Sushi, art and more: Farmington council talks business

Farmington officials learned Monday that the city’s future includes a sushi bar, a veterinary hospital, and several other businesses with names still under wraps.

Economic and Community Development Director Kevin Christiansen and Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Director Kate Knight painted a bright picture during a study session Monday. Both said they receive inquiries daily from entrepreneurs and agents interested in Farmington.

Officials didn’t get the update they’d hoped to see from AC Acquisitions, developer of an apartment complex on the former Maxfield Training Center site in downtown Farmington. Christiansen said exhausting all avenues to provide a “public benefit” in the form of parking has taken some time.

“They are working with another architect on something different from the original submittal, but still residential,” he said. “We’re in the very preliminary stage still. It’s very likely we’re going to have to go back and start the process from the beginning.”

The city has no control over the property; Farmington Public Schools has extended a $1.2 million purchase agreement with the developer, Christiansen said.

“It’s very important to our community development plans,” Schneemann said. “I think it’s important for us to, in any way we can, keep the pressure up.”

Grand Bakery & Cafe (Facebook)
Grand Bakery & Cafe (Facebook)

Sushi and steakhouse

The new owners of another large downtown property, the former Grand Bakery & Cafe and adjacent Ginger’s Cafe, plan to open sushi bar, reopen apartments on the Grand River building’s second floor, and eventually expand with a hibachi steakhouse. Knight said the 1890s house and barn on the neighboring lot will be cleared for parking.

That business will submit one of two upcoming redevelopment liquor license applications. Knight said the other applicant is a “motivated merchant with a great concept” who is currently looking for the right downtown location.

Knight said she is working with new Farmington residents who want to open a retail business that would be “a great fit for us” and has spoken with entrepreneurs in other communities about “pop-up” shops that would give them a taste of having brick-and-mortar in downtown Farmington.

Villa Bar City of Novi
The City of Novi’s Villa Barr is home to artworks created by the late David Barr. (City of Novi)

Public art

Officials also learned about a proposed loan agreement that would bring to Farmington three steel sculptures in the City of Novi’s collection of works by the late artist David Barr. The award-winning creator of the Transcending arch in downtown Detroit’s Hart Plaza died in 2015. Many of his works are displayed at Villa Barr, his former home and property which Novi officials purchased in 2012.

“It’s a direct result in the community’s interest in the public art movement,” Knight said. The DDA has formed a committee focused on public art in the central business district, she added.

Farmington’s focus on business isn’t limited to filling vacant spaces. Downtown business retention efforts include an affordable professional development opportunity for business owners, in partnership with Northville and Plymouth DDAs, Knight said. For a $5 fee, locals will have access to training in marketing and social media.

“It enables us to go further with less,” she added. “We’re looking at sharing best practices with other downtowns.”

SWOCC Studios
SWOCC Studios (twitter.com)

Office space, veterinary clinic

Other discussion topics at the Monday meeting included:

  • A change in plans for the 3-story Freedom Plaza office building at Grand River and Halsted. Digital Terrain, a high-tech company, was expected to occupy the upper floors, with retail on the first floor. Now the company plans to occupy the building’s basement level. Thomas Duke & Company has been engaged to recruit office tenants.
  • A new owner for the former SWOCC (Southwestern Oakland Cable Commission) Studios building on Nine Mile Road east of Farmington Road. Dogwood Veterinary Clinic plans to open a veterinary surgical hospital.
  • Clean up of a neglected lot. After being sued by the city, the owners of property in the northwest corner of the Nine Mile and Farmington Road intersection have plans to update and re-open a gas station.
  • Farmington Crossroads, in the southeast corner of Nine Mile/Farmington Road, has 100 percent occupancy, and the owners have plans for a free-standing building in the parking lot. Christiansen said other strip mall owners with large parking lots have talked about similar projects.