M1 Rail adds to executive staff; construction set for summer start

Posted on April 8, 2013

The $137 million M1 Rail streetcar effort is filling out its executive staff as the project prepares to begin construction on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue this summer.

Heather Carmona has been hired as M1’s chief administrative officer, and Sommer Woods is the new director of governmental and community affairs, Matt Cullen, CEO of the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, said in a statement.

“Both are talented, results-driven and possess proven track records when it comes to coalition building and community outreach, amongst other things,” Cullen said in a statement.

Carmona, 43, has been executive director of the Woodward Avenue Action Association, a nonprofit aimed at bolstering economic development along historic Woodward Avenue, for the past 15 years.

Her tenure included the successful efforts to have Woodward designated a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road.

She will join M1 on April 22 and will be responsible for “donor relations, investor relations and overall communications and community strategies,” the organization said.

“I am looking forward to joining a group of community leaders and visionaries who are helping to advance a transportation project that will be the centerpiece for economic development and future connectivity for the entire region,” Carmona said in a statement.

Woods, 35, begins immediately. She most recently worked for Detroit Mayor Dave Bing as director of film, culture and special events.

According to M1 Rail, she also worked as a marketing consultant managing relationships with government agencies and the community organizations on behalf of the Downtown Detroit Partnership, the Belle Isle Grand Prix, The Parade Co., the Super Bowl XL Host Committee and the PGA Tour.

With M1, she’ll be responsible for day-to-day governmental and community outreach efforts.

“With an infrastructure project that will have such a significant impact on the future of transportation in Detroit and our region, it will be important to have an open line of communication with residents, businesses and government agencies,” she said in a statement.

Already on staff with M1 is Paul Childs as COO.

Orchestrating the hiring announcement was Detroit-based Lovio George Communications and Design Inc., which has been hired as M1 Rail’s outside public relations agency.

Mandatory environmental studies are under way for the Woodward streetcar project, and construction is scheduled to begin this summer, organizers have said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation in January committed $25 million to M1 Rail, the final financial commitment needed for the effort to begin work.

The 3.3-mile M1 loop between Hart Plaza and New Center — with a predicted 3 million yearly users — will cost an estimated $5.1 million annually to operate, rising to $6.5 million by 2022, according to project organizers.

M1, which launched in 2007, has said it will endow a $10 million fund to operate and maintain the system for up to 10 years, until 2025, at which point the group plans to donate the project assets and operating responsibility to the regional transit authority.

M1’s plan is a mostly curbside-running, fixed-rail streetcar circulator system, co-mingled with traffic, with 11 stops between Grand Boulevard and Congress Street. It will run in the median at its north and south ends.

M1 Rail is led by Penske Corp. founder Roger Penske and Quicken Loans Inc. founder Dan Gilbert, the project’s co-chairman; Peter Karmanos Jr., founder of Detroit-based Compuware Corp.; and the Ilitch family, owners of the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings and Little Caesar Enterprises Inc.

Cullen is one of Gilbert’s chief lieutenants for his myriad business interests.

Major construction commitments of $3 million have been secured from Wayne State University, Quicken Loans, the Ilitch companies, Penske Corp., Compuware, Chevrolet, Chrysler Group, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System, Wayne County government, the Ford Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Hudson Webber Foundationhas pledged $1 million.

The $3 million commitments are for the display advertising rights to a station along the route. The Troy-basedKresge Foundation has pledged $35.1 million, part of which already has been spent, and it gave an additional $3 million as a “backstop” grant.

The Detroit Downtown Development Authority has earmarked $9 million for M1. Another $16 million is from federal New Market Tax Credits, which have to be sought annually. Plans also include a $22 million commercial loan.

Bill Shea, Crain’s Detroit Business.