Five local building blogs you should be reading

We all love to watch a building rise from the ground or come back to life. There is something simply American about construction. Concentrate put together a list of five of the best construction blogs worth following in Washtenaw County.
Real estate holds a special place in the American psyche. The U.S. was founded on the notion of manifest destiny. The American Dream has long been based on owning a piece of property, of establishing your own personal castle. Much of our wealth comes from real estate.

Whether we're watching renovation TV shows, participating in neighborhood walking tours, or idolizing real-estate moguls, the dream of molding buildings and property to our taste and whims is a national past time. With that in mind, Concentrate has put together a list of the best real-estate development blogs in Washtenaw County.

Go! Ice Cream in downtown Ypsilanti

Rob Hess of Go! Ice CreamRob Hess started Go! Ice Cream, a home-made ice cream business, with little more than a taste for sweets, some mad-scientist curiosity, more than a little showmanship, and a 1946 Worksman tricycle. Go! Ice Cream quickly became a fan favorite in Ypsilanti. (You can read more about his story here.)

Hess raised nearly $34,000 from a crowdfunding campaign last year to build out his own ice cream shop in downtown Ypsilanti. This year he is putting together Go! Ice Cream's new home at 10 N Washington, and regularly logging the progress on a Tumblr.
"I keep a construction blog because the story behind what we are creating and why and how are really important to the core message of our business," Hess wrote in an email. "I called the business Go! Ice Cream because I wanted the business to help inspire folks to go after what they love, much like I fell in love with ice cream and started a business, and I want to help inspire our customers to do the same with whatever they love. The story of how hard we are working to make our dream come true is an integral part of the business in that way and I love giving our customers and fans a glimpse at how difficult and fun and totally invigorating the process of chasing your dreams can be.

The other benefit of keeping the blog is that, while most of my days are spent solving various construction issues, the blog helps me keep focused on why I am building the store. I'm building it for our customers, to give them a really unique, special, inspiring flavor experience, and inviting them into the construction through the Tumblr site helps me keep them at the heart of the project."

Kingsley West in Kerrytown, Ann Arbor

An architectural rendering of Kingsley WestDemand for housing in downtown Ann Arbor is at an all-time high, and nowhere is it more desirable than Kerrytown. The Kingsley West development is working to meet that demand. The 18-unit condo project at 121 Kingsley St takes the place for larger condo project that died on the vine during the Great Recession. Kingsley West offers luxury housing units ranging in size between 1,000 and 2,400 square feet priced to sell between $400,000 and $1.2 million.

The development team, led by Tom Fitzsimmons, has been taking advantage of the mild winter to push construction forward. It is on schedule to move in its first residents this summer, and has been keeping a photo history of the progress at the development's website.

"We started the photo update for our customers," Fitzsimmons wrote in an email. "At Kingsley, we pre-sold most of the project before we started construction, so up to two years before we anticipated moving people in. Many of our customers are out of town for at least part of this process, and it helps us keep everyone informed of progress. We try to update construction photos monthly or as significant milestones occur."

East Main in downtown Milan

East Main Redevelopment in MilanDowntown Milan isn't known as a hotbed of downtown development, but the East Main Redevelopment is one of the most interesting to hit Washtenaw County in a while. The project is taking a key block of downtown and transforming it into a combination or storefronts and loft apartments.

The four commercial buildings, all built in the mid-to-late 1800s, are located at the corner of Wabash and Main streets. They are all connected and encompass 27,000 square feet of space. There will be eight ground floor storefronts and 15 loft apartments above them. All of them are coming online this year. Developer Dave Snyder has been posting about their progress on the East Main Facebook page every step of the way.

"These buildings are an iconic part of the community," Snyder wrote in an email. "Everyone who has been here for a while has memories of these buildings. New people are curious and the people who have moved away want to keep up with what is happening. I’ve met a handful of different people with family members born in the buildings, some early in the last century. There are families here who have operated or worked in businesses in the buildings. Others bought their wedding ring here or had a childhood memories of shakes or ice cream here.

When we offered a tour two months ago, we had 1,100 people show up in February to see what was happening. There is a lot of state and federal money involved in this project. I want residents to feel their money is being spent well. I post about the project because lots of people want to know what's happening, but don't have access to see it along the way except as they drive by. To sum it up, I post about our project because these buildings (and many of the residents here) are going to be here long after I am gone. I want them to be invested in the future of these buildings and this downtown. The Facebook posts are part of that effort."

Beal Construction

A Beal Properties house in YpsilantiBeal has become one of the most recognizable brands in construction and real-estate redevelopment in southeast Michigan. Ann Arbor-based JC Beal Construction, run by family patriarch Fred Beal, has tackled projects as big as the Broderick Tower redevelopment in downtown Detroit. Ypsilanti-based Beal Properties, run by Fred Beal's son Stewart Beal, manages rental properties across the region and as far south as Toledo.

Both companies keep active Facebook pages that are constantly updated with posts of construction in action and architecture worthy of a quality gawking. Check out JCBeal Construction's Facebook page here and Beal Properties Facebook page here.

"I share pictures of our construction work on Facebook because I am really proud of it," Stewart Beal wrote in an email. "I want to show my friends and family what we accomplish, and really, I view it like an art piece."

The Mark in downtown Ann Arbor

The Mark under constructionLet's face it, the self-serve car wash is as about as spartan as you get when it comes to development. A couple walls, a roof, a washer and, if you're lucky, a couple of vacuum units. Nothing fancy. Nothing special. Just enough to get the job done. The Mark is replacing one of those self-serve car washes with luxury condo living on the edge of downtown Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor Builders is building The Mark at 318 W Liberty on the site of the former Liberty Car Wash. The Mark will consist of seven, multi-level, luxury condos. Each unit comes with a two-car garage and a private balcony. Five of the seven units come with a private elevator. The units range between two-bed, two-bath to three-bed and two-bath. All of the units have been reserved and construction is expected to wrap up this summer. Betsy de Parry, vice president of marketing and sales for Ann Arbor Builders, has been taking pictures of the work in progress on the company’s website.

"I wouldn't necessarily call it a blog, but I do keep pictures of The Mark's progress on our website," de Parry says. "The reason? Buyers (and those interested in The Mark) love them! I do write a blog (although I don't write as often as I should) which resides on our site. The feedback I've gotten is that some of the articles are very helpful to people. And the human interest stories are always a hit."


Lest, it seem like we ignore our own news coverage, there is, of course, Landline Creative Labs, Mark Maynard and Jesse Kranyak's ongoing and ambitious redevelopment project in downtown Ypsilanti. You can follow their exploits on Facebook and Maynard's much-read blog

Jon Zemke is Concentrate's News Editor. He is also a Detroit resident and developer in the Motor City's greater downtown area. You can check out his latest redevelopment project in North Corktown here.

Photos courtesy the respective blog and websites owners.