Ferndale’s building boom pushes development to long-neglected corners of city

It’s easy enough to forget nowadays, as it continues to attract new restaurants, bars, retail and housing, but it wasn’t so long ago that Ferndale was a pretty dreary little suburb.

As recently as the 1990s, the downtown business district, confined to a couple blocks of Nine Mile Road on the west side of Woodward Avenue, was a four-lane speedway with minimal pedestrian life. Most storefronts shunned the sidewalks, with their entrances in the rear, facing the big parking lots. And the outlying retail districts on streets like Hilton and Livernois were filled mostly with empty storefronts.

Even in the mid-aughts, when yours truly went hunting for homes, most of what I found in my price range could best be described as dowdy.

Now, there are ample signs that the city’s development boom is spreading well past the traditional West Nine Mile downtown core, east down Nine Mile toward the border with Hazel Park, up and down the city’s industrial spine paralleling the railroad tracks, and along a tranquil Livernois Avenue that today boasts painted bike lanes.

A rendering of the Detroit Fleat food truck park at 1820 E. Nine Mile Road.

The Daily Tribune called it a “building boom” in a recent story that focused mostly on the big FerndaleHaus and 409 on the 9 loft developments, and the city’s plans to start construction soon on a $12 million, four-story parking deck on the cite of its Troy Street municipal parking lot.

“We know we want a dense downtown and walkability that still harmonizes with the existing downtown,” Jordan Twardy, head of the city’s Community and Economic Development Department, told the paper. “Development in the downtown is spreading east on Nine Mile and taking off.”

Here’s a rundown of at least some of what’s coming down the pike.

Livernois

Axle Brewing Co. is supposed to be opening its Livernois Tap & Brewery biergarden this spring at 567 Livernois, with a kitchen powered by the team from upscale upstart Grey Ghost.

Further south, developers plan 8 North, a 15-unit apartment building with first-floor retail. And near Nine Mile, at 1741 Livernois, M&L Holdings plans a two-story condominium on the site of the American Legion Hall, per the Trib.

East Nine Mile

In addition to the 409 on 9 project, which will add 127 units, the site of a former Methodist church at 165 E. Nine Mile will give rise to a 4-story loft building.

Further east, entrepreneur Aaron Tye is working to convert the former Wing Hing Inn into a restaurant and food truck park he’s calling Detroit Fleat, having won approval from the city council earlier this year. The concept, patterned after The Little Fleet food truck park in Traverse City, is hoped to open this summer.

Elsewhere

Urbanrest Brewing Co. appears to be edging closer to an opening date for its Belgian-style ales brewed using locally grown hops and malts, in a converted industrial building at 2615 Wolcott St.

Next door, the Farm Field Table whole-animal butchery appears to be open (?).

There are still plenty of vacant storefronts along Hilton and Livernois, and it would be nice to see more non-automotive commercial development in the southern end of Ferndale near Eight Mile and Woodward. But the fact that economic development is transforming long-dormant commercial stretches well outside the downtown core is encouraging indeed.

I know a much larger city nearby that could use a little of the same magic.

Creative Commons photo by Sara Hattie

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