Designs On Detroit
Practice.Space helps Detroit entrepreneurs who want to reclaim old city buildings for new purposes.
Sometimes in Detroit you have to create your own opportunities, and few know that better than 24-year-old Austin Kronig. When the Plymouth native finished the undergraduate program at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business in 2012, he knew he wanted to move into the city but wasn’t sure what he would contribute to Detroit’s latest renaissance.
“After I graduated, I immediately moved into the city — I had my sights set on it, but I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do,” explains Kronig, the cultural development director at Practice.Space, a new business incubator across the street from his home in north Corktown.
Kronig, who spends a lot of time at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, said, “I started working at Avalon Bakery in Midtown just to pay the bills and then had a conversation with my business partner — 31-year-old Justin Mast, formerly of Grand Rapids — about wanting to find a home base for all of these ideas we had percolating.”
That conversation led to the creation of Practice.Space, a place where they could build a development hub Kronig describes as a “shared studio and collaborative space.”
Knowing there were similar developments popping up across the city, like the Green Garage in Midtown or Ponyride in Corktown, Kronig understood Practice.Space had to offer something unique.
“There has been this growth of ‘co-working’ developments, and we wanted to specialize and be different, marrying our passion for architecture and entrepreneurship, seeing this redeveloped garage space as a home base for architects, designers and urban thinkers who could reimagine space and development in Detroit,” Kronig said.
Kronig met Mast, now a resident of Pingree Park, north of Indian Village, as the two pursued their education in Ann Arbor. With Kronig’s business background and Mast’s master’s degree in architecture, they saw a way to build a model for a sustainable business that could also give something back to the city they now call home.
“We came up with this concept for a residency at an incubator where we could invite and attract the most exciting projects in Detroit and pair them with a group of creatives seeking new opportunity in the city,” Kronig said. “We started testing that out with people we knew, and we decided to go with it, put together a concept book, raised the financing necessary and negotiated a lease, picking up the keys in August and doing a complete build out in about a month.”
Practice.Space operates out of the former Joe’s Auto Body Shop at the corner of 14th and Perry streets off Michigan Avenue, until now an abandoned Art Deco garage space in the heart of Corktown.
Their unique approach to the now-popular co-working concept is to pair the projects of entrepreneurs with incubator “residents” who pay $500 each month as they learn, grow and better understand their own strengths and weaknesses working on a new business concept. The business owners in turn pay $2,000 for a dedicated working space in the garage and the help of the residents for a four-month term.
“We operate as a fully integrated incubator program and residency, with the incubator geared and targeted toward businesses in Detroit led by entrepreneurs looking to revamp, renovate and rehabilitate old spaces for new uses,” Kronig said.
“We invite the entrepreneurs to participate in the program and guide them through a four-month architectural, business and community development course, and we help as the project gets to the next level to raise financing, enabling them to articulate a full business plan.”
Their “pilot project” is the North End Food Hub, a development backed by two New York expatriates, Eleni Zaharopoulos and Jenile Brooks, who partnered to renovate and rehabilitate an old convenience store attached to a home on the north end border of Highland Park and Detroit.
The pair plans to convert the store into a bodega retail space with a deli counter, grocery delivery and a commercial kitchen that will be leased to entrepreneurs. They will turn the house into an art space, cafe and library, with art therapy and youth programming in mind. They also plan to develop the home’s second level into an apartment.
“The building was purchased from a Wayne County tax auction two years ago, but as they tried to make strides on their own to get it off the ground they hit an impasse,” Kronig said.
“They hired an architectural firm to do cost estimating, and the price tag for the necessary renovations was $200,000. They didn’t have access to the funds nor the full-bodied vision, business plan and materials to communicate to a bank or stakeholder, and that was the inspiration for them to join Practice.Space. So they reached out and they’re spending the next four months focusing on this pre-design and development stage.”
At the end of December, Zaharopoulos and Brooks will “graduate” from the program, moving onto their mobilization phase, and in January, Practice.Space will add two new development projects and new residents, scaled to their growth. In a year, Kronig and Mast expect to help grow and develop nine projects. If successful, Kronig doesn’t dismiss the potential for growing Practice.Space across the state or region.
“We definitely realize we have a unique concept, and Detroit probably has the most interesting ground for doing this work, so we see ourselves planting roots here, but we’ve definitely thought if this works in Detroit it can work elsewhere,” Kronig said.
“If we were to expand, as we see there is potential down the road to go to other satellite cities, we would look at the industrial legacies throughout the Rust Belt, where we see a huge inventory of vacant or underutilized space and cities trying to understand how to revamp and reclaim their legacy.
“We’d like to start regionally with a focus on Detroit, but if we did expand, we have our eyes on places like Flint or Cleveland.”