Taking up nearly an entire downtown block and incorporating a public cafe and bocce ball court, it's safe to say that Cahoots is taking the popular concept of coworking in Ann Arbor to the next level.
The new space at 206 E. Huron is still under construction and many details have yet to be finalized, but its first tenants have moved in and co-owner Joe Malcoun says the final product "will be awesome."
Malcoun and co-owner Guy Suter originally announced the new venture in 2015 as a tech business incubator called Coolhouse Labs, but a partner who would have provided the training and support for an incubator pulled out. Malcoun and Suter quickly shifted the business model to a coworking space for local tech entrepreneurs.
Malcoun says the name, Cahoots, is both a play on words (as in, "We're in cahoots!") as well as a nod to previous joint creative and entrepreneurial ventures. The two co-owned a small plane dubbed "Cahoots Airline," as well as a Cahoots-branded investment fund.
Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem
Malcoun and Suter have built several technology companies, including web and mobile customer relationship management firm Nutshell and artificial intelligence company Trove. Both are now headquartered at Cahoots. Their goal for Cahoots is to create a place where techies can find like-minded people and resources to start their own tech companies.
"What it all comes down to is density," Malcoun says. "We've got lots of great tech talent downtown, but it's pretty spread out."
Additionally, Malcoun says there aren't many types of businesses that could energize East Huron, as restaurants and bars typically don't thrive there. He thinks the coworking model is just the right business to make that block of East Huron a lively and dynamic destination.
Michael Pardo is one of the earliest tenants at Cahoots, working for a California-based company called Revl while renting a workspace at Cahoots. He says he's worked out of coffee shops for quite a while and was keeping an eye on Cahoots, waiting for it to open for business.
"It's a reliable place to come work, and a tech community to be around," he says.
An ambitious vision for an historic building
Cahoots is located at the edge of one of Ann Arbor's historic districts, so the co-owners have emphasized keeping the original character of the multiple buildings their enterprise will occupy. When all construction is done, Cahoots will consist of the "City Center" building on the corner of East Huron and 5th Avenue as well as 202, 206, and 210 E. Huron, using 206 for the mailing address.
The co-owners have made especial effort to preserve the Kleinschmidt building's iconic entrance (at 206 E. Huron) while updating infrastructure, even going so far as to include the A-shape of the Kleinschmidt facade in their logo. Currently, all but two main work areas at Cahoots are under construction, but it will eventually offer 24,000 square feet of coworking space.
As of early January, tenants are only occupying the sixth floor of City Center and the ground floor of 206 E. Huron while the rest of the space undergoes remodeling. The finished space should be able to house 250 or more workers, and Malcoun expects to start moving tenants into the newly renovated spaces sometime in February.
The co-owners' vision is ambitious, going beyond the usual workstations, conference room, and coffee bar found in typical coworking spaces.
Malcoun says the ground-floor entrance in the Kleinschmidt building will house a reception desk and a cafe, and will have the feel of a "lobby in a high-end hotel." A food partner, not yet named, will create a custom menu for the Cahoots cafe. Malcoun calls the cafe "an excuse for the public to interact" with the tenants at Cahoots.
Once finished, Cahoots will also include a dedicated quiet space with library shelving and a fireplace, a community kitchen, and a full-service gym including showers, lockers, a steam room, and a sauna. Malcoun is using his role as co-founder to ensure an indoor bocce ball court is built as well. Outdoors, the roof will have a tiered balcony that can be used both for working outdoors in good weather and hosting outdoor musical or networking events.
Additionally, a performance space with a full bar and projection capabilities is under construction in the basement. Malcoun says he envisions Cahoots using the space for networking or educational events, but he and Suter have also been talking to organizations including the University Musical Society and the Ann Arbor Art Center so the performance space can be used by outside groups as well.
A project of passion
Malcoun says the co-owners have put so much money into buying and remodeling the buildings that he doesn't expect Cahoots to bring in much of a profit, especially in the early stages. He calls it a "project of passion."
He and Suter are hoping to solve a number of problems, from livening up East Huron to providing more high-end venue space for performances to creating a supportive tech community.
The Cahoots co-owners know that there's a real estate crunch in Ann Arbor, and growing tech companies don't have a lot of options since there aren't many vacant office spaces. Malcoun and Suter know that their project won't solve the office space problem overnight.
"But we thought maybe we could just solve this one part of it," Malcoun says.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at email@example.com.
All photos by Doug Coombe.