The Ferris Wheel, a building renovated to welcome visitors with a revolving door, celebrates a turnaround; the investment in people and ideas, in hope for the continuous revitalization of Downtown Flint. The Ferris Wheel and 100k Ideas plans to operate as a resource for any community member to take their rough “napkin-sketch” concept and develop it into a workable, marketable venture.
The building that once housed Ferris Furs and Ferris Furniture closed in 1978, according to David Ollila, President and Chief Innovation Officer with Skypoint Ventures, and was renamed not long after Phil and Jocelyn Hagerman purchased it in 2013. “It has been a labor of love for Jocelyn and me,” Hagerman says. “We wanted to be part of the resurgence of Flint, which had already started,” he explains.
Purchasing the building was the impetus to collaborate with William and Ridgway White of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, as well as the University of Michigan-Flint, along with support from the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce and the City of Flint, to create a center for ideas and innovation; a place where the community can become members and utilize the space to develop ideas and businesses.
Out of that collaboration between some of Downtown Flint’s largest champions and the hard work of countless individuals, The Ferris Wheel opened to the public November 6 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, followed by tours of the first three floors of The Ferris Wheel building. Hagerman explains, “we are looking forward to what’s going to happen in the next few years. We are going to have this building full. We’ve got something like four to five hundred people who can thrive in this building, between coworking spaces and the businesses and the ecosystems, and we expect that the first year, we will be close to that number.” Hagerman went on to say, “we have Fortune 500 companies that have already committed to take office space in the upper floors of this building.”
While those upper floors of the seven levels are still currently under construction, the first three have been renovated with airy, glass-walled offices and conference spaces. Among the people and businesses already making The Ferris Wheel their new space is Foster Coffee Co. and FlintPrints, a full-service printing company, housed on the first floor. Another is 100k Ideas, a nonprofit that provides experience to college students who work with entrepreneurs to develop their ideas, under the supervision of professional mentors.
GearUp 2 Lead, a leadership development organization now has a space on the 2nd floor with a computer lab for its members. The University of Michigan-Flint also moved the operations of their Innovation Incubator to the 2nd floor, and continues to offer its services to the community for free. According to Nic Custer, Program Assistant at IN, “All of our services are free, so there is no barrier to entry for anyone who wants to come up and try their hand at business. We have all of the tools to ease them into the process so that they are really under control, and so they can best understand how to do their business.” In addition, Nic explains, “we are just about to launch a digital service called My Start Gate with all of the tools you are going to need, along with continuing IN on the road – taking our business workshops to various locations for those who may not be able to get Downtown.”
Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor, Brian Calley, was among many speakers at the grand opening and expressed his excitement. “It’s more than economic development that’s happening here – this space is about innovation and investing in people.” Calley continued, “making the connection for people who have an idea and just need a shot to explore that idea, and businesses that are already in place and just need to enter the market to the bigger players, it is all happening here and it bodes well for the city, for the entire region, and is going to have an impact on the state as a whole. Because it is about people and talent.”
Congressman Dan Kildee was also on hand to offer his hope for the people and ideas that will come through The Ferris Wheel’s revolving door. “We are betting that one of the ideas that comes through this door will create a job for a family, or that some kid will come in with a notebook in her backpack with the next billion-dollar idea that will change the world.”
The Ferris Wheel
For more information, visit ferriswheelflint.com/en or stop in and see the new location at 615 S Saginaw Street, Downtown Flint.
Photography by Eric Dutro