Development News

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Ice rink cometh to Auburn Hills, heating up plans for downtown

A newly opened ice rink in Auburn Hills is offering a cold-weather activity to skaters while warming up nearby businesses in the city's developing downtown.

The rink, located at the corner of Auburn and Squirrel roads, was funded by TIFA, a Tax Increment Financing Authority that also relocated an historic log cabin adjacent to the rink, which faces the area's busy frontage.

The natural rink, not a refrigerated type, and the cabin are the centerpiece of a downtown district that's in the works in this Oakland County community of about 20,000 residents.

"We've been working on growing the downtown," says Stephanie Carroll, a spokesperson for the city. "We've been putting our heads together...We've moved our events down there. We've had our concerts and other summer activities there already. We kind of thought 'what can we do in the winter?'  We thought the addition of an ice rink downtown would be a great way to get families out to enjoy wintertime activities and also to complement our businesses that are there."

Skaters can grab a hot chocolate or coffee at Nana's Gourmet, stop for a bite to eat or a drink at sports bars such as Stan's Dugout and Duffy's Pub, pick up a sandwich at the newly arrived Subway sandwich shop, or spend more time outdoors on nearby trails.

A barber shop and knitting shop operate out of the log cabin.

"We're hoping to create more there in the future," Carroll says.  "And as we continue to develop the downtown we will definitely create more things for people to do."

Source: Stephanie Carroll, coordinator of community relations and legislative affairs, city of Auburn Hills
Writer: Kim North Shine

Artists, creative types, and lovers of art, be heard in Dearborn!

The deadline for a survey seeking input for an Artspace project in Dearborn has been extended to Feb. 1.

Artspace is a national nonprofit that works with communities to design affordable housing and workspace for artists and arts and cultural organizations.

The survey is the second phase of the Artspace Dearborn project and seeks to determine the interest level in designing an Artspace development in the city and learn what kinds of artists and businesses might locate to a place like this, one that could give an  economic and lifestyle enhancement to the city. The survey can be taken by anyone, anywhere.

"We hope to hear from artists who say 'this could make a difference in my life," says Teri Deaver, Artspace's director of consulting and new projects.

Responses to the survey, which was initially due Jan. 4, might have been lower due to the holidays, she says, so the deadline was extended.

In Dearborn, "the vision is to create a place for the art industry, small businesses, entrepreneurs, start-ups, arts organizations, cultural organizations, architectural organizations...The vision is to offer not only affordable housing but affordable space for the creative industry."

There clearly is already interest from city officials, including the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority, as well as artists, art groups and funders, Deaver says. The survey results will be used for a recommendation to be presented to interested parties, probably around May 10, she says. 

 "We try not to move forward unless we think there is a level of interest to make the project successful." 

Often Artspace projects can be a draw for re-locaters.

"You have artists who left because there wasn't a place for them, and when they hear about this it can encourage them to come back."

Source: Teri Deaver, director of consulting and new projects for Artspace

Writer: Kim North Shine

Mount Clemens scores 10th new downtown business since May

Two new business have opened in recent weeks in downtown Mount Clemens, adding to an eclectic mix of establishments in Macomb County's county seat and bringing to 10 the total of new operations to open in the last eight months.

Gibbons Bakery, once an institution in The Clem, reopened under new ownership near the end of 2010. It's run by a family of Yugoslav immigrants who decided to revive the bakery that gave them jobs, taught them English and brought them opportunity when they came to the U.S. in the 1990s. With the return of Gibbons and its beloved cherry nut bars, downtown gets back a piece of its history that began with the original bakery debut in 1929.

On Thursday, Gemini Moon, a metaphysical and spiritual supply store and gift shop, became the 10th business to open since May.

The openings along with the relocation of the Box Theater from an upper level space to the ground floor has halved downtown's ground floor vacancy rate from 31 percent in May 2010 to 15 percent, says Arthur Mullen, executive director of the Mount Clemens Downtown Development Authority.

Mullen says a deliberate recruitment and marketing effort and regular DDA events and activities that draw crowds downtown have paid off. It's "never just luck with these things. You create a welcoming and active district, and investment will follow.  We've been focused on that for several years."

He also credits an appetite among businesses for walkable downtown districts over suburban strip malls.

"Downtowns have been doing much better than suburban commercial strip buildings and malls due to several other reasons," Mullen says.

Plans to bring in more business and more people continue. "We will be expanding the attraction efforts over the next four months with a revamped website, business attraction folder, and direct contacts with prospective businesses."

Source: Arthur Mullen, executive director Mount Clemens Downtown Development Authority

Writer: Kim North Shine

Developer plans eco-friendly improvements for former Birmingham schools admin building

West Bloomfield-based developer Jeff Surnow is tackling another project, now that he's about wrapped up the renovation of the old Birmingham post office.

His next project is a former Birmingham schools administration building, at 550 Mills St. He's not quite as far along with that building -- after receiving site plan approval from the city, he then goes through the planning stages, and expects that will take a little bit of time. He's also looking for tenants to commit to moving in.

The older buildings are a little harder to convert energy efficiency, Surnow says, but he'd like to do more of them when the economy picks up. "We're taking old structures and giving them the modern, green technology to bring them up to date," he says.

Surnow would like to make some of the same improvements in the old school administration building that he did in the former post office -- new heating, high-efficiency and low-energy lights, additional insulation, skylights, and more.

Source: Jeff Surnow, The Surnow Company
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

First phase of $25M Inkster Marketplace opens

Tenants will be moving in soon to the Inkster Marketplace, after the opening of its first phase was celebrated last week. The State of Michigan Dept. of Human Services District Office officially moves in Jan. 15, says developer Ron Boji.

The YWCA of Western Wayne County will then move into new space for outreach and community programs and its Head Start preschool program. After that, the old Y space will be redeveloped into a City of Inkster Justice Center, which will house the Inkster Police headquarters and 22nd District Court. That's anticipated to be completed by March of 2012.

The actual buildings are up, the brick is on and the crews are starting on the interior, Boji says. "Everything is going wonderfully. The city's been just a gem to deal with, and the county's been great."

The structure at Michigan Avenue and John Daly Street had previously been an automotive dealership, vacant since 2002. All four parts include 100,000 square feet of office and retail space, and the whole price tag comes to about $25 million, part of which is being funded with Michigan Business Tax credits, neighborhood stabilization funds, and Recovery Zone bonds.

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

Panera’s new Dearborn cafe is “pay what you can”

The new Panera Cares Community Cafe in Dearborn isn't your usual soup and sandwich spot.

Well, sure, there's soup, and sandwiches, and other items, too, just like a typical Panera Bread Co. But patrons pay what they can based on what they can afford and suggested donations for each item on the menu. This way, everyone who needs a meal gets one, and those who can afford to give a little more have the opportunity to do so.

Kate Antonacci, a Panera spokesperson, says the company had spent months researching models for food distribution, including food pantries and soup kitchens, and decided they wanted to do something that looked and felt just like a regular Panera. The signs are different, but the menu is just like the Panera everyone recognizes. There are donation bins, and they can break a bill or run a credit card, just like a regular restaurant. "For the most part, it does feel the same," Antonacci says.

She explains that they wanted to offer their full menu and be self-sustaining, so the location had to be in a place where some people would be able to give the recommendation donation or more. But they also wanted it to be available to people who need it.

"Dearborn was this great mix for us," she says. "It's near public transportation, it gets a good flow of people who come in and out -- we felt it was the right place for us there."

The Dearborn location is Panera's second Panera Cares; the first was in Missouri, and a third is set to open in Portland next month. Panera Cares doesn't have any figures for the Dearborn store yet, but Antonacci says the cafe in Missouri runs at about 80-85 percent of the retail costs, which is enough to be self-sustaining. There's no way to tell for sure, but she estimates that about 60 percent of patrons pay the suggested amount, 20 percent more, and 20 percent less, with some paying significantly less or nothing.

"We wanted there to be a certain level of anonymity, so people don't feel like they're being watched," she says. "It gives them the opportunity to give what they want -- the exact amount is up to them."

The Missouri cafe is so successful that the company is implementing a program to give at-risk youth on-the-job training to learn work and life skills. "The ultimate goal is to use the space and skills we have to do something even better than feeding people," she says.

She explains that the Panera Foundation, which runs the cafe, is not part of the corporation any more, hence the name change. And although Panera already donates money for food distribution and donates its leftover product, "We weren't directly interacting with the people we were helping," she says.

Source: Kate Antonacci, spokesperson for Panera
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Beaumont hospitals receive $4M gift for cardiac and imaging centers

Beaumont Medical Center in Macomb Township will get a new imaging center and the cardiac center at Beaumont Hospital in Troy gets a new name through a $4 million gift from the Wayne and Joan Webber Foundation.

The gift funds the construction and renovations of the Wayne & Joan Webber Imaging Center, as well as an open MRI, the first of its kind in the Beaumont system. The cardiac care center at Beaumont Hospital, Troy, which opened in September, will be named the Wayne and Joan Webber Cardiac Progressive Care Center.

Duane Mezwa, the corporate chair of diagnostic radiology for the Beaumont system, was especially excited about the new open MRI. He says the open magnet system is good for patients who are claustrophobic, and may not be able to lie in they typical tight cylindrical MRI machine. It's also good for children, whose parents can now lie next to them and hold their hand, reducing the chances they'll need to be anesthetized for the procedure; and for overweight patients, who have more room to be comfortable.

The new machine also has a higher magnet strength, which creates better images, and is better for the feet and other bony structures. "For the right patient, we want to make sure to get them on the right scanner," he says.

The hospital appreciates the donation, he says, especially during the economic downturn when money for additional equipment is limited. The system was one of the first in the state to have digital mammography, which also came about through a philanthropic donation.

"To get a donation like this is really, really fortunate," he points out. "It helps us out tremendously. The money allows us to give patients cutting-edge technology."

The Wayne & Joan Webber Imaging Center is scheduled to open in 2011. The cardiac center is a 12-bed inpatient unit for cardiac patients, staffed by highly trained nurses and doctors who specialize in cardiac care.

Wayne and Joan Webber are from Clinton Township. Other beneficiaries of their foundation include the Webber Cancer Center at St. John Macomb-Oakland Hospital; the DIA Wayne and Joan Webber Education Wing; the University Yes Academy Wayne; and John Webber 90-90-90 School in Detroit.

Source: Duane Mezwa, corporate chair of diagnostic radiology for the Beaumont Hospital System
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Former Birmingham post office gets green makeover

A former post office turned office building in downtown Birmingham got a complete green makeover, and tenants are expected to be moving in soon.

Jeff Surnow, of West Bloomfield-based The Surnow Company, says the former post office was completely gutted of its old and inefficient features. The 19,000-square-foot, 80-year-old building, on Martin Street in downtown Birmingham, has a new heating and cooling system, plumbing, electrical, light fixtures, and more.

For example, some skylights were uncovered, and old light fixtures were replaced with high-efficiency, low-energy lights. "We're able to get the same amount of light with half the fixtures, and 20 percent of the energy costs," he says.

The new, forced-air heating system is better coordinated between zones, so one part of the building isn't receiving unnecessary heat, for example, and the roof has six inches of new insulation. "It's a substantial amount of energy efficiency this building is going to have compared to what it was," he says.

In addition to new features, Surnow also examined the building's floor plan -- he made one central kitchen space, and several shared conference rooms. This way, a business doesn't pay for  rooms in a large suite that are rarely used. "We're changing the style of how the building is run and how people do their business," he says. "Being green is very important to us."

Source: Jeff Surnow, The Surnow Company
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Inkster streetscape project wraps up for the season

Save for some trees and landscaping, Inkster's streetscape improvement project for the area of Michigan Avenue and Inkster Road has been completed.

The Michigan Department of Transportation announced in August federal Transportation Enhancement grants, through which Inkster received almost $600,000 in state and federal funding for decorative brick pillars, fencing, benches, decorative stamped concrete, and landscaping. "Everything turned out well," says Kimberly Faison, special projects manager for the city of Inkster.

And although it's gray this time of year and the improvements don't stand out as much, she expects that come spring, when the landscaping starts to grow, it'll be very visible. What's most noticeable now is the stamped concrete along Michigan Avenue and Inkster Road, where there is decorative fencing and a brick pillar design. Two of the corners also have seating areas, and one has a gathering area with a circular walk and will have landscaping in the middle.

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

Source: Kimberly Faison, special projects manager, city of Inkster
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Better Buildings for Michigan funds residential energy improvements

A Ferndale neighborhood will be the first of 12 in southeast Michigan to benefit from residential energy efficiency grants through a program that kicks off today.

A Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth program, originally called the Michigan Retrofit Ramp-up Initiative and now Better Buildings for Michigan, is part of a national program that is distributing $30 million across the state. Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to officially announce and begin the statewide program today, and is expected to visit a home and assist with an energy audit.

The community-focused programs will target residential areas, selecting neighborhoods based on the age of the home, the area's demographics, and other features, explains Amanda Dentler, Outreach Director for the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office. Ferndale is the first city in the area to receive funding, and the office will alternate between Detroit and a suburb for each of the 12 neighborhoods; in all, six regions across Michigan are participating.

A total of 420 homes are selected in each community, and a $50 contribution by the homeowner gets a $1,200 package that includes an energy audit, light bulbs, blower door tests, efficient shower and sink faucets, and more. Dentler says the program is off to a good start -- of the selected homes, about a quarter have been contacted, and half of those have already agreed to participate.

"That's a success for us, considering no one's ever heard of this," she says. "I think we'll get a flood of commitments after the governor kicks it off."

The number of houses selected in a community, at 420, qualifies it to be a metropolitan neighborhood, she explains, and is a large enough population to begin to reduce the carbon and energy use of the area. Each neighborhood will get a six-week sweeps period, with canvassing and outreach, and a liaison afterwards if there's any follow-up or late interest.

According to a Department of Energy document, the goal for Better Buildings in Michigan is to address 11,340 residential buildings and at least 131 commercial, public, and industrial structures across Michigan over three years. It should save 1.2 trillion BTUs of energy, and 19.6 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, while creating 2,063 green jobs, the document says.

Michigan's share comes from a total of $452 million in federal stimulus funds.

Source: Amanda Dentler, outreach director for Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Oakland County makes energy efficient upgrades, saves $4 million

Window replacements, new weather stripping, new heating systems, and heating and cooling system management are all energy efficient improvements that Oakland County plans to make in its buildings.

And with those improvements, savings are estimated at $627,000 a year on utility bills for those buildings, according to a recent audit.

Art Holdsworth, director of facilities management for the county, says that although the audit turned up significant potential savings and improvements, it also determined that the county was already doing a lot of things right. "The audit was very complementary to the campus and what we've been doing here. We've gone a long way toward green activities and energy conservation."

The $200,000 audit, done a few months ago, was paid for by a $4.8 million Energy Efficiency and Conversation Block Grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy. More than $3.5 million worth of energy retrofit projects were identified, of which at least $2.5 million will be covered by the grant.

Some examples of pending projects include tightening building envelopes through new weather stripping, new windows, and additional insulation; replacing inefficient heating and cooling systems; replacing light bulbs; and improving energy monitoring systems, such as controlling on and off times for heating and cooling.

Holdsworth says the Dept. of Energy likes to have EECBG recipients using half their funds by the end of June, so over the next few months, the county will issue requests for proposal for the projects.

"Clearly the energy savings is very important because the county and local governments are seeing their revenues plummet, property devaluation, and so on," he says. "At the same time, if we can be environmentally friendly on top of the energy savings, and pursue them both hand in hand, then that's a real win-win."

With other energy management technology, Oakland County has already saved about $4 million in utility bills over the last few years. These energy savings are part of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson's OakGreen Program and Challenge announced in May to encourage local governments, businesses and residents to reduce their energy consumption 10 percent by the end of 2012. For more information on the OakGreen Program and Challenge, click here.

Source: Art Holdsworth, Director of Facilities Management, Oakland County
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Eight Mile Blvd Association enables rehabs in Warren, Southfield

The Eight Mile Boulevard Association has been busy this summer, with two facade projects wrapping up, among its other activities.

Eighty employees from Mercedes-Benz Financial (formerly Daimler Financial) recently worked on a day care center on Eight Mile Road in Warren. The association's executive director, Tami Salisbury, says the company had helped with renovation and landscaping projects in the past, but approached her about doing a facade project this time.

"We salivate at that," she jokes. Since there's a wish list of businesses who need facade renovations but can't afford them right now, the group was paired with the Warren day care. Among improvements were replacing a fence, installing awnings and signs, and hanging new lights. "It was a pretty huge transformation," she says.

At USA Paper and Ribbon, in Southfield, volunteers also worked on landscaping, a new sign, new awnings, and painting among other projects. Both businesses have already seen new customers, or current customers noticing the work. "That's really exciting, to see how facade renovation can increase your business," Salisbury says.

The association has improved 22 facades in the three years the facade program has been in place.
An association "corridor keeper" patrols Eight Mile to collect illegal signs and warn property owners of impending code violations. "It makes a big difference," Salisbury says. "Business owners care for their property more. Just like blight can spread, so can beautification."

The group is wrapping up some current projects before awarding the next round of grants in July. It's recently hosted an annual golf outing and a boulevard clean-up with high school students. It has also just formed a 501(c)2, which would allow it to start acquiring land.

"We think Eight Mile Road is a very worthwhile corridor to invest in," Salisbury says. "We're trying to utilize it."

Source: Tami Salisbury, executive director, Eight Mile Boulevard Association
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Woodward communities form task force to discuss transportation vision

When it comes to public transportation on Woodward north of Eight Mile, the communities are coming together to make sure everyone is on board.

The Woodward Avenue Action Association has formed a task force of officials from Berkley, Birmingham, Ferndale, Huntington Woods, and Royal Oak, to work together on transit vision. At this point, their goal is to get the communities around the table to discuss what they and the others would like to see, says Heather Carmona, WA3's executive director.

The task force,
she explains, is the WA3's response to the community members who were concerned about the lack of consensus about what transit should be north of Eight Mile Road. With the latest news about the Woodward Light Rail receiving funding, there had never really been much discussion about what was needed or wanted north of Detroit, in Oakland County, specifically in the communities along Woodward.

"Our goal was, how can we bring these elected officials to the table?" Carmona poses. "What shape should transit take on Woodward in south Oakland County?"

Melanie Piana, a Ferndale city councilmember and the associate director of Michigan Suburbs Alliance, which is also represented on the task force, says that among her goals after she joined the council in January was building relationships with the other Woodward communities. "I think it's a good thing any time our cities can collaborate on achieving something together," she says. "Since we all share the same corridor, it makes sense for us to strengthen our relationships and share ideas for goals and visions, and how we would like to see our communities grow."

The members are looking at what the communities share along Woodward, what the cities are planning, and how to better connect them. They're trying to stay away from discussing type of transportation and where the stops would be, taking more of a macro view.

They do agree, though, that whatever transit option is put in place won't just end at Eight Mile. "I think it is a natural progression of the hard work our Detroit counterparts have been doing over the last couple of years, and now we can do our hard work to make sure we can connect together," Piana says.

The task force hopes to have a resolution for all the communities to support before the holidays, and then work on a list of goals and objectives.

Sources: Heather Carmona, executive director of the Woodward Avenue Action Association; Melanie Piana, Ferndale city council member
Writer: Kristin Lukowski

Downtown Belleville wraps up streetscape project

Downtown Belleville had a lot to be grateful for this past Thanksgiving -- it wrapped up its streetscape project earlier this month.

The city celebrated with a procession and games in mid-November, says Carol Thompson, administrative coordinator of Belleville's Downtown Development Authority. "It's beautiful. People really like the improvements on the streetscape."

The city received $458,314 in federal Transportation Enhancement funds for part of the $5.8 million plan, which included a complete revamping of the streets, including below the surface. Sewer and water lines were replaced first, and then the above-ground infrastructure was redone in the area from South Street from Huron River Drive to the railroad tracks and the Fourth Street Square, and Main Street from the bridge to Huron River Drive. The road had deteriorated quite badly, Thompson says.

Above-ground improvements include bigger sidewalks with decorative brick pavers, benches, trash cans, bike racks, and new landscaping, including trees to replace those lost to the Emerald Ash Borer. This was the first improvement to the downtown streetscape since the early 1990s.

Next up for Belleville is decorating the new streetscape for the holidays and recruiting some new businesses for the downtown area, Thompson says. Features such as wayfinding signs and a new gateway sign are also coming.

"It was a tough, big project but we all pulled together," she says. "It's great to be on the other side of it."

Source: Carol Thompson, administrative coordinator for the Belleville Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Diversifying economy boosts Oakland County's bond rating

Seven years ago, Oakland County executive L. Brooks Patterson saw a headline proclaiming that 200,000 jobs had left Michigan. He turned his director of economic development onto a research project: look into what new sectors of business were being developed.

By the next year, they had a program - Emerging Sectors, dedicated to growing new economy jobs.

Now, six years after that program took effect, the county is reaping awards in addition to the jobs now in place -- Emerging Sectors was among the reasons the county's AAA bond rating was reaffirmed on the $3 million Bloomfield Township Combined Sewer Overflow Drainage District bonds and $1.2 million Highland Township Well Water Supply System bonds.

What this means for the taxpayer is millions of dollars in savings. With a higher rating, there's less interest on the bonds, and taxpayers end up paying less. "It's a reflection of the confidence by Wall Street of how Oakland County is managing in these tough times," Patterson says.

And, "It gives me as an elected official bragging rights," he jokes.

Through Emerging Sectors, the county focused on growing the health care sector and worked to diversify the county's job base. "When we're done, we won't be recession proof, but we will be recession resistant because we have diversified our economy among many sectors," he says. "Wall Street saw that."

"It's proof that we can and we will manage our way through these very tough times," he says.

The sale of bonds was approved earlier this year for inspection and rehabilitation of the Bloomfield Township system; the Highland Township system will see 6,500 feet of new water main to connect two well water systems.

Source: L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County executive
Writer: Kristin Lukowski
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