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Detroit Development News

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NEI nears second round of grant giving

The New Economy Initiative is about to reach its fundraising goal, having raised $33 of $40 million in funding from local, regional, and national foundations. NEI is entering a three year-long period of grant-giving and support for the region's entrepreneurs. The group is planning a new-look NEI, one that will build on and improve the already successful first round of grant programs that began in 2008.

One planned change is a new focus on pre-existing businesses throughout southeastern Michigan. With so much attention being focused on the region's startup scene, NEI is crafting a contest to reward existing businesses that have the potential to grow. Still in the planning stages, the group hopes to have the contest ready for March.

Still, startups remain at the center of NEI's economy-stimulating strategy. The group's territory includes all of southeastern Michigan with a focus on Detroit. NEI executive director Dave Egner says that one of the reasons for this focus is that, as far as he can tell, there are more organizations servicing Detroit entrepreneurs than anywhere else in the world. That network of organizations allows NEI to more effectively distribute grants to promising entrepreneurs.

Grants are available to entrepreneurs of every stripe, says Egner. "Our focus is industry-agnostic. When we tried to pick sectors, we didn't get the outputs. We've been industry-agnostic since 2009."

NEI is hoping that the modifications planned for its second round of funding will improve on their already impressive numbers.

The New Economy Initiative launched in 2008 and has since awarded $76 million in grants to local entrepreneurs. The program has helped start over 675 new companies and created over 8,000 new jobs in southeastern Michigan. NEI has also helped support BizGrid, an infographic that breaks down Detroit resources for small businesses.

Source: Dave Egner, executive director of New Economy Initiative
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

Practice Space works to develop two new businesses

Detroit small business hub Practice Space has accepted two new projects into its Incubator program. One, a retro arcade bar, is searching for the perfect location while the second, a West Village property owner, is searching for the perfect tenant. Practice Space is helping each find what they're looking for.

Practice Space is assisting Donald Behm in opening Offworld Arcade, a retro-themed video game bar. In the four month-long Incubator program, the people at Practice Space are helping Behm articulate his concept and craft his business plan. They're also helping him find a building to purchase. A successful pop-up "barcade" was recently held in Hamtramck.

"One thing we've noticed is we want to work with people who want to collaborate," says Austin Kronig, cultural development director for Practice Space. "Donald realized he did everything he could on his own and now he needs support. He's an accidental entrepreneur. He doesn't have a business plan or a space but he knows the business and is an expert in classic arcade games."

In the second project, Detroit Institute of Bagels co-owner Alex Howbert approached Practice Space about identifying the right use for 1417 Van Dyke in West Village. The late-Victorian house is from the 1880s and features a storefront on the first floor of the building. It's near West Village hangouts like Craft Work, Detroit Vegan Soul, and the seasonal Tashmoo Biergarten pop-up. Practice Space is working with Howbert on architectural and concept designs, identifying the scope and breadth of the project. Kronig says that Howbert is open-minded about tenants as long as they don't need a full commercial kitchen.

This is the second term of Practice Space Incubator programming. Practice Space previously worked with Eleni Zaharopoulos and Jenile Brooks on their North End Store-House project.

Source: Austin Kronig, cultural development director of Practice Space
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

New Corktown gym opens with charity drive

A new gym is opening in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood. The personal fitness club Detroit Tough is celebrating its opening with a benefit for the homeless and under-clothed. Detroit Tough is opening with the help of an Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy grant.

Roger Dyjak is one of the people behind Detroit Tough. He's also responsible for Train like a Savage, a personal training method that uses the pressure of working out within a group to elevate individual performance. This style of personal fitness champions mental toughness as much as it does physical toughness.

Detroit Tough is not a gym in the traditional sense -- there won't be any treadmills or stationary bikes. Instead, it features physical tests like intense obstacle courses to improve fitness. The private club offers tiered training to better fit need and ability.

The gym is celebrating its opening with a charity drive on Saturday, Feb. 15 from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Organizers are asking for a $20 donation and clothing or canned food. All money raised will be given to New Life Rescue Mission and Empowerment Plan. Clothing will be donated to the Salvation Army.

Music is scheduled throughout the course of the event, including sets from Band B, Velveteen Rabbit, and Volcano and the New Radio Standard. Fellow Corktowners McShane's Pub will be there roasting a pig. University of Detroit Mercy dental students will be providing free dental screenings to the homeless.

Detroit Tough is the recipient of an OTSC grant. The money was secured by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin to redevelop the area of the old Tiger Stadium site. A total of $800,000 was reserved for businesses in the Corktown neighborhood.

Detroit Tough is located at 1244 Beech.

Source: Detroit Tough press release
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

Mayor wants to take blighted buildings through nuisance abatement program

The Detroit Downtown Partnership held its first stakeholder meeting of the year Feb. 5, touching on a range of development topics. It featured the first ever public forum between Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and emergency manager Kevyn Orr.

  • The DDP is pushing for a Business Improvement Zone (BIZ) that would provide long-term funding to the Clean Downtown beautification program. The proposed BIZ would also fund downtown landscaping programs, safety and hospitality programs, and marketing initiatives. Funding is raised through an assessment formula that combines assessed value and built floor area metrics. DDP CEO David Blaszkiewicz expects City Council and Orr to approve the request for BIZ formation, leaving a property owner vote as the last step. Passing the BIZ requires at least 60 percent of voting downtown property owners' approval.
     
  • Duggan credits the professionalism of Orr and the new City Council in the election of a new lighting authority, one that will install LED lights throughout the city. The mayor also mentioned that he, the city council, the emergency manager, and the governor were able to consolidate nine separate land banks and blight task forces into one agency.
     
  • Currently stuck in the Michigan legislature, a bill would require all scrapyards pay by check mailed three days after a transaction.
     
  • Duggan advocated for restoring vacant buildings when possible, rather than demolishing them. He also hinted at a nuisance abatement program akin to the one he instituted during his days as Wayne County Prosecutor, saying, "We're gonna go through and take title to all three (blighted) houses (on a block) at once by suing on a nuisance abatement, saying to the owners, you have to maintain your property so it's not a nuisance to your neighbors. Either sign the court order to fix it up yourself or we'll take it and sell it on the Internet."
Source: Detroit Downtown Partnership stakeholders meeting, Feb. 5, 2014

Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

Federal money to help a number of Corktown businesses open

Nearly all of $800,000 in federal grant money has been spoken for in Corktown, spurring more development in Detroit's oldest neighborhood. The money is part of the larger Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy grant, $3.8 million in federal funds secured by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin in 2009. Though the stadium was eventually razed, efforts to keep the grant money in the neighborhood were successful.

Alexander Zachary is planner and developer for Zachary & Associates. The Detroit-based financial development and planning consultants were charged with the task of managing the $800,000, evaluating proposals and guiding businesses through the application process.

"We're really into sustainability and we've been working with the grantees and getting them connected with DTE Energy for green efficiency credits," says Zachary.

Two businesses recently opened, Two James Spirits and the Detroit Institute of Bagels, were recipients of $50,000 grants, the maximum available.

There are a number of new, yet-to-open businesses that have received approval in their applications for the grant money. These include:

  • Saint Vincent, a "boutique building for startups, freelancers, and mid-sized businesses" located in an abandoned Catholic school.
  • 1701 and 1707 Trumbull, former location of Bagley Trumbull Market. The previous occupant, a party store, took up what was originally two separate store fronts. Zachary says the buildings will be split back into their original configurations with dining in one storefront and retail in the other. Offices and perhaps apartments are planned for the top floors.
  • Detroit Tough, a fitness club located at 1244 Beech St.
  • Gold Cash Gold, located at Michigan Avenue and Wabash, a new restaurant from the Cooleys, owners of Slows Bar BQ.
  • The Detroit Artifactory, an industrial gallery that takes reclaimed industrial products and turns them into functional art and homewares, will open at 2135 Michigan Ave.
  • Lafayette Kitchen and Diner, a new restaurant from the owners of Russell Street Deli in the old Steak Hut Restaurant building.
  • A beer garden is planned for the vacant third of the building occupied by Two James Spirits, the side closest to Michigan Central Station.

Source: Alexander Zachary, planner and developer at Zachary & Associates
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

Business is popping for these unconventional restaurants

Pop-up dining is a popular business model for many a restauranteur whether they want to eventually open their own space or not. For Detroit, the trend may have reached its pop-culture zenith when television host Anthony Bourdain featured local pop-up Guns & Butter on an episode of his CNN program Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. That's not to say that pop-ups are going anywhere any time soon. In fact, it's just the opposite.

Pie-Sci is one of the more successful pop-up restaurants in the city. Co-founders Jeremy Damaske and AJ Nanoulian started the pop-up pizzeria in March of 2011, making pizzas out of Jim Geary's Woodbridge Pub every Sunday. Though they started small, Damaske says that they now sell around 100 pizzas every Sunday. They don't even have pizza ovens, having to use the Woodbridge Pub's two conventional kitchen ovens. The business has gone so well that they're moving operations into the building adjacent to the pub. They hope to be operating daily by the end of the year.

Damaske says that the pop-up restaurant model is perfect for people looking to start a business without a lot of capital. It gives people the chance to get their product out there and build a customer base without having the up-front investment of outfitting a space. It also benefits the host business, drawing customers in that may have not come otherwise.

"There was no real liability for us," says Damske. "We got to use their servers, their liquor license, their alcohol."

The nature of pop-ups can turn going out into more of an event and especially so for less frequent pop-ups like Guns & Butter and Tashmoo Biergarten. Others are further customizing the model like the community building Detroit Soup fosters through its monthly dinners, funding creative projects throughout the city. And then there's Hamtramck's Revolver, whose whole business model is built on hosting rotating chefs and pop-ups.

Source: Jeremy Damaske, co-owner of Pie-Sci
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

Belle Isle disc golf course hangs in the balance

Count the team behind Detroit Disc Golf as one of the many curious to see what happens with Belle Isle once the near 1,000-acre island officially transitions from city park to state park Feb. 10. Since 2011, the group has been working to bring an everyday disc golf course to the island. Currently limited to an events-only course, Detroit Disc Golf is hoping to have a daily insurance policy in place by spring, allowing for everyday play on the island. Much remains in the air, however, as the state has yet to decide the group's fate.

Chris Haag, co-founder of Detroit Disc Golf, says that with six disc golf courses already established on Michigan's state parks, it's not a stretch to believe that the state will want to continue disc golf operations on the island. Though nervous at first when hearing of the state's lease agreement, Haag and his partners are now optimistic that day-to-day operations will begin come spring.

Nothing has yet to be agreed upon but a few conversations with the state leads Haag to believe that the course will open. No one is sure, however, if DDG will continue to manage the site or if the state will take over. Just who runs it isn't a concern for Haag, saying that he just wants to see the project through and open to the public. The state takeover is just another challenge they've had to address.

"We've been working on this since 2011 so we've seen many ups and downs, lefts and rights, north, south, east, and west," says Haag.

While Haag waits on word from the Department of Natural Resources and the state, the group recently hosted the first Detroit Ice Bowl on Belle Isle. Held Jan. 26, the group accepted non-perishable food item donations and money was raised from tournament registration fees to benefit the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.

Source: Chris Haag, co-founder of Detroit Disc Golf
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

The Z opens downtown, artwork a highlight

The Z, a retail and parking development in downtown Detroit, opened last week. The building provides downtown an additional 1,300 parking spots and 33,000 square feet of retail space. The ten story structure is the first ground-up development downtown for Bedrock Real Estate Services, local billionaire Dan Gilbert's real estate division. No word yet on possible tenants for the retail space.

The parking structure is unique in its shape, occupying two corners opposite each other. Reaching from Library and Gratiot to Broadway and E. Grand River, the building is a sort of 'Z' shape, hence the name. It also features a stylized facade highlighted with LED lighting.

In a partnership with the Library Street Collective, Bedrock invited 27 artists from around the world to paint murals throughout the building. Adorning buildings with 'street art' is a trend that more and more Detroit businesses are embracing. Artists featured in the Z include Tristan Eaton, Revok, Dabs and Myla, Saner, and Interesni Kazki.

Bedrock and Library Street Collective released an online video featuring the artists and their work. In the video, Australian artist Myla extolls the virtue of the project, saying, "What they're doing is changing people's perceptions on the city. A project that is about beautifying a parking garage will become something that people will buy a flight for to visit the city to spend, like, half a day looking at all the murals."

While form is a big part of the structure's story, its function is what will matter to many of the city's commuters. The Z is a parking garage for the 21st century. It features a ticketless and cashless pay system with parkers swiping their credit cards as they enter and leave the facility. Once retail does happen, shoppers will be able to validate parking through smart phones and QR codes. Charging stations are available for electric cars.

Source: Bedrock Real Estate Services press release
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

January development news round-up

Good stuff has been happening in Detroit development to start the new year. Here are several projects that got our attention this month:

• Detroit issued a request for proposals to redevelop nearly nine acres of city-owned property in the historic Brush Park district. The land is split into three available parcels. Parcels A and C contain five historic structures which must be tabbed for "adaptive reuse" in the redevelopment plans. Parcel A is the largest at approximately 7.5 acres. 

• Brush Park is known as much for its Gilded Age mansions as it is for the blight and vacant land that characterize much of the historic district today. The area seems ripe for redevelopment, however, as it is located immediately north of downtown and east of the proposed Detroit Red Wings hockey arena. One of the planned stops of the M-1 Rail streetcar line is at Sibley and Woodward. According to the city's RFPQ Package, Detroit has invested more than $39 million in infrastructure, demolition, acquisition, and historic rehabilitation in Brush Park since 2001. The neighborhood dates back to the 1860s. 

• A new restaurant, Craft Work, has opened in the Parkstone Apartments building on Agnes Street in the West Village neighborhood. Hubert Yaro, he of Royal Oak's Ronin sushi lounge and Birmingham's Commonwealth coffee shop, is the proprietor. Craft Work is open Monday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to midnight. A Sunday brunch is planned come March 2.

• At a public hearing earlier this month, M-1 Rail officials announced that streetcar service is expected to begin in the late summer months of 2016. The light-rail system is projected to carry almost 5,000 riders per day.

• Demand for rentals in the downtown, Midtown, and Corktown neighborhoods is far exceeding supply, driving up rent by $200 to $400 a month in many buildings, says a recent article in the Detroit Free Press. Will demand spur new residential development projects and stabilize rent prices?

Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

Let's get physical: Personal trainer opens downtown fitness studio

Robert Gardner is opening PT in the D, a small personal training studio located in the Julian C. Madison building at 1420 Washington Blvd. The 1,300 square foot facility features equipment ideal for strength training and cardiovascular exercises as well as a private shower. The business officially opens the first week of February.

PT in the D specializes in one-on-one personal training sessions. Training for small groups of two to six people is also available. Gardner isn't looking to expand class size, preferring to keep sessions small and private. The smaller the group, the easier it is for Gardner to tailor each session to clients' needs and goals.

Working in fitness since 2007, Gardner attended Wayne State University, where he received a degree in exercise science. He then worked as a personal trainer at the Boll Family YMCA downtown. It was there where he got the idea to open his own studio. Working downtown, he says, helped him develop a network of clients. And while personal training studios are popular in many American cities, it's a business that hasn't taken off in Detroit -- yet.

"I think it's good to start PT in the D now versus five to six years from now when rent will be higher and maybe there will be more similar businesses," says Gardner. "It's a good opportunity. There's more and more demand for this type of business. People are wanting to get healthier."

With more people moving downtown, Gardner sees the potential for more clients. He estimates that 75 to 80 percent of his client list live either in downtown, Midtown, or Corktown. The rest are commuting to work from the suburbs.

PT in the D offers personal training sessions by appointment only.

Source: Robert Gardner, owner of PT in the D
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here.

Clothing with a cause benefits Detroit youth

A Michigan clothing company has teamed up with the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy to mentor students enrolled at the Detroit school. The company, Merit, also donates 20 percent of its total revenue -- and not just its profits -- to a college scholarship program it started. Business owner David Merritt calls it, "cause by design." The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy is a public charter high school on the city's west side.

The education enrichment program, FATE, works to expose Detroit's high school students to the world of higher education. Students attend a series of 40 workshops throughout their high school career. Merritt says they've developed an innovative curriculum that is interactive and engaging, one that keeps kids continuously thinking about college and how their actions affect their education and community.

Merritt attended the University of Michigan on an academic scholarship. He joined the Michigan Wolverine basketball team as a walk-on, eventually earning an athletic scholarship. In 2009, his final season with the team, Merritt led the Wolverines as co-captain to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. After basketball, the former point guard joined the Michigan broadcast team as a color commentator. It was then when he approached Jalen Rose, also a former Michigan basketball player, about FATE.

"With students who live in urban areas, you have to talk and build more awareness about college," says Merritt. "You have to offer something more positive than what they're exposed to on a daily basis."

Charity doesn't sell fashion alone and Merritt stresses that in order for everything to work, the product has to be great. The fact that the clothing sales benefit others is the cherry on top, says Merritt.

Merit operates out of an online store and Ann Arbor storefront.  

Source: David Merritt, owner of Merit
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Detroit guitar pedal biz increases sales, products

Detroit company Red Panda continues to expand in its boutique guitar effects pedal business. Owner Curt Malouin is looking to delegate the bulk of assembly tasks to employees so he can focus on R&D. Malouin is working on a new bit crusher and delay effects pedals.

When a guitar is plugged into a bit crusher, the effect produces 8-bit computer sounds, or "Nintendo sounds." A bit crusher effect is typically achieved by plugging a guitar directly into a special computer program, forcing guitarists to bring laptops with them to gigs. The pedal solves this problem. A second effects pedal, a delay pedal, is planned for later this year. It will, as Malouin says, have a few tricks with different processing than typical delay.

Red Panda's current line of effects pedals, Particle and Context, have steadily built a global buzz through word-of-mouth and the Internet. "Our musicians, our customers, are making videos and putting them on YouTube that blow me away, doing things that I never imagined," says Malouin. "They're taking what we built here and using them in ways that I never imagined, coming up with surprising new sounds. So that's why we've been able to grow."

The Particle is a granular delay and pitch shifter pedal -- another effect typically found only in computer programs. Malouin's reverb pedal, Context, captures the sound of early digital reverb pedals.

The company began selling its pedals through the Internet but now experiences 90 percent of its sales through dealers. Red Panda pedals are now carried by dealers in six states and seven countries, including Japan, Australia, and Germany.

Red Panda pedals are manufactured at U.S. factories and then shipped to the Green Garage where the final assembly is done by hand.

Source: Curt Malouin, owner of Red Panda
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Update: Corktown's Rubbed restaurant nears opening

Though it's taken a little longer than originally planned, the sandwich and charcuterie shop Rubbed is moving quickly now as it prepares for a spring opening. Rubbed owners Abbey Markell and Jason Frenkel are turning to crowdfunding to close the funding gap and get the community involved in the shop's opening.

Rubbed is offering market rate rewards in its crowdfunding campaign. "We're a for-profit business," says Markell. "We didn't want to just ask people for money." Taken that way, one could look at the rewards as orders placed in advance.

Markell says she receives several calls a week from people asking if Rubbed is open yet. The pair have been building anticipation while catering a number of events at Detroit businesses, including Two James Spirits, the Sugar House, and Frontera.

"We were hoping to be open by last fall but that may have been aggressive on our end. Especially with the catering jobs," says Markell. "Still, we're less than a year in development."

Markell and Frenkel are planning to temporarily open for Corktown's busiest day, the St. Patrick's Parade. The end of March would then be devoted to a number of pre-opening events, including the Rubbed After Dark dinner series and the Rub Down party. They hope for Rubbed to officially be open in April.

Markell estimates that the restaurant is 80 to 90 percent done. The small things remain, including the city permit process. But Markell says that talking to other business owners around town has assured her that the city's permit process is moving at a faster pace these days. The pair recently made a trip to East China, Michigan, where they picked out a tree to be turned into a single-piece, three foot-wide counter top.

Rubbed will be located at 2015 Michigan Ave.

Source: Abbey Markell, co-owner of Rubbed
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Local group tries to draw development interest to historic Milwaukee Junction

A group is putting out a call to property owners, developers, and artists to help save a concentration of historic buildings that don't receive as much attention as those in Detroit's more popular neighborhoods. The Friends of Milwaukee Junction is a non-profit organization formed to preserve an area of town once known as the center of Detroit manufacturing power.

Friends of Milwaukee Junction is looking to achieve more historic designations within the district, stabilize the neighborhood, and attract new developers. "There's no one watching these buildings," says president Dave Biskner. "If we don't get concerned citizens paying attention, we're going to lose another after another."

Biskner is hoping one way to curb vandalism and blight is to duplicate what's being done in the Grand River Creative Corridor. He recently connected with GRCC founder Derek Weaver. While he's open to any idea and encourages people to reach out, Biskner is looking to make public art a key selling point of the district. He's hoping for both artists and property owners to donate talent and space.

Recent successes include a mural painting in the Beaubien Street viaduct and eliminating vandalism on a local church.

Milwaukee Junction contains one of the largest -- if not the largest -- concentrations of early 20th century industrial architecture in North America. The area first sprang up around an east-west and north-south railroad junction, ideal for manufacturing operations of any sort. Milwaukee Junction remains attached to a major transportation hub, as interstates 75 and 94 meet at its center.

The 710-acre district reaches across the expressways, touching Woodward, Warren, and St. Aubin at different points. Within its boundaries are a variety of industrial buildings, from re-purposed factories such as the successful Russell Industrial Center to the abandoned and blighted Fisher Body Plant 21.

Connect with Friends of Milwaukee Junction here.

Source: Dave Biskner, president of Friends of Milwaukee Junction
Writer: MJ Galbraith

Co-working space round-up: Another space announced plus a new directory

The hottest new industry in Detroit may be the co-working space as the shared work venues continue to multiply. The new trend in work life offers startups and freelancers the ability to network and grow while getting those who work from home out and into a more social environment.

As the list grows and grows, it can become increasingly difficult to keep track of them all. As a result, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation has compiled a Detroit Co-Working Space Finder that's available on their website. The directory lists 13 different co-working spaces throughout the city. They are:
The DEGC will have to update their directory rather quickly as another co-working space is already in the works. A new Detroit-based LLC called Quality Pheasant has announced plans to transform the former Saint Vincent Middle School into Saint Vincent Corktown, a boutique office space.

The 40,000 square foot building rests in the shadow of Michigan Central Station. Located at 2020 14th Street, Saint Vincent will be split into common work areas and private office suites with micro-lounges throughout. A skylit, stained-glass chapel tops the building, an architectural highlight.

As reported last week, Junction 440 is the latest co-working space to open in Detroit. It is one of seven co-working spaces to participate in the inaugural Co-Lab Detroit. The event was designed to create a community of co-working spaces rather than a competition. Open houses, tours, and free co-working days are available at each venue throughout the week. Co-Lab Detroit is happening now.

Source: DEGC, Saint Vincent press releases
Writer: MJ Galbraith
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