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PNC Bank nears completion of Midtown branch rehab

The finishing touches are going on the newly renovated PNC Bank branch in Midtown, which is part of a larger expansion into the Detroit market by the multi-national bank.

For years PNC Bank had a drab little branch at the corner of Woodward Avenue and West Alexandrine Street. That began to change earlier this year when the surrounding neighborhood hit a tipping point development wise. The Detroit Medical Center began its expansion across Woodward. Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co opened across West Alexandrine. Now there are rumblings of the redevelopment of the big vacant apartment building behind the branch.

"We have to make certain we were a part of (the rebirth of the neighborhood)," says Mike Bickers, executive vice president of retail banking for PNC Bank. "The first part is the interior, which has been totally revamped. The next step is the outside."

He adds the renovation of the 3,000-square-foot building is "basically done" with a few remaining loose ends being tied up this month. The revamped branch joins PNC Bank's 10 other branches in Detroit and Hamtramck. The newest one is a community branch at 7 Mile and Evergreen roads on the city's West Side, which opened last week.

"That branch is about low-to-moderate-income, community-based banking," Bickers says. He explains that the branch will focus a lot on financial education that helps people establish bank accounts and a credit history rather than taking paychecks to check-cashing places.

PNC Bank is also looking to open a full-service branch at 8 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue next summer. The branch will consist of ATMs, drive-thru lanes and other regular banking amenities. It will be part of the Gateway Marketplace development, which is set to be anchored by stores from Meijer and Marshalls.

Source: Mike Bickers, executive vice president of retail banking for PNC Bank
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Local attorney brings more Brush Park apts online with The Edmund

Deciding whether or not to save a classic Victorian mansion in Brush Park is pretty easy for Michael VanOverbeke.

The attorney established his practice (VanOverbeke, Michaud & Timmony) in a restored Brush Park mansion at 79 Alfred St. and played a key role in the redevelopment of 48 Edmund Place into a Victorian-house-turned-apartment-building. So finishing the redevelopment of 104 Edmund Place after it fell victim to the housing market collapse was a no-brainer.

"I was concerned about it falling by the wayside," VanOverbeke says. "I wanted to save it and complete it."

The original redevelopment of the huge Victorian mansion and accompanying carriage houses called for turning them into for-sale condos. VanOverbeke and his partners changed course, creating high-end apartments and rebranding the development The Edmund.

"We decided in this market it's better to go rentals," VanOverbeke says.

The Edmund now consists of nine apartments. The main building, which dates back to the 1870s,  measures in at 11,000 square feet. It has six apartments, including the three-bedroom, 2.5-bath penthouse. The two carriage houses (both new construction) consist of three apartments between them. Prices range from $1,000 per month for a one-bedroom to $2,250 per month for the penthouse.

The Edmund is currently taking reservations for its rentals and expects to begin moving in the first residents by late November. For information, call 313-623-2461.

Source: Michael VanOverbeke, managing member of The Edmund
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Historic Ford plant offices in Highland Park inline for renovation

The Woodward Avenue Action Association has big plans for the historic Ford Plant in Highland Park, starting with the redevelopment of the administrative office building and executive garage overlooking Woodward Avenue just south of McNichols Road.

The 4-story building served as the offices for Henry Ford at the critical time when he was developing the assembly line and creating the $5 workday in the early 20th Century. The building no longer serves as an office complex and has fallen into disrepair.

"We want to stabilize it," says Heather Carmona, executive director of the Woodward Avenue Action Association. "We want to make sure we don't lose it. This is the most historically-significant building in the state and one of the top 5 in the country."

The Woodward Avenue Action Association has received a $400,000 grant from the State of Michigan to purchase the building. A sale price of $550,000 has been agreed to and the Woodward Avenue Action Association plans to raise the money to close the gap.

The 40,000-squar-foot building is at 14329 Woodward and stands next to a shopping center and in front of the former Ford industrial plant, which still has tenants. The Woodward Avenue Action Association plans to redevelop the office building into a museum about Henry Ford, the plant and how they changed the world in the early 20th Century. The nonprofit also plans to turn the building into its new home and create office space for businesses that would help make the project viable.

"Obviously it needs to be sustainable," Carmona says. "It just can't be a museum."

Source: Heather Carmona, executive director of the Woodward Avenue Action Association
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Thoughts, advice for upcoming Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction

Chances are that if you're reading this you are at least interested in buying one of the nearly 20,000 properties that will be up for grabs at the Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction that begins this weekend.

Congrats, you are about to embark on a business venture that comes with both high risk and high reward. Allow me to offer some insight into the the land of buying a house in Detroit for as little as $500. Please keep in mind that while I have purchased a handful of properties through Wayne County's tax foreclosure auctions over the last two years, I am not an attorney. With that said, please take my advice with a grain of salt and think about the following:

- Contact an attorney. You will need help figuring out exactly what your rights and obligations are as a new property owner, what type of deed you have, etc.
- Go to the place you're looking at during the night to make sure you are still comfortable there.
- Double check the property boundaries. I have literally accidentally bought a building when I thought I was buying a vacant lot because I didn't realize where the property lines were located.
- Do not go inside the property until you have the deed. If it's abandoned and wide open I doubt anyone will make a fuss if you secure it, but realize it's not yours until you have the deed.
- Go into the auction with a couple of places you would like to buy so if one doesn't work out you have a backup.
- If it's your first time, just buy one. Remember you are getting what you pay for. A house that sells for as little as $500 also means it is a huge project that will more than likely cost tens of thousands of dollars to make it a comfortable home.
- Expect to do things like replace the roof, rewire the electrical, install a new furnace, etc. If someone hasn't been able to pay the taxes for years that means they have been letting the maintenance slide for much longer.
- Wayne County can nix the sale for any reason until you have the deed.
- When you have the deed, go knock on the door with a friend in the middle of the day. If someone answers the door be friendly and calmly explain who you are and your intentions for the property. Hope for a reasonable person who will work with you.
- If someone is living there that means the place is still their home even if you are the new property owner. You can't go inside unless they give you permission. If they are uncooperative, then you should speak to an attorney about the eviction process. This is a foreclosure so the eviction process will take longer.
- Clean up the property as soon as possible after taking possession. This is a great way to casually meet your new neighbors.
- Contact the local police station and let them know that you bought the place and your plans for it.
- Contact the Detroit Water & Sewerage Dept to have the water turned on, bill straightened out, etc. Because the property was foreclosed on, you are not liable for previous water bills prior to the foreclosure.
- You will have to pay the 2012 taxes on the property by the end of the year. This auction only wipes out the taxes prior to this year.
- Become a constant presence at the house. Check it multiple times a day if you can, even if it's just to walk through and make sure everything is fine. Make sure you check it at different times so you avoid a pattern.

Also realize that you are not the first person to do this. Ask around to family, co-workers, friends and friends of friends for advice or information.

For specifics on a property, I like to use Zillow.com to get a rough idea about things like square footage and taxes. WhyDontWeOwnThis.com provides a bevy of great information about the auction properties, including its easy-to-use mapping system. Its comments feed is a great place to learn more, too.

There are also a few local blogs that are helpful. "A $500 House" is about a young man who bought his new home at an earlier auction. "Redemption in Corktown" shows what it takes to bring a forlorn foreclosure back to life.

Writer: Jon Zemke
Source: Jon Zemke's experience

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

REVOLVE retail program launches out of West Village with Tashmoo

The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation launched its new retail business program, Detroit REVOLVE, out of West Village last weekend, leveraging the year's first Tashmoo Biergarten weekend as a backdrop.

Detroit REVOLVE allows the DEGC to partner with neighborhood stakeholders to create pop-retail shops with an eye for establishing permanent stores there in the not-too-distant future.

"Our goal is to help transform vacant storefronts into vibrant spaces," says Michael Forsyth, business development manager for the DEGC. "We want to do that with temporary businesses and art. We want to turn them into full-time businesses."

Detroit REVOLVE works with community leaders, building owners, entrepreneurs, and artists to fill the vacant commercial spaces. In West Village, the program created two spaces for pop-up retailers. Coffee and Donuts (a cafe) and PRAMU (a store that sells Detroit-centric clothing) are the first temporary businesses to go into vacant storefronts in the ground floor of an apartment building at Van Dyke and Parker streets.

"(These businesses) have all the ingredients for success," Forsyth says. "You have a setting of cohesive, vibrant space. You have high demand from the community and you have great building owners."

Detroit REVOLVE
plans to match more aspiring entrepreneurs with more artists and building owners not only in The Villages but throughout the city. The goal is to create a buzz in these commercial districts that will help them support long-term businesses.

Source: Michael Forsyth, business development manager for the Detroit Economic Growth Corp
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.

Palmer Park area begins to rebrand itself as Uptown Detroit

The Palmer Park/University District communities are undergoing a bit of grassroots rebranding this year now that a growing number of local residents and stakeholders are referring to the area as Uptown Detroit.

"We just kind of came up with the name," says Sarah James, a board member for the People for Palmer Park. "We were thinking of the Woodward corridor and how there is downtown and Midtown and we are the farthest up Woodward."

Uptown Detroit will encompass the Woodward corridor between McNichols Avenue and 8 Mile Road. The area currently consists of a variety of neighborhoods, including Palmer Park, Palmer Woods, State Fair, Sherwood Forest, Green Acres, University District, Chaldeantown and Highland Park.

Local stakeholders like James are hoping to leverage a fresh, all-encompassing brand to boost the momentum that has come from a number of new developments, such as the redevelopment of a number of Palmer Park's apartment buildings and the planting of fruit orchards throughout the park.

The collection of neighborhoods that now fall under the Midtown Detroit banner underwent a similar transformation a decade ago when local leaders combined a fresh brand with the momentum from local developments. The people behind the Uptown Detroit effort are hoping to follow the same game plan to success.

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.

Detroit solicits applications for new owner of Lafayette Towers

Looking for your chance to own a major of architecture by one of the world's most renowned architects? Detroit has your opportunity.

The city has taken control of the Lafayette Towers, a marquee part of the Lafayette Park neighborhood designed by world-famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The apartment building had been foreclosed on by the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development and handed over to the city of Detroit to find a new owner. The Detroit Economic Growth Corp is soliciting redevelopment proposals for the city.

This high-rise apartment complex consists of two, 22-story buildings on nearly 10 acres of green space. The complex offers 584 market-rate apartments, along with a fitness center, laundry room, community space, pool and parking garage. A solid majority of the complex is leased and the city is looking for a developer with deep pockets to take over the complex and maintain it as a residential area.

"Somebody has to come in with a minimum of $16 million in financing," says Bob Rossbach, a spokesman for the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. "This is a going concern that is significantly rented."

For information on the request for proposals send an email to tdsmith@degc.org or click here.

Source: Bob Rossbach, a spokesman for the Detroit Economic Growth Corp
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

MDOT installs LED streetlights along I-94 on east side

One of the most-traveled stretches of road in Detroit is about to become more sustainable.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is installing 308 new LED streetlights along I-94 on the city's east side. LED lights are the poster child for energy-efficient lighting technology, consuming far less than half of the energy of traditional street lights.

"The lights that currently there were put in during the early 1970s," says Rob Morosi, a spokesman for Michigan Department of Transportation. "You can expect a lifetime for the lights of about 30-40 years."

The lights are going in on a five mile stretch of I-94 between French and 8 Mile roads. Of the 308 new LED street lights, 244 will illuminate the main section of the freeway. Another 64 LED street lights will light the on- and off-ramps along the freeway. The lights along the main trunk of the freeway will be mounted along the sides of the road, instead of in the middle of the expressway.

"That way they are much easier for maintenance crews to access and its safer for motorists," Morosi says.

Work is set to begin this month and wrap up by next spring.

Source: Rob Morosi, a spokesman for Michigan Dept of Transportation
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Detroit seeks proposals to redevelop downtown Fire Dept HQ

The city of Detroit is preparing to release a formal request for proposals for the city's soon-to-be former Fire Dept. headquarters in downtown.

The Detroit Fire Dept has called 250 W. Larned St. home since the building was constructed in 1929. The 5-story structure at the corner of Washington Blvd. features 62,910 square feet. The building is zoned PCA, Restricted Central Business District and could accommodate a high-density re-development.

"We want something that will complement downtown," says Brad Dick, director of the General Services Dept for the city of Detroit. "It could be mixed-use, like condos with a business downstairs."

The Detroit Fire Department is preparing to move to the city's new public safety headquarters in the former MGM Casino on the west end of downtown next summer. It will completely vacate its current home during the move.

Jones Lang LaSalle
is acting as the city's agent in this process. It is playing up the site's proximity to the newly renovated Cobo Hall and the People Mover. Financial incentives are also available for the redevelopment. The city has been floating the idea of redeveloping the site for several weeks and has conducted about 20 walk-throughs to potential developers. The city hopes to have a deal in place within the next 9-12 months.

"We'd like to have an agreement to do something as soon as possible," Dick says.

For information, contact Sterling Howard at 313-967-4108 or at sterling.howard@am.jll.com.

Source: Brad Dick, director of the General Services Dept for the city of Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Boston-Edison mansions receive federally funded TLC

The push to renovate a baker's dozen of mansions in Boston-Edison is heading toward its home stretch now that two of the homes have been renovated and the remaining 11 are set to be done by January.

The city is partnering with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Detroit Land Bank to turn 13 mansions in the Boston-Edison into a high-end, sustainable homes that will remain viable places for middle-class families to live for decades. The project is leveraging millions of dollars in federally-funded Neighborhood Stabilization Funds on the project with an average investment of a little more than $200,000 per house.

Each house is for sale and goes for its appraised value. Most of the list prices are about $100,000. These homes are also available to the city's Project 14 program, which focuses on moving more city employees, such as police officers, into the city. Some families have already purchased the finished homes and begun to move in.

"We're excited that people are seeing this as a vibrant and vital neighborhood," says Marja Winters, deputy director of Planning & Development Dept. at the City of Detroit.

Each home has high-end features in both its aesthetics and sustainable core systems. Each house has Energy Star appliances, granite countertops, comprehensive insulation and a number of other sustainable features.

"Some of these even have geothermal (heating and cooling systems) that make it much more sustainable and viable in the longterm," Winters says.

Source: Marja Winters, deputy director of Planning & Development Dept at the city of Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Spanish tapas restaurant La Feria wins Hatch Detroit

La Feria Tapas has won the 2012 Hatch Detroit contest and plans to use the prize money to help speed along its opening next spring.

La Feria Tapas, a Spanish-style tapas restaurant, is turning a vacant, non-descript building at 4130 Cass into a showpiece near the rapidly developing intersection of Cass Avenue and Willis Street. The stretch of Cass between Alexandrine and Canfield streets is quickly becoming a commercial hub in Midtown.

Five years ago it was best known as the home to Avalon International Breads but now it houses a number of other boutique business, such as Slows To Go and Curl Up & Dye, and several other newly renovated commercial spaces. The location helped make the decision easy for the co-founding trio of Pilar Baron-Hidalgo, Naomi Khalil and Elias Khalil.

"In my mind it's a no-brainer," Elias Khalil says, adding Detroit's lack of Spanish-style tapas restaurants has created a void in the market. "If you go to any other big city there are a lot of them. Here it's a major missing link."

La Feria Tapas
plans to use the $50,000 first place prize from Hatch Detroit to pay for a large chunk of the kitchen equipment. The trio of partners have been working on the restaurant since January and expect to open in April.

Source: Elias Khalil, co-owner of La Feria Tapas
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Hamtramck puts lawsuit behind it, moves toward more development

Development of all kinds in Hamtramck is about to take a few major steps forward now that the city is close to putting a federal housing lawsuit behind it.

Hamtramck is at the tail end of putting the nation’s longest-standing housing discrimination court case behind it. The city is partnering with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to build or rehab 200 homes, leveraging federal Neighborhood Stabilization Funds.

So far 130 homes (both for sale and rentals) have been finished and the rest are on schedule to be done by the end of 2013. The city and its partners (Wayne County, Michigan Association of REALTORS, Michigan Home Builders Association and Huntington Bank) are launching $50 million construction program plans to build or rehab 100 homes in that time.

Hitting those goals will clear the way to lifting the court-ordered ban on the city for selling municipally-owned land. Hamtramck has about 500-600 vacant city-owned residential lots that will soon become available for sale and additional new home construction when that happens.

"Being able to sell those lots is a fantastic opportunity for us to plan what can happen in this city," says Susie Stec, community & economic development coordinator for the city of Hamtramck.

Traditional development (both commercial and residential) is an obvious candidate to take off in Hamtramck. However, urban agriculture is another avenue that could benefit from the ban's lifting. While plans for large-scale, commercial urban agriculture have stalled in recent years, smaller community gardens in side lots have flourished.

Hamtramck's bevy of potentially available lots could be a boon for that sort of community garden agriculture. Stec sees concentrations of vacant lots in the city, such as the area on the south side of the city between Holbrook and Denton.

"There is a lot of interest in urban gardening, and doing more intensive types of agriculture," Stec says.

Source: Susie Stec, community & economic development coordinator for the city of Hamtramck
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Gateway Project opens new U.S. approach to the Ambassador Bridge

The Gateway Project is in its final stages now that the ramps to the Detroit side of the Ambassador bridge are open to traffic to primary expressways connecting to the international bridge.

"We're about 95 percent done," says Rob Morosi, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation. "We have reached the milestone where we can open ramps to the plaza from I-96 and I-75."

The opened ramps will take the traffic off of the service drives and other local roads in Southwest Detroit in adjacent Mexicantown and Corktown. The open ramps will also allow motorists the option to access toll booths directly or visit the duty-free plaza before proceeding to the Ambassador Bridge.

The remaining construction consists of roadwork on the surface streets that traffic had been diverted to for years. That roadwork consists of Rosa Parks Boulevard between Fort Street and Michigan Avenue and on the I-75 services drives.

The opening of the ramps comes less than seven months after Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards directed the Detroit International Bridge Co to cede control of their portion of the $230 million project and ordered Michigan Department of Transportation to complete the remaining work. In the March 8 Opinion and Order issued by Judge Edwards, the Detroit International Bridge Co was directed to deposit $16 million into an account to fund construction.

Source: Rob Morosi, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Lentine Group renovates Woodbridge building into office for 150 new jobs

The Lentine Group of businesses is making a homecoming of sorts to Detroit, bringing 150 new jobs to Woodbridge and expectations of another 50 hires.

"We just love being in the city," says Anthony Lentine, vice president of LeCom and Golden Dental Plans. "There is a real buzz in the city. It's a fun place to be."

The Lentine Group consists of LeCom Communications, LeCom Utility Contractors, Golden Dental Plans Marketing and UnionCircle.com. It has recently renovated a commercial building on Trumbull Avenue just north of I-94. That building is now the home to 100 jobs that were moved from the suburbs into the Motor City and another 50 hires. Lentine Group expects to hire another 50 people in the coming months.

"There is a lot of room there," Lentine says. "By the end of the year we expect to have 200 people working there."

Lentine's father built the structure on Trumbull in 1986 for an ambulance business the family once owned. Now the Lentine Group has invested $250,000 in renovating the building, including adding new fiberoptic lines in what Lentine describes as a "general upgrade to the property."

"It's really in an excellent location for our business," Lentine says. "It will reduce the travel time for our employees."

Source: Anthony Lentine, vice president of LeCom and Golden Dental Plans
Writer: Jon Zemke

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