Theatre Bizzare Gets A Nod from the New York Times

Detroit Reins In an Annual Halloween Revelry
Mary M. Chapman
New York Times

The arts community here is abuzz over the potential dismantling of the site of Theatre Bizarre, an 11-year-old party and macabre neighborhood carnival that is part Ringling Brothers, part “Dawn of the Dead,” and features makeshift rides, punk rock bands, over-the-top costumes, a haunted house, burlesque sideshows and other performances, some of them involving fire.

Its success may have been its undoing.

Each year for the past decade on a Saturday just before Halloween, as many as 3,000 revelers have clogged an east side residential neighborhood — whose blight and desolation complement the leitmotif — all for a funereal fantasy festival. Advertised by word of mouth, the outre masquerade has always danced under the radar of official Detroit.

That is, until this year. On Oct. 22, the day before the party, its founders, Ken Poirier and John Dunivant, learned of possible ordinance violations, including the failure to obtain a temporary liquor license. The event was moved to the Fillmore Detroit, a mixed-use entertainment site downtown. Mr. Poirier, an out-of-work home renovator, said the place was packed.

“People appreciated the fact that we didn’t quit,” he said. “We didn’t give them the environment that we have at the Theatre, but we gave them a show.”

A few days later, citations for other code violations were issued, requiring quick compliance. Otherwise, the site will be razed.

“It’s a pretty unusual situation,” said Kimberly James, director of the city’s Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department. “There are electrical wires all over the place. Somebody could get hurt on a carnival ride.”

To some residents, Detroit’s move to shut down the popular underground bash signals a commitment to law and order. To others, it symbolizes a disconnect with a burgeoning creative class in a city battling to reinvent itself.

Mr. Poirier, 45, said that he had always tried to be lawful, but that he would not fight the orders. Instead, he plans to pull the all-night party above ground, moving it across the street to the State Fairgrounds, which lost its fair last year because of state budget problems.

A permanent location could help the venture become profitable, Mr. Poirier added. As it is, the proceeds from ticket sales pay about 300 entertainers and 100 other workers.

“It’s sad that it had to happen this way, but it was inevitable,” Mr. Poirier said. “We pushed it as far as we could, the way we were growing.”

Some 700 people attended the first Theatre Bizarre, which was financed mostly with credit cards. Now, the site comprises nearly a block of the backyards of houses owned by Mr. Poirer, and mostly occupied by Theatre participants. One of those residents is Flec S. Mindscape, who juggles fire and also eats it.

“I have rolling-fireball scars,” he said with a chuckle, “But this is a great crew of people who appreciate circus art, juggling and magic. I’m very upset by what’s going on now.”

Mr. Dunivant, a freelance illustrator who conceived the Theatre and designs many of its stages and props, is “heartbroken” but philosophical. “We couldn’t have gotten away with this anywhere else in the world except Detroit, the city we love, because they just weren’t paying attention,” he said of city officials. “Now, they are paying attention.”

Some say unduly so. Ed Gardiner, a television producer and events promoter, had planned to host a Halloween party in his Detroit studio. That is, before a visit by the fire marshal. Unable to afford permit fees, he moved the event to a suburban hotel.

“They keep saying they want to attract a creative class to the city, but they squash everything that comes up,” Mr. Gardiner said. “There’s no understanding of the arts community here, and artists are the only ones doing anything.”

After the scandal-plagued administration of Kwame Kilpatrick, Mayor Dave Bing vowed to restore order and stability. That includes an uptick in ordinance enforcement, said Dan Lijana, a spokesman for Mr. Bing.

“We were supportive of them having their event, and we are going forward,” he said of the Theatre. “You just have to follow procedures and zoning requirements.”

At the site of the Theatre Bizarre this week, Mr. Poirier and a handful of others were surveying the work ahead. A Ferris wheel stretched above a six-foot wooden fence.

“You know, I’ve watched all the houses in my neighborhood burn down. I saw a school stripped right next door,” he said wistfully. “In the meantime, we were just trying to do something here a little fun and exciting.”

Detroit Shoppe Opens Nov. 1 at Somerset

Carol Hopkins
For Journal Register Newspapers
Macomb Daily

The Detroit Shoppe at Somerset Collection in Troy. The 4800 square-foot space has museum like exhibits Detroit memorabilia and iconic Detroit brands such as Better Made, Faygo among others. The shoppe will be open through the end of the Auto Show with proceeds going to charity.

Vernors, Hudson’s, Motown, Detroit Red Wings, Faygo — the names  alone evoke so many memories for native metro Detroiters.

Those iconic brands — along with memorable Detroit photographs and artifacts — are being featured at The Detroit Shoppe, which opens Nov. 1 at Somerset Collection in Troy.

The 4800-square-foot space next to Macy’s on the mall’s second floor, is curated in part by the Detroit Historical Museum. The store has a limited shelf life. It will be open through Jan. 23, the end of Detroit’s North American International Auto Show.

The space offers a sampling  of area museums. In one corner is a recreated Vernor’s soda fountain. In another, visitors can see Pewabic pottery tiles.

Guests are bound to linger over a corridor lined with black-and-white photos showing scenes from Detroit’s past.

Officials said they were inspired to create the shop after the success of a Somerset Collection advertising campaign featuring Detroit’s most famous spots.

“Detroit is talked about in documentaries of America,” said Linda McIntosh, Somerset Collection’s marketing director, “and the people, places the products of Detroit helped move the country forward.

“The shop is a billboard for the City of Detroit saying, ‘You belong here.’ We want people to experience what the city has to offer — whether it’s a trip to the Henry Ford Museum, or a night of jazz or to take in a hockey game.

“Our goal is to help people decide where to go in the city and encourage them to do that,” McIntosh said.

The store — which includes historical pieces loaned by private collectors — allows visitors to savor what has made Detroit great.

Small niche areas invite people to peek inside. One features a glimpse of the Detroit Hudson’s flagship department store, complete with a preserved store directory. Another space welcomes people into  a recreated 1960s-era Motown studio with handwritten music on display.

Many items are for sale. People with a hankering for Sanders hot fudge and other food products will be able to purchase them at the shop.

Detroit-themed books, calendars, collectibles, clothing and photographs are also on sale.

Debuting at the store is a $20 T-shirt emblazoned with the “Detroit Moves Me” slogan. Proceeds from shirt sales go to the charities. Shoppers can select six designated items for their “Great Detroit 6 Pack” and receive a $10 Somerset gift card in return.

The Somerset Foundation operates the store, with all proceeds from the sale of merchandise going to Detroit nonprofits and cultural institutions.

McIntosh credited the shop sponsors including Southeastern Michigan Lincoln Dealers and Quicken Loans for contributions.

“They’re the reason we can give every penny back,” said McIntosh.


Tours of famous Detroit area venues are being promoted by the Detroit Shoppe with free  shuttles provided from the Troy store. Reservations can be made in person at the store or by calling the store at 248-816-5470. Guests pay for their own costs at the venue, including tickets and food. Upon returning to the Detroit Shoppe, guests will be given time to shop and enjoy Sanders hot fudge sundae “shots.”

1 p.m., Nov. 7. Visit Cliff Bell’s Detroit jazz club and restaurant. Meet at The Detroit Shoppe for mimosas and Motor City Mary’s, then enjoy a jazz brunch at Cliff Bell’s.

10 a.m. Nov. 12, Greenfield Village/Henry Ford Museum. Meet at The Detroit Shoppe for continental breakfast. Guests will be shuttled to the Dearborn attractions.

6 p.m. Nov. 18, Pewabic Pottery. Meet at The Detroit Shoppe for appetizers courtesy of Eastern Market. Guests will enjoy champagne toast at Pewabic.

6 p.m. Dec. 3, Detroit Institute of Arts. Meet at The Detroit Shoppe for appetizers courtesy of Eastern Market. Tour of the art museum follows.

6 p.m. Dec. 10, Motown Museum/American Coney Island. Guests meet at The Detroit Shoppe for appetizers courtesy of Eastern Market. They tour the museum and shop in its gift shop using a $10 Motown gift card.

 7 p.m. Dec. 16, Museum of African American History. Guests tour of museum and view the special exhibit “Music at the Apollo.” A reception at Cliff Bell’s follows.

The Detroit Shoppe is located next to Macy’s on the second floor (above the Apple store) of Somerset Collection North on Big Beaver Road in Troy. Guests may purchase memberships to any of the museums and institutions in the shop, and with each membership receive a $25 Somerset gift card. Call 248-816-5470. The store will be open during mall hours, visit
During the months of November and December, Operation: Kid Equip will award more than $1 million in books to each of the higher-poverty public schools the organization serves in Macomb and Oakland Counties. Roughly 90 schools will each receive an award valued at $10,000 in new reading and educational books.

Operation: Kid Equip works to increase the reading skills and academic achievements of children in need.

“This special award will allow children to claim reading as their own,” said Michael (Menachem) Kniespeck, founder and general director of Operation: Kid Equip. “Many teachers have told us about the excitement children feel when they receive a new book. Some teachers have told us that the books Operation: Kid Equip provides were often the first or only new book a child has ever received.”

During the next month, each of Operation: Kid Equip’s board members will also select a public school or nonprofit group of their choosing in southeastern Michigan to surprise with a $10,000 book grant. Each school, district or organization receiving an award will be able to schedule picking up the books from Operation: Kid Equip starting the second week of November.

Operation: Kid Equip works with publishers who donate book overruns and excess stock. The organization also receives books through its partnerships with other aid agencies around the nation. For this special award, a private donor helped cover the costs of transporting the books to Operation: Kid Equip for distribution.

As an all-volunteer organization, Operation: Kid Equip provides free supplemental school supplies, books, hygiene and food items for local children in need. Currently, the organization serves about 38,000 children a month across 90 schools in Macomb, Oakland and parts of Wayne County. Operation: Kid Equip works with public schools with 70 percent or more of the enrolled students eligible for the free and reduced-priced lunch program.

To learn more about Operation: Kid Equip, sign up to volunteer, or make a donation, visit the organization’s web site:
Joann Muller

When General Motors went into bankruptcy, it had too many brands, too many factories and too many dealers. So GM did what most companies with too much capacity do--it cut to the core, saving only what was viable. Today GM is a smaller but much healthier company.

Can a city follow the same path? That's essentially the controversial plan of Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, a basketball Hall of Famer who ran his own automotive supply company for three decades before his election in May 2009. He wants to strengthen Detroit's viable neighborhoods and raze or recycle the rest of the city--some 40 square miles in all, or 30% of its land--for new industries, sprawling residential lots, public parks and urban farms. But that means trying to entice the remaining residents of the failed neighborhoods to relocate. The carrot? He's fixing up some of the 50,000 foreclosed homes owned by the city in more stable areas--and offering each for a nominal sum to those willing to relocate there.

The mayor vows that people will not be forced from their homes as the city is reshaped. But he's counting on the lure of safer streets, convenient shopping and modern services to convince residents in dying areas to move. By concentrating limited resources in areas with the highest population density, he's hopeful Detroit can be saved. Still, this is no easy task. "I am not naive," says the soft-spoken 66-year-old Bing. "We are asking people who have lived here for generations to change. But if we don't change we'll fail, and I don't want to be part of that failure."

Geographically Detroit is a huge city; the urban footprints of Manhattan, San Francisco and Boston could fit inside its limits. But m any neighborhoods are virtual ghost towns. The city has lost 60% of its population since 1950, when it was home to 1.85 million people.

On the 13300 block of Flanders Street, for instance, there's an eerie emptiness to the neighborhood. Three elderly women live alone on the block in tidy wood-frame houses, with neatly trimmed lawns and colorful gardens surrounded by chain-link fences. The rest of the houses on Flanders are boarded up, burned out or otherwise abandoned.

"If there are only 50 houses in a neighborhood where there used to be 2,000, is that really viable?" asks Karla Henderson, who oversees Bing's Detroit Works Project. Of the city's 54 neighborhoods only 15 have been deemed healthy by city officials. "Even our stronger neighborhoods are tipping," she says. Over the next four years Bing will use a threefold increase in federal neighborhood stabilization money to tear down 10,000 dangerous structures in all-but-abandoned neighborhoods.

Bill Keveney
USA Today

The detective chases the suspect into a huge, abandoned building, a decaying structure that has the air of faded majesty.

It's clearly not a Hollywood soundstage, nor one of those all-too-familiar landmarks of New York or Los Angeles. It's Michigan Central Station, built in 1913 and captured in ABC's new cop drama, Detroit 1-8-7.

From the streets of Miami to downtown Honolulu, more network and cable TV series are being filmed across the states, with authentic backdrops that give viewers a refreshing break from the Hollywood sign and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Lower costs and tax breaks help, but studio executives say creative advantages are the top reason for moving beyond the filming capitals; the location becomes an additional character in the drama.

"You can invite the audience into where they actually are," says David Stapf, chief of CBS Television Studios, which produces Hawaii Five-0. "A scene that normally might take place on a stage, you can have take place on the beach."

Numerous first-year series are being filmed where they're set, or nearby, including 1-8-7 and Five-0; NBC's Chase (with Dallas substituting for Houston); Fox's The Good Guys (Dallas); and A&E's The Glades (South Florida). Fox's Lone Star and ABC's My Generation, both canceled, filmed in Texas.

They join other series shot on location, such as NBC and DirecTV's Friday Night Lights (Austin), USA's Burn Notice (Miami), FX's Terriers (San Diego's Ocean Beach) and HBO's Hung (Detroit). And new shows Blue Bloods on CBS and Law & Order: Los Angeles on NBC make New York and L.A., respectively, integral to the stories rather than just making use of the cities' industry infrastructure.

Hawaii Five-0 already has taken viewers to the International Market Place in Waikiki; the Manoa Valley; the surfing-heavy North Shore; and the Kahala Hotel, famed for its dolphins. 1-8-7 has gone to Hart Plaza, near the landmark Renaissance Center; Grosse Pointe; Dearborn; and Hamtramck. Good Guys viewers have seen the architecturally distinctive Dallas City Hall and Fountain Place.

'Landscape tells the story'

Shooting on location "profoundly affects the storytelling," says Matt Nix, executive producer of Good Guys and Burn Notice. Burn Notice originally was to be set in Newark; the shift to Miami meant a substantial atmospheric change.

"The first level is, 'Oh, there's a neighborhood called Little Havana. Let's shoot there,' " he says. "By the fourth season, you're into Little Dominica. You're into a distinction between Hollywood Beach and Miami Beach. If you're on the run from the law, you're more likely to hide in Hollywood than Miami Beach."

And for the cast, location filming can be an eye-opener. "Little did I know Detroit is such a fabulous town," 1-8-7 co-star James McDaniel says. "Detroit is sorely misunderstood by the nation. We finished working in a place called Palmer Woods, which is a glorious, beautiful neighborhood. We were shooting in this dentist's house, (which) was more a museum of black American art than you've ever seen."

Since many series succeed without being shot on location —CSIs set in Las Vegas, Miami and New York are all filmed in L.A., as is D.C.-based NCIS— why shoot somewhere else? More important, do audiences know or care?

Viewers need to be transported into the world of a show, whether it's filmed in L.A., as is New York-set Castle, or on location, as is 1-8-7, says ABC executive vice president of creative Barry Jossen, whose studio produces both shows.

"It needs to feel real. Anything that feels unreal or incongruent creates a disconnect," he says. "As it relates to Detroit 1-8-7, one of the great qualities that shooting in Detroit offers us is not just verisimilitude but authenticity. There are certain architectural looks to the city. There is the actual demographics of the population base. Wherever you point the camera, it is real Detroit."

The audience does notice the city, 1-8-7 star Michael Imperioli says. "It's visually very specific, and the landscape really tells the story of this city and what it's been through, the ups and downs and difficulties. It's also really helped our writers to tailor the stories to what actually happens here. There is a feeling that it's about the city and specific issues they deal with."

Some places just can't be re-created. "If it was me and I'm watching the show as a fan, something like Hawaii Five-0 I would want to feel was shot there. Other shows (film in Los Angeles) and do such a good job," says executive producer Peter Lenkov, a veteran of L.A.-filmed CSI: NY. "It's just the legacy of this show, being shot in Hawaii. I couldn't do this show anyplace but Hawaii."

Detroit offers a different look, with sites such as the train station pulling the viewer right into the Motor City, 1-8-7 executive producer Kevin Hooks says.

"It's still a landmark of Detroit. It was once just a grand, old building," he says. Such locations "give us an opportunity to speak in a voice that is truly unique and is something that has not been seen by TV audiences."

For all the authenticity and creative opportunity, money remains a major motivation. About 40 states offer a range of incentives, such as a tax credit of up to 42% in Michigan, which is enjoying its best production year. Hawaii offers a 15% rebate for production money spent on Oahu and 20% on the other islands; Texas, enjoying the most productions it has ever had, provides a 15% cash rebate.

The amount of shooting in Texas "is directly attributable to the incentive program we have in place. I assure you they wouldn't be here if it didn't make financial sense," Texas Film Commission director Bob Hudgins says.

Studios get savings that can make a project affordable, while the state enjoys tax, job and other benefits from millions of dollars injected into the economy. A record $391 million is expected to be spent on TV and film production in Hawaii this year.

Been there, done that

Experienced film crews also attract producers. Nix says that was a plus in choosing Dallas for Good Guys and Miami for Burn Notice. "One of the great things about both cities is they've had action shows shot there. When you go to Dallas and much of your crew worked on or worked with people who worked on Walker, Texas Ranger, nobody bats an eye when you say you want to drive this car off the side of a parking garage.

"In Miami, having had Miami Vice, it gets down to stuff like, 'We can spin a car out at that corner, and there's a pylon, which is a great place to smash it.' They know every place you can do a car chase, every place you can flip a car," Nix says.

States also gain exposure, which helps with anything from tourism to image. Lost, which was supposed to be on a mysterious island, and Five-0 show off the beauty of Hawaii in different ways, says Daniel Dae Kim, a star of both shows.

"On Lost, we were using a lot of jungle locations, being very careful not to use any sign of civilization. Hawaii Five-0 has a lot more leeway and can actually serve as a postcard for Hawaii. It can show off the natural and man-made scenery."

There is a risk, however, in setting a show about homicide detectives in a city like Detroit; it could simply reinforce a downtrodden image. Cast and crew say they're sensitive to that and try to balance the portrayal.

"There's a lot of crime and decay here. I don't want to paint a false picture. But I don't think (1-8-7) exploits that nor is it the single focus," Imperioli says. "We're not just telling stories about gang violence and drug crimes and drive-by shootings. The city has a lot of different elements. There are wealthier neighborhoods, middle-class neighborhoods and poorer neighborhoods. We're going into all of that."

"We're not doing Cops here," 1-8-7's McDaniel says. "If we were to just show Detroit from the lower-depths standpoint, that would be what journalists do. Dog bites man, over and over again."

And when it comes to escap-ism, a place like Hawaii can just make Hawaii Five-0 a pleasant show to visit. "In the dead of winter, when it's 30 degrees outside, I think (viewers) really want to believe Hawaii is that beautiful and warm and the actors are actually there," Kim says.

Imperioli, center in suit, shoots a scene on location in Detroit for the episode titled "Murder in Greektown/High School Confidential."
Yahoo News

Molly Abraham, Special Edition to the Detroit News

Twenty Detroit-area restaurants have been named among "America's Top Restaurants" in the 2011 edition of the influential national Zagat guide. The slim maroon book, which rates 1,552 restaurants in 45 major cities, arrives in bookstores today.

The rankings represent the opinions of ordinary diners who register on to comment about the food, decor, service and cost of restaurants selected by editors of Zagat, one of the best known but most mispronounced names in the world of restaurant ratings — zuh-GAT (rhymes with cat) is the way to say it.

"Anyone who is passionate about food can be one of our surveyors," says Tiffany Herklots, communications director at The 2011 guide ($15.95) represents a cross-section of the views and comments of more than 153,000 diners who have visited the restaurants they vote for in the past year.

Ten Detroit area restaurants achieved the top tier ranking of 28, 27 or 26 points out of a possible 30. That's pretty much as difficult as batting over .400. Another 10 local restaurants receive the designation of "other noteworthy places." That might seem akin to coming in second in a beauty contest, but it's solid recognition nonetheless.

Bacco Ristorante in Southfield and the Lark in West Bloomfield Township are the only local spots to get 28 points out of the possible 30. In the Zagat guide, Bacco fans call it "superb" and a place to "see-and-be-seen," while the Lark draws such comments as "still the top of the heap" and "old-school elegant."

Bill Roberts, the only local proprietor with not one, but two, restaurants in the top tier — the Beverly Hills Grill in Beverly Hills, which has made the list before, and Streetside Seafood in Birmingham, which shows up for the first time — says it's "thrilling" to be included.

"It's great to be acknowledged by our guests, who are the ones who write in and get the ratings to the guide," he says. "Our staff does such a good job. We tweak and change and try to make things better, and this sort of recognition makes it all worthwhile."

Guests of Streetside Seafood quoted in the guide call it "happening," "a neighborhoood favorite" and say it has "fantastic seafood."

Craig Common, chef/proprietor of the Common Grill in Chelsea, also is not a newcomer to the Zagat ratings yet excited to be included.

"This will probably be the sixth or seventh time, but I'm never tired of it," he says. "It's nice to be recognized, and it's a good feather in the cap of the staff. The guests who've supported us all these years will be excited, too." Comments from Common Grill patrons include "worth the drive" and "uncommonly good."

The Zagat guide originated in 1979 as a hobby for husband-and-wife team Tim and Nina Zagat, but now rates hotels and resorts as well as restaurants and has a staff of 100 in New York, an online shop and international scope.

With an e-mail address and ZIP code, diners can register at to provide feedback about restaurants from a list created by Zagat editors in that area. There are two ways to contribute: by participating in surveys throughout the year, or going to a restaurant's Zagat property page and providing feedback after a dining experience. Restaurants with a lot of positive feedback are included in the "America's Top Restaurants 2011" guide, with some editorial discretion to include restaurants that are particularly well-known.

Zagat's Detroit top food rankings

The Lark, 6430 Farmington Road, West Bloomfield Township. (248) 661-4466.

Bacco Ristorante, 29410 Northwestern Highway, Southfield. (248) 356-6600.

Common Grill, 112 S. Main St., Chelsea. (734) 475-0470.

Zingerman's Delicatessen, 422 Detroit St., Ann Arbor. (734) 663-3354.

Cafe Cortina, 30715 W. 10 Mile, Farmington Hills. (248) 474-3033.

Beverly Hills Grill, 31471 Southfield Road, Beverly Hills. (248) 642-2355.

Saltwater, 1777 Third St., Detroit. (313) 465-1646.

West End Grill, 120 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor. (734) 747-6260.

Streetside Seafood, 273 Pierce St., Birmingham. (248) 645-9123.

Logan, 115 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor. (734) 327-2313.

Other noteworthy places

Assaggi Bistro, 330 W. Nine Mile, Ferndale. (248) 584-3499.

Atlas Global Bistro, 3111 Woodward Ave., Detroit. (313) 831-2241.

Capital Grille, 2800 W. Big Beaver Road, Troy. (248) 649-5200.

The Earle, 121 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor. (734) 994-0211.

Eve, 1415 N. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor. (734) 222-0711.

Hong Hua, 27925 Orchard Lake Road, Farmington Hills. (248) 489-2280.

Rattlesnake Club, 300 River Place, Detroit. (313) 567-4400.

Roast, 1128 Washington Blvd., Detroit. (313) 961-2500.

Rugby Grill, 100 Townsend St., Birmingham. (248) 642-5999.

The Whitney, 4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit. (313) 832-5700.

Photo Credit

Living With Mies

The New York Times Opinionator 
By Danielle Aubert, Lana Cavar and Natasha Chandani
Photo by Corine Vermeulen

Corine Vermeulen Lafayette Park is an enclave of modernist townhouses designed by the architect Mies van der Rohe.

A few blocks east of Detroit’s downtown, just across Interstate 375, sits Lafayette Park, an enclave of single- and two-story modernist townhouses set amid a forest of locust trees. Like hundreds of developments nationwide, they were the result of postwar urban renewal; unlike almost all of them, it had a trio of world-class designers behind it: Ludwig Hilbersheimer as urban planner, Alfred Caldwell as landscape designer and Mies van der Rohe as architect.

The townhouses, plus three high-rise buildings, were built between 1958 and 1962 on land previously occupied by a working-class African-American neighborhood, Black Bottom. While much of Detroit began a steep decline soon after, Lafayette Park stayed afloat, its residents bucking the trend of suburban flight. Lafayette Park today is one of the most racially integrated neighborhoods in the city. It is economically stable, despite the fact that Detroit has suffered enormous population loss and strained city services.

We wanted to hear how residents — especially people with long-term, intimate knowledge of living with Mies — think about this unique modernist environment and how they confront and adapt it to meet their needs. During our research, we were struck by the casual attitude that many residents have toward the architecture. Then again, Detroit has an abundance of beautiful housing options: one can live in a huge Victorian mansion, a beautiful arts and crafts house or a cavernous loft-conversion space in a former factory. Living in a townhouse built by a renowned architect isn’t as noteworthy as one might think. At the same time, such nonchalance is a mark of success: the homes are great because they work, not because they come affixed with a famous name.

Indeed, their beauty isn’t always obvious. There is a kind of austere uniformity to the Lafayette Park townhouses when viewed from the outside. Some visitors find them unappealing; one contractor described them as “bunkers.” The interior layouts are nearly identical. The units are compact in size and some people find them too small, though the floor-to-ceiling windows on the front and back of each building open the living spaces to the outside.

To be sure, there are people who live in Lafayette Park who are architecture enthusiasts, keenly aware of Mies van der Rohe’s place in history, who were drawn here specifically because he designed these buildings. But they are a minority. Many more residents were attracted to the lush landscape, the sense of community, the gigantic windows and the convenience of living downtown.

While they may have strong aesthetic preferences, the residents we spoke with do not necessarily favor midcentury modernism in their interiors or architecture. But they make it work: several people remarked on the way the interiors in the Lafayette Park townhouses can function as blank canvasses for a variety of decorating styles. Indeed, the best design doesn’t force a personality on its residents. Instead, it helps them bring out their own.

Interactive Feature: See how residents live in their spaces and hear about what Mies’s design aesthetic does and does not mean to them.

Danielle Aubert, Lana Cavar and Natasha Chandani work together on Placement, a transient, site-specific project about the interaction of people and places.
Houses Being Given Away in Detroit
iReport CNN

It’s not the fact that they cost only $100 and they seem to be free; a new grassroots organization is literally giving away two houses this summer—completely renovated—and anyone can apply.

Habitat for Hamtramck is a grassroots organization with the goal of rehabilitating houses in the Hamtramck area of Detroit and then giving them to families that can help further the positive redevelopment of the area.  By accepting donations from the public then redistributing the accrued funds vis-à-vis cash payments to local workers and cash purchases of the building material which can then be gifted to the jobsite, the organization can bypass bureaucratic hassles and tax impediments, speedily accomplishing tasks that may otherwise take months to complete by larger, less pragmatic organizations.

“I wanted to create a new model for community service,” says director and founder Ian Perrotta, “based on action and result. Too much of community service is hands off these days. Raise money for an organization and wonder where it goes. Drop some change in a bucket during the holidays. Add a dollar to your purchase and get a shamrock to cure cancer. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these, they’re all hands-off. Habitat for Hamtramck will not only give the public a chance to donate money, but to also see—and sometimes vote—where it goes.”

The organization will use a joint account that has the name of a public official on it, and every bank statement will be made public through a website that keeps real-time updates on projects, funds, and other developments, proving to the public where all funds come from and go to. Occasionally, the public will have the opportunity to vote on various tasks, like what kind of appliance to buy or what color to paint a wall. And if that’s not enough, for those who want to participate, that too is an option.

“My goal is to find a good, solid crew of local Detroit workers to pay, but we will need a lot volunteers to help out, too. Anyone with any skill—carpentry, masonry, plumbing, marketing, clerical, whatever—can help out. We’re also looking for businesses to help donate or discount supplies and other services.”

The reason Hamtramck was chosen is a mixture of economics, politics, and coincidence. Because home prices in the Detroit area fell to record lows as a result of the economic recession, the city of Hamtramck (fully encompassed by the city of Detroit) was also affected. However, rather than let the circumstances hold the city back, the progressive attitudes of both the Mayor and City Council, as well as the willingness of the citizens to embrace and institute change, has allowed the city to flourish, emerging as a model for a urban rejuvenation, with a locally owned and operated economy comprised of citizens from all around the world who have made Hamtramck their home.

On Friday, March 20th 2009 ABC aired a 20/20 episode titled “20/20: Living on the Edge in Today’s Economy.” It featured a segment on the housing market in Detroit that focused on the story of artists Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert, who recently purchased a house for $1,900, as well as the two adjacent lots. After buying the house next door for $500, they sold it to their friends for a $50 profit and focused on a $100 house down the street, which they then helped their friends John and Sarah buy. Word of the Detroit area real estate phenomenon spread, and a group of architects and city planners in Amsterdam started a project called the “Detroit Unreal Estate Agency” and, with Mitch’s help, found a property around the corner. The director of the Dutch museum Van Abbenmuseum has called it “a new way of shaping the urban environment."

     Watching this episode was Ian Perrotta and his twin brother, Andrew. They were curious and did some research to see if houses could really be purchased for $100. After a chance encounter with a Craigslist ad that was listed as “deal of a lifetime: 50 houses for $75,000,” they located a few houses in the Hamtramck area and arranged to meet the seller’s agent the next day. By the arranged meeting time--10 a.m.--they were in Detroit. By the next week, five Quit Claim Deeds totaling $1,400 were in hand.

After the initial trip, both brothers decided to move to Detroit. Ian sent the mayor of Hamtramck, Karen Majewski, an e-mail informing her of his decision to move, volunteering whatever services a recent graduate with Political Science and English Writing degrees had to offer.  Amazed and curious about the offer, she agreed to meet to have coffee and discuss the e-mail and the potential for Hamtramck’s future. It was at this meeting that the idea for Habitat for Hamtramck was presented and met with encouragement by the mayor, and at this point when the idea started to become a reality. “At the end of the meeting, Mayor Majewski offered her services in any way she could help,” recalls Perrotta.

The project begins on June 1st, 2009. The Habitat for Hamtramck website features a blog, pages about both houses slated for renovation, as well as links to Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and other resources. Additionally, donations are now being accepted through Paypal. It is the embracement of these technologies that makes Perrotta believe his organization will succeed.

“Modern technology can be used the wrong way, like texting during class or talking on your phone instead of paying attention to the road, but it can also be used the right way, like creating a network of people with the resources and talent to enact a positive change. That is what Habitat for Hamtramck has the potential to become. And it doesn’t have to stop there. There is no reason there can’t be a Habitat for Pittsburgh, Habitat for Boston, Habitat for Manhattan, KS”

This attitude is shared by the website’s first Guestbook signer, Judith Vollmer, a renowned poet and professor at the University of Pittsburgh-Greensburg, Perrotta’s alma mater. Her belief in and optimism for the organization are clear:

“Wishing you good luck and much joy in your great project. I look forward to visiting.”

 Ian Perrotta with Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski during the meeting at Cafe 1923 on March 27, 2009.

Evan Klonsky
Inc. Magazine

There's no hiding the fact that the past decade hasn't been easy on the Motor City. Once a paragon of stability and the nation's fourth largest city, Detroit has seemed to fade alongside the auto industry on which it so vitally depends – now sitting at 11th place on that very same list.

In spite of the decline, those who stay refuse to see this as an anything other than an opportunity. With tons of open space, inexpensive rent, and legions of talented workers, the city was – and is – ripe for the kind of fresh and innovative thinking that drives new business. "Detroit needed to decrease its reliance on manufacturing," says Ross Sanders, CEO of Bizdom U, a local business accelerator formed in 2007. It needed to transform into a "brain economy," he adds, rooted in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Bizdom U, founded and funded by Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert, is among the many organizations formed the past few years with the aim of diversifying and sustaining business in the region. These places recognized the ingredients – the new ideas, the support, the passion – already in place to make Detroit into a 21st century economy.

"The entrepreneurial spirit that exists in this region has been here forever," says David Egner, director of the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan. What organizations like his have done is shine a light back on would-be entrepreneurs and provide them the resources to start strong.

While returns remain modest, small ripples of new businesses have begun to pop up around the city’s tri-county area. Ranging from high-tech battery-makers to downtown storefronts, these new businesses hope to grow into the impending wave of prosperity down the road. Here are five reasons why they will succeed.

1. Innovation is in the air.

Egner of the New Economy Initiative isn't hyperbolizing when he talks about Detroit's unique, longstanding entrepreneurial spirit. He's just trying to characterize a city that paved the way for automotive innovation for more than 70 years. The problem, however, was that the city became extremely rooted in its past success.

Perhaps too rooted. "What's held Detroit back has been the success of entrepreneurs in the last century," says Chris Rizik, one of the region's most prominent venture capitalists.

"What it created were two generations of employees, not of entrepreneurs," says Rizik, whose Renaissance Venture Capital Fund invests only in Michigan start-ups.

Once the large corporations – or the "safety net" as Rizik describes them collectively – began to falter, many of their employees were left jobless. "People had the choice to stay and do things more entrepreneurial, or leave," Rizik adds.

Ah: a silver lining. Those who stayed have started to bring about dramatic changes in the culture, not unlike New Orleanians after the flood.

To see the change, you needn’t look further than the SPARK Business Accelerator in Ann Arbor. Located 45 miles outside the city center, SPARK has helped more than 200 innovation-related start-ups in the region. Its convenient location next to one of the world's leading research institutions – the University of Michigan – doesn't hurt either. "We think Ann Arbor represents a wonderful hub of activity that can serve as a catalyst for the rest of the state of Michigan," says Michael Finney, president and CEO of SPARK.

Entrepreneurs also look to the region's automotive pedigree to tackle new industries. They can parlay the region's swath of talented engineers to make innovations in areas like battery technology, which Rizik says fits "hand-in-glove" with the auto industry. SPARK has, in fact, sought funding for a few battery makers in Ann Arbor, aiming to establish Michigan as a leader in the technology for the rest of the country.

2. Training and support abound.

Integral to the success of any entrepreneur is, after all, having the right tools get there. Organizations like Bizdom U and the Kauffman Foundation have poured resources into training business owners in how to sustain growth for the future. In June of 2009, the New Economy Initiative helped bring Kauffman's FastTrac program to the city without cost. Since then, FastTrac has worked with and graduated more than 1,200 entrepreneurs from an assortment of backgrounds.

Two FastTrac graduates include Austin Black and James Canning, longtime friends and Detroit natives who both started their own businesses this past year. After completing the course last year, Black encouraged Canning to enroll as a way to shore up the direction he wanted to take his new PR company. "As someone whose job it is to help people tell their stories, this class helped me to tell my own story," Canning says. Soon he learned strategies like how to develop his mission, create his competitive advantage, and attract new clients to the businesss.

FastTrac courses typically run 10 weeks and help entrepreneurs to carry out certain early business plan objectives. Bizdom U, by contrast, provides an intense, full-scale experience from the idea stage all the way to acquiring funding. Each year, twenty chosen entrepreneurs partake in a four-month regimen where they get feedback from consultants, a professional workspace to operate from, and help with business plan development. At the end participants are eligible to receive up to $100,000 in funding to invest in their businesses.

Bizdom U largely came out of the vision Dan Gilbert had for the city in 2006. By moving the Quicken Loans headquarters to downtown Detroit, Gilbert staked his faith in the future of the city. And, as Sanders points out, entrepreneurs have responded to the call. These aggressive, forward-thinking leaders, he says, will lay the groundwork for the city’s next generation of innovators.

3. A vibrant support network exists.

Though a diverse lot, Detroit entrepreneurs all seem to share one common trait: they want to see each other succeed. Owners of businesses large and small, across dozens of different industries, have united under this belief to help the city progress as a whole.

"You have this community in Detroit where entrepreneurs want other entrepreneurs to succeed because it brings more business and more people to the city," says Black, who started his own real estate company devoted to city living. Black's passion for Detroit and its success extends to his work with Detroit Synergy, a group he helped found to give people the resources they need to revitalize the city.

Detroit's collaborative and collective mindset is one of the primary catalysts for the creation of groups like Open City Detroit. Started by two women entrepreneurs, Open City invites its network of loosely connected business owners to share thoughts on how to run better businesses. "No one is competing here as much as they are trying to help one another through forums like Open City," says James Canning. Open City is just one of a number of similar resources such as Motor City Connect, Business Leaders for Michigan, and Fusion Detroit that aim to bring these enthused leaders together.

One such leader is Jonathan Citrin, the 34-year-old founder of the aptly titled financial services firm CitrinGroup. Citrin considers himself lucky that he was on the early end of the city’s entrepreneurial upswing – the firm started in 2003 and has doubled its revenue in the past 18 months alone. Now, after all his success, Citrin hopes to guide others along a similar path. "I made a ton of mistakes," he admits. "But had I had some of the support that’s here now, I know I would’ve done even better."

Part of helping others to do better involves mentoring other business owners and teaching part-time at Wayne State University's School of Business Administration. Citrin says he loves to talk with students and aspiring entrepreneurs about their projects, particularly Wayne State’s high-tech business park, TechTown. "I don’t know if they get enough credit, but Wayne has been a real bright spot in fostering entrepreneurship in town," he says.

Similar to SPARK, TechTown works with innovators from the university community to bring ideas into fruition. It hosts 70 high-tech, growing companies from its facility in the heart of midtown and has enrolled a host of entrepreneurs in Kauffman’s FastTrac program as well. While TechTown and SPARK and other accelerators operate independently, each has its own strengths. Rizik helps spawn capital for many of these accelerators and has seen increased communication between them in recent years. He says that "it’s only through the coordination and efforts between them that they can each be optimized."

4. There's access to space, leadership, and capital.

These three elements combine to make the Detroit landscape an untapped territory for starting business on the cheap.

Austin Black worked in the Detroit real estate market for nearly a decade before opening up his own shop specializing in urban communities. He says he's witnessed a lot of movement over the past five years into neighborhoods that had traditionally sparse residential populations. Lately, though, Midtown in particular has turned many of its vacant lots into mixed-use structures that combine storefronts and residences.

"You have a lot of landlords that really want to work with entrepreneurs and help them open businesses because of the benefit of storefront sales," Black says. This seamless "barrier of entry," he says, is what drives entrepreneurs to open businesses they are passionate about and fill a need for the city.

The hospitable disposition you get from the city trickles down from the its stable of strong, accessible leaders. James Canning says he doesn't have trouble getting meetings with some of the top CEOs in his industry, willing to lend a helping hand to those starting out. "The established leadership are looking for new ideas and next wave leaders to step up," he says. "Those that are taking the initiative to do so are being heard."

Named Crain Detroit Businesses' Newsmaker of the Year in 2009, Chris Rizik is certainly one of those leaders looking for the next big idea. He founded Renaissance Venture Capital Fund under the notion that Michigan was brimming with opportunities for investment. He cites that it has been a top-five region for research and development over the past few decades on both the corporate and university levels. Now it is his responsibility to convince investors of the state's potential for innovation and business development. And to a large extent, Rizik has been quite convincing.

"So far we've invested a certain amount in venture capital, and they've invested four times that amount in Michigan," Rizik says of the investors.

While funding from companies like Rizik's makes for a good start, investors aren't exactly throwing money around, especially for non-high-tech industries. Egner believes that the region's access to capital will grow even stronger once it has a more robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. "VCs will come here when they see something to invest in," he says. "We have to make sure the infrastructure is in place, so that companies that come here will stay here."

For now, Egner advocates freeing up capital for companies in the second stage of growth looking to reach the next level. He doesn't want to freeze capital for proven companies while earlier stage companies misallocate funds. He says that only once they align the right resources – the research, development, and communication – can they use capital to fortify growth.

5. Government support is plentiful.

Apart from all the independent accelerators out there, the government itself remains dedicated to small-business growth as well. Michael Finney of SPARK says that government cooperation has been vital to the growth of Ann Arbor's now-vibrant entrepreneurial community. "We have a very seamless voice to local and state government with respect to the needs of our entrepreneurs," he says. "And these governments respond very nicely to ensure they're not inhibiting the ability of the entrepreneur to be successful."

Organizations like the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation also serve as liaisons between business owners and the state. Bizdom U CEO Ross Sanders says his businesses have received assistance from the DEGC as well as support from the city government. Entrepreneurs from the program have presented their progress in front of City Council meetings and have even gotten pep talks from Detroit's mayor, Dave Bing. "The government is really recognizing need to foster entrepreneurship and to retain talent in Michigan to do so," Sanders says.

Grant programs such as the 21st Century Jobs Fund prove the state's commitment to aiding Michigan businesses. So far Michigan has committed close to $100 million to the 21st Century Jobs Fund, which aims to grow new industries in technology and alternative energy that will bring a diverse, robust economy to the state.

Ultimately the burden to change will fall in the hands of the entrepreneurs and their passions. The government, the leaders, and the community have given them the means to succeed. Now it will be up to them to make it happen.
The Associate Baron's Council, the Detroit young professional group who have aligned themselves with the American Cancer Society, is hosting a wine tasting event on Oct. 21st at Assaggi Bistro in Ferndale.

The event is our second fundraiser this year for the American Cancer Society. We are looking to make it just as successful as our Drive Against Cancer Golf Outing which raised over $12,000 for the American Cancer Society.

Below is the information regarding the event:

Assaggi Bistro Wine Tasting
Hosted by The Associate Baron's Council

The Associate Baron's Council invites you to attend the Assaggi Bistro Wine Tasting. Tickets are $50 with the proceeds going to the American Cancer Society. Your ticket includes fantastic wines and delicious hor d’ouerves in an elegant bistro setting.

Assaggi Bistro
330 W. Nine Mile Rd
Ferndale, MI

Thursday, October 21st, 2010
Cost: $50 with proceeds going to the American Cancer Society
Time: 6:30 p.m.- 9 p.m.

Assaggi Bistro in Ferndale will close its restaurant doors on Thursday evening to host an exclusive wine tasting to benefit the Associate Baron's Council and the American Cancer Society. Please join us from 6:30-9:00 p.m. to taste fantastic wines and delicious hor d'oeuvres in a Medditerian atmosphere!

The Associate Baron's Council is comprised of young professionals representing nearly every facet of the Detroit business community who have aligned themselves with the American Cancer Society to make a difference in the lives of the more than 22,000 patients that will be diagnosed with cancer this year in southeast Michigan. The Associate Baron’s Council offers the opportunity to make a lasting impact while you rub elbows with some of Detroit’s top business leaders and the fight against cancer.

Associate Baron’s Council members serve as community ambassadors for the American Cancer Society’s mission and programs. Members are asked to attend Associate Baron’s Council meetings and commit to an individual fundraising goal of $500 through a variety of Cattle Baron’s fundraising opportunities

For more information or to reserve your tickets today, please contact Julie Cameron at 248-663-3468 or visit after Oct. 4th to purchase tickets online.