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Dept of Alternatives headlines latest downtown renovation

When the Department of Alternatives holds its first open house on Thursday it won't just be showing off downtown Detroit's newest co-working space, but the latest renovation at a big building in the Motor City's Central Business District.

The Department of Alternatives is occupying the second floor of 1514 Washington Blvd., at the corner of Clifford in the shadow of the David Whitney Building. The founders behind LOVELAND Technologies, The Detroit Bus Co, Dandelion Detroit and Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction (four up-and-coming companies) came together to form the core of the Department of Alternatives by moving their headquarters to 1514 Washington. The idea was to form a cluster of entrepreneurs tackling social change and civic innovation.

"There is power in bringing people within a close proximity to each other," says Jordan Wolfe, a partner with Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction and one of the founding members of the Department of Alternatives. "We saw the need for people to come together and work on civic and social issues."

Those four founding companies are now occupying about 3,500 square feet of the 10,000 square feet available at the Department of Alternatives. They hope to attract some more similar-minded companies and organizations (they are looking for established firms and nonprofits as opposed to brand-new startups) at the open house on Thursday. The companies occupying the co-working space will collectively help pay for the overhead, however, Wolfe says the formula for paying for those costs is still being refined. Wolfe expects the cluster of innovating, socially aware organizations and the events it holds will emerge as a strong voice in the public conversation about Detroit's future.

"A big piece of what we're going to roll out over time is to create conversations about important issues," Wolfe says.

The 7-story structure, also known as the Claridge House Apartments, was in the news last year as a potential acquisition target for Quicken Loans Chaiman Dan Gilbert's downtown buying spree. Wolfe says he and some partners have acquired the building and that it is not part of Gilbert's property portfolio.

Wolfe and his partners are also working on renovating the entire structure. Work is being done on the 45 apartments in the third floor and above. Wolfe describes the layout of those apartments as some of the best he has seen downtown.

The building also has four ground-floor retail spaces that are in the process of filling up. Two existing business (a book importer and a hair salon) will remain. A new fitness studio, Come Play Detroit, is also opening in one of the spaces. Wolfe and his partners are also eyeing another new business, like a dry cleaner, for the last space. They expect the mixed-use nature of the building and its proximity to things like the newly renovated Broderick Tower and M@dison Building will make it an attractive place for years to come.

"It's kind of perfectly located between the Whitney, Broderick and Capitol Park so it will be easy to create walkability," Wolfe says.

The Department of Alternatives open house will be held 7-10 p.m. Thursday at 1514 Washington, Suite 200. For information, click here.

Source: Jordan Wolfe, founding member of Department of Alternatives
Writer: Jon Zemke

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at SEMichiganStartup.com.
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