After finishing high school in Marysville, Michigan, Ryan Cooley,
like so many talented Michigan students, headed to Chicago for school.
Four years ago, when most people were moving in the opposite direction,
Ryan went against the trend and brought the third generation off-shoot
of O’Connor Real Estate to
Detroit. Ryan and his wife moved back to Detroit to join his brother Phillip,
and other developers, in turning around Detroit’s neighborhoods.
In 1994, when Ryan moved to Chicago to attend DePaul Business School,
State Street, resembled Woodward Avenue as it is today. There were vacant lots
and storefronts, and Marshall Fields was struggling to survive. However, where
it was once only fifty percent occupied, today there are no vacancies. In 2001,
when Ryan moved to Wicker Park, a Chicago neighborhood northwest of the Loop,
he couldn’t get a cab to take him there, even though condos were selling
for $350,000. As young people moved into the neighborhood, and the handful of
bars and restaurants grew to more than ten restaurants and twenty bars, the vacant
land disappeared. Ryan is striving to accomplish the same transformation for
Why Detroit? Ryan offered six key reasons for choosing Detroit.
The low barrier to entry into the market was a driving
factor. It would cost three times the amount to open in Chicago,
twice as much time, and they would have received one-tenth of
the press. SLOWS BAR BQ, developed by Brian Perrone and Ryan’s brother Phillip Cooley, was able
to triple its revenue projections in the first year; after two
and a half years they were debt free and expanding.
Cost of living impacted the decision. Ryan wanted to open
a real estate business and his wife wanted to pursue a career as
a writer, but they couldn’t leave their jobs and pursue what they wanted
to do and continue living where they were living. They decided
to save up for a couple of years and then make the move to Detroit.
Ryan was able to launch a real estate business for the same amount
of money it would have taken to obtain a commercial space in Chicago
for six months. His wife is also able to pursue her career editing
magazines and as a freelance writer for the New York Times.
The character of Detroit and its unique
style give Ryan a sense of pride in living in a city unlike any
Ryan found a sense of community in Corktown that he didn’t
experience in Chicago. Corktown neighbors look out for one another
and support all the local businesses.
Quality of life is a main issue for many
millennials. Living five blocks from where he works means Ryan
can go home for lunch with his family. In Chicago, he lived ten
miles from where he worked which meant a thirty-minute commute
in regular traffic. He finds downtown living a convenient way of
Most important for Ryan is that he wants
to be part of something bigger than himself. He wants to be instrumental
in helping make an area where people are excited to live. His favorite
part of selling real estate is showing people what is possible.
Who is Moving Into Detroit? Thirty percent of people moving in are empty nesters, but the majority
are in the twenty-five to forty age range. People are coming back
to Detroit for the edginess that Chicago used to have. Chicago is
becoming more corporate, knowledge-based talent is looking for independent
bars and restaurants.
If We Build It, They Will Come Help navigating the licensing and permitting systems enabled Ryan
and his partners to get through the permit process for SLOWS BAR
BQ in two months. They are now working with MDOT to address parking
issues. As recommended in the Michigan Future, Inc. report, we need
to build a culture that values learning and entrepreneurial spirit
that is welcoming to all. If we build places where talent wants to
live, they will come.