Tracy Koe Wick
Our guest blogger for this week is Tracy Koe Wick. Tracy is Principal of The Kirkwood Group
, a real estate consulting firm that markets and promotes new mid-rise and high-rise condominium and loft communities. Want to join the conversation? Please send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Why will Live/Work residences continue to gain popularity in
Detroit’s suburbs? As an entrepreneur, I think I am well-equipped to
answer that. Entrepreneurs thrive on creativity and collaboration. A
home office, studio, or workshop sets you apart from others. A
live/work space puts you in close proximity with other like-minded
individuals in a close-knit community where entrepreneurs are neighbors
and stakeholders controlling the success of their retail environment.
sister-in-law is a textile artist outside of Chicago in Oak Park,
Illinois. Until recently, she ran her design studio from a street level
live/work apartment on Harrison Street. Her shop was flanked by an
upscale shoe store and a jewelry boutique. Up the block was the Buzz
Café, several cooperative art galleries, a dance studio, and a luxury
bath shop. Together, these businesses created the Oak Park Art District.
All of the store owners met regularly to organize art promotions that
would draw shoppers to their retail zone. They were all in it
together. Even though my sister-in-law relocated her studio, she still
calls her next-door-neighbor from Harrison her BFF.
Suburban Detroit could greatly benefit from this kind of cooperative
community and business building. Sometimes we forget about all of the
resources that are available to us. Choosing to work and live near
like-minded neighbors could be the first step toward jump-starting our
economy, while at the same time transforming our quasi-commercial,
partially neglected suburban areas into vibrant art and shopping
The availability of Live/Work space in Detroit’s suburbs encourages
the proliferation of new business ventures and it strengthens the
surrounding neighborhoods. When cottage industry, boutique retail, and
professional service ventures are clustered together in a cohesive
retail block (as at kingsleylane.com or thedistrictlofts.com), a destination is created. Scattered, these small businesses would not have the same marketing presence, impact, or pull.
Live/work storefronts in new projects can spark the redevelopment
and recycling of nearby old industrial and warehouse buildings or
appropriately zoned vintage homes. When this begins, the neighborhood
becomes alive again, with service providers and retailers interacting
and transacting with residents.
In Royal Oak, Metro Lofts
on East Harrison Street is the catalyst of the newly created Warehouse
District. At the completion of the second phase of Metro Lofts, more
than 100 residents will reside at the project. Denali Development’s
goal for the project is to attract destination retail, such as a brew
pub or fitness center to bring more activity to their site. They also
plan on incorporating live/work units in their third phase to create an
eclectic and artistic mix of shops and services.
In short, you will soon be able to visit a new shopping district in Royal Oak’s Warehouse District.
The District Lofts in
Birmingham is another great example of new Live/Work product in the
Detroit Metro Area. The first four-story mixed-use building with 47
units is under construction in the up-and-coming Rail District, on Eton
Street just south of Maple, next door to The Reserve and Big Rock
Chophouse. This building features four live/work residences with
street-level retail or office space.
Yesterday I had a conversation about the live/work trend with Victor Saroki,
architect for the project (his firm was named AIA Michigan
Architectural Firm of the Year 2007). Victor believes that live/work is
a good fit in transitional areas like the Rail District because the
area is not too intense, or too commercial. "You wouldn’t want to live
on Main Street behind your storefront. It’s too exposed to the street."
The Rail District is quasi-commercial next to restaurants, cafes,
galleries and surrounded by established neighborhoods, so it is a
friendly, safe, interesting place to live and work.
We talked about the ideal users for live/work spaces.
- Mortgage Brokers
- Salon Owners
- Real Estate Brokers
Live/work uses are less intense than pure commercial uses, and
operators usually have flexible hours. The live/work lifestyle is the
ideal progression for a current home office user uncomfortable meeting
with clients in his/her home. Live/work users have a business address,
a retail storefront, and the ability to publicize their businesses with
New construction live/work options were recently introduced to the
Detroit metro area. Ann Arbor has a notable new loft development that
offers true single-unit live/work options. Kingsley Lane
provides retail and office space on Ashley Street, near Kerrytown. The
live/work units provide a storefront with signage opportunities, a
customer entrance, a workspace, and a separate sleeping area. The
market for live/work is not restricted to artists--although a Kingsley
Lane would be a fabulous location for a gallery.
are doctors, entrepreneurs, architects. Some purchasers will utilize
the bedroom as a private office and forgo the living option; others
will utilize the space for living and working. Think about who would
benefit most from a live/work space: An entrepreneur with a boutique
retail operation or a service-based professional/business owner with a
small support team—such as an architect, bookkeeper, graphic designer,
realtor, web designer, or writer. Who else? These individuals benefit
from retail exposure, and since the owner/proprietor usually runs the
shop, client privacy issues are not much of a concern, since
conversations will most likely be held one-on-one, without the chance
Another Ann Arbor project that could be utilized as live/work is Liberty Lofts
at Liberty and First Street. This project is a more typical model of
how live/work is presented in suburban Detroit—one could live in a loft
condominium in a mid-rise tower, and work in a retail bay attached to
the building. I think this type of live/work development could be made
more marketable if the retail box were designed or adapted to service
smaller retail and entrepreneurs. I predict that we will soon see this
new type of ‘proximate live/work’ product offering in Southeastern
Michigan as entrepreneurial ventures increase and residents’ reliance
on corporate employment decreases.
On Monday, we will ‘tour’ The District Lofts in Birmingham’s emerging Rail District.
Downtown Detroit has an inventory of available warehouse buildings
and for years has been an artists’ haven. Now, Live/Work residences are
appearing in suburban Detroit cities, and they appeal to a variety of
individuals with professions outside the arts. In this series of blogs
- explore the history of live/work residences
- give you a 'tour' of several new suburban live/work developments
- talk about why live/work lofts are emerging in the suburbs
- introduce you to who lives in live/work lofts
- speak about the future of live/work projects, and
- invite your feedback.
Artists originated the live/work lifestyle. They claimed space in
abandoned or rundown industrial buildings for reasons beyond
affordability. Warehouse space is open with high ceilings and walls of
windows, so it is conducive to shooting photographs and painting large
canvases. The space was also large enough for them to live and work in
the same space.
A designer friend of mine used to live and work in a Detroit loft
without proper heat and a finished full bath. She made do, as part of
her journey as an artist, but later moved into a secure building on
Jefferson Avenue with fence-protected parking where she now lives and
works. Her current space accommodates her residential needs and her
needs for an office, all within the confines of a historic apartment
So, my friend lives and works in her apartment.
Would her place be considered live/work? I would tend to say "no",
because most new live/work projects feature street level retail/office
space. However, originally, artists lived and worked in their lofts
which did not have this feature. I see live/work evolving past this
current presentation, so I will leave that question up for discussion
on the blog. (By the way, her loft has been featured in the Metro
Times and her work can be found at www.constructure.net)
Over time, loft living in downtown or warehouse districts became
more mainstream, but the live/work components were disconnected. The
Kirkwood Group’s creative and project management team works in a loft
in downtown Ann Arbor (You can view photos of the loft at www.kirkwoodgroup.com).
This space has exposed brick walls, 17' high ceilings, open rafters,
track lighting and visible mechanical ducts. The space is very open.
Two executive offices are separated from the rest of the loft with
top-sliding translucent door walls. The space was formerly a theatre,
then office, and now renovated loft-office.
From experience, I can tell you that a loft office is not ideal for
all users. Our team is very collaborative and creative, so the open
environment works for us. The air-divided space is not ideal for other
businesses that safeguard confidential information, such as lawyers or
Tomorrow we will 'tour' two live/work projects in the Detroit suburbs.