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Two new placemaking projects launched on city's east and west sides

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is once again supporting Detroit placemaking projects through its matching grant program, this time pledging a total of $65,000 if two projects can meet their crowdfunding goals.

On the city's far east side, a group is planning on renovating Skinner Playfield. Located adjacent to Denby High School, the new Skinner Park will receive significant upgrades if organizers are able to raise $50,000 through a Patonicity crowdfunding campaign. If $50,000 is raised by May 10, MEDC will contribute an additional $50,000 to the project.

According to organizers, Skinner Playfield isn't much more than a playscape, walking track, and some scattered apple trees. Among the planned improvements include two basketball courts, a volleyball court, a pickleball court, a football-and-soccer field, urban gardens, and a performance pavilion complete with a water catchment system to irrigate said gardens.

The revitalized park is the vision of Detroit non-profit Life Remodeled and Denby High School students themselves. Says Life Remodeled CEO Chris Lambert, "I only wish I had a park this awesome in my neighborhood, but what excites me even more is the fact that Denby High School students designed it."

On the west side of the city, in Grandmont Rosedale, organizers are hoping to raise funds for a wayfinding path called NeighborWay. By successfully crowdfunding $15,000 by May 20, also through a Patronicity crowdfunding campaign, the MEDC will contribute an additional $15,000 to the project.

NeighborWay will connect points of interest, like parks, gardens, and public art installations, throughout the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhoods. Money will also be used to enhance three existing sites into community hubs.

"Connecting a community in an interactive way gives residents and visitors a renewed appreciation for the area," says MSHDA Executive Director Kevin Elsenheimer.

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

Detroit outpaces rest of southeastern Michigan for new residential unit permits

In prior decades, Detroit had very little new building construction. Not anymore, especially for residential units.

According to a report recently released by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), Detroit issued more permits for new residential units than any other city in southeastern Michigan last year.

There were 913 residential units permitted in Detroit in 2015, more than double the second-highest city on the list, Ann Arbor, at 405 units. Canton, the only other city in Wayne County to make the top ten, came in third with 397 residential units permitted.

Of the 913 residential units permitted in Detroit, 97 percent were apartment and loft units. Broke down further, there were 882 apartment units, 17 condominium units, and 14 single family homes permitted in 2015.

According to the report, "Gains continued in apartment construction due to pent-up demand for rental housing from young professionals and downsizing households, low vacancy rates, and a growing job market."

Still, it's not all rosy in Wayne County. According to this Detroit Free Press article from March 28, 2016, new census numbers revealed that the county lost 6,673 residents between July 1, 2014 and July 1, 2015, the second highest population decline in the country. Only Cook County, Illinois lost more during that period. Though second place is better than first, which is what Wane County occupied for the previous eight years.

Detroit also far exceeded any other city in demolitions, razing 4,667 residential units in 2015.

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

Move over food trucks, a flower truck is coming to Detroit

For all of the stories about new businesses that have either opened in or moved to Detroit over the past few years, some of the more familiar refrains include pop-ups and food trucks. These relatively inexpensive venues provide entrepreneurs an opportunity to do business without the up-front costs of outfitting a permanent location. One local entrepreneur is taking those concepts to create a uniquely Detroit service in the process.

Lisa Waud owns Pot & Box, a fresh floral and horticultural service with studios in Detroit and Ann Arbor. She has purchased an old ice cream truck and, with the help of a $10,000 NEIdeas grant, is customizing the truck to become a mobile floral retailer. The flower truck -- nicknamed Scoops, a result of its previous life -- has already scheduled three stops throughout the week and Waud plans on adding more. Waud will be selling flowers and plants in front of Shinola in Midtown every Wednesday, Astro Coffee in Corktown every Thursday, and Red Hook in West Village every Friday.

Waud says the truck provides her the opportunity to sell flowers without the cost and risk of opening up a permanent shop. With the flower truck, Waud can more accurately target her customers.

"I'm so excited to have this truck," says Waud. "As small business owners, we're in front of our computers a lot. I can't wait to talk to and meet customers and be out in the world."

Pot & Box has largely been an event-based service, outfitting weddings, dinners, and other occasions. But Waud also offers daily delivery and weekly subscription services. Her flowers are sourced almost exclusively from American farms, and once warm weather finally comes to Michigan, she'll focus more and more on Detroit-grown plants and flowers. 

Waud is also known for creating the Flower House art installation in Hamtramck.

The flower truck makes its debut on Friday, April 22, in front of the West Village location of the Red Hook coffee shop.

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

Church in Midtown restores historic building to former glory

A new church, in a very old building, is beginning to take root in the heart of Midtown. It's called Mosaic Midtown Church, and church leaders have taken on the rather large undertaking of restoring a historic building that dates back as far as the 1880s.

Located on Alexandrine Street, between Woodward and Cass Avenues, the church rests in the shadow of another historic restoration project, the Strathmore Apartments. Once completed, the restoration process will leave the church exterior largely as is, save for some badly needed cosmetic touch-ups, with the interior receiving the bulk of the work.

Though another church held services at the building up until Mosaic church leaders purchased it for $1 million in September 2015, the building was badly in need of repairs. Mosaic is investing an additional $1.5 million in renovating the 17,800 sq. ft. church, maintaining much of its traditional charm while simultaneously bringing it into the 21st century. The floors, windows, pews, and pipe organ will be restored, alongside installation of new HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems. Structural improvements to the walls and roof will also be completed. 

While a few monitors will be placed throughout the sanctuary, they're largely for practical reasons and not to emulate the theater-like settings of modern mega-churches. Pastor Mick Veach, who left Stony Creek Community Church of Washington, Mich. last year to start Mosaic, says that structurally-significant beams may block the views of some in the congregation, just like the obstructed view seats at old Tiger Stadium. The monitors will help alleviate that situation.

Many of the churches in Midtown don't own their own buildings, says Pastor Veach, but instead rent spaces for Sunday services. And rent can get expensive in Midtown these days, not just for apartment-dwellers and businesses, but churches, too. The pastor believes that to truly make an impact in the community, Mosaic had to put their roots down. It's a big investment, but Mosaic believes it to be an important one.

"There's a lack of trust, says Pastor Veach. "A lot of folks have had bad experiences with a church because the church, in some regards, has taken advantage of their authority, or the church is only open Sunday mornings, or the church only wants money. We believe that in the need to have a physical presence, to say that we're here long term, that we're here to collaborate, to be a blessing to the neighborhood, to join everybody else here. And the way to do that is to have an actual physical building."

According to Veach, Mosaic is a multi-denominational church, made up of different ethnicities of various financial means. They've been meeting at St. Patrick Senior Center nearby while waiting for renovations to be completed. Mosaic will continue a relationship with St. Patrick, as well as foster a partnership with the Children's Center across Alexandrine. Pastor Veach is in dialog with Mariners Inn and he says he plans on reaching out to the nearby Detroit School of Arts, too. The goal is to have a presence in the neighborhood not just on Sundays, but every day of the week.

The building itself is an interesting one. The original church, built in 1884, is far off the street, located in the back of today's building. But several additions have brought it closer to the sidewalk. Many groups have used the church over the last 130 years, including its longest tenant, the Masons. Church officials say there's a number of Mason-centric peculiarities about the building, including a secret room complete with a mural featuring Mason iconography painted on the ceiling. A stained-glass window of the Eastern Star, also a feature of the Masons, is going to be removed and gifted to an former octogenarian congregant of the old Eastern Star Temple that was once located there.

Mosaic Midtown Church is scheduled to open in June 2016. It is located at 80 W. Alexandrine St. in Detroit.

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

Wheelhouse Detroit to open new bike shop in downtown Hamtramck

Wheelhouse Detroit, the popular bike shop on Detroit's RiverWalk, is opening a second location in May on Joseph Campau in downtown Hamtramck. At 2,600 sq. ft., the second Wheelhouse will be larger than the riverfront location, allowing owner Kelli Kavanaugh to offer more bicycles, accessories, and active wear. The Hamtramck location will also feature a robust service department.

"We see the two Wheelhouse locations complementing one another," Kavanaugh says. "The Riverfront spot will continue to be the anchor for Greater Downtown residents and workers and will serve as the primary spot for tours and rentals. Our Hamtramck location offers more retail space to increase our inventory of bicycles, accessories, gear, clothing and a large service department, while serving Hamtramck and surrounding Detroit neighborhoods."

Kavanaugh says she'll highlight American-made products at the store, including the Detroit Bikes line. Other bikes carried include Sun Bicycles, Kona Bikes, and Brooklyn Bicycle Co., among others. Accessories include products from Green Guru, Chrome Industries, and Timbuk2.

Wheelhouse is a store of many distinctions. The National Bicycle Dealers Association named Wheelhouse Detroit one of the best bike shops in the United States in 2015. It's the only woman-owned bike shop in metro Detroit. Wheelhouse will also be the only bike shop in the city of Hamtramck. Kavanaugh sits on the board of the National Bicycle Dealers Association, is the ride director for Tour de Troit, and is a former Model D development news editor.

Kavanaugh has tapped Christian-Hurttienne Architects to help with the design and buildout of a storefront in a building owned by John Grossi of Amicci's Pizza. Invest Detroit’s Urban Retail Loan Fund and Technical Assistance Grant contributed to the expansion.

The second Wheelhouse Detroit is located at 9401 Joseph Campau St. in Hamtramck.

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

New hotel in Midtown offers sustainable stays and intimate access to the city

A unique hotel opened in Midtown recently, changing overnight options for visitors from both near and far.

The El Moore Lodge is a triple bottom line business, meaning that its been designed to meet social and ecological demands in addition to traditional financial ones. The building itself, built in 1898, was extensively renovated to meet the high sustainability standards of its owners, including a geothermal heating and cooling system and a super-insulated building envelope. The group behind the building, the Brennan family, is also responsible for the nearby Green Garage.

There are eleven hotel rooms and twelve apartment units at the El Moore. The apartments, located on floors two, three, and four, opened in June 2015, and the Lodge opened in January 2016. This staggered opening was by design, says Jason Peet, manager of both the El Moore Lodge and residences. The group wanted to give residents time to establish themselves as a community before taking in travelers.

But intermingling of residents and guests is also by design -- a parlor on the main floor acts as a common room for the whole building, facilitating interactions between long and short-term tenants. Visitors staying at the Lodge will have access to people familiar with the city.

"So many people that are traveling to Detroit right now are coming for the right reasons. They're very interested in what's happening here," says Peet. "So we wanted to provide our guests the opportunity to connect to that right away as opposed to arriving at a hotel, getting checked into the hotel, and saying, okay, now we gotta go find stuff, let's get in our car and find the Heidelberg Project. Here, even when you first set your bag down, you may meet a resident. The second you're here, you're doing what you came for."

Among the eleven hotel rooms are four different types of units. Two hostel-style rooms, one for men and one for women, occupy the garden level of the building. On the main floor are the parkview rooms, a more traditional hotel-style room with individual the, including the Casey Kasem room, named for the famous radio DJ who grew up next door. Also on the main floor is a residential suite, designed for extended stays, its full kitchen complete with baking tins for cupcakes and muffins.

The roof of the El Moore Lodge is a story in itself. Four "urban cabins" have been built on the roof, outfitted with unobstructed views of the city from the private patios. Their designs are unique, using materials reclaimed only from the El Moore renovations. Local designers and builders have provided much of the labor.

The El Moore Lodge is located at 624 W. Alexandrine St. in Detroit.

All photos by Marvin Shaouni.

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.

Nonprofit landscape architecture group to debut market garden in Penrose neighborhood this spring

Detroit's Penrose neighborhood is set to see another development in the years-long Penrose Market Garden project. With the help of a 2015 Kresge Innovation Projects: Detroit grant, non-profit landscape architect group GrowTown and the Arab American and Chaldean Council will finish the construction and subsequent planting of a market garden and the establishment of nutrition programming this spring.

The Penrose Market Garden project is multi-layered, one that will operate as a functioning urban farm while also serving to provide project leaders key information about viable urban farming practices in the city of Detroit. Beth Hagenbuch, co-founder of GrowTown, says that for any sort of urban farm or garden project to be successful, it must be designed to be site-specific. Cookie cutter agriculture just wouldn't work.

"The idea of the site-specific concept comes from our landscape architecture backgrounds," says Hagenbuch. "Landscapes might seem almost invisible to some. Every time we step outside we can forget how much the environment affects us. But landscapes affect our bodies, our hearts, our blood pressure, our mental health, and much more."

Hagenbuch, who designed the award-winning Lafayette Greens garden in downtown Detroit, and partner Ken Weikal explain how the Penrose neighborhood is characterized by a sea of 30-foot-by-100-foot lots, providing a different set of opportunities and challenges than the garden downtown. There was a challenge, for instance, in obtaining adjacent lots from different owners. Spread different parts of the farm too far apart and it just might not work.

Once the market is up and running, Weikal says that the team will be analyzing data to determine the metrics for what it takes for an urban farmer to be self-sufficient. They are looking to determine how much space and how many crops are necessary for an urban farm to be economically viable once the grant money goes away.

In addition to the market garden and nutritional programming this spring, the team plan on using apartments above the art house and the farm house to house on-site growers. A community space will host art classes, barbecues, community meetings, and other events.

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

February development news round-up: Breweries, apartments, vacant lots, and more

It's been another busy month for development news in the city. Let's catch up on some of the biggest stories from the past four weeks.

Granite City opened its latest restaurant and brewery location in the Renaissance Center earlier this month. It's the largest location for the chain eatery and on-site brewery, which first opened in St. Cloud, Minnesota in 1999.

Financing for the Scott, a 199-unit apartment building in the Brush Park neighborhood, was finalized earlier this month. Two weeks after, the Scott announced that pre-leasing had begun. The building is set to open in the beginning of 2017.

In October 2015, Detroit Future City released a guidebook to help residents steward vacant lots in their neighborhood. This month, the DFC Implementation Office announced that it is splitting $65,000 among 15 grassroots organizations and individuals to help facilitate lot transformations as outlined in their guidebook.

A devastating fire wiped out the home of Reclaim Detroit in Highland Park. The fire, which could be seen miles away, decimated the company's operations, destroying much of its irreplaceable stock. Reclaim Detroit, which recovers re-usable materials from vacant buildings in Detroit, is currently holding an online fundraiser to help cushion the blow.

Five hundred and twenty-seven people invested a total of $741,250 in the renovation of Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck. The new home for the Detroit City Football Club, Keyworth Stadium is 80 years old and in need of many repairs if it's to host DCFC as their home stadium in the years ahead. DCFC officials hoped to raise between $400,000 and $750,000 in their crowdfunding campaign.

The city revealed its Detroit Home Mortgage program this month. The mortgage program is a partnership between the city, the Obama Administration’s Detroit Federal Working Group, Clinton Global Initiative, local banks, foundations, and nonprofits. The program addresses the appraisal gap, a common hindrance to purchasing a home in the city. Now, banks will be able to make loans for the agreed upon selling price of a home and not just the appraisal number, which is often much lower than what a buyer agrees to pay.

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

Cobo Square to open this spring, cap convention center renovations

Cobo Center is preparing to unveil its revamped outdoor space this spring. Dubbed Cobo Square, the 45,000-square-foot outdoor space is being touted as the capstone of a 5-year, $279-million renovation of Cobo Center. The 723,000-square-foot facility is the 17th largest convention center in the United States. It opened in 1960.

Cobo Square will have more uses than just those reserved for conventions. According to officials, it will serve to better connect Cobo Center to the community while also activating the space in between major conventions and events. Art exhibits, exercise and yoga sessions, and biergartens are just some of the programming planned for the space that is set to open this spring.

Other recent major changes to Cobo include the addition of a state-of-the-art broadcast studio, a 160-foot by 30-foot digital sign on the building's exterior, and the conversion of the building's arena into additional convention space. The arena conversion replaced previously closed off walls with glass panes, taking advantage of the building's location on the riverfront.

"I think the most important part of the reinvention of Cobo Center was the adaptive reuse of the old arena," Thom Connors, regional vice president of Cobo Center management group SMG and general manager of Cobo, says in a statement. "By cutting part of it away and creating a new atrium, it really tied the whole renovation together and gave the view from the main concourse out to the river and across to Canada. It brings people down to the newer, improved south side of the building and the majesty of the river."

Business has improved greatly since renovations began five years ago. Eighty-five major events were hosted at Cobo in 2015, a significant increase from the 35 held there in 2010. Event days have doubled from pre-renovation years, jumping from 200 event days a year to 400.

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

Crowdfunding and matching grant campaign begins for public space at 6 Mile and Wyoming

A public gathering-space in northwest Detroit called the McGee Community Commons stands to gain nearly $80,000 in grant money should it reach $38,250 through crowdfunding. By reaching the $38,250 goal, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's Public Spaces Community Places program and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority will provide a matching grant, bringing the grand total to $76,500 in funds raised for the project. The McGee Community Commons has until April 2, 2016 to raise the money through the Patronicity platform.

The community commons is part of a larger project between Marygrove College and the surrounding community called "Connecting, Recognizing and Celebrating Neighborhood Creatives." Marygrove and McGee Community Commons are both located at the intersection of McNichols and Wyoming roads.

A vacant lot at the corner of McNichols -- colloquially referred to as Six Mile -- and Wyoming will be transformed into the Charles McGee Community Commons, a green space and public art venue. A relief sculpture by local artist Charles McGee will be installed there. The site will also feature permeable paving, a healing garden, technology access, low voltage LED lighting, and signage.

"This is a project we've worked to bring to fruition for more than five years," Rose DeSloover, Marygrove professor emerita, says in a statement. "Being able to join with Patronicity and MEDC/MSHDA is a wonderful opportunity, and all the people working on the project with us are newly energized about reaching our goal."

Other Detroit Public Spaces Community Places recipients include the Brightmoor Artisans Community Kitchen, the Commons: 7900 Mack Avenue, Fiber Art on the Avenue, the Alger Theater, It Takes a Village Garden, Brightmoor Maker Space, House Opera | Opera House, and Mosaics in the Park.

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

So you want to save a house? Brick + Beam can help

Brick + Beam Detroit has been hosting monthly building rehab workshops and classes since July 2015. This month, the group is adding a second workshop specific to vacant homes. It's called "So you want to save a house?" and will take place Wednesday, Jan. 27, from 6-8 p.m. on the University of Detroit Mercy campus. The event is being produced in partnership with Live6 Detroit.

Brick + Beam provides classes, resources, and networking access to fellow building rehabbers. Co-founder Emilie Evans says that the organization strives to offer classes that are relevant to Detroiters. With that in mind, "So you want to save a house?" aims to teach residents how to identify the owners of abandoned houses, then figure out what they can do about it, a question Brick + Beam routinely fields. At the time of publication, nearly 200 people have RSVP'd for the class.

"We've found it helps that these concepts don't only exist in the abstract," says Evans. "That's why we have classes with hands-on components and first-hand experiences."

Loveland Technologies will be on hand to demonstrate how city residents can track down and identify property owners. They will also explain what can be done about publicly-owned properties. Dan Cousino of business law firm Honigman will offer legal tips for property acquisition from private owners. Detroit resident Claire Nowak-Boyd will provide her first-hand account of successfully working with the Detroit Land Bank Authority to acquire and then auction properties on her block, properties now filled with neighbors.

Evans says that a main component of the organization is providing people an opportunity to meet each other and network. In order to facilitate even more networking and the sharing of resources, Brick + Beam has launched a new website where building rehabbers can connect, build contacts, share recommendations, and more.

"So you want to save a house?" is being held at the University of Detroit Mercy Architecture Exhibition Space at 4001 W. McNichols Rd., though the entrance is on Livernois Avenue. The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place Wednesday, Jan. 27, from 6-8 p.m. RSVP online here.

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

Building Hugger to host open house at new HQ in Eastern Market

It took a few attempts, but historic restoration business Building Hugger believes it has finally found a space into which it can grow. Building Hugger founder Amy Swift affectionately calls the 6,000-square-foot Eastern Market building the Hug Factory. It's the third re-location for the business this past year, which has grown from one to nine employees since February 2015. Swift says Building Hugger has also grown to become the largest historic window restoration company in the region, fielding calls from Port Huron to Detroit to Ohio.

An open house is being held Saturday, Jan. 30, at the building and is free and open to the public. Tours, demonstrations, and a community mingle will be held at the space from 1-4 p.m.

Building Hugger deals in many aspects of historic restoration and redevelopment work, though the bulk of its business is currently in window restoration and weatherization. It's a process that takes up a lot of space, says Swift, and with the increase in business came a need for more square footage. The work space was designed to maximize project volume. Work stations for each phase of the window restoration process have been set up to make the job more efficient.

That's not to say that the space is complete. In fact, Swift is still searching for the right use of 1,400 square feet of the building -- a storefront in need of a store. She has ideas, of course, like opening a specialized hardware store or a DIY training facility. She'd like to offer weekend courses in restoration work. Swift is planning on utilizing the open house to gather input from the public and see what's in demand among the restoration and DIY crowd -- what kinds of classes people would be interested in taking and what sort of hardware and tools she should carry.

"I always saw myself as a steward of these historic buildings," says Swift, who started Building Hugger in 2012. "But I've found I'm at my best when helping others be stewards."

Swift hopes to get the storefront up and running somewhere over the next 6-12 months.

The Building Hugger Community Mingle is a partnership between Building Hugger and Brick & Beam Detroit. To RSVP, do so online here.

The Hug Factory is located at 3036 Chene St.

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

January development news round-up

It's been another busy month for development news in the city. Let's catch up on some of the biggest stories from the past four weeks.

As we welcome in the new year, we welcome in the latest round of new bars and restaurants that open around the city. One of those restaurants is La Rondinella, an Italian restaurant from Supino Pizzeria owner Dave Mancini. La Rondinella opened in Eastern Market in early January -- right next to Supino, in fact. It was a second opening, of sorts, as the restaurant originally opened at the tail end of 2015 but had to temporarily shutter due to some official city paperwork problems.

Bedrock Real Estate Services, billionaire Dan Gilbert's real estate arm, was busy yet again, purchasing two high profile properties. In the heart of downtown, Bedrock purchased the Lofts at Woodward Center, three historic buildings that include a total of 61 residential units. Each building has its own first-floor retail storefront. A surface parking lot was also included in the deal. On the edge of Corktown, Bedrock purchased the Corktown Lofts, a three-building and two-surface parking lot bundle. The Corktown Lofts include two warehouses and a four-story building of loft-style office space.

The public is invited to join in on the development of the East Riverfront District, an area bounded by St. Antoine and Larned streets, East Grand Boulevard, and the Detroit River. Seven development teams will make their pitch for the direction of the district, which will be open to public comment Jan. 26 and 27 at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center.

Detroiters excited by the idea of a more pedestrian-friendly downtown were dealt a blow when M-DOT indefinitely shelved a decision to remove I-375. The state transportation agency announced the possibility of replacing I-375 with a more walkable urban landscape back in 2013. While plans for removal of the highway could be resurrected, no timetable was announced.

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

North Corktown rental to feature homage to legendary teachers union leader

Chalk it up to fate, serendipity, or otherwise, but as Detroit Public Schools teachers conduct a series of sick-outs to draw attention to school conditions in the city, a mural of legendary labor leader Mary Ellen Riordan is being pieced together in the city's North Corktown neighborhood.

Developer Jon Zemke--who is also an editor at Model D--has commissioned a mural to adorn the side of a two-unit building he is renovating at the corner of Cochrane Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The subject is Mary Ellen Riordan, the first full-time president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers who also happens to be Zemke's great aunt.

The roughly 20-by-36-foot mural features a portrait of Riordan with some students, uttering the quote, "Teachers want what children need." It's the work of Nicole Macdonald, a local artist whose work can be seen throughout town, including the recent series of Detroit literary figures installed on the outside of a Woodbridge party store.

Riordan served as president of DFT from 1960 through 1981. A significant force in teachers' labor rights, Riordan is recognized for her role as a woman leader in organized labor, a typically male-dominated field. In 1965, she led the fight to amend Michigan's Public Employee Relations Act to guarantee teachers and all public employees the legal right to collective bargaining.

Riordan led one of the largest local unions in the United States and was the first woman to lead a union of such size. At the time of her retirement, DFT counted more than 12,000 members. In 2001, Riordan was inducted to the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame. In 2004, she won the Distinguished Alumni award from Marygrove College, having graduated from that school in 1941. Mary Ellen Riordan passed away in 2010.

While Riordan may be his great aunt, Zemke says he commissioned the mural to honor all of the leaders and teachers who have helped shape the city yet might not be as familiar to its residents as mayors and other high-profile public officials.

"Like most other people in the city that have really made an impact, you kind of lose track of them over the years, the stories fade. And that's happened with her," says Zemke. "I didn't want that to keep happening."

Zemke, a Midtown resident, owns and leases several properties in the city, most of them in Woodbridge. The North Corktown building, which had seen its share of damage from squatters and scrappers over the years, has been his biggest renovation project to date, he says. The building is split into two flats and features all new heating, cooling, electrical, and plumbing work among its upgrades. Demand is high for the units, says Zemke, and on-site workers field leasing questions from passers-by nearly every single day. Units should be move-in ready within the next month.

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