Detroit-based Ponyride is a company – and a 30,000-square-foot warehouse. Founder Phil Cooley also calls it “a study to see how the foreclosure crisis can have a positive impact on a community.” The building, purchased by Cooley in 2011 for $100,000, needed lots of work. Buried under a late 80s remodel, Cooley and the tenants gutted the building until they could see the 1930s factory buried beneath. “When we give people space,” Cooley says, “amazing things happen.”
Cooley had already met with success in Detroit, opening Slows Bar BQ in the Corktown neighborhood and working as a contractor. Cooley told Metropolis Magazine that when a local bank called to offer him the building, which was in foreclosure, he felt a responsibility to the larger community to do something with it. Using a community-minded, sweat equity approach, future tenants helped him gut and restore the interior and build the space to suit their many needs in a sort of modern Detroit barn razing and subsequent raising. Ponyride doesn’t see itself opening more of the same throughout Detroit. Instead, it’s trying to develop a roadmap for people to think differently about development.
Today there are several components to the space, including a light manufacturing area, a fully equipped woodshop, access to which is rented out on a monthly basis for $300, and coworking space, which costs $60 a month. In addition to those membership options, Ponyride is also home to rehearsal spaces and dance studios, which can be rented for $10 an hour, as well as an artist in residency program and a café by Anthology Coffee.
Currently, Ponyride is home to 44 tenants, ranging from Smithshop, a blacksmith complete with forge, to Floyd, a design company that produces urban living solutions like modular table legs and shelf brackets that are much cooler than they sound. High-end jeans from Detroit Denim are made alongside winter coats that convert into sleeping bags, stitched for The Empowerment Project by workers who have struggled with homelessness.
Stella Safari, the executive director of Ponyride, says that woodshop members tend to work on a project basis, so that part of the space is more like an incubator than a long-term space solution. “Folks design something, turn it into a company, and it becomes a bigger project. It’s really exciting,” she says. The company calls itself a “a creative incubator community.”
Part of the Ponyride mission is to support a community of socially-conscious artists and entrepreneurs. It’s doing that by creating an environment where collaboration between tenants and the community happens regularly. During the initial buildout phase, when members helped to renovate and transform the space together, these collaborations happened organically. Safari says that Ponyride is in a transitional phase now that the build-out is largely complete. The company is currently working to further refine how entrepreneurs who work in the space can engage with one another and the larger Detroit community.
New members go through an application process and are selected by the Ponyride board on the basis of both logistics, will that business physically fit into the existing space, and their larger mission. “Diversity is really important,” Safari says. “We want to have a space that is inclusive and representative, so that’s a major effort. We want more entrepreneurs of color, more women entrepreneurs; we’re creating more smaller ecosystems in our building, so we can collaborate more easily.” —Annaliese Griffin
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