My frustrating search for retail space in Detroit

The simple reason that Pages isn't open is that I can't find commercial retail space. How can that be?!? There are vacant storefronts up and down Livernois and Grand River where I would like to open. Just so everyone knows, I have been looking for a permanent home for about 18 months. The reason for not being open is simple, but the problem behind it is far from simple.

To be clear, my requirements for a building are a solid roof, HVAC that works, a bathroom, and a relatively clean and open space. Here is what many small businessesand I are facing:

  • Vacant buildings have been unmaintained for many, many years. For them to be viable retail space, they typically need renovation work including new roofs, new HVAC systems and in many cases new windows and doors. Building owners are not willing or able to invest in their own buildings. New tenants are required to finance this renovation and all other work to get a Certificate of Occupancy from the city of Detroit. Business owners are not offered a reduced lease rate to offset these improvements.

  • The point above is only applicable if I’m able to find out who owns the building. This is an amazingly difficult task. The tax records are available but are shockingly inaccurate.

  • If there is a business operating in a building, or if a business recently vacated a building, I have tried to contact them to search out the building owner. I have found that these  businesses generally have no online presence and are not registered with the state of Michigan. Contact information doesn't exist. No registration with the sate means no accountability or taxes paid.

  • Building owners are unexplainably unresponsive. I’ve had too many unreturned phone calls to count.

  • Building owners that I reached aren't interested in leasing. Usually, they have future plans although I haven't seen any of these plans come to fruition during the last 18 months.

A quality building leased at realistic market rates will attract a quality business. However, there is a very stubborn pattern of building owners collecting rent payments from anyone who will pay for a sub-standard building. The businesses who move in under these circumstances aren't interested in obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy, abiding by the approved use of the building, hiring licensed contractors, etc. These are the businesses that come and go and bring down the revival of neighborhood commercial districts. The community members assume a new business won’t last so they don't patronize them. This vicious cycle will continue until, as a community, we can find a way to stop it.