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:
September 22, 2015 at 1:57 pm
Hey Sharon! This is a great find and a great example of how there are hidden gems in every city just waiting to be capitalized on by someone who can see them for what they CAN be. It is also a great example of how to think creatively about how to use a space in multiple ways throughout a given day to maximize its potential and allow for a niche business that might not otherwise be able to afford the rent without charging an incredible premium for their goods – which typically is not a successful long term solution.
Thank you for sharing this mini-case study!
As an aside it also makes you think about how traditional modes of planning have made us all very 2 dimensional i.e. “this corner lot should be retail” as opposed to 4 dimensional i.e. “this corner lot should me maximized and activated from early morning to late night even if that means creatively thinking about multiple uses which are complimentary”