| Follow Us:



The Villages CDC

8109 East Jefferson
Suite 1B
Detroit, Michigan 48214

Brian Hurttienne

By Tunde Wey
December 19, 2012

Brian Hurttienne is a subdued man with a polished crop of silver hair. The avuncular sort, he is mild-mannered and deliberative. But the perennially calm and unassuming Hurttienne is more than he projects. In contrast to his modest personal style, he has spent the last year and a half working incredibly hard to pull off a coup that will completely redefine a community.
Hurttienne is the Executive Director of The Villages CDC, a nonprofit community organization promoting stable community through business growth, housing stability, quality of life improvements and healthy lifestyles in The Villages. In October Hurttienne announced that four new permanent retail establishments will be opening in West Village. To understand the significance of this announcement the proper context of place, history and demand has to be established.
The Villages are comprised of six neighborhoods on Detroit’s near east side: Berry Sub, Gold Coast, East Village, West Village, Indian Village, Islandview & English Village. Located about three miles east of downtown along the Detroit River, these waterfront communities are an eclectic blend of contemporary and historic homes including high rise condominiums, sprawling single family homes and contemporary loft spaces. The historic neighborhoods, boasting homes richly designed by prominent architects such as Albert Khan and William Stratton (husband of Mary Chase Perry who founded Pewabic Pottery, another Villages institution) have a similarly diverse population of longtime and recent residents, owners and renters alike.
For a community as robust as The Villages, there are some glaring blisters in its fabric; for all its enviably walkable tree-shaded streets, there are ironically few destinations to walk to.
Hurttienne says aside from fast food restaurants, a national chain diner, a drycleaner and some other local businesses, the neighborhoods have little in quality retail. He mentions the prestigious Detroit Yacht Club and The Collective – a collection of small boutique shops sharing an English manor style home – as among the few retail options for a community with enough density to support much more. 
“The only thing the businesses are lacking is that they don't have community,” Hurtienne says. “The pizza shop is tiny and basically a to-go place and Sinbads is far away, so you can't walk. The others are isolated as well; nothing cohesive for a neighborhood center or for them to generate multiple stops in one location.”
What some see as Detroit’s biggest retail conundrum – not enough demand or local clientele to support it – has been inverted; in The Villages, there was, until now, an excess of demand for insufficient supply of retail and restaurants. Hurttienne is hurtling towards changing this status quo through a series of coordinated efforts.
Hurttienne’s first order of business when he joined The Villages CDC in April 2011 was to give purpose to the area’s charm and walkability. He wrote and was awarded a $75,000 grant from The Kresge Foundation to develop a retail-dense neighborhood strategy. He then approached property owners in the area and presented his plan; two buildings with available and unoccupied ground level retail space partnered with Hurttienne, investing money into the project to develop their properties for retail shops. Working with Michael Forsyth at the Detroit Economic Development Corporation’s REVOLVE Program, Hurttienne raised an additional $70,000 to grow the program. Hurttienne and Forsyth, using the pop-up retail concept of providing temporary space to potentially viable businesses, tested their hypothesis that there was in fact a high demand for retail in the area.
In October of this year, two temporary pop-up businesses opened as both a test and a show for the potential uses of the empty storefronts along Agnes Street in West Village. The outing was a huge success and their hypothesis was validated. The Villages CDC then sent out requests for proposals to local business owners interested in opening up businesses in the area. Hurttienne, along with Forsyth, whittled their 30 responses to a strong class of four businesses: Craftwork, a restaurant and bar; Detroit Vegan Soul, a vegan soul food restaurant; Red Hook Coffee Shop, a second location for the popular Ferndale café that serves nationally-recognized Stumptown Coffee; and Tarot and Tea, a tea room offering tarot readings.
Hurttienne, who has been living and working in the city since the early ‘80s, is well aware that retail and restaurants are but one part of the solution. For him the answer lies is connecting various solutions.  Along with retail his is looking at developing greenways in the area, working with Tour de Troit, The GREEN Taskforce and other local organizations. “I don’t look at things singularly; housing rehab goes together with business retail – greenways, education and safety are all connected.”
Hurttienne’s sense of what The Villages represents might be influenced by his personal story. He grew up in Romeo, a village located about 40 miles north of Detroit (interestingly, it was originally called Indian Village). Immediately after architecture school Hurttienne found work in downtown Detroit. He relocated permanently to the city in 1996. He decided to start his own architecture firm, BVH Architecture, in 1998. For nine years BVH Architecture worked exclusively in Detroit, with clients interested in developing restaurants and multifamily housing. He worked on important development projects in the city such as the Kales Building in downtown, Grinnell Place Lofts and Slows Bar-BQ in Corktown, as well as doing significant work in the Brush Park neighborhood.
He closed his firm in 2007 and went to work for Hamilton Anderson and Associates for four year before taking the job of Executive Director of Villages CDC. “I had a big interest in community development while I was doing architecture,” he says. “What I’ve found is that it has broadened my perspective on a lot of things.”
The four new businesses are tentatively set to open in the spring of 2013, auspiciously around the time Hurttienne took up his current job one year before. Four businesses in two years might not sound like a lot, but considering the long history of an utter and total lack of business growth and development prior to Hurttienne’s involvement, he might as well have single-handedly rebuilt a whole city. But Hurttienne, in his characteristically reserved manner, is probably already working on the next four businesses with little fanfare; just hard work, strong partnerships and perspective.

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

Share this page
Signup for Email Alerts

Twitter Feed

Related Resources

  • East Jefferson Corridor Collaborative
    The East Jefferson Corridor Collaborative (EJCC) is a partnership between the Jefferson East Business Association, Downtown Detroit Partnership, Villages Community Development Corporation and other key stakeholders who are committed to the economic resurgence of the East Jefferson Corridor.
  • Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
    Building community capital is at the heart of the Community Foundation's organizational mission. 

    The Community Foundation works to encourage endowment-building as an effective means to address community challenges and opportunities. 
  • Ford Foundation
    The Ford Foundation supports visionary leaders and organizations on the frontlines of social change worldwide.
  • Detroit Economic Growth Corporation
    DEGC is a private, non-profit organization designed to make business success in Detroit possible.