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Developers dig 27 geothermal wells to heat, cool Midtown's historic Forest Arms building


Forest Arms, a prominent apartment building near Wayne State University, was nearly lost in 2008 after a fire ravaged the building, displacing its residents and leaving the interior a charred mess. Local developers and husband and wife Scott Lowell and Carolyn Howard purchased the building a year later. They are now deep in a major rehab of the building, one that includes heavily investing in sustainable energy.

The pair have hired Strategic Energy Solutions of Berkley to dig 27 geothermal wells. Dug at a rate of two a day, the 375 foot-deep wells will heat and cool the Forest Arms' 70 one- and two-bedroom units. Built in 1905, the building was previously heated by a single pipe-radiator system.

"With the courtyard, it's a great opportunity to put these wells in," says Lowell. "Wells wouldn't make sense for a single-family residence, but with the overall heating costs for a place this big, we might save twenty percent off heating costs."

A 20,000 gallon cistern that will collect rain water from the roof is also planned. The water will then be utilized for non-potable purposes like flushing toilets and watering the lawn.

Workers are making progress within the building's interior, as well. While digging up the basement to work on the plumbing, Lowell and company have decided to keep digging, lowering the basement floor by a couple of feet to give more space to the eventual renters of the five garden units planned. Two commercial spaces will also go in that level.

Five penthouse units will be built on the roof. Tax credits Lowell is using to help fund the redevelopment demand that the penthouses be mostly hidden from streetview so as not to tarnish the building's historic charm. Lowell says that details like windows, doors, and trim will also have to meet historic accuracy standards. Other details, like cabinetry and fixtures, will be more modern.

Lowell is aiming for a Dec. 2015 opening.

Source: Scott Lowell, owner/operator of Forest Arms
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Community block party announced for West RiverWalk grand opening

Morning joggers, lunchtime power walkers, and anyone out for an evening stroll have the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy to thank for an additional 20 acres of the popular RiverWalk park system. The group is celebrating its latest success with a grand opening party Saturday, Oct. 4.

Happening between 1 and 8 p.m. at 1801 W. Jefferson Ave., the community block party is free and open to the public. Live music, food trucks, and a beer tent will fuel the revelry with family-friendly activities planned for those with children.

This is the first portion of the RiverWalk to extend west of Joe Louis Arena. The path is interrupted by the Riverfront Towers Apartments and its marina and picks up after, running between the Detroit River and W. Jefferson Avenue to Rosa Parks Boulevard. It's marked by the familiar features found along the existing RiverWalk, including new lighting, rails, and promenade.

The promenade of the western stretch has been widened to 30 feet, allowing fishers to cast their lines while worrying less about the speeding bikers weaving in and out of their path. Marc Pasco, director of communications for the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, said in an interview conducted earlier this summer, "Fishermen have always loved that location. This will give them some extra room."

Much of the western stretch of the RiverWalk is defined by a large lawn ideal for lounging, sports, or concerts. This year's edition of the annual KEM Live at Mack and Third benefit concert was held at the western RiverWalk on Aug. 24. The concert series, formed by Detroit performer KEM, has raised food, goods, services, and awareness for the city's homeless population since 2009.

The opening of this latest extension brings the conservancy one parcel of land closer to completing its goal of the RiverWalk running from Gabriel Richard Park to the Ambassador Bridge.

Source: Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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

Pop-up biergarten to occur in West Village Saturday, September 27


The West Village Biergarten is popping up Saturday, September 27. Hatch Detroit, the Villages of Detroit, West Village Association, Detroit City Distillery, and the Detroit Lions are teaming together to offer a day's worth of food, music, and craft beer, activating an empty lot on Van Dyke Avenue, adjacent to West Village Manor. The party runs from noon to 8 p.m.

The biergarten is a combination of events. Along with being one of West Village's contributions to the Detroit Design Festival, it's also an opportunity for Hatch Detroit to celebrate the recent work they've completed in West Village. Through their neighborhood initiatives program with the Detroit Lions, Hatch helped install new signage for West Village businesses and replace old gas lights with LEDs.

Many Hatch alums will be contributing to the pop-up. Algeria Pops, who made it to the top ten list in this year's Hatch contest, will be selling their Mexican ice pops. Gabriel Hall, a top four finalist in this year's Hatch contest, will be making their New Orleans food and playing their New Orleans music -- Gabriel Hall owner Dameon Gabriel leads the Gabriel Brass Band. Sister Pie, winner of this year's Hatch grand prize, will be hosting a pop-up at their own soon-to-be location at Parker and Kercheval.

"We try and keep track of our alums and see what they're doing on their own," says Hatch's executive director Vittoria Katanski. "We use them for events as much as we can."

Michigan beers including selections from Short's, Founders, Bell's, and New Holland will be on tap and spirits from the recently-opened Detroit City Distillery, located in Eastern Market, will be on hand. Cornhole, a popular tailgating game involving the tossing of bean bags into wooden boxes, will be set up as well.

Around the corner, new West Village coffee shop The Red Hook is planning a soft opening that same weekend.

Source: Vittoria Katanski, executive director of Hatch Detroit
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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First annual blacksmith and welding festival to take place in Midtown


The first of what organizers hope to be an annual event will be held Saturday, September 13th in the parking lot across from Midtown bar and restaurant Traffic Jam & Snug. The event, SCRAP, is a celebration of the city's metal working culture. Blacksmithing demonstrations and a live three-team welding competition are among the activities planned.

A silent auction will be held throughout the day, allowing visitors to bid on the works being created right before them. Involved in the welding competition are teams Detroitus, Motown Masters, and City Sculpture. Artists are challenged to make revolving, kinetic sculptures out of reclaimed scrap metal.

Proceeds from the auction will be donated to Green Living Science, a recycling and upcycling advocacy group that is supporting the event. Other supporters include SPARC and Red-D-Arc Welderentals. Traffic Jam & Snug is hosting the event.

SCRAP organizers were first inspired by James Howard, a longtime blacksmith and the father of Traffic Jam & Snug co-owner Carolyn Howard. The event is an opportunity to showcase an inspired group of people and their work.

"It's the start of something amazing," says Ana Cukovic, one of the event's organizers. "People might not know it, but Detroit still has that strong metal working culture."

In addition to demonstrations by the Michigan Blacksmith Guild and the art competition, there will be DJ sets from RJ Stefanski, Eastside Jon, Ernie “Erno the Inferno” Guerra, and Evan Scott Braddish, or “Evol”. Also planned are fire performances, Wayne State University artist showcases, a photobooth, and other vendors.

SCRAP will run from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, September 13th. The event is free to attend and will be family friendly, says organizers.

Source: Ana Cukovic, SCRAP co-producer
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Midtown Detroit, Inc. secures funding for new green alley, construction starts in September

Over $200,000 has been secured for a new green alley in Midtown. The money results from a successful crowdfunding campaign by Midtown Detroit, Inc., which beat its $50,000 goal by $2,290. By reaching its goal, Midtown Detroit, Inc. also secures $50,000 in pledged matching funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

The alley in question runs between Second and Third streets and Selden and Alexandrine streets, running behind what could prove to be a very popular restaurant, Selden Standard, which is currently under construction.

"The Green Alley project is a perfect example of how crowdfunding enables residents, businesses, and others to pool resources and work together to create vibrant public spaces," says MEDC's director of community development Katharine Czarnecki in a statement. The Michigan Department of Transportation and Shinola have each contributed an additional $10,000 and $100,000, respectively.

As it stands today, the alley is not unlike plenty of alleys in plenty of big cities, strewn with litter and debris and largely unkempt. Those curious about what a green alley is can travel just a few blocks north to the city's first green alley, which starts at Second and runs east between Canfield and Forest streets, or they can visit the city's second green alley, which is under construction between Cass and Second and Willis and Canfield streets.

Green alleys promote sustainability, pedestrian safety, and placemaking, completely transforming parts of the city that are often under-utilized and generally avoided. By breaking up solid stretches of pavement and replacing them with permeable pavers, green alleys allow urban runoff and rain to go directly into the ground rather than flow into the city's sewer system.

Construction on the alley is scheduled to begin this September and be completed by the end of October. Midtown Detroit, Inc. is planning a grand opening for the alley which will coincide with the highly anticipated opening of the Selden Standard.

Source: Midtown Detroit, Inc. press release
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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

185-unit apartment development to begin construction this fall

What started as a community of town homes nearly ten years ago has morphed into a four-building, 185-unit apartment development on the edge of downtown. Keeping the original name DuCharme Place, architects McIntosh Poris Associates and long-time Detroit developer Walter Cohen have secured financing to start construction this fall. A late 2015 opening is expected.

DuCharme Place is located at 1544 E. Lafayette St., across from the Lafayette Foods grocery store.

The team began planning DuCharme Place in 2004. The original town home design was scratched, however, when the housing market dropped out during the recent recession. The team revisited the development in 2012, this time with a completely new design. By incorporating heavy landscaping into the development, Michael Poris, architect and principal at McIntosh Poris Associates, says the team is giving a nod to the neighboring Lafayette Park community and its emphasis on green space that resulted from the collaboration between famed architect Mies van der Rohe, landscape architect Alfred Caldwell, and urban planner Ludwig Hilberseimer.

The four apartment buildings surround a common courtyard and pool. The buildings are spread across three platforms raised one story above a ground level parking facility of over 200 spaces, which runs underneath the complex. As for the apartments themselves, they'll be 185 market-rate studio, one bedroom, and two bedroom units. Energy efficiency and a living roof are part of the plans, as well.

"They're going to be contemporary. The floor plans are pretty open but the bedrooms will be enclosed," says Poris. "Kind of a 'soft loft.'"

Architects McIntosh Poris and developer Walter Cohen are also working together on the current redevelopment of the old Detroit Fire Department Headquarters. Redevelopment plans for the historic building include the 100-room Foundation Hotel and a restaurant.

The Detroit City Council recently approved a nearly $5 million Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority brownfield tax increment incentive plan for the DuCharme Place development.

Source: Michael Poris, architect and principal at McIntosh Poris Associates
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Registration opens: Wayne County debuts new June property auction

Registration is now open for the first Wayne County Treasurer's Auction of Tax-Foreclosed Properties of 2014. Interested bidders must register before 4:30 p.m. on June 18 to join the auction. Returning bidders must re-register for the online property auction, which will be held June 20 through June 26. 557 properties are available in the June auction.

Wayne County added the June auction to the usual auctions held in September and October as it seeks to clear the 20,000 to 25,000 properties in its inventory. The June auction features properties that are returning properties, or those that were sold through the auction at least once before but were foreclosed again and returned to the county.

For Dave Szymanski, chief deputy of the Wayne County Treasurer office, the June auction is an opportunity to work on a system he finds flawed. With 20,000 to 25,000 properties available in the fall auctions and only 557 in June, a smaller auction allows the county to better analyze data and move forward with any necessary changes. Data analysis may suggest that some properties would be better off being bundled together, for example. The county could also determine that some buildings are better off demolished than offered at all.

Another tactic the office will try is holding sealed-envelope auctions, says Szymanski. In a sealed-envelope auction, bidders submit their highest offer without being aware of any competing bids. During the June auction, one in four properties will be available through sealed bids.

"I've read doctoral theses determining that sealed-bid auctions are not likely to get any less money than open-bid auctions," says Szymanski. "And they often get more."

Getting more per property should weed out bidders who win properties on minimum bids only to let them sit and eventually be foreclosed on once again, the reasoning goes.

Source: Dave Szymanski, Cheif Deputy of the Office of the Wayne County Treasurer
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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25 and still going strong, Greening of Detroit keeps humming along

In their 25th year, the Greening of Detroit is as busy as ever. The non-profit group is in the midst of another season of planting trees, urban gardening, and much, much more. A variety of programming dominates the Greening of Detroit's year, from planting roughly 5,000 trees throughout the city to conducting workforce training for citizens with challenges to employment.

Greening of Detroit is beginning the transition from tree-planting season to gardening season. The group typically plants 5,000 trees a year over the course of two periods, from March to June and from mid-September to just before Thanksgiving. The Greening recently finished a massive tree-planting project in Rouge Park, a 1,184-acre west side park where it has planted 1,703 trees since the fall of 2013.

As the weather warms, much of the group's focus shifts to its three farm gardens: Romanowski Farm Park, Lafayette Greens, and Detroit Market Garden. The Greening uses the gardens for educational programming, urban farming, and produce markets. On May 20, they'll be offering a class on how to grow wild edibles in your garden. On May 29, they'll be offering a class on backyard aquaponics. Each demonstration will be held at the Detroit Market Garden, located behind Shed 5 of Eastern Market.

In collaboration with the Lower Eastside Action Plan (LEAP), the Greening is devising ways to clear and re-green blighted lots. Trish Hubbell, marketing director for Greening of Detroit, says that the group engages the communities they work with as much as possible.

"We like to work with the communities and get their input because ultimately they're the ones who take over and run things," says Hubbell.

Adult workforce training, children's educational programming, and the popular Build-A-Garden program are also planned for the summer.

Since its formation in 1989, the Greening of Detroit has planted nearly 82,000 trees throughout the city.

Source: Trish Hubbell, marketing director for Greening of Detroit
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Local design and architecture firms collaborate on a new vision for Palmer Park

An impressive list of Detroit-area architecture and design firms have come together to help shape Palmer Park's future. Led by Gibbs Planning Group and sponsored by the Michigan chapters of the American Society of Landscape Architects and the Congress for the New Urbanism, seven teams made up of 11 firms recently presented various plans for the historic park to the People for Palmer Park, an advocacy group. A consensus master plan will be created from this work and presented to the city by Memorial Day.

Participating firms included LivingLAB Detroit, McIntosh-Poris Architects, ASTI Environmental, dPOP!, Archive DS, department 01, Conservation Design Forum, Ken Weikal Landscape Architecture, Mark Johnson Architects, Hamilton-Anderson Associates, Downtown Solutions, Inc., Campbell Architeture and Planning, and Gibbs Planning Group.

The plans address a wide range of issues facing the park, from stormwater management to transit and parking questions.

Other plans focus on the park's design elements. Dave Mangum, urban planning associate for Gibbs Planning, says the park has been disconnected from itself and the community it serves. He singled out a high fence running along Woodward Ave. that limits access to the park.

People for Palmer Park is engaging community members to identify what they like and dislike about each of the seven presentations. Gibbs Planning will then work with them and the other firms to form a consensus master plan. Though not binding, the parties involved hope that the city will use the master plan when considering changes to the park. It also provides the People for Palmer Park with an effective fundraising tool for their own advocacy efforts.

"There hasn't been a cohesive vision for Palmer Park in quite a while," says Mangum.

Palmer Park is a 300-acre park designed by the 'father of landscape architecture,' Frederick Law Olmsted, the man who designed such famous parks as Detroit's Belle Isle and New York's Central Park.

Source: Dave Mangum, urban planning associate for Gibbs Planning Group
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Detroit debuts new property auction website

Building Detroit, a website designed to auction off city-owned houses, has launched. It features a number of safeguards that are designed to keep speculators from bidding on the properties. The idea is to ensure that houses go to people and companies who will fix, maintain, and populate the homes.

Houses will be available at a rate of one per day starting Monday, May 5. Bidding starts at 8 a.m. and runs through 5 p.m. There are currently 12 houses listed on the Building Detroit website. Bidding for the first house, 4184 Bishop, starts at $1,000. Registration has opened for potential bidders.

The city is employing what it calls a "rigorous process" to vet winning bidders. Winners must pay 10% of the price within 72 hours of winning the auction. If purchased for $20,000 or less, winners must make the full payment within 60 days of the auction. Winners have 90 days to make a full payment if a property is purchased for more than $20,000.

The Detroit Land Bank Authority requires winners to demonstrate executed construction contracts for home rehabs within 30 days of closing. If the winner is rehabbing the home themselves, they are required to provide corresponding receipts.

Buyers have six months to be granted a certificate of occupancy and have the home occupied. Failure to meet all of these requirements results in losing both property and purchase price. Such rules should prevent speculators from buying properties only to sit on them, leaving them unoccupied and at-risk for scrapping and squatting, something for which the Wayne County Tax Auction has been criticized.

On April 27, the East English Village Association, heavily involved in the auction's first round, will be hosting open houses for the buildings available in its neighborhood.

Source: Building Detroit press release
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Sturgis-native moves to Detroit, starts junk removal business

A new junk and trash removal service has opened on the city's far west side. Scott Stauffer moved his family from Sturgis, Michigan this winter to start Detroit Junkbusters. The company, which utilizes a heavy duty truck and a 6x12 dump trailer, offers services to Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw, Livingston, and Monroe counties.

Scott sees his company as an opportunity to help and meet people in his new community. As he gets situated here, Scott hopes to organize some community service events, donating his time and equipment to remove illegal dumping waste.

"There's a satisfaction you get from cleaning stuff up, from being able to help clean the neighborhood up," says Scott. "There's a satisfaction from taking something chaotic and disastrous and making it usable again."

Scott says his company will haul away junk and trash for just about anyone who hires them. No job's too small for Scott -- he's been called to remove a heavy television set for a person unable to move it on their own. He's happy to take the big jobs too, of course. He says that he recently removed four trailers worth of trash from a wrecked apartment unit.

Scott also tries to keep as much stuff out of landfills as possible, recycling and donating whatever he can. Rather than someone renting a dumpster to be dropped off in front of their house, Scott brings the dumpster to the house, removes the trash, and then takes it away.

A former roofer, Scott got the idea for the junk removal business after hanging out with some friends in the Kitchener, Ontario area. They had their own junk removal business there and Scott was taken with all the people he met throughout the day.

Source: Scott Stauffer, owner and CEO of Detroit Junkbusters
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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March development news round-up

March was another busy month for development news in the city. Let's catch up on five stories from the past four weeks.


Writer: MJ Galbraith

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

Reclaim Detroit trains over 300 in anticipation of deconstruction campaign for city

Reclaim Detroit has trained a workforce of over 300 people as it prepares to begin deconstructing the city's vacant buildings. The non-profit organization was selected after submitting to a Detroit RFP, becoming the official deconstruction contractor of the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

The city is using the federal government's Hardest Hit Fund to clear Detroit of many of its blighted buildings. Exact numbers of just how many houses will be deconstructed should be available at the end of the month when the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force has gone through its recently collected data.

Reclaim Detroit is a group that opts for deconstruction over demolition. Work crews go into a house and salvage as much of the original materials as possible. Rather than end up in a landfill, the reclaimed wood is for sale at Reclaim Detroit's store and warehouse at Focus: HOPE.

In addition to being environmentally friendly, the reclaimed wood is a popular design trend these days. A number of Detroit businesses, including Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company and Whole Foods Market, feature the reclaimed wood. Craig Varterian, executive director of Reclaim Detroit, says that the group will even be outfitting a McDonald's soon. It's a sign that deconstruction is becoming more and more desirable these days. Varterian is excited, too, that in Reclaim Detroit's winning the city's RFP, Detroit chose deconstruction over demolition.

"We're thrilled to have this," says Varterian. "This is the first time that the city has given the nod to deconstruction practices as mainstream."

Varterian says that in working with the Detroit Land Bank, the group will be using a more cost-efficient hybrid method of deconstruction. Crews should be able to complete a house in three to five days. Mechanical demolition will then be used to finish the job.

Source: Craig Varterian, executive director of Reclaim Detroit
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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Five homes to be rehabilitated, sold, and rented in West Village

The Villages Community Development Corporation has purchased five homes to rehabilitate and put back on the market. The five buildings are located on Seyburn and Van Dyke streets in the West Village neighborhood. The CDC expects the homes to be available within six months.

This is the first time the Villages organization has purchased homes to rehabilitate, an idea they've seen work for other CDCs like the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation, says Villages executive director Brian Hurttienne. In emulating the success of the GRDC, the group hopes to spur economic development.

Three single-family homes and two duplexes make up the five structures purchased. Once rehabilitated, the single-family homes will be sold. The CDC will retain ownership of the duplexes and rent the units out.

Construction will soon begin and jobs will first be available to qualified area residents. The buildings, vacant for anywhere between one to eight years, remain in good shape. Hurttienne credits the quality of home construction in the Villages as a key component of the area's stability.

"I'm going to reach out to the neighbors of these properties so they know what's going on with each individual property," says Hurttienne. "We want to make sure the Villages is a stable community."

Though slowed down by the city's bankruptcy uncertainties, a process that began in 2012 was completed in December 2013, ensured by cooperation among community stakeholders and federal and city departments. The Villages identified a number of homes for potential rehabilitation, the Detroit Land Bank Authority purchased and cleared the titles of the homes, and then the Villages bought the buildings from the land bank.

Neighboring residents experienced in the construction trades should contact the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation for potential employment.

Source: Brian Hurttienne, executive director of the Villages CDC
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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I-375 Alternatives Study hosts first public meeting

Business owners, residents, and commuters affected by a potential transformation of I-375 were joined by the otherwise curious Thursday evening, Feb. 13, as the Downtown Development Authority hosted the first of three public meetings. A crowd gathered at Stroh River Place in an open house setting as the DDA and their partners in the study, the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, guided visitors through a series of informative stations.

Each station provided data regarding project study areas, ranging from cost estimations to current vehicular usage. One station had a map of the area and visitors were asked to place stickers at the points where they felt unsafe as pedestrians. Another map asked visitors to place stickers at places they thought to be aesthetically unpleasing. Visitors were asked, too, of their overall opinion of I-375 and whether think it should remain an expressway or be transformed for a different use.

The I-375 Alternatives Study is a result of the impending reconstruction of I-375. Current estimates place reconstruction costs at $80 million. MDOT has enlisted the help of area stakeholders to determine whether the land in question could be utilized in a more effective way, such as demolishing the below-grade expressway and transforming it into a street-level boulevard.

Taking into account the information gathered from Thursday's public forum, the group behind the study will craft a number of alternative developments for the project areas. Five alternatives will be crafted for the primary study area, the nearly one-mile stretch of I-375. Two alternatives will be crafted for each of the secondary study areas, the I-75/I-375/Gratiot interchange and the I-375/Jefferson interchange. These alternatives will be presented to the public at a later date this spring.

I-375 was built in 1964.

Source: I-375 Alternatives Study public meeting, Feb. 13, 2014
Writer: MJ Galbraith

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