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MDOT announces plan to tear down America's silliest interstate, I-375

In 2015, we called I-375 "America's silliest interstate," and advocated for its removal in a three-part series that reimagined possible uses of the land. [Read part one, two, and three in that series]

And at long last, the city and state will get to put those ideas into practice. Earlier this month, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) announced that it would be demolishing the I-375 freeway. 

"The commitment to remove I-375 and restore surface streets puts Detroit firmly in the ranks of cities trying to undo the damage done a half-century ago by ramming high-speed freeways through urban neighborhoods," writes John Gallagher for the Detroit Free Press.

Built in 1964 as an accommodation to suburbanites working downtown at a cost of $50 million, I-375 displaced thousands of African American Detroiters and wiped out the city's historic and vibrant Black Bottom neighborhood. All for a 1.067-miles-long interstate. 

"At the mid-20th Century, urban planners believed that high-speed freeways were essential to creating efficient, modern urban areas," writes Gallagher. "Cities everywhere pushed expressways through their older street grids. But, in hindsight, expressways did incalculable damage to cities like Detroit, destroying viable neighborhoods and facilitating the flight of residents to the suburbs."

The current plan, which likely won't begin until 2022, would be to restore surface streets with medians and bike lanes. 

City of Detroit puts out RFP for Lee Plaza and Woodland Apartments, totaling 250 units

The Lee Plaza, an Art Deco apartment building built in 1927 on W. Grand Boulevard, was perhaps the most ornate of its kind in Detroit. According to Historic Detroit, "The Lee was decked out in extravagance by sculptor Corrado Parducci. The first floor was filled with marble, expensive woods, and elaborate plasterwork; its ornamental ceilings craned necks."

But after the Lee closed in 1997, scrappers ravaged it, even stealing the 50 terra cotta lion heads on the building's exterior. Dreams of redevelopment seemed doomed. No longer. 

The thirst for historic redevelopment in Detroit is so great that the city is seeking requests for proposals to redevelop Lee Plaza, as well as the Woodland Apartments on Woodland Street just east of Woodward. 

According to a press release, the two projects would total nearly 250 mixed-income units, 20 percent of which must be set aside for individuals making $38,000 a year or less.

"For years these buildings have been seen as a symbol of our city's decline. In partnership with developers in the community, they will become examples of the city's resurgence that is now reaching into more neighborhoods and becoming more accessible to people of all income levels," said Mayor Mike Duggan. "We've seen progress in the areas around both Lee Plaza and Woodland Apartments. While these are challenging projects, these buildings can become major anchors in these communities."

The development of Lee Plaza, which is expected to take several years, would also include the adjacent land. As for the Woodland, "the city is also encouraging developers to consider the site for permanent supportive housing for individuals experiencing homelessness."

Ann Arbor's Midwestern Consulting opens first satellite office in Detroit

Midwestern Consulting, an Ann Arbor engineering services firm, has opened a satellite office at 1420 Washington Blvd., suite 301 in Detroit.


Established in 1967, the Ann Arbor office offers consulting services for civil, environmental, and transportation engineering projects along with surveying, planning, and landscape architecture.


The firm has a total staff of 48 between the Ann Arbor and Detroit locations. Brandon Walker, Midwestern's project manager and laser scanning expert, will split his time between the two offices and serve as manager of the Detroit office. Two other employees are currently staffing the Detroit office along with Walker.


Walker says the firm has serviced Detroit-based clients including Verizon Wireless and Neumann Smith for many years, and it was time that the company established an office in Detroit.


"We've experienced great success in Washtenaw County, and we were looking to expand organically, and the Metro Detroit area was a natural fit," Walker says. "We've done 35 projects in the last two years in or around the city of Detroit, and we're following up with a few more."


Walker says he thinks it's possible to serve Detroit customers from Ann Arbor, but a presence in the city of Detroit will make it easier for Midwestern to do projects with the city of Detroit and other nearby municipal clients.


"We felt we really need a presence in Detroit, and after a few discussions, we decided it was something we wanted to make happen," he says. "I love the feel of Detroit already. We've received a very warm welcome."


Walker says the time between deciding to open an office in Detroit and opening for business on Washington Boulevard was about three months, helped by the fact that Midwestern chose a location that had "ready-made" office space.


The Detroit office will be doing a lot of the same things as the Ann Arbor office, but will focus largely on wireless communication, laser scanning, and land development, while the Ann Arbor office will handle more traffic engineering and other specialities.


"We're excited about this," Walker says. "We still call Ann Arbor home, but great things are going on in Detroit, and we hope to make it a great extension of the Ann Arbor office."

This piece is part of a series highlighting local business growth in the Ann Arbor area. It is supported by Ann Arbor SPARK.

Sara Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com

Photo courtesy of Midwestern Consulting.

ESL tutoring center in Southwest Detroit looks to raise funds for essential supplies

One of the biggest obstacles to employment is literacy. That's especially true if English isn't your first language. And supporting ESL programming is an important element in reducing unemployment.

A tutoring center in Southwest Detroit, All Saints Literacy Center (ASLC), is looking to raise a modest sum to improve its capacity through a Patronicity crowdfunding campaign. The $5,000 they hope to raise will go towards the center's operating budget and installing software for iPads donated by Dollar General.

The campaign's website tells the story of Paty, a Detroit resident who spoke very little English before coming to the center. But after a year and a half of tutoring, while still working full-time, she completed a nine-week construction trades job training program at La Sed. And according to the website, "She also enrolled in citizenship classes, and on September 13, 2017, Paty became a U.S. citizen." 

ASLC is a completely volunteer-based nonprofit partially funded by the Adrian Dominican's Dominican Rea Literacy Corporation. Last year, ASLC provided over 2,500 hours of instruction to 76 students. 

Donate to the ASLC crowdfunding campaign here

Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation to launch center for nonprofit support

Because of its breadth and complexity, it's difficult for ordinary citizens to understand the nonprofit ecosystem in Southeast Michigan. Even those within the nonprofit sector have challenges coordinating their efforts and preventing too much overlap of services. 

That's one reason why the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation is opening a yet-to-be-named Center at the corner of Woodward Avenue and East Grand Boulevard. According to the foundation, the space will be a hub "for nonprofit leaders and practitioners to gather and have access to a connected and well-informed network of resources aimed at accelerating solutions around the mission-related and sector-based issues they face."

"It's our vision that the Center will build greater capacity and enhance capabilities within the organizations that we work with," said David Egner, President & CEO, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, in a press release. "Over time, we also plan to add innovative problem-solving practices in the Center to assist nonprofits and social innovators in developing new approaches and delivery systems to address challenges in our region."

The foundation decided to open the center after internal research and conversations with other local nonprofits lead it to the conclusion that there wasn't enough coordination or opportunities for dialogue. 

The center will be managed by TechTown Detroit through a three-year $4,750,000 grant. After a build-out beginning next year, the foundation expects to have some operations running by mid to late 2018.

Other partners in the effort include the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Community Wealth Network. 

New cookbook features some of Detroit's best chefs cooking seasonal meals

It seems like every week for the past few years a new, hip restaurant has opened in Detroit. One trend amongst this new crop of restaurants and their chefs is sourcing locally and updating their menus depending on what's in season. 

That's part of the inspiration behind the cookbook "4 Detroit: Four Chefs. Four Courses. Four Seasons." As the title suggests, the book features four founding chefs from four of Detroit's newer acclaimed restaurants (Gold Cash Gold, Takoi, Supino, and Selden Standard) providing recipes and for seasonal meals. 

According to the press release: "Josh Stockton cooks a winter meal in Corktown. Brad Greenhill makes a spring meal in Palmer Woods, Dave Mancini hosts a summer barbecue in Indian Village, and Andy Hollyday prepares an autumn supper in Boston Edison."

$5 from the sale of every book goes to Gleaners Community Food Bank

City of Detroit to open center to provide free financial counseling to low-income residents

It's clear that the administration of Mayor Mike Duggan has been placing greater emphasis on its outreach efforts in Detroit's neighborhoods. Whether that's the massive Fitz Forward plan to redevelop hundreds of properties in northwest Detroit or creating an office in southwest Detroit to inform locals about relocation and job opportunities resulting from the Gordie Howe International Bridge. 

And now, thanks to a grant and technical support from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, the city will be partnering with Wayne County to help low- and moderate-income residents improve their financial situation. 

The two municipalities will open up a physical location, called the Financial Empowerment Center (FEC), where residents can receive free one-on-one financial counseling. According to a press release, professionally trained counselors will help these residents manage their finances, pay down debt, establish and build credit, and more.

Bloomberg Philanthropies is investing nearly $8 million in the program.

"Local leaders know first-hand the connection between family financial stability and community financial stability," said Jonathan Mintz, President and CEO of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund. "Mayor Duggan and the City of Detroit are joining a national movement to bring free, high-quality financial counseling as a public service to their residents; we are proud to partner with Mayor Duggan and Bloomberg Philanthropies on this critical work."

Locations for the FEC are currently being scouted.

City of Detroit to plant 10,000 trees over next three years

One of our favorite stories of the last couple years is on the history of trees in Detroit. It's a great example of the ways decisions made hundreds of years ago, about things as seemingly mundane as tree planting, can have a direct impact on the present landscape of our city. 

Because trees take years to mature and their roots can wreak havoc on man-made infrastructure, it's important to plant (and plan) now. 

The city of Detroit, which recently announced the planting of 10,000 trees over the next three years, is doing just that. Called the "10,000 Up" initiative, the goal is to replace the thousands of trees lost over the years to disease, the emerald ash bore, or other causes. 

"Detroit used to be known as a city of trees, but we have lost so many over the past several decades to various causes," said general services department director, Brad Dick, in a press release. "We've been putting a lot of energy into removing the dangerous dead trees and felt it was time to get back to planting new trees because they add so much to the community and the environment."

What's also neat, is that Detroit residents will have a say in where the trees will go. "Neighborhood groups, block club associations, and residents can notify the Forestry Department where they would like the trees to be planted. A survey will be created where inspectors can collect addresses and verify if the areas mentioned by residents are viable enough to plant a tree."

Would you like to request a tree planting in your neighborhood? Contact the Forestry Department here.

Detroit hosts inaugural vinyl manufacturing conference

Earlier this year, we reported about how Detroit was poised to become one of the premier cities for vinyl record manufacturing in America. This is taking place due to growing interest in records nationally, as well as the city being home to two of the roughly 20 vinyl pressing facilities left in the United States. 

And if a recent event is any indication, this distinction is being recognized. As the Metro Times reports, Detroit just hosted the first-ever vinyl industry conference. 

"Colonial Purchasing Co-Op put on its first ever vinyl conference, Making Vinyl, on Monday and Tuesday at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in Detroit," writes Sara Barron. "Organizers said the goal was to bring together key players in the industry to discuss the resurgence of vinyl."
[Read Model D's article about vinyl manufacturing in Detroit]
Keynote speakers at the conference included Jack White, founder of Third Man Records and the White Stripes, and Michael Kurtz, co-founder of Record Store Day, which takes place every year on April 21. 

Making Vinyl was well represented by industry professionals, and gave out a number of awards for vinyl cover art and packaging. 

Effort underway to reach all 60,000 homes facing foreclosure in Detroit

Last month, we told you about a surprising partnership between a small but impactful anti-foreclosure organization, United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC), and the large Detroit-based mortgage lender Quicken Loans. The two have been collaborating to prevent displacement through a program that will give tenants of 80 foreclosed homes the ability to purchase the house for between $2,500 and $5,500.

Since then, the collaboration has only expanded. UCHC and the Quicken Loans Community Investment Fund (QLCIF) will be partnering with an additional eight community development organizations on "an extensive education effort addressing the pervasive issue of tax foreclosure in Detroit."

That effort will entail knocking on the door of all 60,000 houses at risk of foreclosure to inform tenants and owners of their options and connect them to resources. Through a $500,000 donation from the QLCIF, the "Neighbor to Neighbor" program hopes to enlist more community groups and volunteers towards the effort. 

"No one organization can do this work alone," said Laura Grannemann, vice president of investments for the QLCIF, in a press release. "We need everyone working together to connect Detroit residents with the tools that will keep them in their homes and allow them to continue building equity as the city grows."

One of the tragedies of the crisis is that many foreclosures could have been prevented by tax exemptions, but owners weren't aware that they qualified. Better outreach could keep thousands of homes in the hands of their owners. 

If your organization would like to help the "Neighbor to Neighbor" effort, apply here. Applications will be accepted through Friday, November 10, 2017.

Winners of fourth annual NEIdeas Challenge announced

Another year, another round of grants have been disbursed through the NEIdeas Challenge

Now in its fourth year, the challenge annually awards 22 businesses in Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck with grants of $10,000 and $100,000. 

"Neighborhood businesses matter," says Pam Lewis, director of the New Economy Initiative (NEI), in a press release. "In pursuing our mission of building an inclusive support network for entrepreneurs and small businesses in southeast Michigan, we wanted to do something that not only acknowledged neighborhood businesses for their contributions to their communities, but rewarded them for thinking courageously about growing."

[Read Pam Lewis's op-ed for Model D on the importance of looking to city residents to help solve Detroit's problems]

Some of this year's winners include chocolate goods producer Bon Bon Bon, two Southwest Detroit restaurants (El Asador Steakhouse and Taqueria El Nacimiento), Highland Park gathering space Nandi's Knowledge Cafe, hair care and beauty company Naturalicious, and more. 

The two winners of the $100,000 grants were Bel Air Luxury Cinema, Detroit's only first-run movie theater, and Vaughan Industries, a manufacturer of equipment for the car wash industry.

Over those four years, NEI has awarded a total of $1.9 million to 118 businesses.

Also noteworthy is that 80 percent of NEIdeas winners are minority-owned businesses, and more than half are women-owned businesses.

NEI is hosting a gala to celebrate and officially award the winning businesses on Nov. 2 at 6 p.m. in Eastern Market. Food and drinks will be provided by past NEIdeas winners. For more information, click here

Renovations complete, programs commence with journalist Stephen Henderson's Tuxedo Project

Around this time last year we reported on an interesting project—one that even made our list of the 7 most exciting developments in Detroit for 2017—spearheaded by Stephen Henderson, a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Henderson had just completed a successful Patronicity campaign to purchase his childhood home on Tuxedo Street, which had fallen into a state of disrepair, so he could renovate and transform it into a literary arts and community center. 

We're happy to report a year later that the Tuxedo Project is moving along almost exactly as planned, and then some. Yesterday, with the help of the Detroit Land Bank Authority and the Adamo Group, the dilapidated home next door was demolished. Adamo donated the demolition, estimated at a cost of $18,000. 

Renovations were completed on the Tuxedo Project house itself this summer, and an English professor-in-residence, Rose Gorman of Marygrove College, moved there in August. Already the house is active with literary events—Gorman has hosted a poetry slam and her creative writing class meets there. 

"It's a literary center," Gorman says. "And the easiest way to start doing the work that we hope to do in the future is by doing, well, literary stuff."

On the newly-vacant adjacent lot, Henderson plans to build a community space with easy indoor/outdoor access, and perhaps an urban garden.

This project is intensely personal to Henderson—he grew up on the block, in the very house that was renovated, and is using it as a platform to uplift people through writing and reading. "The literary arts are what carried me from this house to all the other opportunities I've had in my life," Henderson says. "And that should be available to everyone."

17 of the 35 houses on the block were abandoned when Henderson launched The Tuxedo Project. Three houses later—two demolished plus the literary house—and there's still much work to be done. His goal is to demolish or renovate all of them.

Henderson is quick to note that Tuxedo Street is not unique. 

"I hope it's eventually possible for projects like this to take place throughout the city using market tools … This happens to be my house, that's why I focused on it, but there's hundreds of blocks like this throughout the city."

University of Michigan to offer bus service connecting Ann Arbor and Detroit to general public

One of the many benefits contained in the regional transit millage that failed to pass in last November's election was a rail line connecting Ann Arbor to Detroit. There hasn't been a simple, reliable, and affordable means of public transit between the two cities for some time. 

Until now. 

The University of Michigan will be offering service to all riders on its Detroit Connector, a bus that was previously only available U-M faculty, staff, and students. Starting Monday, Oct. 30, the general public will be able to use the service seven days a week.

"The University of Michigan is deeply committed to creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive campus environment," says Robert Sellers, vice provost for Equity & Inclusion and chief diversity officer, in an article on the university's website. "The Detroit Connector helps us break down existing barriers and better connect the Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Detroit communities. By expanding service and opening it to the public, the Detroit Connector can improve access to the region's numerous research, academic and cultural opportunities."

[Read about what's next for the regional transit millage in SE Michigan]

There will be three stops along the route—Central Campus Transit Center in Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Detroit Center, and University of Michigan-Dearborn. Buses will depart from the Ann Arbor and Detroit locations several times per day, and have expanded hours on Friday and Saturday. 

The buses are equipped with WiFi, in-seat AC electrical outlets, and bike storage. 

One-way tickets will cost $8 for U-M affiliated riders and $10 for the general public (discounts for commuters are also available). Reservations can be made online. 

Detroit Sip in Live6 to celebrate long-awaited opening

When a brick and mortar business opens, it's always a cause for celebration. But in the case of Detroit Sip, a coffee shop on McNichols Road in the Live6 area, it's really a cause for celebration.

On Saturday, Nov. 18, Detroit Sip will celebrate its grand opening after a lengthy saga of trying to open its doors. Renovations have been completed for months, community and other events have been held there, and owner Jevona Watson has been working diligently to open. But red tape and other issues have held delayed that from happening until now. 

Watson even spoke to Model D back in February this year for a video (see above) on the coffee shop and its potential importance to the neighborhood. 

[Read more articles from our On the Ground series in Live6 and the North End]

With the recent groundbreaking of the nearby Ella Fitzgerald Park and construction underway next door at the new Live6 Alliance HQ, HomeBase, the coffee shop couldn't be opening at a better time. 

The grand opening of Detroit Sip will take place Nov. 18 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Check out the Facebook event page for more details. 

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
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