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Media technology school to open in former police precinct building in Southwest Detroit

Located near the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, the old Detroit Police Department Third Precinct building has seen some creative adaptive reuses since the DPD left in the 2000s. Detroit Farm and Garden, a landscaping, farming, and gardening supply store, currently occupies the back of the building and surrounding lot.

555 Gallery rented the front of the building for a few years, converting the station and its jail cells into an art gallery. That gallery has since left and, after a period of vacancy, a new tenant has signed a ten-year lease for the front section of the old precinct at the corner or 21st Street and Vernor Highway, a building owned by Southwest Solutions.

The next tenant will be the Detroit School of Digital Technology (DSDT), a post-secondary school focused on 21st century media technologies, including video, graphic design, 3D printing, and coding. Already state-licensed and awaiting a pending national accreditation approval, DSDT students will soon be able to apply for Pell Grants and other financial aid programs.

DSDT, which is hoping for an early-October opening, will offer associate degree and other certificate programs. The school is a subsidiary of Astute Artistry, a fashion, film, and makeup trade school located in suburban Berkley.

Jamie Kothe, DSDT school director and CEO, says that the school is geared toward professionals currently unhappy with their work situations, as well as young adults not wanting to spend the money on traditional four-year university programs. Kothe also hopes to offer the space to local community groups as a sort of computer library. Freelance professionals will be able to rent equipment from DSDT.

Kothe found the space as a result of the Motor City Match contest, which connected her with landlord Southwest Solutions. In a subsequent round of Motor City Match, Kothe won a $50,000 grant. "I've met so many people that have helped me get this far," says Kothe.

She started transforming the space in December of 2015, often locking herself in at night to clean and paint the more than 7,000 sq. ft. first floor. Now it's outfitted with state-of-the-art media technologies, including dozens of Apple desktop computers, several 3D printers, and a DaVinci Resolve control board for video and image editing.

The building retains much of its original character. The old cell block is still there, each of the 21 cells now individual computer stations. But Kothe is still debating what to do with the rest of the space. A second floor is empty and unfinished, including an old locker room and basketball court, the latter of which may be converted into a conference room, events space, or art gallery. The basement contains numerous mysterious cubby holes, a utility room well-suited for students' horror film sets, and the old shooting range, which Kothe hopes to one day turn into an old fashioned movie theater.

Detroit School of Digital Technology is hosting a grand opening and open house this Thursday, Sept. 15 from 5 to 10 p.m. Tours, entertainment, refreshments, and giveaways are planned. It is open to the public.

Detroit School of Digital Technology is located at 1759 W. 21st St.

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

Motor City Match completes first year of programming, 11 more businesses awarded grants

Detroit continues to grow its base of entrepreneurs through its Motor City Match program, awarding 11 more grants ranging from $15,000 to $75,000 to area businesses. The awards, announced July 20, complete the fourth round of Motor City Match, marking one full year for the quarterly program.

That pipeline of entrepreneurs, as Detroit Economic Growth Corporation CEO Rodrick Miller calls it, consists largely of Detroiters. According to figures released by Motor City Match, 64 percent of MCM winning businesses are owned by Detroiters, 72 percent are minority-owned, and 68 percent are woman-owned.

In the program's first year, Motor City Match has awarded $2 million in grants to 40 small businesses, leveraging over $13 million in total investment in the city.

This round of grant winners include:
  • Twisted Roots, a beauty supply retailer in Eastern Market
  • Block Party, a building on Livernois that will house two restaurants and the Live6 Alliance
  • Detroit Vegan Soul, a West Village restaurant opening a second location on Grand River
  • Norma G's, a Caribbean cuisine food truck opening a brick-and-mortar location on East Jefferson
  • Live Cycle Delight, a cycling studio opening in West Village
  • Amaze-Enjoyment, an early childhood center at 20067 John R Street
  • Guadalajara #2, a butcher shop expanding into a full-service facility in Southwest
  • Lil Brilliant Mindz, an east side daycare and Head Start facility
  • Beau Bien Fine Foods, an artisanal jam, fruit preserve, chutney, and mustard maker expanding in Eastern Market
  • Meta Physical Wellness Center, an affordable holistic spa opening in Corktown
  • Third Wave Music, a music instrument retailer opening in the Forest Arms building in Midtown
"These are the kinds of businesses that help to create complete neighborhoods where people want to live," says Mayor Mike Duggan. "Motor City Match is helping dozens of Detroit entrepreneurs live their dream owning their own business while being a real part of our city’s neighborhood comeback."

In addition to the 11 businesses awarded grants, seven others will receive free design and architectural services, 26 have been connected with landlords, and 50 more will receive free business planning support.

The next round of the Motor City Match application process begins Sep. 1 and closes Oct. 1.

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

Barbers and landscapers join forces to transform vacant city lots

To work as a barber or a landscaper can mean a variety of things. To some, it can mean nothing more than a job, punch in and trim some hair, cut some lawns, and go home. To others, it's more than a job but a craft, dutifully studied and skillfully executed. They're the ones who can elevate these seemingly menial tasks into art.

A flourish to a hair cut or a landscaping job is not that different from one another. It's this idea that has launched The Buzz, an innovative approach to address the city of Detroit's vacant land management issues. The Buzz organizers have partnered local barbers and landscapers to creatively maintain overgrown vacant lots throughout the city.

The Detroit Future City (DFC) Implementation Office is responsible for the program, winning a Knight Cities Challenge grant for its efforts. The DFC Implementation Office has partnered with Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, the East Side Community Network, and the City of Detroit's General Services Department on the project.

"This creative idea of bringing barbers and landscapers together to discuss how popular hair style trends can be used with mowing patterns is another way to beautify some of the city's lots," says Hector Santiago, The Greening of Detroit's workforce development program manager. "The implementation of the designs will provide an interesting and appealing landscape in the neighborhoods."

Over 25 barbers and landscapers met this June to brainstorm and trade ideas for the program, meeting on the east side in Jefferson-Chalmers and the southwest side in Springwells Village. A "mow and show" took place on Monday, July 18 in Springwells Village to showcase what is possible with the program.

This is not the first vacant lot-related program for Detroit Future City. In October 2015, the office released a field guide for Detroiters looking to make use of the vacant lots in their neighborhoods, including transforming unused lots into rain gardens, native butterfly meadows, and more.

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

Motor City Match seeks business and commercial property owners for third round of grants

Detroit entrepreneurs and commercial property owners are once again being encouraged to apply for the city's Motor City Match program. Applications are open for submission March 1-April 1. It's the third round of the program intended to stimulate Detroit's commercial corridors.

There are four major award categories for which business and property owners can apply for a share of $500,000 in grant funding. Each category is designed for business and property owners at different levels of building a business.

The first category is for business plans, which Motor City Match will help entrepreneurs develop. 

The second category seeks to match commercial property owners with business tenants. Buildings must be in good shape and entrepreneurs must have quality business plans or successful track records.

The third category will award architectural design assistance, construction documents, and priority permitting to business and building owners with recently signed leases.

The fourth and final category is for those with signed leases, quality business plans, and bids for building out the space, but who still have to bridge a financial gap. This category awards cash to such applicants.

Motor City Match was launched by Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation in 2015. Roderick Miller, CEO of the DEGC, says in a statement, "After two rounds of Motor City Match awardees, it's clear this program is making an impact in Detroit. From restaurants and retail establishments to service companies and even manufacturing, Motor City Match is growing neighborhood small businesses across the city."

According to officials, the Motor City Mach program has invested $1 million in 20 businesses to date, leveraging an additional $6 million in public and private investment. Motor City Match also points out that 70 percent of the 196 businesses and property owners that have received support are minority owned. Furthermore, two-thirds are from Detroit and half are minority woman-owned businesses.

Visit motorcitymatch.com for details on how to apply.

Disclosure: Model D receives support from Motor City Match to tell stories of small business development in the city's neighborhoods.

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

Placemaking projects seek to re-energize struggling section of Michigan Avenue

A certain block of Michigan Avenue has received some special attention lately with a series of placemaking initiatives that have incorporated public benches, art, and returned citizens to make the area more welcoming to neighborhood residents and more attractive to potential businesses. The project will be completed in the spring with the installation of a pocket park.

The joint "Mi Town" Pilot and P(ART)icipate! programs are seeking to re-energize a commercial strip on the south side of Michigan Avenue between Junction and Lockwood streets. While blighted, the surrounding area does contain a number of notable businesses, including Hazel's Place lounge, El Barzon Restaurante, and Detroit Moped Works. The moped shop is the only one of the three located in the footprint of the "Mi Town" Pilot and P(ART)icipate! projects.

As part of the "Mi Town" Pilot project, public benches that incorporate planters and bike racks were built and placed in front of Detroit Moped Works. As part of the P(ART)icipate! project, returned citizens painted a mural and window installations, with aims to mitigate both blight and perceptions of returned citizens. A pocket park will be completed as the weather warms back up.

The project consists of three partners: the American Institute of Architects Detroit Urban Priorities Committee (UPC), the Michigan Avenue Business Association, and the design firm Acute E. A number of other organizations helped with various components of the project, including Detroit's Department of Planning and Development, the University of Michigan's Prison Creative Arts Project, and Southwest Solutions.

For UPC, the project was an opportunity to expand on earlier work in the area. In 2014, the group had created a visioning document for Michigan Avenue between Martin Road and I-75. It was also an opportunity to build something. Having previously assisted in a Hart Plaza design competition and pop-ups along the East Jefferson corridor, "Mi Town" Pilot and P(ART)icipate! were something that had more direct and physical results. They were, as UPC chair and Acute E owner Réna Bradley puts it, something for UPC to dig their teeth into.

"Overall, it's great to see people come and work together," says Bradley. "And it's great to do something that has life beyond what we already did."

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

2016 will be a year of big improvements to Detroit's cycling infrastructure

A new report released by the Detroit Greenways Coalition highlights five bike and trail projects that the bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group is most looking forward to in 2016. According to the DGC, Detroit will see a number of improvements to its cycling infrastructure in 2016, including the official completion of the Dequindre Cut, upgraded biking conditions along Cass Avenue, and the introduction of the much-anticipated public bike share program. The report also hints at an indoor velodrome that could be in Detroit's future.

Detroit Greenways Coalition works with both public and private entities, including city and state governments, and an array of foundations, to improve the quality of non-motorized transportation and recreation in Detroit. Todd Scott is the group's executive director.

Highlights from the DGC report include the following:
 
  • The Link Detroit project will officially be completed in 2016. Link Detroit connects a number of communities, from Hamtramck to Midtown to Eastern Market to the Riverfront, through a series of bike lanes and the Dequindre Cut.
  • Biking from Midtown to downtown should prove easier in 2016 as improved biking conditions along Cass Avenue are completed this year. Upgrades are designed, in part, to discourage bikers from using Woodward Avenue and the accompanying safety concerns of the M-1 Rail.
  • Automated counters will be installed along the Dequindre Cut and Cass to provide the DGC with real-time data as they look to better understand and utilize bicycle and pedestrian trends throughout those corridors. 
  • 2016 could also be the year that a public bike share program is introduced in Detroit. Though nothing is definite, the DGC says the Detroit Downtown Partnership is hopeful that the first phase of the program will open this year.
  • Bike lanes along a four-mile stretch of Livernois Avenue are being installed by the city of Detroit and will run from Grand River Avenue to W. Vernor Highway. Pop-up bike lanes, intended for viability tests, will also be installed along Livernois from McNichols to 8 Mile Road.
More information on the Detroit Greenways Coalition and its top projects for 2016 can be found here.

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

Retail Bootcamp complete, Detroit startups work to establish permanent locations

Five Detroit start-ups are receiving a financial push from their alma mater, TechTown's 2015 Retail Boot Camp program. Nearly $40,000 will be split among the five graduates of the entrepreneur training program in an effort to help them make the transition to brick-and-mortar locations.

The businesses include a music store, ice cream shop, handmade Indian crafts store, creamery, and resale/vintage clothing boutique. According to TechTown, each business is "on-the-verge." Each received a kickstart package that includes up to $7,500 in subsidies that can be used toward a permanent location, pop-up location, inventory, and/or a point-of-sale system.

Alana Rodriguez hopes to use the money to open Mama Coo's Boutique in her Southwest Detroit neighborhood. She has previously sold vintage/resale clothing as well as personally handmade jewelry and crafts at the Detroit Institute of Arts and Eastern Market.

Either West Village, East Jefferson, or West Rivertown will land an outdoor goods store as Sarah White looks to open her MOR & Co. on the city's east side. In a previous interview with Model D, White said that a lot of thought goes into selecting her inventory. "When I look at the design of something, it's not just what does it looks like, but how does it work? Where did it come from? Who made it and what's their story? How am I going to sell it, and what does someone do with it after it's done being used? All of those are important components," she says.

Third Wave Music, a 2014 Hatch finalist, is the recipient of one of the 2015 Kickstart Awards, which will be used toward opening the musical instrument store in the soon-to-be renovated Forest Arms apartment building in Midtown. Look for Third Wave to make its debut in April 2016.

Chris Reilly's Reilly Craft Creamery will use the money toward a pop-up in a yet-to-be disclosed location somewhere in the city in the summer of 2016. The creamery gets its products from Michigan organic farms.

Another Eastern Market vendor, Ojas Alkolkar, hopes to open Tribalfare in either downtown, Midtown, or Corktown. In addition to selling one-of-a-kind, handcrafted goods from her native India, Alkolkar will also offer Bollywood dance lessons, yoga, and other community events at her eventual location.

Writer: MJ Galbraith

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

Placemaking projects continue popping up outside greater downtown

Seven placemaking projects, one for each city council district, are being given a boost by Community Development Advocates of Detroit. With the financial support of the Kresge Foundation, CDAD is spreading $42,000 across the city, granting the money to projects addressing the needs and challenges of their neighborhoods.
 
District 1: In Brightmoor, a house is being converted to provide meeting space for the community. Outside, a learning area will feature native plants, walking tours, and an outdoor seating area with a fire pit.

District 2: A portable artists tent is being installed in Palmer Park, where it's hoped that the addition will stimulate arts programming beyond the Palmer Park Arts Fair.

District 3: Renovations and improvements are planned for a pocket park on Keating Street near East State Fair in the Lindale Gardens neighborhood.

District 4: A mini-fitness park is to be built in an East English Village vacant lot, featuring stationary fitness equipment and a small track.

District 5: At the Peace Zone in District 5, improved seating and murals will be added to the existing area. It is part of the Peace Zones for Life project, which aims to counter neighborhood violence.

District 6: At Garage Cultural, a community arts hub at Livernois and Otis, enhancements to the pre-existing space include a mini-skate park, community stage, market, and outdoor movie area.

District 7: Littlefield Playfield in D7 will receive markers and sculptures acknowledging the neighborhood groups that work to maintain and improve the park.

Both CDAD and Kresge stress the importance of investing in the neighborhoods outside of the city core. CDAD executive director Sarida Scott says that it's projects like these that keep Detroit strong and vibrant. Bryan Hogle, Kresge Foundation program officer, agrees.

"For the city to succeed, neighborhoods have to succeed."

Writer: MJ Galbraith

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

Detroit groups raise funds for placemaking projects, from opera to sunflower living rooms

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation has added two more Detroit placemaking projects to its Public Spaces Community Places initiative. An events venue in southwest Detroit and a community garden in a northwest playground will receive sizable grants from the MEDC should each of them meet crowdfunding goals.

Several blocks west of Clark Park is 1620 Morrell St., an abandoned house stripped of much of its infrastructure. It's the focus of House Opera, an arts and performance group hoping to transform the derelict structure into a community space and venue called House Opera | Opera House.

House Opera is attempting to raise $10,000 through the Michigan-based crowdfunding site Patronicity. If successful, the arts and performance group will receive an additional $10,000 from the MEDC.

A huge transformation is planned for the building, including structural and roof repairs, a custom Tyvek wrap, and a 25-foot-high open stage. One of the events planned for the space is the inaugural Sigi Fest by Afrotopia.

House Opera has until July 1 to raise the $10,000.

On the city's northwest side, near the intersection of Seven Mile and Evergreen, is Votrobeck Playground. A number of organizations have banded together to form It Takes a Village Garden, which aims to raise $27,500 through crowdfunding in an attempt to receive a matching grant from the MEDC.

Among the many improvements planned for the park include a bioswale and rain garden, butterfly garden, gourd trellis, meadow maze, island hopping playground, and sunflower living room. The MEDC says that the project "supports families and seniors in their move towards improved health and economic independence." It's the final phase of a comprehensive neighborhood rehabilitation project in that neighborhood.

It Takes a Village Garden has until July 16 to raise the $27,500.

These two projects join two other Detroit-based Public Spaces Community Places initiatives currently ongoing in their crowdfunding efforts. The Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation is hoping to beautify its Little League baseball diamonds while the Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative attempts to raise funds necessary for making upgrades to a busy bus stop at Gratiot and Conner.

Writer: MJ Galbraith

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

Pop-ups, bike racks, and daffodils: Placemaking on Springwells Street

In "placemaking," a trendy word for creating environments friendly to community activities and human pursuits, sometimes the final product is less important than the acts themselves. Yes, the 6,500 tulips and daffodils planted along Springwells Street and poised for their spring arrival should make the street sing. Murals, painted last year by groups of young people from the neighborhood and with permission and input from property owners, have helped the community express its character. And a new pocket park-- nicknamed  People's Park by area residents -- gives neighbors a place to gather and enjoy the ice cream from Family Treats that they've been buying for decades.

Flowers, public art, reclaimed and reactivated abandoned lots -- all great things and all recent placemaking initiatives organized and executed by Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, a community nonprofit that focuses on the neighborhood of Springwells Village. They, along with community partners like the Southwest Detroit Business Association and the Springdale-Woodmere Block Club, have worked to accomplish some pretty effective placemaking goals.

But as Community Development Manager Tiffany Tononi talks about the different programs, what's clear is that when neighbors see each other on the street, planting tulip bulbs or clearing a trash-strewn lot, the ensuing conversations on the sidewalk are just as important as the end result. That's what makes a place, when neighbors are engaged with each other as much as they are the physical neighborhood.

Tononi says UNI has focused so much of its efforts on Springwells Street because it hasn't received the same sort of attention as the other main drag in the neighborhood, Vernor Highway. While business owners on Vernor recently celebrated new streetlights, Springwells Street businesses weren't so fortunate. The placemaking programming of the last few years has been a way for UNI to brighten up the street without the millions of dollars in fundraising it takes for something like the Vernor streetlight program.

"We want to shore up the edges while Vernor gets all the attention," says Tononi. "This business community is extremely important and the more we can support their everyday investment, the better."

It's not just beautification projects that UNI has organized. They've been gathering people into "cash mobs," where people meet at a different neighborhood bar every month, supporting local businesses and introducing each other to new people and places.

UNI is working with one of those corner bars, Revolution Lounge, to host a weekly pop-up dinner series. This May and June, Revolution will host a rotation of three chefs for a different dining experience every Sunday. Two of the three chefs, Esteban Castro of Esto's Garage at Cafe D'Mongo's and Luiz Garza of El Asador, grew up in the Springwells neighborhood.

Work on the pocket park continues, including the recent installation of four benches. Two bike racks will soon be installed on the street. UNI is also the group behind Southwest Rides, a bike shop and community space that offers education and employment programming to young people in the neighborhood.

Source: Tiffany Tononi, Community Development Manager at Urban Neighborhood Initiatives
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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

New commercial real estate tours to connect small businesses with storefronts throughout Detroit

Deciding where to locate a new business is a monumental decision, one that will often determine a business's fate.

That's why the Build Institute has partnered with the Detroit Experience Factory to offer a series of monthly tours that will take prospective shop owners through a number of neighborhoods, introducing them to landlords of available properties, neighborhood officials and representatives, and current business owners nearby. Providing historical and cultural context will also be a focus.

It's called Open Shop, and the series of commercial real estate tours is a way for Build and DXF to play matchmakers between new businesses and area landlords and property owners. The first Open Shop is April 18th from 1 to 4 p.m. and takes place in Hamtramck. Additional tours are scheduled for the following months, including commercial districts in Southwest Detroit, Jefferson East, Northwest Detroit, and along the Woodward Corridor.

Jessica Meyer is director of programs with Build Institute and helped develop the tour. It initially grew out of the requests of a number of Build grads who wanted to open their business in a storefront but didn't know where to start. Even knowing the neighborhood or commercial corridor in which they want to open isn't enough.

"It's difficult to get a rundown of what's available where and who owns what," says Meyer. "This is a great opportunity to introduce people to each other."

The Hamtramck Downtown Development Authority jumped at the chance to be the first Open Shop destination. The DDA will introduce tour-takers to people like the Economic Development Director and others who can offer help in opening a business in Hamtramck. The DDA is also offering to cover the Hamtramck business registration fee for the first two businesses from the tour to move to the city, a value of $100 each. 

In addition to meeting landlords and pre-existing business owners, the tour will also stop at Hamtramck Historical Museum and Tekla Vintage, both graduates of Build programming. Tickets are available online.

Source: Jessica Meyer, director of programs at Build Institute
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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

New documentary film follows struggle for community benefits agreement in Delray

Photo and audio exhibitionsmurals, and now a documentary film are ways in which people are keeping record of one Detroit neighborhood's fight to secure a community benefits agreement in the construction of an international bridge. "Living with Industry: Detroit, Michigan" tells the story of the people of Delray, a neighborhood on the city's southwest shore that is known as much for pollution and abandonment as it is anything else. It's also the place where the United States and Canada look to place their New International Trade Crossing.

According to Community Development Advocates of Detroit, Delray is a neighborhood that experiences over 10,000 trucks in daily traffic and is host to the largest single-site waste water treatment plant in the United States, an oil refinery, and a steel-making facility. In spite of this, there are still 2,500 or so people that live in the neighborhood. Even with the construction of a bridge that is estimated to displace 700 people, the majority of Delray's residents will remain.

The people in the film who are fighting for a community benefits agreement are fighting for the Detroiters who won't receive buyouts from the government to uproot and leave their homes and community. As Simone Sagovac, project director for the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition, says in the film, "One of the most important things about this bridge project and what is happening to Delray is that residents are recognized -- that their needs are there just like any other community."

The film itself comes from the Community Development Advocates of Detroit and their community storytelling project. It's a project that is focusing on the neighborhoods outside of downtown Detroit. "Living with Industry: Detroit, Michigan" was produced by filmmaker Logan Stark and CDAD public policy and communications intern Troy Anderson and is available online.

Writer: MJ Galbraith

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It's only a matter of time before water taxis and trolley buses come to the riverfront

A multi-modal transit system along the Detroit River is one step closer to reality. Plans call for a water taxi and trolley bus system that would initially run from Belle Isle to the Ambassador Bridge. Depending on international developments, the transit system could expand to include ferry service between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy commissioned Freshwater Transit Solutions to develop the system. The conservancy is now preparing presentations for community partners as they seek to secure funding for the project. Will Smith, CFO of the conservancy, characterizes the water taxi/trolley bus service as a must-have for connecting residents in city neighborhoods to the riverfront.

"It's something that we'll be implementing, we're just not sure when," says Smith. "We're not going to build something we can't take care of. We'll get our ducks in a row and it will happen at some point soon, even if it's in phases."

In its plans, Freshwater Transit evaluated the feasibility of the project, how to implement it, and how it will impact local residents and businesses. The basics of the plan have a 40- to 50-foot water taxi with a 75- to 100-person capacity travelling along the Detroit River. Trolley buses would both travel along the riverfront and make connections to nearby neighborhoods in places like Southwest Detroit and the East Jefferson Corridor.

"This isn't going to be just a little system like a Disney ride," says Tom Choske, President of Freshwater Transit. "We want something that has wider value and makes the riverfront more accessible to everyone."

Both Smith and Choske expect the system to roll out in phases, expanding its range as time goes by. One hope is that the system will put pressure on Canada to build a docking facility similar to the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority's, a building designed with international customs operations in mind. Once a Canadian equivalent is built in Windsor, the transit system could then expand to include international ferry service between the two cities, says Choske.

While there is no official beginning date for the transit system, Smith says the conservancy could run some demonstrations this summer to see how it works. But for now, it's about finding the funding.

It will be another busy summer for the conservancy as it prepares to celebrate the opening of the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center, an extension of the Dequindre Cut, and adding more events to the RiverWalk, including the recently announced move of the Downtown Hoedown to the West RiverWalk expansion. Now that they've passed their plans to the conservancy, Freshwater Transit is focusing efforts on a crowdfunding campaign to promote the Regional Transit Authority.

Source: Will Smith, CFO of Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, Tom Choske, President of Freshwater Transit Solutions
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Detroit leads pack with 25 finalists for Knight Cities Challenge awards

Finalists have been announced for the first ever Knight Cities Challenge. Of the 26 cities eligible to enter the contest, Detroit is by far the best represented. Knight selected 126 finalists and Detroit claims nearly a fifth of the total finalist pool with 25 proposed projects. 25 other cities, including Duluth, Miami, and Philadelphia, account for the remaining 101 finalists.

The Knight Cities Challenge is a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation contest, one that will split $5 million in grants among winning projects that address how cities can attract and retain residents, how they can boost economic activity for everyone, and how to better connect and involve citizens in their collective future. Applications closed Nov. 14, 2014.

"The challenge has introduced us to a host of new ideas and people who want to take hold of the future of their cities," says Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives. "Through these new connections we hope to grow a network of civic innovators to take on community challenges and build solutions together."

The 25 ideas from Detroit were submitted by individuals and organizations alike. Graig Donnelly's Border Talks proposes to create an actual physical space that encourages Detroiters and Grosse Pointe Parkers to engage with one another.

In a proposal submitted by Jan Shimshock on behalf of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, Information Supergreenway would install continuous wifi Internet access along the RiverWalk, Dequindre Cut, and Eastern Market.

Bus Riders Need to Be Engaged Too, submitted by Jacob Rayford Jr., would place information agents on public transit to answer questions about the city and city transportation.

The winners of the contest will receive a portion of $5 million and will be announced in March 2015. Over 7,000 proposals were initially submitted to the Knight Cities Challenge.

A full list of finalists with project descriptions can be found here.

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

Detroit Greenways Coalition leads non-motorized charge into 2015 with bevy of bike-related projects

The nonprofit group Detroit Greenways Coalition has released its Top 5 Detroit bike and trail projects for 2015 and it's looking to be a very good year for Detroiters who enjoy the outdoors. According to the DGC, the city's bicyclists, joggers, and walkers will see miles of new pathways added, current routes improved, and safer road conditions in 2015.

Detroit Greenways Coalition is led by Executive Director Todd Scott. The group works with both public and private entities, including city and state governments and an array of foundations, to improve the quality of non-motorized transportation and recreation in Detroit.

Highlights from the DGC report include the following:
 
  • Bicyclists and pedestrians can expect the Link Detroit project to be finished by summer. Link Detroit extends the Dequindre Cut to Eastern Market and connects Eastern Market to Midtown and Hamtramck with surface street bike lanes.
  • The DGC helped secure $4.5 million in grants which it expects the city of Detroit to use to purchase an 8.3 mile stretch of abandoned railroad this year. That property will then be converted into a bike path and greenway, filling in a significant gap of the Inner Circle Greenway, the DGC's 26 mile-long circular pathway that rolls through Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park, and Dearborn.
  • The almost-finished Conner Creek Greenway, which travels northward from the riverfront at Maheras Gentry Park, will see the completion of an extension from Conner Street at E. Outer Drive all the way into Warren, where it merges with Van Dyke Avenue and ends at Stephens Road. The greenway is to be part of Governor Snyder's Showcase Trail, a system of paths, trails, and bike lanes that reaches from Belle Isle to Wisconsin.
  • The first protected bike lanes in the state are set to be installed along six blocks of East Jefferson Avenue between Alter Road and Lakewood Street. Efforts by groups including East Jefferson, Inc. are underway to extend those bike lanes to the Belle Isle entrance.
  • Cass Avenue is to receive bike lanes from W. Grand Boulevard to Lafayette, which will then zig zag to the RiverWalk. Public bike repair stations and air pumps will be installed along the way.
More information on the Detroit Greenways Coalition and its top projects for 2015 can be found here.

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