There’s a parking lot in Ann Arbor, Michigan that contains a MBA course worth of applied innovative thinking. It also demonstrates how to create a beloved civic asset.

If we want healthier cities, we need to ask, “What more can happen here?”

Mark Hodesh and Bill Zolkowski are long-time business associates who saw the untapped after-hours potential of eight parking spaces at Downtown Home & Garden. Parking lots rarely come to mind as the scene of healthy interaction and civic-minded commerce. It took imagination and gumption to act on the idea that has become Bill’s Beer Garden six nights a week during high season.

The 20-photo essay above introduces a place that must be experienced. Bill’s Beer Garden is the setting for diverse conversations, special performances, organized political discussions, movie nights and celebrating the arrival of Spring.

Some lessons that can be found here:

  • Grow a thriving enterprise based on deep roots and values
  • Expand revenue on a site without extensive construction
  • Stay universally relevant by transcending a young, hip market for entertainment
  • Add to the aesthetic quality of streets and urban life
  • Rather than a big vision, see opportunities that are hiding in plain sight

Innovation happened here as a result of:

  • Being proactive in thinking about change
  • Seeing a gap in the market for cross-cultural social interaction
  • Collaboration between business associates with energy and diverse experience
  • Paying attention to business examples elsewhere (Mark adapted BBG from a model he saw in Brooklyn, NY)
  • Pursuing an organic way forward that emerges naturally, rather than pursuing a rigid plan

Here is a one-minute video which conveys some of the conviviality:


-Sharon VanderKaay