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Main On The Park to sell $1M townhouses near downtown Ann Arbor

A couple of longtime rental houses just north of downtown Ann Arbor are set to be knocked down in order to make room for a small batch of townhomes. The pricetags for the units in this Main On The Park development could reach $1 million each.

Coming down are 542 and 548 N Main St. Going up will be four townhomes measuring about 2,500 square feet each. All of this is pending approval from the Ann Arbor City Council, which will take up the development plans on Aug. 17th.

"We will start construction as soon as possible," says Tom Fitzsimmons, builder & developer of Main on the Park. "Our goal is to move people in by the fall of 2016."

The two houses proposed for demolition are nearly a century old each. They overlook North Main Park and have been rental properties for decades. Fitzsimmons company, Huron Contracting, plans to salvage some of the materials from them as part of the Main On The Park development.

"We will do as much salvage of the building as we can," Fitzsimmons says.

The units will also have a number of green features, such as insulations, high-efficiency furnaces.

Fitzsimmons adds the new buildings will be done in a "residential style" that comes with clapboard-like siding, pitched roofs, and double-hung windows. The development is aiming to blend in with the existing housing stock in the neighborhood.

"We don't want to be too overpowering," Fitzsimmons says.

Source: Tom Fitzsimmons, builder & developer of Main on the Park
Writer: Jon Zemke

New Ann Arbor Amtrak station platform another step toward universal design

Smiling words and back slaps abounded when local leaders unveiled a new retractable platform at Ann Arbor's Amtrak station last week. But what is easily lost in the celebration is that this new improvement, while a welcome addition, is only one more move toward universal design that can make more transportations accessible to everyone.

Think people like Lloyd Shelton. The Ann Arbor resident travels with an electric wheelchair because of a form of muscular dystrophy called spinal muscular atrophy. He is a member of the committee for disability concerns with both the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. He is a big proponent of improvements like the retractable platform, which provides a safer and faster way to get on and off of trains for people using wheeled mobility device, seniors, and those who need assistance with luggage and strollers.

"It makes transportation more accessible and less problematic," Shelton says.

Which is important to him. People dealing with disabilities, many struggling with lower incomes and even poverty, rely on Amtrak as their only affordable option for long distance travel. For them booking tickets on planes or buses can be prohibitively expensive because they need to pay premium prices for extra space and accommodations.  

That doesn't mean Amtrak is the salvation for the handicapped. Its infrastructure still has a long way to go to achieve the kind of universal design that opens a door for everyone.

"It (Ann Arbor's Amtrak station) was theoretically accessible," Shelton says. "I'd like to do things in a more spontaneous way. But for them we have to reach out and arrange help ahead of time. It was more problematic."

Which is another reason why Shelton and his cohorts are pushing hard for universal design in transportation options like these. They see incremental progress but a long road ahead to true universal accessibility.

"It's moving in the right direction," Shelton says.

Source: Lloyd Shelton, a member of the committee for disability concerns with both the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

From pop-up to restaurant, Central Provisions becomes Spencer

Dreams of opening a restaurant are the obvious inspiration for most pop-up eateries, but very few make the leap to a brick and mortar space.

Steven Hall and Abby Olitzky are on their way to sticking that landing. The young couple (they recent became engaged) plan to open a restaurant and cheese bar in downtown Ann Arbor called Spencer. In preparation, they spent a couple of years toiling as a pop-up restaurant and catering service called Central Provisions. They intended to open the restaurant under the same name but discovered there is already an eatery with the same moniker in Maine.

"We decided it's not worth the confusion," Hall says. "We saw the restaurant opening as a good opportunity to change the name."

Spencer is set to open this fall at 113 E Liberty. It will occupy 1,200 square feet and be able to seat about 50 people. The couple are leaving their day jobs at Zingerman's and Sweet Heather Anne (as well as the pop-up gig) to open Spencer.

"The goal had always been to have our own restaurant," Hall says. "The pop-up was an easy way to build up our name and reputation."

They do have some pointers for people looking to do the same:

- Take your time. Use the pop-up experience to perfect our cooking and management skills. The sharper those skills the easier the transition to a brick-and-mortar space. Also use that time to build out a support network of professionals in the space and find the best place to open shop. Hall and Olitzky thought they had found the perfect space a few times before locking down their current location.

- Don't settle. Take the time you are biding to search out a number of locations. Figure out which type will work best with what you're trying to do. Hall and Olitzky figured out a place that was ADA compliant and had built in kitchen equipment meant more to them than the character of a raw space that had never been a restaurant before.

- Hustle to make money. Pop-ups aren’t enough to support a comfortable adult lifestyle. Hall and Olitzky supplemented their income from pop-ups with day jobs in the food industry and after-hours catering gigs in their spare time.

"It's definitely all about the hustle," Hall says.

Source: Steven Hall, co-owner of Central Provisions and Spencer
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Which Wich franchise opens in downtown Ann Arbor

Lots of people bristle at the thought of being called yellow. The team at the new Which Wich sandwich shop in Ann Arbor can't want to embrace this unfairly maligned color.

"Yellow is the color of happiness," says Alexandra Zaki, franchisee of Which Wich in Ann Arbor, talking about the franchise’s main color. "We are all about that yellow."

The Dallas-based franchise makes yellow a major part of its brand. It's all over the walls of its locations and the uniforms of its employees. You can even find it on the shoelaces of the staff, including the employees at the new location at 301 E Liberty in downtown Ann Arbor.

Which Wich lets its customer choose what kind of sandwich it wants from a numbered list and then customize it with toppings and sides. They also are encouraged to write and doodle on the bag the sandwiches are served in. Zaki, who has worked in branding before launching this franchise in Ann Arbor, likes Which Wich because it encourages a fun atmosphere with high-quality food.

"We really want to focus on our people," Zaki says.

Which Wich now employs a staff of 29 people in downtown Ann Arbor. Its 1,900-square-foot space space can accommodate 49 people inside and another 20 outside. The franchise is still looking for more staff. Applicants are encouraged to either visit the shop or call it at (734) 929-2113.

Source: Alexandra Zaki, franchisee of Which Wich in Ann Arbor
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Yankee Air Museum begins construction on new home as a national attraction

Every millennial who grew up dreaming of becoming a fighter pilot in Washtenaw County probably spent time in the cockpits of the historic aircraft at the Yankee Air Museum.

Those dreams were all but snuffed out when a fire ravaged the museum in Willow Run in 2004. The fire in the hangar the Yankee Museum called home destroyed eight historic aircraft and tens of thousands of artifacts with it. It was a big blow to the staff and volunteers who worked to keep the museum running.

The uncertainty over the Yankee Air Museum's future ended this summer when construction began on a bigger and better home - renovating part of the historic bomber plant in Willow Run that built B-24 bombers during World War II. When the $15 million project is done it will be reborn as the National Museum of Aviation and Technology.

"We will become a national museum and destination point for people across the country," says Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Yankee Air Museum.

The Yankee Air Museum's old home measured at 20,000 square feet. The new space will be 144,000 square feet. The project will include all of the museum's famous planes, such as the Yankee Lady B-17 bomber. It will also include extensive exhibits on 20th Century aviation in America and have a retail component.

"It's quite a bit bigger," Walsh says.

The Yankee Air Museum has raised about $4 million of the $15 million needed to pull off the project. Its staff of eight people and dozens of more volunteers have begun doing minor demo at the museum's new home. They plan to begin construction on the north side of the building next week. A target opening is set for 2017.

Source: Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Yankee Air Museum
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

California-based Pieology Pizzeria opens store in Ann Arbor

Pieology Pizzeria opened a new location in downtown Ann Arbor next to the University of Michigan campus last week. This is the first store in Michigan for the California-based specialty pizza maker, located in a storefront at 620 E Liberty St in the former Borders flagship store.

"It's a great location," says Mike Morgan, general manager of Pieology Pizzeria. "It's close to campus. We think it's a great launching pad for the brand in Michigan."

About 20 people are making and selling pizzas at the new pizzeria. Pieology is known for offering custom-made pizzas with freshly prepared toppings and dough made in house. They offer unlimited toppings for $7.95 so customers can concoct whatever sort of pie they desire.

"That puts us at an advantage over our competitors," Morgan says.

Source: Mike Morgan, general manager of Pieology Pizzeria
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Border To Border Trail creates connectivity by shrinking gaps

The development of the Border to Border Trail has always been known for its potential for creating a walkaway across Washtenaw County for pedestrians and bicyclists ...and for the sizable gaps that keep it from doing just that.

Advocates for the trail have been pushing to bridge those gaps this year, which include closing small breaks in the county’s big cities and creating large sections in its more rural areas. The idea is to get more of the region's non-motorized traffic off the road and onto the Border To Border Trail.

"You avoid putting a whole bunch of cyclists and pedestrians on the same road," says Bob Krzewanski, chair of the Friends of the Border To Border Trail. "Motorists usually don't look for cyclists and pedestrians."

A couple of those major gaps that advocates want to close include small but critical sections in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti has budgeted money to build a pedestrian bridge over the Huron River at Riverside Park and Michigan Avenue, which will enable it to connect the Water Street development, downtown, and Depot Town, through the Border To Border Trail and its park system.

Ann Arbor is making plans to build a pedestrian bridge over the Huron River, too, this time where Maiden Lane crosses the river near the University of Michigan Health Center. Currently, users of the Border To Border Trail need to cross the vehicular bridge next to traffic. Creating a smaller pedestrian bridge underneath it will provide some much needed space between people and cars.

"It (the Maiden Lane bridge) was built with space underneath," says Larry Deck, board member of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition. "There are concrete pads there where the trail bridge should go."

Both Deck and Krzewanski are optimistic that funding packages for both projects could come to fruition within the next year and construction starts soon after.

There are larger gaps in the Border To Border further outside the cities, such as a smaller section at the very eastern edge of Washtenaw County and a large section between Ann Arbor and Dexter.

"The segment in between Ann Arbor and Dexter is problematic," Krzewanski says. "To get it off road you need to get private property easements."

But both are confident these sorts of large projects will get done within the next few years, despite the obstacles ahead. They see a growing demand for this sort of recreational opportunity as what will really make a complete version of the Border To Border Trail a reality.

"A lot of people say they would go out to walk or bike if they has some place to do it," Krzewanski says. "This gives them that opportunity."

Source: Larry Deck, board member of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition; and Bob Krzewanski, chair of the Friends of the Border To Border Trail
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Groovy Hopster Farm starts farming for brewers in Chelsea

Today a small team of people are working to establish one of Michigan's first hop farms in Chelsea, planting and caring for thousands of the plants at Groovy Hopster Farm.

"We might need some more help as we get into harvesting," says Louis Breskman, owner of Groovy Hopster Farm.

The Chelsea-based business is taking over 10 acres at 18833 M-52. The land used to serve as a dairy farm before it was abandoned and left to go wild. Breskman and his team have planted 4,000 hop plants on nearly half of the site's acreage.

"We have been steadily reclaiming it," Breskman says. "We have tilled the soil and raised some trellesses." The farm also has a couple of goats who's main job is to eat poison ivy. "We want to get rid of it in an all-natural way," Breskan says.

Groovy Hopster Farm specializes in producing organic hops, a key ingredient in beer making, for local breweries. Breskman expects the 4,000 hop vines his team planted this year to yield about 4,000-5,000 pounds of hops. That number should rise to 8,000 pounds over the next couple of years as the vines mature. The entire farm should produce about 20,000 pounds of hops when it reaches capacity.

Breskman, a University of Michigan graduate, is a big fan of the craft brewing movement. He is opening Groovy Hopster Farm to meet the demand for fresh, high-quality hops from the growing base of local brewers. Breskman points out he has watched four breweries open in Ann Arbor since moving here a few years ago, and almost all of the local brewers import their hops from the Pacific Northwest.

"If we has a local source of natural, fresh hops then we could take our beer to the next level," Breskman says.

Groovy Hopster Farm recently kicked off a crowdfunding campaign for $30,000 to help fund its expansion. It will be holding a launch party for it at Grizzly Peak from 6-9 p.m. on Monday. More info on it here.

Source: Louis Breskman, owner of Groovy Hopster Farms
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Mighty Good Coffee grows bigger, stronger with 3rd location

Mighty Good Coffee is opening its third location in Arbor Hills. The Ann Arbor-based coffee shop plans to open its third location later this month at at Arbor Hills. It would occupy the former space of Glassbox Coffee, a local coffee shop that went out of business late last year. With this move Mighty Good Coffee will be taking over both of the former Glassbox Coffee locations.

"We called the landlords for both locations and did our due diligence and worked it out," says David Myers, chief coffee officer & managing partner of Mighty Good Coffee. "A lot of it was timing."

The 10-year-old business has hired seven people this year, expanding its staff to 15 people. The number of employees should rise to 22 people by the time it opens the third location in Arbor Hills. Myers plans to keep the Mighty Good Coffee expansion at three location for the time being. He only went after the two more recent spots because they presented plum opportunities to grow in places that needed them.

"For us our locations aren't in over-saturated locations," Myers says. "We're not opening up another location in downtown Ann Arbor."

Mighty Good Coffee has been able to carve out a niche for itself as a local coffee roaster that creates fresh, high-quality products by roasting its beans and making its own products.

"People seem to want to buy into the local food movement," Myers says. "That's where we put our efforts into our stores."

Source: David Myers, chief coffee officer & managing partner of Mighty Good Coffee
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

M Den's flagship State St store expands to XL size

M Den's flagship store, adjacent to the University of Michigan's campus, is taking over the retail space once occupied by La Mersa Meditterean Cuisine. The store already occupied most of the building at the 300 block of South State Street. Taking over the former restaurant space, 301 S State, will complete its occupation of the entire structure.

"The only thing we didn’t have is the downstairs of 301," says Scott Hirth, co-owner of M Den.

The boutique retailer that specializes in University of Michigan apparel will turn 40 years old next year. It currently employs 125 people (which doubles in size during football season) after hiring 20-plus people over the last year. It currently has six brick-and-mortar stores after opening its sixth last August. It also has 12 retail locations inside University of Michigan athletic facilities during games, like Michigan Stadium.

M Den is currently working on the build out of the expansion of its flagship store, which it hopes to open in time for the Ann Arbor Art Fair later this summer.

"We are going to use it for an expanded women's and children's sections," Hirth says.

Source: Scott Hirth, co-owner of M Den
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Pour-over coffee bar, Black Diesel Coffee, opens in Ann Arbor

Black Diesel Coffee, a pour-over coffee bar, opened its first location on the east side of Ann Arbor this week.The new coffee shop is taking over a former Peet’s Coffee shop at 1423 E Stadium Blvd, at the corner of Stadium and Packard, with ambitions of bringing coffee drinks that are both high-end and small batch to Ann Arbor.

Blaclk Diesel will primarily do that by offering pour-over coffees, a trendy new way of making coffee where the hot water is hand poured over a filter that then drips directly into the customer's cup. It will also offer espresso drinks and traditionally drip brewed coffees.

"There are many ways to express the flavor profiles of a coffee bean," says Nick Ferris, proprietor of Black Diesel Coffee. "We will use different styles that will best fit each coffee."

They will also offer a variety of coffee flavors from a number of different brands.

"We are partnering with several small batch artisanal roasters from across the state," Ferris says.

Black Diesel employs a staff of 16 people, and Ferris has ambitions of growing the company relatively quickly. He is looking at opening a second location in the Ann Arbor area later this year and next year.

"We will spend the first six months working on our overall concept," Ferris says.

Source: Nick Ferris, proprietor of Black Diesel Coffee
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

618 South Main preps for August move-ins in downtown Ann Arbor

Construction workers are hurrying toward the finish line for the 618 South Main project on the southern edge of downtown Ann Arbor.

The $27 million development plans to open its first half of the building to residents in August and then the second half in September. The six-story building is expected to bring 164 more apartments into the city’s center.

"One of the things downtown needs to be viable is people," says Dan Ketelaar, president of Urban Group Development, co-developer of 618 South Main. "People are not driving into downtown to do their shopping anymore."

618 South Main is one of a number of new mid-and-high-rise buildings that have been built or are under construction in downtown Ann Arbor. Most of the structures have been geared toward students at the University of Michigan. Ketelaar was working on one of those projects six years ago when he realized there is just as much demand for dense, luxury, urban living from young professionals as there is from students.

Construction started on 618 South Main in January of 2014 in the space that once house the old Fox Tent & Awning business. A few hundred construction workers have worked on the project since, preparing it for its opening.

618 South Main is currently a little more than 40 percent leased out. It is made up of studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units that range in price from $1,395 per month to $2,905 per month.  Residents can also rent out one of the 132 parking spaces underneath the building or access its Zipcar.

"We thought a lot of these young people will not have cars," Ketelaar says. "Right now about 50 percent of the leases are taking parking spaces."

Residents will have access to common deck with a pool, outdoor grills, fire pits and lounge areas both inside and outside of the building. All of the water runoff from the building (about 900,000 galloons per year) is also filtered through a rain garden system and into the Huron River.

"This is essentially a lifestyle community for young professionals," Ketelaar says.

Source: Dan Ketelaar, president of Urban Group Development, co-developer of 618 South Main
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Whiplash expands Ann Arbor warehouse to keep up with growth

Whiplash is expanding at home and abroad, adding more space to its Ann Arbor warehouse and preparing to open another facility in London.

Whiplash is the merchandising arm of VGKids, handling logistics for its e-commerce activity. It got its start in Ypsilanti a few years ago but recently moved to Ann Arbor for a bigger facility.

"It turned out to be a very good decision for us," says James Marks, co-founder of Whiplash. "It gave us a lot of room to grow."

So good that Whiplash has signed a lease for the space adjacent to its Ann Arbor warehouse, upping its facility's space by 50 percent. Whiplash also opened a facility in California last year which is growing quickly. About a third of its 25-person workforce operates out of Ann Arbor, including two new hires over the last year.

Whiplash is also preparing to open its third facility in London. The new warehouse will be opened through a partnership with Bleep.com, a culmination of a relationship the two firms have been building for years.

"They were a client of ours," Marks says. "We had done some work for them in the states."

Whiplash is also looking at opening a fourth facility in Asia. The new warehouse could open in China before the end of the year if right parts of the deal fall into place.

Source: James Marks, co-founder of Whiplash
Writer: Jon Zemke

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

Ypsilanti's Washington Place Apts rehabs building without displacing residents

When it comes time to redevelop an apartment building in an up-and-coming part of downtown it usually means the developer must move the old tenants out in order to execute the work. Beal Properties is turning that strategy on its head.

The Ypsilanti-based construction company is redeveloping the Washington Place Apts this spring and summer. However, it's doing it with minimal impact on the existing tenants.

"We are not kicking anyone out," says Stewart Beal, president of Beal Properties. "We are making improvements as leases expire."

The 15,000-square-foot building at 210 N Washington has evolved since it was first built a century ago. It was originally built as an office building. Eventually it was added onto over the years, making it a 4-story apartment building. Its 16-units range from studios to four-and-five bedroom units.

Beal bought the building in 2009 and sold it Balmoral Holdings, a Colorado-based investor, last year. Beal still manages the building, however, and will replace the roof this spring, a job that requires 10 roofers working on three different roofs. Each unit is being upgraded with refinished hardwood floors and granite countertops as tenants move out over the next year or two. The idea is to keep the building's cashflow steady to ensure consistent returns for the investor.

"Balmoral Holdings was attracted to project because of Ypsilanti's historic downtown and proximity to Eastern Michigan University," Beal says.

Source: Stewart Beal, president of Beal Properties
Writer: Jon Zemke


Elevation Burger set to open in downtown Ann Arbor

Elevation Burger is opening its second location in Ann Arbor this week, bringing a slow-food business model to a traditional burger joint.

The Virginia-based company specializes in making high-end burgers, using only 100 percent USDA-certified organic, grass-fed, and free-range beef that is freshly ground on the premises of each franchise. The idea it make food that is fresh, local, and delicious.

"We do the milkshakes the old-fashioned way of scooping the ice cream and blending it up here," says Michael Tayter, owner of the Michigan franchises of Elevation Burger.

Elevation Burger's second Michigan franchise is opening in downtown Ann Arbor at 529 E Liberty. It comes two years after Tayter opened his first franchise in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan alum choose to keep the first two franchises close to each tother in order to maintain quality.

"People expand geographically too quickly and they stretch themselves too thin," Tayter says. "We want to stay close so we can share staff and managers and bring over the culture from the other store."

The new 1,850-square-foot space in downtown Ann Arbor will be able to seat 50 people at a time. It will also have a prep space in the basement of the building. The location will employ 12 people.

Source: Michael Tayter, owner of the Michigan franchises of Elevation Burger
Writer: Jon Zemke

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