If there’s one word to summarize what’s going on in Ferndale right now, it’s development. From new bars and eateries to new apartments, lofts, condos, and even a food truck court, it’s all happening, and fast, at 9 Mile and Woodward.
A major development underway is the $14.9 million Ferndale Haus mixed-use project, which will include 90 apartments. But smaller projects and new businesses are contributing to the exciting vibe.
Earlier this year, Ferndale updated its 2008 master plan to a new 2017 version, citing more than 100 action items across six areas of growth opportunities: land use, housing and neighborhoods, economic vitality, recreation and open spaces, transportation and mobility, and city services, facilities, and infrastructure. The city sought feedback from residents by way of town halls and online information gathering.
“The council members are all community members,” says Kara Sokol, the city’s director of community engagement. “They’re not dictating, but reflecting what they hear in their own neighborhoods.”
And now, it’s time to put that plan into action.
A strong recovery
Like so many other communities in southeastern Michigan, Ferndale wasn’t immune to the effects of the recession during the 2000s. With an all-time high of 31,000 residents in 1960, Ferndale’s population dropped dramatically during the recession; as of 2014, the city’s population was 20,102 residents, according to the master plan.
However, the city has seen a 1 percent residential growth since that time, and forecasts predict that by 2040 the city will see an overall increase in population of more than 5 percent. And designations from NBC News and the Human Rights Campaign citing Ferndale as an inclusive, friendly city to all are just a few of the reminders of why the city continues to attract new residents.
“People here value the diversity in residents, the council, and the businesses,” says Community & Economic Development Director Jordan Twardy.
But with growth comes challenges. And maintaining Ferndale’s unique personality is one of them.
“It’s hard to really define our unique character, but we don’t want the city’s growth to alter it,” says Mayor Dave Coulter. “We don’t want to be a different Ferndale, just a better version of our current self. We want our new projects to complement the city.”
Housing new, old, and creative
Adding new housing that speaks to a variety of life stages is one of the aspects of Ferndale’s land use development evolution. Beyond Ferndalehaus, the former St. James School on Woodward Avenue is set to become a major housing development for seniors in the near future. On top of that, the city recently approved its very first shipping container home lot at 8 Mile and Pinecrest.
“Folks are doing some very creative things when it comes to housing,” says Twardy.
With all the new housing growth Ferndale is embracing, there are those who are dedicated to preserve the historic character and charm that makes Ferndale so desirable. The Ferndale Historical Museum, operated by the Ferndale Historical Society, offers historical home plaques, designed in the shape of the Ferndale shield, for purchase. According to Ferndale Historical Society Recording Secretary Jan Froggatt, more than 200 homes in Ferndale proudly display the plaques.
“Ferndale has a charm that newer developments don’t have,” she says.
The museum also offers an archive of housing history for the city, a unique characteristic that many other local communities don’t offer. Curious homeowners may stop by the museum, often described as a gem many people didn’t know was there, to research the histories of their homes or aspects of Ferndale life from generations gone by.
‘Embracing weirdness’ in business
When it comes to business development, the Hilton corridor in Ferndale is one of the destinations for new opportunities, like Axle Brewing’s Livernois Tap & Brewery taproom, coming this spring.
Ferndale business owner and resident Sandy Levine, of The Oakland Art Novelty Company, chose to open his craft cocktail establishment in the city’s downtown because of its openness to all, including business owners.
“Ferndale has always been progressive and six years ago, believe it or not, our concept was very, very foreign to almost all of metro Detroit. A bar with no TVs, no well spirits, lots of unknown ingredients, and no vodka specialty drinks was unheard of,” he says. “We were very concerned about opening in an area where people would be open to a new kind of bar and not just write us off as weird. Ferndale has always kind of embraced weirdness in the best way.”
Adding businesses to Ferndale’s robust nightlife offering, such as newer destinations Otus Supply and Voyager, means bringing more visitors and their vehicles to the city. And with more people means more needs for parking, an ongoing challenge the city is addressing.
Ferndale is currently investigating a mixed-use parking lot possibility at West Troy and Allen streets, a measure that is in the research stages now and will be revisited later this spring. A possible aid to Ferndale’s parking constraints could be the proposed “Fab Cab” trolley service, offering rides in northwest Detroit, Ferndale, and Royal Oak.
Don’t forget parks and industry
While many think of downtown when they think of Ferndale, the city’s land use is diverse, and industrial development continues to be an important factor for growth. According to Mayor Coulter, the city’s industrial vacancy rate has dropped from 25 percent to just 5 percent.
“The downtown gets a lot of attention, and rightly so, but as mayor I pay just as much attention to other aspects in the city, like the industrial sector,” Mayor Coulter says. “There’s just as much interest in the industrial avenues as there are in other business areas.”
Another large component of Ferndale’s master plan is addressing the city’s parks and open spaces. With 14 parks located across the city, 73% of Ferndale residents can access a public park within a 5-minute walking distance.
“Some people see Ferndale for its fun components, but others appreciate it for its neighborhoods,” says Sokol. “With so many parks and active neighborhoods, there’s a real sense of ownership.”
For Mayor Coulter, one of the projects he’s most excited about is the updating of Ferndale’s park infrastructure, a project so big it’s addressed by its own newly-created plan.
“We’re totally revamping and updating our local parks. During the recession we saw that the parks were underutilized and some run down. Local parks are so important to the quality of our neighborhoods,” Mayor Coulter says. “They’re an important place where people gather and meet one another. We made it a priority to spruce them up and add amenities.”
The city’s Parks and Recreation plan assesses all 14 of Ferndale’s parks, sets goals for creating further park stewardship in the future, and how facilities will be updated and ultimately maintained. It’s the city’s commitment to further establishing a strong sense of community that generates resident pride.
“Ferndale is the most literal and best example of a true community,” says Levine. “I live five blocks from The Oakland, and love not only that I can walk to work, but that many of our guests can walk there from their homes as well. When I get coffee at The Red Hook every morning, I always see friends and neighbors, and typically when my kids are home after school they’re outside playing with our neighbors’ kids. We have multiple block parties in the summer and everyone seems to know each other and have one another’s back.”
But matter how many big projects are on the horizon for the city, a sense of pride in community and business is what makes Ferndale stand out, according to Twardy.
“Our residents identify themselves as Ferndale and that’s what Ferndale is all about,” he says. Coulter concurs,
“I moved to Ferndale before the downtown was redeveloped, but there was something that attracted me to the city, just something special,” says Coulter. “Ferndale values inclusion. Ferndale is progressive. We’re welcoming to all people. We value that and it’s part of our essence of who we are.”
Lish Dorset is a freelance writer and crafter based in metro Detroit. Follow her online at @LishDorset.