At a white library desk in Venue, Margaret Poscher is building an empire. Peering into her laptop and surrounded by piles of documents, she’s casual in a blue cardigan and lululemonesque jogger. To anyone looking, she could be just another customer in the dining and coworking space at Stadium and South Industrial. In fact, she’s its creator.
With its slick, lucent interior by Synecdoche design and half a dozen cuisines prepared by renowned local chef Thad Gilles, Venue could fit perfectly as the house restaurant of a modern art museum or a Silicon Valley tech giant—but it also offers video conferencing, podcasting, and joint office space. It’s a place where an ambitious upstart can enjoy a hot meal along with high bandwidth.
Poscher is one herself. What began in 2012 as a cosmetic renovation to a student rental in Lower Burns Park has blossomed into roughly twenty properties and a reimagined neighborhood.
Venue, which opened in September, is part of Poscher’s project to transform the area into an all-inclusive haven. After building the live-work property at 830 Henry St., where short- and long-term tenants can rent an apartment equipped with office space, the next logical step was a place to meet and eat.
“We have all these tenants and guests and there’s no place to go in this neighborhood,” Poscher says. “Why not create a ‘venue’ for people to utilize and gather and celebrate? So, we created this gorgeous space.”
Gillies, former owner/operator of Logan, created a menu that ranges from rustic French cuisine to Mexican street tacos with handmade tortillas to authentic Italian pizza and pastas. There’s an extensive craft cocktail menu and brunch served on the weekends.
The late, legendary U-M football broadcaster Bob Ufer wouldn’t recognize the Kroger supermarket he bought fifty years ago. More recently Lucky’s Market, it’s owned now by his children: Pam Wood and Bob Jr., David, and Tom Ufer.
“When Marge came to us, we felt this was a fresh new vibe,” says David Ufer. “A coworking space in concert with a restaurant, a community gathering place, and private event space is a concept that appealed to our family. We thought she was really onto something.”
“What we’re really into here is sustainability, community, and hospitality,” Poscher says. “We’ve really become a hospitality business.”
Up next: a $100 million, eight-story, mixed-use apartment complex that would replace an entire block of student rentals on S. State between Henry and Stimson.
The development, christened Southtown, will bring Poscher and her co-owner and wife, Heidi Poscher, that much closer to their goal of creating a “fifteen-minute neighborhood” in lower Burns Park.
“What we’re trying to do is promote the idea that you don’t have to have a vehicle to live here,” she says. “You can walk to Venue to have a meal, you can use coworking here, there’s a grocery store, a CVS, an urgent care.
“That’s the whole idea of building in this neighborhood: creating a vibrancy around it.”
Real estate development is Poscher’s second career, “Even when I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be a doctor,” she says.
She grew up in Oak Park, north of Detroit, and went to Wayne State University. As an undergrad, she managed a restaurant in Franklin, and says it was there that she learned the joys of cooking for others, of service, and of making people feel at home. “Home is really important to me,” she says.
After med school at Wayne, she moved to San Francisco for post-graduate training at UCSF Mount Zion Hospital. She ground through an internal medicine and infectious disease fellowship there during the peak of the AIDS epidemic.
“It was an interesting time to be a physician and discovering everything about a new disease,” she says, “and also really tragic.
“The disease took out so many wonderful and talented people that I had the privilege of taking care of … We had a whiteboard in the breakroom where the staff would list patients who had died that week and it was never a short list.”
She did that for a decade, until new antiretroviral medications stayed what was formerly a death sentence for her patients. She recalls “a definite day in 1997 when there was nobody on that whiteboard.”
After the worst of the crisis passed, she was ready to take a break from medicine. James Nunemacher, who’d sold Poscher and her then-wife their first house in San Francisco, suggested she try real estate.
Poscher’s only experience up to that point was redecorating her Detroit Cass Corridor apartment on a student budget with Goodwill furniture. “But I love beautiful things,” she says. “I love having beautiful spaces around me.”
Nunemacher was redeveloping a forty-unit condo on the waterfront. “As an experiment we discussed different floor plans” he recalls. “Marge was immediate with well-thought-out commentary about design aspects. I could tell she had a keen design eye.”
The project “was pretty complicated,” Nunemacher says, but Poscher “jumped in and was able to interface with all the moving parts very well.” Soon, she was staying at the office late into the evenings, nose buried in blueprints, and researching new systems, appliance packages, and material types that he’d never heard of.
“She was so dedicated and cared so deeply, she began quickly teaching me things,” Nunemacher says. “That’s Marge.”
She worked for him as a consultant for five years. Her roles grew to include acquiring properties and winning planning approval to redevelop them—which in San Francisco “is not an easy feat,” she says. But then the 2008 housing crash devastated the development business.
“As my father said, medicine is a nice career to fall back on,” Poscher says. She recertified her boards and took a job with Sutter Health in suburban Fairfield. It was mostly a geriatric population, she says, and “I really enjoyed my patients there. It was a fun time.”
And then she met Heidi. Mutual friends introduced them, and it was “love at first sight.”
Heidi is an Ann Arbor townie. She grew up here and graduated from from Pioneer High and the U-M, where she earned her degree in economics and math. Poscher says it was her suggestion that they start accumulating real estate as a retirement investment.
Property values in San Francisco remained sky-high, but “Ann Arbor was more doable,” Poscher says. The couple started buying property in Lower Burns Park. With its public transit lines and aging buildings, they figured it was ripe for a rebuild.
When their holdings expanded to the point where managing them from California seemed unwise, the couple moved to Ann Arbor in August 2020.
Many of the properties on S. State between Henry and Stimson aren’t in the best shape. Wood decks are old and warped, trees are overgrown, door buzzers are broken, and almost everything is in need of a paint job.
The current residents, a mix of students and working-class people, were notified last fall that their leases would not be renewed this year. Some I spoke to were unshaken with the news they would need to vacate by the end of this summer, while others saw it as an annoyance or chalked it up to business as usual.
“It’s a bit of a hassle but there’s nothing I can do about it,” says Paul Wizinsky, who rents a second-floor studio apartment on White St. “I can barely afford this place—I’m fortunate to have parents who support me, not everybody has that.”
It’s already a fifteen-minute neighborhood for Wizinsky—he’s a cashier at the Produce Station—but he won’t be walking to work from Southtown. He pays $950 a month currently, while Poscher expects rents in the new complex will be comparable to the Standard, the new mid-rise building on S. Main at William. According to its website, a studio apartment there runs $2,475 a month.
Along with new and much more luxurious units, Southtown tenants will have access to a plaza, space for events, exercise, and a rooftop garden, all open to the public during designated hours. Plans call for all-electric buildings, with rooftop solar panels to reduce their carbon footprint. Southtown will also be the first mass timber construction in Ann Arbor.
Building with engineered-wood columns, beams, and panels has been hailed as a more environmentally friendly alternative to concrete. According to a 2019 article published by the Yale School for the Environment, concrete construction generates 40 percent or more of global carbon dioxide emissions—although the same article reports that it’s not yet definitive that mass timber is better for the environment.
Nonetheless, city planners are impressed. “We generally don’t see this level of sustainability in new construction that Southtown proposes,” said Alexis DeLeo, the city planner assigned to the project. “Or the unique way the building has been engineered. It’s very impressive.”
“Mass timber will contribute to the beauty of the building,” explained Poscher. “The interiors of the apartments are going to look great. All the ceilings are wood, some of the walls, so there’s a nice warm finish inside.”
Poscher hopes to begin construction on Southtown this fall, but DeLeo doubts that’s realistic. City planners need to review three different applications: a rezoning to allow taller and denser buildings; a site plan; and a request to eliminate a public alley. All must be approved before the project can move forward.
“Entitling in Ann Arbor is almost as hard as it is in San Francisco,” Poscher says. But as thorny as it might be, it seems like it’s just a matter of time.
“We support the notion of increasing housing and the types of housing available,” DeLeo says. “Especially along transit lines, where walkability scores are already high, and where it could fulfill unmet needs. It’s a great corridor to build up.” The ten buildings on the block now have roughly forty units between them. The Southtown site plan calls for 250.
DeLeo says the approvals could be complete by late spring or summer, “but the next step is submitting civil drawings for public utility upgrades and then constructing those utilities. In my experience, groundbreaking wouldn’t happen until next spring based on a summer site plan approval.”
Just how the project will be funded has yet to be finalized. Poscher says possible routes include bank loans or private equity. But “this is a great project,” she says. “It’s not if it’s going to be funded, it’s just a matter of how we’re going to go about it.”
What’s next? Poscher jokes that she’d love to play more golf, then admits, “There’s always plans for the future.
“We’ve thought about senior housing in this neighborhood. Helping the community with something close by and easy to walk to places.” She’s also considering getting into tiny houses—entry-level ownership at an affordable price to help people build wealth.
In the meantime, she welcomes anyone who’s interested to stop in for a chat.
“Come to Venue,” she says. “I’m always here.”