Detroit Collision Works

As I wrote in my last post, Detroit Collision Works is a new 36-room shipping container hotel under development near the sprawling Eastern Market in downtown Detroit. Founder/CEO Shel Kimen is presently raising money through Kickstarter to build a pop-up prototype called FIRST CONTAINER that will consist of two containers near the permanent site. Like the hotel, the pop-up is designed to be a gathering place with scheduled programming where locals and visitors can gather to discuss the future of community development, food production, sustainable design, green transportation and other New Urbanism topics. Kimen’s priority is creating a place for sharing stories—a platform for people to talk about what’s important to them, both personal and professional.

I have spent the majority of my career walking through hotels around the world and interviewing thousands of hotels reps for a variety of consumer and industry media. Over the years, certain hotel groups have established trends that other hoteliers copied. The Kimpton and Morgans collections, for example, started the designer/boutique hotel movement in the 1980s and 90s. Ace/James hotels invented the residential-style hipster hotel early this century. NYLO Hotels, 21c, Unlisted Collection and others are bringing “industrial-chic” into the mainstream.

Collision Works has the chance to be the next big thing because, like those mentioned above, it’s dialed into both the mindset of today’s traveling public and socio-economic themes of this era. Here are five reasons why Detroit Collision Works is a game changer.


No other city in the country suffered from the Great Recession as much as Detroit. Once the symbol of the American dominance in manufacturing and the American Dream, Detroit lost 25% of its population from 2000 to 2010. That was the largest drop of any U.S. city over 100,000 people, including New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. But as celebrated urbanist Richard Florida writes in The Atlantic, Detroit is rebounding with a renewed spirit of innovation and cultural arts at the grassroots level. The people making up this community need places to share ideas. Collision Works is purposefully designed to meet that demand.

In effect, Collision Works is moving into a new “community accelerator” hotel niche and venue for people to learn more about local start-up companies. In New Orleans since Katrina, the rate of start-ups is about 30% higher than the national average. In Detroit, organizations such as I Am Young Detroit and Detroit 4 Detroit are spurring the same drive among community entrepreneurs. Detroit Collision Works will tap into that energy and knowledge and share it with visitors.


Can one person in America make a difference? The rise of Social Entrepreneurship is one of the most exciting and fastest growing developments in business today. The idea that a company can have a sustainable business model and make a positive impact on the community is highly attractive to the Millennial generation. By leveraging that interest, Collision Works is the hotel of the future where locals and guest can learn about social issues in both a fun and experiential manner.

Founder/CEO Shel Kimen (read her story here) says:

“Everyone loves a good story. Stories make place and bind communities. I wanted to create a project in Detroit that creates lasting and sustainable value for both the people that live here and the people that visit. A combined hotel/co-working space built around stories seemed like the best way to do that. Detroit needs a super cool hotel that helps visitors understand what Detroit is really about and it needs places for people to gather and work beyond coffee shops. It also comes from a belief that great design and rich experiences do not have to be expensive.”


Hotels have been trumpeting their corporate social responsibility by becoming greener and leaner over the last decade, and that’s great. Detroit Collision Works is designed from the ground up to be low impact. Basically it’s the birth of “urban ecotourism,” and how cool is that?! Container architecture is a fast growing building technology in both residential and commercial applications all over the world, from the Re:START village in Christchurch to the FREITAG store in West Zurich. The Platoon project in Berlin might be the coolest urban culture/arts development in the world right now.

There is a glut of shipping containers in cities around the country because freighter companies often find it more affordable to buy new containers in Asia versus rerouting the boxes back to America’s ports. And that supply continues to grow due to North America’s trade deficit within the Pacific Rim. While there are downsides to using containers for building purposes, the process attracts a huge interest among consumers. And that type of heightened exposure is pivotal for generating discussion among the masses about the future of America’s urban cores.


Memphis mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. wrote a letter to Kimen in March requesting that she consider building another Collision Works in his city when Detroit is up and running. The beauty of Collision Works is that it’s easily scalable around the country and simple to adapt to any commercial urban setting. Think of this. If a Collision Works hotel was in your city, would you visit? Chances are yes, especially if you’re a creative professional, because there’s nothing like this right now.

The idea of a community think-tank “attraction” proved itself with the opening of the popular BMW Guggenheim Lab in New York’s East Village in 2011, followed by a road trip through Berlin and Mumbai that ended in January. Data and discussions collected from the project will be displayed at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York later this fall.

Now imagine if this type of discussion could take place every day in every major city in America, with a network set up to share all of the information among all of the hotels with the public. This is where Detroit Collision Works gets especially exciting.

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