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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.

ShapeLog brings data analytics tech to strength training

Brian Hayden and Nolan Orfield both enjoy lifting weights. However, the two Ann Arborites became frustrated when there wasn’t an option to measure their progress with new technology.

"There is no Fitbit for strength training," Hayden says.

So the friends decided to do something about it and launch their own startup, ShapeLog. The Ann Arbor-based company has designed a technology that utilizes sensors that help bring data analytics to weight rooms, gyms, and rehabilitation centers. The device is attached to the strength training equipment and is can measure everything from repetition speed to tension on the weight bar or belt.

"When you pull that information you can see everything about that workout," Hayden says.

The falling price of sensor technology makes this possible for ShapeLog. The technology stays on the equipment so there is one less thing for the user to wear during the workout.

"We're betting people don't want to carry this around," Hayden says. "It should be seamless for the user. ... We don't think people want another gadget. We think people want more information that helps them better understand themselves."

ShapeLog is currently working on creating a class/coaching model for its technology instead of selling it as a consumer product. It’s aiming to launch a pilot program for it in a local gym this fall. The startup has also joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program to help it develop and scale its product and business model.

McShane's Pub opens second location in Ypsilanti

Bob Roberts and Sean McShane enjoyed spending their football Sundays at the Roundtree Bar & Grill. They became regulars and then they became owners, taking over pub at 2203 Ellsworth earlier this year. They changed the name to McShane’s Irish Pub & Whiskey Bar last month.

"The first thing that attracted us to the place was the people," Roberts says. "We have a great group of regulars."

Roberts and McShane, along with Ryan McShane, own a McShane's Irish Pub & Whiskey Bar in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood near the old Tiger Stadium site. They opened the new location in Ypsilanti with the idea of recreating that same atmosphere in Washetenaw County.

The New McShane's has a bar, restaurant and charity poker room. It can seat up 180 people an d employs 18 people. It's location near U.S. 23 was attractive because there is not a lot of competition nearby, the closest being downtown Ypsilanti just to the north. The central location by the highway also makes it easily accessible to a broad range of people.

"You can get to us from pretty much any location," Roberts says.

Sweetwaters grows to 7 locations with new cafes in Ann Arbor, Canton

Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea is on the precipice of opening its sixth and seventh cafe this summer, an expansion that will cap its 23rd year of growth in the Ann Arbor area.

Wei and Lisa Bee opened the first Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea coffee shop in 1993 not long after they graduated from the University of Michigan. Since then they have steadily opened more locations on their own and through franchisees. Many times those opportunities sought out the Bees.

"It was something our regular guests were asking us about," Lisa Bee says.

The second Sweetwaters cafe opened in Kerrytown about 10 years ago. It now has cafes open there and in Ypsilanti, on U-M’s campus, and in Plymouth Green Crossings on Ann Arbor’s northeast side. The next two stores are set to open in the Westgate Shopping Center and in Canton by the end of this summer. Each will have the feel of the original Sweetwaters cafe but with its own unique aspects.

"Every one of our Sweetwaters looks a little bit different," Lisa Bee says. "We try to make each location unique to the community."

The Sweetwaters cafe in the Westgate Shopping Center on Ann Arbor's west side is going inside the Ann Arbor District Library branch. There will be a coffee car inside the library but no seating. The library itself will serve as the cafe's seating. It will be Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea's third corporate store and is on target to open by late August or early September. The library cafe is coming about because the Bee family's kids are active members of the local library community.

"We are very familiar with the Ann Arbor District Library," Lisa Bee says. "We love it."

The Sweetwaters in Canton is set to open by the first week of August. That is location is being opened as a franchise. It's located in a small strip mall at 302 N. Canton Center Road. The 1,600-square-foot space will be able to hold 50 people.

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.

Bank of Ann Arbor expands to Oakland County with merger

The Bank of Ann Arbor is acquiring the Bank of Birmingham, a move that will serve as the growing local bank’s expansion into Oakland County.

Bank of Ann Arbor is paying approximately $33.3 million to Bank of Birmingham shareholders as part of the deal. The merged banks will continue under the Bank of Ann Arbor brand with $2.5 billion in assets at eight branches. employees. All of the 225 employees from both banks will be retained during the merger.

"We are working hand-in-hand together," says Tim Marshall, president and CEO of Bank of Ann Arbor.

Marshall expects the banks to spend the next 12-15 months working on assimilating the two workforces together. He adds that it helps that both banks have similar work cultures and that they use the same core processing system.

This represents the Bank of Ann Arbor's third acquisition in the last six years. Bank of Ann Arbor acquired the former New Liberty Bank in Plymouth in 2010 and UniFi Equipment Finance in Ann Arbor in 2013. The Bank of Birmingham, which only has a branch in Birmingham, will serve as Bank of Ann Arbor's introduction to the Oakland County market. Marshall doesn't expect Bank of Ann Arbor to make any other acquisitions in the near future.

"It's really too early to make that sort of decision," Marshall says. "We want to focus on closing this transaction flawlessly."

Bank of Ann Arbor has carved out a niche for itself as a local bank as demand for local banking surged after the financial crisis of 2008. Bank of Ann Arbor moved to fill that void by serving both people and businesses. It had grown its overall assets to $2.2 billion before the new merger with Bank of Birmingham, with 185 employees at seven branches in Washtenaw and western Wayne counties.

Marshall expects that sort of local-first philosophy to drive growth at the bank for the foreseeable future.

"We're just going to continue to emphasize that at every opportunity," Marshall says. "We have enjoyed a lot of success, and there is a lot more success on the horizon for us."

Automation Alley makes investments, adds firms to 7Cs program

Automation Alley added a handful of startups into its fold in the second quarter of this year through both investments and additions to its business-building programs.

The Troy-based technology business association invested $22,000 into QuipzOR, a Bloomfield Hills-based startup that enables pre-surgical collaboration between hospitals, physicians and surgical device company representatives. Its services includes a remote surgical device support platform and a surgery scheduling app that eliminates unnecessary foot traffic in operating rooms, reduces the risk of infections, liabilities and costs associated with onsite support.

This is Automation Alley's second investment in QuipzOR. It originally invested $25,000 in it last December when it joined Automation Alley's 7Cs program. This latest investment will help QuipzOR launch a pilot program at a local surgery center.

Automation Alley also admitted a couple more companies to its 7Cs program, which helps local entrepreneurs accelerate the commercialization of their products, services and technologies. The startups added include ShapeLog and Vanderplaats Research and Development. ShapeLog is based in Ann Arbor and helps bring data analytics to gyms, hospitals, trainers and athletes by offering cloud-connected gym equipment and supporting fitness software.

Vanderplaats Research and Development, which is based in Novi, creates software that enables engineers and scientists to efficiently analyze, design and improve structures and processes in the automotive, aerospace and energy industries.

"We develop optimization software for engineering design," says Juan Pablo Leiva, president and COO of Vanderplaats Research & Development. "We plan to grow the company by following Automation Alley's advice.”

Next High Growth Happy Hour focuses on real estate

Detroit's rapidly fluctuating real estate market has no shortage of entrepreneurs breaking into it. There's an opportunity to hear from two fast growing local startups at the next High Growth Happy Hour, August 3rd from 6 to 8 p.m., in Detroit’s North End neighborhood.

The speakers will be David Alade of Century Partners, a real estate development company with a holistic revitalization and innovative funding approach, and Max Nussenbaum, CEO & co-founder of property management startup Castle (read Model D's profile on Castle and their rapid growth). David and Max will share insights into Detroit's real estate market, including how they have broken in and created a new model for their businesses.


6:00 - 6:30: Networking & Drinks

6:30 - 7:30: Casual chat and Q&A with attendees

7:30 - 8:00: Networking

RSVP here to attend. Space is limited for this free special event. Drinks and light appetizers will be served, and you’ll also get to be the first to see a brand new space Century Partners is redeveloping into a restaurant at 9425 John R Rd., Detroit.

Learn more about the High Growth Happy Hour series, which connects entrepreneurs and inspires them to scale in Metro Detroit.

DC3 launches Detroit City of Design initiative

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) wants to help figure out how best to harness the Motor City's flair for design to improve its local economy, and it's launching the Detroit City of Design initiative to make that happen.

"We want to build a community vision for what the designers can achieve," says Olga Stella, executive director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center.

This effort comes shortly after Detroit was recognized as an UNESCO City of Design, the first and only one in the U.S. The Detroit City of Design initiative's goal is to bring together design professionals in industry, academia, policy, and community to collectively build an innovative, equitable, and sustainable city through the power of design.

According to Stella, they'll ask and answer questions like, "What is unique about Detroit? What are our assets and opportunities?"

The Detroit City of Design initiative will take place over 10 years. In its first year DC3 wants to lay the groundwork for creating a common vision on how design can best impact the region. Specifically, organizers want to see how such a vision can boost Metro Detroit's economy.

Other cities with UNESCO City of Design designations have harnessed them for a variety of purposes. Since 2004, the creative sector in Buenos Aires has grown by 90 percent. It now makes up nearly 10 percent of the city's gross domestic product and employs nine percent (almost 150,000 people) of the city's workforce. Since 2009, Montreal has invested more than $225 million in public projects hosting 25 public design competitions that resulted in $17 million in revenue for the local design community.

DC3 hopes to make similarly big gains by harnessing the UNESCO designation.

"For us, it's about economic development," Stella says.

DC3 will host a series of events celebrating design in the Motor City throughout this year, including the annual Detroit Design Festival on Sept. 22-24. The three-day citywide celebration of design has attracted more than 100,000 people the past five years.

Lawrence Hunt signs Tigers catcher endorsement to power brand growth

Lawrence Hunt needed a big name, but not too big, when it came to finding an endorsement for its clothing line. The name that fit that bill: James McCann.

McCann is the starting catcher for the Detroit Tigers, and just the right size of celebrity for the clothing startup: big enough to be known in Metro Detroit, which is where the company is trying to gain a foothold for its breathable-material clothing.

"Helping accelerate the brand's growth is the key," says Jeff Schattner, founder and CEO of Lawrence Hunt. "We wanted to find someone local so we can focus our growth on Metro Detroit."

Lawrence Hunt got its start a little more than a year ago making dress shirts for men that employ breathable material, like what's used in workout clothes. The idea is to help keep the person wearing them cooler and limit the amount of sweat that sweeps through, while maintaining a professional appearance. An athlete like McCann appears to be a perfect fit for that.

It now offers six different styles of dress shirts, including four for men and two for women. All of Lawrence Hunt's clothing sales take place on the Internet. Schattner and his team are working to optimize the company's online profile to maximize its sales. They're also working to set up relationships with local boutique retailers and clothing distributors to increase their sales through traditional retailing channels.

"We want to start testing out the distributors and boutiques," Schattner says.

Greening of Detroit program helps unemployed harvest careers

The Greening of Detroit is heading up an initiative that aims to give careers to the chronically unemployed, while also beautifying the city.

The Detroit Conservation Corps provides unemployed residents in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park job training and certification in the landscape industry. It's recruiting people who have struggled to overcome barriers to maintaining a full-time job, such as incarceration, substance abuse, homelessness, lack of education or job skills.

Helping these people become part of the everyday workforce isn't a simple task.

"Being able to recreate hope in the first couple of weeks is the biggest challenge," says Devon Buskin, workforce development director of the Greening of Detroit. "We have to build a trust because they have been disappointed so many times before."

The Detroit Conservation Corps does this by harnessing the wrap-around services and resources of several partners, including Focus: HOPE, Neighborhood Services Organization, and the McGregor Fund

The hope is for members of the Corps to start over and stabilize their lives. Participants receive training in landscaping, forestry, snow removal, and floral decor. Each eight-week session provides participants with technical training, work readiness skills, and case management services. Upon graduation, trainees are placed directly into jobs. It graduated 54 people from the program in June.

The Detroit Conservation Corps is partnering with the city of Detroit to work on local projects that are transforming the neighborhoods where the participants live into healthier, greener spaces. One such project is clearing and prepping nearly 300 vacant lots in the Fitzgerald neighborhood on the city's west side.

Greening of Detroit has set a goal to train and employ 2,500 Detroiters by 2020.

Big data in automotive industry fuels growth at NITS Solutions

NITS Solutions is experiencing a growth spurt thanks to a bump in big data usage by automotive firms.

The Novi-based firm provides data analytics marketing solutions that help customers better capture and understand data related to key performance indicators. It then helps the clients leverage that data to improve their marketing.

The 7-year-old firm has made its biggest inroads in the automotive industry in recent years. NITS Solutions grew its revenue by 200 percent last year, thanks primarily to growth in the automotive sector. When it started, it had one OEM as a client. Today it has three.

"There is a huge demand in automotive," says Neetu Seth, founder of NITS Solutions.

That’s enabling NITS Solutions to go on a hiring spree. The firm has hired 10 people over the last year, expanding its staff to 30 employees. It’s looking to hire another 15 right now in a variety of technical positions, such as business analyst, program manager, and project manager.

"We hope to be at 50 people by December," Seth says.

To make room for all of those new people, NITS Solutions is doubling its office space to 10,000 square feet.

"We are building out a new space for our marketing and product development teams," Seth says.

And Seth expects to keep growing. While there is still some headroom for growth in automotive NITS Solutions sees opportunities for more growth in other industries.

"We want to tap into retail and education," Seth says. "We want to bring them big data solutions they can use."

Retail Boot Camp accepting applications for next session

Budding entrepreneurs hoping to learn more about how to open their own brick-and-mortar locations are in luck. TechTown Detroit, a business accelerator and incubator in the city's New Center district, is opening up applications for its Retail Boot Camp beginning June 27. Classes run from September 20 though November 8.

The eight-week program consists of weekly three-hour classroom sessions. Classes focus on business development and a resulting business plan. Retail experts provide insight while students are expected to fulfill substantial out-of-class obligations, as well.

At the end of the eight-week term, Retail Boot Camp hosts Showcase, where students compete for prize packages valued up to $7,500. Prize packages can include a subsidized permanent or pop-up location, a point-of-sale system, an inventory subsidy and/or a professional services package. Up to five students can win the retail prize.

"Retail Boot Camp furthers TechTown's mission to support local businesses and drive economic growth in Detroit's neighborhoods," says Regina Ann Campbell, TechTown's managing director of place-based entrepreneurship, in a statement. "We're looking for serious entrepreneurs with great ideas that address neighborhood needs. Participants will work hard and graduate prepared to launch their business and be a meaningful part of Detroit's revitalization."

Curious entrepreneurs are encouraged to attend one of three informative workshops in the city. They are:
  • Tuesday, June 21 at TechTown Detroit, 440 Burroughs, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, June 29 at Mash Detroit, 14711 Mack Avenue, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 30 at Always Brewing Detroit, 19180 Grand River Avenue, 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Previous winners include House of Pure Vin, Paramita Sound, Tribalfare, Mama Coo's Boutique, Third Wave Music and 2015 Hatch Detroit winner Live Cycle Delight.

The cost for Retail Boot Camp is $499. Applications are being accepted June 27 to Aug. 19. Visit the Retail Boot Camp website to apply.

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

Strata Oncology lands $12M investment for precision medicine tech

Another Ann Arbor-based startup has landed another large round of venture capital investment. This time it’s Strata Oncology's turn to secure a Series A investment. The $12 million infusion will allow them  to further develop their tumor sequencing technology.

Strata Oncology is currently conducting clinical trials for Strata Trial, which will provide no-cost tumor sequencing for 100,000 cancer patients that will characterize the mutations that caused their cancer. The company will then use that information to offer a portfolio of precision-medicine clinical trials that target a wide range of these mutations, with the goal of maximizing the chances that a patient matches to a trial.

"For most cancer patients in the U.S., tumor sequencing is not standard of care, so patients remain unaware of their eligibility for promising precision medicine clinical trials," says Dan Rhodes, co-founder and CEO of Strata Oncology. "By providing no-cost tumor sequencing for 100,000 cancer patients, Strata intends to be the catalyst, helping patients find the right trials and helping pharma find the right patients."

Strata Oncology aims to dramatically expand late stage cancer patients' access to tumor sequencing and precision medicine trials and to accelerate the approval and availability of breakthrough cancer medicines. The idea is to maximize the patient's chances of survival.

Ann Arbor-based Arboretum Ventures and Baird Capital co-led Strata Oncology's Series A. Ann Arbor-based Michigan eLab also participated in the funding round.
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