine

Grosse Pointe scene changing as planners envisioned

The vision to create a Grosse Pointe downtown district that is pumping with restaurants, entertainment, and shopping has broadened, taking on health, recreation and wellness as goals.

A number of projects are making the vision a reality. The expansion and modernization of Kroger, which reopened in November. The more-than-doubled expansion and added amenity of outdoor seating to the Village Grille restaurant, the recent opening of Sidestreet Diner, the coming of Green Zone Pizza to name a few. And now the partnership between Beaumont Hospital and Neighborhood Club to build a new health, recreation and wellness center in the Village is taking hopes for the quaint, walkable village district to another level, says Grosse Pointe City Manager Peter Dame.

"This is the kind of project that enhances what we have going on there already," Dame says.

Green Zone Pizza is leasing space in a block-long redevelopment of the former Jacobson's department store. The addition nearly fills the building, which now has about 10 tenants, from Trader Joe's and Yoga Shelter to Coldwater Creek and Ann Taylor Loft.

The Beaumont Hospital-Neighborhood Club project is a 420,000-square-foot facility to be located on the current site of the Neighborhood Club, a provider of community education and sports leagues as well as the home of Services for Older Citizens. The opening date has not been set.

Source: Peter Dame, Grosse Pointe city manager
Writer: Kim North Shine

Downtown Royal Oak parking meters go solar

An experiment with a new kind of parking meter is in progress in downtown Royal Oak, where 30 solar-powered meters are up and running.

The meters not only come with technological bells and whistles that provide the city with up-to-the minute information about broken meters, how they are being used, etc, but also give visitors to downtown another way to pay.

In addition to accepting coins, the meters take credit cards, ideally making downtown parking more inviting and convenient.

Greg Rassel, Royal Oak's director of recreation and public service, says the meters are "getting positive response so far."

The meters are located on Washington Street between Sixth and Seventh streets and at the parking lot on Center Street between Fifth and Sixth. They were installed in mid-December, and in late February or early March the data generated will be evaluated by city officials who will determine if the meters stay, go, or grow to more places in the city.

Ann Arbor started installing solar parking meters about a year and half ago. More than half it's downtown has been converted to the new system.

Even in the thick of winter, the solar powered machines are working, pulling energy from batteries that store several days' worth of power.

"So far we have about 10 percent of people using cards," says Rassel. "During the evening hours that number goes up to 15 percent." 

Source: Greg Rassel, director of recreation and public service, City of Royal Oak

Writer: Kim North Shine

Walkway over downtown Northville takes another step forward

A two-story walkway that will provide a convenient -- and eye-pleasing -- way in to the heart of downtown Northville is picking up pace.

The project limped along recently when the City Council withdrew funding, but the Northville Downtown Development Authority says the loss will soon be made up and the walkway, which will span East Main Street, will be built.

The walkway is expected to cost about $700,000, much of it paid for by federal grants and other sources. About $100,000 is still needed.

Catherine Woods, special events coordinator for the Northville DDA, says the walkway will make travel into downtown easier.

"This would keep pedestrians from walking around the block," she says. "It would be a cut-through that takes your right near Town Square," where concerts are held, Wi-fi users hang out, and people have lunch.

"It's about making it more accessible for everyone, and it will be especially convenient for the elderly, people with disabilities, women with strollers, everyone." Woods says.

Besides the opening of the walkway, the DDA's 2011-12 initiatives include a street-scape enhancement project, new downtown signage, and electric car parking and charging stations, among other projects.

Source: Catherine Woods, special events coordinator for the Northville Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Wyandotte DDA's business improvement grants paying off

In just over six months, a Downtown Development Authority grant program has paved the way for 17 businesses to relocate, update or change and improve in some way.

Last June, the DDA set aside $40,000 for businesses to be reimbursed for moving expenses, refurbishing costs, facade changes and more. The money comes from the taxes that are captured from businesses located in the DDA district.

Another $40,000 was allocated for this fiscal year, and there's about $15,000 left to spend, probably enough for three more businesses, says Brandon Wescott, director of the Wyandotte DDA.

"Our vacancy rate has gone down… Prices for downtown space has become more affordable. If you see what these businesses are doing, how they're changing some of these places, it's really great," Wescott says.

The businesses that have moved into Wyandotte or improved their current digs include Angelina's Mexican restaurant, Total Health Foods and Riverside Yarn Gallery.

Westcott says he and city officials have decided to extend the grants to restaurants interested in opening sidewalk cafes.

"Anything that can increase foot traffic, invite people downtown," he says. "That's what we want to see more of."

Source: Brandon Wescott, director Wyandotte Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Oakland Chamber Network unites county's biggest business boosters

The launch of a new, options-friendly website for the Oakland Chamber Network last week furthers the intention of the organization to have its 29 chamber members work together rather than compete.

In the spirit of regional cooperation, the members of the Oakland Chamber Network commissioned the new site, which has information about each chamber, its events, its programs, its Facebook and Twitter page links and more. The network also hosts an annual meeting that's open to its members as well as chambers or interested parties from anywhere.

"We think this plants the seeds that will encourage more and more cooperation in Oakland County and beyond its boundaries," says Michele Hodges, president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce and past president of the network. 

The website is the affirmation of the network's mission for chambers to work together to attract businesses, events, conventions and more to Oakland County, even if that means directing potential business to a community other than their own.

"In the past chambers have been relatively territorial, but we know our main job is to serve the customer. So if that means the customer is better-served elsewhere, absolutely we want to make sure that customer gets the best service," Hodges says.

The partnership also gives members access to shared resources and information to help them do their jobs and ideally bring economic prosperity both inside and outside of Oakland County.

Source: Michele  Hodges, president, Troy Chamber of Commerce and immediate past president, Oakland Chamber Network

Writer: Kim North Shine

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