Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Capitol Park project nearing completion in downtown Detroit

Capitol Park in Detroit
With all the hubbub surrounding recent filming of 'Transformers 3' near Capitol Park, it was easy, during our recent visit, to overlook the progress of the renovation project of the park itself.

Polishing of the triangular little chunk of land bounded by Griswold, Shelby and State streets is moving along nicely, with new concrete walkways and landscape boxes already in place. Sod and foliage is coming soon, and the project should be completed sometime this fall.

What this means for Detroit remains to be seen. Ideally, the refurbished space will anchor a retail/residential hub, similar to the impact Campus Martius Park has had on that area of Woodward. Of course, building the Compuware Building had a lot to do with that rebirth, whereas in the Capitol Park area, the buildings are already in place, towering, historic skyscrapers that give room for office space, lofts, apartments, and anything else. As always, the challenge will be finding tenants for those spaces. A resurrected park area in the middle of all can only help.

Friday, September 24, 2010

'Transformers 3' takes over downtown Detroit as filming nears an end

'Transformers 3' has transformed Griswold Street into a 'war zone'.
Reportedly scheduled to wrap up shooting in Detroit by Oct. 1, the 'Transformers 3' production hit high gear the past few days, dominating a three-block stretch of Griswold and setting up at various other locations downtown.

The Griswold stretch, from State Street, past Capitol Park and up to Clifford Street, looked like a war zone, with charred cars flipped everywhere, building burned out, and broken concrete scattered. It was really cool to walk through.

A block away on Washington Avenue, prop trailers were parked end to end with special cars and other pieces of the production's enormous equipment. A block further, crews were setting up banks of lights on Thursday afternoon in front of the AT&T building on Cass Avenue, preparing to film that evening. And at the Adams Street and Cass, huge white tents covered an empty parking lot to serve as the company's base camp.

But it was the Griswold Street location that drew swarms of people today. Crowds gathered at Griswold and Michigan Avenue to watch take after take. Some talked about the explosions they witnessed a night earlier when they visited the same location to see night scenes being filmed.

'Transformers 3' is scheduled to wrap shooting on Griswold this weekend. No word on where or if they'll set up elsewhere in town before finishing up.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

'Transformers 3' filming on Griswold and Clifford streets in Detroit

For 'Transformers 3'...
The 'Transformers 3' plans to film at a row of a previously boarded-up buildings in Detroit's Capitol Park swelled north on Griswold Street this week.

Fake building facades, props and other additions to the road now stretch to Clifford Street, where an old burned out building has been renovated to look like a liquor store. This same building - on Clifford across from where Griswold meets it - was also used during filming of 'Red Dawn' last year.

Other changes along Griswold include what looks like a fake cement half-wall that lines a portion of the east side of the street, and extensive facade work to the Farwell Building and others near to Capitol Park.

...and for 'Red Dawn'
According to security on site, filming is scheduled to take place on Thursday, but police notices posted on the parking meters  indicate that the area is off-limits to parking through Saturday.

In other 'Transformers 3' news, reports of the production company's plans to blow up a small four-story building across from Grand Circus Park on Washington Boulevard were either premature or those plans have fallen through. The lot on which the building sits still holds a number of items being used in filming 'Transformers 3', but no word on whether filming will actually happen there, or if the space is simply being used to store equipment.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Visiting an old row house in Detroit's historic Corktown

You hear Corktown and maybe you think about the old Tiger Stadium. Or Sloe's Barbecue. Or Nemo's.

Looking down Michigan Avenue
But off the beaten path of the choppy, red-brick Michigan Avenue, the real Corktown is a living, breathing community, alive with schoolyards, cafes, and tightly lined bungalows. And, if you look hard enough, you'll find remnants of the original row houses that were once occupied by the workers and families who made up Detroit's oldest neighborhood.

A recent walk took along Sixth Street, which runs parallel to the Lodge Freeway as it enters downtown, where we came across a three-room row house that the Greater Corktown Development Corporation is in the process of preserving.

It's empty now, but like a display at The Henry Ford, it tells the story of long ago Detroiters, Irish settlers who came to America when the potato famine ravaged Ireland in the early 1800s. Many of them - from County Cork in Ireland - settled on the west side of Detroit, between First and Sixteenth streets, and Grand River Avenue and the river. That's how large Corktown was until the building of I-75 and the Lodge Freeway cut through it. To put that into perspective, the original Corktown spread to where current buildings such as the MGM Grand Casino, the MotorCity Casino and the Fort Shelby DoubleTree Hotel now stand.
An original Corktown row house

It's only a sliver of that by now. But if you ever step off Michigan Avenue, you might find that Corktown is still a hell of a lot more than you ever knew.

Friday, September 17, 2010

'Transformers 3' to film at the Farwell Building in Detroit's Capitol Park

State Farm Insurance and Remax Realtor signs were added to the front of the abandoned Farwell Building for the filming of 'Transformers 3'.
As the renovation of Capitol Park in downtown Detroit continues (with a completion date later this fall), one of the park's neighboring buildings is also getting a bit of a facelift.

Crews in town to shoot the sci-fi thriller 'Transformers 3' have peeled back the boards that covered the street-level spaces in the Farwell Building, and are preparing the facade for shooting that will take place all next week, according to workers on the site. Tattered green awnings are being added, and by Friday afternoon signage for businesses such as Remax and State Farm Insurance were installed.

The movie project sheds new light on one of Detroit's long-vacant buildings. The Falwell, an eight-story brick unit built in 1915, has been empty since 1984, and when the boards were removed a row of businesses was revealed, including a burned out old bar and other office space.

With Capitol Park nearing completion of a major renovation outside, city planners hope the triangular block, once a pivotal business district in Detroit, will be rejuvenated, much like the area surrounding nearby Campus Martius Park was when that park was renovated. Perhaps the 'Transformers 3' project will help spur re-development, including that of the Farwell Building.

Detroit Princess Riverboat takes advantage of Motown's waterfront home

Possibly one of the best-kept secrets in Detroit is, at the same time, a huge 222-foot long, 88-foot tall riverboat that docks alongside Hart Plaza. 

The Detroit Princess Riverboat, often mistaken for one of the old Bob-Lo Boats, is a rare example of Detroit taking advantage of its waterfront home. It offers afternoon, evening and midnight cruises, fine dining and live entertainment. And it's reasonably priced. A two-and-a-half-hour cruise on a Friday evening will run you about $50, and that includes a buffet-style dinner of prime rib, chicken piccata and the like.

The Detroit Princess Riverboat
Each of the boat's four decks features a bar, and unlike the old Bob-Lo boats, the Detroit Princess boasts enclosed spaces with heat and air conditioning. In all, the Princess can host up to 1,800 people.

The Princess, which is also available for private-party rental, has been bobbing in the Detroit River since 2005, when it completed its journey from Orange, Texas, around the tip of Florida, up the East Coast past Maine and Nova Scotia, and through the St. Lawrence Seaway.

If you don't get a chance to get down to the RiverWalk to see the Princess up close, you can take a virtual tour on the website.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Artist Sunn puts impressive works on display on the Detroit riverfront

Artist Sunn displays his work at the Detroit riverfront near Hart Plaza.

He's down by the river, the Detroit Princess bobbing in the water before him. He's holding a copy of the day's Detroit Free Press in his left hand. With his right, Sunn works a paint brush, recreating a photo of Matthew Stafford that appears in the paper.

With a really cool style that I won't even attempt to define (since I know nothing of art) Sunn spends his summers in Detroit in the shade of Hart Plaza, perched on a cement wall next to a row of paintings that range from Bob Marley to smaller Detroit skylines. Sunn is no street performer gimmick; his work is remarkably impressive.

Sunn works on  picture of Matthew Stafford
For the Marley piece, he hopes to get $120; the smaller, 8x10 paintings go for about $20 each. "But I always negotiate," he chuckles. Less than a week after I first saw Sunn, I visited again to look a little more closely at some of his work. The painting of Stafford was just taking shape during my first visit, and I wanted to see how it turned out.

"Sold that one about 15 minutes after I finished it," he said, smiling wide. "And wouldn't you know, he got hurt yesterday."

You can find Sunn on the Detroit RiverWalk for the next few weeks. Once the weather breaks he'll move up to Greektown to continue his work.

Monday, September 13, 2010

'Transformers 3' brings special effects to monstrous set in downtown Detroit

'Transformers 3' created this set in a lot between Howard and Lafayette at Sixth Street.
Already done at the Michigan Central Depot, and still preparing to blow up a building near Grand Circus Park, makers of the film 'Transformers 3' will spend the next couple of days shooting scenes in a lot on the west side of downtown Detroit.

A peak through the mesh fence
Behind black mesh fencing that wraps the entire lot (between Lafayette and Howard at Sixth Street), crews have erected an enormous set that includes giant blue screens, which we're told are commonly used when a movie will feature a lot of computer generated effects. The lot, just west of the Lodge Freeway entering downtown, is also scattered with gigantic chunks of concrete and huge cement pillars, presumably the same type of foam materials that we spotted last week in a lot on Washington Boulevard where filmmakers are reportedly planning on blowing up a four-story building.

This sign worns pedestrians
One of the crew members said the 'Transformers 3' folks will be at the Lafayette-Howard Street location for a day or two, and should be wrapping up in Detroit sometime next week.

Friday, September 10, 2010

'Transformers 3' takes aim at blowing up a building near Grand Circus Park

These concrete chunks are actually made of foam and will be used during filming of 'Transformers 3'.
The latest word says this building will not be blown up.
(UPDATED SEPT. 14) – On the lot that once housed the famous Statler Hotel, only a lone four-story building remains. It stands empty, inside a curve in the People Mover track and neighboring a grass and gravel lot that in recent months has been often used by movie companies to store cars ('Street Kings'), tanks ('Red Dawn') and other large props.

These days, in this triangular parcel between Washington and Bagley just across the street from Grand Circus Park, crews from 'Transformers 3' have been working.

Enormous chunks of fake concrete (made of foam) are piled in one area, and banged up cars line the side of the little four-story building.

It's been rumored, though, that the little four-story building might soon take a lead role in the filming of 'Transformers 3' when it is blown up during filming of one of the movie's scenes. Not true, according to a source in the know. While that might change any day, the deal to blow the building up has not been finalized.

Jenemy #4: Color Me Bad Guy

It's been awhile since we've posted a new Jenemy, but this guy strolling down Lafayette Boulevard the other day was too good to pass up.

If earning a spot on our squad was his goal, then combining the Michigan State name with the Ohio State colors was pure genius. So much so that he's the team captain we've been looking for. (Get reacquainted with the rest of the squad by clicking here.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Is Trick Trick on the right road to being Detroit's next big rap star?

Considering Detroit City Council members keep scurrying to the nearest microphone to publicly vow that 'Detroit 1-8-7' producers will be booted back to L.A. if they dare portray Detroit negatively, posters hanging on Woodward Avenue downtown should probably at least raise an eyebrow or two.

Rapper Trick Trick, apparently figuring that one less than Eminem isn't too shabby, is advertising his new CD 'Straight Off 7 Mile'. Hey, if '8 Mile' worked...

Eminem even makes a guest appearance on the CD, as do other rappers with names like Dcyple, Fatt Father, Ketchphraze, and DJ Thrilla. Because we always root for the hometown, I'll be sure to hop on iTunes and give Trick Trick a listen. In the meantime, it's probably fair to question the promotional posters, which feature a guy, presumably that's Trick Trick, carrying a gun and standing behind police tape. And I haven't even touched on the track list, which I won't because this is a family-oriented publication. In any event, maybe City Council shouldn't worry so much about TV portrayals and instead focus a little more on the reality.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fans converge on Comerica Park for Eminem, Jay-Z bash

Fans wait for the first Eminem & Jay-Z show.
Tickets were sold out. Gates weren't to open until 6:00 Thursday. But that didn't stop throngs of people from lining up outside Comerica Park in downtown Detroit early Thursday morning for the first of two Eminen & Jay-Z hip-hop blowouts.

With only a handful of hours remaining before the concert was to start, crews were still finalizing the Comerica facelift. A sound check sent loud thumps through the streets of Detroit. Getting a glimpse inside the stadium was nearly impossible, but the centerfield fountain that normally sprays whenever the Tigers hit a homerun was covered in canvas and fashioned into what looked like a huge soundboard area.

The area surrounding Comerica was engulfed in the concert wave, as trucks presumably used to haul in stage materials and sound and lighting equipment filled Comerica's neighboring lots. Across the street, Cheli's Chili Bar was prepped for what likely will be the biggest two days of the year, its parking lot covered with tents that will likely host more people than they have since last year's Kid Rock bash.

And radio stations like 95.5 (pronounced "Nah-fah-fah", if you're really cool) were parked curbside, as eagerly awaiting the show's start as were the kids sitting in tents on Comerica's brick sidewalks. It was all enough to make you wonder what Day 2 might bring. And better yet,  what's this going to be like when it hits New York?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Work continues on new shipping terminal in downtown Detroit

Back in the day, ships sidled up to the banks of Detroit and dropped off all kinds of stuff. Steel. Coal. And believe it or not, people.

Those days pretty much died away in the late 1960s, but in recent years, the Great Lakes cruising market has reemerged. And it's not just cities like Chicago and Toronto that have implemented projects to accommodate cruise ships; even the likes of Toledo, Milwaukee, Duluth, Windsor and Green Bay have made investments.

Nice to see Detroit joining the party. The Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority is plugging away on a new terminal just west of the RenCen, and the project looks to be progressing nicely. A visit earlier today showed that pilings have been put in place for a new dock, which will eventually be able to host not just cruise ships but also naval frigates, historical tall ships, racing yachts and dinner cruisers.

To those who guffaw at the thought of Detroit being a included in a Great Lakes cruise, we offer this: if Duluth can be a tour stop, then damn it so can Detroit!