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Will a vacant factory rescue Detroit small businesses?

What would you rather have — a gargantuan, vacant hulk of a factory complex or a thriving artist colony /small business incubator? In Detroit, with 23% unemployment (Michigan as a state is just under 14% right now), the city is a veritable desert of old factories and abandoned buildings.

Time Magazine did an entire series based on the city last year, painting it as a sinking ship being abandoned by residents and business alike. Check out the magazine’s Detroit Blog: One Year One City, and a stunning photoessay titled The Remains of Detroit for a sobering picture.

Yet one entrepreneur has stumbled into an opportunity he didn’t predict, as outlined in Fortune’s July 5, 2010 article “Factory of Dreams”.

Giving a home to artists and start-ups

Dennis Kefalinos purchased the 2.2 million square foot Russell Industrial Complex for $1.5 million in 2003, gambling manufacturing or industrial tenants would appear. They haven’t.

But seven years later, he has filled 25% of the factory with artists and small businesses who pay $550 a month, heat included, for 1000-square-foot studios / shops. And he didn’t pursue this angle. The tenants came to him, one at a time, at a rate now of one new tenant a week.

He’s a long way from 100% capacity, but here’s an excellent example of how we have to start from scratch and not market a property for one particular use. Market your listings as “flex space / office / retail” rather than just one label, and who knows what will come out of the woodwork!

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Flickr photo courtesy Bob Jagendorf

Written By

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.



  1. Dunes

    July 11, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    Interesting Article..Thanks

    The concept discussed is one I’ve seen and I’m sure most people have seen used and applied in many Cities/Towns/Rural Area…Areas with vacated Industrial Parks or Empty Downtown Buildings because the local Industry dies (Fishing/Logging/whatever) so you have a group of people (Like Artists) who before could not afford to Buy a Home & a Studio &…all of a sudden seeing Possibilities.

    Then the Town ect. changes, needs this or that to support this or that, the Artists have kids so schools, retired people say “Nice quiet place to live” and on and on..

    I could give you a list of many places this has happened successfully as I’m sure many others can..It’s one of the Main things many ACTUAL Investors look for…Potential down the line!!!!!

    Most Real Investors are NOT Flip and Flop minded.. those are the Late night TV Infomercial people or people building enough Cash Reserve/Credit/Expertise to find the Communities where they are the Money & Knowledge behind the scenes helping to create an environment/Community like they think one should be, which increases the value of their investments while also enjoying the Town-Father/Shaker and Mover/They are…Benefits. It’s not usually just about Get Rich Quick, it’s get Rich, Stay Rich and be Somebody…Status/Respect/Personal Satisfaction/Pride in accomplishment

    More always get’s done outside the Box than Inside the Box….You know and have Proven that in your career. What you are discussing in your article IMO is the type of Changes that will cure the Economy and RE Market…Always did before 😉

    Things just have to get cheap enough for a New Generation of people with Vision to be able to afford and have confidence/support to Buy the Buildings and Homes to live in, remodel, sell, buy a bigger better, remodel, sell.
    .Perhaps the Scenario sounds familiar..the times in the Past when Ideas had value with Lenders/Agents or at least more value than Formulas and “it’s how we do things”

  2. Erica Ramus

    July 12, 2010 at 7:31 am

    I am glad you enjoyed the article, Dunes. Yes, I am used to “outside the box” thinking with how I run my business, too. You cannot get stuck in “but that’s the way we always do it” mentality.

  3. Dunes

    July 12, 2010 at 10:55 pm


    Based on Reading some of your Contributions here, your Tweets for awhile, comments elsewhere and looking at your Site, how it’s set up, your approach ect., has caused me to come to the Conclusion (May be right may be wrong but it’s my conclusion 😉 that you are a Thinker…

    By that I mean the Kind of person who wishes to be Good at what they do and wants to do what they do so they Watch, listen, space out thinking about, notice that when others did this it didn’t work but if I change this part …There’s more but I think ya get my Drift lol, and I would bet your Business model, goals ect. are more in sync with who you really are than what others suggest it should be…(I think Jay T is that way and a good number of other Pros who are actually Pros IMO)

    So I am honestly interested, eager and would be honored if you would share your honest opinion with me…

    Thinking outside the Box…These RE sites,,ActiveRain, Trulia, Zilliow, this one ect are in reality children, newborns with little history, experience, new concepts or approaches using a fairly new media. Those experts who advise, Gurus who suggest, PR people who PR are all as new at this media as anyone else yet many shout “How High” when they say Jump IMO

    So get to it Dunes, whatta do ya what to ask????

    Erica, what is your opinion of how your Industry/Agents are using the Internet? They proclaim their expertise in Social Media, they announce their positions that this is good or that is the way and declare their expertise (Based on a RE Agent is obviously more qualified than those who are not, which puzzles me since it’s my experience most 12 year olds know more about the Internet than we do..Research, Web sites, they do it Blindfolded)…so do 20 year olds, 25 year olds and they are the Buyers/Sellers for the next period of YEARS…
    Who’s the Social Media Experts?

    In your opinion is there some message, image, perception, information Agents are trying to get out to the Public or is it mostly a Fishing pond for most..leads leads leads..gonna get those leads with Good time to Buy, Interest rates are low (Same spiel from many Agents since 2006, same Press release and talking points from NAR since 2006, it’s turned into the Boy who cried Wolf to most Non-Pros/Consumers/the Public IMO)

    I ask because if Image, Credibility and Trust are the Things which need to be developed or restored for the Pond to actually have any Fish then How is what is displayed by the self-proclaimed RE Social Media Experts & seen by the average person using the internet suppose to help create, build or restore Image, Credibility or Trust….How is anything presented “Thinking outside the Box”? How can ANY of this approach be Beneficial?

    Your article was an example of thinking “Long Term” to turn around a disastrous situation/market, yet the Social Media approach I see seems to be diametrically opposed to any sort of “Long Term” fix for the Industry, Agents, Consumers or Market..

    I would sincerely appreciate hearing your Opinion…When it Comes to Social Media/Internet … what way are Agents “Thinking outside the Box” or using it to build Credibility, Image or Trust…

    Thanks and I do apologize if this seems odd or off-topic or a hi-jacking but I Promise ya it is nothing more than me deciding I would appreciate hearing YOUR Opinion..

  4. Erica Ramus

    July 22, 2010 at 9:47 am

    Dunes — Sorry for the delay in response here. I think for many agents Social Media is indeed a fishing pond! Especially with the use of twitter and facebook, they are out there fishing for buyers and sellers. It’s not much different than heading out to the local chamber of commerce mixer and passing out business cards. It’s just a virtual mixer.

    Many many agents don’t GET IT. It is about building long term relationships and trust. The trust factor is missing in our industry (not with all, but with many). As a broker, I hear all the time how an agent / bad transaction soured the consumer on our whole industry. One or two bad apples do spoil the bunch. And when an agent acts unprofessional or unethical or breaks a law it harms all of us.

    I think sites like Trulia, ActiveRain, and yes AgentGenius are great for bringing “minds” together to discuss our industry. Consumers ask questions, and we can help / answer them.

    What I hate to see is the agents who obviously have nothing to do, “fishing” online on sites like Trulia, answering questions that are out of their scope of expertise. Many are out there just fishing for referrals. “I am not an agent in California and I don’t know enough about your situation to answer, but here is my opinion.” Or even worse, “I am not an agent in your area but I know one. Give me your details and I’ll send you to a great agent in your area [and take a referral fee for making a call].”

    You only get credibility and trust when you earn it. It is not a short term fix, but you have to do this long term. I recently helped a client build a blog and am trying to drive business to him (he is a home builder). Less than 4 weeks ago we built his web presence into a blog, and facebook page. He is doing great. But nobody has called to “order a home” yet. It takes TIME. He had 4 fans a month ago. Now he has 40 people reading his blog and on facebook. Hopefully in another month that might be 100 people. And in a few months, the leads will start coming in.

    Too many agents put a sign on a house and an ad in a print journal and think they are “marketing” it. That’s not good enough these days. And neither is building a facebook fan page and watching it wither out there with no interaction. Or writing a blog nobody reads. You have to work it, drive traffic to it, and constantly come up with new ways to promote your listings. There is no quick fix. And if it takes months and months, unfortunately, many agents will be long gone by then.

    It’s like anything… this business is WORK. The harder you work, the “luckier” you will get!

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