What do you get when you add Hotel+Co-Working+Community? Collision Works (formerly The Detroit Hotel Project), one of the most exciting new developments in Detroit. The Detroit Mercy Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC), local architects, designers, and entrepreneurs have partnered to create a boutique hotel in Eastern Market that will also serve as a creative community haven and co-working space—a beautiful place to sleep, collaborate and learn that will be rooted in community participation and create rich and meaningful experiences for locals and visitors around story-telling. We spoke with Shel Kimen, the founder (or self-proclaimed ‘captain’) of Collision Works to learn more about its development, future, and how this unique hotel’s concept will translate into the real world.
Collision Works was first conceptualized by Shel in the summer of 2011 during a design and innovation retreat. “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.”
Inspired by projects like the art-centric Ace hotels, Shel wanted to create something uniquely Detroit. “I very much like the design and spirit of the Ace Hotels and would like to combine an even lower cost artful version of what they’ve created with a more grass roots community space like PieLab in Greensboro Alabama. For inspiration we look to projects that emphasize diversity and create bridges between different groups of people. The best ideas and experiences come when people with different backgrounds and perspectives come together. What PieLab has been able to achieve in this regard is extraordinary. Blending visitors with people working here in the city is a great way to spread ideas, build new networks, and give everyone richer experiences.”
“We want to use real stories of resilience, pain, hope, and love to create spaces and experiences for both the people that live in Detroit and the people that visit here. We will have story-telling programming, like Cliff Bell’s Moth Night and NPR Story Corps, but all the time. Maybe we’ll even get a storytelling festival going. So many people in the city are already doing this – with videos, with blogs, with events. But it’s hard to find the content if you don’t know where to look, it’s very dispersed. In addition to collecting our own stories, we are hoping to be a quality stage for all this work already happening – a place for artists, journalists, and citizens to showcase.”
Collision Works also aims to create economic opportunities for people in the community through providing a co-working space and encouraging mentorship in the arts and trades. Although creating an incubator or accelerator program may be on the horizon, in the immediate future it will simply serve as a meeting space for the community. “This is truly for people that just need a desk, a place to have meetings, a place to share ideas with other creative, resourceful people,” Shel continues. “As we better understand the needs of those using the space we will evolve to meet them. Start-up support and coaches are definitely on the horizon if people want that, but we want it to grow organically. ”
Community support and sustainability is a cornerstone of Collision Works. Throughout its development, Collision Works will engage the community through a process called participatory design, a concept that has its roots in Scandanavian unions and aims to ensure the product or program meets the needs of its stakeholders, in this case, the Detroit
“At its most basic people will contribute via stories. We are working with DCDC on what that actually looks like. There is also the creation of the space itself and how to involve people in the actual design and building of it. Creating a sense of ownership is really important to us. To that end, we are exploring models of community equity – how can the people of Detroit actually own pieces of this and have an ongoing say in how it grows. While certain aspects of this project were very clearly invented by me – it’s a hotel, there is co-working, and there is community space for stories – how it actually becomes real is very much a people project.”
Shel hopes that the community will learn, grow and unite through story telling. “It is important for people to understand that the stories they hold close, the stories of their lives, are actually very important. These stories remind us who we are, where we come from, and provide valuable lessons, clues, and roadmaps for how we move forward. So much of the city has left in the last 50 years and our stories and history have left with them. As the city finds new ways to revive itself, having a permanent place to share what defines us that is also reflected back to a broader community is powerful.”
“Ultimately we are after a business model that supports community development. We want to create a highly profitable enterprise (through a cool hotel) that reinvests those dollars in people, their projects, and their stories. And we want to have a great time doing it. Other than that we hope to provide a really great experience for new visitors so they want to come back or even live here, generate some jobs, and help young people find a path that is personally meaningful. We are going to have fun! Everyone benefits from that.”
Collision Works has gained considerable momentum since its conception last summer. They’ve just incorporated through the state of Michigan and are hoping to transfer to a B Corp (or benefit corporation), which aims to create shareholder value while also meeting higher community and social standards, once passed through Michigan Legislature. Collision Works should be ready for investors in September and to purchase property this fall. “We’ve come a long way. We’ve made valuable connections with all kinds of organizations, developers, schools, artists, and city planning. We were also just accepted as a finalist in The Michigan Women’s Foundation Entrepreneur contest, which means we get support polishing our business plan, access to coaches, and introductions to investors. “
Right now the project is building their team and looking for local business partners. “We need some publicity, some money, a razor sharp lawyer to help us navigate our hybrid B Corp (pending legislation) and non-profit, and an awesome already-in-Detroit CFO who believes in the vision. There is lots of room for partnerships to extend other business in Detroit – furniture, soaps, food, linens, design, landscaping, bike renting, coffee, lighting, etc.”. If you are interested in getting involved with Collision Works, email Shel at firstname.lastname@example.org, sign up for their mailing list or follow Collision Works on Facebook.