Restaurants and retail drove economic investment along Woodward Avenue in 2012, with at least 50 new businesses opening along the 25-mile stretch from Detroit to Pontiac.
Woodward, which is one of Metro Detroit’s main arteries, saw about $180 million in investment, according to Crain’s estimates, with occupancy rates reaching their highest levels in more than a decade in several communities.
By those estimates, at least 1,500 jobs were created along the corridor.
The growth reached all the way down to Detroit’s Midtown district. A year ago, the area surrounding Wayne State University was reported having a 93 percent occupancy rate, and now is near 98 percent, according to Midtown Detroit Inc. There have been 18 new businesses that have opened since the beginning of the year, with 10 more planned or already in the works for early next year.
North on Woodward, new retail and restaurants opened in Ferndale, Royal Oak, and Birmingham.
In Birmingham alone, at least 30 new restaurants and retail outlets opened their doors since the beginning of 2012.
“It’s the second year we’ve had more businesses open than close,” said John Heiney, executive director of the Birmingham Principal Shopping District. “Our  retail occupancy rate of 96.63 percent is the highest that it has been since we started tracking in 2000.”
In Royal Oak, there were 191 commercial permits in 2012, said Tim Thwing, planning director and executive director of Royal Oak’s Downtown Development Authority, but there also was an increase in residential projects:
87 permits for new homes, and multiple permits for renovations.
In Ferndale, widely known venue and coffee shop AJ’s Café closed this year, but a new local music mainstay for the city, The Found Sound, opened its doors in July.
There has been an estimated $80 million in new investments in downtown Ferndale, including a half-dozen new restaurants and a Gateway Marketplace Development, a mixed-use development planned along 8 Mile and Woodward Avenue.
Berkley garnered some attention this year as well with the opening of two notable restaurants in Crispelli’s Bakery & Pizzeria and Vinsetta Garage.
In Pontiac, the downtown district saw activity in the last quarter of 2012.
“The catalyst we saw Pontiac could be is coming to fruition,” said Kyle Westberg, president and CEO of West Construction in November.
Westberg, a Pontiac-developer celebrated the opening Dec. 1 of a 40,000-square-foot complex in downtown Pontiac, located on Telegraph Road, that featured apartments, a state of the art fitness center and new market.
Here are some examples of more notable projects that have sprouted up along M-1 over the past year:
- Magna International Inc. announced plans this year to expand its Magna Seating of North America plant in Highland Park. The $2.2 million investment is expected to create 244 jobs.
- One Eyed Betty’s at 175 W. Troy Ave. and Local Kitchen and Bar at 344 W. 9 Mile Road have been hits among Ferndale’s newest on the already-booming restaurant scene in the southern Oakland County community. There also was the opening of Imperial, whose owners recently were approved to open another restaurant in the city this month, the Ferndale Public Houseat 241 W. 9 Mile Road.
- The long-awaited Gateway Marketplace, a 350,000-square-foot development at Woodward Avenue and 8 Mile Road, broke ground this year. The cost for the construction will be $71 million and is scheduled to be completed this coming spring. The space is 85 percent occupied and will include retailers such as Grand Rapids-based Meijer and Framingham, Mass.-based Marshalls.
- MacLean-Fogg Component Solutions announced an expansion at its wheel fastener division in Royal Oak. The 20,000-square-foot expansion will create 20 new jobs by the time the renovation is complete, according to a release from the company.
- Beaumont Health Systems began seeking approval to build a new neuroscience center on its Royal Oak campus. The plan for the 80,000-square-foot, three-story center, if approved, would be to have it up and operating by November 2013. The $18 million building would intend to provide more convenience for patients and consolidate services scattered across the hospital.
- The Royal Oak Planning Commission tentatively approved a $40 million to $45 million mixed-use development at 400 N. Main St., which would include a new 114-room hotel. The construction would also include an eight-story apartment building with 82 apartments and a five-story office building, which would be attached to the hotel.
- Art Van Furniture Inc. announced an expansion plan for its flagship store located in downtown Royal Oak. The $1 million investment to construct a 13,000-square-foot design center will take place in its parking structure beneath its location at 32515 Woodward Ave.
- The 91-year-old hot rod hangout Vinsetta Garage was renovated and reopened as a restaurant. The garage closed in 2010, but the crowds have been out the door since the reopening in the summer.
- Crispelli’s Bakery & Pizzeria made a name for itself this year, earning a spot on the DetroitFree Press’ top 10 new restaurants of 2012 list.
- Birmingham had seen the biggest cluster of new businesses along the Woodward corridor during 2012. In addition to the soon-to-be opened Walgreen’s on Woodward south of Maple, a few dozen businesses have set up shop in the city, such as Lululemon Athletica Co. Social Kitchen and Bar at 225 E. Maple Road was named on the Detroit Free Press’s list of top 10 new restaurants in 2012. A new Sherwin Williams also opened in 2012. Three new fitness centers (yoga, personal training centers) have opened up, as well as a couple of apparel stores.
- Birmingham made way for its former Borders Books store to be occupied by a new Walgreen’sat 34300 Woodward Ave. The 34,000-square-foot, two-story building was vacated after the Borders chain filed for bankruptcy in 2011, then liquidated.
- Although one month’s rent for an apartment at the Greenleaf Trust Building could buy a new Chevy Sonic, the story behind the building is notable, even if most couldn’t afford to live in the squalor. The $11,000-$15,000 per month apartments are each styled in a different era of Detroit architecture.
- The new 4,062-square-foot building housing a Level One Bank branch went up at Woodward Avenue and Big Beaver Road. It is the bank’s seventh location in the area, according to a release.
- West Construction Services, a Pontiac-based developer, opened the 80,000-square-foot redevelopment Lafayette Place inside the former home of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. The new facility includes 46 high-end apartments, a new market and new fitness center.
- West Construction Services also announced plans to renovate the famous Strand Theatre in downtown Pontiac. The $7 million investment will be used to fix the theater up, with plans to have it open by 2014.
- St. Joseph Mercy Oakland broke ground on a $129 million patient tower a year ago. The 301,000-square-foot, eight-story building will have 136 private rooms and 72 additional beds.
Ryan Felton, Crain’s Detroit Business.