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Community group purchases historic Ford Highland Park Plant building with intent to redevelop

The Woodward Avenue Action Association (WA3) has purchased the Administration Building and Executive Garage at the historic Ford Highland Park Plant. The economic and community development organization raised over half a million dollars to acquire the property. WA3 purchased the buildings with three acres along Woodward for $550,000.

A second round of fundraising begins as the organization has determined that the buildings require $7.5 million in renovations. Debbie Schutt, executive director of WA3, says that fundraising should be much easier with the property now in their possession.

WA3 plans on building an Automotive Heritage Welcome Center at the site. The center will serve as a gateway to the grounds of the Highland Park complex, similar in spirit to a national park welcome center. The center will provide information about local tours and house interpretive displays and a theater. Rather than focusing solely on the history of the Ford Motor Company, the center will instead focus on the culture of creativity and innovation fostered by the local automotive industry.

"So much more has come out of the industry than cars. We need to tell our own story to ourselves and then tell it to others," says Schutt. "There's a reason Detroit has a patent office."

In addition to the historical and informative plans for the site, WA3 is going to use the site for training purposes. They have partnered with Wayne County's Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) to build a high tech learning lab for the modern assembly line. The building used to house one of Henry Ford's original trade schools, says Schutt, making it an appropriate place for a modern training facility.

The lab will be designed to serve both the citizens of Highland Park and the region as a whole.

Source: Debbie Schutt, executive director of Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

Transit awards nominations now open to public

The greater Detroit transit advocacy group Transportation Riders United is taking nominations for its third annual Regional Transit Awards. Nominations are open through Feb. 28. An awards committee has been formed to pick four nominees for each of the six categories. An awards dinner is planned for May 8. Tickets are $75 and open to the public. The event doubles as a fundraiser for TRU in support of its advocacy efforts throughout the year.

Award categories include:
  • Transit Employee of the Year
  • Corporate Transit Champion Award
  • Exemplary Innovation Award
  • Under 30 Breakthrough Transit Champion
  • Unsung Hero Award
  • Forward Motion Award for Most Effective Public Service
TRU hopes that opening nominations up to the public will involve more of the region and draw attention to the people working to improve public transportation in metropolitan Detroit. The ceremony itself is an opportunity for bus drivers and politicians to spend an evening together and celebrate the work being accomplished in the region.

"There's a lot going on in transit," says TRU executive director Megan Owens. "There aren't many big and dramatic things happening yet but there have been a lot of the essential steps to develop the type of transit system that we want."

Though some projects aren't happening as quickly as some may like, Owens notes that a number of transit-oriented developments are occurring. These include the formation of the Regional Transit Authority citizens committee, the M-1 Rail utility work, and a new Detroit mayor and Detroit Department of Transportation director. A SMART bus millage will be on the ballot later this summer.

Previous winners of Regional Transit Awards include DDOT bus driver Michael Childs (Transit Employee of the Year), Quicken Loans & M-1 Rail (Corporate Transit Champion Award), and Freshwater Transit co-creator Neil Greenberg (Transit Activist of the Year).

Source: Megan Owens, executive director of Transportation Riders United
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

NEI nears second round of grant giving

The New Economy Initiative is about to reach its fundraising goal, having raised $33 of $40 million in funding from local, regional, and national foundations. NEI is entering a three year-long period of grant-giving and support for the region's entrepreneurs. The group is planning a new-look NEI, one that will build on and improve the already successful first round of grant programs that began in 2008.

One planned change is a new focus on pre-existing businesses throughout southeastern Michigan. With so much attention being focused on the region's startup scene, NEI is crafting a contest to reward existing businesses that have the potential to grow. Still in the planning stages, the group hopes to have the contest ready for March.

Still, startups remain at the center of NEI's economy-stimulating strategy. The group's territory includes all of southeastern Michigan with a focus on Detroit. NEI executive director Dave Egner says that one of the reasons for this focus is that, as far as he can tell, there are more organizations servicing Detroit entrepreneurs than anywhere else in the world. That network of organizations allows NEI to more effectively distribute grants to promising entrepreneurs.

Grants are available to entrepreneurs of every stripe, says Egner. "Our focus is industry-agnostic. When we tried to pick sectors, we didn't get the outputs. We've been industry-agnostic since 2009."

NEI is hoping that the modifications planned for its second round of funding will improve on their already impressive numbers.

The New Economy Initiative launched in 2008 and has since awarded $76 million in grants to local entrepreneurs. The program has helped start over 675 new companies and created over 8,000 new jobs in southeastern Michigan. NEI has also helped support BizGrid, an infographic that breaks down Detroit resources for small businesses.

Source: Dave Egner, executive director of New Economy Initiative
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

New Corktown gym opens with charity drive

A new gym is opening in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood. The personal fitness club Detroit Tough is celebrating its opening with a benefit for the homeless and under-clothed. Detroit Tough is opening with the help of an Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy grant.

Roger Dyjak is one of the people behind Detroit Tough. He's also responsible for Train like a Savage, a personal training method that uses the pressure of working out within a group to elevate individual performance. This style of personal fitness champions mental toughness as much as it does physical toughness.

Detroit Tough is not a gym in the traditional sense -- there won't be any treadmills or stationary bikes. Instead, it features physical tests like intense obstacle courses to improve fitness. The private club offers tiered training to better fit need and ability.

The gym is celebrating its opening with a charity drive on Saturday, Feb. 15 from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Organizers are asking for a $20 donation and clothing or canned food. All money raised will be given to New Life Rescue Mission and Empowerment Plan. Clothing will be donated to the Salvation Army.

Music is scheduled throughout the course of the event, including sets from Band B, Velveteen Rabbit, and Volcano and the New Radio Standard. Fellow Corktowners McShane's Pub will be there roasting a pig. University of Detroit Mercy dental students will be providing free dental screenings to the homeless.

Detroit Tough is the recipient of an OTSC grant. The money was secured by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin to redevelop the area of the old Tiger Stadium site. A total of $800,000 was reserved for businesses in the Corktown neighborhood.

Detroit Tough is located at 1244 Beech.

Source: Detroit Tough press release
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

How pedicabs can fill gaps in public transportation

A new pedicab company is getting ready to launch in Detroit. Pedicabs, or rickshaws, are bicycle-powered taxis. Gabby Bryant is currently prepping her pedicab company, Reddicabs, for a summer launch.

The company is in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign that ends Jan. 20. Venture for America helped Reddicabs launch the campaign. In a contest with other Venture for America Fellows, Reddicabs stands to win an additional $10,000 if they raise the most money. Gabby says $10,000 is enough to buy three pedicabs and provide drivers the training necessary for operating the taxi service.

Reddicabs plans to separate itself from the city's other pedicab companies by being more visible in the community and offering more continuous and predictable services. Gabby is working to establish a series of hubs outside hotels, restaurants, and bars to build a more reliable system of pedicabs. In doing so, she says that pedicabs will fill in the gaps that buses and standard taxis can't--or won't.

The idea of Reddicabs originally began as a service that would deliver people from parking lots to events, such as a Tigers game or a concert at the Music Hall. But the more Gabby thought on the state of public transportation in Detroit, the more the service grew.

"Detroit is so interesting because we don't use different types of transportation," she says. "We're just now becoming more of a bike city. Public transportation is kind of foreign to a lot of people and those that do use it aren't the biggest fans of it. We have to gauge the different options for public transportation."

Gabby is partnering with Thrive Detroit to train individuals to be able to rent and run the taxis. She also credits the people at Green Garage in helping craft a strategy for the system of pedicabs.

Source: Gabby Bryant, owner of Reddicabs
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Dine Drink Detroit celebrates Detroit's culinary culture while benefiting the Riverfront

Starting this Thursday, Oct. 10, a brand-new Detroit dining event launches and you don't need to make any reservations, any kind of special time commitment, or even adhere to any kind of special dress code. Detroit, it's time to start dining and drinking.
 
Dine Drink Detroit runs Oct. 10-16 and highlights some of Detroit's most unique casual dining restaurants. All of the 13 participating restaurants will offer some sort of food and drink combination for $15.
 
"The inspiration is that there are so many cool small businesses in Detroit," says Scott Rutterbush, operations developer for Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company and co-organizer of Dine Drink Detroit. "People are doing some really great stuff that we wanted to showcase and celebrate. These are places that maybe not everyone knows about."
 
Rutterbush and Kate Williams, Executive Chef of Rodin in Midtown and fellow co-organizer of Dine Drink Detroit, opted to focus on places that are independently owned and operated and are known as popular locals spots. They also looked specifically at places with a liquor license to showcase that component as well – places with really interesting wine lists, excellent craft cocktails, and extensive craft beer lists. The price point was intentionally kept low at $15 to encourage people to try more than one place. "People can do to multiple locations even in the same night, which people do anyway. it's really part of the everyday experience."
 
These October dates were chosen because there is a brief lull in events before the holidays come around and restaurants kick into high gear for their busy season.
 
They have partnered with Uber and Zipcar to offer discounts to Dine Drink Detroit participants. All net proceeds from Dine Drink Detroit will go to benefit the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. "(The Riverfront) is a common space a lot of people from Detroit go to experience, and we wanted to celebrate that as well," Rutterbush says. "It's really about celebrating and promoting the city."
 
Dine Drink Detroit will be held annually and there will always be some sort of charity component. The organization effort has been entirely grassroots and collaborative, with people volunteering their time for everything from web design to social media marketing. "It's a microcosm of how Detroit businesses have been operating. It's really collaborative and everyone supports each other. When there's a new place that opens everyone rallies around them asking, 'What can we do to help?' Dine Drink Detroit is an extension of that."
 
Restaurants have been encouraged to put forth their best efforts in their menu pairings. "We want people to really know they're going to go to these places and get their best for $15." Restaurants were also given a lot of latitude in what to offer; diners can potentially visit several of these restaurants multiple times during the seven days and get something different each time.  
 
Source: Scott Rutterbush and Kate Williams, co-organizers of Dine Drink Detroit
Writer: Nicole Rupersburg

Got a Development News story to share? Email Nicole here.

Oakaloosa, a philanthropic music festival, to benefit Historic Fort Wayne

The City of Detroit is gaining another new music festival this summer. Oakaloosa will be held at the Historic Fort Wayne on July 27, and, much like Orion Music + More, will reinvest into the maintenance and preservation of the concert site itself -- Historic Fort Wayne.
 
The 96-acre Historic Fort Wayne site in Delray includes some original buildings from the mid-1800s as well as faithful replicas, though many are in disrepair. The Fort is operated by the Detroit Recreation Department with other nonprofit assistance. They rely heavily on volunteer efforts and individual generosity.
 
Oakaloosa is a brand-new outdoor concert, billing itself as the region's first fully philanthropic music festival, with a percentage of every dollar raised going back towards the restoration of Historic Fort Wayne. "We were looking to participate in restoring its renown by adding an event there where people can appreciate it and relate this event to its name," says Adrian Pittman, founder of Module, which is handling Oakaloosa's marketing. "What happened to (the Fort) is sort of what happened to Detroit in the rest of the country … it was forgotten. It requires a local to give it a little attention and polish it off a bit. It needs to be maintained for generations of people to come."
 
With connections in the parks & rec department, Detroit Sports Zone, Inc. – the nonprofit group organizing this event – was able to secure the site, which needs little in the way of infrastructure work in order to host the event. "They were looking at the fort from day one. It's such a unique opportunity." A first event of its kind for the site, they hope this event will also encourage other organizations to host festivals here.
 
DJ Mikey Eckstein of Embarco is responsible for programming, which includes both local and national acts. Main headliners include Girl Talk and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (as part of their big reunion tour).
 
They expect about 15,000 people to attend. Tickets are $45.

The odd name actually came from a typo on a website about the fort's history. The organizers liked it despite it being a misspelling, and decided to use the name for the festival.
 
Source: Adrian Pittman, Director of Development at Module
Writer: Nicole Rupersburg

Got a Development News story to share? Email Nicole here.

Detroit Yacht Club Foundation aims to preserve DYC building

The Detroit Yacht Club has created a namesake foundation to help preserve its historic structure on Belle Isle.

The Detroit Yacht Club is a private sailing club founded in 1868 and its current Mediterranean-villa-style clubhouse was designed by George Mason (who also designed Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel and Detroit's Masonic Temple) and opened in 1923. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year.

The Detroit Yacht Club Foundation is a nonprofit that will focus on fundraising and coordinating the preservation of the yacht club's nearly 100-year-old clubhouse. Although the building itself is still sound, the foundation will focus on securing and preserving its envelope features, such as its roof, walls, doors and windows.

"All of these areas are 89 years old," says Mark Lifter, president of the Detroit Yacht Club Foundation. "With Michigan's freeze-and-thaw cycles, water always finds a way."

The Detroit Yacht Cub Foundation's first order of business is to conduct an engineering study of the building before moving forward with any improvements. In the meantime the foundation is working on raising money and resources from members and people with a connection to the yacht club.

"Over time, there are probably millions of people with a connection or an affinity for the Detroit Yacht Club," Lifter says.

Source: Mark Lifter, president of the Detroit Yacht Club Foundation
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Locals work to open Detroit Dog Park in shadow of MCS

A group of Detroiters are working to create a dog park next to the iconic Michigan Central Station in Corktown.

The Detroit Dog Park is a off-leash dog park that would be built on the Macomb Playlot at the corner of 16th and Rose streets, adjacent to the Roosevelt Park. The organizers have reached an agreement with the city of Detroit to build the lot and are currently fundraising for the effort. It hopes to open next summer.

"There are a lot of people who live in an urban setting with dogs and don't have backyards," says Carly Mys, chair of the Detroit Dog Park. "There is a need for a place to let them run off leash, a place for them to socialize with other dogs and people."

The Detroit Dog Park is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 for the dog park's construction. It has raised nearly $12,000 as of Monday. The money will go toward buying construction materials and services. Mys says the project will have a heavy emphasis on green construction, employing things like rain barrels.

"We want to be sustainable, using things like recycled materials is high on our list," Mys says.

Source: Carly Mys, chair of the Detroit Dog Park
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Highland Park installs first solar streetlight, aims for 200 more

Public lighting has consistently been a problem in Highland Park for years. Struggles to keep the streetlights lit and paying the electric bill for those lights was followed by DTE Energy removing several hundred streetlights from the inner-city suburb last year.

That problem gave birth to a new solution. Souladarity, a grass-roots group of local stakeholders, installed the city's first solar-powered streetlight last week and is making plans to bring another 200 to the city within the next five years.

"In the back of a lot of people's minds is what are we going to do about the streetlights around here," says A.J. O'Neil, one of the organizers of Souladarity.

The Souladarity streetlight was installed at 150 Victor Street, between John R and Oakland, and is shining down on the street now. The Michigan-made product utilizes super-energy-efficient LED lights which last longer than traditional streetlights. It also has a solar panel on top of the pole and its batteries are only a few feet below it, making the streetlight self-sufficient.

"It's completely self-contained," O'Neil says. "It's very theft proof because the batteries are locked away up high."

Souladarity is raising $6,000 to acquire and install the lights through a crowd-funding campaign. A little more than $5,000 of that has been raised as of Monday afternoon. For information on Highland Park's solar-powered-streetlight initiative, click here.

Source: A.J. O'Neil, one of the organizers of Souladarity
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Spaulding Court rehab brings new residents to North Corktown

Work on the rehab of Spaulding Court is starting to gain traction as more units in the apartment building in North Corktown come online and more people take residence there.

So far five of the complex's 20 units are renovated and occupied. About a dozen people live in what was once such a stereotypical piece of Detroit blight that it shared the stage with the Michigan Central Stadium in an Eminem video. Today those people are creating a grass roots community that is breathing new life into the complex's two structures of stone row houses.

The Friends of Spaulding Court, the organization behind the renovation, is now trying to raise funds to finish the rehab of a few more units this year. "If we can get five done by summertime that would exceed our expectations," says Jon Koller, president of the Friends of Spaulding Court.

The immediate goal is to rehab one vacant and one occupied unit while a third unit waits in the wings. Residential units are the priority but the Friends of Spaulding Court sees potential for small scale commercial or community space in the future.

"We're trying to get it done with rough finishes and have it insulated and warm before Thanksgiving," Koller says.

For information on the project, click here.

Source: Jon Koller, president of the Friends of Spaulding Court
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Midtown Lending Solutions takes aim at condo lending logjam

Midtown Detroit Inc is joining a small-but-growing group of Michigan-based community-development-oriented nonprofits to help make financing for renovations and sales more accessible.

Four of these eight non-profits (Midtown Detroit Inc, Southwest Solutions, Vanguard Community Development Corp and Grandmont Rosedale Development Corp) are from Detroit and make up the bulk of the Michigan Lending Solutions consortium. The group helps homeowners prevent foreclosure, find mortgages for home sales and locate financing for building renovations.

The Midtown branch of the Michigan Lending Solutions, Midtown Lending Solutions, is based in Midtown Detroit Inc's Co-Lab space on Woodward. One of Midtown Lending Solutions is helping locate financing for condo sales.

"At least 85 percent of all of the condos in Detroit are non-warrantable," says David LeClerc, manager of lending operations of Michigan Lending Solutions. He adds that non-warrantable means banks won't extend mortgages in those condo buildings because there aren't enough pre-sales or the condo association doesn't have enough cash reserves or to many units in the building are rentals, among a bevy of other disqualifiers.

Midtown Lending Solutions is looking to secure a $15 million loan fund that would be able to provide the financing for local condos sales. If enough condo sales are approved through this fund, that should help release pressure on the market and make it more attractive to traditional lenders. LeClerk believes the fund will be able to close 200 mortgage deals for local condos within the next two years.

"We believe we will be able to free up all of these condominiums within two years so they can leverage traditional financing," LeClerc says.

The Michigan Lending Solutions will also be able to help other homeowners and small developers find financing. That could be as complicated as nailing down a $140,000 loan to renovate a derelict building to financing a $5,000 loan so a homeowner can improve their house with minimal hassle and frustration.

Source: David LeClerc, manager of lending operations with Michigan Lending Solutions
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

People for Palmer Park plan to refurbish trails in park

The People of Palmer Park group is working to bring back the 12 miles of trails in and around the park, starting with going for a $50,000 grant.

The non-profit activist group has been making great strides to improve the quality of life in Palmer Park and the neighborhoods surrounding it in recent years. Some of its wins have included planting fruit orchards throughout the park and planting sunflowers along Woodward Avenue.

People for Palmer Park
is now going for a $50,000 grant to improve the trail system throughout the park. The Tom's of Maine contest is awarding $150,000 in grants to six nonprofits from across the U.S. The Palmer Park project is the Michigan representative. The project with the most online votes wins a $50,000 grant while the next four runners up each receive $12,000 grants. Voting closes out today.

People for Palmer Park would use the money to restore and rebuild the trails and path throughout the park, along with adding signage to notes the area's historic and natural assets. "There is a lot of history in the park, like Native American history," says Sarah James, a board member for the People for Palmer Park. "We want to highlight the whole area."

Source: Sarah James, a board member for the People for Palmer Park
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Hatch Detroit's four finalists to be determined Wednesday

The final four of this year's Hatch Detroit competition are set to be named on Wednesday.

Voting to determine the four finalists for the second-annual competition finished yesterday. The contestants are competing for $50,000 in seed capital to open a retail location for their business in Detroit. This year's semi-finalists include some familiar names that have been growing their businesses from their homes and hope to leverage the Hatch cash to build a home for their budding businesses.

"There is a lot more experience in this group than what we had last year," says Ted Balowski, co-founder of Hatch Detroit. "A lot of them have worked through Eastern Market or the Rust Belt Market (in downtown Ferndale). They have worked very hard to build up their following."

Balowski and Nick Gorga launched Hatch Detroit last year as a vehicle to champion, support and grow locally owned retail businesses. The nonprofit accomplishes this through funding its $50,000 contest, education, exposure, and mentoring. The bottom line is providing a stimulus that helps revitalize the Motor City and inspires others in the community to create change.

This year's winner will be revealed on Sept. 27. Last year's winner, Joe Posch of HUGH, is close to opening his contemporary mens fashions store in Midtown. "He is going into the Auburn building, which still being built," Balowski says.

Source: Ted Balowski, co-founder of Hatch Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Centennial set for North Corktown's Spaulding Court

Celebration is in order for Spaulding Court, a 20 unit Townhouse in Detroit, which turns 100 years old this year.

A down-home street festival is Saturday June 16. The party is free and open to the public, and there will be a cash bar.
 
Built in 1912, Spaulding Court was a lively community for those living in the North Corktown neighborhood along Rosa Parks Boulevard. By 2009 though, the building had become a serious hazard to the public and was seized by Wayne County. Nearby residents then formed Friends of Spaulding Court, a community based nonprofit on a mission to promote the strength and diversity of the Corktown community. 
 
The organization stepped in to revive the property, stabilizing the neighborhood and developing high impact redevelopment models. They also hosted nearly 50 Soup at Spaulding events that raised cash for rehab at Spaulding Court and other local projects.
 
RSVP on Facebook. Contributions/donation are also welcome. Spaulding Court is at 2737 Rosa Parks.
 
Source: Jon Koller
Writer: Leah Johnson
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