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Don Knight at classic Ann Arbor steakhouse Knight's new downtown location
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Development News

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Encore Hookah to bring gathering place to Ypsilanti this summer

Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor area residents will soon have a new place to relax and enjoy each others' company. This summer, Encore Hookah will open at 622 N. Hewitt.
 
"The location we chose is perfect because we loved being in a central location where we could accommodate to local residents as well EMU and U of M students," says Encore Hookah's Heather Sinawe.
 
The hookah lounge won't be the Sinawe's family's first business venture in the area. After owning an Italian restaurant in Ann Arbor, the family decided to stick with their love of the service industry by sharing one of their own interests consumers. 
 
"Hookah is something we enjoy smoking while relaxing and wanted to share the phenomenal experience with the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor communities including our family and friends in surrounding areas," Sinawe says.  
 
In addition to hookahs, Encore Hookah will provide free wifi access. For customers on the run, the business will also offer orange heads, or hookahs to-go made out of an orange, so the experience can be enjoyed at home. 
 
Renovations are currently underway with this summer as a target date for opening. Updates can be found on Encore Hookah's Twitter and Instagram channels. 

Source: Heather Sinawe, Encore Hookah
Writer: Natalie Burg

Former Milan bank building to house new American 1 Credit Union branch

Jackson-based American 1 Credit Union will soon be opening its thirteenth location in on W. Main St. in Milan. The credit union purchased a former bank building and is now renovating the facility to make way for an April 21 opening. 

"Milan is an amazing community," says Vice President, Marketing and Communications for
American 1 Credit Union Kristi Edgar. "American 1 is excited to become a part of it and help to enhance the already strong community bond."

The new bank branch will celebrate its opening with a Free Community Shred Day on May 3. Anyone with sensitive documents they wish to shred is welcome to join American 1 in the Milan City Hall parking lot. 

With existing locations in Brooklyn, Grass Lake and Chelsea, Milan fits right in to the American 1 Credit Union family.

"American 1 is a community-focused financial institution and we value our small-town communities in Michigan," Edgar says. 

American 1 Credit Union promotes its extended hours for customer convenience. The new Milan branch will be open until 6 pm Monday through Friday and until 3 pm on Saturdays. The branch will be staffed by five employees.

Source: Kristi Edgar, American 1 Credit Union
Writer: Natalie Burg

New location, name planned for Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts

A year of change is underway at the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts. The growing music academy is preparing to move from its 3,000 square foot S. Main St. location to share a 17,000 square foot location with Conlara School on Jewett Ave., and soon will unveil a new name as well. 
 
"Over time, our larger group programs have needed and wanted to grow, but the space was prohibitive," says Kasia Bielak-Hoops, executive director of the school. "Things were bumping into each other. We found this opportunity and it has flown so smoothly from the beginning."
 
With its primarily after-school programming, partnering with a school was an ideal choice for the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts. With Conlara's business wrapping up as the music school gets started each day, and the school facility's non-traditional design, even large ensemble practices will be easily accommodated seamlessly. 
 
In addition to new digs, the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts will soon have a new name. After a series of focus groups, surveys and a voting process, the organization's new identity will be revealed next week. 
 
"The school has been going through a transformational process over the last year," says Bielak-Hoops. "We refocused our mission. We recently went back and looked at our guiding principles. This rebranding is a part of going out to the community to say, 'This is who we are.'"
 
The music school will announce the new name to their community first, will post the announcement to the public via Facebook. The transition to the Conlara School location will begin over the summer and will be complete by August. The school has 250 students enrolled, and Bielak-Hoops hopes to grow that number by about 40 students each year in the new space.

Source: Kasia Bielak-Hoops, Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts
Writer: Natalie Burg

Review of 8 possible locations for new Ann Arbor Amtrak station underway

The City of Ann Arbor is looking for a place to build a new Amtrak station. Anyone who has parked on the grass in the current station's overflowing lot before hauling suitcases over the Broadway St. bridge has a pretty good idea of why. 

"There are a number of drawbacks to the current station," says Eli Cooper, the City of Ann Arbor's transportation program manager. "We've also found that the waiting room can only accommodate 60 or so passengers, when Amtrak currently gets about 100 or so per train."

The eight possible sites recently presented for public feedback follow the railroad tracks from as far north as Huron River Dr. past Bird Rd. and as far south as Geddes and Huron Pkwy. Cooper says the new station could possibly include a cafe, museum or other unique amenities in addition to features that would improve accessibility for visitors and multimodal travelers, as well as improve the quality and comfort of the station. 

"We have the ability to include discretionary items that could make the new station a place to be celebrated, as opposed to a place one might have to endure," Cooper says. "I think it's really going to create a buzz in this part of the country."

Cooper expects a site to be selected and environmental reviews to be completed by the end of 2014. A vote for the new station could take place in 2015 or 2016, with the soonest possible completion date for a new station in 2018. While total project costs are currently uncertain, Cooper anticipates $20 to $30 million or more will be invested in the station.

Source: Eli Cooper, City of Ann Arbor
Writer: Natalie Burg

Dusty's Collision HQ to double in size with new $3M building

It's part of Dusty Whitney's business model to own the properties that house his six Dusty's Collision locations, and after 15 years, he'll be applying that model to his headquarters on S. Industrial. He plans to start construction on a new, 30,000 square foot facility right next door to his existing headquarters later this year. 
 
"It's really about growing our existing location," Whitney says. "We have three separate buildings now, and at the new building we'll be all under one roof."
 
He'll be able to fit a lot more under than roof as well. As he's now operating with 15,000 square feet, the new, $3 million facility will double his space. With the additional room he plans to upgrade his equipment, expand his aluminum repair operations, grow his staff and have three car lanes dedicated to insurance companies processing claims. 
 
"It's a way to capture some customers, but it also helps the insurance companies," says Whitney. "Now all the cars have to sit outside for estimates, which isn't fun when it's winter for six months like this year."
 
After planning the project for more than a year, Whitney hopes to begin construction in August and move to the new location in spring of 2015. Dusty's Collision currently operates three Ann Arbor locations and one each in Canton, Temperance and Grand Blanc. After the new headquarters is up and running, Whitney plans to continue to grow with new locations. 

Source: Dusty Whitney, Dusty's Collision
Writer: Natalie Burg

Local artist finds a vehicle for his designs with Flophouse Skateboards

It's not easy for artists to find a way to make a living through their art, but Ben Thompson has found a way to combine two of his passions into one business. The fine artist and graphic designer recently launched Flophouse Skateboards where he designs custom art for skateboards by hand. 
 
"My designs are very eastern inspired. I spend a lot of time in tattoo parlors, that is an influence in my work," Thompson says. "I have also people come to me with their own idea, and I come up with something and show them a design." 
 
After studying fine art at Eastern Michigan University, Thompson started working as a graphic designer for a local sign company. When he had the idea to apply his art to skateboards, his boos helped him come up with a process for making it work. When a warehouse in the same building as the sign shop became available, Thompson decided to give his skateboard art a go as a business. 
 
"I'm an artist, first and foremost," he says. "This is a bridge for me to make a living between my art and something I like doing." 
 
Thompson renovated the space and opened Flophouse Skateboards in January. Though most of their sales take place online, Thompson says he welcomes people into his shop if they wish to visit. He and two employees create their designs and apply them to skateboards by hand. Eventually, he hopes to purchase equipment that will mechanize the process so he and his workers can create their custom skateboards more efficiently.

Source: Ben Thompson, Flophouse Skateboards
Writer: Natalie Burg

ArborBike aims to launch 14 bikeshare stations in June

The first 14 ArborBike station locations have been chosen, and according to the Clean Energy Coalition, June is the target date for getting the bike share program on the road. 

"The stations we have selected were chosen based on data and practicality," says Kevin Mulder of the Clean Energy Coalition. "We’re very excited to have had [The University of Michigan's] support from the beginning of this project, and we believe the integration of downtown and campus station locations is crucial to offering a comprehensive service area to residents, employees, students, and visitors

To chose the 14 locations, ArborBike organized analyzed housing density, job density, student populations, existing bike infrastructure and destination spot. After narrowing down these locations, they searched for available space where the bike station equipment would fit. Solar and wireless access were also taken into consideration. The finalist list of stations will service downtown, Central Campus and North Campus. 

"The main feedback we've received about the station locations is a request for additional stations outside of the first 14 proposed sites," Mulder says. "People are asking about Park & Ride lots, the west side, and the Washtenaw corridor toward Ypsilanti."

Requests for additional stations is not a bad way to launch the program, and Mulder says expansion is a part of the program's long term plan. As other bike share programs have found value in keeping stations in somewhat close proximity, the Clean Energy Coalition feels confident the public will have a positive experience with the program.

An ArborBike sponsorship campaign was recently launched for continued support of the project. More information about sponsorships can be found on the new Arborbike website.

Source:  Kevin Mulder, Clean Energy Coalitin
Writer: Natalie Burg

$2.2M S. Fourth renovation to bring Ruth's Chris Steak House to Ann Arbor

The S. Fourth Ave. building that housed the former Dream Nite Club is getting a major renovation, and the south side of downtown Ann Arbor will be getting a new restaurant with the $2.2 million development of a Ruth's Chris Steak House. The project came together after the development team that worked on a Ruth's Chris in Grand Rapids decided to give the franchise another go.

"It was very successful and well received and that team decided tot look for another market that was similar," says Steve Fry of Concept Design, the architectural firm working on the project. "Ann Arbor sort of stood out as a good possibility." 

Finding the right size building available downtown was a challenge, but the vacant nightclub was selected for its potential to become the structure they need. The one-story, approximately 8,200 square foot building will be totally renovated, including the addition of a 1,700 square foot second level. 

"This building did fit for size, shape good location," Fry says. 'We basically approached this as having potential by completely renovating and bring it back to life."

Fry also hopes the timing of the renovation will coincide with the neighboring properties coming back to life a well. He believes residential or hotel use of the recently sold city property across the street would be a great complement to the restaurant. 

The project is pending approval by the Ann Arbor city council next month. Should it be approved, Fry says the plan is to move quickly, with a goal of opening the new Ruth's Chris by end of the year.

Source: Steve Fry, Concept Design
Writer: Natalie Burg

Natural, homemade ice cream coming to W. Liberty with Blank Slate Creamery

When she was in her 20s, Janice Sigler thought about opening an ice cream shop. After two decades working for the University of Michigan, the idea came back to her. 
 
"I just decided to do something completely different," she says. "I went out to Massachusetts to work with someone out there who makes their own ice cream, just to get a sense of whether or not it would be something I wanted to do."
 
It was. Sigler is now renovating the building she purchased on W. Liberty and S. First St into Blank Slate Creamery, an ice cream store specializing in natural ingredients. Rather than including emulsifiers and other chemicals, Sigler's treats will be made from cream, cane sugar, milk and eggs — as well as a number of interesting, all natural flavors.  
 
"We have a coffee flavor that we're using Mighty Good coffee in, a pistachio with actual roasted pistachios pureed in the mix, and I've been experimenting with rice krispie treat," Sigler says. "One of the unusual sorbets cactus pear, which is bright pink naturally, so it's very pretty."
 
Renovations on the 1,300 square foot space include adding interior walls, counter seating, some windows, as well as a pasteurizing and ice cream making room that will be visible to customers when they visit. Sigler intends a great customer experience to be part of Blank Slate Creamery, and is hoping to hire a staff of up to 10 employees who are creative and will engage with kids in the store.
 
Sigler has long term plans for her new downtown building as well. Eventually, she and her husband plan to convert the second floor into a living space and become downtown residents above their ice cream shop. 
 
Blank Slate Creamery is slated to open in June.

Source: Janice Sigler, Blank Slate Creamery
Writer: Natalie Burg

Jerusalem Garden to quadruple size in former Seva location

Ali Ramlawi has long known Jerusalem Garden needed to grow. Last year, he planned an expansion of the Fifth Ave. location where his family's restaurant has been for nearly 30 years, but couldn't come to a deal with his landlord. Perhaps the plan simply wasn't meant to be, as it was followed by a rare opportunity to grow into a location that was not only nearby, but was also the home of another Ann Arbor institution: Seva. 

"We've been here for 27 years. It's hard to leave something like this," Ramlawi. "But people love the charm of that place. It's unique, it's funky, and it's a natural fit. It's an organic way to grow."

The move around the corner may not be far, but the 4,500 square foot location will quadruple Jerusalem Garden's footprint. Ramlawi expects the new restaurant will allow him to seat about 100 diners, double his employees to make a staff of 45, and consolidate some of his operations that currently take place in another facility. 

"It's nice to bring everything under one roof," says Ramlawi. "I'll be able to have more capacity for people to sit, and to expand our catering the University of Michigan. We'll have some room to breathe."

Ramlawi plans to undergo a complete buildout of the space, and is aiming for New Year's to open in the new location. Though he was worried customers might be upset about change coming to the restaurant, thus far, he says he's been delighted by all of the positive feedback he's received.

Source: Ali Ramlawi, Jerusalem Garden
Writer: Natalie Burg

Gift of Life Michigan to double facility size with $12.3M expansion

Gift of Life Michigan has been saving lives for more than 40 years. By next year, they'll be doubling the footprint of their headquarters in Ann Arbor to amplify the quality of and access to organ transplants in our state. A 50,000 square foot, $12.3 million expansion is planned for the organization's Research Park Rd. facility that will connect two existing buildings, and provide room for a surgical center, 250-seat auditorium and memorial area for donor families. 

"There are three things in healthcare that one can always improve upon," says Gift of Life Michigan CEO Richard Pietroski. "There is reducing costs…improving access to a scarce resource, and improving quality. With all our processes centralized, we'll be doing all of that."

With a staff of about 200, Gift of Life now sends teams of employees all over the state. With 145 hospitals of varying resources, coordination can be difficult. With surgical capabilities at Gift of Life's facility, donors can instead be transported to one location for a more streamlined process. 

"About seven years ago, we had an organ recovery team from U-M involved in a plane crash," says Pietroski. "Nationwide, that's something that's happened frequently enough that I'd rather transfer the donor than have teams fly. It's a service to the transplant center and their teams."

While about six months of rezoning and property line changes will preceed construction, Pietroski anticipates construction to be complete by Sept. 2015. About six full-time positions and several more part-time positions will be created by the new facility. 

Currently, 3,300 Michiganders are registered organ donors, indicated by a red heart on their drivers' license. People can become organ donors by visiting the Gift of Life Michigan website.

Source: Richard Pietroski, Gift of Life Michigan
Writer: Natalie Burg

Two new Mighty Good mini-locations opening this spring

Food carts are often used as an incubation process for new food businesses to get their bearings and test the market before investing in a permanent location. Though Mighty Good Coffee has been a destination for coffee connoisseurs a remote workers for years now, owner  David Myers still sees his forthcoming presence at Mark's Carts as a similar venture. 

"Four blocks is a long way away in terms of pedestrian traffic," he says. "I think there is an opportunity for us to do well in an corridor that gets a lot of traffic that doesn't necessarily cross Huron St. For me, it's relatively low risk, and there is no retail space available right now, so why not try not try something?"

The Mighty Good Coffee cart could join Mark's Carts as early as this Friday, should all of their equipment arrive on time. It will only be the first of two new ventures for the coffee maker, however, as Myers is also working on a mini-coffee shop inside Two Wheel Tango on Jackson Rd.

"The coffee shop inside a retail space is a trend that has been growing for a few years," Myers says. "I'd been looking for a place for coffee on the far west side, so I called [Dennis Pontius] up one day and said would you ever consider this. We were off and running."

The Two Wheel Tango location will include a coffee bar, about six tables and a menu similar to what is now available at the original Mighty Good shop. The Mark's Cart shop will offer a slightly pared down menu. Both locations will open at 7 am, which Myers hopes will further activate the spaces, which currently open later in the morning. 

Three new staff members have already been hired to manage the Mighty Good cart, and Myers anticipates hiring two more for the Two Wheel Tango location, which is slated to open in May. 

Source: David Myers, Mighty Good Coffee
Writer: Natalie Burg

Longtime family bakery in Pinckney to open new location in downtown Chelsea

Pinckney Bakery owners Kim and Saing Yam weren't looking to open a second location, but when they came across the space in downtown Chelsea left by cupcake maker Glee, both the building and the timing seemed right. 

"It's a coincidental thing," says Kim Yam. "The cupcake lady closed down, and I told my husband to go look. It wasn't planned."

Though unplanned, a second location isn't unprecedented for the Yams. They owned the Dexter Bakery for 17 years before deciding to cut back and spend more time with their kids about five years ago. Now that their kids are older, the Chelsea location seemed like a good opportunity. 

"The only thing we'll do different than in Dexter, is we don't do bread," Yam says. "We have pastries, pretzels, cookies — everything, you name it, and we bake fresh every day."

Yam hopes to open the Chelsea Bakery in the second week of April, initially hiring a staff of two for the store. They are now renovating the 2,000 square foot space, putting in new flooring and countertops. Yam plans to include space for seating inside the bakery.

Source: Kim Yam, Pinckney Bakery
Writer: Natalie Burg

STUFD promises big meals, affordable prices for EMU community

Though Joel Hamami recently graduated from Eastern Michigan University, his big plans for the future won't take him too far from campus. In fact, his forthcoming restaurant with partner Zack Ruthven, STUFD, will be right across the street. 
 
"Eastern's campus lacks a couple of things right now. There aren't many places to go for a quick burrito," Hamami says. "We are trying to stay connected to Eastern, looking to be involved with the athletics teams and orientation."
 
The STUFD concept is to offer diners inexpensive burritos, chimichangas, tacos, nachos and quesadillas with a variety of toppings and add-ons. A number of menu items will come with a "STUFD" option, which, according to the menu, "is available for the consumer who is not satisfied with just being full."
 
Hamami is now in the process of renovating the 2,200 square foot space, and is hoping to open April 5. He plans to hire a staff of about 10, and offer both delivery and dine-in eating for about 50 diners.
 
While his current focus is the success of this location, Hamami hopes to expand in the future, opening STUFD restaurants near college campuses elsewhere in Michigan.

Source: Joel Hamami, STUFD
Writer: Natalie Burg

Beloved Birmingham hamburger house picks Ann Arbor for second location

For more than 60 years, Hunter House Hamburgers has been a Metro Detroit favorite, serving oniony sliders from a white pill-box diner in Birmingham. After all that time, the small family restaurant has decided to expand, and downtown Ann Arbor will be the beneficiary of the decision. 

"We had been an institution in the Detroit area for 60 years," says Kelly Cobb, who will operate the new location. "We thought what better way to share than to expand. Ann Arbor was obvious choice."

Cobb will open the new Hunter House on E. William St. in late April or early May. At 2,000 square feet, the restaurant will be about twice the size of the original, but will retain the same diner aesthetic customers are used to in Birmingham. That extra room will allow for some changes to the Hunter House menu. 

"We never really had a chance to grow at the original place because it's so small," says Cobb. "We have a ton of additional kitchen space now."

The Ann Arbor location will offer about a dozen varieties of milkshakes and malts and some additional menu items, but Cobb assures fans of the original that they will also find everything they love from Birmingham as well. 

In addition to dine-in seating, Cobb plans to offer a take-out window and stay open late to serve the downtown market. He anticipates hiring a staff of about 25 for the Ann Arbor location.

Source: Kelly Cobb, Hunter House Hamburgers
Writer: Natalie Burg 
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