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Landline Creative Labs receives $56,000 grant from Ann Arbor SPARK

Landline Creative Labs' plan to create a complex of nine low-cost creative studio spaces in Ypsilanti has received a big hand from Ann Arbor SPARK in the form of an Innovate Ypsi grant.

Mark Maynard, co-founder of the $650,000 mixed-use development in downtown Ypsi, says the $56,000 performance-based grant will help with the costs of getting the project up and running. The Landline team has completed demolition in the former Michigan Bell building the project will occupy, and is now turning towards building out studio spaces.

“It'll help tremendously, and it's really helped us to move quickly,” Maynard says. "Today we have carpenters in the space, a historic window restoration team, plumbers, and electricians."

Expected to open in early fall, Landline will complement the SPARK East Incubator in Ypsi, according to Jennifer Olmstead, a senior business development manager at SPARK who oversees the Innovative Ypsi program.

“In order for downtown Ypsi to be successful, it needs to develop a critical mass of successes and a mix of businesses, retail and residents,” Olmstead says.

SPARK's support for the project isn't necessarily limited to providing funds. SPARK has also helped Landline secure a tax incentive from the city of Ypsilanti. Olmstead says SPARK is committed to helping Landline, and similar efforts in the area, succeed through access to its range of development and talent services.

"The success of Landline Creative and the momentum it is building in Ypsi is an important next step for downtown Ypsi, and certainly a story that Ann Arbor SPARK can use to highlight the types of businesses that can achieve success in Ypsi," she says. "Entrepreneurs at all levels...are looking for communities that provide a sense of place and affordable rents and downtown Ypsi has all of these ingredients."

Michigan Union receives $85M in tender loving construction upgrades

The University of Michigan experience is not short on iconic buildings. There's the Michigan Stadium, the Law Quad, and the Burton Memorial Tower.

All have received multimillion-dollar renovations or expansions in recent years. The U-M Board of Regents finally added one more iconic structure to that list: the Michigan Union. The nearly 100-year-old building standing vigil at the intersection of South State and South University streets is set to undergo $85 million in upgrades, as part of the most extensive work done on the building since its construction.

The Michigan Union, as it stands today, was initially commissioned in the early 1910s so it could serve as a central gathering place for student life. World War I interrupted its construction, leaving the exterior looking like it does today — but the interior was unfinished. At the time the building was used as a barracks and mess hall by the Student Army Training Corps. Construction wrapped up and it opened in 1919. Click here for a more extensive history on the structure.

Since then it has served primarily the same purpose serving the student body’s needs. It has hosted everything from lectures to recreational activities, ranging from a bowling alley to a pool hall.

The new renovation to the Michigan Union will carry on that same ideal for the structure. The project will create new social space on the main level while improving and expanding the lounge and study spaces. The courtyard will also be enclosed to accommodate these changes. There will also be new and improved spaces for student organizations and support services, along with new meeting spaces near the ballroom. Click here for more detail information on the project.

New subdivision, North Oaks, breaks ground in Ann Arbor

Earth is moving at one of the largest development projects in Ann Arbor this summer. Workers have begun construction on the North Oaks of Ann Arbor subdivision.

The North Oaks of Ann Arbor development calls for nearly 500 new homes on the north side of Ann Arbor over the next decade. Toll Brothers s redeveloping 109 acres of former farmland at the intersection of Nixon and Dhu Varren roads into a sub division of townhomes, carriage houses, and green spaces. Toll Brothers plans to keep 42 of the 109 acres as forest/green space when everything is built out.

"It flows really well with what is up there already," says Jeff Brainard, assistant vice president of the Michigan Division of Toll Brothers.

The development is divided into two sections bisected by Dhu Varren. The north parcel will constitute 208 carriage houses where the living quarters will be above the garage. The south parcel will be made up of 264 townhouses.

The carriage houses will be about 1,900 square feet each with three bedrooms and 2.5 baths. Prices for them will start in the upper $200,000. The townhouses will be about 2,200 square feet with either three or four bedrooms each. Those are priced in the upper $300,000s.

Brainard points out that the master plan calls for a combination of dense housing and some commercial development. Toll Brothers is planning to remove the commercial aspect and focus on creating a medium-density of housing.

"We are also at half the density of what we could build there according to the city's master plan," Brainard says.

Ann Arbor's State Theatre in line for $5M in upgrades this fall

The Michigan Theater Foundation has big plans for the State Theatre, and they start with a major renovation of the historic building early this fall.

"We believe it will be an excellent place to see a movie," says Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater Foundation. "All of the uncomfortable seating will be removed."

The Michigan Theater Foundation overseas the care and operation of the historic Michigan Theater building on East Liberty. The State Theatre is a half block away at the intersection of East Liberty and State streets. It was built in 1942 and designed by C. Howard Crane, a world-famous architect of cinemas in the early 20th Century.

The State Theatre was renovated in the late 1980s and early 1990s and continued showing movies with retail in the ground floor. The building is split into two condos, one for the theater and the other for the ground floor retail space currently occupied by Urban Outfitters. The Michigan Theater Foundation took over programming at the State Theatre in 1999 and purchased the theater condo in 2014.

The Michigan Theater Foundation is now in the final stages of planning the $5 million renovation of that condo. The project will make the building ADA compliant and add an elevator in the rear alley. The theater marquee will be restored to its former glory.

"We will refurbish the sign and make it look like it did in 1942," Collins says.

The theater portion will be divided into four smaller screen. The smallest screen will be able to seat 50 and the largest will seat 180. The mezzanine area at the front of the theater will also be restored to its original grandeur.

"It was the most amazing art deco space," Collins says.

Construction is set to begin on Sept. 6 and take 8-12 months to complete.

Rochester company deconstructs, not demolishes, old homes

As is often the case for successful entrepreneurs, one business begets another. That's certainly true for Robert Bloomingdale, whose recently established Rochester Salvage & Supply most likely wouldn't have happened had it not been for his other booming business, Bloomingdale Construction.

Rochester Salvage & Supply specializes in reclaiming, repurposing, and reusing materials from deconstructed older houses. Bloomingdale Construction builds a lot of its houses in downtown Rochester, a town with plenty of old houses and virtually no empty lots, says Bloomingdale. That's where he got the idea for Rochester Salvage & Supply.

"We demolish a lot of older homes in the process of building new ones," says Bloomingdale. "I always felt bad about sending old, vintage materials to landfills. Now, we save what we can."

Rather than demolish the old houses, Rochester Salvage & Supply now methodically deconstructs them. Materials like shingles and siding are sent to be recycleda cost the company pays out of its pocket. Others, like salvaged lumber, are repurposed into furniture, and other items that can either be sold individually or built into the new homes constructed by Bloomingdale.

Bloomingdale contends that deconstructing a house costs more than twice as much as demolishing one. And paying for materials to be recycled isn't making him any money. But the reclaimed materials trend is a hot one right nowsomething Bloomingdale credits to HGTV shows and other media as having fosteredand he has been astonished by the feedback and interest he has received since announcing the formation of Rochester Salvage & Supply this past April.

For now, Bloomingdale says his goal is "to not lose money." It's a month into the new business and he's learning as he goesafter all, his business has been building homes, not deconstructing them. But he already has plans to expand Rochester Salvage & Supply from its base in Rochester to begin deconstructing homes in Pontiac. The business has had prior involvement in that community, donating materials to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore there and working with the Power Company Kids Club.

Rochester Salvage and Supply operates out of a warehouse on South Street in Rochester, though Bloomingdale prefers customers interested in reclaimed materials make inquiries via email. Reach him at [email protected]

NextChallenge aims to smarten up urban infrastructure tech

Technology upgrades are an everyday part of our lives. New phones, computers, and entertainment centers are practically a rite of passage in the 21st Century. Cutting edge technology in public infrastructure, not so much.

It's why NextEnergy is hosting NextChallenge: Smart Cities, a competition to find new hardware and software solutions that address unmet challenges facing urban areas. 

"These are 15 to 30 year assets," says Jean Redfield, president & CEO of NextEnergy. "People expect a return for their decisions. And it can be hard for tech companies to penetrate these environments."

NextEnergy is partnering with DENSO, DTE Energy, and Wells Fargo to launch the challenge. The winner will receive up to $80,000 in seed capital from the Wells Fargo Foundation to demonstrate and validate its solution. Potential winning ideas could range from developing smart parking technologies to smart building solutions.

Developing those technologies is one thing. Getting the market to adapt to them is another. Most of those technologies are big-ticket items with, at best, a limited track record. It's a bet most aren't willing to make on their largest purchases.

"People have to see that they work in the context of the existing system before they are willing to try it," Redfield says.

NextChallenge: Smart Cities wants to bridge that gap. It is accepting applications through July 28. An information webinar will take place on June 9 between 2 and 3 p.m. For information, click here.

Oxford Companies narrows artist submissions for latest mural

Oxford Companies is working to put up another large mural in downtown Ann Arbor this summer, and the property management firm is in the beginning stages of picking the design.

The mural will go on the side of 1214 S State St near the University of Michigan campus. It will be one story tall and measure 500 square feet. It is expected to have a U-M athletics theme. The company has received 20 submissions from artists and expects to pick a winner by July.

"We want to see it completed before the students get back," says Jeff Hauptman, CEO of Oxford Companies.

The Ann Arbor-based firm recently became the largest landlord in Ann Arbor, managing more than 1,000 units of student rentals next to the University of Michigan. It also purchased $115 million in commercial real-estate in Ann Arbor last year, and refinanced another $50 million worth of local properties.

Oxford Companies commissioned one of the largest pieces of public art in downtown Ann Arbor last year, a two-story mural on Fifth Street near Liberty Street. It also is the caretaker of the author’s mural at State and Liberty streets. This will be its second mural its commissioned.

"The goal is to do at least one a year," Hauptman says. "We want to recruit other property owners to do it, too. We have the next site picked out."

Oxford Companies commissions the public art as a way of raising the quality of life in Ann Arbor and its property values.

"To me its just a matter of making Ann Arbor a better place," Hauptman says. "When it comes to how much to spend on it we ask how much does it cost to do it right?"

Source: Jeff Hauptman, CEO of Oxford Companies
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Castle closes $2M seed round from Silicon Valley investors

Castle, a property management software startup, hit a big milestone last week, locking down a little more than $2 million in seed capital. Model D recently profiled Castle, just before it announced this seed round.

The Detroit-based company has raised $2.75 million to date over its first two years of business. The startup's seed round was led by Kholsa Ventures out of Silicon Valley. SV Angel, and Point Judith Capital, also participated in the round.

"It's an incredible opportunity," says Max Nussenbaum, co-founder & CEO of Castle. "But it's not a success in and of itself. This is the fuel in the tank, not the end game."

Nussenbaum was part of the inaugural class of the Venture For America, serving his two-year fellowship in Detroit. He co-founded Castle with two other VFA Detroit fellows (Tim Dingman and Scott Lowe) while the trio renovated a tax foreclosed mansion in Virginia Park. Today that house is their home and the headquarters of Castle, but the company is also looking to move into its own offices in the greater downtown Detroit area later this year.

The trio of VFAers also used the experience renovating that house as a compelling story to help get Castle admitted to Y Combinator, arguably the most prestigious startup accelerator in the world, earlier this year.

Castle has developed a software platform that makes property management easy by automating communication between tenants and property managers, rent collection, and repair requests. It currently manages 525 units, almost all of those are single-family homes or small multi-unit buildings. All of the rentals are in Metro Detroit and about 60 percent are in the city of Detroit.

Castle's leadership teams plans to use the seed capital to continue building out its software platform. It's also looking at expanding outside of the Detroit market, potentially opening up a new market early next year. It hasn’t chosen a specific one yet, but among the candidates are Baltimore, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Florida.

"The early markets will be in line with Detroit," Nussenbaum says. "They are the ones that are underserved by our competitors."

Castle currently employs a team of about a dozen people and is still adding staff, including a head of growth in Detroit. The company’s team is currently aiming to double its units under management by the end of the year. Most of its new customers come from word-of-mouth recommendations.

"It's an incredible vote of confidence in us and we are so appreciative of it," Nussebaum says.

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.

Detroit outpaces rest of southeastern Michigan for new residential unit permits

In prior decades, Detroit had very little new building construction. Not anymore, especially for residential units.

According to a report recently released by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG), Detroit issued more permits for new residential units than any other city in southeastern Michigan last year.

There were 913 residential units permitted in Detroit in 2015, more than double the second-highest city on the list, Ann Arbor, at 405 units. Canton, the only other city in Wayne County to make the top ten, came in third with 397 residential units permitted.

Of the 913 residential units permitted in Detroit, 97 percent were apartment and loft units. Broke down further, there were 882 apartment units, 17 condominium units, and 14 single family homes permitted in 2015.

According to the report, "Gains continued in apartment construction due to pent-up demand for rental housing from young professionals and downsizing households, low vacancy rates, and a growing job market."

Still, it's not all rosy in Wayne County. According to this Detroit Free Press article from March 28, 2016, new census numbers revealed that the county lost 6,673 residents between July 1, 2014 and July 1, 2015, the second highest population decline in the country. Only Cook County, Illinois lost more during that period. Though second place is better than first, which is what Wane County occupied for the previous eight years.

Detroit also far exceeded any other city in demolitions, razing 4,667 residential units in 2015.

ASTI Environmental targets urban work with new downtown office

Put simply, ASTI Environmental is a company that specializes in urban restoration. So the decision for the Brighton-based firm to open an office in downtown Detroit, the center of urban restoration in Michigan today, seems obvious.

ASTI specializes in the technical side of urban redevelopment, such as working on incentives for real-estate development or brownfield redevelopment.

The firm is also no stranger to Detroit. Its first project in the city involved working in the Crystal Mines -- the enormous salt mines underneath Detroit -- 30 years ago. Since then, ASTI has played a part in 1,500 projects in Detroit, including the redevelopment of former Stroh's Headquarters into Stroh River Place on Jos. Campau.

"With our history in the City of Detroit since 1985, it's high time that we hang a shingle there," says Tom Wackerman, president of ASTI Enironmental. "We've been instrumental in so many redevelopment projects in the city and see a great future for Detroit as it redefines what it means to be an American city. I couldn't be more pleased to be in the middle of one of the Nation’s best urban comeback stories."

ASTI is opening up its Detroit office in another former Stroh building: the brewing company's former headquarters at 28 W. Adams in Detroit. The 19-story building is currently known as the Grand Park Centre building overlooking Grand Circus Park.

Solar panel work powers triple-digit growth at GreenLancer

To say GreenLancer has been on a growth streak in recent years might be a bit of an understatement.

The alternative energy startup watched its revenue jump 340 percent last year, including a 1,440-percent spike in permit-ready plan sets for solar projects produced in that time. That allowed GreenLancer to hire a couple dozen people, going from 10 employees in January 2015 to 34 today. The new hires included solar engineers, software developers, human resources, and accountants.

"Really all across the board," says Zac MacVoy, CEO of GreenLancer.

The downtown Detroit-based startup, with offices in the Ford Building, facilitates the design and execution of permit-ready plans for installing solar panels. Its software platform and team provides its customers with everything needed to install alternative energy infrastructure. That ranges from feasibility studies to concept designs to permit packages to installers.

"GreenLancer helps solar panel installation companies scale and be more efficient," MacVoy says. "We help them sell and install more, and improve their inefficiencies."

GreenLancer works primarily in solar energy, which has become increasingly popular now that costs to install a solar array have dropped significant in recent years. Almost all of GreenLancer’s projects are on the residential side, but GreenLancer is looking to generate more work from commercial projects in 2016.

"It's all going to depend on the traction we can get," MacVoy says.

MacVoy came onto the GreenLancer team as CEO early last year shortly after the startup raised a $5 million Series B round. The company is currently looking to raise a "substantially bigger" Series C in 2017, but MacVoy wants to spend more time in the interim on building up the company's clientele and fine-tuning its business model.

Sit On It Detroit to open furniture store and studio in Midtown

Sit On It Detroit is opening a store in the 71 Garfield building in Midtown. The custom furniture shop is renowned for the benches it's built, donated, and installed at roughly 50 bus stops around the city. The new location will serve as a space to both showcase some of its work and provide co-founders Kyle Bartell and Charles Molnar a place to sit down with clients and customers and hash out the planning and design part of the business.

While Sit On It Detroit is best known for fashioning reclaimed wood into free and creative benches at city bus stops, the company is also an accomplished designer and manufacturer of custom indoor furnishings. It's produced headboards for the home, the mason jar chandelier at Kuzzo's Chicken & Waffles, and tables at Thomas Magee's Sporting House Whiskey Bar, among many other products.

The Midtown showroom gives Sit On It Detroit a more central location to display its wares and meet with clients, away from the flying sawdust and noisy tools of its workshop. It's a store-studio hybrid.

The workshop is located near McNichols and John R roads.

"There's a lot going on with this space and we're still figuring it all out," says Bartell. "It's not going to be your typical showroom or furniture store."

The duo values community engagement and placemaking, he says, and their location at 71 Garfield lends itself to those objectives. The building is an art cooperative, located along the same block as the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. Among its tenants are artists, architecture firms, and pottery studios.

The spring is a busy time for Sit On It Detroit. The company hopes to install another ten benches at city bus stops as the warm weather comes. They've teamed with artists and sponsors to create new takes on the already unique benches.

Bartell says to expect a soft opening some time in mid-March. As for the official opening, they've set a target date of April 8, opening day for the Detroit Tigers baseball season.

Detroit redevelopment work leads to growth for Giffels Webster

There are lots of signs that real-estate development in Detroit is back, from rising home prices to the construction of the M-1 Rail line moving ahead at full steam. And then there is growth of an infrastructure consulting firm like Giffels Webster.

The downtown Detroit-based firm has watched its revenue grow by up to 40 percent over the last five years, including a 15 percent jump over the last year. Its staff has spiked from 55 people in 2010 to 86 people today, including 10 new hires. It also promoted three of its managers to partners in a move to assure its future growth.

"We have had a very sustained growth over the last five years," says Scott Clein, president of Giffels Webster.

The Giffels Webster team is made up of everyone from civil engineers to landscape architects to city planners to surveyors. The firm typically handles the macro end of real-estate development, such as helping municipalities figure out long-range development plans or developers maximize what they can get out of redeveloping property.

Work typically divides into public works and private land deals. The public portion has played a critical role in the firm’s growth, providing a solid base for it to profit from.

"It helped keep us on an even keel during the recession," Clein says.

But the private land portion is where the growth is at today.

"There has been great growth on all segments," Clein says. "But it has been mainly driven by the private-land side."

While Giffels Webster has enjoyed private-sector growth at its satellite offices in Macomb and Oakland counties, its Detroit work, most of which is coming from redevelopment of existing buildings and even some new build work, is leading the way.

Source: Scott Clein, president of Giffels Webster
Writer: Jon Zemke

Arbor Brewing Co debuts "gastro street fare" in renovated brewpub

Arbor Brewing Co is not only showing off its newly renovated space in downtown Ann Arbor, but also an eclectic new menu to go with it. Rene Greff, who co-owns Arbor Brewing Co with her husband Matt Greff, describes the new menu as "gastro street fare," that emphasizes fresh, locally sourced food made from scratch. Think everything from vegetarian dishes to burgers to shared plates to a selection of French fries.

"The most decadent one is fries fried in duck fat," Rene Greff says.

Arbor Brewing Co recently turned 20 years old and celebrated by renovating its downtown Ann Arbor brewpub after the holidays ended. The project includes a revamped bar, dining room seating, entryway, kitchen, and bathrooms.

The overall theme is to modernize the facilities and make it more accessible. The entryway was reconfigured so the door is on the side of the entry vestibule. The bar was redesigned into a U shape by removing a faux wall behind the existing bar, opening it up to more seating and more room for people to navigate the dinning area.

"We are 98 percent done," Rene Greff says. "We are waiting for our new stools to arrive and a few other things like that."

Source: Rene Greff, co-owner of Arbor Brewing Co
Writer: Jon Zemke

Giffels Webster promotes from within to find 3 new partners

Infrastructure consulting firm Giffels Webster recently brought on three new partners to its practice, a move it didn't need to go far to execute.

All of three of the new partners in the Detroit-based firm have worked there for numerous years.

"We tend to promote from within," says Scott Clein, president of Giffels Webster. "It goes back to before my time. It was 30-40 years ago when someone came in from outside and became a partner."

There are a couple of reasons behind the promote-from-within philosophy. This way the firm knows the new partners are a good culture fit since they have excelled there for years. Giffels Webster's leadership will also feel secure in knowing that the partners have made a long-term commitment to the practice because of their history with the company.

Giffels Webster has grown significantly over last five years, creating 30-plus jobs. Its staff of 86 people now help local municipalities make longterm development planning decisions and private developers best maximize their real-estate holdings. The 64-year-old firm is headquartered in Detroit and has offices in Macomb and Oakland counties. One of each of the three new partners will be based in each of the region's three main counties: Michael Kozak will work out of Macomb County, Michael Marks will work out of Detroit, and Jason Mayer will work out of Oakland County.

Giffels Webster, which now has 10 partners, has never before added three partners at once. The idea behind this latest round of promotions is to help bring more youth and fresh ideas into the company's leadership.

"There is nothing normal in what we have done this time," Clein says. "We made a strategic decision to broaden the ownership of our firm."

Source: Scott Clein, president of Giffels Webster
Writer: Jon Zemke
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