Jordan Wolfe and Kyle Polk haven’t taken the traditional path in their redevelopment business. Instead of renovating empty buildings and filling them with tenants before selling them for a tidy profit, their ethos is to retain some of their renovated structures in Detroit — namely in the Milwaukee Junction neighborhood and at Eastern Market — then offer affordable leases to startup businesses, and assist the tenants in growing their operations.
“Our core focus (asks), How do you draw and retain a small business ecosystem?” says Wolfe, co-founder of Town Partners in Detroit. “We actually operate as an economic development agency. Not everyone can get a traditional bank loan. We help our small business tenants grow. If we sold all of our buildings when the prices became attractive, we would most likely lose the tenants and the original ecosystem.”
Still, Wolfe and Polk aren’t immune to selling their properties. In March, the pair sold five industrial buildings at East Grand Boulevard and St. Antoine Street to Method Development in Detroit for $4.5 million. Method Development plans to invest $20 million to convert the structures into residential lofts with ground-floor retail and restaurant uses.
Starting in 2015, Wolfe and Polk began assembling the buildings. They paid a collective $1.3 million for the five properties. At one time, Town Partners owned 14 buildings in Milwaukee Junction — an area often referred to as the original Silicon Valley, for the large concentration of early OEMs and auto suppliers — but with the recent sale, they now have just a handful of buildings in their portfolio.
It’s a different story at Eastern Market. Town Partners assembled several properties from three different owners at Gratiot Avenue and Russell Street at the south end of Eastern Market. The site spans 2.8 acres.
Last year, Town Partners signed a joint venture with Develop Detroit, a nonprofit development agency, to offer more than 250 new residential lofts on the upper floors, along with retail offerings on the first level. The 120,000-square-foot project could open next year.
Wolfe and Polk also are scouting other areas of the city that might attract small businesses — namely, locations that are just starting to grow, yet require infrastructure improvements. “Our goal is to draw younger people and startup businesses,” Wolfe says. “We offer pretty affordable rents, but everything has to make business sense. We want to attract a diverse collection of businesses and residents for our projects, no question.”