Marcus Jones, MS/MUP ’12: "Challenge Yourself and Take Advantage of all That Michigan Has to Offer"
SEAS alumnus Marcus Jones is the president of MJ Realty Service, a boutique real estate firm that specializes in historic property redevelopment in the city of Detroit. He also is CEO of MJ Construction Service, a commercial construction company that specializes in structural steel framing, concrete, and carpentry. A dual-degree graduate of the SEAS and Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning master's programs, Jones focused on real estate development, green building, and environmental policy. Jones, a member of the SEAS Alumni Leadership Council, recently talked to the school about his current projects, the challenges of working during the pandemic, and his experiences at SEAS.
What are you currently working on, and what makes you excited about it?
I am redeveloping a vacant 3,000-square-foot commercial building into a 6,000-square-foot full-service restaurant. The restaurant will be called the Detroit Pizza Bar, a new fresh-ingredient pizzeria and bar that will be one of the hottest restaurants in the city of Detroit. My team and I created the design and the concept, which will feature a rooftop patio, solar panels, and a wood-fired pizza oven. I am very excited to complete the construction and open this business, as eateries that provide fresh ingredients and healthier food options are needed in the neighborhoods here in Detroit. Many residents are excited for us to open and provide them with a sit-down restaurant that has fresh food, vegan, and non-fried food options, in an area that is surrounded by mostly fast-food or greasy-spoon takeouts.
How did your time at SEAS influence your work, and where you would like to take your work?
Being a graduate of SEAS helped me focus on where I wanted to make the greatest impact. My master’s project focused on strengthening the neighborhoods in Detroit and working to rebuild the roughest neighborhoods here. I used this same knowledge and information after graduation to focus on rebuilding and revitalizing neighborhoods across the city of Detroit. I would like to continue to build on these skills and do larger-scale projects in the region. This includes mixed-use and large-scale multifamily development.
How have the impacts of COVID-19 affected your work?
The COVID pandemic affected our construction schedule and the timing of our opening. We were set to open prior to the end of 2020; however, with the executive orders in place in the state of Michigan, we were not allowed to have a grand opening, so the opening has been delayed until spring 2021. COVID-19 also delayed construction by three months as we were shut down from March to June 2020, when construction could restart. Being in the construction industry during this period also has created challenges with higher prices for materials and delays in getting materials to the job site. We’ve also had to follow construction protocols and limit the number of trades on site, which also caused a longer construction timeline. We have another commercial development lined up for 2021, and are currently rethinking the design and operations of the project/end business. Finance and funding for projects have been delayed and some financing has disappeared. These delays have created bigger challenges in real estate development, making projects more difficult to get off the ground.
What is something you learned that isn’t commonly talked about but would be helpful for SEAS students and graduates to know?
Challenge yourself and take advantage of all of the courses and programs Michigan has to offer. Being multidisciplinary gives you an advantage in the real world post-graduation. I can sit in almost any room related to my industries and have intelligent conversations with various stakeholders. Even after graduation, continue to challenge and educate yourself in whatever field you choose to pursue, as you never know when opportunities may arrive. Lastly, stay connected with the university and your colleagues, especially ones that live in the city you are going to, as everyone has something to offer. I’ve worked with both SEAS alumni and urban planning graduates in my current work, and having that connection has been super helpful in getting things done.
When things get stressful, what is your go-to self-care activity?
When things get stressful, which they always are, I usually talk to people about the issues and potential solutions. Having a great team is imperative to keeping stress levels down and being able to remain focused as an entrepreneur. During normal times, taking a day to enjoy football season and going to games or traveling places would be the alternative to stressing about work and projects.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your work, SEAS, or U-M?
Without my experience at U-M, SEAS, and the urban planning program I would not be where I am today. I was able to take courses across campus, which made me diverse in my skill set and knowledgeable in multi industries. Being a dual-degree student allows me to tap into my urban planning knowledge, thinking about the impact of real estate development while also taking a sustainable approach to development and construction projects.