2015 Powered by Women
With women-owned businesses in Michigan continuing to increase in number, we asked our readers to nominate female business leaders in the region who are driving profits, adding employees, and opening new opportunities.
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Managing Partner | Shelborne Development Co., Detroit
Employees: 14 | Project total: $18M
Kathy Makino-Leipsitz isn’t afraid to venture into stormy weather. Rather than watch historic apartment buildings decay, the developer worked with city lenders, acquired more than 20 structures, and set out to renovate and rent 2,000 residences.
“For an area like Palmer Park to come back, you often start with affordable housing, as well as senior housing, before going to market-rate housing,” says Makino-Leipsitz, managing partner of Shelborne Development Co. in Detroit. “You can’t go into a depressed area with
market-rate housing right away. The banks won’t support it, and the neighborhood isn’t ready for it.”
While some developers will attempt to pack as many apartments in a building as possible, Makino-Leipsitz prefers to
offer larger units that families can grow into. Larger residential spaces also attract a wider mix of tenants. In the case of Palmer Park, Shelborne’s tenants include city employees, nurses, professionals, and service personnel at restaurants and casinos.
Once an area begins to approach a healthy tenant mix — what developers refer to as critical mass — Makino-Leipsitz focuses on adding retail amenities including coffee shops, eateries, stores, and service operations. In addition to Palmer Park, the developer has acquired properties in New Center, along East Jefferson, and, most recently, in southwest Detroit.
After completing several renovation projects in the Jefferson-Chalmers area, Makino-Leipsitz is working to convert the vacant River Plaza
apartment complex into 120 apartments along with 20,000 square feet of commercial space, primarily stores and restaurants. The project is set to open in 2017.
“My goal is to have some of the stores and restaurants near the Detroit River, with a boardwalk that would connect the apartments to the (existing) RiverWalk,” she says. “It would be an urban beach theme, which I’ve seen done well in Toronto. Hopefully, it would tie in with a redevelopment of the (neighboring and vacant) Whittier Hotel, which is owned by Mel Washington.”
In New Center, Makino-Leipsitz has worked her magic on several apartment buildings, and will soon start work on several more on Seward, a few blocks north of West Grand Boulevard. In every project, she restores plaster walls and ceilings, along with hardwood floors, and adds granite countertops and stainless steel appliances in the kitchens, and ceramic tiles and new fixtures in the bathrooms.
By offering large, desirable floor plans, the company has had little trouble renting out units. In fact, every project has a waiting list of tenants prior to completion. While she does minimal advertising, the developer recently hired a full-time marketing director from North Carolina.
Growing up in a working-class family in Wayne, Makino-Leipsitz began babysitting for a neighboring family and quickly saw the success of the husband’s rental housing enterprise. “It didn’t take me long to decide that real estate was something I should get into,” she recalls. She acquired her first property, a duplex, in 1979. From there, she steadily grew her portfolio.
“To see an empty structure and see it transformed into a sustainable, energy-efficient apartment community is what really drives me,” she says. “It’s almost like restoring a work of art. I’ve always started in the fringe areas, where other developers have shied away, and when they eventually did come in (to an area), I took it as a sign of confidence.” — R.J. King