A model for cooperative community development

When you hear about models for a better society, it is often in the idealistic form of utopian cities or villages. One neighborhood project in a small city is defining a new cultural and economic paradigm through one very realistic building.

Commongrounds is a new 4-story, 50,000 s.f. $16 million development in Traverse City, Michigan cooperatively owned by nearly 600 members. It will feature a food incubator, coffeeshop, distillery, childcare center, cowering space for impact organizations and businesses, performing arts and events space, artist-in-residence space, and 24 workforce rental units. Construction began in Fall 2020, with tenants scheduled to move in by 2022.

The building is centered around four community values: food, family, arts, and wellness. It generates not only economic returns to the community and its tenant and community owners, but socially and environmentally as well. It’s vision is to serve as a backbone for the community’s people and organizations to be healthy, connected, creative, and inclusive.

It is literally a project by the people, for the people, owned by the people. It is a real estate cooperative with two classes of ownership: Real estate tenant-owners (businesses and nonprofits), and members of the community. Financing and governance are completely disconnected, no tenant has more say than any other, no community members has any more say than any other regardless of financial contribution, which consists of ownership shares ($50) and what is effectively a collective/solidarity loan.

The Businesses, Spaces, Services, Residences:

  • Food Hall: A five-stall food hall modeled after the Flint Social Club, focused on equitable business development and incubation. It will have a community kitchen with revenue sharing, and backbone support with mentorship) with central bar: Higher Grounds by day, Iron Fish Distillery by night.
  • Coffee bar: Higher Grounds, a certified b-corp, provides high-quality coffee directly sourced from farmers to support coffee-growing communities.
  • Distillery: Iron Fish Distillery is Michigan’s first working farm solely dedicated to the practice of distilling small-batch craft spirits. Our family reclaimed a late 1890’s abandoned farmstead with a simple mission in mind: we create exceptional spirits from the ground up, growing our own grain and sourcing grain from Michigan farmers with practices that respect the health of nearby watersheds. Our true passion is to offer customers and visitors the craft of soil-to-spirit distilling from a family business that cares about our employees, community, and the living land. Every step of the process – from growing and harvesting non GMO grain to cultivating native yeast, milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling, aging and bottling – is done by hand at our distillery. We replace global with local wherever we can, with the highest standards along the way. Learn moreXhatch LOGO.png
  • Performing Arts + Education Space: Nonprofit Crosshatch will partner with musician May Erlewine to create a performing arts center that seats 150 people with a stage for concerts, theater, and dance. The space is designed to be used for community events, education and public meetings. Founded in 2005, Crosshatch explores the intersections of farming, art, economy and ecology. Crosshatch began because of co-founders Brad and Amanda Kik’s shared belief that the arts and ecology are intertwined and essential to enriching community.
  • Coworking space for impact organizations: A community innovation hub, Commonplace holds space for people who enliven healthy, collaborative, and creative organizations and communities to work, learn, and connect.
  • Healthcare: Table Health is building health forward communities set to revolutionize how we give and receive primary healthcare. Table Health sets its foundation for healthcare delivery on true community connection, personal responsibility for health, a welcoming environment, an affordable & transparent direct pay system, and a spirit of trust and collaboration.
  • Childcare center: Wildflower Montessori, a network of shopfront teacher spaces, first to open working with a community college certification program, to provide childcare for toddlers, evening and weekends. The space will also be used for events.
  • Workforce housing: 24 rentals.
  • Artist retreat space: 1 bedroom with hotel room attached for curated guests.

Anyone can be a community owner at $50, with an application right on their website Commongrounds. They are also available to consult if you’re looking to develop your own cooperatively-owned community building.

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