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Detroit Development News

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Hamtramck performance space and bar turns to crowdfunding for key renovations

Public Spaces Community Places, a state-sponsored placemaking initiative operated by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, has set out to raise funds for a Hamtramck-based project. The campaign's focus is Planet Ant Hall, a performance and social complex located across the street from the original Planet Ant Theatre.

Planet Ant and MEDC have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to help finish and repair Planet Ant Hall. Should the crowdfunding campaign successfully raise $35,000 by Nov. 1, the MEDC will kick in an addtional $35,000 as a matching grant.

The campaign is being hosted on the Michigan-based Patronicity crowdfunding platform.

Though Planet Ant Hall opened earlier this year, organizers say that there is still much work to be done. The group plans on using its crowdfunding and matching grant money, a total of $70,000, toward a new HVAC system, an improved facade, a build out of the back stage area, roof repairs, an upgraded lighting grid, and new techinical equipment.

According to Planet Ant Executive Director Darren Shelton, "Planet Ant Theatre was founded 25 years ago on the core principles of artistic freedom and experimentation, and the belief that these principles are fundamental to the spirit of community, creative fulfillment, and success. The completion of Ant Hall will accelerate the pursuit of this mission by expanding our space and resources and thus, our overall impact."

The original Planet Ant, which is still open today, debuted across the street in 1993. Originally a coffee shop, the storefront became a small black box theater in 1996, and has been putting on scripted and improv productions ever since. Among its famous alums include Keegan-Michael Key, co-creator of Comedy Central's "Key and Peele."

The new Planet Ant Hall includes a 470 capacity performance space and the attached Ghost Light Bar, and features music, comedy, films, karaoke, and more.

Click here to view the status of the crowdfunding campaign.

Planet Ant Hall is located at 2320 Caniff St. in Hamtramck.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

From pop-up to permanent, classic arcade bar to celebrate grand opening in downtown Detroit

It was back in October 2014 when Offworld Arcade founder Don Behm told Model D that he was in no rush to open a permanent location for his "arcade gallery" pop-ups. In the nearly three years since, Behm has exhibited a patience that is now being rewarded with the grand opening of the permanent location for Offworld Arcade.

Behm has partnered with the owners of Grand Trunk Pub, Whisky Parlor, Checker Bar, and POP to establish Offworld Arcade's official home in downtown Detroit. POP, a pop-up dining experience located upstairs of the Checker Bar, has recently been renovated and will now share its space with the arcade, seven days a week.

Checker Bar has regularly hosted Offworld pop-ups over the years and now, with the official partnership, the upstairs gets a new name: POP + Offworld. The new venue will carry more than 30 original arcade games, from the 1970s and on throughout the decades. In addition to the classic games, POP + Offworld will feature New York-style pizza, a full bar, and live entertainment.

The renovated decor features 1980s-inspired murals from artist Michelle Tanguay as well as a collage of fashion magazine ads uncovered during remodeling efforts.

A grand opening celebration for POP + Offworld is being held Friday, Sept. 8, from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. In addition to more than 30 arcade games and POP Pizza, the party features a Bell's Brewery tap takeover, classic console raffle, Hello Records DJ sets, and live synthwave from Phaserland.

The event is free and open to all ages until 9 p.m., when it becomes 21+.

"It's really cool to see parents and their sons and daughters come in and the kids just stare at these big games," Behm said in 2014. "You'll see kids come in and be amazed and say to their parents, 'I've never seen anything like this'."

POP + Offworld is located above the Checker Bar at 124 Cadillac Sq. in downtown Detroit.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

East African refugees win $50K Hatch Detroit grand prize, will open restaurant

For Hamissi Mamba, Baobab Fare is a chance to give back to the city he's come to call home. Mamba and his wife, Nadia Nijimbere, moved to Detroit as refugees from Burundi. They're now on track to open their own East African restaurant, market, and juice bar. And they're doing so as recent recipients of the Comerica Hatch Detroit Contest grand prize.

On Friday, August 25, Mamba and Nijimbere won 2017's Hatch contest, receiving $50,000 as the grand prize. They'll use that money to open Baobab Fare, a taste of their old home in their new one. It's slated for a summer 2018 opening.

"Winning this prize is incredible—a dream come true," says Mamba. "It's something I couldn't even have imagined."

"This prize is emotional because I owe everything to this city. I want to do something for this city and share a piece of my culture."

This is the seventh annual Hatch Detroit, a contest designed to help small businesses get off the ground and into their first brick-and-mortar storefronts in the communities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park. More than 160 entrepreneurs applied this year and over 200,000 votes cast in the public voting round. A final group of four pitched their businesses in a "Shark Tank"-style event with Baobab Fare taking home the top prize.

The restaurant, market, and juice bar will offer items unique to East Africa. In addition to prepared foods and juices in a restaurant setting, the Baobab Fare market will offer herbs, produce, fresh meat, and more.

Winning the Hatch Detroit contest is worth more than the $50,000 top prize. Mamba and Nijimbere will also receive more than $200,000 in pro bono business services from Hatch Detroit and its partners.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Detroit's Whitney to receive nearly $1M worth of energy efficiency upgrades

Wayne County has scored its first PACE project and it's a notable one: The landmark Whitney mansion and restaurant on Woodward Avenue. The 123 year old building is set to receive $863,130 worth of energy efficiency upgrades thanks to financing from Petros PACE Finance of Austin, Texas.

PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy, is a national program that helps businesses finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that save money in the long run but require expensive investment up front.

It allows property owners this ability through a special property tax assessment with local governments. The tax assessment then frees up lenders' ability to provide up to 20-year, low rate, fixed-interest loans.

"It's a great story to have a building with such an incredibly rich history in the PACE program," says Andy Levin, president of Lean & Green Michigan and managing partner of Levin Energy Partners.

"The fixtures in the Whitney mansion were literally installed by Thomas Edison and now, at 123 years old, it's going to become a model building of our low-carbon future."

Of the improvements planned are storm windows designed for each of the building's 200-plus windows, LED lighting throughout the building, including the chandeliers, energy efficient HVAC equipment, energy efficient kitchen equipment, and a building controls system that is operated via smartphone—virtually from anywhere in the world.

According to a Lean & Green Michigan Case Study, the energy efficiency upgrades will provide Whitney owner Bud Liebler an savings of $23,528 annually.

Construction is set to begin this month and could be finished by the end of 2017.

This is the first PACE project for Wayne County, joining Oakland and Macomb in the region and many more throughout the state that have taken advantage of the program.

The Whitney is located at 4421 Woodward Ave. in Detroit.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Groups seeks to improve North Rosedale Park through public art projects

Prominent Detroit artists, neighborhood schoolchildren, and community boosters have teamed together to bring two pieces of public art to the North Rosedale Park neighborhood in northwest Detroit.

Having already won a $76,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, the Legacy Project is nearing its goal in improving public spaces through art. There is a catch to the Knight grant, however, and for the Legacy Project to receive the money, they must first raise a matching $76,000 of their own, which would bring the grand total to $152,000 to go toward the project.

Marsha Bruhn is chair of the Legacy Project, a group started to improve the North Rosedale Park Community House and its surrounding park. Bruhn says that they have entered the final leg of fundraising for the project, and need to raise just $20,000 to receive their $76,000 Knight grant.

The group has turned to Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity to do just that. The project, titled Great Art! Great Park!, has until 10:30 a.m. on Sep. 30 to raise the $20,000.

"Public art signals to the community that art is important, that the creative process is important. Creativity stimulates thinking," says Bruhn. "And it's another reason for people to come to the neighborhood. This will be the quality of art that is found in museums and galleries."

Two pieces of art are planned for North Rosedale Park. The first is a 25-foot metal sculpture designed by Detroit's Charles McGee, a well-renowned artist and decades-long resident of the neighborhood.

The second is a mosaic from Kresge Fine Arts Fellow Hubert Massey. In addition to his own mosaic, the artist is working with third and fifth-graders at the neighborhood's Cooke STEM Academy to help them design and construct their own mosaics, which will also be completed and installed.

Approximately $8,000 has been raised at press time. Click here to see the fundraiser's current status.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Black arts criticism journal to host book fair and fundraiser to help publish in Detroit

Taylor Renee Aldridge and Jessica Lynne, of Detroit and New York City, respectively, are bringing their internationally renowned arts criticism journal ARTS.BLACK to life in Detroit this August.

Recipients of the 2016 the John S. and James L. Knight Arts Challenge award, the co-founders of ARTS.BLACK are holding a Book Fair and "Friendrasier" at Good Lab in Detroit's Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood. The event takes place Saturday, Aug. 26, from 1 to 5 p.m.

The Knight Arts Challenge award is contingent on the recipients raising matching funds and the book fair is an opportunity for Aldridge and Lynne to do just that. Funds raised from the award and book fair will cover publication costs, payments for writers, and continued operations for the journal, which provides art criticism from a Black perspective.

"We operate online and we're constantly interacting with the different communities there. The book fair is an opportunity to take a step back and interface more intimately with each other," says Aldridge. "It's an opportunity to talk about critical literature that isn't off-putting or intimidating. It'll open it up to people."

The ARTS.BLACK Book Fair and Friendraiser features books that focus on issues of art, labor, or both. New and used catalogs, zines, history books, and more will be on hand. Many of the books have been donated by Detroiters like Janet Webster Jones, owner of Source Booksellers.

ARTS.BLACK t-shirts and totes will also be for sale at the event. Music, refreshments, and snacks may also be part of the day's festivities.

"In our research, we've found that labor is an essential theme of an artist's practice in Detroit," says Aldridge.

"We really want to examine that and explore those themes."

Good Lab is located at 14720 E. Jefferson Ave. in Detroit. Click here for more information on the ARTS.BLACK Book Fair and Friendraiser.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

NSO's Handlebars for the Homeless takes riders on a guided tour of city, with emphasis on '67

Neighborhood Service Organization is once again gearing up for its annual Handlebars for the Homeless bicycle tour. The 15-mile trek guides registered bicyclists through some of the city's more northern neighborhoods all the while raising funds for the 62-year-old non-profit organization, which promotes a comprehensive approach to eliminating homelessness, one of the largest such organizations in southeastern Michigan.

The event takes place on Sunday, Aug. 6 and begins at the NSO Bell Building, the organization's headquarters and home to 155 formerly homeless adults. On-site registration begins at 7 a.m. and the ride leaves the Bell Building at 9 a.m. and returns at noon. Riders can also register online.

Registration for the event costs $40 and includes a light breakfast, t-shirt, and spoke card. Registrants are also entered into a raffle with prizes that include an A-Type bicycle from Detroit Bikes—a $699.99 value—and bike helmet painted by Detroit artist Quinn Emery, among other prizes.

This year's Handlebars for the Homeless bicycle tour takes riders through the Live6 district, Sherwood Forest, Boston Edison, and Palmer Park neighborhoods, and the University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College campuses.

David Rudolph, founder of Handlebars for the Homeless and NSO board member, says this year's route will highlight some of the areas touched by the civil unrest of 1967. The event has multiple missions, celebrating the city but also addressing the struggles of those living on its streets.

"NSO's Handlebars for Homeless educates participants about the challenges that face the more than 5,000 homeless individuals living on our streets, while also highlighting some of Detroit's most beautiful, thriving and up-and-coming neighborhoods," he said in a statement.

Proceeds raised from the event will be used for NSO programs like their Homeless Recovery Services. The comprehensive program includes a mobile unit that makes direct contact with the chronically homeless, a 24-hour walk-in crisis center, and the 155-room NSO building itself, among a number of additional services.

The NSO Bell Building is located at 882 Oakman Blvd. in Detroit.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

New parks in downtown and Morningside among city's latest outdoor developments

It's summertime in the city. Let's take a look at some of Detroit's latest developments in outdoor recreation.

On Thursday, July 20, Beacon Park will get its chance to shine in the northwest section of downtown Detroit. A four day-long grand opening celebration is being held to commemorate the event, which will feature live musical performances from the likes of Thornetta Davis, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, and Lord Huron, among others. Built by DTE Energy, the park boasts downtown Detroit's largest lawn, as well as year-long programming, light installations, and a brasserie-style restaurant. Beacon Park is located at the intersection of Cass and Grand River avenues.

The City of Detroit was awarded a $2 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation to fund the design and pre-construction of the remaining uncompleted portions of the Inner Circle Greenway, a proposed 26-mile bike and pedestrian path throughout Detroit. The City of Detroit recently purchased a 7.5 mile stretch of abandoned rail to complete the greenway.

On Saturday, July 22, a dedication of the 12th Street Memorial and Pavilion is being held at the Joseph Walker Williams Recreation Center, located at 8431 Rosa Parks Blvd. The memorial and pavilion marks the 50th anniversary of the summer of 1967. A 5-by-7 foot permanent steel marker lists the 44 people known to have died from the events of that summer, while a small white cedar pavilion serves as a public gathering space and focal point for future community events. Musical performances from The Original Vandellas and The Robinson Singers are scheduled for the dedication, which runs from 2:45 to 6:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

Residents of Morningside have the opportunity to design a brand new park in their neighborhood, though the design competition is open to the public at large. Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the pilot program Give a Park, Get a Park will take a decommissioned park at I-94 and sell it to residents through the city's side lot program. It will then build a bigger, more centralized park for the neighborhood at Three Mile Drive and Munich Street. The deadline for design submissions is Monday, July 31.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Fast casual dining spot opens in the old Detroit News Building downtown

In its hundredth year, the Detroit News Building has opened its doors to the public with the addition of the Press Room Cafe, a nod to the building's past as well as a sign of a dining scene that could come to the still relatively quiet southwestern corner of downtown Detroit.

Located at 615 W. Lafayette Blvd. in the old Detroit News Building, the Press Room offers quick but quality dining options to area workers and passersby. Though it first opened in April 2017, a recent grand opening event was held to emphasize the point that the Press Room is open to the public, and not just nearby workers.

Bedrock, the Dan Gilbert real estate firm, owns the property, which counts Quicken Loans and Molina Healthcare among its tenants.

The Press Room is much more than a cafe. A breakfast, bakery, and coffee bar occupy one end, adjacent to a fireplace-lit seating area ideal for meetings. The breakfast spot features Avalon pastries and Intelligentsia coffee. In the center is a market, featuring items one might need to grab on their way home from work, including a number of local products.

It's at the west end of the space wherein lies the main attraction: lunch and dinner items from celebrity chef Fabio Viviani. Eurest, the dining services company behind Press Room Cafe, custom built the kitchen and grill to Viviani's exact needs.

"That stove is made specifically for him. It's kind of like the Ferrari of wood-fired pizza ovens," says Jessica Zucker, division marketing director of Eurest.

"It's all from-scratch pastas and pizzas. Fabio brought in his team and measured the humidity of the room to figure out how to make the right dough, which is made in-house. Everything's made from scratch."

In addition to Viviani's pizzas and pastas, the Press Room includes signature burgers, paninis, and salads among its other offerings.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Info sessions announced to help Detroit business owners and landlords apply for matching grants

This Thursday and next, information sessions are being held to assist city businesses through the application process for Detroit's latest small business booster program. Dubbed Motor City Re-Store, the program is designed to help existing businesses and their landlords in rehabilitating and improving the conditions of their buildings' exteriors.

The program offers matching grants for a range of construction projects, including improved facades, landscaping, and parking lots. Matching grants for design and architectural services are also available.

Much like Motor City Match, which city officials consider to be Re-Store's "comparison" program, Re-Store will offer up to $500,000 in matching grants to Detroit businesses and landlords every three months. Unlike Motor City Match, which is designed more to help businesses that are new to having a brick-and-mortar location in the city, Re-Store is designed with pre-existing business owners in mind.

The first information session is Thursday, June 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Good Cakes and Bakes, which is located at 19363 Livernois Ave. The second information session is Thursday, June 29, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Matrix Center / Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, which is located at 13560 E. McNichols Rd.

Both are free and open to the public.

"The small neighborhood businesses that have hung in there over the years and have sustained our city are part of Detroit's revitalization. That's why we created Motor City Re-Store," Mayor Duggan said in a statement. "This is how we are going to bring our city back, by supporting our existing businesses and residents as we welcome new ones to our neighborhoods."

The application window for the first round of Motor City Re-Store is open from June 15 through Aug. 1. Applications are available online.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Two new businesses, a bakery and boutique, slated for fall openings in the historic Fisher Building

The ornate art deco lobby of the Fisher Building, a building celebrated as a major work of art by architects and enthusiasts the world over, stands to attract even more people craning their necks as they take in their surroundings.

This fall, two noteworthy businesses are scheduled to open there: Yama, the third women's retail store from The Peacock Room and Frida's Rachel Lutz, and City Bakery, a popular New York City-based bakery and cafe.

Lutz's first two stores, The Peacock Room and Frida, opened in 2011 and 2014, respectively. Both are located in the Park Shelton building in Midtown.

While The Peacock Room curates a more vintage-inspired collection of women's clothing and accessories, and Frida features casual and bohemian fashion, Lutz says that Yama will focus on edgy, architecturally-inspired clothing. Yama is named in honor of renowned Detroit architect Minoru Yamasaki.

"I'm excited at the thought of joining a strong, veteran retail mix at the Fisher," says Lutz. "I'm joining Gallery of Contemporary Craft, Pure Detroit, the Fashion Place, and Vera Jane. Yama will offer a fresh energy, and we'll bring a lot of destination shoppers to New Center.

"Complementing its dense population, New Center's food and retail scene is poised to blossom within the next few years. I want to jump start that by pushing our existing foot traffic up the Woodward corridor."

With its first location having opened in New York City in 1990, and a second in Japan, the popular City Bakery will open their third location in the Fisher lobby this fall.

Famous for its hot chocolate, City Bakery is also a bakery, coffee shop, cafe, and catering company. Its Annual Hot Chocolate Festival attracts more than 50,000 people each February. 

Detroit-based development company The Platform, which owns the Fisher as well as a number of other notable New Center buildings, recruited the two businesses as their tenants.

"I'm thrilled that the Fisher Building is the crown jewel of The Platform's development," says Lutz. "This architectural gem now has owners that don't see it as just square footage--they envision it as a vibrant public square."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Local nonprofit wins grants to improve Highland Park's biking and pedestrian infrastructure

The Detroit Greenways Coalition (DGC) is getting a boost.

The non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of non-motorized transportation and recreation in and around Detroit has received a $5,000 grant from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's 2017 Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund. The money is to be used to support the development of the Inner Circle Greenway throughout the city of Highland Park.

Detroit Greenways Coalition's Inner Circle Greenway is the largest urban trail project in the state. The 26-mile series of bike lanes and greenways will connect the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park, and Dearborn. A 1.4 mile-long abandoned rail corridor runs through Highland Park, and this money could be used to help transform it and further develop the Inner Circle Greenway.



In December 2016, Model D asked DGC executive director Todd Scott what he'd like to see happen with green infrastructure in the region. He said then that with an abundance of vacant parcels, abandoned rail corridors, and extra wide roads, cities like Detroit and Highland Park have an opportunity to take advantage of such under-utilized spaces.

"We can use these to create safe and convenient non-motorized transportation options and green infrastructure in a way that most other cities can't. It's an exciting opportunity to build a better city," he said.

The local non-profit is one of six nationally to receive a grant from the 2017 Doppelt Family Trail Development Fund. Others include projects in Colorado, Oregon, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska.

This is the second grant Detroit Greenways Coalition has recently received, both of which are to be administered in the city of Highland Park. The non-profit also received a grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Fund for Design and Access. That money will used to develop bike lanes along the length of Hamilton Avenue as it runs through Highland Park.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

Cody Rouge youth build bus stops, residents help develop comprehensive community plan

The young people of Detroit's Cody Rouge neighborhood busted out the power tools over the weekend, building several bus stop benches to be placed along W. Chicago and Evergreen roads. Sit On It Detroit helped facilitate the construction project.

Members of the Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance Youth Council, which is made up of young people ranging in ages 12 to 18 that live, work, worship or attend school in the Cody Rouge neighborhood, came up with the idea. Those young people identified a need in their neighborhood, which received approval from the group's leaders and won a grant from the Detroit2Nepal Foundation.

Sit On It Detroit is a group that builds and installs bus stop benches throughout the city. The bus stop benches are constructed from reclaimed wood and typically feature mini-libraries built into the design.

It was a busy week for Cody Rouge. The westside neighborhood also announced a comprehensive community plan that officials say will help transform Cody Rouge into a premier Detroit neighborhood. Surveys, focus groups, and community meetings by Cody Rouge residents helped guide the plan's development, as well as Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance and Community Development Advocates of Detroit.

The community plan addresses issues around neighborhood stabilization, safety, land use, strengthened commercial corridors, support for community groups, and expanded opportunities for youth. Bolstering the community plan is the announced financial support of DTE Energy, General Motors, Quicken Loans, and the Skillman Foundation.

"As a lifetime resident of Cody Rouge and someone who has worked alongside fellow residents planning and implementing our goals for this community over the past 10 years, it's clear to me that our neighborhood is on the cusp of transformation," Kenyetta Campbell, executive director of the Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance, says in a statement. "We are turning Cody Rouge into a place people are proud to call home, where children are encouraged to bloom where they are planted."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

First-time entrepreneur opens consignment resale shop on Eastern Market's Service Street block

Miriam Pranschke's passion for re-use is culminating in the opening of her first business, the consignment re-sale store Boro. The clothing and accessories shop is opening its Eastern Market storefront this Saturday, May 20—just in time for Flower Day.

Boro is located in a storefront in the Service Street district, a block-long collection of buildings long associated with artist-occupied lofts and studios. Pranschke lives with her husband there, just three floors above Boro in the historic Atlas Building.

Re-sale is a win-win for Pranschke, helping the environment and her neighbors at the same time. "I'm very interested in keeping things out of landfills," says Pranschke. "And the consignors make 40 percent of the selling price, too."

Items sold at Boro will be hand-selected by Pranschke. She says she'll be focusing on independent, designer, and vintage high-quality clothing and accessories. Items range from clothing to shoes, purses to jewelery, and items for both women and men.

"I grew up going to thrift stores. It's what I've always done and what I've known," says Pranschke. "And then I learned about consignment stores, which are more curated. You spend less time looking through the racks."

While the storefront required some work, Pranschke says she tried to retain much of the building's historic details. High ceilings and original crown moldings remain. Marble from the original facade has been re-purposed as the Boro cash stand.

The look, though, is minimal. Pranschke wants the focus to be on the clothing.

Boro is celebrating its grand opening Saturday, May 20, and will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. A party begins at 5 p.m., with DJs, snacks, refreshments, and adult beverages. It is located at 1440 Gratiot Ave.

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

One man's crusade to save Highland Park's McGregor Library from decay

Ted Strunck wants you to vote for the restoration of the McGregor Public Library in Highland Park. In fact, he wants you to vote once a day every day until midnight on May 12, specifically for a grant from the USA Today's "A Community Thrives" initiative to help reopen the 91-year old institution.

 

Last year, Strunck, a resident of Royal Oak, started a one-man exploratory mission to find out the condition of the library roof, wanting to make sure the building wouldn't fall into total disrepair. As a licensed contractor (and school teacher and musician), Strunck knew a bad roof would be an express train to permanent, irreversible damage and the rapid demise of the iconic landmark. But getting information about the building from the city of Highland Park was difficult.

 

"It was crazy. I called everyday, and either got no answer or a voicemail where I left a message," says Strunck, who is semi-retired. "After 30 calls, I got a callback."

 

His call was returned by Yvette Robinson, director of community and economic development for the city, who agreed to meet with him. And when they met, she let Strunck know that a new roof was put on the building five or six years back. But the mold situation was bad.

 

Knowing the roof was okay, Strunck figured he'd let it go. Instead, he kept thinking about it.

 

That obsession led him to a mold abatement company where he learned about the environmental assessment that had to be done before any work. An assessor agreed to do a walk through with him. But when they met up at the library, Robinson didn't show. Disappointed, Strunck called her afterward; she told him she didn't know why they should meet when the city didn't have any money to have the work done.

 

At this point, Strunck started working with native Detroiter Joe Rashid of ioby, who loved the idea of re-opening the library. They began promoting the project, with a huge response from people who love the building and want to see it reopen. They created a Facebook group to share information.

 

In the meantime, Strunck found out that there had been an environmental assessment done in 2010 that had uncovered lead paint and asbestos.

 

Not one for taking the slow, careful route, Strunck met with Robinson again and asked her directly if she, indeed, really wanted to preserve the building. She did.

 

When Rashid and Strunck heard about the grant contest through A Community Thrives, which funds ideas and creative solutions to community problems pitched by individuals through video, they decided to apply.

 

They still needed two crucial pieces before they could submit it: 1) a nonprofit fiduciary and 2) the city's approval. Strunck enlisted Upland Hills School in Oxford, where he still teaches part-time, as the fiduciary. He sent the video link to Robinson, and she quickly showed it to the mayor, who approved it. The McGregor Library Preservation project officially entered the contest minutes before deadline on April 12.

 

Success will entirely depend on how many people vote before May 12. Strunck is pounding the pavement to spread the word on social media and in person. He attended a Highland Park City Council meeting three weeks ago and gave his spiel.

 

"I told them, 'I'm here to ask two things: Is Highland Park in favor of helping this library? And can we get information out about voting on this grant?'"

 

The mayor agreed to both. The people present were excited, some even applauded. Others approached him afterward to share their email addresses to have him send the link to vote.

 

"It's the building that I love, that I want to preserve," says Strunck. "That said, it could be a boost to the entire community to get it up and running."

 

Strunck knows that building remediation is just the start of plenty of work and planning needed to reopen the McGregor Library in a town that doesn't have the funds to operate it. But he believes that, with creativity, the project can be sustained.

 

He envisions community workshops, building tours, and a wedding venueperfect with the structure's classical Roman designand a list of other ideas as tall as the full travel mug of coffee that Strunck always seems to be carrying.

 

Humble in his mission, Strunck says, "I guess it just shows what an average Joe can do that has time."

 

Learn more about the effort to restore the McGregor Library here.


This article is part of Michigan Nightlight, a series of stories about the programs and people that positively impact the lives of Michigan kids. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read more in the series here.
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