Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 31, 2013

The Homes That Socks Built

By Kathy Gibbons
Traverse City Record-Eagle

TRAVERSE CITY —  

Socks Construction is at it again.
The family owned construction company that’s made its mark around downtown Traverse City one project at a time is getting ready to launch yet another at the corner of Eighth and Cass streets.
Old Town Corner is the name they’ve given to a new development that will include 4,000-square feet of commercial ground floor space with seven two-story townhomes on the upper floors. The roughly 1,650-square-foot units will sell for around $330,000. They’ll have elevator service with covered parking for residents off the alley side. 
Socks bought the house currently on the site, which is being rented to seven tenants, and plans to raze it in mid-June, with project completion slated for early 2014.
The new development is right across the street from the Regatta Building, which Socks built after moving two homes. And it’s just down the block from their Ivy Terrace project, currently under construction between Eighth Street and the Old Town Parking Deck. That effort will include 16 residential units starting at $200,000 that are accessible to the parking structure.
“They’ve been a key to our development activity in the city, partly because they are really creative in their approach of being very much in tune with what the marketplace will support,” said Traverse City Planner Russ Soyring. “If they feel there’s a market niche, they go for it."
The core partners – socks brothers David, 36, and Charlie, 40, and cousin John Socks, 42 – are happily settled in the new office they created for their company when they built the relatively new, 12,000-square-foot 309 Cass Building along the Boardman River across from Firefly restaurant.
The other commercial tenant, MBank, was their lender on the project. Upstairs live four tenants. Also part of Socks Construction are David and Charlie’s brother and dad, Rich Sr. and Rich Jr.
The company continues to build homes, too, having started about 10 years ago in Morgan Farms and then scaling back on price point and size when the economy plummeted. In a way, they’re like the Energizer Bunny of the recession.
“They are a machine,” said Rob Bacigalupi, deputy director of the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority. “They just keep on going.”
They have done it by choice. All three primary partners worked on various construction projects here, but when the economy started to contract, they decided to consolidate and stick it out together.
“We felt if we could get together under the same roof, streamline everything, run our jobs ourselves, and really run it lean, that if we can make it through the next two to three years together and come out even on the other side, we’d consider that a win,” said John Socks. “And we did. And we’re still together. And we’re growing.”
In fact, it was during the recession that they decided to build homes in the Pine Bluff and Grove sections behind Morgan Farms. They had offered houses in the $350,000 to $450,000 range before the recession, but dropped houses in the latter project to $170,000 to $200,000.
The same went for the State Street Commons townhomes development they did at State Street and Railroad across from F&M Park.
“They were lower cost, because of the times,” John said. “But even though it was in the worst time, we had eight pre-sales before we even started the project. We really hunkered down, streamlined and read the market.”
They love creating mixed-use developments that add to the vibrancy of downtown. And with only so much land available for such projects, they strive to maximize density.
“So often, the way we would do land development throughout the whole nation, including Traverse City, is we would consume great quantities of land to put a development on,” Soyring said. “Now moving back into the city and urban living and a desire to live in an urban environment, they can see the opportunities on a small piece of land. You have to be thinking creatively, like multi stories and parking offsite.”
That’s what the Socks do. They grew up in suburban Detroit where they needed a car to get anywhere, so they see the value of being able to work and live and walk or ride a bike in town.
“You drive by a unit at night, and you see somebody sitting on the back porch, and think, ‘That’s somebody’s home now. They live there. And they’re enjoying downtown,’” said David Socks.
It’s what appealed to Fritz and Sharon Richter of Okemos when they bought one of the State Street townhouses.
“It’s close to downtown and to the beach,” Fritz Richter said. “We can walk to all the restaurants, whatever’s going on downtown nine months out of the year. It’s just a matter of convenience, really. It’s great.”