Neighborhood-focused real estate firm Century Partners to be honored at TechTown awards

What started as a single house on Atkinson Street has since blossomed into seventeen—and that's just on Atkinson. 

Those houses are owned by Century Partners, a real estate firm with a unique (and expanding) model, and which now manages 70 rental housing units in Detroit's Boston-Edison, North End, and East English Village neighborhoods. They're also tasked with redeveloping 115 vacant houses in the city's Fitzgerald neighborhood, as part of the ambitious Fitzgerald Revitalization Project.

All that since the first house was bought in 2014.

What's more remarkable than the speed with which Century Partners has achieved its development success is the manner in which they've achieved it. Century Partners approaches development holistically. When Century Partners purchases a home, the seller can get cash and equity in its fund which is then reinvested in the neighborhood. 

The company also recently began a groundbreaking non-accredited investor program through the crowdfunding platform Rabble. With buy-ins available at prices as low as $100, you don't have to put up tens of thousands of dollars to be an investor.

It's an attempt to recognize the residents that have lived in the neighborhood long before Century came to town. Should real estate values increase, the neighbors—and not just the developers—benefit in a tangible way.

"It's a unique way to get people involved in investment," says Kimberly Dowdell, who joined the company in 2016 and became partner in 2017. "Now that the city is coming back, it's time for the long-time residents to see the benefits of that."

Dowdell moved back to her hometown Detroit in 2015, right around the same time that Century Partners co-founders David Alade and Andrew Colom were moving here from New York and Mississippi, respectively. Dowdell was drawn to Alade and Colom's vision for a more equitable development company, especially one that focused on the neighborhoods and not just downtown. The company aims to keep rents affordable, while also hiring local contractors to perform the renovations.

Their work was recently rewarded with the announcement of their involvement in the city's Fitzgerald Revitalization Project. Century is partnering with The Platform development group to rehab 115 vacant homes in that northwest neighborhood, a project that is also seeing the cleaning up and landscaping of 192 vacant lots. A greenway will connect nearby Marygrove College and University of Detroit Mercy.

As a result, Century Partners has been selected as Entrepreneur of the Year at TechTown Detroit's second annual Salute Awards. The award ceremony takes place at the Toast of the Town event on Thursday, Oct. 12, which celebrates Detroit entrepreneurship.

"It's a huge honor," says Dowdell. "It speaks to hard work paying off. We spend a lot of time thinking about the neighborhoods and the investors we serve. It's really nice to be acknowledged for work that we don't consider work."

"Since their launch, Century Partners has shown that neighborhood investment—with neighborhood input—is good investment," says TechTown Detroit president and CEO Ned Staebler. "With nearly $4 million raised to date and their partnership in the city’s Fitzgerald project, their impact is only growing."

Along with their impact, Century Partners, which rents an office at the TechTown building in New Center, is growing in staff size and vision, too. Currently made up of five people, Dowdell says the company is planning on hiring one to three more employees to meet the large demands of the Fitzgerald project, which she estimates will take two to three years to complete.

Dowdell also says that the company is starting to look beyond the residential rental markets, and is planning to create more mixed use, higher density developments in an attempt to re-energize neighborhoods' commercial corridors. Bridging the gap between downtown and the neighborhoods, too, is a focus.

"We're starting to look at larger deals," she says. "We want to create more connectivity between downtown and the neighborhoods and to make residents feel more represented downtown."

In addition to Century Partners being named Entrepreneur of the Year, TechTown is honoring several more of the city's top innovators with Salute Awards.

TechTown on Tap Awards are going to Fares Ksebati of MySwimPro, a swimming and fitness smart phone app developer, and Eric Yelsma and Brenna Lane of Detroit Denim, a denim clothing manufacturer.

"Our TechTown on Tap winners have already realized significant milestones—including recognition from Apple for MySwimPro and investment from Marcus Lionas for Detroit Denim," says Staebler. "They are stellar examples of how Detroit’s entrepreneurs are changing the game."

The non-profit Global Detroit, an advocacy group with a mission to attract, retain, and promote the international and immigrant communities in the region, is receiving the Small Business Champion Award for its work with immigrant business owners.

The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, a regional community investment group, is receiving the Special Salute Award for over three decades of work in the region.

"Global Detroit’s work championing our immigrant entrepreneurs could not be more relevant, and we are proud to recognize them as a small business champion," says Staebler. "We are also proud to provide special recognition to the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan for all they have done to support and expand Detroit’s entrepreneurship community and put us on the map."

The Toast of the Town party, which takes place at the TechTown headquarters, is open to the public. Information and tickets for the strolling dinner, cocktail, and networking event are available online.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.
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