Stateside Extra: A new downtown for Novi
Novi is home to the behemoth Twelve Oaks Mall and the standard panoply of chain eateries. It’s also home to some highly-rated Japanese restaurants. Tucked in strip malls along Grand River Ave, you’ll find ramen shops, izakayas, and a Japanese grocery store.
While there’s plenty to enjoy in Novi’s business corridor, it doesn’t have the feeling of a downtown. Shopping centers are bisected by busy roads, so instead of walking from store-to-store, people drive. There’s plenty of places to get tasty treats and drinks, but nowhere to enjoy them outside.
Here’s where Sakura Novi comes in: a forthcoming mixed-use development project helmed by Scott Aikens and Phil Kim. Kim said that the city of Novi had a vision to revitalize Novi’s downtown – Sakura Novi hit the mark.
The project has been in development since 2018, but they finally broke ground this year. The downtown Sakura Novi envisions looks like this: restaurants, dessert shops, spas, and 117 town home apartments all in one central area, surrounded by a Japanese inspired garden path with sakura trees.
Mixed use developments aren’t anything new. These lifestyle centers – as they’re called – have been popular since the 90s. In recent years, while mall profits have widely gone down, the lifestyle center profits have gone up.
Kim and Aikens – like any other developers – want to make a profit. But what does feel unique about their approach, and about Sakura Novi in general, is the intention behind it. They want Sakura Novi to represent the existing Novi community.
“We [can] make this feel like part of this downtown that the city wants to create,” Kim said. “The Asian influence was part of that – to bring this sense of belonging to the area; belonging to the community.”
The latest U.S. census shows that 23.5% of Novi is Asian. That’s compared to a 3.4% Asian population in Michigan as a whole. Scott Aikens said that this is partially due to Detroit’s historic relationship with global car manufacturers hailing from Japan, Korea, and Germany. “Novi became really a center of gravity … for, in particular, the Japanese expatriate community; folks who are living here for a few years rather than sort of folks who emigrated here,” Aikens said.
While Sakura Novi’s first target audience is existing Asian communities, Aikens and Kim think that it will be a hit among all Michiganders who are eager and open to trying new foods.
And while more people coming to Sakura Novi means more profit, Aikens and Kim expressed that it’s about more than that for them.
“It's not about the newest restaurant in the corner,” Kim said. “We wanted to really let people know that this is about bringing people together.”
And after years of COVID and the deep lines of division the pandemic highlighted, bringing people together is especially important to Aikens and Scott.
“I know that goes beyond us being just developers,” Kim admitted. ”But I think we are aware. We are very aware. And we don't want to push those things aside. [It’s] something that we want to deal with.”