Blog: Tracy Koe Wick

Our guest blogger for this week is Tracy Koe Wick. Tracy is Principal of The Kirkwood Group, a real estate consulting firm that markets and promotes new mid-rise and high-rise condominium and loft communities.

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Post No. 5

Why will Live/Work residences continue to gain popularity in Detroit’s suburbs? As an entrepreneur, I think I am well-equipped to answer that. Entrepreneurs thrive on creativity and collaboration. A home office, studio, or workshop sets you apart from others. A live/work space puts you in close proximity with other like-minded individuals in a close-knit community where entrepreneurs are neighbors and stakeholders controlling the success of their retail environment. 

My sister-in-law is a textile artist outside of Chicago in Oak Park, Illinois. Until recently, she ran her design studio from a street level live/work apartment on Harrison Street. Her shop was flanked by an upscale shoe store and a jewelry boutique. Up the block was the Buzz Café, several cooperative art galleries, a dance studio, and a luxury bath shop. Together, these businesses created the Oak Park Art District. All of the store owners met regularly to organize art promotions that would draw shoppers to their retail zone. They were all in it together.  Even though my sister-in-law relocated her studio, she still calls her next-door-neighbor from Harrison her BFF.

Suburban Detroit could greatly benefit from this kind of cooperative community and business building. Sometimes we forget about all of the resources that are available to us. Choosing to work and live near like-minded neighbors could be the first step toward jump-starting our economy, while at the same time transforming our quasi-commercial, partially neglected suburban areas into vibrant art and shopping districts.

Post No. 4

The availability of Live/Work space in Detroit’s suburbs encourages the proliferation of new business ventures and it strengthens the surrounding neighborhoods. When cottage industry, boutique retail, and professional service ventures are clustered together in a cohesive retail block (as at or, a destination is created. Scattered, these small businesses would not have the same marketing presence, impact, or pull. 

Live/work storefronts in new projects can spark the redevelopment and recycling of nearby old industrial and warehouse buildings or appropriately zoned vintage homes. When this begins, the neighborhood becomes alive again, with service providers and retailers interacting and transacting with residents.

In Royal Oak, Metro Lofts on East Harrison Street is the catalyst of the newly created Warehouse District.  At the completion of the second phase of Metro Lofts, more than 100 residents will reside at the project. Denali Development’s goal for the project is to attract destination retail, such as a brew pub or fitness center to bring more activity to their site. They also plan on incorporating live/work units in their third phase to create an eclectic and artistic mix of shops and services.

In short, you will soon be able to visit a new shopping district in Royal Oak’s Warehouse District. 

Post No. 3

The District Lofts in Birmingham is another great example of new Live/Work product in the Detroit Metro Area. The first four-story mixed-use building with 47 units is under construction in the up-and-coming Rail District, on Eton Street just south of Maple, next door to The Reserve and Big Rock Chophouse. This building features four live/work residences with street-level retail or office space.  

Yesterday I had a conversation about the live/work trend with Victor Saroki, architect for the project (his firm was named AIA Michigan Architectural Firm of the Year 2007). Victor believes that live/work is a good fit in transitional areas like the Rail District because the area is not too intense, or too commercial. "You wouldn’t want to live on Main Street behind your storefront. It’s too exposed to the street." The Rail District is quasi-commercial next to restaurants, cafes, galleries and surrounded by established neighborhoods, so it is a friendly, safe, interesting place to live and work.
We talked about the ideal users for live/work spaces.

  • Architects
  • Mortgage Brokers
  • Salon Owners
  • Landscapers
  • Consultants
  • Real Estate Brokers
  • Tailors

Live/work uses are less intense than pure commercial uses, and operators usually have flexible hours. The live/work lifestyle is the ideal progression for a current home office user uncomfortable meeting with clients in his/her home. Live/work users have a business address, a retail storefront, and the ability to publicize their businesses with exterior signage.

Post No. 2

New construction live/work options were recently introduced to the Detroit metro area. Ann Arbor has a notable new loft development that offers true single-unit live/work options. Kingsley Lane provides retail and office space on Ashley Street, near Kerrytown. The live/work units provide a storefront with signage opportunities, a customer entrance, a workspace, and a separate sleeping area. The market for live/work is not restricted to artists--although a Kingsley Lane would be a fabulous location for a gallery.

Purchasers are doctors, entrepreneurs, architects. Some purchasers will utilize the bedroom as a private office and forgo the living option; others will utilize the space for living and working. Think about who would benefit most from a live/work space: An entrepreneur with a boutique retail operation or a service-based professional/business owner with a small support team—such as an architect, bookkeeper, graphic designer, realtor, web designer, or writer. Who else? These individuals benefit from retail exposure, and since the owner/proprietor usually runs the shop, client privacy issues are not much of a concern, since conversations will most likely be held one-on-one, without the chance of eavesdropping.

Another Ann Arbor project that could be utilized as live/work is Liberty Lofts at Liberty and First Street. This project is a more typical model of how live/work is presented in suburban Detroit—one could live in a loft condominium in a mid-rise tower, and work in a retail bay attached to the building. I think this type of live/work development could be made more marketable if the retail box were designed or adapted to service smaller retail and entrepreneurs. I predict that we will soon see this new type of ‘proximate live/work’ product offering in Southeastern Michigan as entrepreneurial ventures increase and residents’ reliance on corporate employment decreases.

On Monday, we will ‘tour’ The District Lofts in Birmingham’s emerging Rail District.

Post No. 1

Downtown Detroit has an inventory of available warehouse buildings and for years has been an artists’ haven. Now, Live/Work residences are appearing in suburban Detroit cities, and they appeal to a variety of individuals with professions outside the arts. In this series of blogs I will:

  • explore the history of live/work residences
  • give you a 'tour' of several new suburban live/work developments
  • talk about why live/work lofts are emerging in the suburbs
  • introduce you to who lives in live/work lofts
  • speak about the future of live/work projects, and
  • invite your feedback.

Artists originated the live/work lifestyle. They claimed space in abandoned or rundown industrial buildings for reasons beyond affordability. Warehouse space is open with high ceilings and walls of windows, so it is conducive to shooting photographs and painting large canvases. The space was also large enough for them to live and work in the same space.

A designer friend of mine used to live and work in a Detroit loft without proper heat and a finished full bath. She made do, as part of her journey as an artist, but later moved into a secure building on Jefferson Avenue with fence-protected parking where she now lives and works. Her current space accommodates her residential needs and her needs for an office, all within the confines of a historic apartment building.

So, my friend lives and works in her apartment. Would her place be considered live/work? I would tend to say "no", because most new live/work projects feature street level retail/office space. However, originally, artists lived and worked in their lofts which did not have this feature. I see live/work evolving past this current presentation, so I will leave that question up for discussion on the blog. (By the way, her loft has been featured in the Metro Times and her work can be found at

Over time, loft living in downtown or warehouse districts became more mainstream, but the live/work components were disconnected. The Kirkwood Group’s creative and project management team works in a loft in downtown Ann Arbor (You can view photos of the loft at This space has exposed brick walls, 17' high ceilings, open rafters, track lighting and visible mechanical ducts. The space is very open. Two executive offices are separated from the rest of the loft with top-sliding translucent door walls. The space was formerly a theatre, then office, and now renovated loft-office.

From experience, I can tell you that a loft office is not ideal for all users. Our team is very collaborative and creative, so the open environment works for us. The air-divided space is not ideal for other businesses that safeguard confidential information, such as lawyers or financial consultants. 

Tomorrow we will 'tour' two live/work projects in the Detroit suburbs.