DDA, chamber look ahead to 2013

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published January 2, 2013

FERNDALE — The city’s business outlook for 2013 is strong, according to officials from the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority and Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce, who are looking forward to a prosperous year of growth and improvement.

DDA ready to launch major downtown projects
DDA Executive Director Cristina Sheppard-Decius believes that 2013 will be a big year for downtown Ferndale, thanks to one project that will enhance the entire district and another that will upgrade an underutilized stretch of it.

The DDA is currently nearing the completion of its plan to overhaul the downtown parking system by replacing more than 900 individual meters with 19 state-of-the-art digital pay stations that can service multiple parking spaces in each lot. Under this multi-space meter plan, solar-powered pay stations will be strategically installed in the downtown area’s 12 public parking lots. Drivers can park in one of the numbered spaces and then use the digital stations to pay either via cash, credit card, or the city’s Parkmobile cellphone option.

Sheppard-Decius hopes to have the new system up and running no later than Feb. 15.

“Bringing our parking system into the 21st century will be a major step forward for our downtown,” she said. “Everything will be improved on our end, but the biggest improvements will be made on the user end of things. The entire system will be a lot more versatile, modern and easy to use.”

The DDA’s other big endeavor involves a series of streetscaping enhancements intended to bring greater economic development to the often-neglected west end of downtown, specifically the four-block stretch along West Nine Mile Road between Livernois and Pinecrest. The long-awaited project will involve narrowing West Nine Mile between Livernois and Pinecrest from five lanes to three, widening the sidewalks and adding on-street parking, as well as installing new landscaping, light poles, trash and recycling containers, public benches, on-street bike corrals and more.

Sheppard-Decius anticipated that construction will begin in April and be completed by October.

“This is a huge project that has been needed for a long time,” she said. “That area has a lot of safety issues, poor walkability and is just not very welcoming or inviting. This project will not only encourage more new businesses to come to that end of downtown, but it will also improve the shopping experience for consumers, residents and existing businesses.”

The DDA will also be launching a new and improved website, a mobile phone application and an online tour of the downtown area’s cultural and historical landmarks. These projects will follow a year in which the DDA premiered its ARTWN public art initiative — a two-year partnership with MotorCity Casino Hotel that will continue through 2013 — and completed the pedestrian alley that runs from West Nine Mile to West Troy.

The downtown business community is in a state of flux, as well. This year saw the opening of popular new establishments like the Imperial, One-Eyed Betty’s, John D Bistro, Easy Like Sundae and Local Kitchen & Bar, as well as the closure of mainstays like AJ’s Café, Pete’s Place and Dollar Castle.

Looking ahead, 2013 is set to bring in the next generation of downtown businesses, including the Public House, a new restaurant in the former Josephine’s Bistro location; Pet Care Au Pair in the former Allstate Insurance building on Woodward; Zeke’s, a barbeque restaurant in the former AJ’s Café location on West Nine Mile; a new venue from the owners of Toast in the former Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency (OLHSA) building on East Nine Mile; and a new restaurant from the owners of Dino’s Lounge in the former Ferndale Veterans of Foreign Wars hall on Vester Street. Some existing businesses, such as the Fly Trap and Torino Espresso Bar, will also be expanding their operations.

“I feel like 2012 was a year of significant growth for us,” Sheppard-Decius said. “The economy is starting to come back, and we are starting to see a real increase in downtown development, as well as a decrease in our turnover rate. There’s definitely more buzz and activity in downtown Ferndale … and all indicators are pointing to another year of growth in 2013. We think that we will see lots of new businesses coming in and stabilizing some of the existing ones.”

Chamber hopes to maintain record-high membership
The Chamber of Commerce also has big plans for 2013, after an especially successful 2012. According to Executive Director Jennifer Roosenberg, the chamber set out at the start of 2012 to add 100 new members before the end of the year, and it was able to exceed this goal with 110 members joining its ever-expanding roster.

“Historically, 2012 has been one of our strongest years ever, so it’s been a really exciting time for us,” she said. “We will likely end the year at around 320 altogether, which might be the most members that we’ve ever had. I don’t think we’ve ever hit 300 before. When I took over (in March 2009), we were only at about 175.”

As a result of this substantial membership increase in 2012, Roosenberg was able to add a new player to the chamber team by hiring a part-time development director. Still, she acknowledged that the chamber’s membership level typically trails off the year after a large surge occurs.

“We added 114 new members in 2010,” she said, “but it took such a great effort for us to get there that we actually lost a few members in 2011. We have a two-year goal of getting to 400 members by the end of 2014, which I think is very realistic.”

This year also saw the chamber increasing its overall outreach by meeting more regularly with members to offer business tips and strategies. To help achieve this goal, the chamber opened a southeast Oakland County chapter of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) in its East Nine Mile office, providing advisors to help small business owners become more successful.

In 2013, chamber leaders will be launching a new program called Marketing Mondays, in which business owners can receive valuable information on how to more effectively market their company. The chamber will also begin offering college scholarships to graduating high school seniors in the community, as well as reviving its annual commercial property showcase and adding a community calendar to its website.

Roosenberg said that she is hoping to get the chamber more involved in community events this year. While 2012 saw chamber officials launching their Rainbow Run 5k fundraiser as part of the four-day Ferndale Pride celebration, 2013 will find them helping the Oak Park Recreation Department organize an outdoor festival in early May.

Since Oak Park does not have its own chamber of commerce, Roosenberg noted, “one of the new things that we’ve done in 2012 is start adding new members from Oak Park. That’s another thing that should really help with our overall growth. Oak Park is a really large, untapped market that could really use a lot of the services that we provide.”