In the fall of 2015, the Ann Arbor-based building company Maven Development got a call from “potential clients” about renovating a house located at 730 Spring St. At first, it didn’t seem like an unusual request for the company, which is led by three former U-M athletes. But then they learned a little more.
“They gave a brief description of what they wanted to do, and it sounded kind of unorthodox,” says Chelsea Kroll, ’05, Maven’s project coordinator and a former U-M gymnastics team captain. “We thought, ‘What’s going on here?’”
Maven’s principal/founder Dan Williams, ’00, and chief project manager Jeff Backus, ’00, met with the men who’d made the phone call. They learned that the house would be the focus of the HGTV show “Urban Oasis”—which renovates and gives away a home via a sweepstakes that began Oct. 4—and that Maven was being tapped to oversee the project.
Now, after approximately six months of extensive renovations, the house is starring in its own TV show, with air dates on Oct. 7, Oct. 17, and Oct. 26. In the weeks leading up to the program, the house as well as Ann Arbor and U-M alumni have been featured on the program’s website.
So how did Kroll, Williams (a former free safety on U-M’s football team), and Backus (a former offensive tackle for both the Wolverines and the Detroit Lions) end up in the building business?
“I wasn’t sure of my career path post-college,” says Williams, who founded Maven in 2013. “Having grown up working on projects with my dad and brothers, I have always had an interest in building things from the ground up or making them better (in whatever way that may be). My dad, who worked in corporate America for 37 years, gave me advice that if I could work for myself someday, I should do it, or at least try. I bought a rental in Ypsilanti that I fixed up and eventually sold. From there, I began to understand how to navigate through the real estate business.”
Williams worked solo for years until he redeveloped an old Ann Arbor gas station (located at 544 Detroit St.) into a mixed-use, “Flatiron”-style building project, which provided both opportunities for professional growth and a home for Williams’ new company.
Kroll joined Maven in 2014, after working in pharmaceutical sales for nine years. (She and Williams are now engaged.) Although Backus (who joined Maven in 2015) and Williams were teammates at Michigan, they became closer during Backus’ 12-year tenure with the Detroit Lions.
“We are very like-minded and have similar interests,” says Williams. “Jeff is a very detail-oriented and personable guy, which help make job sites run smoothly, especially in a pressure situation.”
And there were pressure situations during the “Urban Oasis” renovation.
“We started in December, and it had to be done by June fourth,” says Kroll. “When you’re building in the winter months, you don’t know how it’s going to go, in terms of weather. … But we had a really mild winter. In that regard, we were really lucky.”
Williams adds that the renovation was extensive. “We replaced two basement walls and installed a new basement floor. The next phase included pouring a foundation for the new first floor master bedroom and gutting the existing home. We also removed the existing roof and raised it to add a second story master suite. Once the old and new framing was complete, we began with the trades (HVAC, plumbing, electrical) and proceeded as if it were a new home at that point. We also demolished the existing garage and built a new two-car garage with a screened-in porch at the rear, which overlooks the city.”
The hard work paid off. “It’s gorgeous, and I’m not just saying that because we did it,” says Kroll.
All three former athletes appeared on camera during the HGTV shoot, but until the show aired, they didn’t know if any of their footage made the cut.
“We honestly were just excited to be a part of it,” Williams says, “on camera or not!”
Jenn McKee, ’93, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, The Ann Arbor Observer, and other publications.