Steven Harris will be the first to admit the challenges COVID-19 has posed for his team and his industry, but this won't stop his next project. The architect, developer, and owner of Rebound Construction
has had a hand in much of the work being done in Detroit's North End, and has witnessed the impact of the pandemic on Detroit’s construction businesses, first-hand.
“It’s been a tough year,” Harris says.
“A lot of the projects with Rebound were put on hold, a couple of people caught COVID-19, clients and customers shut down and funding was rerouted to COVID-19 projects,” he says. “The price of materials also went up, which had a huge impact on our bottom line.”
Harris predominantly employs contractors and subcontractors and, with few salaried employees, he says he wasn’t able to take advantage of many of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, and while capital has been available, he wishes it was more “realistically accessible” to small businesses.
“I had to let my senior project manager go,” he says. “So now I am out in the field a lot. Over the next few months we are doing everything we can to go after new projects and hopefully start bringing back people, to bring staff back and re-mobilize.”
Harris is also behind the coworking space Cocoon Detroit
, a location on East Grand Boulevard which opened in 2019 and was booming before COVID-19 hit. It’s a similar concept to other co-working spaces across the city, such as WeWork, TechTown, and Bamboo but focused heavily on architects, realtors, and builders, often resulting in networking partnerships blossoming under the same roof.
“It’s not exclusive to minority business owners,” says Harris “But a lot of the businesses are minority-owned, it’s a way to support them.”
In the face of the pandemic, support from LISC Detroit
in the form of a grant meant that Harris was able to continue paying the lease on his business premises on East Grand Boulevard, after the co-working hub dropped from 95% occupancy to 25% during the worst of the crisis.
Steven Harris is excited for changes coming to a John R. site he is helping develop on John R. Street.
Despite the challenges though, Harris has some big plans for this year, and good reasons, he says, to be excited. He’s particularly hopeful about the further rehabilitation of a commercial property on John R Street, which has managed to stay “largely active” throughout the pandemic.
The reinvigorated space holds Transformation barber shop, and the organic-focused Pink Elephant Products, which have made it through the pandemic, but Harris says other stores such as Stef-n-Ty hat shop closed permanently because of the impact of COVID-19. Harris describes the closures as a "huge loss to the community" but has several new projects on the slate for this year at the site, including a smoked fish house, a coffeeshop named Black Coffee, and a restaurant called Rosemary Cafe.
Partnering with Emily Steffens, owner of community-focused The Gathering Coffee Co., Harris says the plan for Black Coffee is in safe hands thanks to her local insights and skills.
“She’s been the coffee consultant, and is great,” says Harris. “She’s a very knowledgeable barista.”
Steven Harris is partnering with The Gathering Coffee Co.'s Emily Steffens to open Black Coffee.
Steffens says Black Coffee will have bright decor and involve the work of other local entrepreneurs.
"Steve [Harris]'s heart is fully for the community, serving them as best as possible in service, space, and in product," says Steffens. "It's my passion for my own shop; but with Black Coffee, Steve's allowing me to come along side of him, in the space he has created to embrace culture, art, and offer an experience for people that is getting crafted by others in the community, making sure they have a hand in this shop as well."
Both coffee shop and cafe will use existing premises, but will also expand using shipping containers, something Harris hopes will allow other “mom-and-pop” businesses to gain a foothold. The decor will be a familiar backdrop for chef Maxcel “Max” Hardy, from Coop at Detroit Shipping Co., whom Harris is teaming up with to develop Rosemary Cafe.
Hardy, the chef behind Coop’s Caribbean fusion stall as well as Jed’s Detroit, has used the last year to release a line of spices, publish a cookbook, and was recently recognized as Hour Detroit magazine’s “Restaurateur of the Year”. He says Harris' work is important.
"You can tell he chooses his new business based on bringing opportunity to the community," says Hardy. "This new location was an area that needed love so we are bringing our expertise to the location. The north end is a hot area with great people, so to see his vision is great."
Predicting a grand re-opening of the whole center in June or July, Harris hopes the project will provide not just for the surrounding neighborhood, but draw visitors from nearby areas like Boston Edison.
“We are creating an art park as well, sponsored by DTE [Energy],” says Harris. “There's been some great artists in the neighborhood commissioned to do art pieces. I think by the time June rolls around you'll see a really cool outdoor space, with live jazz bands, events and community space.”
This is part of a series supported by LISC Detroit that chronicles Detroit small businesses’ journey in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.