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Reversing the Trend

Ryan Cooley, O'Connor Real Estate and Development

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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, Chicago’s 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 Detroit.

CooleyWhy 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 other.

  • 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 life.

  • 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.

 

If you have any questions, please contact: 
Colleen Layton, clayton@mml.org or Arnold Weinfeld, aweinfeld@mml.org .

 

 

 

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