Derek Coppess of 616 Development on community-making

Kristin Coppens

| 3 min read

At A Healthier Michigan, we support and believe in strengthening healthy communities. In doing so, we have begun a series on placemaking in urban downtown centers and the importance of the concept in the revitalization and utilization of our Michigan downtown areas.
I recently spoke with Derek Coppess, Founder and Managing Director of 616 Development and 616 Lofts, a boutique-style real estate firm focused on using urban spaces for progression, renewal, and the sense of community. As a note, the 616 Development community tends to prefer the term “community-making” to placemaking in emphasis of the people that live in a place.
Kristin Coppens: What is placemaking in your mind?
Derek Coppess: To 616, community-making is an art, not a science. At face value, it’s about planning physical spaces, but those spaces are being designed for people, so you have to keep both in mind at all times. Residential community-making is 100% worthless without entertainment, restaurants and retail to capture these people after work and on the weekends. At the same time, community-making requires people by its very nature, so whenever we begin the planning process for any new area, we first make absolute sure that we can create residential spaces where people can live. It’s that residential density that makes the community-making machine work—without density, community-making is like building an elaborate mousetrap without any mice. At 616, we love people, so planning development around people is very natural.
KC: Explain 616 Development’s vision and initiatives with regards to placemaking in downtown Grand Rapids.
DC: We do not have a vision for community-making in Grand Rapids because we firmly believe we have an amazing “place” here in Grand Rapids already. We are blessed that our City’s Fathers built an amazing downtown infrastructure (placemaking) years before we began our urban mission. We are lucky and have a responsibility to infill downtown with people. Community-making in urban Grand Rapids, to us, is really quite simple. We don’t need a vision for community-making, we need to bring people to our place. That is why 616 Lofts was born: to fill this great city with more great people and to keep them here by creating an amazing community of connected downtown residents. Neighborhoods and areas outside of downtown do require our vision for community-making—we are working on that now, more soon!
KC: What are our (Grand Rapids’) shortfalls and strengths as an urban downtown?
DC: Shortfalls: Not enough people living downtown, but we are working on that. Strengths: We have an amazing business community. Right now, we are building an amazing residential community that will guide the growth of both communities in an organic way.
KC: Where do you see 616 Development and 616 Lofts in the next 5-10 years?
DC: If our Tribe continues our commitment to our mission—our “why”—we will become experts at creating a sustainable community. People make your life, and we plan on having thousands of residents in our home City of Grand Rapids.
KC: What changes do you want to see and what changes do you expect to see in downtown Grand Rapids (regarding its spaces, community, people, etc.) in the next 5-10 years?
DC: Simple—growth. With the infusion of thousands of additional residents into our downtown community, we will begin attracting more and more amenities—in other words, fun retail. In short, at some point we expect the flywheel to begin spinning on its’ own.
What fun and innovative residential spaces are revitalizing your community?
Photo credit: 616Lofts

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