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DTE adds 16 new electric car charging stations to growing network

It's getting easier to park and plug in electric cars as more charging stations open across metro Detroit.

DTE Energy is adding 16 plug-in electric vehicle charging stations, or PEVs, to the mix, including four at Detroit Metro Airport. They will be located in the two main parking decks at the airport – two on the eighth floor of the McNamara Terminal and two on the fourth floor of the Big Blue Deck by the North Terminal. There will be no cost for PEV drivers to use the charging stations, and they're scheduled to be operational within one to two weeks, DTE Energy spokesman Scott Simons says.

Of the 12 other stations which are installed or soon to be installed, two each are in Ferndale, Mt. Clemens, Rochester, the Village of Rochester Hills and Auburn Hills. Saline and Automation Alley in Troy have one apiece.

These latest PEVs join several electric vehicle chargers at DTE's downtown headquarters.

The installations are part of a General Motors Corp. project with the Department of Energy to build a system of charging stations to support the move away from oil reliance and toward alternative energy for automobiles. The project is supported by grants being shared with DTE and four other utilities across the U.S., Simons says. DTE received $400,000 and is matching with $400,000, he says.

"The more infrastructure there is, the more there will be an impetus for people to buy electric vehicles,"  Simons says. "The more infrastructure that's built in the country…the more people will see that this is as a viable option. Hopefully this will be the start of the nation's acceptance of electric vehicles and, going forward, being an environmentally-conscious country."

Source: Scott Simons, spokesman, DTE Energy
Writer: Kim North Shine

Downtown Birmingham adds 15 new spots to shop, eat, hang

A mix of local and national retailers, restaurants and other businesses are making downtown Birmingham their address.

A recruiter hired by the city's Principal Shopping District has attracted some of the newcomers. The Principal Shopping District functions somewhat like a downtown development authority but does not capture taxes as traditional DDAs do or buy or purchase land. The PSD uses funds from a special assessment on commercial properties to operate. That includes marketing downtown Birmingham and hiring a recruiter to find national retailers.

One is Paper Source, a Chicago-based stationery and paper supply store that has 44 locations, with seven opening nationally this year. Paper Source is filling the space occupied by Sherman's Shoes at 115 West Maple.

About 15 businesses, from restaurants and candy stores to salons and clothing stores, have opened recently or are expected to open soon.

Look for Detroit Guitar, which is under construction at 243 W. Maple and will bring music lessons and music gear in funky surroundings to downtown in September.

What Crepe?, a Euro dining eatery, is moving into 167 Old North Woodward. Sanders, the ice cream and candy store, is relocating just down the street to 172 North Old Woodward. Shish Kabob and Subway are adding to eating options, as are three bistros: Townhouse, Bella Piatti and Churchills. Revive, a men's clothing store, is coming to 163 W. Maple, where Adventures in Toys once was. Salons, H202 and Nude, opened in May on Hamilton Row.

"We definitely have had an uptick in businesses coming in," says John Heiney, director of Birmingham's Principal Shopping District.
Last year there was a net increase of 15 businesses, including spas, a florist, a jeweler, home decorating stores and food establishments.

"We seem to be on a similar pace this year," he adds.

The recruiting effort is focusing on national retailers looking for boutique-size operations of 2,500 square feet or less, he says. Apparel stores are the main focus. City Manager Bob Bruner has been on the job since February and comes from Ferndale, which is known for a vibrant downtown.

"We hope the national retailers will join our excellent local retailers," Heiney says.

Source: John Heiney, director, Birmingham Principal Shopping District; Birmingham City Manager Bob Bruner
Writer: Kim North Shine

Transform Woodward ponders light rail beyond Detroit

Southern Oakland County communities are contributing to a study that will look into what it will take to embark on transit-oriented development along Woodward Avenue.

The major thoroughfare ties the communities together and would be an obvious extension of a light rail line that is expected to be constructed along Woodward from downtown Detroit to 8 Mile Road.

The study was commissioned by the Transform Woodward group convened by the nonprofit Woodward Avenue Action Association, or WA3, and will identify land use and zoning and master plan changes needed to support transit oriented development along the South Oakland County portion of Woodward.
Royal Oak based LSL Planning Inc. will complete the study.

The Transform Woodward Task Force is made up of elected officials, employers and institutional partners from Berkley, Birmingham, Ferndale, Huntington Woods and Royal Oak.

In announcing the plans to initiate a "transit-oriented development framework," WA3 says the creation of "improved public transit that includes a rapid transit service along the Woodward corridor, including governance, and funding through a regional transit authority, is a significant step toward a larger system that will support the development of jobs and business investments throughout the region, linking Oakland County."

Jana Ecker, chair of the task force and city of Birmingham planning director, says in a statement announcing the consultant's hiring, "We look forward to working with them as we complete the initial data gathering phases and begin to broaden our engagement with the communities along this historic All-American Road."

The task force and LSL Planning will outline existing conditions, transportation patterns, and needs and goals of each community as well as the Southern Oakland County region while building broad support and attempting to ensure that each city's unique character is preserved.

Source: Lori Ella Miller, spokesperson, Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Kim North Shine

Solar farm coming to a Farmington Hills HS

DTE Energy's fifth solar farm will be fired up this fall at Mercy High School in Farmington Hills.

The roof-top photovoltaic system will be installed on 125,000 square feet of rooftop at the all-girls Catholic school on 11 Mile and Middlebelt Roads, within view of passersby. The cost of the project is $2.5 million and is part of DTE's SolarCurrents program, which promotes the use of alternative energy. DTE plans to spend more than $100 million on the SolarCurrents program, which has several facets.

The program aims to meet a state mandate for "ten percent of our generation to come from renewable sources by 2015," says DTE Energy spokesman Scott Simons.

"We're pleased that Mercy High School will be the first private high school to participate in SolarCurrents, which is one of the largest distributed solar programs in the country," Trevor Lauer, DTE Energy's vice president of marketing and renewables, says in a statement. "We're seeing that the program has encouraged the development of new renewable energy projects by providing financial incentives to nonresidential customers interested in solar energy."

Mercy, which has been designated a Green School, joins other solar farms at Blue Cross Blue Shield, Ford Motor Corp, General Motors Corp., and Monroe Community College, Simons says. They all are expected to participate in the program for 20 years. In return they receive discounts on their utility bills and payment to cover the inconvenience of construction.

Besides solar, DTE is building wind farms and creating sources of biomass and other forms for power. The utility is expecting to spend nearly $2 billion to do that.

The power generated will go into DTE's grid for all its customers to use, he says.

Source: Scott Simons, spokesman, DTE Energy
Writer: Kim North Shine

Rent subsidies offered to attract students to Grosse Pointe Park

A program to attract university students to Grosse Pointe Park by offering grants to cover the cost of renting a home is fielding more applicants than anticipated and exciting city leaders and organizers who foresee the renters becoming not only local consumers, but long-time residents.

"The last I heard there were about 50-60 applicants, graduate students," says Grosse Pointe Park City Manager Dale Krajniak. They are studying to work in fields such as engineering, health care and business and "we're really excited about the potential of these grad students to eventually become home buyers."

"They could bring a lot to this community," he says.

The majority of applicants are attending the University of Detroit Mercy, Wayne State University and the College for Creative Studies, all in Detroit, which borders Grosse Pointe Park on two sides.

The Grosse Pointe Housing Foundation was started by a longtime Grosse Pointe family interested in seeing the community thrive by attracting younger residents. The foundation pairs college students with landlords and, if they meet a list of eligibility requirements, will reimburse students for up to 50 percent of housing expenses - or a maximum of $350 per month.

Part of the foundation's mission is to add vitality to the rental market and the surrounding commercial business districts.

The program was funded by an initial $250,000 anonymous donation, Krajniak says. Other supporters are being sought and other communities are watching its progress.

Source: Dale Krajniak, Grosse Pointe Park city manager
Writer: Kim North Shine

Downtown Ferndale gets 15 new businesses since spring

The businesses and the variety keep coming to Ferndale.

Of late, the downtown with the vacancy rate and activity that's the envy of the region has welcomed a European style coffee shop and cafe and a boutique. An animal clinic is opening today, while a microbrew store may be selling its suds within a few months. The Green Thumb Garden Center on Woodward has doubled its space, and a handful of other shops are updating. Also, a new jewelry store is scheduled to open at the prominent corner of Woodward and E. 9 Mile.

The Euro-style cafe, Torino Espresso Bar, serves much more than a strong cup of coffee. It sells signature cocktails and fresh food, much of it from local farms and a mod interior meant to invite lounging and conversation. Torino Espresso Bar is located below the Lofts on 9, a project from the same developers, at 201 E. 9 Mile.

Not far away is On the Nine, a clothing boutique. And on Woodward, the West Woodward Animal Clinic, will take care of the city's furry residents. The microbrew store, Eight Degrees Plato Beery Company, will be located at 611 W. 9 Mile.

About 15 new businesses have opened just this spring.

"We have new businesses opening all the time," says Chris Hughes, communications and marketing manager at the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority. "It's amazing."

Source: Chris Hughes, communications and marketing manager, Ferndale Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

CITGO pumps big bucks into 8 Mile Road stations and stores

For too many years, 8 Mile Road businesses and residents and even passers-through have accepted run-down storefronts and dilapidated structures as the norm.

In recent years, the 8 Mile Boulevard Association, or 8MBA, has worked to change that, matching facade updates dollar for dollar, convincing cities to clean up roads and add landscaping, and through other projects.

Now the nonprofit committed to improving 8 Mile has a big corporation on its side in CITGO, which is pumping $30,000 - $35,000 into each of four gas stations along the wide stretch of road that cuts through city and burbs.

"The appearances of the gas stations on 8 Mile are very different from the ones in the suburbs," says Alan Weber, associate director of 8MBA. "It just seems ridiculous that there is a dual standard. We contacted all of the headquarters for companies that have gas stations on 8 Mile. CITGO was the only one that contacted us. They took the ball and just ran with it. It was just amazing, considering the other stations won't even call back."

The new and improved gas stations and stores are located between I-94 and I-275 in Detroit, Ferndale and Warren. The improvements will be completed within three weeks. Upgrades include new pumps, better lighting, added landscaping, repaved parking lots, technologically advanced signage, new canopy and building designs with CITGO's new logo. The convenience stores and restrooms will also be upgraded.

Weber expects the upgrades to bleed into other parts of the neighborhood along the famous - or infamous - road that's known both for its history and for being the dividing line - some say not only physically but racially - between Detroit and its suburbs.

"We get phone calls all the time about our facades: 'Wow, we didn't even know that business existed.' And it's very interesting to see when one business improves the next business will say, I need to improve too," Weber says.

"We know what a central role gas stations and convenience stores play in a community and the impact these upgrades can have. We hope these changes will inspire other businesses to make positive changes as well and keep up the momentum to improve this area," Gustavo Velásquez, vice president supply and marketing with Houston-based CITGO Petroleum Corporation, says in a statement. "CITGO and our local business partners see a tremendous amount of potential in the Eight Mile corridor. We are proud to partner with business and community leaders at 8MBA in this effort."

Overall, the improvements are expected to create cleaner, safer and more environmentally-friendly service stations that spark local pride and more investment in the community.

"Despite the hardships that local residents have faced in recent years, we are confident that the tide is turning and prosperity is on its way back," Tami Salisbury, executive director of the Eight Mile Boulevard Association, says in a statement. "Through public and private partnerships and the dedication of local businesses, like the local CITGO marketers and retailers, we are encouraging growth, improving lives and bringing back the strength to Detroit and surrounding suburbs. The backing of CITGO is a testament to the deep commitment to growth in our area. We look forward to expanding our partnership and making an even greater positive impact in years to come."

Source: Alan Weber, associate director, Eight Mile Boulevard Association
Writer: Kim North Shine

Auburn Hills prepares for wave of electric vehicles

Auburn Hills is preparing for a world where electric vehicle chargers are commonplace in new construction, where they're as prevalent in parking lots as handicapped spots and where there will be an interconnected network of charging stations similar to the cell phone towers that have made communication so instant.

The city that's home to Chrysler Group has passed an ordinance, believed to be the first in Michigan and patterned off the best practices of communities in other states, that will encourage developers, builders, home owners and business owners, to make electric car charging stations a regular part of construction.

The Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Ordinance passed on July 11th will also offer guidance during construction and ideally save time now and money in the future, says Steven Cohen, director of community development for Auburn Hills.

"Our main goal was to raise awareness about the infrastructure that's needed to support electric vehicles," Cohen says. "We want to share with homeowners, developers and also with municipal planners throughout the state that this is something that's coming.  We want to support this technological innovation in the auto industry."

He says an ordinance like this one encourages, but does not require, property owners to "rough in" their home garages or parking lots for future charging station installations. It cuts red tape and makes them easy to install. Making an electric charging station part of a home garage is simple and similar to the electric lines and circuits needed to power something like a refrigerator or air conditioning unit, but is much cheaper to install when the home is being built.

"The electric vehicle is not going to take over the market, but there's going to be a sizable segment of motorists that will demand a convenient network of charging stations.  Michigan communities will need to prepare for this anticipated consumer demand and be ready when it comes," Cohen says.

By 2015, all automakers will offer electric vehicles as the federal government encourages alternative forms of energy in an effort to lessen America's reliance on gasoline, Cohen says.

"This innovation is good for Detroit, good for Michigan, and good for America," Cohen says. "We encourage Michigan communities to proactively plan for and adapt to this paradigm shift in how vehicles will be refueled. Thousands of electric vehicles, like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, will be on the road before we know it. It is very exciting."

Source: Steven Cohen, director of community development, city of Auburn Hills

Writer: Kim North Shine

Next stop: Dearborn. New train station pulling in

Construction on a new train station in Dearborn could be weeks away now that several key agreements are signed.

The $28.2-million project formally known as the Dearborn Intermodal Passenger Rail Facility will be located on Michigan Avenue west of the Southfield Freeway and replace an old, outdated station that takes riders across the railroad tracks.

The new station will feature a bridge over the tracks.

"The bridge will be a safer way to cross," says Barry Murray, Dearborn's director of economic and community development.
The new station will be served by Amtrak and provide quick access to some of the city's top institutions, including Henry Ford Hospital, The University of Michigan at Dearborn, The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village, and the west end of downtown.

Murray says conference calls this week with federal rail officials will hopefully result in the release of the federal funds that are part of an economic stimulus grant.

Key agreements that were reached and required for the release of the money include the hiring of the architectural firm, Neumann Smith, and the construction manager, Tooles & Clark.

"We're very hopeful the grant will be obligated sometime very soon, maybe 30 days is a good number to put on it," Murray says. "It's really hard to say for sure. We've been saying 30 days for a long time, but I think we're really close."

Source: Barry Murray, director of economic and community development, city of Dearborn
Writer: Kim North Shine

Shared workspace and idea incubator planned for downtown Rochester

A new kind of office is opening up to keep up with the rising number of floating workers, whether freelancers, work-from-home professionals, independent contractors, or any of those generally flexible employees who define the new way of working in this new economy.

Shared workspaces are giving home-based and vagabond workers who office at coffee shops, restaurants and other public places their own work place and more. It comes with a desk, internet, conference rooms, and other office supplies, along with the opportunity to collaborate, brainstorm and interact with co-workers in and out of their fields.

Shared workspaces can be found in Chicago, New York, San Diego, Denver, Austin, and even smaller cities in the U.S. and also across Europe.

Downtown Rochester is in the process of joining the list.

Rob Ray, president and organizer of ShareSpace Rochester, has found a 2,200-square foot, second floor space to lease at the Rochester Area Regional Athletics (or RA-RA) building downtown on Second Street. He expects to welcome workers by November 1.

For a membership - there are many levels - or drop-in fee, workspace sharers will have access to a desk, wi-fi, conference rooms, projectors and other office supplies -- even coffee. Some memberships come with a floating desk and other services for $25-$150 per month, depending on services. Or for $300 a month, a permanent work area with lockable file cabinets and other office equipment and supplies is available.

"This segment of workers keeps growing. As of late, with this whole economic malaise we're going through people are getting more creative in trying to find employment and thinking outside the box," says Ray.

Membership would also come with a reciprocal use of workspaces in other cities and countries, giving Rochester members an office when they travel and visitors to Detroit a space to work as well.

"With this you have a place that you're supposed to go to for work and the coffee is free," Ray says. "Instead of working on a 2-foot-by-2 foot little table where people are bustling around, you get a collaborative environment. It can be a place for inspiration or to get some feedback on an idea or you can just work on whatever it is you're working on."

Across metro Detroit there are groups participating in meet-ups for this very reason, but this gives them a permanent place. Ray sees ShareSpace Rochester as a pre-incubator where there's no need to have a proven business plan or financial stability to join, as is the case with most business incubators. He also hopes it will nurture the enthusiasm that comes from conferences such as TedX and Ignite.

"My hope is this space becomes the hub where these ideas and these people have a place to go so these ideas don't die," he says.

Ray pictures it working something like this: Members wanting to work undisturbed could display a red card, maybe on a coffee coaster, meaning, let them work. A green coaster would indicate willingness to hear ideas or just talk.

"It's more affordable than your own office and you pick up the social enterprise aspect of the co-working environment plus the resources we'll offer with conference rooms, copier, projector, coffee, wi-fi, the whole kit and caboodle," says Ray, whose architect friend will design the space pro bono. "And you can do it without being stuck in a coffee shop or a closet."

Source:  Rob Ray, president and organizer of ShareSpace Rochester
Writer:  Kim North Shine

The mead runneth over at Ferndale's B. Nektar Meadery

Production of mead at B Nektar Meadery in Ferndale is quadrupling in order to satiate the growing number of mead lovers in Michigan and nine other states.

"We've pretty much reached our capacity, so now we're hoping to tackle to tackle the rest of the country," says Brad Dahlhofer, who started the company with his wife Kerri after crafting mead in the basement of their home.

The addition of the eight-foot tall, stainless steel tanks at the meadery on Jarvis near 9 Mile Road is taking the amount of fermented honey wine made there from 10,000 to 40,000 gallons a year. It's a sweet way to celebrate the company's third year of business.

"When we started we were still working full-time jobs. Our whole business model was producing it and selling it to other retailers rather than being a retailer," says Dahlhofer by telephone from North Carolina, where he was tending to meadery business.

That model has worked as demand rises. The couple keeps finding ways to squeeze more production out of their facility, which now houses 14 tanks.

A birthday party is planned for Aug. 6 at B. Nektar, which usually is opened for tastings and sales of bottled product the first and third Friday of each month. Soon, the first and third Saturdays will be added to tasting room days, he says.

The party runs from 2 p.m. - 8 p.m. There will be live music, drafts by the glass, and barbecue from a smoker on a trailer.

Dahlhofer prefers to keep the amount of the latest investment private, but "we've never put this much money into the company before."

Much of the investment and new tank capacity is going toward production of a new mead called Zombie Killer, a carbonated mixture of all Michigan-made honey, apple cider, and tart cherry juice, with a label made by a Michigan artist.

The plan is to have it ready by Halloween, if not earlier, Dalhofer says.

"It's going to be huge," he adds. An appt description for all that's happened in three short years.

"I'm always thinking that," he says. "It was only three years ago we were doing this in five-gallon batches."

Source:  Brad Dalhofer, co-founder, B. Nektar Meadery
Writer:  Kim North-Shine

Grant promotes entrepreneurship at Lawrence Tech

Five universities from around the country are joining a project led by Lawrence Technological University to support entrepreneurship among engineering students.

Lawrence Tech, Kettering University, Boston University, Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., St. Louis University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., are members of the Kern Entrepreneurial Education Network, or KEEN, and will share in $2.4 million in grants over the three years.

Lawrence Tech is receiving $150,000. A primary requirement of the grant and the receipt of future grants is for the schools to work collaboratively.

The money comes from the Waukesha, Wis.-based Kern Family Foundation and is part of the Dynamic Compass Network, which formed in 2010 to promote and spread innovative approaches to entrepreneurial education.

In 2009, Lawrence Tech was awarded a five-year, $1.1 million grant from the foundation "to further integrate the entrepreneurial mindset in the education of undergraduate engineering students," according to its statement announcing the grants and collaborative effort.

The schools must also prove that the project is benefiting all of their students beyond what would normally be done for them individually.

Source: Eric Pope, spokesman, Lawrence Technological University
Writer Kim North Shine

German firm Tognum AG turning Canton site into international training center

A German firm that trains people from around the world how to work on large-scale diesel engines is taking over a 30,000-square-foot building in Canton and bringing at least 700 trainees to town each year.

"This will generate over 2,000 hotel room nights with people coming here to train," says Kristen Thomas, economic development and marketing analyst for Canton. "They'll visit our restaurants, our shops. It's great for Canton."

The Tognum AG facility will open in a vacant building in the Executive Park on Executive Drive near Canton's busy Michigan Avenue and Lilley intersection. The company, formerly known locally as Detroit Diesel, signed a 10-year lease and will use it to teach trainees how to maintain and service diesel engines on ferry boats, military ships and more. Trainees will include members of the US Army, Thomas says.

There will be five full-time employees, she adds.

The facility, which is just over 30,000 square feet, is being renovated and will open in August, Thomas says.  The city granted the company a 50 percent tax abatement on the project.

Source: Kristen Thomas, economic development and marketing analyst for the city of Canton
Writer: Kim North Shine

Garden City DDA eyes vacant Penske building, sees chance to rebrand busy street

A big white empty building that fronts Ford Road in Garden City could be a diamond in the rough for the community's downtown in the making.

The 1960s-era Penske building, which is owned by Sears Holdings and was once an automotive repair business, sits surrounded by a parking lot in front of a K-mart, the first in Michigan.
While it screams has-been, some city officials and the Downtown Development Authority see opportunity and are negotiating with Sears on a purchase or lease of the property, says Stacey Tobar, interim director of the Garden City Downtown Development Authority.

The building can no longer be used for its original purpose due to zoning changes, and at 14,000 square feet it is too large for most business owners looking for new digs.

It's with that in mind that the city is talking about several options, including renovating the building for a shared workspace or business incubator, where small companies, work-from-homers and the like can share space, equipment and possibly ideas, Tobar says.

There is also talk of using it for a Farmers Market, moving the DDA or Chamber of Commerce offices there, or relocating the library to the space. Retail is also a possibility.

"We have made an offer. We've begun the real estate portion. It may take a month to get through their hierarchy," Tobar says. "Even then we've got to look at our expenses as well, inspect the building, make sure this makes sense."

"Nothing is in stone at all," she adds. "It might take a year or two to get it where it's looking inhabitable. We understand that it's not a compete turnkey thing. We'll have to go in and clean it out, renovate it…but there's definitely a lot of potential."

Source: Stacey Tobar, interim director, Garden City Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Kim North Shine

Come walk - or run, skate or bike - across Macomb County and beyond

A final nine miles of pavement - along with a some pretty major major - are the finishing touches on the Macomb Orchard Trail.

The 23 1/2-mile, multi-use, non-motorized paved path crosses Macomb County and beckons walkers, runners, skaters, bikers, stroller-pushers and the like to a pathways that will take them across the county and for many miles outside.

"It's opening up a whole regional trail system," says John Crumm, director of planning for the Macomb County Department of Roads.

The final nine miles are being laid in Armada and Richmond. A bridge is also being built over the Clinton River, and a soon-to-be announced park will open in Romeo in a brownfield where now stands an unattractive county road department service center, says Crumm.

The building in Romeo will become an access point, park, and parking lot, he says. "It will immensely improve that neighborhood."

There will also be many more access points on the trail, including more for the disabled.

The work should all be done this summer, Crumm says.

The Macomb Orchard Trail ties together Macomb County communities and their natural features. It connects to Oakland County at Dequindre Road and leads into Rochester to Paint Creek.

The trail is also a link in a statewide system to connect the Great Lakes, rivers and such, this one a piece of the path between Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Source: John Crumm, director of planning, Macomb County Department of Roads
Writer: Kim North Shine

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