Development News

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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 Rassle, 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 under City Council municipal budget discussions rededicated the funding away from walkway over East Main Street. But Northville's Downtown Development Authority says the money will be allocated and the walkway built.

The Walkway project 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 network is the affirmation of its mission to work together to attract businesses, events, conventions and more to Oakland County, even if that means directing someone to a community other than your 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."

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

Ferndale's award-winning Valentine Vodka to open martini bar

Ferndale's Valentine Vodka has tasted success with its spirits, quadrupling sales from Christmas 2009 to 2010, and now the company is moving from selling bottled vodka to serving drinks at its own martini bar and tasting room.

It's scheduled to open in March in the former home of a pool table manufacturer at 161 Vester, a 5,000-square-foot building within view of Ferndale's main Woodward drag.

When it opens, the distillery will occupy 4,000 square feet in back while the tasting room takes the remaining space out front. The digs aren't fancy and the building will bear no Valentine logo or obvious signage.

"Its back story is prohibition and speakeasies in Detroit, so we're keeping it as the pool building. People will have to know where it is to get here," says company founder Rifino Valentine, a native of Glen Lake, Michigan who worked on Wall Street for 13 years after graduating from Cornell University.

Valentine considered staying in the Big Apple to start a business and considered Miami, but Michigan had a hold on him. March will be the two-year anniversary of the business, which has 850 clients and won a 2010 gold medal from the Beverage Tasting Institute's International Review of Spirits competition in November.

"I thought, why not go back to Michigan," recalls Valentine. "I believe that in Michigan as a state and in our country as a whole, we need to start making things here again."

He extends his attempts to do Michigan justice by using local suppliers as much as possible. The vodka grains are Michigan-grown, as are the boxes, label printers, and more.

The tasting room brings it home as well. It will be a place to drink and a place to learn.

"The whole philosophy behind our vodka is we do things the way they were meant to be done," says Valentine, 40. "The way we make our vodka is not revolutionary except that nobody does it anymore. We make it in small batches with good ingredients, not the large quantities, fast, like other people do."

"What I'm really excited using all fresh ingredients, quality ingredients, no chemical flavorings."

Even the tonic water will be genuine, made on site with barks and grasses, as it's meant to be. Juices will be fresh-squeezed.

"It's going to be fun," he says, "and it's going to be a quality experience."

Source: Rifino Valentine, founder of Valentine Vodka
Writer: Kim North Shine

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
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