Development News

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SEMCOG snags $2.8M Sustainable Communities grant

Regional sustainability will be the focus of $2.8 million awarded to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments to unify transportation with housing and redevelopment. Conan Smith, Michigan Suburbs Alliance executive director and member of SEMCOG's executive committee, says planning for regional sustainability is important even though the area is not growing in population, like other grant winners.

"We're in a totally different boat," he says. "How do you create sustainability as people leave? These are big planning questions for the future of a metro region that is significantly smaller than a decade ago."

"What (the grant) does is integrate those systems -- transportation, housing, economic development -- around those concepts of sustainability."

Smith agrees that while much planning has been done in the past with an unequal amount of action, this award isn't dependent on other funding. "It gives us the opportunity to look at metro Detroit in a way that's never been viewed before," he says. "It's about what can we do with the assets that we have here in place right now that will allow us to realize this vision from a variety of actors."

The grants, from a partnership between the U.S. Dept of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Dept of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency, focus on actually implementing plans, rather than just funding yet another study. "We have the opportunity to do something really wonderful, and we ought to take that opportunity," Smith says.

Source: Conan Smith, executive committee member for SEMCOG and executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Pontiac receives $463K energy efficient retrofit grant

The Clean Energy Coalition will be funneling $4.4 million in grant money to seven distressed Michigan cities for clean energy programs, including Pontiac, Hamtramck, and Highland Park.

The cities will be receiving funds through the Michigan Public Service Commission's Cities of Promise program. Each city will receive $463,000 for installation of renewable energy technology and establishment of a revolving energy fund to pay for the energy management support and future investments.

Joshua Brugeman, a division manager with the CEC, says the initial money helps distressed cities overcome two key hurdles: lack of capital for the investments, and no budget to pay a staff person to manage them. "We provide them with that initial seed capital to improve their buildings from an energy perspective, establishing an ongoing program and revolving energy fund, to turn that initial seed capital into future investments," he says.

The city of Pontiac is at the stage of conducting energy audits, focusing on the city hall and Phoenix Center parking garage. "They present a lot of energy savings potential, and a lot of monetary savings potential as well," he says. "Those are attractive to us because we can build a stronger and more robust revolving energy fund."

Although the chosen cities are distressed, it's still important to invest in energy because of the savings and jobs created long-term, says Jenny Oorbeck, also a CEC division manager. And the funded staff person is also important: "You need someone who knows what they're looking at," she says. "We feel like we're doing the right thing for them, helping them put their arms around the data they need to understand and set up a program going forward."

The CEC is still working out the details of what the final projects will be. Also, some cities, including Pontiac and Hamtramck, received federal stimulus money, so the coalition can co-invest with that funding to create a more robust program.

The CEC, a non-profit organization that works with both public and private partners for smart energy strategies, has also subcontracted with Planet Footprint to keep tabs on the energy usage and savings for the cities, which will help them make informed decisions about their energy projects.

Other cities receiving funds are Benton Harbor, Flint, Muskegon Heights, and Saginaw. All seven cities are part of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority's Cities of Promise program, a program created in 2006 to help redevelopment in distressed urban cities.

Source: Jenny Oorbeck and Joshua Brugeman, division managers for the Clean Energy Coalition
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Berkley, Novi pass Complete Streets resolutions, other cities consider the same

Berkley was the ninth Michigan city to pass a Complete Streets resolution earlier this month, and more cities are looking at their own resolutions, as well.

The city voted to adopt the Complete Streets policy earlier this month; now the planning commission will be working on a master plan amendment to address that issue. The groundwork will likely be laid and money appropriated within six months, says Amy Vansen, a city planner with Berkley.

"I think Berkley has always been very pedestrian sensitive," she says. "It is a walkable community, and that is something that is very much valued."

The city already considers street layout and how business windows and doors face thoroughfares, for example. Additional research might be needed for walkways -- is it better to have a 4-foot-wide sidewalk to accommodate a bench, or a 6-foot-wide sidewalk for foot and bike traffic?

"I think a lot of conversations needs to happen so when improvements are made, they're made in the best way possible," Vansen says.

Novi adopted a resolution in August, and Saline was also an early adopter of the Complete Streets program, passing its resolution last month.

Jana Ecker, a planner with the city of Birmingham, said although that city is already a walkable community, there isn't a resolution in place yet. For example, the city doesn't have bike lanes. "It will require some changes from what we do now," she says. She expects the city will take another look at the ordinance in November, after it's reviewed.

A Complete Street means it's safe and convenient not only for car travel, but also for pedestrian and bicycle traffic, as well as accessible to public transportation. Legislation was passed in August to encourage cities to incorporate sidewalks, bike lanes, special bus lanes, and crossing opportunities into road planning. Cycling and pedestrian advocates were on board with the legislation, but healthy living and senior advocates benefit as well.

Source: Amy Vansen, Berkley city planner; Jana Ecker, Birmingham city planner; Michigan Complete Streets Coalition
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Royal Oak non-motorized plan gets public jump start

Cyclists want to ride from downtown to downtown, and crossing Woodward can be, well, a real bear.

That's some of the feedback that arose from an open house for a non-motorized transit plan for Royal Oak, which drew close to 100 people last month. Royal Oak resident and avid cyclist Todd Scott says the meeting included breaking into groups and sharing where cyclists wanted to ride -- the nearby downtowns being a popular destination. They also discussed barriers, including Woodward Avenue, both in riding its length and trying to cross it, and I-696 south of Royal Oak.

"The planners took that information home to be able to work on a non-motorized plan," he says. "They'll present the initial draft and have more public input about that."

Scott was pleased to see people from many circles and types of cycling
in attendance. "I think it was very optimistic," he says. "It seems like we really drew from all the groups."

The Active Transportation Alliance is working with the city of Royal Oak to 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

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
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