New coworking space part of Vanguard Community Development’s larger economic plan

Realtor Nusrat Hussain was working at new coworking space Cocoon Detroit on East Grand Boulevard when an architect came in wanting to speak with Steven Harris, owner of Cocoon and Rebound Construction. Harris was running late, so Hussain got to talking to the man, a transplant from New York, as he waited. They ended up discussing gentrification, redevelopment of abandoned houses, and displacement of longtime residents.

Not exactly small talk for two people who just met, but it’s the type of engagement and conversation that Hussain loves about being a tenant at Harris’ coworking space, which held its grand opening in late April. Arterra Realty, the real estate company Hussain works for, has its main office in Rochester, but opened the satellite office in Detroit to have a presence in the city. They were working out of another coworking space in the city, Hussain says, but it was getting too expensive for a satellite branch.

She was talking to Harris about her plight and then he told her about his idea to open the coworking space, Hussain recalls. Hussain says she wanted to come on board and a few months later signed up for a year. Today she and several of her colleagues work out of a sunny office that faces Grand Boulevard.

Coworking is nothing new in Detroit with several spaces across the city such as Bamboo, but Harris’ concept brings together Realtors, builders, and other similar businesses together under one roof in a collaborative workspace, says Harris.

Having other people in the same industry to bounce ideas off of or get information from has been invaluable, and key to having their “finger on the pulse of real estate,” Hussain says.

“It's nice to have a space where there are other people like us. We don't want to be the only ones here dealing in real estate. Knowing Stephen is amazing because he's a wealth of information. He knows something about everything that I need to know, somebody or someone who can be available for us. So it's awesome to have such a network. It's connections. It's a network of people that are all related somehow because we get to know people who can do plumbing, electrics, when people are buying homes and which is a good area.”

Part of a larger vision

Cocoon is a part of Vanguard Community Development’s larger comprehensive economic development program focused on Milwaukee Junction and East Grand Boulevard and the business is “an excellent fit with Vanguard’s broad economic development work,” says Pamela Martin Turner, president and CEO of Vanguard Community Development. The plan entails business attraction and retention, neighborhood placemaking and wayfinding, and commercial real estate.

Vanguard has been doing strategic planning over the past year on how to expand commercial development on their 2.5-acre site, the Vanguard Community Campus.

The first part of implementing commercial real estate began in 2016 by rehabilitating and adding 3,000 square feet of space totaling to 10,000 square feet of reclaimed commercial real estate for the North End Career Center operated by Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit.

“What our intention is that, on our community campus, ultimately there will there be more workforce development services for the community and then be there will be businesses like Cocoon, which is a really innovative concept providing coworking space for small businesses that are involved in rebuilding Detroit. And so that really fits into our overall model for the way that we intend to continue to develop our community campus,” Martin Turner says.

Martin Turner says Vanguard is working on cultivating more businesses and exploring the feasibility of building additional buildings on its site.

In the past year, more than $100 million has been committed to the Milwaukee Junction/North End neighborhoods by various developers and organizations. Being close to that activity is key for Cocoon member Arterra Realty.

With all of the development happening in the neighborhood as well as interest in North End given its proximity to Midtown, Vanguard is working to ensure racial and economic equality, connecting residents to resources so they can stay in their homes by partnering and collaborating with other organizations, and preventing homes from going into foreclosure.

“Detroit is such a unique market that you really can't tell what's going on unless you're in here,” Hussain says, noting all of the development in the neighborhood. She points across Grand Boulevard.

“If you look over and look at there are four brand-new houses. If you keep up that street, there are patches like it.”

Building space for builders

"Hot desks" are available on a first-come, first served basis.Cocoon Detroit will offer its city builder members an array of services, including typical coworking amenities such as private offices, dedicated and shared desk space, 24/7 access, unlimited high-speed Internet, printing, scanning, mail service, conference room access, and private phone booths. There’s also a full kitchen with coffee and tea, a wine bar, and even cozy spaces such as an Instagrammable corner with a comfortable royal blue couch and even bunk beds for “power naps.”

Rates range from a $20 drop-in day fee to $1,200 for a large office like Arterra’s. The first tenants in the new space include Rebound Design Build, Alterra Realty, Exquisite Property Management, and HomeQuest Development.

Harris also hopes to bring on additional tenants including real estate developers and investors, realtors, urban planners, property managers, interior and landscape designers, funding sources, and others with a shared vision to support the redevelopment of Detroit. In addition to coworking space, Cocoon Detroit will offer programs and curated events, such as networking opportunities; classes and workshops on Detroit real estate-related topics; and a monthly rotating art exhibition featuring local artists.

“My mission is to create a space for like-minded Detroiters who are passionate about our city, our community, and inclusive development. It is a place where we can collaborate and rebuild our beloved Detroit,” Harris says.

This article is part of a series where we revisit stories from our On the Ground installment and explore new ones in the North End. It is supported by the Kresge Foundation.

Photos by Nick Hagen.

Read more articles by Dorothy Hernandez.

Dorothy Hernandez is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes about food at the intersection of culture and business. She has contributed to NPR, Midwest Living magazine, Eater, and a variety of other publications. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @dorothy_lynn_h.
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