In Motown, Stop in the Name of Hope

It's been called the Most Miserable City in America. We beg to differ.
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday

I saw it first by night. A metropolis unveiled in viewfinder snapshots through the smudged windows of an elevated train. Gothic towers crowded close, proud detail etched on gray stone. A beaming stadium full of red-capped baseball fans, its front side left open as if to console the devoted others it couldn't quite hold. A neon neighborhood of revelers, trying their luck with the cards and with each other. A river that bounced fractured glints of the city back toward the heavens.

It was beguilingly authentic -- gritty and romantic -- and it was decided: I would side with Mary.

Mary, the smiling lady of the hotel lobby, not Alexandro, the cab driver who brought me to her.

"Is this your first time in Detroit?" Mary inquired. "You're going to love it! It's just like Paris."

Minutes earlier Alexandro laughed incredulously when I told him what I'd come here to find.

"Happiness?" he scoffed. "I can't really see it. Everybody's just so miserable."

Which is what Forbes magazine said, too; the Most Miserable City in America, it claimed in a report earlier this year. "Imagine living in a city with the country's highest rate for violent crime and the second-highest unemployment rate," the article proposes, by way of introduction.

But after riding the looping downtown train -- slickly named the People Mover -- and stepping into the Greektown section of the city, where I was met by saxophones singing from opposite corners and a scene that looked like the quaint, Hollywood version of a 1940s gambling town, it was over.

Alexandro said he bought his house for $200. Really $1,700, after taxes. He didn't mention the figure as a bragging point, but it started to seem like an enticing investment plan. That was just my price point, and who wouldn't want their own pied-á-terre in this Paris of Lake Erie?

I could be happy here. I already was.

* * *

Dawn broke from the east over the cerulean Detroit River, while my buddy Chris drove in from the west.

I had an itinerary I was sure we couldn't complete, and it began with breakfast at a classic dive in the city's Irish enclave, Corktown.

"It looks like a nuclear bomb went off," Chris assessed, after picking me up from my downtown hotel.

The streets were idle and empty. So many of the buildings that were hauntingly handsome at night were sad in daylight; windowless, hollow and crumbling. Lot after lot laid bare, covered with slabs of broken concrete or half-dead weeds. Warehouses, storefronts, office buildings left to rot, sealed with plywood, disfigured by graffiti.

The restaurant, when we found it, was closed for the day. The nearby coffee shop lauded in our guidebook? Closed. The barbecue place was in business, but not open. An Irish pub up the way would serve us something from the fryer, but it seemed too early to sit in a dingy, smoke-filled room.

My stomach ached, and not with hunger.

Finally, we saw a diner with its fluorescent lights on: the Brooklyn Street Grill.

"Good. I'm getting bacon," Chris sighed as we pulled in.

"Hey, guys," our waitress said, as a garbage-bag-robed dishwasher squeezed past her through the narrow aisle. "Just want to let you know we're out of bacon."

* * *

When Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan priest, first visited the area now called Detroit with French explorers in 1679, the lush landscape inspired him to write that "Nature alone could not have made, without help of Art, so charming a prospect."

Settlers, led by a man named Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, agreed, turning the region into a French outpost and major fur trading port. In the early 19th century, Detroit's leaders chose to model the city's streets after Pierre L'Enfant's hub-and-spoke design for Washington. By the turn of the century, Henry Ford had built his first automobile, setting in motion a revolution that would alter the lives of people everywhere and turn Detroit into a world-class city with a rocketing economy.

For a while.

In 1950, Detroit had a population of 1.84 million; today, fewer than 834,000 people live in the city. The number of autoworkers in the area has been halved in the past 30 years, contributing to its 7.9 percent unemployment rate in April. The comparable national rate that month was 4.8 percent. Along with that violence rate (1,251 crimes annually for every 100,000 citizens), Detroit carries the weight of 135 Superfund sites.

Forbes didn't feign the city's anguish.

* * *

After decent omelets at the Brooklyn Street Grill, we hustled up the city's main artery, Woodward Avenue, toward the Motown Historical Museum.

Which we missed. Which is easy to do, because it's really just a house (okay, a cluster of houses) with a second-story sign declaring the place "Hitsville U.S.A."

It's the right name for the place. The Commodores, the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson. "My Girl," "Baby Love," "Just My Imagination," "You Can't Hurry Love" and on and on. In less than a decade, so much of that greatness came through these walls, Berry Gordy's factory of singing sensations. Here's the desk where Diana Ross worked as a secretary to support her singing career. The basement recording studio where the Temptations practiced their moves. The square echo chamber cut into a second-story ceiling to generate perfect vocal reverberations.

"Can I get a volunteer?" asked our guide, who led the 50-minute tour with all the panache Gordy would expect of a performer being groomed for the spotlight. And when one brave lady stepped under the hole and belted it out -- " Ain't no mountain high enough . . ." -- the room seemed to quake.

"The teenagers were just ready for it," a disc jockey from the era recalled in a documentary on Motown shown at the end of the tour. The first time she'd heard the music, she walked away with a singular assessment: "This," she said, "was happy singing."

"Come on, people, you look like you're sitting in a library," scolded Esther Gordy Edwards, bursting through the doors of the small screening room in three-inch heels and a giant wig of curls. "Dancing in the Streets" was playing, and Berry's sister, who runs the museum, had a command: "Put your hands together."

When the room emptied, I asked Ms. Gordy where we might find Motown music on a Saturday night in Detroit.

"Well, there's a cafe down the street," she said after a thoughtful pause, "where they play it in the background while you eat."

* * *

Our next two stops, less than a mile apart, swung us to opposite poles of the culture spectrum: the Detroit Institute of Arts, a majestic, marble-encased collection of more than 100 meticulously curated galleries, and the Majestic, a bowling alley.

Actually, it's a bowling alley/bar/pizza place/concert venue/pool hall/swank restaurant. Detroit claims to be home to the most registered bowlers in America, and the Majestic claims to be home to the nation's oldest active bowling center.

At the DIA, which has just had a $158 million renovation, we explored room after room of works provocatively organized by theme, rather than artist or period. Depictions of the sea are placed among depictions of the sea. Same goes for landscapes, myths, deities and children and royals. At the heart of the billion-dollar collection, which includes pieces by van Gogh, Matisse and Rodin, is Diego Rivera's famous "Detroit Industry," two massive murals that simultaneously celebrate manufacturing's power and process and decry its potential to do harm when that power is abused.

Down the street, the Majestic was packed with birthday-party bowlers, so we decamped to its bar to watch Detroiters watch sports. The Tigers and Red Wings were both in action, and our new best friend, Nathan Keeler, was manning the television remotes and pulling beers.
We're here looking for happiness, we explained, and some decent evening entertainment.
Keeler, a scruffy-haired 29-year-old, said the Majestic is hosting a battle of the bands tonight. But, he adds, "Good live music? You're not going to find it here."

So, uh, the talent's not so awesome?

"Awful," he barked, eyes rolling back as he shakes his head.

Okay, what about happiness? Can Forbes's misery assessment really be accurate?

"That's pretty much true," Keeler nodded, moving on to the next customer. A few minutes later he returned with a reassessment.

"It's not so bad here," he said. "We have fun. There's lots to do here -- we've got a lot of hospitals, we've got a lot of schools. . . . "

Those charms aside, Keeler said he eventually wants to leave Detroit. Maybe head somewhere new, like North Carolina.

An hour earlier at the DIA, a boy, maybe 4, stood looking up at a panel of stained-glass windows by John La Farge. The word "Faith" sat at the top of one. "Hope" at another.

"What does hope mean?" the boy asked, staring up toward the massive, illuminated images.

"Mmm, that's complicated," his father whispered, before dropping to a knee.

"Hope is when you think about the future," he explained. "And wish for good things."

* * *

We ate beneath the Greektown Casino that night, at a place called Pegasus Taverna. Every five minutes or so, a plate of cheese was lit on fire and a server matter-of-factly called out "Opa!"

I wish we had ordered more than one. It's called saganaki and it's bliss-by-dairy-product: salty, melted and not nearly enough for two people (assuming I'm one of the two).

Above us, slot machines beeped and flashed, inviting what city officials had hoped would be a new engine of economic growth. There are three casinos now, plus a fourth just across the river in Windsor, Ontario. So as gambling-on-a-budget destinations go, Detroit should rank right up there.

Hard to say, though, if casinos are the force that will bring collective happiness back to the city. They don't do too much for me, so we hopped a cab over to Nancy Whiskey's, a Corktown dive known for its blues.

All around it was overgrown grass, streetlights blinking on and off and an eerie absence of movement, sound or structure.

Inside, Nancy Whiskey's was hopping. People were jammed wall-to-wall in the wood-paneled tavern, ordering cans of Miller Lite and dancing between tables as the raucous five-piece band played Van Morrison and "Mustang Sally" from the stage.

If there was sadness in the city, it wasn't at Nancy Whiskey's that night.

* * *

Knowing it would at least be open for business, we swung by the MGM Grand, Detroit's newest casino, for breakfast the next day.

Just outside the downtown nucleus, the upscale casino was a quarter-full by midmorning, its smoke ventilators humming in the background while the employees of glitzy boutiques unlocked their doors.

Our next stop was Hamtramck, a city within the city recommended by the guidebooks and our man Nathan from the Majestic. ("It's got the most bars per capita in the country -- or something like that," he'd offered.) And my grandmother had lived in the area during college and had told stories, later, about its cosmopolitan verve.

Hamtramck was historically a Polish enclave and is now an immigrant melting pot. It is also a neighborhood, like so many others, in decline. Closed department stores, seedy corner shops, run-down fast-food huts. In the place my grandmother found thrilling, we couldn't find a reason to stop.

For the couple of hours that remained before my return flight, we headed to Belle Isle, a storied city park that covers the length of a 982-acre island in the middle of the river. Designed by the same landscape architect responsible for Central Park in New York, the isle is gorgeous: dotted with elegant fountains, a domed conservatory and aquarium, a stately yacht club and picnic areas that were being well used as we passed through its drivable loop.

Then we stopped driving and started watching other people do it. In the center of this serene patch of earth is a racetrack, and on it cars were lined up by the dozen, waiting for timed runs through an intricate, cone-lined course. Tires screeched as mesmerized kids hung their elbows over the fence, necks craning with every hot rod's turn.

We pulled ourselves away to walk to the edge of the island facing the city's skyline. From a distance, Detroit looked as it had in the dark: beautiful.

Happiness here was the intention and, in truth, it was met. For two days we had great times in Detroit. But the misery gurgling through the metropolis was undeniable.

I learned later that the city's seal comprises two Latin phrases, "Speramus Meliora" and "Resurget Cineribus." The lines were chosen after a fire ravaged the city in 1805. Together they mean: "We hope for better things. It will rise from the ashes."

There's a lot to be said for that kind of hope -- for thinking about the future, wishing for good things.

Three upcoming events will allow you to bicycle, kayak and graze your way through Detroit's riverfront and east side.

The Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative, the folks who are taking on the exciting new Conner Creek Greenway project, is helping to run the events.

This Saturday, June 28, Detroit Bikes will host the Jazzin' on Jefferson/Conner Creek Greenway Ride, which will tour the east side and Grosse Pointe. The free ride begins at the Detroit Synergy Booth at Jazzin' on Jefferson, which is near the intersection of Jefferson and Chalmers, just before 10 a.m.

It'll be a leisurely ride, including a tour of some Detroit automotive history and a chance to try out a Sanders' Hot Fudge Sundae. No registration is required, but you will need your helmet. More information is posted at

Next up: a little free kayaking fun. On July 24 from 6-8 p.m. you'll be able to try one out in the pond at Maheras Gentry Park at the foot of the Conner Creek Greenway at Clairpointe south of East Jefferson. It's presented by the Riverside Kayak Connection, and information on local places to live will also be available.

Finally, on Aug. 12, you can take a guided kayaking tour of the east riverfront from 6-8 p.m., including Belle Isle, local canals and the RiverWalk at Gabriel Richard Park. This one will cost $15 an hour, but it's likely to be lovely. Meet at Maheras Gentry Park and RSVP in advance to

The Conner Creek Greenway, which is involved in all these events, is a planned 9-mile biking/walking path that runs from Eight Mile to the Detroit River along Conner Street. For more information on the Greenway or the events, e-mail or call 313-571-2800 x1159.
Two Oakland County auto suppliers plan to invest $47.2 million in expansions at facilities in Farmington Hills and Rochester Hills.

Mahle Industries Inc., a subsidiary of German parent company Mahle GmbH, chose to expand its North American technical center in Farmington Hills over a competing site in Tennessee.

Mahle makes automotive and heavy-duty engine components.The company will invest $27.6 million for the 45,000 square foot expansion. The company was granted a $2.5 million, state tax credit over 7 years by the Michigan Economic Growth Authority and a local tax abatement.

The expansion is expected to create 155 jobs with the company and 169 indirect jobs.

Rayconnect Inc. plans to invest $14.5 million in a new plastics injection molding assembly plant and headquarters in Rochester Hills. It will receive a 7-year, $2.5 million state tax credit from MEGA, which was awarded to influence the company to choose Michigan for its facility over a competing site in South Carolina. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. said it would also provide $120,000 in job training assistance funds.

Rochester Hills is considering a tax abatement of $862,000 to support Rayconnect’s expansion, according to the MEDC.

The facility is expected to retain 360 jobs in Michigan, including 148 at Rayconnect and its parent company A. Raymond Inc., a global supplier of fastener systems.
DTE Energy Co. is bringing its expertise in electric-car research to a U.S. Department of Energy partnership.
The company is joining the DOE’s FreedomCAR and Fuel Partnership, a public-private effort to advance technologies that lead to reduced oil consumption and increased energy efficiency in passenger vehicles. The partnership’s scope includes fuel cells, hybrids and plug-in hybrid vehicles.
“We are excited to have this opportunity to work with universities, the auto industry, governmental agencies and other energy companies to develop the vehicles and infrastructure that will give drivers the performance and overall experience that they expect while significantly reducing the vehicle’s impact on the environment,” said Knut Simonsen, senior vice president of DTE energy resources, in a news release.
HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) -- Algae grown from sewage could be used to produce biofuels, says a company seeking a $7 million state grant to help prove it. Representatives of Bloomfield Hills-based Sequest L.L.C. are considering Holland's wastewater and coal plant as a site for their project.

It would divert carbon dioxide from the power plant and combine it with treated wastewater to grow algae.The algae would be converted to biofuels and other uses.

Bob Truxell, the company's chief executive, said the technology could help transform the world's energy system."We think it's very economically feasible," Truxell told The Grand Rapids Press.Four sites are under consideration, but Truxell said he likes Holland because of the proximity of the coal and wastewater plants and a planned Michigan State University research center."Later on, the algae strain will evolve and we will need the genetic help that is available at the research facility," Truxell said. "I personally am very excited about Holland. I hope we proceed there."The company is seeking funds from a pool of $18 million in a proposal now before the Legislature. It comes from a program announced in January by Gov. Jennifer Granholm called Centers of Energy Excellence.

A Michigan State University official said the project is daunting but worth pursuing in a world worried about global warming and desperate for new fuel sources."Clearly there are lot of questions, but we have to balance those questions with a whole lot of potential," said Steven Pueppke, director of the university's Office of Biobased Technologies.
by David Schaper
NPR Morning Edition April 22, 2008
Click Here To Listen

As the U.S. real estate market falls further into decline, some cities where properties are particularly cheap are seeing a strange revival. In Detroit, where foreclosed houses are found on nearly every block, foreign and domestic investors are buying bargain homes in bulk as long-term investments.
by Charla Bear
NPR Morning Edition June 11, 2008
Click Here to Listen


Wayne County, Mich. — home to Detroit — has been hit especially hard by the mortgage crisis.
The county has inherited thousands of unwanted properties, leaving plot after plot of vacant land. So a nonprofit group pitched an idea: Take that unused land, and grow food for the needy.
This year, the group — called Urban Farming — will take 20 derelict properties in Wayne County, then pull weeds, lay fresh topsoil, and plant fruits and vegetables.
The gardens aren't fenced off, so anyone can wander through and take their pick — for free. Any leftover produce is donated to food banks.

'A Huge Boon'

Neighborhoods in Wayne County are littered with boarded-up homes and vacant land that's covered in knee-high grass. Demolished apartment complexes have left empty lots the size of football fields.
That's why Urban Farming founder Taja Seville says Detroit was the perfect place to start working on farming projects. The city has long suffered from a glut of available property, and last year it topped the nation in foreclosures. Wayne County now has about 7,000 idle plots. Seville saw that as an opportunity.
"I've lived in L.A., N.Y., Connecticut, London, Minneapolis, and been around a lot, seen a lot of cities. But I've never seen these long stretches of unused land," says Seville.
Under the 20-plot pilot program, volunteers will tend the garden, and the city of Detroit will pitch in water.
Wayne County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz says that's a huge boon.
"It won't cost the county anything. We're donating the land. If a person wants to purchase the lot, it will be for sale. Perhaps it will be an inducement," says Wojtowicz.

'I Want to Garden There'

Wojtowicz says the biggest benefit, though, is less blight in the neighborhood. And residents say that, unlike abandoned houses, the gardens aren't targeted by vandals.
Detroit resident Eric Parrish says that those who live around the gardens respect the farming projects. "They see we're doing something to help the community," he says.
Parrish says he recently started gardening with Urban Farming because it helps turn things around in his city.
"You can tell people are struggling. So when I do see these plots of land it makes me say, 'I want to garden there,' " he says.
Parrish says most people are grateful for the gardens, although at first a few were concerned they would attract pests.
Turns out that urban farms do attract people, says Gail Carr, one of Detroit's city managers. She has houses boarded up nearly every day and sees what a dramatic difference the gardens have on communities.
"People are coming out of their homes who wouldn't come out under other circumstances because they didn't think there was still a community or a neighbor or a friendly person nearby," she says.
Wojtowicz says the county is watching the program and hopes to expand it.
Seville isn't waiting to expand. She plans to plant hundreds of gardens in at least a dozen other struggling cities this season.

To learn more about Urban Farming, their locations, upcoming events, and how to get involved click here for their official website

If last year was about celebrating Detroit's rejuvenated riverfront, then this year is about continuing -- and enhancing -- the outdoor party.

If last year was about discovery, then this year is about pleasure.

Detroit's river celebration, renamed GM River Days, returns this weekend for its second incarnation. The organizers, who changed the event's name this year to reflect the financial sponsorship of General Motors, have melded what worked last year (live music and lighted boats on parade) with new activities they're hoping will lure people back (hydroplanes and heaps of fine art).

Again, GM will partner with two nonprofit organizations, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy and the Parade Company, to put on the free soiree. Again, the festival literally ends with a bang -- 24 minutes of bangs -- when the Target Fireworks display launches from barges on the river.

And once again, the festivities star the spirited Detroit River, made even more shimmery by the multitudes of people who will stroll its banks.

Here's what to see and do during this year's GM River Days.

New activities
Though the Boblo boat won't be making a trip upriver during this year's River Days, festivalgoers will see a gorgeous 84-year-old topsail schooner.

The 154-foot-long Highlander Sea tall ship will sail the Detroit River and dock at Rivard Plaza so visitors can hop aboard for a free tour. First launched in October 1924, the Highlander Sea was originally used to race harbor pilots out to meet visiting ships at Boston Harbor. From there, the ships could be steered to safety. The water vessel, now based in Port Huron, features a pilot house, a salon with a small library, a galley and several bunk beds.

The Coast Guard has limited the tours -- 46 people at a time -- to the deck, according to Ben Hale, captain of the Highlander Sea. But festivalgoers will be able to get great looks at the hatches, deck hardware and rigging and can peek through skylights at the accommodations.

Says Hale, of the schooner: "She's an original!"

Also new on the river this year will be an exhibition of hydroplanes, offering something like a preview of the APBA Gold Cup race scheduled for next month. The exhibitions will run 4-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Artists are also getting in on the river-based fun. A new Art on the River celebration will feature more than 20 emerging and professional artists, including painters, woodworkers, photographers and jewelers.

When the sun graces the RiverWalk, joggers often follow. This year, they'll have a chance to race beside the water during the first 5K Saturn Fun Run, which will take runners on the RiverWalk and through parts of downtown. The run, which starts at 9 a.m. Sunday, follows a route between Hart Plaza and Chene Park. Registration begins at the GM Plaza at 8:15 a.m., and participants can register early at Parking for race participants is free at the Beaubien Street Parking Deck at Beaubien and Atwater.

New day
This year's Target Fireworks event is on Monday, not Wednesday.

Organizers shortened GM River Days from six days to four because "we wanted it to be really crisp," says Matt Cullen, who is cochairman of the boards for the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy and the Parade Company. (He was also the general manager of economic development and enterprise services at GM before leaving this month to become president and chief operating officer of Rock Enterprises.) Last year, the festival "was great fun, but it kind of wore out those of us who were involved in it," Cullen says.

Joan LeMahieu, president of the Parade Company, adds that the highest concentration of people came between Friday and Monday last year and that it made sense to condense the event.

The Parade Company will hold its Official VIP Rooftop Party from 6 to 11 p.m. Monday atop the Miller Parking Garage, just west of the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center.

The lineup for the party includes Melissa O'Neil and Ben Mingay, who are both performing in the Toronto production of the musical "Dirty Dancing." Tickets, which cost $175 each and benefit the Parade Company, are available at 313-432-7831.

There'll be an eclectic lineup Friday on the Bank of America National Stage, including a return to the '80s with Rick Springfield, who may never escape being associated with his hit "Jessie's Girl." Preceding Springfield will be the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which will offer a free concert titled "Music That Changed Music" featuring works by Tchaikovsky, Wagner, George Gershwin, John Williams (of "Star Wars" theme fame) and John Philip Sousa. Energetic band Taproot is scheduled to close out Friday night after Springfield.

On Saturday, there's '90s alt-rock group the Verve Pipe -- remember "The Freshmen"? -- which has reunited after a seven-year hiatus. Before the Verve Pipe performs, Michelle Branch, best known for singles like "Everywhere" and "All You Wanted," brings her pop-rock to River Days.

Things will get appropriately spiritual on Sunday afternoon with "Gospel on the River II" featuring the Detroit Revival Choir, Lydia Wright, Breath of Praise and other choirs and singers. Closing out that night will be R&B crooner BrianMcKnight.

On Monday night, indie band Shirock, which will release its debut album this year, takes the stage at 6 p.m. The band has already had a couple of its songs played on MTV's hit show "The Hills."

Several favorites from last year's River Days will be back: Typhoon Tommy Nuttall and the Typhoon Ski Freestyle Team, Diamond Jack's River Tours (discounted at $10 for adults and $5 for kids), the Second Annual Pooch-A-Palooza Pet Walk (9 a.m. Saturday with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m.), the Ultimate Air Dogs and the DTE Energy Parade of Lights (10 p.m. Saturday).

Free food tickets
A tip: Two places offering parking will give you free food tickets. Try the River East and Franklin garages. Parking is $10 at each lot, but each car can receive $5 of free food tickets. You must request the food tickets upon entering the garages.

Accessible via Jefferson, River East is at the corner of Rivard and Atwater Franklin is at Franklin and St. Antoine .

GM River Days
11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.,
10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat.,
10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.,
10 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.
Detroit International Riverfront by the GM Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit


Tim Russert, 1950-2008



As most of you already know, NBC's Meet The Press Host Tim Russert passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack last Friday. I am a huge Russert fan because he did not practice "safe questioning" as do most journalists during interviews. He always asked the tough, probing questions and never had any qualms about doing so. That makes him a hero in my history book. I will truly miss seeing him host Meet the Press, especially during an election year. I am completely in awe over the below clip of a rainbow that showed up in the sky just after the ukulele version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" was preformed at his Memorial Service. In this case, I highly doubt that Fox News orchestrated any "trickery" to distort the broadcast below. Just to forewarn you, it may give you a couple of goose bumps and become a tad verklempt like Linda Richman.

Tim Russert's Rainbow
Investing in foreclosures = investing in communities
Woodward Talk June 18, 2008


Foreclosures hurt the economy: Not only has a family lost their home, but cities lose tax revenue and neighborhoods lose value due to vacant homes and the ensuing blight, not to mention the safety of a community.
"We've all seen the houses with notices posted on the doors and windows, papers and phone books collecting on and around the porch, uncut and/or weed-filled lawns, and worse. Because the homes are empty, they invite thieves, vandals, rodents, etc.," said Joanna Darmanin, a Realtor with Century 21 Town and Country.
To that end, the negative chain effect of foreclosures is intensified: As more neighborhoods experience a decline in value, more homeowners are left with upside-down home values, and both the housing market and the economy continue to suffer.
"We've kind of been hit doubly hard.
We've been affected by the bad economy and also affected by the abuses of the mortgage industry. Property was over-appraised. Money was lent irresponsibly," said Gregg Wysocki, a Realtor with The Fairway Realty Team and Emporio Casa Real Estate.
"Now, underwriters and appraisers are fearful of making a bad loan. In the past, they would go back one to two years for comps - now, it's three months. In the past, foreclosures were not weighed in - now, they're being weighed. ... Foreclosures are artificially lowering the value of other homes in the neighborhood," Wysocki said.
The only way to reverse that trend is to fill those vacant homes.
"Sellers are getting hit hard in the private sector. We have to continue to sell these bank owned properties. Until they are sold, it will keep the market in a decreasing mode - the private sector won't increase in value until these are sold. It all comes down to supply and demand," said Frank Barket, a Realtor with Century 21 Campbell Realty.
The good thing for potential homebuyers, both investors and those looking to purchase their own home, is that interest rates are low and many homes can be picked up for just a fraction of the true value.
"If you put on an investor's hat, as for buying foreclosures, it's a great thing. As in investor, you can look at the mathematics and you can see the potential profit," said Furhad Waquad, a Realtor with Max Broock Realtors and the current president of the Metropolitan Consolidated Association of Realtors.
"If you're buying a home for 40 or 60 cents on the dollar and spending 10 cents on the dollar fixing it up to bring it up to par, it's a good investment then, as an investor, leasing it out at least for a year, it's gravy - nothing else can make that kind of money," Waquad said, noting that in this market, investors need to wait at least a year, if not longer, to make a good profit.
Not only are investors getting a great deal, said Barket, but they are also "improving the values of neighborhoods by fixing them up to look more desirable and changing the neighborhood aesthetics."
"For the neighbors of a foreclosed home, it's a relief to have new owners in a home that may have stood empty for many months, and slowly deteriorated with nobody taking care of it. ... For other sellers in the neighborhood, it's good to get these homes sold and off the market, to eliminate the competition," Darmanin said. "For buyers, the obvious benefit is the opportunity to get a great deal."
"First-time homebuyers can benefit if the home is in good shape. The hardest part is getting a mortgage on a home that needs a lot of work. FHA (Federal Housing Administration) is about the only resource for these types of loans," said Barket, adding that "you have to have good credit or cash" - with a minimum down payment of 8 percent - to purchase a home now.
According to Waquad, homebuyers have a tendency to offer about 60 percent below the asking price, which is already "a great price, a great deal on that home."
"What one should do when looking at foreclosed homes is have the Realtor tell what it would sell for under normal circumstances. You can't look at the price with regard to a home's value," said Waquad.
"There are two kinds of foreclosures: one, where banks want what is owed on the home; and two, the bank says a value and will hold onto that house until it gets that value."
It's important to note that depending on the circumstances surrounding the foreclosure, the home may need a lot of work; however, the cost of repairs tends to be a drop in the bucket compared to the overall value of the investment.
"There are foreclosures out there that are beautiful; however, there are others where the previous owners completely ruin the home," said Wysocki.
"One of the most common problems is that most homes are sold as is, so the risk is there, and you have to evaluate that. When looking at a home, imagine everything you think is wrong is wrong and make your bid based on that - assume the worst," said Barket.
To avoid any problems, the experts agree it's essential to get an inspection done prior to making an offer.
"When there's damage, having an inspection is ever so important.
Water damage is a big problem with foreclosures - get a release from the bank to have the water turned on and make sure there are no leaks or burst pipes," said Wysocki, adding that "it's just as important to get a release from the bank stating that you are not responsible if there are problems."
With foreclosures, it is also important to act quickly, and have patience, especially with more desirable properties.
"Once an offer is presented to the bank, it can sometimes take weeks to get a response. If you're lucky, you will get a response right away, but if the home is priced way below market, you may have to compete with multiple offers," Darmanin said.
Another potential drawback includes removing occupants from the home. Experts recommend getting an attorney in these cases, as sometimes the tenants retaliate, destroying the property.
Purchasing a short-sale home is one way to avoid some of these potential problems, said Wysocki, as those who are going through a short sale are less likely to destroy the home - they would be held responsible - and have come to terms with losing it.
However, said Waquad, buyers must be aware that short sales tend to take more time than traditional sales, and both foreclosures and short sales involve a lot of extra paperwork.
"There is a lot of fine print. You really need to go through the paperwork line by line - there may be fees and charges that are normally paid by the seller that the buyer will be expected to pay," said Darmanin, adding that the buyer's agent can help, but it's also a good idea to have "an attorney review the details of the purchase agreement and addenda."
"Buying a foreclosure isn't for the faint of heart, but if you are patient, and willing to take some risks, you can land a really great deal," said Darmanin. "Like everything in life, there are pros and cons."

Erin's Favorite Real Estate/Investment Books

Missed Fortune 101: A Starter Kit to Becoming a Millionaire by Douglas Andrew
Stop Sitting on Your Assets by Marian Snow
Rich Dad's Guide to Investing by Robert T. Kiyosaki
Real Estate Investing Loopholes by Diane Kennedy
Real Estate Tax Secrets of the Rich by Sandy Botkin
Rich Dad's Real Estate Advantages: Tax and Legal Secrets by Sharon Lechter
What Every Real Estate Investor Needs to Know about Cash Flow by Frank Gallinelli
The Insider's Guide to Tax-Free Real Estate: Retire Rich Using Your IRA by Diane Kennedy
Wealth Protection Secrets of a Millionaire Real Estate Investor by William Bronchick
Property Management for Dummies by Robert Griswold


For the past 10 years, Men's Health Magazine publishes a list of the "Fittest" and "Fatest" cities across the United States. Great news Detroit, we are no longer members of the Top Ten! According to the 2008 Report, Detroit is now listed at #13. That's a great improved, moving up 4 notches from last year's #9 ranking. The obvious goal is to get off this list completely. Below are a few helpful health links to keep your mind and body in shape:

2008 The Fittest and Fattest Cities in America

15 Foods that Help Burn Fat

5 Tummy Trimmy Tips from Dr. Oz

Free Fitness Tips and Workout Videos from the Trainers on Bravo's "The Workout"

How To Get Smarter One Breath At a Time

FitDay.Com: Free Diet & Weight Loss Journal
Lights, Camera, Action In Downtown Royal Oak

Downtown Royal Oak has turned into Hollywood.
Film crews began shooting a movie for the Lifetime network at Washington Avenue and City Hall in Royal Oak on Tuesday.
More than a thousand people showed up at 7 a.m. for their chance to be an extra in the movie "Pray for Bobby."
The movie is based on the suicide of Bobby Griffin. His mother, Mary shot a segment with producers talking about the issues her son faced as a homosexual.
She hopes the movie brings awareness.
"It is hard to put into words to see my life flash before my eyes," said Griffin.
Sigourney Weaver will play Griffin in the movie. Other actors expected to be in the movie are Henry Czerny and Dan Butler.
The downtown area looks quite different. Around 400 rainbow flags and banners were hung around the city, which are the symbol of gay pride.
Washington will remain closed from Lincoln to Fourth Street until midnight on Tuesday to film scenes.
Washington businesses will remain open.
Film crews will also be at City Hall from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the areas of Fourth, Main, Third and Center streets will be shut down for more filming.
The movie will be released next February.

Copyright 2008 by
The Pursuit Of Happiness Little Denmark, with its five-and-a-half million people, is the happiest country in the world, says a study done by an English University. Morley Safer reports why the Danes are so happy and explores why the U.S. is way down the list.
Creative genus: $50 million plan seeks to grow wide variety of businesses

By Amy Whitesall and Maureen McDonald

Graphic artist Todd Ridley moved to Detroit in 1995 because he wanted to be part of the vibrant community he'd discovered as a college student — and because his family thought it was a terrible idea.
“I was raised in kind of a backward community, and anything to do with Detroit was frowned upon,” Ridley said. “I remember my mother lying to my father so I could go to Tigers games with our neighbors. His perception was that you'd cross Eight Mile and get shot in the head.”
Ridley, 35, lives with his partner, Bryan Waldecker, 36, an accountant for Quicken Loans, and their two dogs in a diverse, upscale Indian Village community that's just three miles from a bustling downtown Detroit.
Yet he's so close to the riverfront that he can walk out to the end of his quiet, tree-lined street and see the water.
“All our friends are architects, writers or graphic designers,” Ridley said. He is vice president of NeoSynergy, a Bloomfield Hills-based software and Web services firm for car dealers and runs a graphic-design company, G2Graphics, on the side to subsidize repairs on his nearly 100-year-old house.
“We're here because this is the type of place where people like me and creative people are attracted. This is the kind of place we seek.”
This is not your father's Detroit.
It certainly isn't the Detroit maligned in late-night TV monologues. It's the Detroit imagined by the most intriguing, influential and invested residents of the region, a Detroit where ideas happen and creative businesses grow.
According to a report by Austin, Texas-based AngelouEconomics, there are more than 33,000 people working in the region's creative sector — advertisers, architects, writers, designers, film and music producers, and graphic, visual and performing artists. And their industries are growing twice as fast as the service sector and four times as fast as manufacturing.
Creative-industry jobs pay well, too, particularly in fields such as advertising, design and digital media. According to AngelouEconomics, creative industry jobs in Detroit pay an estimated 50 percent more than the U.S. average wage for the industry ($64,768 vs. $42,535).
And dynamic, creative communities attract businesses and talented, energized people. They in turn generate economic development. What's not to love?
The numbers were compelling enough to persuade Detroit Renaissance Inc., an organization of local CEOs, to focus one of six Road to Renaissance initiatives on the creative economy — on growing it, connecting it, and harnessing its vibe to create jobs and change the way the world sees Detroit.
“We know it's a tough time to be doing something like this, yet on the other hand I can think of few other opportunities that we have to not only diversify our economy but also to kind of rebrand our image,” said Detroit Renaissance President Doug Rothwell. “That, to me, is what's exciting about this.”
Detroit Renaissance's $50 million plan to grow the creative economy includes a marketing and branding campaign, a Web site (, business incentives, a business accelerator-incubator and establishment of a creative corridor that will run along Woodward Avenue from the New Center area to the river. Most of the funding will come from foundations, but no one's flinching at the idea or the price tag. Crain's Detroit Business has a contract with Renaissance to develop the Web site, which launched last week. (See story, this page.)
“If we grow a critical mass here, we can be a world center of engineering and design related to the auto industry, related to the design of products, related to the design of buildings and landscapes,” said John Austin, executive director of the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan, which helps the region's biggest givers make their philanthropic dollars count.
“It's an exciting opportunity for us to raise that reality up and focus on specific moves that can help grow that whole empire in Southeast Michigan.”
Much of Detroit Renaissance's plan builds on initiatives and projects that are already in the works — redevelopment of Harmonie Park's restaurants and galleries along with Sugar Hill, a planned artisans park and residence in Midtown. The Downtown Detroit Partnership is making street improvements to attract business and pedestrians, while sweeping plans are under way to redevelop the old General Motors Argonaut Building in the New Center area for the College for Creative Studies.
A recent $200,000 planning grant by the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched the Design Detroit initiative to attract up to 1,000 creative professionals to live in Detroit.
The creative business accelerator, then, becomes the “If you build it” to Design Detroit's “They will come.”
Rothwell describes the accelerator as the initiative's anchor, a space on the creative corridor that's expected to occupy 10,000 square feet of office space within three years and twice that by year five. It would provide not only facilities and services, but also networking and mentoring opportunities for creative entrepreneurs and growing small businesses. The plan includes a second accelerator in the redeveloped Argonaut Building.
Projections put the creative corridor's impact at 50-100 new businesses and 800-1,200 new jobs after five years. The accelerator alone is expected to have a $56 million economic impact after five years.
“Particularly as the state is successful in attracting film business here, there are lots of ancillary businesses — there are good sound stages here, lots of good lighting techs,” said Bonnie Folster, executive creative director at Brogan & Partners Convergence Marketing. “I think within the trade publications, Detroit has always been acknowledged as one of the top production communities outside of New York and L.A., but that's just telling the choir.”
Thanks to a long history of automotive advertising, the area is rich with quality talent. The accelerator, along with Detroit Make it Here, creates a connecting point for a community of workers who are otherwise isolated and spread across the whole metropolitan area.
“I don't think the (creative) community has seen itself as a resource,” Folster said.
“There's a huge advertising club that's been merging people for a long time. The Adcraft Club is one of the largest in the country, so the advertising community has always had that sense of all of us. But outside of us, we could look at architects, city planners, furniture makers. ... There's a lot more than anybody's own discipline.”
E.B. Starr knows how important a little acknowledgement can be to creative work, especially in a region where so many relate to work in factory terms. Starr is director of the Motor City International Film Festival, a six-year-old festival that celebrates the work of filmmakers of color.
She grew up in Detroit. Her father worked as a laborer in a Chrysler plant. After several years working in the television industry in Los Angeles, she came home to Detroit, happy to be a big fish in a small pond. She still does independent film work — she's currently in pre-production on a film called “I Wanna Dance.”
Her life here is more balanced and family-oriented than it was in California, but Starr says her mother is still apt to ask, “Now, what is it you do?”
“When you take that camera and you have a dream and you start planning that film, if you have all this goodness and nobody believes in what you're doing, that's hard,” she said.
But Starr also sees an undercurrent that many miss. Her father was a novice filmmaker himself, albeit one who needed that factory job to feed his family. Creativity runs deeper than many people realize.
“A lot of creativity comes out of those factory people,” she said. “They all have something else they do that keeps them going during the day.”
Detroit's authenticity is one of the things that cuts to the heart of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau's D Brand campaign, and it's one of several parallels with Detroit Renaissance's creative initiative.
“At its essence, the personality of Detroit is vibrant, urban, real,” said Jim Townsend, executive director of the Tourism Economic Development Council, an arm of the Convention & Visitors Bureau. “That personality is very attractive and interesting to creative people. ... It should be a natural draw for creatives. We've got the right raw materials to work with.”
Townsend says the D Brand already is having an impact.
In just three months last summer, almost 100,000 new travelers from Ohio and Indiana came to Detroit. An independent research company was able to trace those visits directly to D Brand materials. Those visitors pumped $70 million into the local economy. In 2006, the number of large conventions in the region grew by 50 percent, and the amount of business generated by those conventions grew 40 percent.
“The way we like to look at it, changing a perception is a long-term, complex initiative,” Townsend said. “But one of the things that really contributes is that when you have a hundred thousand new people coming into the region and have so many new conventions, those people are going to contribute to a change in the perception of the region.”
Give Jeanette Pierce a few hours and she will work to shift that perception one doubter at the time. As co-owner of Inside Detroit, the 27-year-old conducts tours of bars, restaurants, public art and noteworthy buildings.
Part of Crain's 2007 class of 20 in their 20s and a fancier of everything Detroit, especially Foran's Irish Pub, Pierce said that “people have a chance to make an impact here quicker than any other city because it has all this passion, this great street community.”
When the rest of the world figures it out, Todd Ridley will be here waiting for them.
When Ridley's old company was purchased in 2004 by Autobytel Inc., his new employer wanted him to move to its Irvine, Calif., office. Autobytel made a great offer, but Ridley and Waldecker decided to stay in Detroit.
“We thought pretty long and hard about it, but we just didn't want to leave,” he said.
“There's this continual feeling that something great is going to happen, and I want to stick around for it.”

© 2007 Crain Communications Inc.


The 2008 Wedding Season is officially here and for those who are "sans relationship," choosing between chicken or beef fairs to be a much easier decision to make compared to whether or not you should bring a date. When you are in a relationship, it is a given that you bring your significant other. When you are single, the choice to bring a date is not so easy. All kinds of questions start to arise when doing the mental pro and con list, unleashing a bit of anxiousness. It may even lead you down the path of declining the event all together. For myself, I have started to wonder if "Erin + Guest" will eventually replace my real name of "Erin Rose," since it obviously has become part of my identity as of late.

The Single Solvent Has Finally Arrived

In the summer of 2007, my good friend Roni Leibovich and I were discussing websites, computers, you know really exciting stuff over a few beverages on my back deck. He mentioned to me that he was working on a website and all he would reveal was that it was some kind of social network, like Facebook and Myspace. I was intrigued to say the least and tried to pull more details out of him (by offering him more beverages of course ;), but my attempts failed and he was tight lipped about his "project."

Fast forward to early March of this year, and an email shows up in my inbox from Roni with a link to In seconds, that top secret project officially unveiled itself before my very eyes! I went to the site and I was truly amazed by what he had created. "Genius," "Brilliant," and "About Damn Time" just scratch the surface when describing After navigating the site for a bit, it was blatantly obvious as to why he kept this on the DL before its official web debut.

Below is a description of site:


The Reception: is a revolutionary new site catering to single guests at weddings. It is a social networking service that allows its members to set up personal profiles that can be linked together through connection requests. members can view each others' profiles, communicate with one another, and register new weddings. Users of the Website can search for the wedding to which one has been invited, and meet other singles prior to the event.

The Toast: With the spotlight being on the bride and groom, every guest at a wedding should enjoy the joyous occasion equally and have a great time! Often, the best relationships stem from mutual friends. Instead of limiting yourself to a couple of hours with someone you may have met the evening of the event, socialize as long as you want prior to arriving at the wedding. You may not know one another personally, but you’re certainly not strangers!

The Celebration: Next time you receive an invitation with the formerly dreaded “+ guest” and do not have a date, need not worry! Are there cute and interesting singles already attending? Maybe you want to attend solo. Perhaps another Wedding Single intrigues you. In any case, you’re better informed, and the decision is up to you.

Finally, relief for us single folk! The site is very user friendly, super duper easy to set up a profile and navigate, oh and the best part:

The Membership to is FREE!

Roni and his site have received quite a bit of media buzz since its unveiling early this spring.

Below is the link to his official site along with the press the site has received:

Official Site


Social Networks




Singled Out? Not Anymore!

Detroit Public Radio 101.9 FM
According to CNN Money, Metro Detroit is one of the best places to purchase a home. NOW!

The best place to buy a home these days
Average in Farmington Hills: $215,000
At an average price-to-rent ratio of 15, a buyer theoretically gets nearly 7% of his purchase back every year. The average P/R ratio for the 30 biggest markets: 23.