Crain's Detroit Business, May 20, 2024

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The clean energy roadblock

Hydrogen, battery startups had big plans in Michigan, but funding is holding them back |

Hydrogen, battery and clean energy startup projects touted as key to a U.S. manufacturing resurgence are facing a big challenge: nding backers beyond the government to get factories

o the ground. e uncertainty looms over high-pro le projects in Michigan, where o cials have prioritized securing manufacturing jobs of the future. Projects pro-

Our Next Energy turns to consultant

Struggling battery maker seeks help raising funds

Electric vehicle battery startup

Our Next Energy Inc. hired a Chicago-based nancial consultant specializing in distressed businesses in its quest to rebound from a failed Series C fundraising round.

e Novi-based battery manufacturer recently tapped Birch Lake Partners, a merchant bank known for its work with strug-


gling startups, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Crain’s. e bank was brought on as a nancial adviser but not an investor, one of the sources said.

Our Next Energy told Crain’s in a statement that its fundraising pursuit “remains a critical part of … e orts to build an American battery company.”

posed by a range of companies including Nel Hydrogen, LuxWall and CustomCells promise hundreds of millions of dollars in investment and hundreds of jobs, but they are a long way from the

Oakland Mall remakes itself by adding stores with Asian roots.


nish line. at is because the fundamental question of demand — who will buy the products and when — has only become murkier in recent months as investors rein

in their bets on unproven technologies, even as the federal and state dollars begin to ow more freely.

Michigan rm tackles hospital cyberattacks

When a ransomware attack happens, companies and insurers seek out specialty operators, rms that are often clandestine but experts in dealing with these criminals.

In Troy, digital forensics rm N1 Discovery plays that role.  eir teams are often only a degree removed from the hackers themselves. e cat to their mouse. Forensics for the digital age. ey make rst contact, negotiate, ask for the cyber ver-

Restaurant group owners juggle family-business dynamic.

sion of a proof of life and seek a remedy — sometimes ransom payments, sometimes not.   It's an intensity that's likely happening at Ascension right now, as it continues to work with its contracted cybersecurity rm, Mandiant, to get its systems back online from a May 8 ransomware attack that impacted its 140 hospitals — including 15 in Michigan — and took its entire electronic medical record system o ine.


Matt Hall on cutting income taxes and aspiring to be the next House speaker.

Dustin Walsh
See FUNDS on Page 14
Our Next Energy paused the buildout of its Van Buren Township factory at the end of last year amid fundraising and demand woes. | OUR NEXT ENERGY
See ENERGY on Page 14
The BayoGaaS Hydrogen Hub opened in Wentzville, Mo., in late 2023. A similar project planned in Michigan has not yet gotten off the ground. BAYOTECH

Ann Arbor Spark touts $1B invested in state’s economy

More than $1.1 billion in capital invested in Michigan’s economy has come from projects coordinated by Ann Arbor Spark since it was founded in 2005, according to David Ruud, chief nancial o cer of DTE Energy and chair of the board of Ann Arbor Spark.

On April 30, board members for Ann Arbor Spark celebrated the upcoming 20-year anniversary for the economic development agency focused on Southeast Michigan counties. e agency supports early-



In 2023, the agency supported 400 early-stage startups, which contributed to the full-time employment of 1,046 people. Ann Arbor Spark also incubated 102 new pre-seed startups.

During an April 30 panel discussion with former and current Ann Arbor Spark board members, former Gov. Rick Snyder said that in order for the agency to continue moving forward, those within Ann Arbor Spark have to ensure they continue to look ahead at new challenges and “not get complacent or content.”

can help lead the direction in a much broader horizon

if we keep that open mind about where the future is going.”

stage, tech-related companies in the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and shared data on its success at its April 30 event at Eastern Michigan

“Spark is a place that’s helping innovators innovate, entrepreneurs to go, economic development to happen, and all these incredible things, but it’s also important every so often to zoom back out and look at Spark itself,” Snyder said. “And if you look at the way our world is changing today, the velocity

of change in our world, Spark needs to be at the forefront of anticipating where those changes are going.”

Snyder served on Ann Arbor Spark’s board of directors from 2005 to 2009, prior to serving as Michigan governor from 2011 to 2018, and co-founded SensCy, a cybersecurity services company based in Ann Arbor, in 2022.

In October, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced that four nonpro ts would receive $18 million to invest into helping Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem ourish. Ann

Gannett res Michigan editor who shared staf ng concerns

Sarah Leach, an editor who oversaw 15 Michigan dailies and weeklies for Gannett, has been red for talking to an industry organization about Gannett operations.

Two days after her ring on April 29, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies posted a story headlined “Gannett hits pause button on its promise to resta its smallest papers.”

In an interview with Crain’s, Leach acknowledged she was the unnamed source for that story, and was red after the Poynter reporter, Rick Edmonds, sought comment from Gannett on why the company was stalling on its announcement to boost sta ng. Although Edmonds did not reveal his source to Gannett, Leach said she suspects they identi ed her by looking at her emails.

Gannett declined to comment for this story. “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on personnel matter or personnel actions,” a Gannett spokesman said in an email.

A Gannett employee for 14 years, Leach was not given any severance, she said.

Leach was featured in a Crain’s Forum story published in February about the state of Michigan journalism, in which she talked about the challenges facing local

journalism in an era of shrinking resources.

Although Leach obtained permission from Gannett to be interviewed for the Crain’s story, she said her bosses were unhappy with how Gannett was portrayed.

“I do think part of this has to do with the story that was published in February,” Leach told Crain’s about her ring. “Looking back, there was a bellwether. My boss was just furious, you know, ‘How could you do this? You’re a representative of the company.’ … ey don’t want to acknowledge the state of journalism in markets that they can control.”

Leach became managing editor of the Holland Sentinel in 2010 and was promoted to editor in 2013. In February 2023, she was promoted to regional group editor, overseeing 26 Gannett publications, all small dailies and weeklies, in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and South Dakota.

(In Michigan, besides the 15 papers once under Leach, Gannett also publishes the Detroit Free Press, Lansing State Journal, Battle Creek Enquirer and e Times Herald in Port Huron.)

At the time of her dismissal, Leach also was lling in as local editor of the Daily Telegram in Adrian, the Hillsdale Daily News and the Monroe News.

In addition, Leach was the Holland Sentinel’s lead reporter cov-

ering Ottawa Impact, a far-right group that won control of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners in the 2022 election and has since been embroiled in a series of controversies. Several former colleagues nominated Leach for a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage.

Most of the newspapers that Leach was overseeing had only one local reporter and ve — including the Cheboygan Daily Tribune and Sturgis Journal — had no local reporter, a scenario some in the industry refer to as “ghost newsrooms.”

Gannett announced in 2023 that it was working to boost sta ng in its smallest newspapers, including resta ng at least some of the “ghost newsrooms,” but then hit the pause button on making job o ers to ll the newly created openings, Leach said.

Rick Edmonds, who wrote that Poynter story, told Crain’s that Leach’s ring was “outrageous.” He noted they could have reprimanded or suspended her, or at least given her a severance package, but instead, “they went to maximum punishment mode.”

In an online column he wrote about her dismissal, Edmonds pointed out the hypocrisy of a media company ring an employee for serving as an unnamed source for a story, a behavior that journalists at times encourage in others. “Gannett’s top management extols itself

Arbor Spark will receive $5 million over a 2.5-year period, co-investing at least $1.5 million alongside the fund into companies with a tech focus, as part of the Michigan Innovate Capital Fund program.

Between 2012 and 2023, Ann Arbor Spark has also contributed to the creation of 1,551 jobs in Livingston County, Ruud announced. In the same time, the agency also created 65 growth projects and created or retained 5,262 jobs in Livingston County.

In 2023 alone, Ann Arbor Spark created or retained 879 jobs and

created 23 company growth projects in Washtenaw and Livingston counties, as well as $208 million in new investments, 516 new jobs created and 363 jobs retained. “ e opportunity Spark has is to make sure it doesn’t get caught up at just being really good at what it’s already doing,” Snyder said, “but continually reinventing itself, innovating on itself and saying, ‘We can help lead the direction in a much broader horizon if we keep that open mind about where the future is going and helping de ne that future.’ ”

for its commitment to excellent journalism while deploying espionage on its own employees? What a bunch of phonies,” he wrote.

Leach said her goal in talking to Poynter was to help force the conversation about what is happening to small community newspapers and the lack of resources.

While Gannett’s larger newspapers, such as the Free Press, can help drive pro ts, “that doesn’t make sense for a Sturgis Journal or a Cheboygan Daily Tribune,” she said.

“ ey have limited population size and reach, and those models should be about just serving the community and being sustainable. It should not be to just to maximize growth and pro ts,” she said. “We really need to talk about this as a country, because (the downsizing of small newspapers) is happening more and more. I just think that we need to have a conversation about that.”

e circumstances of Leach’s dismissal from Gannett has been getting attention around the state and country, especially in the journalism community. In addition to Edmonds’ column on Poynter, the Detroit News had an indepth story about her ring and she was interviewed on Michigan Public radio.

“I think it did strike a chord with a lot of journalists,” Edmonds said. “And I’m glad that that’s the case.” Leach, a single mother with three children, is looking for a fulltime new job. In the meantime, she has started a Substack page to continue her reporting on Ottawa Impact, and so far has 600 subscribers. She’s also doing some freelancing, including an assignment from e Washington Post. “My life has just imploded,” she said. “But I’m working. It’s not going to be what it once was, but at least now I’m doing what I actually enjoy.”

An aerial view of the city of Ann Arbor. | ANN ARBOR SPARK Sarah Leach oversaw news coverage for 15 Gannett newspapers in Michigan before being red April 29. | BRYAN ESLER

Oakland Mall remakes itself with an Asian tilt

An area that is home to a constellation of Asian businesses is welcoming more — to a perhaps unexpected location.

Oakland Mall at John R and 14 Mile roads in Troy has recently added, or is adding in the coming weeks and months, a half-dozen or so new stores, most of which have roots in places including Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan.

It’s part of an e ort by owner Mario Kiezi, who bought Oakland Mall in March 2022, to bring new life to a tired property. Kiezi came in as somewhat of an outsider, having never owned a mall, but still promising to radically alter its DNA by bringing in unique, sometimes rst-to-market tenants in a transformation he has likened to what ultimately became Chelsea Market in New York City.

It’s still a long way from that but the roster of new tenants in-


◗ Gashapon Bandai , a store with walls of vending machine-type dispensers of miniature toys in capsules by Bandai Namco, the Japanese video game maker behind titles such as Pac Man, Elden Ring, Tekken, Dragon Ball and Dark Souls.

Kiezi said that with 538 vending machines, it’s the largest such store in the U.S. It’s about 2,500 square feet.

See OAKLAND on Page 16

Developer tests the market with 23 new home sites near Indian Village

Among the rst new speculative homes built at scale in Detroit in decades, sales are underway at a new-build development on the city’s east side. Detroit-based multi-family apartment developer Greatwater Opportunity Capital LLC is now venturing into the for-sale side of the real estate business with a new project one block east of the historic Indian Village neighborhood.

With two homes already pending at full asking price, one currently listed and two more under construction likely to be ready for sale by early summer, the developers have a total of 23 home sites along Fischer Street between Kercheval Avenue and St. Paul Street.

e developers acknowledge that the project — estimated at an $8 million-$10 million investment should all 23 houses be built — is something of a

Riches of UAW deal back re on some at Stellantis

e UAW hailed its new contract with Stellantis in November as a triumphant moment, winning $19 billion in new U.S. investment, 25 percent wage increases and full-time status for more than 3,000 temporary workers within just the rst year.

But not all have been able to reap the spoils of that historic deal. Hundreds of Stellantis workers have since found themselves out of a job, and the automaker has raised the possibility of additional layo s as it absorbs the higher labor costs, shifts to building more electric vehicles and confronts economic uncertainty.

e job cuts — coming as shareholders approved a $39 million compensation package for CEO Carlos Tavares that made him the highest paid at the Detroit 3 — have outraged the union leaders who lauded the contract’s riches last fall.

“Stellantis is pathetic,” UAW President Shawn Fain told members on a Facebook broadcast April 23. “Honestly, the leadership is pathetic. You got a CEO over there across the pond that wants to talk about how they need to cut costs and all this stu , but it didn’t stop him from giving himself a 56 percent pay increase.”

Fain spoke a day after Stellantis dismissed 199 full-time workers at its Ram 1500 plant in suburban Detroit. e company also said it would implement indenite layo s across its U.S. footprint in the months ahead to “help improve productivity and ensure the company’s long-term sustainability in a rapidly changing global market.”

e cost-cutting quest has affected more than just hourly workers and those in the U.S. Stellantis eliminated about 400

U.S. engineering, technology and software jobs in March and is seeking to reduce its Italian workforce by 8 percent. Meanwhile, the automaker is recruiting lower-paid engineers in countries such as Morocco, India and Brazil.

Relationship drama

In another sign of the UAW’s deteriorating relationship with Stellantis, it’s threatening to strike a Warren factory that supplies metal stampings to a half-dozen assembly plants. Workers at the stamping facility this month voted to authorize a walkout over working conditions such as rainwater leaking through the ceiling, oil leaks and a general lack of sanitation.

UAW Local 869 President Romaine McKinney told Automotive News there were no immediate plans for a strike and that “the opportunity to correct all the health and safety issues will de nitely be given.”

At the Ram 1500 plant a few miles away, UAW Local 1700 President Michael Spencer said Stellantis is putting “pro ts over people” with each round of layo s.

market-tester, but is also designed to be replicable around the city, which has ample amounts of vacant land.

“We didn’t know. It was denitely an act of faith,” said Matt Temkin, a managing member and co-founder of Greatwater, when asked about the demand expectations for the new homes. “ e neighborhood is great. e goal was to just make (the product) great.”

See STELLANTIS on Page 17 See DEVELOPER on Page 17

yB Vince Bond Jr., Automotive News “Stellantis is pathetic,” UAW President Shawn Fain told members on a Facebook broadcast April 23. | MICHAEL MARTINEZ Nick Manes These three homes on Fischer Street in Detroit’s East Village neighborhood kicked off a multi-phase plan to build new houses on the city’s lower east side. | NICK MANES The Miniso store opened last month in Oakland Mall in Troy. KIRK PINHO

Fairlane’s new owner owes $1.7M in delinquent taxes

Past appears to be prologue for the new owner of Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, if the rst year is any indication.

at is to say, Great Neck, N.Y.based Kohan Retail Investment Group is delinquent on $1.73 million in city property taxes across three separate parcels comprising the mall.

e amounts owed are $1,229,733; $397,385; and $101,215, according to records on the Wayne County treasurer’s website.

at’s a troubling sign for Fairlane, which Kohan Retail — described by one outlet as a “mall scavenger” — paid $52 million for in April 2023 after a brief ownership by Dallas-based Centennial Real Estate.

ere’s a reason why Kohan, run by CEO Mike Kohan, has earned that moniker: malls Kohan owns regularly fall into tax foreclosure, rack up blight tickets, have their power and water shut o and generally become worse under the company’s stewardship. In just the last couple months, not one or two, but at least three of its malls — including one in Marquette Township — lost power because he didn’t pay his electric bills.

e unpaid taxes also don’t bode well for Mike Kohan’s claims

to me last year, when he said that Fairlane Town Center under his ownership wouldn’t go “down the same road” as other malls he has owned.

During a brief interview on May 14, Kohan told me there had been rent collection issues that caused the Dearborn property taxes to be late. He said he would pay them in the next two weeks.

“Otherwise, everything’s ne and we’re going to pay,” Kohan said. “ e occupancy at Fairlane is ne. We have some tenants that are wanting to come in and I think we should be good.”

We’ll see. I’m not holding my breath.

Dearborn city o cials are displeased with the status of Fairlane Mall.

“Unfortunately, the current property owner has passed on opportunities to communicate and partner with the city of Dearborn on the future of Fairlane when invited to do so,” said Jordan Twardy, economic development director for Dearborn, in a statement. “ e Dearborn community can no longer wait for a developer or corporate entity to supply a vision for Fairlane. e city, our local businesses, residents, and property owner community are poised to create the future we want for this area. It is for this reason that the city and surrounding property owners must now step in and direct the next steps for Fairlane.”

City o cials in Dearborn recently approved a $400,000 contract to de ne a master plan for the Fairlane area that will allow local stakeholders to “make a better plan for Fairlane a reality,” Twardy said in a statement.

Centennial Real Estate still appears to own one of the mall’s parcels. at property, owned by Centennial Waterfall Fairlane LLC, owes $371,671, according to the Wayne County treasurer’s website. I’ve emailed a Centennial spokesperson seeking comment.

More than 450 miles to the northwest in Marquette Township, power was shut o at Westwood Mall — not to be confused with Westwood Mall in Jackson, another Kohan-owned property — for nonpayment of its bill.

Although Jon Kangas, township

Controversial landlord unloads large abandoned Corktown site

Controversial Detroit landlord

Dennis Kefallinos has sold the abandoned former Southwest Detroit Hospital.

e $6.5 million sale took place March 15, according to city property records. e seller was Kefallinos’ 20th Street Development Property LLC and the buyer was an entity called 402310 Holdings LLC.

Business incorporation documents for the purchasing entity do not reveal who is behind it, although city property records list the taxpayer address as a home owned by Edward Siegel, a former owner of the Urban Bean Co. coffee shop (now called Spkrbox) in the Capitol Park neighborhood. Plans for the hospital and its property, which is about 250,000 square feet on close to 5.6 acres at Michigan Avenue and 20th Street

on the Corktown neighborhood’s western-most edge, are not known. e hospital has been vacant for nearly two decades.

On May 9, Siegel veri ed he bought the old hospital but wouldn’t discuss “the project, partners or clients” for the site, which has attracted intrigue the last few years. at’s in part because of its location just a few blocks west of the soon-to-reopen redeveloped Michigan Central Station owned by Ford Motor Co., and a longstanding — now deteriorated — sign Kefallinos installed promising a mixed-use redevelopment in 2020 that never came.

An email was sent to Kefallinos seeking comment on May 9 and a voicemail was left with one of his deputies as well.  ere have been several attempts to knock the building down dating back more than a decade, but it remains standing. City

property records list the assessed value at $2.66 million. In 2021, Kefallinos listed it for sale for $17.5 million as the city was attempting to tear it down.

City records show at least 93 blight violations at the property over the years, including many under previous ownership.

e hospital opened in 1974 with 250 beds as a merger of four smaller hospitals to provide neighborhood care for low-income residents, according to Detroit Free Press archives.

But unmanageable debt and bankruptcy came in 1991, with the hospital reopening in the late 1990s as United Community Hospital under Ultimed HMO of Michigan, which paid $1.5 million for the building in 1996. Ten years later, Ultimed went bankrupt and the hospital has been vacant since.

According to property records, Kefallinos bought it out of foreclo-

manager, said power has since been restored, he also noted that property taxes were owed there as well. Sta in the Marquette County treasurer’s o ce said Kohan owes 2022 and 2023 property taxes totaling close to $272,000, putting the mall in foreclosure next year if the company continues to refuse to pay its taxes there. e Marquette Board of Light and Power told me they don’t release details on private customer bills.

Elsewhere in Michigan, Kohan’s website lists its other malls as Birchwood Mall in Fort Gratiot; Fashion Square Mall in Saginaw; Lansing Mall in Lansing; and Crossroads Mall in Portage.   Towne West Square in Wichita has had multiple power shuto s as well as water service shuto s, all for nonpayment, according to

local news reports. In Marshalltown, Iowa, its Kohan-owned mall also had its power shut o for delinquent bills, local news reports said, e ectively leaving business owners hanging on by a thread.

In an interview last year, Kohan told me he has made mistakes in his buying strategy over the 20plus years he has been in business, but said he has focused on more expensive and stabilized malls the last ve-seven years.

“I bought some malls that were at the point of no return, malls that were 25% occupied, there were deferred maintenance issues,” Kohan said. “Unfortunately, I bought those malls and I shouldn’t have because I stepped into somebody else’s problem. I don’t want my reputation to go bad.”

sure for just $7,779 in 2016. e sale comes under a bit of duress for Kefallinos, who has been buying Detroit real estate for decades but whose buildings have been criticized for the amount of time they are under renovation. Tenants — and the city — have long expressed concerns over conditions of properties he owns.

Last year, the city sued Kefalli-

nos and his son in its e ort to remove dozens of properties across Detroit it considers blighted from the landscape. e former hospital is among those that were the target of the legal e ort.  e status of that lawsuit is not known. An email was sent to the city seeking information on its status now that the property has changed hands.

B Kirk Pinho
The former Southwest Detroit Hospital property at Michigan Avenue and 20th Street in Corktown on May 10, 2024. | KIRK PINHO Kirk Pinho Kohan Retail Investment Group out of Long Island paid $52 million for Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn in spring 2023. The company is already behind on its property taxes. | KIRK PINHO

Experts: Employers should reconsider noncompetes

For decades there has been growing debate over employers’ power in the labor market — whether they are using strict contractual agreements with workers to wall o competition and stymie the economic bene ts of worker mobility.

e U.S. Federal Trade Commission slammed the business sector in April with an attempt to rebalance the power by e ectively creating a wholesale ban on noncompete clauses for non-executive workers.

e ban goes into e ect 120 days after the ruling, but may be delayed by litigation.

“Noncompete clauses keep wages low, suppress new ideas, and rob the American economy of dynamism, including from the more than 8,500 new startups that would be created a year once noncompetes are banned,” FTC Chair Lina Khan, said in a release announcing the ban on April 23.

“ e FTC’s nal rule to ban noncompetes will ensure Americans have the freedom to pursue a new job, start a new business, or bring a new idea to market.”

e FTC estimates the ban would raise wages for the average worker by $524 per year.

But the agency’s move quickly saw pushback, most notably with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce immediately challenging the rule with a lawsuit in the U.S. Eastern District of Texas.

Approximately 30 million workers are under a noncompete contract with their employer, according to the FTC. e ban goes into e ect 120 days after the ruling, but may be delayed by pending litigation.

Experts think the FTC will likely lose the case, but that the move by the federal agency is, at worst,

causing companies to rethink their hold on employees and the use of the often hyper-restrictive agreements.

Patrick Anderson, principal and CEO of East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group, said the FTC move is an overreach by the Biden Administration, but that noncompetes have “been abused throughout the economy” and the use should be limited by the private sector.

“ ere are stories of fast-food delivery drivers signing noncompetes. It’s silly,” Anderson said. “But there are legitimate reasons to secure your customer list and intellectual property. Courts have long sustained non-solicitation agreements, where you say to your employee you can leave but you can’t solicit our customers for a certain amount of time, and I think you’re going to see more reliance on those provisions that are more common sense than noncompetes.”

In the early 2000s, several law-

suits cropped up involving workers at Jimmy John’s and Subway being beholden by noncompete agreements. Jimmy John’s dropped its use of noncompetes in 2016.

“Noncompetes were de nitely getting out of hand,” said Mike Burns, executive vice president at the Troy-based American Society of Employers and president of human resources consulting practice e HR Management Group Inc. “A delivery driver or a sub shop worker does not need a noncompete. But employers put a lot of money and time into developing professional and technical employees. And there are a lot of trade secrets. ey should have the right to restrict the loss of that training and knowledge.”

e U.S. Chamber’s arguments follow a similar path: that the FTC ban bars employers’ and employees’ right to engage in contracts.

e Chamber argues the move by the FTC is unlawful, a decision made by three unelected commissioners to control the entire busi-

ness sector. e FTC claims the FTC Act of 1914, which permits it to prevent unfair competition, gives it authority to enforce the ban.

Jarrod Trombley, an associate labor attorney for Warner Norcross + Judd in Grand Rapids, has received plenty of calls since the FTC action occurred.

Trombley represents both companies and workers in noncompete disputes.

“ ere aren’t many people taking action right now, everyone is taking a wait-and-see approach to see if the court nds this action enforceable,” Trombley said. “But I am going over with each client what their business needs are, and have a larger conversation about being proactive when the court does decide.”

While the FTC rule is bringing noncompetes to a head, they have been part of a larger conversation on workers’ rights since at least the 15th Century. e rst known case of a noncompete occurred in

England in 1414, where an apprentice tradesman John Dyer was restricted from practicing in the town he had been trained for six months.

California banned the legal enforcement of noncompete clauses in 1872 — though it’s estimated 19% of workers in the state are still forced to sign the agreements — long before it became a technology hub. Minnesota, North Dakota and Oklahoma all have complete noncompete bans as well. Other states have sector restrictions banning noncompetes in health care or law, for example, and others have income restrictions before a noncompete can be enforced.

Michigan had a ban on noncompetes until it was reversed in 1985, which was likely in response to increased competition from Japanese automakers who were entering the market in droves at that time.

A year ago, House Bill 4399 was introduced in Michigan Legislature. at bill would ban noncompetes for minors and low-wage employees that earn less than 138% of the poverty line for a family of three, about $35,000 today. at bill remains in the labor committee.

Trombley said Michigan courts have long taken a moderate stance on noncompetes, making them only enforceable in a narrow context. But the FTC rule is likely going to create an environment where employers and employees nd a middle ground, as a natural progression of the conversation or through more state enforcement. “More and more states are nding that middle ground,” he said. “Based on the type of work that employee is doing and how much that employee makes. A reasonable approach.”

Detroit Auto Show producer names successor to Alberts

e Detroit Auto Dealers Association has named Michigan Association of Broadcasters CEO Sam Klemet as co-executive director.

Klemet will join Rod Alberts, the longtime executive director of DADA and the Detroit Auto Show.  Alberts, 67,  will step down as director after the 2025 Detroit Auto Show in January, capping 34 years at the helm of the organization. A spokeswoman for the organization did not comment on whether he will retire or transition to another role at that point.

“We are grateful for Rod’s continued leadership in assisting with this transition and for his signi cant contributions over three decades,” DADA President Todd Szott said in a release. “We are con dent in our future direction with his support and collaboration with Sam. And, we look forward to evolving our association and auto show as the winds of the industry continue to change in

the years to come.”

Klemet, 39, has led the Michigan Association of Broadcasters as president and CEO since 2021. In that role, he led advocacy initiatives, continuing education and awards programs on behalf of 285 member commercial TV and radio stations and 30 public TV and radio stations. He also coordinated legislative initiatives in Washington, D.C., and Lansing.

Prior to that, Klemet spent six years with the Indiana Broadcasters Association and Indiana-based Arland Communications, where he oversaw advocacy and compliance initiatives for more than 270 member TV and radio stations. Before moving into association

management, Klemet was a broadcast journalist, producer and news director at commercial and public stations in Indiana, Minnesota and Illinois. He has a bachelor of arts degree in broadcast journalism from Michigan State University.

“Sam has a unique skill set blending association management expertise with behind-themic experience, both of which are a perfect complement to our organization and its trajectory for the future,” Alberts said in the news release.

“ is is a transformative time in our industry, and my goal is to leave this association in the best possible place as we move forward in this new age of mobility. And, after 34 years with the DADA, it’s an ideal time — especially as we lead up to a new Detroit Auto Show in January — to set the wheels in motion for an eventual hand-o to the next generation.”

e Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which produces the auto show in Detroit, earlier this year

said the show will return to its original spot on the calendar in January, after two years of shows in September and a two-year pause during the COVID-19 pandemic years of 2020 and 2021.

e September auto shows were rolled out as a way to reinvigorate the event, with non-automotive attractions but they steadily drew fewer attendees and media due to competing shows and changes in the way automakers reach customers. DADA pledged to return to a strong focus on automotive brands and vehicle reveals.

Under Albert’s direction, DADA secured an $8 million earmark in the state’s current, scal 2024 budget after getting a $9 million grant from the state to bring the show back in 2022.

Despite the support, DADA in 2022 cut three longtime charity bene ciaries from those seeing a portion of the money raised during the annual Charity Preview of the auto show, the latest shift to the list of those bene ting.

Under Albert’s direction, the

organization created the Detroit Auto Dealers Association Charitable Foundation at the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan several years back to share in the Charity Preview proceeds to provide microgrants to more children’s organizations across the region.

It has also added two new charity bene ciaries since 2020: University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and e Children’s Foundation.  e 2023 preview last fall drew more than 5,000 people to downtown Detroit, roughly threequarters the number who attended the event in 2022, and raised $2 million. Since its inception in 1976, the Charity Preview has raised more than $123 million for children’s charities in Southeast Michigan.

Under Albert’s oversight, 1,500 new and concept vehicles debuted at the Detroit Auto Show, DADA said. And the event generated $8 billion in economic impact over the past 25 years alone.

yB Sherri Welch Sam Klemet Rod Alberts yB Dustin Walsh U.S. companies would no longer be able to bar employees from taking jobs with competitors under a rule approved by the Federal Trade Commission, though it is being challenged in court. Lina Khan (right), chair of the Federal Trade Commission, speaks in Washington, D.C., in April. | AP AND BLOOMBERG

Shank is ready to build bridges at Mackinac

Before she carved her trailblazing path in the world of nance, Suzanne Shank was a civil engineer, which taught her a thing or two about bridges, construction and the importance of laying a solid foundation.

When she was tapped to chair this year’s Mackinac Policy Conference, Shank embraced the theme of “Bridging the Future Together,” not only for her personal connection but what it means for Michigan today.

“ e only way we’re going to accomplish our goals of elevating this state is by doing so together,” Shank told me.

“And so I love the theme of ‘Bridging the Future Together’ because as a former civil engineer, I understand the foundation upon which progress happens is by having bridges. And I think innovation and results happen by us all coming together.”

I interviewed Shank recently for our Crain’s podcast that we will produce at the Mackinac Policy Conference, which runs from May 28-31 this year. As part of our coverage, our team will interview business and political leaders who will be on the island.


I won’t be attending this year (my daughter’s high school graduation is that week) and so I met with Shank early to hear her thoughts on this year’s program. In addition to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Shank immediately cited as anticipated speakers U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Alto Pharmacy CEO Alicia Boler Davis, and businessman Dan Gilbert. She noted a panel of Gen Z citizens will share their perspectives as well.

“We need to hear from young people about what they need to stay in the state and thrive,” Shank said.

It’s an election year, of course, and Shank

sees the bridge theme as an important message during politically divisive times.

One session of the conference will put the top three Democrats and top three Republicans who are vying for retiring U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s seat on stage together.

“Whether they’re Democrat or Republican, they need to speak to voters and business leaders, and we want them to respond to all of our issues, so we didn’t want to separate them,” Shank said.

Shank noted that 40% of the speakers will be women, and she cited as another highlight a CEO roundtable conversation that will feature all women CEOs. While she’s not on that panel, as a woman CEO

(and co-founder and president of Siebert Williams and Shank LLC) she knows her counterparts will o er valuable insights.

“I’ve spent my whole career in male-dominated elds, and we have great women leaders in our state,” Shank said.

“When we put together our CEO panel, we decided we wanted women leaders showcased. ese women leaders are doing great things — they’re innovative, they’re cutting-edged. And we just want everybody in the state to hear from them.”

Many of the sessions will be livestreamed, and Crain’s will cover news as it develops. Our editorial team on the island will be led by Crain’s Detroit Managing Editor Michael Lee and Crain’s Grand Rapids Managing Editor Andy Balaskovitz.

Crain Communications leadership, led by President and CEO KC Crain, will also be well-represented. (Crain Communications is a sponsor of the conference, which is run by the Detroit Regional Chamber).

As conference chair, Shank will get some time of her own on center stage, and she plans to use it to build on the theme and challenge attendees to be collaborative and open-minded, and seek conversations with people from di erent backgrounds.

“My hope is that people will meet someone that they have not met before,” Shank said. “And, you know, really gure out a way to gain some understanding that we really have more we agree upon than upon which we di er.”

Draft was a touchdown and the start of much more

The NFL Draft’s touchdown in downtown Detroit has not only met expectations but has also heralded a promising future for our city. From our initial proposal to the nal event, Detroit showcased its ability to host major sporting events in the heart of its downtown, making a resounding statement to the world.

Breaking event records, Detroit demonstrated its innovative spirit and commitment to creating a memorable experience. We surpassed NFL Draft’s expectations and passed attendance records. We made history in more ways than one. First, the DDP’s Draft Day in the D was the rst time the NFL Draft hosted ancillary attractions beyond its main event footprint. e NFL OnePass was the most downloaded app in the App Store Draft weekend, highlighting the widespread engagement and enthusiasm for the Draft.

Moreover, the emphasis on community impact was evident with a pledged $1 million donation to support local youth groups, showcasing Detroit’s dedication to giving back and fostering unity. e draft’s impact extended far beyond the city limits, drawing attendees from all 50 states and generating signi cant economic activity. When considering in-re-

gion visitors vs. out-of-region, over 70% were from the ve-county metro area, and the other more than 26% were from outside.   is equates to around 180,000 day-visits from outside of our region in downtown Detroit. With a substantial in ux of visitors from both within and outside the region, downtown Detroit witnessed a vibrant surge in activity, re ecting its appeal as a national destination.

Unique to Detroit, the NFL Draft was also an international event with cross border impact. Windsor also bene tted greatly from the draft. According to the Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island, downtown Windsor recorded an additional 7,000 people over the three-day event. Calculated at an economic impact of $71 per person (spent in a day trip), this accounts for direct spending of $497,000. e tunnel bus special route to the Draft sold nearly 6,000 tickets. At $20 each roundtrip, this represents an additional $120,000 in direct spending.

Overall, Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island estimates an economic bene t in Windsor of $2,983,400.

From a more encompassing perspective, the Detroit Local Organizing Committee will release the nal economic impact report in June.

number for fact-checking

As Detroit continues to collect data and assess the draft’s impact, the city is poised for further growth and transformation. e success of the draft underscores Detroit’s position as a blueprint for urban innovation, showcasing its ability to create spaces that attract visitors and drive economic development.

Moving forward, Detroit aims to leverage this success as we pivot from a Central Business District to a Central Connectivity District, drawing more attractions and fostering a stronger small business community, increased visitations to award-winning parks, ongoing development, and more.

To the hundreds of thousands who visited Detroit for the draft, thanks for experiencing our great city!

is event coincides with a period of powerful momentum and undeniable energy in Detroit, fueled by innovation, creativity, and collaboration.

Detroit’s DNA of innovation, evidenced by its roots and its ongoing transformation as a tech and mobility hub, is attracting attention and investment from major industries. e city’s creativity, seen in its architecture, art, food, and cultural diversity, is a testament to its vibrant spirit and unique identity.

In essence, the NFL Draft’s success in downtown Detroit symbolizes a new era of growth, innovation, and community engagement, setting the stage for a brighter and more prosperous future for our remarkable city.

Sound off: Crain’s considers longer opinion pieces from guest writers on issues of interest to business readers. Email ideas to Managing Editor Michael Lee at COMMENTARY Write us: Crain’s welcomes responses from readers. Letters should be as brief as possible and may be edited for length or clarity. Send letters to Crain’s Detroit Business, 1155 Gratiot Ave, Detroit, MI 48207, or email Please include your complete name city from which you are writing and a phone
Eric Larson is CEO of the Downtown Detroit Partnership. The NFL Draft brought a sea of football fans to downtown Detroit. NIC ANTAYA Mickey Ciokajlo is executive editor of Crain’s Detroit Business and Crain’s Grand Rapids Business. Suzanne Shank GETTY IMAGES

Wayne State to launch public health school

Wayne State University is developing plans for a new school of public health in Detroit.

E orts to launch the new school come as East Lansing-based Michigan State University is expanding public health and research with physicians at Henry Ford Health in tandem with a $335 million biomedical research center it is building in the city.

Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan, which is building a $250 million Center for Innovation in e District Detroit, has worked in the city’s neighborhoods through its school of public health for decades.

Leaders at all three universities expect the moves to set the stage for expanded collaboration among their researchers to tackle Detroit’s biggest public health challenges such as air pollution, equitable access to health care and violence.

e new Wayne State school began taking shape last year before Kimberly Espy was named WSU’s new president, but it will be central to at least two of the goals she laid out for the university: empowering health for urban neighborhoods and fueling innovation for competitiveness.

“When we talk about empowering health for our neighborhoods, rst of all, it’s about harnessing the talent of our students and deploying them, not only in all of our outstanding health care systems because we partner with each and every one of those … but it’s also delivering care in grocery stores, in our mobile units that go to neighborhoods, in hubs and communities where people live,” Espy told Crain’s in an interview last month, nine months into her new leadership role at Wayne State.

e lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is that public health and a population approach to health makes a huge di erence, Espy said. “We were able to come out of it sure through medical innovation through vaccines, but also through delivering care in a much more community-oriented way,” she said.

WSU’s mobile health units set up around Detroit, for example, swabbed and vaccinated people but also provided people with access to food baskets and connected them with social services, she said. Today they are working with churches, community centers, schools, nonpro ts, workplaces and other organizations to bring health screenings, vaccinations and other preventative care into neighborhoods and workplaces.

“ at’s what I think Wayne State has the opportunity to do not only in our typical, tertiary care where when you’re very ill and … you need the top-quality doc to do some high fancy surgery, but you also need the kind of preventative population health services that can really impact, at scale, neighborhoods,” Espy said.

Wayne State secured a $1 million federal earmark sponsored by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow to fund

equipment for the new school of public health in the late March federal appropriations bill.

e university expects to secure accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health by summer 2027, right around the same time the new Detroit sites for its research university peers are set to open.

MSU’s plans

MSU’s Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health focuses on population health and o ers a master’s of public health degree from its home base, the College of Human Medicine’s Flint campus.

e university has signaled its intention to ramp up public health research as part of its broader partnership with Henry Ford Health in Detroit.

e Henry Ford Health + Michigan State University Research Center will house more than 80 principal investigator teams work-

ing on research in areas including cancer, neuroscience, women’s health, imaging and public health and include a focus on addressing health inequities and disparities and the social determinants of health.

Henry Ford and MSU public health researchers won’t be located in the building but will be part of the larger project, said Aron Sousa, dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine.

Henry Ford Health physicians who have done public health research in Detroit for decades have joined the MSU faculty over the past two to three years since the partnership between the two institutions began, Sousa said. Plans also call for hiring new faculty and researchers who will be in Detroit doing public health research through that partnership.

ere are many research projects where faculty at the state’s three research universities are already working together, Sousa said, and that collaboration will increase

But the school has many public health projects underway in Detroit and beyond.

e Detroit Community-Academic Urban Research Center, established in 1995, brings together community organizations, health services providers and UM public health researchers to foster health equity through collaborative research, programming and policy making.

UM researchers are working with the city and state to study the health impacts of the underconstruction Gordie Howe International Bridge on air quality, Mastony said. ey are also working with Henry Ford Health and Community Health and Social Services Center Inc. to identify key barriers to positive birth outcomes and create a strategic plan for changes to institutional policies and procedures to improve birth outcomes for Latina women.

as the three add more public health researchers in the city.

“Faculty researchers will nd each other if they are working on similar kinds of projects,” he said.

Public health studies are needed to nd solutions to public health problems like suicide, maternal mortality, childhood illnesses, heart disease and cancer, Sousa said. e research directly bene ts participants with better health outcomes and can then be applied across the state and country. Detroit, like other areas of Michigan, has no shortage of public health issues. e city has people who know how to work in research and people who might bene t from it, Sousa said.

“ ere should be a lot of good work going on to nd solutions to public health problems in Detroit … (and) a lot of smart people working to address the range of health concerns for Detroiters.”

e expanded public health research will also help attract National Institutes of Health funding to the city and state, creating jobs for people involved in the research, he said. And it will help to attract new students.

“Universities develop programs to attract students and faculty and do good work in communities. It’s not too shocking we’re all doing that,” Sousa said.

University of Michigan efforts

e UM School of Public Health has been working in Detroit and around the state to improve the health of communities since it was established in 1941, Colleen Mastony, assistant vice president for public a airs, said in emailed remarks.

ere are no concrete plans for the School of Public Health to have a physical presence at the 200,000-square-foot Center for Innovation, a $250 million project in Detroit for which UM broke ground in December, she said.

Other research in Detroit and Flint is focused on preventing community violence through engaging youth, adding green spaces and other violence- and injuryprevention strategies.

Across metro Detroit, UM researchers are conducting a spatial analysis of housing discrimination, analyzing housing solutions emerging from the health care sector, and evaluating housing programs and policies in Detroit and the surrounding areas.

“Collaboration is a central tenet of the UM School of Public Health’s approach to research and impact, and the school and its researchers are always exploring new partnerships and collaborations to improve health and equity for communities in Detroit and elsewhere,” Mastony said. e school has a variety of previous and existing collaborations with Wayne State, Henry Ford Health and/or MSU, “and we would expect that to grow,” she said.

Wayne State’s president said she is excited for UM and MSU to deepen their presence in Detroit. ere is a great need, and universities bring talent, innovation and regional competitiveness to the table, she said.

e new UM and MSU sites will be a stone’s throw from Wayne State’s main campus and proximity enables collaboration, Espy said.

e University Research Corridor, a national academic research cluster the three universities established in 2006 to foster talent, academic research and economic revitalization in Michigan, also offers a natural opportunity to partner, she said.

“Each of us act in di erent ways. We have di erent sets of peers; we have di erent sets of assets and strength. And so in some ways, we each have a di erent piece of the puzzle,” Espy said. “By all of us bringing that to the table for Detroit, the city and the state ... if we link arms and think strategically about what each of us does well and put those together, everybody bene ts.”

Wayne State University President Kimberly Espy, walking and talking with students on campus, is enthusiastic about the school’s plans to dive deeper into public health in Detroit. | WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY A rendering of the planned University of Michigan Center for Innovation that is to be built in downtown Detroit on property bounded by Cass and Grand River avenues and West Columbia and Elizabeth streets. | KOHN PEDERSEN FOX ASSOCIATES (KPF) The new Henry Ford Health + Michigan State University Health Sciences Research Center in Detroit is expected to break ground this spring. |
ARCHITECTS LLP Wayne State University is developing plans for a new school of public health in Detroit. | WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY

Restaurant group expands its push into Nashville

Elia Group, based in Birmingham, has acquired e Valentine, a bar and music venue in a Nashville entertainment district.

e acquisition by the hospitality group led by Zaid Elia is part of an ambitious expansion plan by the real estate developer and restaurateur, whose holdings include Parc Detroit and the Anchor Bar in Detroit and Merrill 220 in Birmingham.

e announcement comes after Elia Group announced in March that it plans to take a new location of its Experience Zuzu restaurant to Nashville.

e Valentine opened in Nashville’s historic Lower Broadway district in 2016. e 9,000-squarefoot venue creates an “upscale saloon” atmosphere that serves a


acter while enhancing its appeal for a new generation of patrons,” Elia, CEO and founder of Elia Group, said in a news release.

Elia declined to disclose specific nancial details about the deal.

Elia Group plans “an extensive renovation for e Valentine.” Elia told Crain’s that the group is “in the process of gathering bids and nalizing our plans, which will focus on enhancing the venue while maintaining its beloved character.”

Elia told Crain’s he believes e Valentine will bring in more than $25 million in annual revenue because of its location on Lower Broadway and the area’s “thriving nightlife and entertainment scene.”

represents one of the fastest-growing markets in the country, rich in cultural and economic dynamism.”

According to the release, Elia Group plans to acquire and open 10 restaurants and bars in Nashville over the next 36 months. Elia said the company’s vision for creating “exceptional experiences and Iconic Landmark Properties” is a vision they aim to bring new markets, “starting with Nashville.”

and restaurateaur

variety of functions with multiple levels with live music, private event spaces and a rooftop.

“Our acquisition of e Valentine is a key step in our strategy of thoughtful expansion, where we aim to preserve the space’s char-

“Our expansion into Nashville and the establishment of a national footprint is deeply rooted in the success and robustness of our core business in Detroit,” Elia told Crain’s. “We continue to draw on our rich history and proven strategies from Detroit, ensuring that each new venture carries forward

our legacy of contributing positively to their communities.”

is is not the rst metro Detroit-based company to move into the Nashville market. In 2023, the Joe Vicari Restaurant Group opened a Joe Muer Seafood restaurant in Nashville. Vicari’s project is located in a Capitol View district mixed-use development.

e decision to delve into the Nashville community goes handin-hand with how Elia Group markets itself. e company brands itself as a group that “creates iconic experiences.” Elia said Nashville’s atmosphere presents an opportunity for the group to bring its “innovative and community-focused business model.”

“Nashville represents one of the fastest-growing markets in the country, rich in cultural and economic dynamism,” Elia said.

Experience Zuzu, an Asianfusion restaurant, is planned to open in Nashville in the fourth quarter of this year. Elia opened the rst Experience Zuzu location in downtown Detroit in March 2023.

In Nashville, the 9,800-squarefoot Experience Zuzu space is 3,000 square feet larger than its Detroit location. e Nashville restaurant will seat approximately 300 people, with an additional 50 seats outdoors, Crain’s reported in March.

Since its establishment in 2016,

Elia Group has opened or acquired many properties and business ventures in the Detroit area. ese include restaurants, work with the Downtown Detroit Partnership, the Doubletree hotel in Bloom eld Hills and other real estate holdings.

e group also owns Upstairs Bar at the 511 Woodward Building, the Anchor Bar on Fort Street and Parc restaurant in Campus Martius Park.

ose experiences inspired the group’s expansion to new communities, according to Elia.

“Building on our success in Detroit, where our roots are deeply established, we are eager to expand into Nashville,” Elia said.

$80M building in Birmingham has major anchor tenant

Construction on an $80 million, four-story mixed-use building in downtown Birmingham has begun, starting with demolition.

Developer Ron Boji’s new project on East Brown Street west of Old Woodward Avenue, next door to the new RH (formerly Restoration Hardware) store under construction, comes armed with a splashy new anchor tenant: New York City-based JPMorgan Chase & Co., which is taking all 42,000 square feet of o ce and commercial space on the rst and second oors as it consolidates a pair of nearby Oakland County o ces into one. Wealth management and commercial banking services will be o ered in the space.   Boji — noting that his Boji Group was founded on May 8, 1998, almost 26 years ago to the day, and celebrated its new Birmingham headquarters on May 8, 2023 — said construction on the 135,000-square-foot building should wrap up in April 2026. Demolition

of the existing buildings on the property is underway.  e property had been owned by an entity registered to Kathleen Trott, wife of former Republican Congressman David Trott. Boji said David Trott is a development partner on the project. It is now owned by 370 Brown LLC, a Boji a liate.

JPMorgan Chase is moving from 1116 W. Long Lake Road at Telegraph Road in Bloomfield Hills and the Munder Capital Center building at 480 Pierce St. in downtown Birmingham to be the anchor tenant in Boji’s project, called 370 Brown, the developer said. More than 200 employees could ultimately be

housed in the building.

In a news release, Terrah Opferman, Michigan region manager of middle market banking for JPMorgan Chase, said the bank’s 90-plus-year presence in the region is “further strengthened” by the new o ce.

CoStar Group Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based real estate information service, says JPMorgan Chase takes about 15,100 square feet in the Munder building and all of the 27,900-square-foot Bloomeld Hills building.

In addition to the o ce and commercial space, there are 28 luxury apartments commanding rents of $6 per square foot or so, Boji said. ey are primarily twoand three-bedroom units that are expected to be second or third residences, with half on the third oor and the other 14 on the fourth.  ere is also expected to be rooftop amenities like a water feature, cabanas, an eco-grass lawn and grills and repits, the release says.

In the release, Boji said 370 Brown “represents a signi cant step forward in our mission to blend strong economic development with understated exclusivity. is development isn’t just a building; it will help create a dynamic lifestyle designed to thrive.”  e building has been in the works for years.

Victor Saroki, the project’s architect, said in the release that the development team worked to integrate 370 Brown with the underconstruction RH site with things like walkways and courtyards “that enhance pedestrian movement not only for building users, but for people in adjacent buildings and the general public.”

Detroit-based Sachse Construction is the general contractor. Dallas-based CBRE Inc.’s local ofce in South eld represented JPMorgan Chase in the lease. Lutz Real Estate Investments, based in Birmingham, is managing and leasing the residential space to tenants, and Boji Group manages the commercial space.

The Valentine bar and entertainment venue in Nashville. | THE VALENTINE yB Kirk Pinho JPMorgan Chase & Co. will anchor a new mixed-use downtown Birmingham building with its wealth management and commercial banking services across some 42,000 square feet. | SAROKI ARCHITECTURE Zaid Elia, real estate developer

At this Ferndale studio, an ex-cheerleader runs the show

A dance studio in Ferndale has found success after pandemicrelated delays by creating a space for people who “used to dance, love to dance, want to dance” to take classes and nd community.

Olivia Stevanovski, founder and creative director of the Release Detroit dance studio, was a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, an experience that temporarily tainted dance for her. She created an environment that rejects the toxic and competitive nature of the industry, connecting 6,500 dancers over the last four years in metro Detroit.

Following the cheerleader experience, Stevanovski realized she wanted to create a space where individuals would have encouraging journeys with dance. is idea set her on the path to establishing Release.

Release o ers drop-in dance classes for students 12 years and older, absolute-beginner adult programs and professional master classes. It is one of a few studios in the area that o ers solely adult drop-in courses and programs across professional or pre-professional to beginner levels. In four years, Release has become a center for the Detroit dance scene for students of all levels and professional choreographers.

Stevanovski noted when she was 22 she looked into franchising a Millenium Dance Complex location. Millennium Dance Complex, originally based in Los Angeles, o ers drop-in dance classes and has 11 locations globally. However, Stevanovski felt there was more freedom in owning and establishing an independently owned studio.

“I know that Detroit, our community speci cally, we love businesses that are homegrown here,” Stevanovski said. “I ultimately went with the decision to start something that was homegrown in Detroit that people could identify with and was more relatable to our community versus, you know, an L.A. community.”

Release Detroit opened amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Stevanovski had access to the space, which she rents from Iron Ridge Holdings at 3155 Bermuda St., in 2019 and began building out the space that year. The business was set to have its grand opening in April 2020, which was postponed by pandemic restrictions until July 2020. After its opening, Release faced additional closures and reopenings throughout 2020 and early 2021.

Release has now been open for almost four years and has grown its clientele. e building totaling 4,300 square feet with a dance studio space of 2,500 square feet has hosted approximately 2,500 drop-in classes with around 6,500 dancers over the past few years, Stevanovski said.

Stevanovski initially took out a home equity line of credit tonance her business after she was

“Release gives dancers an opportunity to explore, to explore themselves wholly. Not just as dancers but as individuals.”

unable to obtain a business loan because she had no previous history of owning a business. She paid o the loan in the second year of owning her business. e cost to build out the studio was roughly $85,000, Stevanovski said. ere were many updates for the formerly industrial space, which hadn’t been used for more than 75 years, to become a dance studio. e renovations included sprung dance oors, sound systems and mirrors, in addition to electricity and plumbing. e contractor for the project was Bourne Building Co.

Hope Hamilton, a former competitive dancer, discovered Re-

lease during the business’ rst year. Hamilton has been a dancer in the Detroit area since she was 4 years old. After she graduated from high school in 2020, she wanted to nd opportunities to continue to dance. Hamilton found Release was one of the few adult drop-in studios in the Detroit area.

Originally, Hamilton learned about the business through its videos of classes and social media advertising. She began taking classes in late 2020 and early 2021 as the studio was just beginning to nd clientele in the community. Hamilton said Release’s sta is “unique and fresh to the Detroit dance scene,” including Radio City Rockettes and “So You ink You Can Dance” competitors.

“When I rst started there, it was very small. Not a lot of people knew about it. De nitely more people have discovered Release and are coming and telling other people about it,” Hamilton said. “ ey’re bringing in those people (to teach) that you wouldn’t normally get to take class from.”

Stevanovski said Release typically has about 20 instructors

on sta to cover a variety of studio and street styles including ballet, jazz, contemporary, hiphop, Latin, breaking, house and more. Additionally, beginner courses for adults new to dance are o ered in di erent genres.

Class packages are o ered in a “more you buy, the more you save” format, Stevanovski said.

Classes can be purchased through the Mindbody app. For instance, a single drop-in course costs $20, while a 30-class package costs $500 (dividing out to approximately $16.50 a class).

Absolute Beginner eight-week course sessions, with one class a week, are $185.

One of Stevanovski’s primary goals is to create dance jobs in Michigan, especially when many dancers may leave the state to pursue work.

“For our sta , everyone either comes with a degree in dance, or they have experience in the professional dance industry,” Stevanovski said. “Everybody comes with a ton of experience and the main thing they come with is a passion to share with our community and connect our commu-

nity and o er something beyond just teaching dance steps.”

One sta member, Lorna Roy, a former Detroit Pistons dancer, is the front desk manager at Release and teaches classes at the studio. She began taking classes at Release over the last four years and has been on sta for a year and a half. Roy said the positive community and encouraging environment make Release stand out in the dance scene.

“Release gives dancers an opportunity to explore, to explore themselves wholly. Not just as dancers but as individuals,” Roy said.

Stevanovski said her studio removes the competitive nature that can come with dance and emphasizes the communal and creative aspects that dance o ers. She hopes her studio will be a space that fosters students’ love for dance in Detroit.

“So whether you are brand new to dance, if you are wanting to try a new creative outlet, or if you are a seasoned dancer, looking to start a professional career we try to have a little something for everyone,” Stevanovski said.

Bottom left: Olivia Stevanovski is founder and creative director at the Release Detroit dance studio in Ferndale.| PHOTOS BY RELEASE DETROIT Lorna Roy, staff member and former Detroit Pistons dancer

Detroit startup creates ‘Google Maps for drones’

Michael Healander sees a future where there are highways in the sky. For drones.

Healander, originally from Vermont, attended Eastern Michigan University for geographic information systems and then moved to California to build out di erent business ideas.

“I came back to Michigan, and I was blown away about what’s going on in Detroit,” Healander said. “I said, ‘I think I can build another company, but I’m gonna do it here.’ I met with Detroit Venture Partners and Ludlow Ventures and started with a $100,000 investment. We went from an idea to one of the top drone companies in the United States and maybe even the world.”

Airspace Link was founded in Detroit in 2018 by Michael and his wife, Ana Healander, and Daniel Bradshaw. As one of the rst companies to join Newlab when it opened in April 2023, the startup was perfectly poised to begin building out its product and its network.

“When you get in your car, you can put in your destination and it tells you how to get there, it tells you the safest route, it tells you that tra c,” Michael  Healander said. “ e thing with airspace is, you can’t see the roads, you can’t see the guardrails, you can’t see the speed limits and that’s what we do.”

Airspace Link is designed to be a “Google Maps for drones,” Healander said. e company is building out the digital infrastructure that’s required for businesses to y drones over Detroit.

“Our job is when you go to y your drone, you can click a button say, ‘I want to y here’ and we say ‘Oh, you can’t’ or ‘ ere’s a temporary ight restriction’ or ‘You can only y up to 200 feet,’ ” he said.

Healander said Airspace Link is under contract with the FAA to input its systems.

“We’re expanding the de nition of mobility, which is really fun. I mean, we’re talking about mapping the skies and moving logistics from the ground into the air,” said Rich Fahle, the vice president of marketing for Airspace Link.

Mapping the skies

Before it can be simple, mapping the skies is complicated.

Airspace Link is working with the state of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the city of Detroit, Michigan Central, Newlab and more in a public/private partnership it calls the Detroit Advanced Aerial Innovation Region, or AAIR.

e Detroit AAIR is a threemile radius extending from the

“The thing with airspace is, you can’t see the roads, you can’t see the guardrails, you can’t see the speed limits and that’s what we do.”
Michael Healander, co-founder, president and CEO of Airspace Link

Michigan Central building that will provide open, shared infrastructure and services that enable commercial drone development while ensuring safety in the air and on the ground. e two-year project launched in October, but initial usage pilots began in January.

“A few other states are working on drone corridors, which is something that Michigan is keenly focused on as well, but what is di erent with AAIR is that it’s in an urban environment,” said Charlie Tyson, the technology activation director at the O ce of Future Mobility and Electri cation of the MEDC. “So other states have rural drone operations, which has a lot of value in deploying drones in rural communities for access to critical goods, but in our urban setting, it presents a whole di erent level of challenges that Michigan is here to try to address.”

e Detroit AAIR software must analyze the number of people a drone might y over, track other aircraft tra c, avoid ying over restricted properties and more.

When it’s nished, the research done for Detroit AAIR and Airspace Link will serve as a neutral,

nonproprietary platform that can be used by other entities, though Airspace Link is managing it on behalf of the state of Michigan and Michigan Central.

“ e goal is by July or August, the systems are installed,” Healander said. “Some of the software in the digital system has been installed, like mapping of all the airspace, all the land use zoning, all that’s been built out so the digital infrastructure has been installed. Now we’re installing the hardware over the next three months.”

e cost for the program is “millions of dollars over two years,” he added. Airspace Link is investing in parts of it, but is also being paid to manage the program. e company has received funding from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Michigan Central and other investors.

Michigan Central will provide resources for foundational infrastructure, community engagement and skills training and MDOT will manage the network and de ne operating parameters, as well as data and safety protocols.

For the rst few months of the year, the company is installing in-

Healander hopes that eventually the program will be able to partner with local businesses to test drone food and medication delivery in Detroit.

“ e goal is (to have) six companies minimum that are ying advanced operations across those di erent use cases,” such as food, health care or automotive supplier delivery, he said.

Statewide effort

Detroit AAIR allows Michigan to lean on other connections it has developed to aid in the success of startups within the innovation zone, as well as aims to attract more startups to Detroit, Whittaker said.

“Airspace Link is in a really unique position where obviously they have a tool set and a capability that they can do this work in many di erent places,” he said. “What also makes it unique is that partnership where we bring together the state and our own capabilities here. It puts us in a position to make more progress and do more meaningful work and think more quickly.”

Michigan isn’t the only state working on advancing aerial mobility. Airspace Link has around 20 employees in Michigan, and 55 employees across the country working to develop similar drone air spaces. e startup also has a strong focus on cities in Texas and California, Healander said, but it appears that Michigan “could take the lead in the next year as being one of the top drone integration states.”

frastructure on partnering buildings in the three-mile radius, including Newlab at Michigan Central and Michigan Central.

Matt Whittaker, the director of the mobility innovation platform at Michigan Central, said that Michigan Central helped to de ne the three areas of focus of the program: advanced aerial, energy equity and multimodal logistics.

“Michigan Central wants to be an open shared place where people come and accelerate this work within Detroit and for the state of Michigan, so our goal is to attract innovators of all types and so we’ve outlined a number of di erent types of drone uses,” he said. “Ultimately, we want to make sure that we’re helping develop solutions for some of the hard challenges that no one can solve alone. And so I think Michigan Central is in a unique position where we have that connection with the community.”

e overarching goal of the program is to drive drone operations beyond visual line of sight, though that comes with regulatory approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. Once operators are allowed to y drones without maintaining visual sightlines,

ere are programs across the state working to improve Michigan’s status as a leader in aerial mobility, said Justine Johnson, chief mobility o cer for the O ce of Future Mobility and Electri cation at the MEDC.

In partnership with Gerald R. Ford Airport in Grand Rapids, Southwest Airlines and Alberta, Canada-based Stantec GenerationAV industrial consultant, the MEDC launched FLITE in 2022. e Ford Launchpad for Innovative Technologies and Entrepreneurship provides grants and testing opportunities to companies focused on bringing emerging air travel solutions to market.

Battle Creek Unlimited is also developing Mich-Air, an advanced air mobility park at the Battle Creek Executive Airport, designed as a manufacturing, training and operating space for drones.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan Medicine is utilizing tech from San Francisco-headquartered startup Zipline to deliver prescriptions to patients. It’s one of the state’s rst FAA-approved drone delivery services.

“We’ve de nitely made a lot of strides to become a leader in a known state for aerial mobility and drone innovation over the last ve or six years,” Tyson of the MEDC said. “We feel and we hear that we’re really becoming a top place for drone companies to thrive.”

A drone at the of ces of Airspace Link at Newlab at Michigan Central (left) in the Book Depository building in Detroit. | AIRSPACE LINK, KURT NAGL AND SYLVIA JARRUS Michael Healander

Northville Downs redevelopment breaks ground

A large mix of developers is moving forward on a wholesale makeover of the site of the Northville Downs racetrack, totaling well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

O cials broke ground May 13 on a mix of rental and for-sale residential properties totaling 443 housing units, retail and commercial space, as well as 15 acres of publicly accessible green space and parks that include “daylighting” 1,100 feet of the Rouge River, long covered as part of the development of the now defunct racetrack.

e Downs, as the project is being called, is situated on 48 acres.

Fort Washington, Pa.-based homebuilder Toll Brothers Inc. will build 192 condos and single-family homes on the southern portion of the site while Hunter Pasteur and its development partners — South eld-based e Forbes Co. and Soave Enterprises in Detroit — will collaborate on the rental component on the north end of the site.

Hunter Pasteur and Forbes have collaborated on previous and still under-development projects, including in Ann Arbor and Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.

e opportunity to take on such a project in Northville, however, makes for a unique opportunity, according to Hunter Pasteur CEO Randy Wertheimer, noting the variety of housing types planned at the site.

“We are providing (a variety of) housing types … to live in downtown Northville, which has always been a highly sought-after place to live,” he said. “But there’s a huge barrier to entry because there’s never homes available.”

Representatives from Toll

Brothers were not available for comment on their role in the development.

Wertheimer said the for-rent component of the project will be a

“highly amenitized” apartment development targeted at those who have wanted to rent in the western metro Detroit suburb but have struggled to nd the right

product. Rents are expected to be market rate but amounts remain to be determined based on conditions once completed, expected for summer 2026.

e developers received a brown eld tax increment nancing deal valued at approximately $17.8 million, Wertheimer said. e two developments will be separated by a central park that’s roughly “the size of a football eld,” according to Wertheimer.

“It’s a generational opportunity,” Wertheimer said of the planned park and green space.

“So aside from our real estate development, we’re really creating placemaking and a regional destination that is going to be a huge draw for people of all ages for recreational activity.”

All told, the planned green space totals nearly 10.5 acres.

“ e opportunity to restore this section of the Rouge River really excited us,” Forbes President Nate Forbes said in a statement. “Natural environments and greenspace are vital to any successful development these days, but we wanted to make sure everyone has an opportunity to use and enjoy the space.”

e development has been in the works for years, rst oated in 2018.

e racetrack’s land near Sheldon Road and Hines Drive has long been sought by developers. It was rst envisioned as 500-600 apartments and for-sale townhouses and single-family homes with some commercial uses, Crain’s previously reported. But those plans have been trimmed down during the planning and approval process.

Automation supplier plots new HQ in Oakland County

Convergix Automation Solutions is planning to expand with a new Auburn Hills headquarters in a space abandoned by an automotive plastics and foam supplier in bankruptcy.

e automation company will move from its base in Troy to a building two-thirds larger at 800 Standard Parkway, bringing it closer to the nerve center of automotive robotics and automation.

Convergix, which plans to take the 150,100-square-foot space in August, is riding high on the demand for automation in the automotive industry as OEMs and suppliers lean harder into robots to solve labor scarcity and cost issues.

Around 150 employees, including engineers, skilled technicians and corporate sta , will move to the new space, with plans to grow headcount in tandem with business growth, said Kirk Benson, chief nancial and administrative o cer for Convergix.

“We’re excited about it because it o ers more integration oor space,” he said. “It’s a great location near other automation companies as well as suppliers like the robot OEMs and still in the Detroit area close to many of our strongest customers.”

e industry’s move toward automation — a play for “survival,” as Lear Corp. CEO Ray Scott described it — has been good for the automation business.

Robotics projects have proliferated in Southeast Michigan in re-

cent years. Robot OEM Fanuc is nearing completion of an $86 million expansion in Auburn Hills that will grow its footprint to 2 million square feet. Integrators such as JR Automation and Paslin Co. have followed suit with expansions.

Unique Fabricating, which led for bankruptcy last November, vacated the property April 30 as part of a liquidation plan overseen by the court. Assets inside that building and others were sold to Louisville-based PSC Industries, which

made a winning $14.7 million bid for equipment and inventory.

For building owner General Development Co., which signed the long-term lease with Convergix recently, lling the space quickly after Unique’s departure was an ideal outcome, said Gary Weisman, co-owner of General Development.

“You can’t own the type of portfolio that we own in the decades that we’ve owned it and not deal with an out of the blue bankruptcy,” he said. “What we’re most proud of is that through that experience, we knew how to deal with the bankruptcy court, when to begin marketing and be able to, in basically 100 days, move a facility.”

e quick turnaround was especially welcome given a more challenging market for industrial leasing as of late, added his son Ethan Weisman, business development director at General Development.

“In what appears to be a slightly more challenging market than in ’23, we at General Development

were pleased that we were able to re-tenant this facility in Auburn Hills in such a short period of time,” he said.

Anthony Rubino of Pilot Property Group represented Convergix in the lease deal, while Ryan Stipp and Charlie Elias of Friedman Real Estate represented General Development. Craig Zucker, attorney at Maddin Hauser, represented General Development as a creditor in the Unique bankruptcy case.

Convergix, owned by New York City-based private equity rm Crestview Partners, represents the acquisitions of four companies since 2021. It has 900 employees throughout the U.S., Canada, UK and India. In addition to the Detroit 3 automakers and suppliers, it does business in life sciences, renewables, consumer, and food and beverage.

“Our sales funnel has grown signi cantly over the past year,” Benson said. “We have a broader growth strategy that we are investing behind.”

yB Kurt Nagl The 150,100-square-foot building
at 800 Standard Parkway in Auburn Hills has found a new tenant after Unique Fabricating left it vacant in bankruptcy. | GENERAL DEVELOPMENT
Of cials broke ground May 13 on The Downs, a development with 15 acres of green space and parks on the former site of the Northville Downs racetrack. | ELKUS MANFREDI ARCHITECTS The Downs development will include a mix of rental and for-sale residential properties totaling 443 housing units.

Detroit pursues plan to save historic buildings

Detroit is attempting to create something it has never had before: a citywide historic preservation plan.

e city is looking to contract with a consultant or company to help create a plan that ends up, in the words of its request for proposals, “supporting and enhancing Detroit’s existing preservation policy.” e city’s policy is largely centered around establishing local historic preservation districts, of which there are nearly 150 already in existence.

e plan, if adopted, is expected to be updated regularly and address things like “new and innovative policy recommendations for the treatment of older and historic buildings and properties citywide,” the RFP says.

e consultant chosen will work with the Planning and Development Department and others to create the plan. e city is looking for companies or consultants with experience in areas like historic preservation planning, real estate and economic development, land use and zoning

law, plus other areas, including what the RFP calls “Detroit’s unique history and built environment.”

e RFP says Detroit’s historic preservation framework is generally a result of an ordinance that allows for the creation of the historic districts. e rst — the West Caneld Historic District — was established in 1970. According to the RFP, they can encompass everything from a historic fountain to an entire neighborhood.

e deadline to submit responses to a city request for proposals to help craft the preservation plan, which is being paid for out of the general fund, was May 14.

While Detroit has done things like examine many of the school buildings it owns to determine how to preserve them and things like neighborhood framework plans include historic preservation components in that geographic area, a citywide study along the lines that are being embarked on has not been done before, said Garrick Landsberg, the city’s director of historic preservation.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Landsberg said in an interview.

“ is does represent an opportunity to really look at the city’s policies, processes, communication and stakeholder engagement around historic preservation across our neighborhoods and across our commercial districts, really looking at the big picture and what we might be able to do better,” he said.

In general, the citywide plan is required by an agreement in 2022 between the city and State Historic Preservation O ce and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Landsberg said.

“Even in addition to that, this is exactly the kind of initiative that a legacy city with historic resources, a municipality with a very rich history should be doing,” he said.

Additional goals of the plan include identifying areas in Detroit’s city code that discourage historic preservation and building reuse, and exploring options other than local historic districts that could encourage building preservation and rehabilitation.

Blue Cross Blue Shield picks its next CEO

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is promoting longtime executive Tricia Keith as its next president and CEO.

Keith, 53, will replace departing leader Daniel Loepp in the role, e ective Jan. 1.

Loepp announced his retirement from the Blues in September. He will depart the organization he led for more than 23 years at the end of the year.

Keith will become the rst woman to lead the state’s largest health insurer and only the third CEO in the last 40 years.

“After a six-month search, and thoughtful consideration of highly quali ed candidates, the Board is proud to appoint Tricia Keith to serve as our company’s next president and CEO,” Gregory Sudderth, chairman of the BCBSM board, said in a news release.

“No one is more ready to lead our great company into the future. Tricia Keith is a Michigan native, whose depth of knowledge and experience, her broad and accomplished track record of executive leadership, and abiding commitment to Blue Cross’ mission make her the clear choice to take our company forward in service to our members and communities.”

Keith has served as BCBSM’s COO since November 2022 and is the president of its emerging markets business, a $22 billion division that includes its workers’ compensation, managed care and Medicare subsidiaries. She previously served in various executive roles at the Blues, including chief administrative o cer, chief of sta and corporate secretary.

of state. In October, BCBSM acquired Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont as a means to grow its wraparound service subsidiaries.  But its bottom line has been hit hard by rising drug costs in recent years.

e insurer reported a $544 million operating loss on revenue of $36.3 billion for the year due to a $1.4 billion year-overyear increase in claims costs and a $1.8 billion rise in pharmacy costs driven by the rise in highpriced specialty drugs.

“ ere are powerful forces of change impacting health care at this moment — technology, drug and medical cost growth, industry consolidation and others,” Keith said in the release.  “ e role that Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan plays as a champion of our members’ health, and the a ordability of their coverage and care, puts enormous responsibility on the shoulders of our company’s CEO.”

“No one is more ready to lead our great company into the future.”
Gregory Sudderth, chairman of the BCBSM board

Keith takes over BCBSM at a precarious time for the insurer.

e nonpro t mutual rede ned itself under Loepp’s tenure, including growing its ancillary business line as well as expanding out

Keith has served on several boards, including as board chair of Central Michigan University, Michigan Economic Development Foundation, Detroit Business Improvement Zone as well as board seats for Detroit Regional Chamber, the Parade Co. and Downtown Detroit Partnership.

Novi-based health care consulting rm Medical Advantage has been acquired by Bethesda, Md.based Aledade, the nation’s largest accountable care organization.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Aledade acquired Medical Advantage, with its 160 employees, from California’s e Doctors Company, a physician-owned malpractice insurer.

Paul MacLellan, president of Medical Advantage, now serves as president of Aledade’s Michigan market.

Medical Advantage operates, effectively, as a management service organization, providing technology and best practices consulting to independent physician practices across the state.

With the acquisition, Aledade expands its work with Michigan physician practices from 35 to roughly 700, supporting 2,000 physicians. Aledade employs roughly 1,400 employees in 47 states.

Aledade largely works as the bridge for value-based, or riskbased contracting, between physicians and payors.

e U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, along with commercial payors, have been

pushing these contract arrangements for years. Under the agreements, the physicians get paid out annually for keeping patients healthier or get less reimbursement to cover costs if patient health does not improve. E ectively, physicians are held accountable for patient health and their nancial outcomes are dependent on it. If successful, physicians see a higher nancial bene t.

CMS wants 100% of physicians who treat Medicare patients to be under these contracts by 2030.

Aledade, along with its new subsidiary Medical Advantage, pool physicians together for negotiating the contracts and provide nancial support to reduce the nancial risk while o ering improvements. As a result, Aledade receives a cut of the hopefully higher reimbursement.

“ ese small practices can’t afford to have one or two patients with high medical costs put them into losses,” Dr. Farzad Mostashari, co-founder and CEO of Aledade, told Crain’s. “We’re able to help them spread that risk and allow them to take full advantage of these contracts. We provide thenancial backing. It’s at our cost and risk.”

Aledade, however, is also facing pressure from a whistleblower lawsuit, alleging the company defrauded CMS out of millions of dollars with its software.  e civil suit, led in 2021 in Seattle but only unsealed last month, alleges Aledade con ated patients with anxiety to a diagnosis of depression, which could boost CMS reimbursement by $3,300 per year per patient under the risk-con-

tracting, according to reporting by KFF Health News.

e suit also alleges Aledade encouraged doctors to add on medical diagnosis or increase severity so when the condition improved, reimbursement was higher.

e U.S. Department of Justice has indicated it does not plan to pursue the case at this time.  “ at’s good news, and a decision we wholeheartedly applaud given the baseless allegations about improper coding practices and wrongful termination brought by a former Aledade employee three years ago,” Mostashari said in a public statement. “We do not yet know how the full legal situation will play out but will defend ourselves vigorously if needed in a court of law. We therefore will not address any individual allegations.”

Kirk Pinho The Indian Village historic district in Detroit was created in 1970. KIRK PINHO Dustin Walsh
by Aledade
Novi-based rm Medical Advantage is acquired
Dustin Walsh Daniel Loepp Tricia Keith Paul MacLellan Farzad Mostashari

Gordie Howe bridge deck to connect in June

Only 85 feet separate the two halves of the Gordie Howe International Bridge.

Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority and Bridging North America representatives con rmed May 14 that they anticipate the two bridge decks will connect the U.S. and Canada sides at the end of June.

One more 49-foot segment of the bridge must be added on the U.S. side before the mid-span closure, or the nal segment, can be added to the bridge.

As a cable-stayed bridge, its deck relies on the tension between the cables and the two towers, which reduces stress on the deck under large loads. e Gordie Howe bridge will have 216 stay cables, with only 10

ing North America. “O cially, it’ll be the longest cable-stayed bridge main span in North America and 10th longest main span in the world.”

Once complete, the bridge will have a half-mile of elevated deck, and will be 1.5 miles long from the port of entry on both the U.S. and Canadian sides.

In January, o cials con rmed the bridge is scheduled to be complete by September 2025 and ready for the rst Detroit-Windsor border crossings that fall, nearly a year later than previously expected.

Once the bridge is completed more work will be done stressing stay-cables and installing electrical, re suppression and drainage systems, barriers, lighting and more.

“It’s the longest (cable-stayed bridge) in North America, even though it’s not connected.”
David Henderson, CEO, Bridging North America

left to be installed. e towers on the bridge are 722 feet tall.

“It’s the longest (cable-stayed bridge) in North America, even though it’s not connected,” said David Henderson, CEO of Bridg-

When the two halves of the bridge connect, it will o cially become an international crossing by the Canada Border Services Agency and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, requiring both organizations to have a presence on respective bridge sites.

“Just the existence of the Gordie Howe International Bridge with the (nearby) Ambassador Bridge allows for that redundancy that

this corridor hasn’t had in the past from a commercial perspective,” said Heather Grondin, chief relations o cer of the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority. “Yes, passenger vehicles can go through the tunnel, they can go across the Ambassador Bridge, but there really hasn’t been that opportunity to have two streams of tra c for commercial use. So I think this bridge’s very existence helps support and address that issue.”

In February, Gordie Howe International Bridge backers announced the organization will be investing another $1.9 million in 13 community programs, bringing the bridge team’s total initiatives to 53 between Detroit and Windsor communities.

Owners of restaurant group juggle family-business dynamic

e transition from business to family-owned business can sometimes be sudden or sometimes happen all at once.

In the case of Rosalie Vicari, when she decided to take a more active role 20 years ago in her husband’s company — e Joe Vicari Restaurant Group — it was something of a combination.

After working as a teacher and running her family’s household, Rosalie Vicari decided to spend more time going into the now-former Andiamo restaurant location on Hall Road greeting guests. Now, she’s co-owner and COO of the Warren-based company with 25 restaurants across 10 brands in multiple states.

“I went from thinking I was going in and shaking hands to working 12 hours a day,” Vicari said May 14 during the Crain’s Family Business Summit at the Daxton Hotel in downtown Birmingham in a conversation moderated by KC Crain, president and CEO of Crain Communications Inc., the Detroit-based parent of Crain’s Detroit Business. “But I loved it.”  So it goes in the world of family-owned business, an often-overlooked part of the economy when compared with Fortune 500 com-

panies. But family-owned businesses employ about 62% of the U.S. workforce — about 82 million people — and account for 64% of U.S. gross domestic product, totaling $5.9 trillion, according to a report last year from e First Bank Center for Family-Owned Businesses.

As in all businesses, matters of culture, management and how to handle moments of crisis are ever-present, but those issues can be even more heightened when you’re also dealing with family.

In the case of the Vicari clan, the husband-and-wife entrepreneurs

stand as CEO and COO, while their children and their spouses also hold key leadership roles within the organization. e dynamic can make for interesting family gatherings, Rosalie Vicari acknowledged.

“We tried (not) talking business at the Sunday dinner table, but that didn’t really work,” she said. “We do the best we can with (the business) because it’s always present.”

Dating back to 1990, the Joe Vicari Restaurant Group has been in expansion mode in some form in recent years with Andiamo Pasta

& Chops slated to open later this year at e Mall at Partridge Creek in Clinton Township, and a new Joe Muer Seafood restaurant that opened last year in Nashville.  e company was ranked as the 22nd-largest restaurant group in the nation last year by Nation’s Restaurant News with 25 locations among its various brands.

Joe Vicari said May 14 that the growth might not be over, noting that the couple recently purchased a condo in Boca Raton, Fla., and is considering opening a restaurant in the area.

Still, the company’s CEO said

that at age 67 he’d like to exit the company by the time he’s 70. But like many family-owned business operators, what that may look like can make for di cult conversations and decisions.

e First Bank Center report last year noted that just 27% of family-owned businesses have a fully structured succession plan.

Joe Vicari acknowledged that his company is among that group, and those conversations with family members need to be had.

“I think that’s something that we need to do shortly,” Vicari said. “I haven’t done that yet, and I think it’s an important thing to do and nd out what they want to do.”

Following the conversation, Crain’s Detroit Business Executive Editor Mickey Ciokajlo moderated a panel discussion with leaders who discussed a variety of issues related to how their family-owned businesses operate.

e panelists were Mallerie Merchant, vice president of sales at R.C. Merchant & Co., Scott Schoeneberger, managing partner at Bluewater Technologies Group, and Diane Smith, president and CEO of ChoiceTel. ey were joined by Rejeana Heinrich, director of the Stevens Center for Family Business at Saginaw Valley State University.

Nick Manes Anna Fifelski KC Crain, president and CEO of Crain Communications Inc., chats with Rosalie and Joe Vicari at the Crain’s Family Business Summit at the Daxon Hotel in Birmingham on May 14. | BRETT MOUNTAIN Progress on the Gordie Howe International Bridge during spring 2024. | GORDIE HOWE INTERNATIONAL BRIDGE Workers on the Gordie Howe International Bridge deck on May 14. ANNA FIFELSKI

e biggest hang-up is securing the nancing to get the factories built and determining how the risk is distributed, according to several real estate developers involved in or familiar with the projects. e companies may be loaded up with U.S. Department of Energy grants and state incentives, but they lack credit, which is a big impediment to a deal.

While there is still appetite among investors to seed early-stage startups, nding the capital to scale up manufacturing — without a clear outlook of demand to justify it — is a di cult proposition.

In the case of hydrogen, the timeline for going mainstream likely has been set back even further after the automotive industry’s retrenchment on electric vehicles, according to industry experts. Once bitten, twice shy on emerging technologies, suppliers and investors are taking a more cautious approach on deploying capital.

“ ere’s a demand imbalance,” said Vilas Kuchinad, head of innovation for the Global Sustainable Finance Group at Bank of America. “ e challenge is not just on the technical side. Even after they prove its ability to work, they need to get to a point that they are cost-competitive. ere’s a little bit of the chicken and the egg there. We need to get to the point where we have economies of scale to bring the cost down, yet you need demand to actually do that.”

ere is also the question of how much the federal government intends to subsidize hydrogen, Kuchinad added.

“ ere’s been a slowdown as people wait for the nal guidance on the 45V tax credit I think, but on the ground what we’re nding is people are still working to make these projects work and get them nanced and built,” he said.

Hydrogen holdup

In 2022, Albuquerque, N.M.based BayoTech Inc. announced it would build a hydrogen production “hub” at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, marking one of the rst big hydrogen projects in the state. It was supposed to have opened a year ago but has yet to come to fruition.

Spokeswoman Catharine Reid told Crain’s that the company still aims to follow through, but the project faces hurdles related to demand and nancing. In a Q&A from earlier this year on the company’s website, former CFO Je Wood pointed to challenges securing non-government capital as a general obstacle for the industry.

Reid said the company’s plan at ACM depends on local demand from automakers.

“ e main factor is the macro industry outlook for hydrogen at this point,” Reid said. “You’ve seen over the past six to 12 months just a general slowdown in the industry.”

For Reuben Sarkar, CEO of American Center for Mobility and former DOE employee, the vari-

ous ts and starts of the automotive industry over the past ve years have become a routine part of operations. e state-subsidized vehicle test track, rst envisioned as a way to secure Michigan’s place in driverless vehicle development, has had to pivot many times amid the changing winds of the industry.

“Anything that we’re doing, I think that these are multi-decadal type changes,” Sarkar said recently on the sidelines of “demo days” at the center, where o cials unveiled the new EV Charging Basecamp. e charging hub allows automakers and suppliers to test the interoperability among myriad makes and models of cars and chargers, addressing a more pressing industry concern than hydrogen.

“All of it … electri cation, hydrogen,” Sarkar said. “ ere’s stu in the market happening now, but the total transformation takes a long time.”

Since Nel Hydrogen announced plans for a $400 million, 500-job factory in Plymouth Township a year ago, the project has received a $25 million grant commitment from the state, plus a $50 million DOE grant through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. e DOE also gave a $30 million grant for hydrogen development to General Motors Co., which entered a joint development agreement with Nel in 2022.

e Nel plant appears a long way from a groundbreaking, though. A site plan has yet to be submitted to the township. Supervisor Kurt Heise said he fully anticipates the project to happen, but the company is working out unspeci ed issues with developer Brookwood Capital Partners LLC.

It’s unclear if Nel and Brookwood have struck a development agreement. ey did not return requests for comment.

e hesitancy toward hydrogen is apparent for large tier-one automotive suppliers as well. Competitors Forvia and Plastic Omnium each rolled out big plans for hydrogen projects last year. But they have been quiet about those programs since, a likely indication of uncertainty from their customers.

Forvia had been sizing up possible locations, including in Michigan, for a manufacturing plant to support a pair of new contracts to supply hydrogen storage systems for commercial vehicles in North America starting in 2025. Spokeswoman Misty Matthews declined to identify the OEM or comment

CEO Scott omsen said in November that the company intended to work with Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock LLC to build the factory, but the status of that plan is unclear. Bedrock did not respond to requests for comment and LuxWall declined to comment.


From Page 1

on the status of the programs.

“We are con dent in the technology that is available, including a 600-mile range that we can provide to a heavy-duty vehicle with our systems,” Matthews told Crain’s. “ e area of focus where we feel the work needs to be is the infrastructure. e rst is the production of the fuel, the second is the transportation and the third is the lling stations. We feel that the industry is ready to provide the technology if we can ramp up the availability and the infrastructure.”

Plastic Omnium said last August that it would invest $171 million and build a new hydrogen storage systems plant in Grand Blanc Township. e project would support a large contract from General Motors, a source con rmed. It was expected to supply 40,000 vehicles annually by 2027, according to terms in a Michigan Economic Development Corp. brie ng memo.

Township Supervisor Scott Bennett told Crain’s that the municipality was still awaiting site plans. Plastic Omnium declined to comment. A GM spokesperson said they were “not able to comment on speculation.”

Stephen Tapley, partner in the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners, said the DOE’s new hydrogen hub program is spurring more activity in the space, but companies need better assurance of a return before committing their own capital.

“ ere’s still a lot of question of where is the demand going to come from,” Tapley said. “’I want to build, I want to invest, but where is that payback going to be?’ I believe it’s still in its very infancy, and it has a very long way to go.”

Higher risk

It isn’t just hydrogen being hit with a reality check. Large-scale advanced manufacturing projects in general are capital intensive and heavy on the risk.

Last July, Ypsilanti-based LuxWall announced plans for a $166 million, 450-jobs expansion, including a new factory in Detroit and Litch eld in the south-central part of the state, which would be the “world’s rst high volume vacuum insulated glass production facilities.” Founded by a former executive of automotive glass giant Guardian Industries, the company completed a $30 million Series A and was awarded a $6 million state grant and $31.7 million DOE grant.

Be it for hydrogen tanks, batteries or energy-e cient glass, the projects are risky for developers because they are custom factories built to the unique speci cations of the end user. ey are often taller than typical industrial buildings and they require special mitigation systems for res and hazardous materials, according to development experts. ey also need heavy electrical infrastructure and special insurance policies, which jacks up the price further.

Whereas a 300,000-square-foot warehouse shell costs about $35 million to build, a specialized factory of the same size could run two or three times as much.

en there’s the question of what happens to the building if the tenant goes bust. Politicians tout the ashy new projects, but they often represent big risk to banks, which much prefer the boring, steady cash- ow businesses.

“ e analysis for a lender in making a loan is twofold, and it depends in part on the philosophy of the conventional lender,” said Doug Bernstein, partner at Plunkett Cooney law rm specializing in bankruptcy and creditors’ rights. “One, is there cash ow to service the loan, and two, what’s your collateral and what’s it worth? If I have to liquidate it, what can I reasonably expect to recover?”

Developers also prefer the mundane warehouse tenants for the same reason. ey can cycle tenants through with ease, skipping the complication of custom buildouts.

Spec development giants Ashley Capital and NorthPoint Development, known for the nondescript warehouse buildings that have proliferated in recent years, are nding out rsthand about the risks of the EV battery business. Ashley is the landlord for struggling startup Our Next Energy in Van Buren Township, where buildout of a $1.6 billion plant has been paused due a liquidity issue rooted in the industry’s EV pullback. e developer declined to comment on its lease with Our Next Energy.

NorthPoint is in talks with German battery cell manufacturer CustomCells for a potential $100 million factory and 250 jobs at GM’s former Warren Transmission Plant site. NorthPoint declined to comment on the project.

Raising money as a battery maker is an uphill battle these days, too, said Alex Calderone, a Birmingham-based nancial consultant.

“It is an absolutely brutal environment out there for EV startups and their suppliers,” Calderone said in a recent report on Our Next Energy. “ e only way to survive is to procure more capital, but when you’re bleeding money and the investment thesis starts becoming less attractive to folks, it’s not easy to keep getting people to write checks even if you have tremendously good technology.”

“As part of these e orts, the company has worked with several investment consultants since ONE was founded in 2020,” the company said. “ ese consultants help the company identify the best path forward for securing the necessary support to fully fund our business plan, build a battery cell factory in Michigan and accelerate the country’s transition to electri cation.”

e company declined to comment further on the status of its fundraising.

Progress on that front was derailed at the end of last year when the automotive industry hit the brakes on the EV transition due to dramatically less demand than anticipated. e pullback hit suppliers hard and left ONE imperiled.

After its Series C fell apart with the withdrawal of London-based venture capital rm Just Climate, the startup demoted its founder as CEO and installed a new executive steeped in manufacturing operations and slashed costs. Since the beginning of the year, it has laid o more than 160 employees.

Newly installed CEO Paul Humphries told Crain’s in January that ONE secured bridge nancing from existing investors to keep it a oat at least through the year as it looks to land rm o -take agreements with OEMs.

Build-out of a planned $1.6 billion factory in Van Buren Township remains on hold, while a line for commercial vehicle batteries at contract manufacturer Piston Automotive is also shut o .

e startup must raise capital wherever it can nd it, said Alex Calderone, a Birmingham-based nancial consultant who has expertise in distressed businesses but is not involved with Our Next Energy.

“It is an absolutely brutal environment out there for EV startups and their suppliers,” Calderone said. “ e only way to survive is to procure more capital, but when you’re bleeding money and the investment thesis starts becoming less attractive to folks, it’s not easy to keep getting people to write checks even if you have tremendously good technology.”

Birch Lake “deploys intellectual and nancial capital in stressed and transitional businesses,” according to its website. Its CEO is Jack Butler, regarded in the nance industry as a bankruptcy and turnaround guru. Butler did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

e bank was a lender to EV startup Faraday Future and helped facilitate a $100 million debt raise in 2021 as the majority notes purchaser and collateral agent on the secured nancing facility, according to a news release from Birch Lake. Calderone said startups like Our Next Energy need to nd investors who believe in the long-term vision even if the payo has been pushed out.

“What these guys have is intellectual property and probably really solid products,” he said. “But they have products that are great that are not supported by the market for EVs right now.”

ENERGY From Page 1
Nel Hydrogen announced plans for a $400 million, 500-jobs factory in Plymouth Township a year ago, but it appears a long way from breaking ground. | COSTAR GROUP

As a result, sta have turned to paper charts, emergency rooms are diverting patients and elective procedures are being cancelled. Ascension has noti ed law enforcement, including the FBI, but the system’s response to the attack continues.

e ransomware dance is complex. Negotiators stall, working around the clock to determine how the hackers got in, what information they have and whether the entire debacle can be remedied from the inside.

Meanwhile, the cybercriminals are impatiently waiting for their cryptocurrency ransom, hurling threats of what can be done with the stolen data.

Crain’s interviewed Scott Wrobel, principal of N1 Discovery, on the details of cyberattacks and the behind the scenes on what happens during a ransomware attack. How busy are you due to ransomware?

Our cybersecurity division has at least four to ve ongoing cyber responses that we’re managing at any given time.

Why do health care companies get hit so much?

Easier payday. ese are organizations that just have massive systems that have been around for a long time. ey’ve been migrated and upgraded so many times, it becomes a business and nancial challenge to keep everything secure. ere is no way around it. It costs a lot of money to keep everything secure. It takes a lot of money for a company like Ascension to plug all the holes. I don’t know what vulnerabilities they had, but I do know their systems are complicated. Most health care companies have multiple systems that have been around and migrated and legacy systems that aren’t upgraded. eir IT sta are overwhelmed because there is just so much to do. Constantly upgrading is a logistical nightmare. If something is out of date, then you become worried by patching with a new update, it will break something else.

How is ransomware discovered? And what happens next?

Typically, once the company is hit the ransom will come with a note. Often their data is encrypted by the threat actors and they can’t access it. e note identi es the threat actors and gives them a website on the dark web or an email to contact them. Sometimes it’s a Proton email account (a Swiss account that is encrypted that does not comply with government data requests). We make rst contact, handling the negotiations and discussions with the threat actors while also assisting the company to get back online. We’re basically just asking them what they are looking for. ey usually

give a number of Bitcoins or an exact dollar amount. If the value is high, they’ll just give the number of Bitcoins they want. If it’s low, they’ll say they want $1 million in Bitcoins. While we’re negotiating, the company and my forensics team will try to understand how it happened and we try to preserve as much as we can so we don’t destroy evidence. It’s all part of the process; preservation, investigation, negotiation and remediation.

What do they usually do when they in ltrate a system?

ey are betting on two things — that they’ve shut down the systems so badly the company would have to pay the ransom and that they have data they will post on the dark web that is valuable enough for the company to pay.

Do the threat actors just make the ransom demand and hold tight?

After they give the amount they want, they put us on a timer. Like, they may say we have seven days to pay or they will publish the company name on the dark web, telling others the company was hit and vulnerable. Sometimes it’s just the reputational hit is enough to sway the conversation. en the counter starts and if the ransom isn’t paid, they will release the information on the dark web for purchase.

How do they determine how much the ransom is?

One of the tactics they use when they get into a system, besides the normal things you’ve heard, is

look for and search for insurance policies. ey’ll always research the companies. ey know whether you can pay or not. A veperson company? ey are not going to pay a $2 million ransom. A mid-size or big company, a $500 million to a $1 billion company? ey are going to raise the amount, especially if they found the insurance policy and how much is covered. Once they nd it, they’ll show you they have it to prevent you from saying you can’t a ord it.

Do the companies always pay the ransom? at depends. ese companies are usually working with their insurance company, a law rm and with state and federal laws. If the actors have PII (personal identi able information) or PHI (personal health information), they have a responsibility to understand what data was taken and notify those individuals impacted and to state attorney general o ces. ey have to work very quickly to determine what was taken and whether they can get their systems back online without paying the ransom or whether they can rebuild the systems without major interference. On average, there is a good percentage of companies that will pay the ransom if they are unable to recover from backups and restore their business.

When you’re negotiating, what are your objectives? We have two objectives. To try and stall as much as possible to get some answers as to what happened. It’s probably less

Does paying the ransom guarantee the threat actors will return the networks and destroy the data they stole? In the past, there used to be some concept of honor among thieves. You for the ransom, get the encryption key and the name and data never show up again. But now there are all of these a liate groups and things don’t always go as planned. ere is simply no guarantee they won’t disrupt you again or use that data.

Do you make the recommendation to pay the ransom or not?

stalling but taking as much time as you can to get forensics done while maintaining conversation. Usually we get four to ve days before they start to get irritated.

And you have to understand the threat actor groups. One group might not tell you anything about what they took. We need to know how chatty they will be and how willing they are to talk. We usually ask that they prove they can decrypt the data with a key. We ask for a few les that we can decrypt the les and send them that proof back. ey are usually very business like. ey tend not to be hostile unless they sense you’re playing games or stalling too much. Or if you’ve waited too long to make rst contact. eir goal is to get paid.

Who are these groups and where do they come from?

Unfortunately, there are so many groups. ere are several large organizations that have a liates underneath them. Basically using ransomware as a service makes it so anyone can be a threat actor by using another organization’s tools to do this. ey are de nitely mostly overseas. A lot of them are from Russia and Asian countries.

But you don’t have to be in a certain country to be an a liate, they can be anywhere.

We simply provide the consulting on whether or not they’ll be able to recover or remediate their systems. e legal team and company has to make that decision. ey have to weigh whether the insurance company will cover the ransom payments. A lot of insurers won’t cover the ransom unless you were truthful with them about your security policies. If you told them you have MFA (multifactor authentication) on all of your servers and you don’t, the insurance company is not going to pay that ransom.

Once you do get an encryption key or reach a deal with the hackers, what happens? If they pay the ransom, what has to happen is we get the encryption key but we don’t jump right in. We have to test the keys to make sure the threat actor didn’t put a trojan horse or a virus on the key. We do it in what we call a sandbox (a le that’s disconnected from the entire system) and wait and see if anything bad happens. en we have to decrypt the data, which takes so much longer than encrypting. If there is a large amount of data, to be decrypted safely may take a week or so before it’s up and running.

Does this activity continue to rise? When does it slow down? is is an industry that’s not going away. It changes daily and you can’t keep up. It’s a huge cost impact and will continue to be so.

Scott Wrobel
JOB REAL ESTATE COMMERCIAL PROPERTY MARKET PLACE HEALTH BENEFITS JOB FRONT POSITIONS AVAILABLE CLASSIFIEDS Advertising Section To place your listing in Crain’s Detroit Classi eds, contact Suzanne Janik at 313-446-0455 or email

◗ Miniso, a Chinese retailer similar to Five Below. It lls about 4,500 square feet previously occupied by Pro Image Sports, which moved to another spot in the mall.  Shibuyala, a Japanese cosmetics store opening its rst U.S. location outside of California in about 6,000 square feet in the fall.

Boba Chai, with Taiwanese bubble/boba tea and other drinks, taking over 1,000 square feet that had been a shoe store most recently.

◗ Seapot, an 11,000-square-foot Korean barbecue and hot pot restaurant with other locations in the Bay Area and Texas. It will be able to seat more than 300 people when it opens late this year or early next year, Kiezi said.

Slime Studio, taking over 23,000 square feet in the former Sears department store. Kiezi said that’s opening later this month or in early June. It’s a slime products concept inspired by Sloomoo Institute, which has locations in Chicago, New York City, Houston and Atlanta. Keith Aldridge, one of the owners of Canterbury Village in Lake Orion, is the owner of Slime Studio.

Gemu, an 8,000-square-foot claw arcade, also plans to open by Christmas in the former Sears store.

First Form Collectibles, a shop carrying anime and other collectibles, aims to open later this month in about 1,000 square feet. Boboka, a Mexican restaurant in a former Subway sandwich shop in the food court, opens this summer.

Kiezi said he secured the licensing rights for Shibuyala in Michigan and brought in a local operator for the store, and the Miniso is a franchise of his.

e mall owner said he was trying to capture “the Madison Heights energy going north.”

“Our goals moving forward for tenancy are entertainment, ontrend retail, beauty services and food, restaurant and hospitality,” Kiezi said. “I have a particular interest in bringing all cultural aspects of our community to the mall. At this time, I’ve had good synergy with Asian tenants, and more particularly tenants from Japan that specialize in Japanese goods. But we’re not limiting it. It’s kind of been a surge, but we are looking to round it o with other types of uses that are forthcoming.”

John R Road corridor’s draw

e makeup of the John R Road corridor, from 10 Mile Road north to 14 Mile, can be a bit deceiving as population densities don’t tell the entire story.

U.S. Census Bureau data provided by Erica Raleigh, co-executive director of Data Driven Detroit, shows that American Community Survey ve-year estimates put the population in the 48071 ZIP code — a rough approximation of the area — identifying as Asian staying relatively at the last 15-plus years, at 2,041 in the 2008-12 survey; 1,798 in the 2013-17 survey;

and 2,063 in the 2018-22 survey. ose are all estimates within the margin of error, Raleigh said.

More broadly, however, the Asian population in metro Detroit has increased. According to 2020

U.S. Census data, 3.3% of Michigan’s population identi ed as Asian, while 4.1% identi ed as part Asian. In Oakland County,

9.4% identi ed as part Asian, while in Washtenaw it’s 10.9%. In Macomb County, it’s 5.3%, while in Wayne County it’s 4.4% and in Livingston County, it’s 1.6%.   ose populations have increased in the previous 10 years. In Oakland, they rose by 55.7%; Macomb, 51.7%; Livingston, 43.1%; Wayne, 37.9%; and Washtenaw, 30%.

cultural backgrounds,” Goldstone said.

Cindy Dong, president of Madison Heights-based 168 Group, said the opening of her company’s 168 Asian Mart — billed as the state’s largest Asian grocery store — in 2010 provided a key spark to attracting Asian restaurants, entertainment and other small businesses to the corridor. Dong said she has seen people come from Lansing, Ann Arbor and even out of state to visit her grocery store.

“I love the idea of Mario working so hard to bring everything in, because whatever he brings in, it’s helping John R Road, helping grow more people, grow more population,” Dong said.

Others also credited 168 Asian Mart’s opening nearly 15 years ago as a driving force behind what the corridor has become.

Brian Gao, president of the Detroit Chinese Business Association, rst started noticing more Asian businesses popping up along John R around 2006 or so, but that accelerated in the middle of the last decade.

“ e Madison Heights area has been attracting new immigrants, and not just Asian immigrants,” Gao said. “It’s a welcoming city that welcomes new immigrants, and more and more Asians started moving in that area.”

He said 168 Asian Mart “started drawing tra c from surrounding areas.”

“It’s not just people from Asian countries. It’s the general population. It’s gonna be cool. I’m a little older, so it won’t be my kids, but it will certainly be my grandkids that will be buying and having fun,” Goldstone said.

‘A work in progress for many years to come’ e mall’s continued evolution, Kiezi maintained, will take place over the course of years.

Not long after buying it, Kiezi anticipated a hold period of 10 to 25 years as he remakes it, seeking tenants cut from a di erent cloth than traditional mall staples like Forever 21, Claire’s, Lane Bryant and Hot Topic.

Enter concepts like Slime Studio — which was announced this month, with Slime Studio owner Aldridge calling the Oakland Mall a place “set to become the No. 1 family entertainment destination in Michigan” — and pop-ups like the 25,000-square-foot Funbox bounce house installation on the mall’s parking lot, all attempts to carve out a unique identity for the half-century-old shopping center.

During Kiezi’s two years of ownership, he said he has “learned an incredible amount and I continue to educate myself, using that

“Our goals moving forward for tenancy are entertainment, ontrend retail, beauty services and food, restaurant and hospitality.”
Mario Kiezi, owner, Oakland Mall

And Ronald Goldstone, a retail broker who is executive vice president with the Farbman Group brokerage house, also pointed to 168 Asian Mart’s opening — a deal he helped execute for a former Mervyn’s department store.

“Given the fact that there is the capacity currently at Oakland Mall, I’m not at all surprised there’s gravitation to it and I think it could certainly host a reasonable density of those type of retailers, appealing to many di erent

to implement concepts that will work in a super regional mall.”

“What has worked in the past might not work in the future because malls are di erent in today’s environment. I think a lot of my values when I rst started this project are the same, just more ne-tuned, and they’ll continue to get more ne-tuned, but this is going to be a work in progress for many years to come. Right now, I have a lot of good, positive energy that I hope to continue to build.”

From Page 3
The Shibuyala store opening this year at Oakland Mall in Troy. | KIRK PINHO The Slime Studio at Oakland Mall is opening in the coming weeks. KIRK PINHO The Gashapon Bandai store at Oakland Mall in Troy. | KIRK PINHO Owner Mario Kiezi poses for a portrait at Oakland Mall in Detroit. “Our goal is to be hip and cool, authentic, have a variety of choices, have spaces just for me,” Kiezi said of his vision for the aging mall. | NIC ANTAYA

e current footprint of the project sits along Fischer Street in the East Village neighborhood just outside the Indian Village historic district, home to stately, century-old mansions and the occasional new build.

Just farther west is the West Village neighborhood, home to an increasing amount of consumer-facing retail businesses and multi-family developments.

e Greatwater homes are built on property acquired from Hantz Woodlands LLC, a tree farm situated on about 2,000 vacant parcels around the lower east side of Detroit and long owned by metro Detroit businessman John Hantz, who has in recent years been selling o parcels.

e push by policymakers, residents and developers for new and increased housing stock in Detroit and around the state has reached something of a fever pitch in recent years. Amy Hovey, who runs the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, has said the state is about 200,000 units short of what’s truly needed.

While 23 single-family houses on Detroit’s lower east side may not change that math much, a developer building new speculative houses does mark something of a turning point in the city, said Jed Howbert, another Greatwater co-founder and a veteran of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration.

As the city has mounted a comeback post-bankruptcy, much of the push was around new housing options in Detroit’s central business district and immediate neighborhoods, such as Midtown and Corktown. But like other cities, there’s a “lifecycle” as the development spreads, according to Howbert.

“ at lifecycle is occurring in Detroit and many want to stay in the city,” Howbert said. “We see an opportunity to have a really well-built new construction home as opposed to a beautiful old home.”

Duggan said the Greatwater homes project o ers the luxury of choice for those looking to live in the city.

“It is going to take a lot of di erent solutions to meet the incredi-


From Page 3

“I nd it disappointing, disgusting and a disservice to the employees who are currently employed and those employees who were released through mass termination from Stellantis since the ratication of the 2023 contract,” Spencer, who represents most of the plant’s 6,000 workers, said in an April 22 statement.

Temp cuts

One highlight of the UAW’s new contract with Stellantis was that the company agreed to give 3,200 temps full-time status within a year. Temps, which Stellantis calls

ble demand we see for living in Detroit,” the mayor said in a statement. “Some people want condos or to live in an apartment on a vibrant commercial corridor, while others want the challenge of renovating a Land Bank house. But there are a lot of people who want to live in a house in a Detroit neighborhood, but prefer new construction. e Greatwater model allows people to have a brand-new option in a great walkable area of the East Side, close to lots of retail, restaurants, and proximity to the water.”

With their East Village project, the Greatwater principals say they’re trying to o er buyers much of the

same experience and upgrades they might nd in a traditional suburban, newly built subdivision, but in an urban neighborhood.

e houses come in 12 available designs, a mix of ranches, bungalows and cottage styles and range from two bedroom, one bathroom homes up to three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms. Sizes range from 9001,800 square feet.

A base model can be purchased for about $285,000, according to Temkin. A wide variety of upgrades are available, ranging from tile and cabinets to adding an additional bathroom in a nished basement.

supplemental employees, generally are used to ll in for absences or when a plant needs more workers for a short time.

e contract raised starting pay

for those jobs to $21 an hour from $15.78 and bars the company from keeping workers in temporary status for more than nine months.

But the approach Stellantis has

e houses are being built on lots measuring 30 feet x 100 feet. e two houses with sales pending are poised to sell for $339,000 and $459,000 respectively. Sales are being handled by Bill Swanson, a broker with Detroit-based O’Connor Realty LLC.

e project is being nanced with private capital, and buyers can qualify for the Neighborhood Enterprise Zone tax abatement, which can reduce both the city and Wayne County operating millage by 50%, typically resulting in savings of 15%-20% for homeowners, according to the city. While development in Detroit in recent years has resulted in nu-

been using to comply with that commitment isn’t what the union had in mind.

e company terminated 539 supplemental employees across the U.S. in January and 341 at its Jeep Wrangler plant in Toledo, Ohio, in March. e Detroit News reported that 239 temps were cut at a parts sequencing facility.

Art Wheaton, a labor relations expert at Cornell University, said he wasn’t surprised to see Stellantis reduce the supplemental headcount with the new rollover requirements in place.

“One of the reasons they had the di erent tiers and they had the temps was to give them some exibility,” Wheaton told Automotive News. “From the union’s perspective, the union always wants job

merous new condo and townhome projects, real estate experts could point to few if any single-family developments of the scope planned by Greatwater. Temkin, one of the Greatwater principals, said homebuilders “make plenty of money elsewhere” in their projects as opposed to coming to Detroit neighborhoods. He pointed to real and perceived bureaucracy at the city level as one potential deterrent. Asked about expected demand for the product, Howbert said: “It’s still early days,” but with two home sales already pending, the demand has “exceeded expectations.”

security, and from the company’s perspective, they always want exibility. So if the temporaries are going to become permanent, it reduces the exibility for the company. And they say, ‘Gee, if I don’t have to make them permanent, maybe we can just lay them o .’” Wheaton said Stellantis is trying to “brace themselves for ever-changing market conditions,” pointing to softening emissions guidelines that call for a less aggressive pace for carbon reduction for models coming at the end of the decade.

“If you’re not sure if you’re going to need everybody, you lay o those that you can so you don’t have to pay him at the higher rate,” he said. “ at means the ones that they can get rid of, they’re going to rid of.”

Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares, who was paid $39 million in 2023, is the focus of UAW ire as the automaker looks to cut its headcount in the United States and elsewhere.
Clockwise from top: A living room area, kitchen and dining area, un nished basement and bathroom in one of the new Fischer Street homes in Detroit built by Detroit-based developer Greatwater Opportunity Capital LLC. | O’CONNOR REALTY

Matt Hall’s goals: Cutting income taxes and becoming the next House speaker

Republicans are in the minority in the Michigan House for the rst time in 14 years. Their leader, Rep. Matt Hall of Kalamazoo County’s Richland Township, wants to make sure Democrats’ power is short-lived. The 40-year-old Rochester Hills native said his “No. 1 hobby” is becoming speaker next year. Though Republicans are outnumbered, 56-54, they have leverage on some key policy issues currently pending in the Capitol — like economic development. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. By | David Eggert

Why did you run for of ce?

I didn’t really care for the representative that was in the seat (Republican David Maturen). So I ran against him and beat him by 30 points. It was a wide margin, but it was a lot of work. I didn’t like that he voted against cutting income taxes. One of the things I’ve done as a member is I chaired the Tax Policy Committee, and I passed an income tax cut through the House. Unfortunately, (Gov. Gretchen) Whitmer vetoed it. One of the key pillars of our platform is to cut the income tax because it went up (after a oneyear reduction last year). I’ve been true to that. e other thing is the auto no-fault insurance. He voted against that reform. I believe we needed to do that reform. We got it done my rst year in the Legislature. ere’s some changes that we’ll probably have to make over time. But it was still a major leap. A lot more people in Detroit are insured because of it.

What did you do before becoming a lawmaker?

I’m an attorney. I worked for Bill Schuette when he was attorney general. I was the West Michigan liaison. I worked for a combat propulsion systems manufacturer called L-3. I did business development for them. Working in the private sector was good experience and then, working for Bill Schuette, I learned a lot from him about public service and about the issues and Lansing. It really bene ted me in my campaign.

Where did you grow up? Rochester Hills. I went to Rochester High School. My dad worked for General Dynamics growing up. It was great. I moved to Kalamazoo because I went to Western (Michigan University). When I was at Western, most of my family moved out of state because they’d gone to other jobs and things. I just stayed on the west side.

What prompted you to run for House leadership?

I was fortunate my rst term. ey made me chair of the Oversight Committee. I became chair of the Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic. at really put me in the spotlight. We did a really good job of exposing the governor’s lack of proper management in the

House Minority

Unemployment Insurance Agency, the problems in the nursing homes. ere were a lot of those areas where we worked really hard to point out the problems in her executive orders and show the e ect that it was having on small businesses across our state. I think that really started it. I decided that I was the most quali ed to serve in leadership. My colleagues agreed with that and put me there. I think we’re better o because of it.

How can legislators help grow Michigan’s population?

I appreciate the work of the population council. I think they did a great job of identifying some of the challenges. What I took from them is we need a coordinated economic growth plan. If you look at the states that are growing across the country, they’re states that are cutting their income tax. We went the wrong way when we raised our income tax. (It temporarily dropped from 4.25% to 4.05% before returning to 4.25%) We’ve got to start moving that income tax back to compete with other states. Regulatory reform is really important. We need to start pushing departments to review their regulations every year, 20% of their regulations annually, and using criteria that is related to job creation and incomes instead of the criteria they’re using, which is often tied to kind of extreme environmental considerations. e second part is performance-based funding for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. ey need to become better at customer service. Restoring right-towork is important. at’ll put an “open for business” sign on

Michigan. We need to be better at measuring the performance of our workforce development programs. We have to gure out how to get a permanent road funding solution. Our economic development program (should be) better deals. A lot of the money we’re spending on that could be spent on these other things I just talked about. But instead it’s going to big corporations.

Is an income tax cut really the answer? Michigan’s local state and tax burden is fth-lowest in the U.S., according to the Tax Foundation.

e income tax is one of the main drivers of population. You’re seeing a lot of growth in these 0% tax states like Florida and Texas. e sales tax is taxing activity. But when you’re taxing income, you’re kind of disincentivizing wealth and growing and things like that. It’s a tax that I would say we need to move away from. Moving more toward taxes that are user fees or related to transactions and economic activity is a more fair way to do it. e goal is to get below 4%. (He pointed to state incentives for Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Gotion Inc. to build electric vehicle battery and component plants in Michigan, and up to $500 million going to the Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve Fund annually this scal year and next.) I would rather give that to an income tax cut than to some of those corporations, which then lay people o in other places.

Are you open to automatically depositing more money into the SOAR Fund for years into

the future if you get some reforms?

I was never a fan of the automatic funding for SOAR (Strategic Outreach and Attraction Reserve). e entire Legislature should be voting on these deals. Right now, it’s just the appropriations committees, which the Democrats just stack. Any reform would have to start with the entire Legislature voting on these transfers before they go into e ect. Whether it’s automatic or not, once the deal is presented, the entire Legislature should vote on it and approve it. Anything that extended the funding would have to be tied to that.

What about legislation to restore and change a tax incentive for job creation?

Are you open to the concept of the High-wage Incentive for Regional Employment program?

Before we create HIRE, we have to reform SOAR. We’ve had a year or two of experience with SOAR. We see where it’s working and where it’s not working. Before we create more programs that give large checks to companies, picking winners and losers, we should reform SOAR. I’ve laid out a few of those things. Incomes matter. Clawbacks. I don’t think you should be able to use SOAR and HIRE. We want to spread this out to as many companies as possible. We need to make sure it doesn’t all go to electric battery plants, that it’s spread out more diversely. I need to see those changes and many changes to SOAR  that’ll make it work better before our caucus considers creating HIRE.

What do you do in your free time?

My No. 1 thing I like to do is I am laser-focused on winning the House majority back and taking that gavel and becoming the next speaker of the House. e governor asked me that question, and I say, ‘” have no hobbies or interests, other than winning the House back.” at is true. I’ll try to golf occasionally, and we enjoy the Lions. I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend’s son. We try to go to his soccer games, his basketball games and things like that. But my No. 1 hobby is taking that gavel out of Joe Tate’s hand and being the speaker next year. I’ve come up with a plan and the resources to do it. We’re just counting down the days.





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