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Q&A: Eric Novack of Detroit's Russell Industrial Center

Detroit's Russell Industrial Center is gearing up to celebrate its fourth anniversary this weekend with its annual Spring Open House.

The small business and artist incubator no one saw coming will open its doors to the public between 2-11 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. That means anyone who is interested in walking the grounds, discovering new art, or checking out potential space for rent is welcome to the massive old factory at 1600 Clay, at the northeast side of the I-75/I-94 intersection.

The Russell was holding steady at 285 businesses between its studio space and the Russell Bazaar. Those numbers dropped over the winter when the economy really bottomed out but have since rebounded to 160 businesses in the studio spaces and 125-130 in the Bazaar. It's now signing one new lease every week on average.

"We're holding strong," says Eric Novak, operations manager for the Russell. He adds that about 500,000 square feet of the two million-square-foot complex is available, including 10 studios that range in size from 200-1,200 square feet. Bigger raw factory floor space is also available in chunks as big as 85,000 square feet.

Novack recently answered questions over e-mail about the Russell and what he describes as the "clean, safe and functional" space it provides.

In a sentence or two, sum up what life is like in the Russell Industrial Center?

I can sum it up with one word, motion. A constant state of motion as the tenants keep creating and making their products, and as the Russell keeps creating and making new spaces for them.

The Russell is known for its competitive prices. What can businesses and artists expect (and not expect) to get for their money at the Russell?

Raw space that they can do or design the way they need to. We provide four walls, a roof with 24-hour security, and access. The rest is up to them.

In recent years, there have been a number of places across southeast Michigan that have tried to copy Russell's business model of lots of space for low prices and few rules. What sets the Russell apart from its competitors?

Gaslight windows, the already massive community of artists and small businesses which in a sense really created Russell, we just happen to own it. However, management does get involved with its tenants, makes for a real community. It's not us against them, which you get so frequently in most types of these buildings. It's just us.

Conventional wisdom is starting to suggest that an economic recovery will be in full force by the end of the year. What do you think the Russell will be like a year from now with an economic rebound behind it?

I hope for more of the same: new tenants, new shows, new works of art, more movie productions. I don't know if the outside world affects what is happening on the inside of the Russell Industrial Center. I know it does or should, but you don't see that with a lot of our tenants. They are constantly in motion. So at the end of the day, the Russell is one giant organic machine, and I am sure it will continue to become stronger and more efficient every year.

Source: Eric Novack, operations manager for the Russell Industrial Center
Writer: Jon Zemke
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