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Mexicantown : Detroit Development News

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D-Biz: Counting 21 businesses in 19 neighborhoods, and we want more of your faves

In October 2007, Model D kicked off a recurring series called D-Biz that is designed to draw attention to small businesses in Detroit that are unique or fill an important niche in their community.

Part of the reason we wanted to start this series was to highlight businesses that are not new but still deliver important services to Detroiters. The city's small businesses are a big part of what make Detroit's neighborhoods liveable, but they don't often get media attention.

As of last week, D-Biz has covered all of our featured neighborhoods. Here's a look at the 21 businesses in 19 neighborhoods that we've covered in the last six months, from bike shops to optical shops, from coffee shops to photo studios, and even a tennis racquet repair shop:

D-Biz will continue, and Model D encourages readers to share their neighborhood faves to be considered for coverage. Email kellibkav@issuemediagroup.com with your ideas.

Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Greening of Detroit expands Corktown offices, plans busy spring season

Greening of Detroit is spreading its roots: it has expanded its Michigan Ave. office space by a third, to 3,000 square feet. The extra room was desperately needed: the organization will grow from nine employees in 2007 to 25 by the end of 2008.

The additional staff will be busy this spring planting season. Its core mission is reforesting the city, and tree plantings are scheduled weekly from April 19 through June 7, with an estimated 1,500 trees going into the ground.

Planting so many trees requires plenty of volunteers; call the office at 313-237-8733. A special call is out for hands at a May 17 planting in East English Village, for which 250 slots still need filling.

Greening is also a partner in the ever-growing (no pun intended) Garden Resource Program, which supports urban agriculture in the city. Last year, over 5,500 residents participated in 220 family, 115 community and 20 school gardens. More than 120 tons of food were grown, and Greening is anticipating a 20% increase in both participation and output this year.

Little marketing is done to promote such an increase, says Greening's Ashley Atkinson. "It is literally growing down the street from house to house," she says. "It's really cool, committed people that we are attracting, and that's encouraging." Visit GRP's website to find out how to sign up and when plant pick-ups and workdays are scheduled.

One last thing: Greening's annual tree sale is scheduled for April 19 at Eastern Market, but Atkinson recommends reserving plants ahead of time. With just a month to go, half of the 1,400 trees, bushes and shrubs are already sold.

Source: Ashley Atkinson, Greening of Detroit
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh
Photograph: Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Model D & Metromode

New coffee shop, Cafe con Leche, now open in Mexicantown Mercado

Residents of Southwest Detroit now have a lovely spot at which to sip a latte -- or better yet, a Mexican hot chocolate: Cafe con Leche is open for business at the Mexicantown Mercado.

The coffee shop is bright and airy with comfortable seating. All the usual suspects are available on the drink menu, but there are some pleasant additions -- for example, strong, sweet Cuban coffee and champurrado, a hot drink made with corn flour, milk and chocolate. "We're trying to introduce a Latin flavor," says proprietor Jordi Carbonell.

On the food side of things, American and Mexican pastries are available as well as paninis.

Carbonell and co-owner Melissa Fernandez decided on the neighborhood first and the exact location second. "The area didn't have a coffee shop, a place to have a meeting," says Carbonell. The concept seems to be taking off: Hubbard Farms neighbors and Detroit Synergy have already held meetings at Cafe con Leche, and its convenient parking is prompting some customers to forgo downtown.

Cafe con Leche is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays, and later by appointment. There is free wireless internet access and, once the weather warms up, outdoor seating is planned.

The Mexicantown Mercado is at 2826 Bagley Ave. at 20th. Call 248-736-1196 to reach the cafe directly.

Source: Jordi Carbonell, Cafe con Leche
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Detroit one of 9 cities chosen for AIA sustainability audit, planning session

The American Institute of Architects has selected Detroit as one of nine cities that will receive a sustainability audit from a Sustainable Design Assessment Team later this year.

Teams of volunteer professionals like architects, urban designers, planners, hydrologists, economists and attorneys will come to the city for a three-day charette and team up with local architecture and engineering students, along with government officials, community groups and other stakeholders.

Diane VanBuren Jones of WARM Training spearheaded the SDAT application and is now coordinating the assessment itself. She says the out-of-town experts will arrive with "a national eye on how sustainability will work in your community."

Jones is particularly interested in mapping the city's energy systems. "We will take it down to the level of each business," she says.

The group could look at a tortilla factory, for example, she says. "It brings in corn and wheat -- some of it from Ohio instead of Michigan -- and the production uses a ton of natural gas. There is people energy and transportation energy and energy to heat and light the building." A map of all such systems would allow experts to close some energy loops. "How much would be spent on all of those energy systems if we got smart about it?" she asks.

The process is motivated by the environment and economics. Money saved by increased energy efficiency can create prosperity and new jobs, says Jones.

Which is why her next task is identifying funding sources for entrepreneurs, neighborhoods and developers interested in investing in green technologies such as solar panels or anaerobic digesters.

Jones anticipates that the SDAT will focus on areas with a framework for environmental initiatives already in place, like Southwest Detroit, the Woodward Corridor and Eastern Market.

Jones is currently working with several universities, including Wayne State, Michigan State and University of Michigan, to select the date for the SDAT.

Source: Diane VanBuren Jones, WARM Training
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

City looking for developer to create 4,000 units of permanent housing for homeless

The City of Detroit has released a request for proposals for the development of 4,000 units of service-supported rental housing targeted to the homeless. The NEXT Detroit Permanent Supportive Housing Initiative is looking for developers  teamed up with service providers to deliver such a product.

The city, along with partner organization Detroit Collaborative to End Homelessness Together, recently completed a ten year plan for the elimination of homelessness that calls for a three-pronged strategy: the development of permanent housing called for in this RFP along with prevention and rapid re-housing.

Elterro Carroll, deputy director of the planning and development department hopes that this first round will generate 250 to 500 units over the course of the next two years. He anticipates that applicants will be both teams of developers and service providers as well as single organizations, such as Southwest Solutions, that already do both.

The RFP is deliberately vague as to the size and scope of proposed developments, leaving the door open for large projects sited on large parcels as well as smaller ones; types of housing called for include units designed to serve families, youth and the chronically homeless.

Prospective applicants can pick up an RFP from PDD's Welcome Center on the second floor of Cadillac Tower. They also can view and download the RFP at the City’s Website, www.detroitmi.gov/pdd. On Feb. 27, applicants are invited to attend an RFP information session at 10:30 a.m. in the department’s 23rd floor conference room. Completed proposals are due on March 28 and development teams selections will be announced on May 1. For more information call 313-224-1538.

Source: Elterro Trent Carroll, PDD
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Mexicantown Mercado nets 4 tenants, coffee shop soon to come

Six months after opening, the 13,000-square-foot Mexicantown Mercado has already begun to fulfill its promise as a culture and business incubator.

Two of the current Mercado tenants are jewelry stores. The Jewelry Center sells silver and gold from Mexico, Italy and Los Angeles and Maya's Jewelry features silver mined from Guanajuato, Mexico.

Hand-poured scented candles, Spanish books and religious items can be found at the Mexi-Candle Gift Shop. The Felicidades Gift Shop offers Mexican folk art as well as a service decorating events such as Quinceañeras, weddings and graduations.

An independent coffee house, Café con Leche, has signed a lease for 675 square feet and will open soon.

Mexicantown Community Development Corporation, the developer and manager of the Mercado, is currently negotiating with another potential tenant that would collaborate with the organization in selling Mexican imports.

Another space will be reserved as the GM Gallery, featuring rotating exhibits that will help draw visitors to the Mercado. There is also space designed for a restaurant.

This leaves space for five additional vendors -- one of the spaces is 700 square feet and four are 320. The larger leases for $1,200 per month and the smaller, $710. Interested entrepreneurs should contact Myrna Segura, the manager of the business incubator, at 313-967-9898.

Source: Myrna Segura, Mexicantown CDC
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Wayne County seminar to focus strategies, successes for rehabbing nuisance properties

This evening, the Wayne County Nuisance Abatement Program (NAP) will host its second annual RAP with NAP forum. The event will, as it did last year, explain NAP's history and how it works.

If a vacant property is ultimately deemed a nuisance by NAP, the county will first work with the owner to either rehab the property or sell it to someone that will. As a last resort, title is awarded to the county and a new owner is sought.

A new element at this year's RAP includes the Wayne County Community Renaissance Award, which will be given to five rehabilitation projects that were targeted by NAP lawsuits. The awards will be given to three residential property owners, the owner of a commercial building near the University of Detroit Mercy (pictured) and Bagley Housing Association, for its restoration of an entire block of the Hubbard-Richard neighborhood.

NAP attorney Michael Russell says the five awardees did "exemplary" jobs on their properties. "When people see the 'before' and 'after' pictures, they say, "Wow!' "

Other speakers will include Regina Strong from the Community Development Advocates of Detroit, who will discuss community initiatives that work in tandem with NAP, and Police Inspector Leslie Montgomery, who will share tactics to help neighborhoods prevent vacant properties from becoming nuisance properties.

The event begins at 5:30 p.m. in the atrium of the Wayne County Building. Russell anticipates 100 to 150 attendees.

For more information about NAP, contact Russell at 313-967-2203 or mrussell@co.wayne.mi.us.

Source: Michael Russell, Wayne County
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

D-Biz: La Jalisciense tortillas roll out from Mexicantown to the world

Each and every day, approximately two tons of flour and corn tortillas leave the doors of La Jalisciense's factory on Bagley Avenue. Some end up just down the street at Honeybee Market/La Colmena, while others end up far across the state and even across the border.

"People come from all over the country to buy tortillas here," says Norma Abundis-Eshaki, who runs the business along with her siblings Sergio Abundis and Myrna Abundis-Alge. "Once someone took some to Mexico City, to the heart of Mexico."

Abundis-Eshaki says the toritllas are all natural, and have been since her father started the company in 1946. "Their flavor is a true flavor," she says. "There are no additional flavors of preservatives or chemicals."

Having been located in the neighborhood for more than 60 years, the Abundis family has seen lots of changes in Southwest Detroit -- in recent years, for the better. "There are quite a few new businesses in the Southwest Detroit area," says Abundis-Eshaki. "Growth generates more growth, which is good for everyone."

La Jalisciense makes white and yellow corn, whole wheat and white flour soft tortillas, as well as masa, the dough used to make tamales. The public is welcome to buy direct from the factory at 2650 Bagley, from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 313-237-0008.

Source: Norma Abundis-Eshaki, La Jalisciense
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Mexicantown's largest outdoor patio debuts at Giovanna's Lounge

The September 28 grand re-opening of Giovanna's Lounge was 34 years in the making. The bar, located on W. Vernor between W. Grand Blvd. and I-75, was originally opened in 1973 by Giovanna Rodriguez.

In 1986, the bar burned down. She re-opened two years later and operated the neighborhood pub until her retirement in 2005.

That didn't last. "She came back," says Kathy Stott from Mexicantown Hubbard Communities. "She wanted to save the business, reinvest, make sure it didn't fall down the wrong road."

The building, until recently, had an unassuming white facade. Rodriguez invested $30,000 to add awnings, a colorful paint job and a delightful outdoor patio to her bar. Stott says the patio has already been a draw to Matrix Theatre patrons looking for a reason to stay in the neighborhood post-show.

Rodriguez's investment received a matching facade grant from Mexicantown Hubbard, which is a partnership between Mexicantown Community Development Corporation, Bagley Housing Association and Southwest Housing Solutions.

Giovanna's hours of operation are noon until 2 a.m. every day except for Wednesday, when it is closed.

Source: Kathy Stott, Mexicantown Hubbard Communities
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Social Compact study findings make powerful statement about Detroit's growing core

Washington, D.C.-based Social Compact has released initial findings from its study of Detroit demographics. The numbers revealed by their DrillDown approach paints a wealthier and more populous picture of Detroit than does the Census.

This is good news for the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., which plans to use the information to attract retailers to the city. The findings include:
  • The resident population of Detroit is 933,043, nearly 62,000 more than projected by the current Census population estimates. 
  • The average income of a Detroit household is $48,000 as opposed to the 2000 Census estimate of $40,900. 
  • There is $800 million of informal economic activity in Detroit's economy each year. This is income like tips, side-consulting, baby-sitting and the like that do not register on traditional market measures.
  • The aggregate income of Detroit households, $15.8 billion, is $2 billion greater than indicated by 2000 Census estimates.
  • At least $1.7 billion of resident retail spending is being leaked outside the city limits.
Traditional census methods tend to undervalue older urban cities for several reasons, one of them being a bias towards new home construction. "The bureau assumes that a certain percentage of homes built before 1940 are retired each year," says Social Compact president and CEO, John Talmage. "The burden rests on the city to prove otherwise."

Immigrants and intergenerational households are also often under-counted.

"This really creates better information for actual business people, developers and brokers," says DEGC project manager Olga Savic. The organization will work to educate these entities, along with government officials and community development corporations, as to how these numbers can be used to leverage commercial investment.

There will also be more surveying at the neighborhood level, which has the potential to reveal even more residents and income. "The numbers are good enough to go after grocery stores now," says Talmage. "It's just going to get better."

Download a copy of the report here.

Source: John Talmage, Social Compact and Olga Savic, DEGC
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Networking group launched to encourage new Detroit businesses

Any slightly-observant Detroit resident -- or even an intermittent Model D reader -- has likely noticed that new businesses are sprouting up all around the city. It's just not happening quickly enough for a couple of local entrepreneurs who have started Open City, a networking group for would-be Detroit business owners.

Over 60 people, a mix of aspiring and actual business owners, attended the group's kick-off meeting at Cliff Bell's on September 18. "We wanted to introduce people to the concept of having a group whose purpose is simply to encourage them and educate them about opening a business in Detroit in an informal manner," says co-founder Liz Blondy of Canine to Five Detroit Dog Daycare.

Blondy and her cohort, Clare Nelson of The Bureau of Urban Living, realized that there were plenty of hurdles standing in the way of starting up a business in Detroit, such as red tape, the perception that the city is unsafe and is not a place where money can be made. Start-up financing is also an issue.

They think the effort is worth it. "People will be so appreciative. They will notice it more then if you open in the suburbs," Blondy said in her opening remarks. "You’ll get more PR for opening in Detroit. Detroiters crave new exciting businesses. Being located in Detroit will help distinguish your business. A high end modern furniture store in Birmingham? There are like four of them. In Detroit, it is unique."

Detroiter Dave Mancini has been contemplating opening up a pizza parlor in the city for several years. "I gave up on Detroit, to be honest," Mancini says. "It was difficult to get in touch with the type of people I needed to get in touch with, and I was having trouble finding space that was not prohibitively expensive to rehab." He attended the meeting as a last-ditch effort at the urging of a friend.

He's glad he did. "There was such good energy from so many people," Mancini says. He was greatly encouraged by keynote speaker Jackie Victor of Avalon Breads. "Having talked to her made me feel better about my prospects down here," he says. "Since the meeting, I've been making more calls. I realize that I haven't turned over every rock yet."

Open City's next meeting will take place October 16. For more information, contact Blondy at liz@caninetofivedetroit.com.

Source: Liz Blondy, Open City
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Ladybug Gallery and 32 units of artist housing lands in Hubbard Farms

Southwest Housing Solutions is developing the 32-unit Whitdell Building on Hubbard at Porter into 32 units of artist housing. CAID, the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, will assist SHS in marketing the units to low-to-moderate income artists. Artists of all stripes are welcome, from film-makers to writers to painters to dancers. Application portfolios will not be judged. "They just have to be passionate about what they are doing," says CAID's Aaron Timlin.

Apartments are one-, two- and three-bedroom and will rent from $320 to $550 per month. Residents must be at or below 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI), which is $29,500 for a single person. Residents can start moving in on November 1.

The basement level of the Whitdell takes the art theme and runs with it. The main attraction is the Ladybug Gallery, with 1,890 square feet of naturally-lit exhibition space and its own entrance off Porter Street. The gallery will make its art world debut on October 20, with the opening of CAID's Actual Size Biennial.

The other half of the basement level is education-oriented, with a computer lab, a flexible classroom and two ceramics-oriented rooms: one with kilns and one with pottery wheels. Although adult classes will be offered, the focus is on children. Timlin says that the younger set's art shows will be timed to coincide with Ladybug's professional openings as often as possible. "We want parents to see that art is about more than keeping kids busy," says Timlin. "It is a passion that can carry over to adult life."

The redevelopment of the Whitdell was bundled with that of the eight-unit Melie Building on Hubbard just north of W. Vernor. The total project cost is $7.2 million.

Sources: Aaron Timlin, CAID and Steve Gabrys, SHS
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Community development corporations honored for neighborhood achievements

Saavy Detroit-observers recognize that the real workhorses of the development world are community development corporations (CDCs). Often the first to invest in an area, their work paves the way for market-rate development.

Every year, two of the CDC world's biggest supporters, Detroit Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) and the Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD) band together to recognize the year's biggest success stories in their community. At this year's luncheon, five CDCs and one individual were recognized.

The Masco CDC of the Year was awarded to the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRCD). The organization works to strengthen the Grand River commercial corridor with facade grants and infrastructure improvements, organizes a weekly farmer's market and will break ground on three new infill houses later this year.

"It's nice to get this kind of recognition every now and then," says executive director Tom Goddeeris. "We've been around for 18 years, and every year presents new challenges." GRDC is preparing to embark on its first-ever capital campaign to raise funds for its new headquarters. "This process is a continuation from year to year, but this year we are branching out into some new things," he says. "We're pleased to have them recognize us for it."

Other awards presented include:
Model D wishes to extend our congratulations to the winners and our thanks to all of Detroit's hard-working CDCs.

Sources: LISC and Tom Goddeeris, GRDC
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Detroit LISC awarded $100K for neighborhood development

The national office of Local Initiatives Support Collaborative (LISC) has awarded its Detroit office $100,000 in its Building Sustainable Communities program. The grant will be used in the five areas of the city that the organization has targeted in its Neighborhoods NOW initiative.

LISC defines sustainable communities as those that are working to expand capital investment in housing and real estate development; increase family income, wealth and employment; stimulate local economic activity and connect to the regional economy; improve access to quality education and support healthy environment and lifestyles. "It is all of those kinds of things that lead to communities being able to be self-supporting," says Program Director Deborah Younger.

Although LISC has been primarily known for its efforts in real estate development, their reach has expanded with their Neighborhoods NOW efforts. "What we're saying is that we're going to do community development activities in these areas in every component, not just real estate," says Younger.

Neighborhoods NOW is a $100 million initiative overall. Detroit is one of eleven cities nationwide that is a demonstration site for the Building Sustainable Communities program.

Source: Deborah Younger, Detroit LISC
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

Detroit development is target for new ShoreBank loan fund manager

On July 2, John Schoeniger began work as Loan Fund Manager at ShoreBank Enterprise Detroit (SED), a nonprofit affiliate of ShoreBank Corporation. Most recently, Schoeniger was Vice President of Residential Real Estate Lending for ShoreBank in Cleveland.

Schoeniger will work primarily with small- and mid-sized developers and minority- and female-owned small businesses. Money from the fund can be used for predevelopment and preconstruction financing as well as predevelopment work such as appraisals, environmental assessments and architecture and engineering. "We want to fill gaps if there are any," he says. "We are willing to be creative and flexible, up to and including equity or equity-like deals."

The new position became necessary when SED received nearly $12 million in investments and loans from the Ford and Knight foundations in January. The fund's goal is specific: build and renovate commercial and residential properties in Detroit, particularly in Next Detroit neighborhoods. Schoeniger's goal is to have $2 million "out the door" in the twelve months.

He points out that funds from SED can be used to leverage conventional financing and/or to fill in any gaps that remain in a development portfolio. A developer, he says, "might have some of the money, but not all. We will try to figure out what they need and how to get it to them."

Schoeniger came to banking from a background in construction and real estate which, he says, helps him "communicate to all kinds of small- to mid-sized contractors and developers." He sees "rust belt" parallels between his experiences in Cleveland and the initiative he has undertaken in Detroit.

Source: John Schoeniger, SED
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh

110 Mexicantown Articles | Page: | Show All
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