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Detroit Development News

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2,000 affordable housing and community development professionals to convene in Detroit

Approximately 2,000 affordable housing and community development professionals are convening in Detroit this week for the NeighborWorks Training Institute. According to the national non-profit NeighborWorks America, an affordable housing advocacy and training group, the symposium is expected to generate an estimated $3.3 million in local investment.

The symposium is the third of four this year, running from August 8 through 12. A number of local and national officials will be present, including Mayor Mike Duggan, chief administration officer for the Detroit Medical Center Conrad L. Mallett Jr., national correspondent for The Atlantic James Fallows, and president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation Tonya Allen, among others.

"This is our second Training Institute in the Detroit area and it couldn't come at a more pivotal time," says Paul Weech, chief executive officer of NeighborWorks America. "Government, business and the nonprofit sector all are working on solutions to improve neighborhoods and jump-start economic activity in the city and in similar places across the United States. NeighborWorks America is excited to be in Detroit to help share what works."

Among the highlights is "Creating Places of Opportunity: Investing in Neighborhoods," a symposium on the benefits of strategic investment in communities throughout the country that result in inclusive development and growth. Examples will focus on job growth, placemaking, and affordable housing.

Mobile tours will also usher attendees around the city, displaying local examples of strategic investment and growth.

While Detroit is a NeighborWorks target, the nonpartisan, congressionally chartered nonprofit operates throughout the state. According to the organization, NeighborWorks generated nearly $45 million in investment in the state of Michigan in 2015. In that same year, 3,117 families were assisted with affordable housing, 1,616 residents received counseling and education services, and 330 jobs were created and maintained.

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

NSO bike tour to raise money, awareness in fight against homelessness

Several Detroit neighborhoods will be on display this weekend as cyclists take part in Handlebars for the Homeless, a guided and informative tour on Sunday, August 7. Neighborhood Service Organization is leading the bike ride, showing off the city while also informing participants on how the organization is working to end homelessness in Detroit.

The ride meets and ends at the Bell Building, a 225,500 sq. ft. art deco building once recognizable for its Yellow Pages neon sign visible from the Lodge freeway and now notable for the NSO's multi-million dollar renovation. NSO converted the former office building at 882 Oakman Blvd. in Detroit into apartments, providing housing for 155 formerly homeless adults.

Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, August 7, where there will be light breakfast refreshments. Online registration is available, as well. Participants will receive a high-performance t-shirt, spoke card, and entry into a Detroit Bikes raffle. Detroit Bikes has donated an A-Type bike for the drawing, a $699.99 value. Registration costs $40 and proceeds will benefit NSO programs and services.

From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., cyclists will be guided on a tour that takes them through the Live6 Alliance area, the Sherwood Forest, Palmer Park, and Boston Edison neighborhoods, and the University of Detroit-Mercy and Marygrove College campuses.

"The tour showcases both the thriving and bustling streets of Detroit while educating the community about the challenges that face the more than 15,000 homeless individuals living on the streets every day," says David Rudolph, founder of Handlebars for the Homeless and NSO board member. "NSO works to move and keep people off the city streets and out of poverty by providing opportunities that give individuals a chance to thrive."

Neighborhood Service Organization has been working toward eliminating homelessness in metro Detroit since 1955.

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.

Crowdfunding campaign seeks to transform vacant Brightmoor land

Local placemaking group Resurge Detroit has launched a crowdfunding campaign to transform vacant land in the Brightmoor neighborhood into a community center and grow house. Titled "Liberty Harvest," the campaign is part of the Public Spaces, Community Places program, a partnership between Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

If "Liberty Harvest" successfully raises $31,750 through a Patronicity crowdfunding campaign, MEDC and MSHDA will match that amount, providing a grant that will bring the total funds raised to $63,500. "Liberty House" has up until Sep. 18, 2016, to raise the funds.

The funds will go towards converting an old industrial shipping container into a hydroponic grow house. The 400 sq. ft. container will have solar power, a hydroponic water system, and an enclosed environment that allows for 365-days-a-year production.

Resurge Detroit has partnered with nearby Veterans Village for the project. Funds raised will also go toward an urban agriculture training program for veterans.

"The Liberty Harvest project puts vacant land to work in a way that helps address important issues in the community," MSHDA Executive Director Kevin Elsenheimer says in a statement. "Helping veterans transition back into life at home while providing local families and businesses with fresh, affordable, and locally grown produce is an innovative approach to engaging the local community."

Visit the Michigan-based crowdfunding platform Patronicity to view the campaign's status.

Placemaking update: Another Detroit placemaking project, the reactivation of Dean Savage Memorial Park in Corktown, is nearing the conclusion of its own Public Spaces, Community Places campaign. Launched on June 23, 2016, the crowdfunding campaign has until Aug. 14, 2016 to raise $27,500 in order to receive a matching grant from MEDC and MSHDA. As of time of publication, Activating Dean Savage Memorial Park had raised $14,562 of its $27,500 goal.

View that campaign here.

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

July development news round-up: Big residential projects on Selden

Let's catch up on some of the biggest stories from the past four weeks.

Two more residential developments were announced in Midtown this month. The first is the rehab of 678 Selden St., a 22,796 sq. ft. vacant apartment building. Dubbed the H.R. Finn Apartments, the $3.7 million investment will result in 28 apartments and two commercial units. Built in 1922, the building has been vacant for the past seven years. Construction, which includes brand new plumbing, heating, electrical work, and more, is expected to wrap up in late 2017.

Travel east down Selden Street and one will find another residential development, this one being built from the ground up. Slated for a summer 2017 opening, The Selden is a four story building consisting of 12 for-sale condos. Retail and office space is reserved for the ground floor while renderings reveal a roof-top deck. The Selden replaces the Marie Apartments building, which was razed in May 2016.

The city of Detroit released an RFP for the Fitzgerald Revitalization Project, a three-part strategy for stabilizing and improving life in the Fitzgerald neighborhood. The plan calls for a new park and greenway, converting empty parcels into economically sustainable and productive spaces like orchards and gardens, and saving and utilizing empty buildings throughout the neighborhood. Fitzgerald is bound by McNichols to the north, Livernois to the east, Puritan to the south, and Greenlawn to the west.

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.

Belle Isle beautification efforts focus on fundraising events for fountain, community programming

The popular fundraising event Detroit SOUP is coming to Belle Isle. The micro grant-awarding program, typically reserved for the city's neighborhoods, is making a one-time appearance on the island park. While the dinner doesn't take place until August 31, organizers are currently seeking grant proposals, which are due August 14.

A typical SOUP event will include a five dollar fee for a dinner that's open to the public. The five dollars pays for soup, salad, bread, and a vote in the micro-grant contest. Four proposals are heard and the dinner crowd votes on which proposal they feel best benefits the community where the dinner is being held. The winner of that vote receives the money collected at the beginning of the night. Many types of proposals are heard, from business plans to community events.

Organizers say that the Belle Isle SOUP will operate in the same fashionthe one caveat being that the proposal must take place on Belle Isle. In addition to the money raised, the Belle Isle Conservancy will offer staff support to help make the winning proposal happen.

Applicants can submit SOUP proposals online or at a physical drop-off location that includes the offices of the Belle Isle Conservancy, Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation, Live6 Detroit, Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, Eastside Community Network, SER Metro Detroit, and the Joy-Southfield Community Development Corporation.

In other Belle Isle news, the Conservancy is hosting a fundraising event to help restore the historic Pewabic tile mosaic at the basin of the James Scott Memorial Fountain. The Conservancy has currently raised nearly $75,000 of a $300,000 goal to restore the mosaic.

On Wednesday, August 17, the Sunset at the Scott fundraiser will include food from El Guapo Fresh Mexican Grill and Cool Jacks Handcrafted Ice Cream + Cookies, an open beer and wine bar, and music from local band ONEFREQ.

Advance tickets range from $50 to $250 and are available until August 1. After the first of the month, tickets will cost $65 at the door.

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

Stadt Garten, a pop-up beer garden, to debut in Midtown

A beer garden is popping up in Midtown this Saturday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The inaugural Stadt GartenGerman for "City Garden," a nod to co-founder Mark R. Beard's German heritageis the first of several planned this summer. Proceeds from the event will benefit Hostel Detroit.

The setting for Stadt Garten is the yard a Gothic-Victorian mansion built in the 1880s. Beard was part of the team that redeveloped the property, which has three residential units, a clothing shop, and, now, a beer garden.

Why does Beard, who lives in one of the aforementioned residential units, wants to invite a couple hundred strangers to party in his yard?

"It's more important now than it has been in the recent past to come together as a community," he said via text message. "I don't really know of any better way to start knocking down some of the implicit biases that exist in peoples' minds than spending time with one another (in a positive way). Also, horseshoes!"

He added, "And, there's too much mulch in the yard and not enough people."

Vendors for Stadt Garten are mostly local. Corktown brewery Batch Brewing Company will be supplying four different types of beer, ranging from $5 to $7 each. Sfumato Fragrances will offer scented cocktails. Wine and food will also be on hand.

Will Leather Goods, the retailer located across the street, will be selling their own cold brew coffee blend, roasted by Tailored Coffee Roasters. Vice Cream, the vegan ice cream business that operates out of an Air Stream trailer, will bring their dairy-free treats to Stadt Garten, as well.

From 7 to 10 p.m., Ryan Spencer from local eletropop group Jamaican Queens will spin records. Detroit Clothing Circle, the retailer located in the house, will be open during the duration of the beer garden. Beer pong and staring contests, too, are planned.

Stadt Garten is located at 3980 Second Ave.

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

Detroit Police Department to repurpose historic Old Redford Library building

The Old Redford Library building, a City of Detroit Historic Landmark, will once again play an important role in the west-side neighborhood. It's been announced that the former library will be repurposed as a police-community outreach center. In addition, the neighboring building will become home to the new Detroit Police 8th Precinct.

The Detroit Building Authority selected SDG Associates, Architects and Planners as the architect-of-record.

"The DPD 8th Precinct will serve as part of the continued resurgence of the City of Detroit's municipal fabric, and as part of the community," Melvin Cross, principal at SDG Associates, Architects and Planners, said in a statement. "What makes designing the project special and unique to the 8th precinct will be a semi-public lobby and auditorium to accommodate police and cadet graduations and a space for community meetings to be located in the historic landmark library building."

Much of the aesthetics of the library will remain the same, save for a barrier-free access ramp being added to the front of the building. Necessary repairs will be made and barrier-free access will be added to the interior, including an elevator.

As for the future precinct, it will be completely renovated. Exterior repair work will be carried out and the "Egyptian"-style columns and obelisks will be removed with the architects opting for more simple rectangular forms clad in stained stone to better matching the old library next door. An interior auditorium will be retained for police and community use.

SDG Associates, Architects and Planners are based in downtown Detroit in the Ford Building. Founded by the recently-deceased Howard Sims, SDG is the oldest African American-owned architecture firm in the state of Michigan.

The former Old Redford Library is located at 21551 W. McNichols Rd.

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

Group seeks to reactivate Corktown park

Public Spaces Community Places, a state-sponsored placemaking initiative operated by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), has set out to yet again raise funds for a Detroit-based project. The campaign's focus is Dean Savage Memorial Park, a small park on the south east end of Corktown.

Activating Dean Savage Memorial Park is an attempt "to improve the equitable usability of open spaces throughout Corktown," organizers say. The park, characterized as overlooked and underutilized by MSHDA executive director Kevin Elsenheimer, has the potential to receive $55,000 in improvements, if the fundraising proves to be successful. MEDC and MSHDA will provide a $27,500 matching grant if the Dean Savage group is able to raise that amount through a crowdfunding campaign.

"Corktown residents and visitors deserve a great public space to relax, play, and meet neighbors," executive director of the Corktown Economic Development Corporation Chad Rochkind said in a statement. "Enhancing Dean Savage Memorial Park as a green gathering space for all people is an essential step to improving the quality of life in Detroit's oldest neighborhood, and it signals our commitment to inclusive growth as Corktown develops."

According to the Patronicity crowdfunding campaign website, the $55,000 being raised to redevelop Dean Savage Memorial Park breaks down as follows: $10,000 for pedestrian improvements; $10,000 for a dog park; $10,000 for fencing; $10,000 for a basketball court; $7,000 for tables and benches; $5,000 for lighting; and $3,000 for refurbishing the shuffleboard courts. A biergarten is also planned.

Activating Dean Savage Memorial Park has until July 22, 2016 to raise $27,500. The project only receives the funds if it meets the $27,500 mark, which triggers the $27,500 matching grant. That campaign is being held via Patronicity, a Michigan-based crowdfunding platform.

Dean Savage Memorial Park is located on Trumbull Avenue and bounded by Porter and Abbott streets.

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

Cycling, sushi, and more: June 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.

Live Cycle Delight, the winner of the 2015 Hatch grand prize valued at $50,000, has announced that it will open up a permanent storefront location in the West Village neighborhood. Expect a fall opening for the cycling studio, which will offer three different cycling classes, cold-pressed juice, snacks, and more.

The window for submitting to the 2016 iteration of the Comerica Hatch Detroit Contest is winding down, with applications accepted through July 15. Submissions opened to the public in late April. Live Cycle Delight is 15th Hatch contestant -- grand prize winner or not -- to open a storefront in Detroit since the small business competition began in 2011. Winners receive a $50,000 grand prize and a pro bono service package worth more than $200,000. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to apply via the Hatch website.

The Michigan-based sushi chain of Maru Sushi & Grill is set to open its first location in Detroit in the ground floor of the Federal Reserve Building downtown. It's the fifth location for the chain, which also has restaurants in Okemos, Grand Rapids, East Lansing, and Midland. The restaurant is being designed by ROSSETTI, an architectural firm which is itself headquartered in the Federal Reserve Building.

The local rehabilitation and preservation community was abuzz with excitement this month as it was announced that the long-running PBS home renovation program "This Old House" would be filming its first ever Detroit location. 10 episodes will be shot for next season as the team documents the renovation of a 1939-built house in the Russell Woods neighborhood. Expect the episodes to air in March 2017.

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

Detroit entrepreneurs have until July 1 to apply for Motor City Match

The clock is ticking for entrepreneurs thinking about applying to Detroit's Motor City Match program. July 1 is the deadline for the small business competition, which awards grant funding, design and technical support, and landlord-tenant match-making assistance. The quarterly competition offers up to $500,000 in grants each round.

Entrepreneurs ranging from established to nascent are encouraged to apply. The competition offers different levels of prizes to local small businesses, depending on a number of factors. For the new entrepreneurs, Motor City Match offers free business planning programming. More advanced entrepreneurs may be matched with a Detroit landlord seeking to fill a storefront or building. Design services from local architecture firms are also available.

The most advanced applicants are eligible to receive up to $100,000.

Since launching in 2015, Motor City Match has awarded $1.5 million in grant funding, which has been leveraged for nearly $10.5 million in investment.

Lana Rodriguez is the recipient of one of those grants, having received $18,000 from Motor City Match in the most recent round of competition. She's using that money to help start Mama Coo's Boutique in Corktown, an upscale resale and vintage clothing shop.

"I'm a hustler and I knew the store would open, but it would have only been partially realized," says Rodriguez. "This grant money lets me get started and go all in. I know I have a better chance of longevity and success."

According to Motor City Match, the organization has already served over 300 businesses and 180 commercial properties since 2015. Detroit-based businesses make up about two-thirds of the winners and minority-owned businesses make up 70 percent of the successful applicants.

Visit www.motorcitymatch.com to apply.

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

Retail Boot Camp accepting applications for next session

Budding entrepreneurs hoping to learn more about how to open their own brick-and-mortar locations are in luck. TechTown Detroit, a business accelerator and incubator in the city's New Center district, is opening up applications for its Retail Boot Camp beginning June 27. Classes run from September 20 though November 8.

The eight-week program consists of weekly three-hour classroom sessions. Classes focus on business development and a resulting business plan. Retail experts provide insight while students are expected to fulfill substantial out-of-class obligations, as well.

At the end of the eight-week term, Retail Boot Camp hosts Showcase, where students compete for prize packages valued up to $7,500. Prize packages can include a subsidized permanent or pop-up location, a point-of-sale system, an inventory subsidy and/or a professional services package. Up to five students can win the retail prize.

"Retail Boot Camp furthers TechTown's mission to support local businesses and drive economic growth in Detroit's neighborhoods," says Regina Ann Campbell, TechTown's managing director of place-based entrepreneurship, in a statement. "We're looking for serious entrepreneurs with great ideas that address neighborhood needs. Participants will work hard and graduate prepared to launch their business and be a meaningful part of Detroit's revitalization."

Curious entrepreneurs are encouraged to attend one of three informative workshops in the city. They are:
  • Tuesday, June 21 at TechTown Detroit, 440 Burroughs, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, June 29 at Mash Detroit, 14711 Mack Avenue, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 30 at Always Brewing Detroit, 19180 Grand River Avenue, 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Previous winners include House of Pure Vin, Paramita Sound, Tribalfare, Mama Coo's Boutique, Third Wave Music and 2015 Hatch Detroit winner Live Cycle Delight.

The cost for Retail Boot Camp is $499. Applications are being accepted June 27 to Aug. 19. Visit the Retail Boot Camp website to apply.

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

New beverage director to accompany Rock City Eatery's move to Midtown

There's a lot of work involved in Rock City Eatery's eventual move from Hamtramck to Detroit's Midtown district. An expanded menu, both thoughtful and bold, has been developed. The space itself, the old Bangkok Cuisine Express restaurant on Woodward, has been stripped to its bare form and will be re-built from the inside-out. The bar is being built and the bathrooms are nearly selfie-ready. The custom-made furniture is being assembled by hand. 

There's also hires to be made, like beverage director Elizabeth Cosby. She's been tasked with creating a drink menu that pairs with both the familiar Rock City Eatery dishes, as well as the new and adventurous menu items like Ants on a Logpickled celery, peanut butter, and, yes, actual antsand Pancakes and Sausage, which includes a duck sausage patty sandwiched between two scallion pancakes with bone marrow butter topping it off.

During a recent media preview, Rock City Eatery owners Nikita Sanches and Jessica Imbronone Sanches debuted nine plates from the new menu. These new items and more will complement popular ones from the old Hamtramck location. From Ants on a Log to a bone marrow pate, lobster rolls to blood sausage pierogi, the new menu had local food and restaurant writers abuzz.

Cosby also contributed with her carefully chosen drink pairings that included a range of beer, wine and cocktails. "We don't want to focus only on what you know, we want to provide an adventure," says Cosby. Locally-made craft beer, wine, and spirits are a focus, while so, too, are drinks that originate from the same geographic regions as particular menu items.

There is no official opening date for Rock City Eatery in Midtown, though it's not far off. It will be located at 4216 Woodward Ave. in Detroit.

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

70 units in 30 days: Forest Arms redevelopment fills up fast in Midtown

Having met Scott Lowell on the grounds of the Forest Arms redevelopment, he has the look of a person nearing the end of a long journey. He's tired, relieved, and grateful. After the better part of a decade, Lowell and his wife Carolyn Howard's rehabilitation of the Forest Arms apartment building in Midtown is going to accept its first tenants since 2008. They opened the building up to the market and, in just 30 days, it reached full capacity. 70 units. No vacancy. Residents begin to move in May 28.

The apartment building, built in 1905, experienced a devastating fire in 2008. One person died and the rest were displaced, many with their belongings destroyed. The roof caved in, leaving the building open to the elements. It was a disaster, one that some in the neighborhood believed would surely result in the razing of the historic building. Lowell and Howard, experienced developers with both residences and restaurants to their credit, decided to take on the project, their biggest to date. After six years of the stop-start nature of nailing down the financing and two years of construction, the Forest Arms is open for business.

Lowell uses words like "intense" and "tiring" to characterize the experience of redeveloping the Forest Arms. He's tired, sure, but definitely happy.

"Is it worth it? Yeah, for me," says Lowell. "The building's still standing. It was destined to be torn down. I grew up in the city and watched the neighborhood I grew up in, the east end of the Davison, just implode and watched house after house get demolished and people move away. To be part of this, to save a building, to create something where people want to move to and see the demand, there's a certain kind of reward in that."

Walking through the courtyard and up to the building, Lowell points out the front doors being installed. The wooden doors are new and fashioned after the originals, those having been ruined by fire axes. Walking up the re-built stairs to the roof, workers buzzed through the hallways, putting the finishing touches on the interior, installing light fixtures and other last-minute details.

There are two ways to take in the views from the roof. A community deck, complete with a public kitchen, is open to all of the residents. There are also five penthouses, built atop the newly-built roof, each with their own private deck. Down below the workers are preparing the sprinkler system in time for new sod, originally torn out to install an expensive geothermal heating system. Rainwater is recycled for many uses throughout the grounds. On the north side of the building are two retail units, one reserved for music instrument store Third Wave Music and a second envisioned as a bar and restaurant, still searching for a tenant.

At one point, Lowell and Howard had a deal with Wayne State University to lease the building. The deal would have ensured a steady flow of tenants for the developers while easing that school's student housing shortage. The deal fell through, however, and they opened the building to the market. Unsure how much interest the building would draw, the dissolution of the deal with Wayne State proved to be a boon for the partners. The building filled up in the span of a month. Lowell says he still receives three to five inquiries a day.

"70 units in 30 days. It's been phenomenal," says Lowell. "I'm just amazed that demand's still here. It's pretty encouraging."

With demand outpacing supply in Midtown, Lowell should be comfortable in the two more buildings they're redeveloping in the area, one with 23 units and the other around 27 units. Those are in the early stages of redevelopment, awaiting the partners' full attention once the Forest Arms project is complete.

Lowell and Howard are also moving a family barn from western Michigan to Detroit, reassembling it as a restaurant and venue in the city that will host live music, weddings, and parties. It's clear Lowell is pretty excited about the project. Though he's not divulging too much information just yet, he did say they've acquired an acre and a half site in Corktown.

Lowell began purchasing properties in Hamtramck in the 1980s and Midtown in the 1990s. Times are different, he says. Back then, people made agreements on beverage napkins at neighborhood bars, handshake deals among neighbors and friends. Today, he regularly fields calls from investors outside of Detroit, promptly turning down offers on his buildings throughout the neighborhood.

With the restoration of the Forest Arms, those phone calls and emails aren't going to slow down any time soon.

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