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ReImagine Washtenaw moves toward "complete streets" with new study

ReImagine Washtenaw recently released its Corridor Improvement Study, which takes a comprehensive look the five miles of Washtenaw Ave. connecting the Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Pittsfield and Ypsilanti Twps. Funded by the Sustainable Communities Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the research seeks to move the corridor closer to a “Complete Street” model, including bike lanes, a sidewalk network and boulevards.

“For the first time, all four local units of government have a jointly-developed, comprehensive plan for making Washtenaw Avenue a more ‘complete street,’" says Nathan Voght, Washtenaw County's ReImagine Washtenaw project manager. "ReImagine Washtenaw now has a detailed blue-print for how to transform the roadway, over time, into a street that is safer for pedestrians and bikers, and still handles vehicular travel efficiently.”
The Corridor Improvement Study revealed that the current rate of increase in traffic will soon cause intersections to fail, which Voght says will further frustrate drivers and hurt the economic viability of the commercial district. 

"The change we need to make has never been more urgent," says Voght, "and the ReImagine Washtenaw stakeholders will be continue to push ahead with necessary changes that will provide viable alternative forms of transportation, and the land use forms that will support them.”
Next up for the ReImagine Washtenaw project is to seek out funding to implement aspects of the Corridor Improvement Study that are currently achievable, as well as taking the necessary planning steps to facilitate and set the stage for those that could come to fruition in the future. 
Voght adds that none of the recommendations in the study are intended to impede or reduce vehicular capacity, requiring people to walk, bike and bus along the corridor. Instead, the increase in options will allow some people to take alternate modes of transport, putting the corridor in a better position for change. 

Source: Nathan Voght, Washtenaw County
Writer: Natalie Burg

Argus Farm Stop aims to help growers and locavores with year-round market

Ann Arbor is an undeniably great place for local produce — for part of the year. The demand for local foods, however, doesn't go away in the winter, and thanks to the rise of local hoop houses, it doesn't have to. Kathy Sample, her husband Bill Brinkerhoff and their business partner Scott Fleck are aiming to help local growers extend their growing season with Argus Farm Stop, an indoor farmers market coming to W. Liberty this year. 

"The Farmers Market is fantastic, but there is a waiting list to get in," says Sample. "And what happens when it rains and no customer show up? We thought, there's a mismatch here." 

After encountering an indoor farmers market in Ohio, Sample and Brinkerhoff met with the owners, as well as local growers and the Ann Arbor Farmers Market to see what could be done to expand the availability of local food here. When they found no one else was on the job, they put themselves on it. 

Argus Farm Stop will be located in a 1,300 square foot former gas station on W. Liberty that is now under construction. Sample hopes to open in August with new bathrooms, an espresso bar and a wide array of produce, meats and other local foods. 

"Michigan is the second most diverse state in terms of agricultural products," Sample says. "Somehow things have changed over the years. We want to build that back up."

Argus Farm Stop is operating as a  Low-Proit Limited Liability Company, an option which will help the company maintain funding as they pursue their social goals of extending the growing season and giving new opportunities to local growers. Sample also plans to include education opportunities for kids and families in their business model. A staff of approximately six employees will operate Argus Farm Stop, along with the business partners. 

Source: Kathy Sample, Argus Farm Stop
Writer: Natalie Burg

Marriott's Residence Inn to add 110 hotel rooms to downtown

The much anticipated hotel coming to the corner of Ashely and Huron in downtown Ann Arbor now has a name. Developer First Martin announced last week that Residence Inn by Marriott will be the brand of hotel to occupy the planned six-story building. An extended stay model, the Resident Inn will offer studio, one- and two-bedroom suites.

"There are different types of segments in the hotel industry, so we looked at the performance of each segment we were attracted to the extended stay market," says Mike Martin, vice president of First Martin Corporation. "Of that market we thought that the Residence Inn was far and away the leader." 

The 110-room hotel is expected to open in late summer or early fall of 2015. Those rooms will significantly grow the 274 hospitality rooms that are currently available downtown. While the extended stay option is especially convenient for business travelers, Martin says visitors of all kinds will be attracted to the Residence Inn.

"There is a lot of flexibility in that type of room," he says. "You have people who are staying for just one night, but would like a little bigger room who will also enjoy it. The rooms have a desk and a couch, so they speak to wide range of travelers." 

In addition to the hotel, the proposed First Martin development will include nearly 6,000 square feet of first floor restaurant or retail space.

Source: Mike Martin, First Martin Corporation
Writer: Natalie Burg

Salads Up to bring healthy food in a hurry to Liberty

Robert Mayer may be about to embark on his first restaurant venture, but the University of Michigan graduate has plenty of experience as an Ann Arbor diner on the go. After exploring franchising options to address the lack of both quick and healthy food options downtown with his business partner, the two decided to develop their own concept. The result will be Salads Up on E. Liberty. 

"This is not a traditional self-serve ‘salad bar,'" says Mayer. "It is a fast casual concept in which the customer chooses from our many ingredient options and our awesome homemade dressings. The offerings will include what most people associate with salads but will also have some creative twists."

In addition to salads and salad-like options, Salads Up will also offer wraps, soups and frozen yogurt. Mayer is currently working with his chef to develop a unique menu that emphasizes quality as well as local ingredients. 

The 1,200 square foot space will be entirely renovated to accommodate the new restaurant, including new plumbing, electrical, venting systems and interior cosmetic work.

"The building itself is not currently equipped to be a restaurant and will require some significant work," Mayer says. "We simply could not pass up on the location."

Renovation are slated to begin this week, and Mayer plans to open Salads Up by the end of the summer, and will hire about 11 employees. He hopes their success in Ann Arbor will lead to more Salads Up locations in other cities. 

Source: Robert Mayer, Salads Up
Writer: Natalie Burg

Ypsilanti women's retailer to open second location in Ann Arbor

Nickels Arcade is about to get Mix-ed up — in a good way. Ypsilanti's popular women's clothing and accessories shop is opening a second location in the former home of Beagle Brain. 

"It was sort of a no brainer," says Leslie Leland, who owns Mix with business partner Bonnie Penet. "We discovered the space at Nickels Arcade was open and we just loved the ambiance of that location, and it's historic nature. We thought t would be an absolutely fabulous fit for our clothes."

Renovations to the 850 square foot shop are now underway. Most of the work is focused on creating Mix's unique lighting. The Ann Arbor location will be a third of the size of the original Mix, which opened about four and half years ago. The two stories will carry similar "mixes" of new and second-hand clothing and accessories, with enough variety to make visits to both stores worthwhile. 

"The similarity will be in the clothing that we carry, which is really artistically chic," Leland says. "We're in New York [at a trade show] right now and we've added some incredibly exciting clothing to our line." 

The new Mix store is slated to open in June. The store currently employs a staff of five part-time workers. Penet and Leland plan to staff the shop themselves in the beginning and add staff as needed. 

Source: Bonnie Penet and Leslie Leland, Mix
Writer: Natalie Burg

Final Round Training Center to bring mixed martial arts & fitness classes to A2

Mixed martial arts is a fast growing sport in the U.S., and beginning next month, some of the top names in the industry will be bringing their skills to Ann Arbor with the new Final Round Training Center. Four-time world champion Muay Thai fighter Matee Jedeepitak will be among five noteworthy coaches who will offer training in Muay Thai, 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu, Pilates, cardio kickboxing and CrossFit. 

"I knew Matee and knew that he had a long-time dream of having a gym in the U.S., and I had a dream of not having to drive an hour and a half for lessons with him, " says Final Round owner Chris DeRose. "We wanted something that was in Ann Arbor, and we got amazingly lucky in the people who we're drawing to the space as trainers." 

Final Round Training Center will begin classes on May 5 in a 4,200 square foot facility on Plaza Dr. in Ann Arbor. In addition to formal mixed martial arts training, DeRose says martial arts-style fitness classes will be available to anyone interested in getting into shape. 

"It's MMA fitness and training without someone punching you in the face," says DeRose. "We'll have a cardio kickboxing class and combat conditioning class that you sign up for as a package."

Final Round will also host seminars with nationally recognized names from the martial arts industry. DeRose plans to reach out to area schools and other community organizations to get involved with youth fitness programs, and will host community benefits, including a cancer awareness event in October. 
Source: Chris DeRose, Final Round Training Center
Writer: Natalie Burg

Red Beauty Bar to deliver mobile makeup artists to clients

As someone who doesn't have the skills of a makeup artist herself, Christina Carter decided she was the perfect person to open a mobile beauty concierge service. After all, she would also be the service's ideal customer. 

"I'm a person that doesn't wear makeup on a regular basis, but I like having it done for a special occasion," says the University of Michigan graduate. "I noticed that when I went to a larger city, there were places to just get your makeup done. I thought, why isn't there a service like that in Ann Arbor?" 

What Carter lacks in cosmetic skills, she makes up for in entrepreneurial know-how. Her Red Beauty Bar business is set to launch in June with three makeup artists who will travel to customers' doors to get their faces in shape for any occasion, from a wedding to a night out with friends. 

"Convenience is key these days," Carter says. "People will go to the website, pick their time slot and their artist of choice to come out to their location." 

Red Beauty Bar will focus on making a basic makeup application affordable as well as convenient. Unlike other companies in the business, the service won't require or pressure customers into purchasing any cosmetics. 

It's also important, Carter says, to remind her customers that women shouldn't feel pressured to wear makeup in order to feel beautiful. The mobile cosmetics concierge is intended simply to be a fun way for customers to access makeup for occasions.

Carter hopes to eventually grow her team of makeup artists, expand into other cities, and create a brick and mortar location in the future. Prior to the launch of the website, Red Beauty Bar can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Source: Christina Carter, Red Beauty Bar 
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
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