New incubator paves affordable way to boost creative endeavors in Detroit | Michigan Radio

New incubator paves affordable way to boost creative endeavors in Detroit

Jul 14, 2016

The Next Idea

Young artists can struggle to make a living if they lack the proper knowledge to start and care for a storefront – and that’s where a new Detroit project comes in.

Robert Elmes is the founder of Galapagos Art Space, based out of Brooklyn. He’s transforming a 128,000-square-foot, horseshoe-shaped building into an incubator for artists and retailers. Elmes told Stateside he hopes to bring an affordable space for newcomers in the city.

“The [artists] are in the real estate business, but they’re not rewarded for it,” Elmes said.

Elmes’ latest project, Commonwealth Detroit, plans to help with financing that reward.

The plan?

One decade from now, Galapagos Art Space will give back 20% of the building’s increased value by prorating the earnings to the amount of each business’ square footage. From there, owners put that money toward a down payment for their own space.

“This helps Detroit to retain and recruit participants through its most important industries, and brands Detroit as a creative city,” Elmes added.

A projection of the repurposed building that Commonwealth Detroit occupies.
Credit Robert Elmes / Commonwealth Detroit

Kimberly Buffington is among the first to set up shop in the building with Eden Urban Farms, an indoor hydroponic farm. Business investors were initially concerned about Eden Urban Farms getting into a long-term contract, but worries were set aside by Elmes’ plan with Commonwealth Detroit.

“It’s not just renting,” Buffington said on Stateside. “We have a stake in the property with him.”

Buffington believes artists and small retailers are at the forefront of boosting Detroit’s industry, and played a large factor in wanting to join Commonwealth Detroit.

“They have been the people who’ve taken the greatest risk on the front end when the business community was saying, ‘We can’t do this! We’re too scared.’”

It’s at least six months before the building will open its first café, but Commonwealth Detroit is still accepting its first tenants through their website.

Elmes and Buffington joined Stateside to talk about how they can nurture a new generation of artists and retailers without pushing away area residents.


Robert Elmes is the founder of Galapagos Art Space.

Kimberly Buffington is the co-founder and CEO of Eden Urban Farms.

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