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Downtown Synagogue launches crowdfunding campaign to keep its programming free

The Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, Detroit's last free-standing synagogue, has been an important fixture of the city for nearly 100 years. Since opening it's doors in 1921, the synagogue has held free Shabbat and High Holiday Day services, and free membership to its congregants. And it's looking to continue those important traditions.

That's why the Downtown Synagogue has launched its inaugural "Keep It Free!" campaign, hoping to raise $100,000. In the past, the synagogue has remained open through foundation grants, but is looking to switch to an annual campaign drive funding model. 

"We are really excited to be altering our funding model to match how we exist in the community," said Oren Goldenberg, chair of the synagogue's fundraising committee and member of the board of directors, in a press release. "We have always been a place that is open to the larger community, beyond those who worship with us. This movement towards an annual campaign allows everyone who touches the synagogue to be a supporter in its sustainability."

As recently as 2008, the Downtown Synagogue was in a desperate situation. With an annual budget of $12,000, it was close to closing. Since then, the synagogue has continued to grow in both budget and scope, employing a rabbi, executive director, and programming director, and helping to run an urban garden on the east side, Eden Gardens Block Club. 

The synagogue also throws legendary dance parties several times a year that are free to the public. 

"'Keep it Free!' is a reflection of the Downtown Synagogue's commitment to remaining a primary resource for the metropolitan Detroit Jewish community and the community at-large," said Rabbi Ariana Silverman, in a press release. "Our plan to keep access to our programs free of cost underscores our belief that we have an obligation to make a difference for all Detroiters."

You can donate to the Downtown Synagogue's "Keep It Free" campaign here

Thanks to a 24-year-old grad student, paying your water bill in Detroit has never been easier

Last month we reported about all the exciting ways the city of Detroit has expanded its use of technology to provide better access and services. Thanks to a 24-year-old metro Detroiter, the city has added yet another piece of technology to its tool belt.

A new portal and app has been created for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) so that customers can access and pay their bills online, with mobile devices, and even through Amazon's Alexa. The app went live in August and the city claims that over $2 million in water bills from 4,000 customers have already been paid. 

What's also amazing is that the city struck a licensing agreement with a graduate student at the University of Michigan, Abess Makki, 24, who founded the software company CityInsight, which uses technology to help municipal governments with their operations. 

"This technology is a win for everyone," Makki said in a press release. "CityInsight enables Detroit to collect more revenue, have more satisfied customers, and promote smart consumer habits."

With the new DWSD portal, residents can register their account, make or schedule payments, monitor payments and account history, track their water usage, and more. 

Makki founded CityInsight in 2014 in response to water shutoffs for Detroit residents because of thousands of unpaid water bills. He thought that if residents had a more convenient way to pay, and if the city made billing information for accessible, some shutoffs could be prevented. 

Partnership between Quicken Loans and Detroit housing assistance org prevents 80 foreclosures

Several fascinating partnerships have emerged in recent years to address some of Detroit's problems. We wrote about the Equitable Internet Initiative, a partnership between community groups, a foundation, a grassroots technology organization, and an internet service provider to deliver internet to Detroiters lacking access. 

Another surprising partnership has been struck, this time to prevent displacement from foreclosure. 

The Quicken Loans Community Investment Fund (QLCIF), city of Detroit, and United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC) have developed a program that will result in 80 tenants of foreclosed homes the ability to purchase the house for between $2,500 and $5,500.

Proceeds from these purchases will go to UCHC, an anti-foreclosure advocacy nonprofit, for further tax foreclosure outreach efforts. QLCIF donated $300,000 towards the effort. 

"The occupants of these homes were in a precarious situation because their landlords failed to pay property taxes, putting them at risk of eviction after the foreclosure auction," said Michele Oberholtzer, UCHC Tax Foreclosure Prevention project coordinator, in a press release. "Empowering these tenants to become homeowners achieves two important goals: residents are able to affordably start building equity in their home and neighborhood, and homes remain occupied."
 
[Read more about UCHC in our article about Detroit organizations helping prevent foreclosures]
The 80 future homeowners were determined suitable based on three criteria: no outstanding warrants, passed HUD home inspection, and ability to pay up to $5,500 for the home. 

QLCIF and UCHC began collaborating in May this year to reach out to as many tenants of tax-foreclosed homes as possible. They contacted 3,300, and 2,100 avoided tax foreclosure, according to Quicken Loans.

After years of false starts, RoboCop statue will finally get erected in 2018

Detroit is finally getting a RoboCop statue. According to a Detroit News article, the finishing touches are being put on the 11-foot, 3,500-pound bronze statue based on the iconic film, which will be erected in Spring 2018. 

In 2011, a couple of Detroiters, Jerry Paffendorf and Brandon Walley, raised $67,436 in a successful Kickstarter campaign to construct a RoboCop statue. But the project then ran into some roadblocks.

They had trouble finding a location for the statue. The sculptor, Giorgio Gikas, got colon cancer. And the construction of the statue itself took longer than expected. 

"At times, he had two employees working on RoboCop, 40 hours a week each," writes Stefanie Steinberg.

"'Put that through three-some years now, and you see how much this project really has cost me,' he said." Gikas humorously says that the project has been "a pain in my butt, besides the colon cancer."

The exact location of the statue has yet to be released to the public, but Gikas knows where it will be. (Spoiler: not Hart Plaza)

"So the speculation will continue—at least for a few more months," writes Steinberg. "Walley said he plans to throw a 'big Robo party' to which they'll invite Kickstarter supporters, "RoboCop" movie stars and even [former Detroit Mayor Dave] Bing."

"'We've heard from people around the world that they want to make the pilgrimage to Detroit to see it,' Walley said. 'So we really see it as a great tourist (attraction).'"

Estate sale at Motown Mansion presents opportunity to buy rare Motown memorabilia

If you're a superfan of Motown music, you might have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to own a part of music history. On Oct. 12, an estate sale and global auction will take place at the so-called Motown Mansion, the former home of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. 

"This home is an important part of the fabric of the city of Detroit, and the sale will allow Motown fans from Detroit to Dubai to add a permanent piece to their own collection," said Cynthia F. Reaves, owner of the Motown Mansion, in a press release. "The scope of the collection includes small items as well as impressive collection pieces. I wanted to make this an event that is available to the entire community."

Those pieces include Gordy's old Steinway piano, home movies and slides, original pressings of Motown singles and 45s, antiques, as well as oddities like "an engraved goblet from Hazel Joy and Jermaine Jackson's wedding." The global auction will be open to international bidders to acquire "exclusive high-end antiques, historical Detroit objects, and Motown memorabilia."

There will also be appearances by Motown artists and other special guests, like Duke Fakir of The Four Tops, Kim Weston, and members of legendary Motown backing band The Funk Brothers.

The Motown Mansion is a 10,500 square-foot home in Detroit's Boston Edison neighborhood where Barry lived until 1969. The event is put on by Aaron's Estate Sales.

The three-day estate sale will run daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., October 12 to 14. There is a $5 fee to attend the sale. For more information, go here.

Kresge Foundation to provide $1M in grants to Detroit community development organizations

We've been covering neighborhood development news a lot lately, as all parts of the city have gotten more notice for development potential. Some developers have also taken a more nuanced approach to the practice, trying to minimize displacement while creating wealth for Detroiters. 

One way to do that is by support local assets. And that's exactly what the Kresge Foundation is doing with the announcement that it will be providing $1 million dollars in grants to 21 community organizations throughout Detroit. 

"Groups on the front lines of the city's revitalization told us that operating support for their day-to-day operations is the most important contribution we can make to support their work," says Wendy Lewis Jackson, managing director of Kresge's Detroit Program, in a press release.

Organizations like the Southwest Detroit Business Association and the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance will receive between $30,000 and $60,000 annually. 

GenesisHOPE, a community development arm of the Genesis Lutheran Church on the east side that does a lot of work with food security, is one of the smaller organizations on the list, having only two full-time staff members. The grant will allow GenesisHOPE to retain staff and devote more time and resources to engaging the community, says the group's executive director, Jeanine Hatcher.

"There's no one strategy that necessarily works across the city, but these groups are adept at figuring out which ones are worth pursuing on their home turfs," says Hatcher, in a press release. "We are proud to support them, and we'll also be working to bring them together to give them chance to learn from each other."

Bedrock to invest $2.1B in downtown Detroit development projects

Bedrock, the real-estate and development firm headed by Dan Gilbert, has already reshaped downtown Detroit by buying and redeveloping dozens of historic buildings and populating them with tenants. But its project of remaking downtown Detroit has just begun.

Bedrock just announced that it plans to invest an additional $2.1 billion in large-scale downtown developments. The projects include: the Hudson's Site, Monroe Blocks, Book Tower, and One Campus Martius expansion. 

"Detroit is going vertical," said Gilbert in a press release. "In fact, that is the only way to create any type of significant expansion in the city because we are virtually at full occupancy for residential and commercial space in both downtown and midtown. Transformational projects like these are necessary to both accommodate the expansion of current downtown businesses as well as making Detroit a legitimate competitor for new businesses and massive opportunities (like Amazon's HQ2), and attracting vital talent from all over the country and world."

The biggest development will be the 1 million-square-foot development on the Hudson's site, and cost an expected $900 million. Bedrock also claims it will have the tallest tower in the city. 



This publication is especially excited about the $313 million redevelopment of the Book Building and Tower, which Bedrock describes as "one of the most significant historic rehabilitation projects ever undertaken in Detroit." The Book Building has been abandoned since 2009, but was acquired by Bedrock in 2015 and got a power wash to its dirty limestone earlier this year. 

[Check out this Model D article on a Detroit company that specializes in historic restoration and worked on the Book Building]

Census: Detroit incomes up, poverty down, but results still mixed

The U.S. Census' American Community Survey was released Sept. 14, and the numbers overall are very encouraging for Detroit. 

According to an analysis in the Detroit News, from 2016 to 2017 poverty is down 4 percent to 35.7 percent. Median income rose 7.5 percent from $28,099 last year, "the first significant income increase recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau in the city since the 2000 census," write Christine MacDonald and Nicquel Terry. 

But it's hard to tell if much or any of those gains have made their way out to the neighborhoods. "Overall it's a great story for Detroit," Kurt Metzger, demographer and director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit, said in the article. "But when you look beneath the surface, we still have a lot of issues. There is a constant narrative out there: Are all boats rising together?"

Detroit is still the poorest big city in the nation, and Mayor Mike Duggan says there's still much more work to be done. The article also cites job programs and opportunities that have had a city-wide benefit, like Detroit At Work job training program. 

Numbers for the state overall were positive, with income rising and poverty decreasing. Though those rates were still below the national average. 

Read the full Detroit News article here

Stephen Ross, Ford Foundation to invest millions in Detroit neighborhood housing projects

Earlier this year, we covered The Platform, a development firm that's investing millions of dollars outside the 7.2 square miles of greater downtown, and trying to be inclusive at the same time. 

Two major backers have clearly been encouraged by the work, and are inventing huge sums of money in the project. According to Crain's Detroit Business, billionaire Stephen Ross and the Ford Foundation have pledged $7.5 million and $10 million respectively towards The Platform Neighborhood Initiative. The Platform itself has pledged an additional $10 million, bringing the total to $27.5 million. 

"Each of the three investors bring something," write Kirk Pinho and Sherri Welch. "The Platform with the neighborhood development plan, the Ford Foundation with its mission-related investment and broader strategy to support equitable revitalization in Detroit, and Ross with a connection to his hometown and the ability to influence future investment."

Echoing statements made by The Platform executives about equitable development, Xav Briggs, vice president of economic opportunity for the Ford Foundation, said that "investments that displace people from a place they call home are anything but positive."

The Platform has development projects in the works throughout the city. While its most notable purchase was the Fisher Building in New Center, The Platform also does work in Islandview, North End, Live6, and more. They're also one of the development leads, along with Century Partners, on The Fitzgerald Revitalization Project, a massive housing project in northwest Detroit. 

Read the full Crain's article here

Downtown architecture exhibit to showcase the future of design in Detroit

September is filled with dozens of events relating to design in Detroit. We detailed many of the ways the city is celebrating its history of design, plus current and future efforts, which are all part of the Detroit Design Festival spurred by UNESCO endowing Detroit with its prestigious "City of Design" designation.

Much of this work is to determine what Detroit's urban environment will look like and how design can contribute to it. And that's exactly what an architecture exhibit opening downtown hopes to showcase. 

Called "Detroit Design 139," the exhibit will highlight 38 development projects throughout Detroit's 139 square miles. It is presented by Bedrock and the city of Detroit. The architectural designs on display include a mix of redevelopment efforts, like the David Whitney Building downtown, the Fitzgerald Revitalization Project in northwest Detroit, and the redesign of the East Riverfront. 

The exhibition also put forth "10 Design Principles" to demonstrate what kinds of designs will lead to a healthy, attractive city. They're interesting and worth listing in full:
 
  1. Advance design as a means to improve the quality-of-life for all people
  2. Balance function and beauty
  3. Advance a thoughtful design process rooted in meaningful community engagement
  4. Seek creative solutions to solve long-standing urban issues
  5. Honor context and history through contemporary design
  6. Activate the public realm
  7. Balance community cohesion with aesthetic diversity
  8. Impress the value of design on all projects and all audiences—emphasizing equity, design excellence, and inclusion
  9. Explore new ways to live, work, and play together in the 21st century city
  10. Celebrate Detroit's design legacy, while contributing to the city's design future
"Detroit Design 139" will be on display at the ground floor of 1001 Woodward in Campus Martius starting Sept. 14. It is free and open to the public from noon to 7 p.m., seven days a week.

Detroit installs hidden cameras around city to catch illegal dumpers

Illegal dumping is a major problem in some Detroit neighborhoods, almost all of which are poor. According to the city of Detroit, "Each week, workers from the city's Public Works Department remove more than 500 tons of illegally dumped material across the city."

[Model D covered Detroit Re-tread, a company that has been collecting and recycling dumped tires since 2012, in an article about the city's reuse economy]

The residents of these neighborhoods are fed up with having trash disrespectfully thrown near their homes. And the city has responded with a new initiative to catch these illegal dumpers by installing over a dozen hidden cameras at popular dumping sites.

According to the city of Detroit, the new initiative has already led to 22 charges based on video evidence from the cameras. The city even posted a video of one such incident.

"For too long, people have used our neighborhoods as dumping grounds because they could get away with it," said Mayor Duggan, in a press release. "We are going to charge them, and whenever we can we are going to use existing laws to seize the vehicle they used in this criminal activity."

According to the city, the total cost of the cameras is about $75,000, plus a little more each month for electricity and maintenance. Much of that will likely be recouped through fines from blight citations. 

Ponyride becomes first Detroit coworking space to offer on-site childcare

In today's gig economy, where an estimated 35 percent of the workforce are freelancers, coworking spaces have become increasingly important. Model D has covered these development over time, from when co-lab week first started in 2014 as a way for Detroit freelancers to experience the various coworking spaces available, to the opening of new coworking spaces like SpaceLab and the expansion of Bamboo Detroit earlier this year. 

But parents who freelance are often left out of this equation, as there hasn't been a coworking space that's integrated daycare into its model. Until now. 

Detroit Mama Hub, a support organization for new and expectant mothers, is teaming up with business incubator Ponyride to offer Detroit's first coworking with childcare. Called "Cowork + Coplay," the monthly popup series will offer access to the Ponyride's facilities, as well as on-site childcare provided by Detroit Radical Childcare Collective.

"We are thrilled to be able to offer this series to families in Detroit," said Jalyn Spencer-Harris, co-founder of Detroit Mama Hub, in a press release. "For many parents, finding quality, affordable childcare with a flexible schedule is a huge challenge, and we hope this is a step in the direction of finding new and innovative ways to support Detroit's working families, especially our working mamas."

The pop-up events will be held on Sept. 11, Oct. 2, Nov. 6, and Dec. 4 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

"Cowork + Coplay" costs $25 per day and includes coworking space for one adult and care for one child ages 6-months to six years old. Register for the coworking pop-up here

City of Detroit sends message to speculators, issues 700 lawsuits

One common concern amidst Detroit's economic resurgence is the way speculators, many from outside the city, have acquired swaths of land only to sit on it. One WDET segment on Detroit Today estimated that speculators own 20 percent of all parcels in Detroit, but "have no real obligation to insure that land is well kept or fits into an overall neighborhood community."

That is, until recently. According to a Crain's Detroit Business article, the city of Detroit will be filing 700 lawsuits against negligent speculators. Writer Chad Livingood estimates that the number of individuals and companies affected by the lawsuits may climb to 1,500 by November. 

"The lawsuits target banks, land speculators, limited liability corporations and individuals with three or more rental properties in Detroit who typically buy the homes for cheap at a Wayne County auction and then eventually stop paying property tax bills and lose the home in foreclosure."

[For more information on the tax auction and foreclosures, check out Model D's two-part series on the topic]

Speculators swallowed up this land because it was sold, in some cases, for hundreds of dollars. The city had already filed nearly 70 lawsuits in August for owners who had more than $25,000 in unpaid property taxes. 

The article also states that, "the lawsuits do seek to establish a legal means for going after investors who buy cheap homes at auction and either rent them out and not pay the taxes or walk away from the house because it's damaged beyond repair, [attorney Andrew] Munro said.

"'That's the kind of behavior the city is trying to change,' he said."

Accelerate Michigan pitch competition once again to award over $1M in prizes

If you're a Michigan startup, there's one pitch competition you absolutely have to know about. It's called the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, and the grand prize winner receives $500,000. Even the first and second runners up receive $100,000 and $50,000 respectively. 

The competition is seeking applicants from "high-growth, high-tech," early stage Michigan companies that have received less than $2 million in investment to date. After the first application round, 36 companies are chosen to pitch on-site in front of judges. Of those, 10 will get a chance at a longer presentation at the event's gala dinner on November 16 at the Masonic Temple. 

There's also a competition for Michigan student entrepreneurs. Semi-finalists and finalists will be given a chance to pitch during the same day as the companies for a chance to win a grand prize of $10,000. 

According to Accelerate Michigan, "previous prize winners have fueled over 1000 jobs and raised more than $550 million in additional financing." Past winners of the competition include, SPLT, Banza, SkySpecs, and others dating back to 2010. 

If you're a company or student, you can apply for the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition here. The deadline is Friday, Sept. 1 at midnight. 

With big push from city gov't, protected bike lanes spread across Detroit

"The city is on a path to making biking safer, even if it takes motorists a little time to get used to."

That's the opening sentence of a recent Detroit News article that neatly summarizes the benefits and challenges of new bike lanes in a city so dependent on automobiles. 

The city of Detroit is clearly committed to increasing bike access and infrastructure. Whether it's accumulating land for the Inner Circle Greenway, support for bike share program MoGo, or now, increasing the amount of protected bike lanes. 

"Brightly painted green and white, new 'protected' bike lanes—those with a separation between bike and parking lanes—are popping up in the city, at the cost of nearly $150,000 per mile," writes Shawn D. Lewis. 

There have been protected bike lanes in Detroit since they were first installed in 2015 along Jefferson Avenue on the far east side. Since then, they've been popping up along Livernois Avenue, Michigan Avenue, and various parts of the city. Newer ones along Cass Avenue and Grand River Avenue are more elaborate, with green strips in the lanes and in front of where cars stop at intersections. 

"There are 212 miles of bike lanes in Detroit but only nine miles of them are protected," according to the article. "With current construction on Cass and on East Jefferson from Rivard to Lakewood, 10 more miles will be added. The city has requested that a $1.5 million road project on Grand River include protected bike lanes." 

Most of the funding will come from federal dollars. 

Read the full Detroit News article here
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